I’m not a musician, I’m a belly dancer. But it’s very important for a belly dancer to understand the music she’s dancing to – and for a Western dancer, some Arabic rhythms will be quite unfamiliar and take some getting used to.
Although you can get some idea of the beat by just dancing, and practising with zills will help too, there’s nothing quite like learning the belly dance drum or darbuka (also spelled debuka, and also known as a doumbek, dumbec, or tablah depending which part of the Middle East you come from) to master the rhythm properly.
If you’ve never played a drum before, you may imagine that it’s going to be quite simple. Not so! Although the darbuka looks like such a plain instrument – all you do is hit it with your hand, right? – there are so many ways to strike it, and you’ll be amazed at the number of different sounds it can produce in the hands of a skilful player:
The two basic sounds of the drum are what give it its name: “Dum” is the loud, deep tone, whereas “Bec” is the high, sharp cracking sound (which most belly dancers refer to as “Tek”). But as you can see in the videos, there’s a range of shades in between! Different techniques are used in different countries – you’ll notice a distinct difference between Turkish and Egyptian players, for instance.
A darbuka doesn’t have to be expensive – though once you’re a seasoned player, you may be tempted by some of the beautifully engraved models, which are often made of aluminium for lightness, though you will see them in copper occasionally. You may also want to upgrade to a more professional “skin” – which these days is likely to be plastic, but was traditionally fish skin or goat skin. If you do decide to learn the drum, be prepared to get hooked!