‘If you can say it, you can play it’
What holds so many drummers back from being all they can be, is not using the 5th limb of THE VOICE. Speaking rhythms is our reference point to create a SOUND. This tool is utilized so much more effectively outside of North America. Writing and reading music has it’s place, but being able to hear and speak the rhythms can lead us to a stronger sound, which is always the goal. Oral rhythmic traditions can be heard in Japanese, African, Cuban, and so many other learning of rhythms around the world, but nowhere is the art of vocal drumming more developed than in India.
Studying music in North America, counting is FAR overused. Counting is a good tool, but different parts of the brain are being used that can get in the way of creativity, memorization, and dropping into flow states when drumming. When I went to India and studied the rhythms there, the way I learned was in the oral tradition. My teacher would get mad if anyone tried to write. Only listening and speaking allowed!
Konnakol is a series of rhythmic syllables that come from India. The drumset as we know it is just over a century old, but Indian rhythmic systems have been around for hundreds and maybe thousands of years! Indian music has evolved over this long arc of time to have a highly developed percussive vocabulary, fusing simplicity, elegance, and richness. The system is strictly taught orally, which challenges the listening, concentration, and memory skills of the student. They work because they’ve been forged over long periods of time.
India has a population of over a BILLION people, so the differences in traditions, schools, and styles is vast. There is a big difference in the north and south Indian approach to music, then you have the enormous repertoire, history, and theory to go with it. This is NOT a course in traditional Indian music, we’re only going to scratch the surface and use the basic concept to help us in SPEAKING rhythms, which is the key. This is why the oral learning tradition is so potent and has worked for so long. SAYING the rhythms BEFORE playing them brings CLARITY to our rhythms by first visualizing the idea in our mind, feeling it in our heart, and forging it to sound strong and clear by the time it’s actually played on the drum.