Tala 101: An Introduction to the Rhythmic Systems of India (Percussive Notes Vol. 51 No. 5, September 2013)

Rudiments for Four Limbs (Percussive Notes Vol. 45 No. 4, August 2007)


The Gyil: The Ancestor to the Modern Marimba

In July 2014 I traveled to Medie, Ghana, a village about 30 km outside the capital city of Accra.  Medie is home to the Dagara Music Center, which is run by master musician Bernard Woma.  Mr. Woma is best known for his mastery of the gyil, a single-row xylophone (similar to the balafon) that is considered to be the ancestor to the modern Western marimba.  During my time at the DMC I focused primarily on the Bewaa and Bagr-Bine musics of the Dagara people and the Daarkepen repertoire of the Birifor people. 

By learning about this instrument and its repertoire I hope to provide some much needed cultural context for my own students as well as the greater percussion community.  Most often, the marimba (and other keyboard percussion instruments) are taught using the repertoires of piano, violin, or other instruments idiomatic in the Western canon. Meanwhile, the gyil, which is the historical ancestor to the marimba, often goes entirely unmentioned. Gyil repertoire can be used to help students develop fundamental skills on the marimba— just as with piano or violin repertoire—but without neglecting the cultural and historical roots of the instrument.  

Towards An Integrated Curriculum: Non-Western Musics & Western Percussion Pedagogy

In this ongoing project I am designing a college percussion curriculum that integrates non-Western musical traditions alongside the standard Western music repertoire.  Currently, in the vast majority of conservatories and schools of music so-called “world percussion” is isolated from the core Western percussion curriculum, and is treated as an autonomous, supplementary field of study.  My research has shown that this creates a number of problems for students and instructors, and that this model may contradict many of the goals of such courses.  Among these problems are: the tokenization of world musics within academia; a lack of cohesiveness between the musics of Western and non-Western cultures; a lack of historical context revealing the closely related evolutions of Western and non-Western musical practices; an un-nuanced approach to world musics; and an increased sense of musical “othering” resulting from the marginalization of world musics.  An integrated curriculum would be a decisive step towards remedying many, if not all, of these problems. 

Recent Masterclass & Workshop Presentations

March 2016 - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
January 2016 - University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, WI
October 2015 - Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
April 2015 - Stearns Collection Virginia Howard Lecture Series, Ann Arbor, MI
September 2014 - Ohio University, Athens, OH
March 2014 - University of Michigan Center for World Performance Studies, Ann Arbor, MI
November 2013 - Percussive Arts Society International Convention, Indianapolis, IN
October 2013 - Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
October 2013 - University of Toledo, Toledo, OH
September 2012 - Oakland University, Rochester, MI
November 2011 - Percussive Arts Society International Convention, Indianapolis, IN
October 2011 - Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI
October 2010 - University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
April 2010 - Adrian College, Adrian, MI
March 2009 - Western State College, Gunnison, CO
April 2008 - Jazz Aspen/Snowmass, Aspen, CO
July 2007 - Nirman Resource Center, Varanasi, India


Dan presenting a workshop on the rhythmic systems of India at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in 2013.

Dan presenting a workshop on the rhythmic systems of India at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in 2013.

Tala 101: An Introduction to the Rhythmic Systems of India

The goal of this workshop is to provide attendees with a fundamental understanding of the essential elements of North and South Indian rhythmic theory.  Through the use of interactive exercises and visual media such as digital projections and a two-sided handout, I lead the group through the basic structural elements of the most common metric cycles in each system.  I also teach the group to recite, through the use of idiomatic syllables, some simple compositions in each cycle. 

The class is divided in to two segments, one for North Indian (Hindustani) taal, and one for South Indian (Carnatic) tala.  For the purposes of this introductory workshop, we focus on the most common beat cycle in each system of music: the Hindustani 16-beat cycle known as tintaal, and the Carnatic 8-beat cycle known as adi tala.  It is my goal to provide attendees with the basic skills necessary for informed listening as well as a fundamental rhythmic vocabulary as demonstrated through the aforementioned speaking and clapping exercises.  

An Introduction to Split-Finger Technique

This workshop gives attendees a hands-on introduction to split-finger technique, the predominant method of playing hand drums in North and South Indian percussion.  I demonstrate and lead the group in a series of frame drum exercises that increase their comfort with the basic motions of split-finger technique and then improve their rhythmic awareness using the new skill.  The workshop also serves as a light introduction to the Indian approach to rhythm through the use of syllables and basic idiomatic rhythmic gestures.

I generally close the workshop by briefly demonstrating some musical applications of split-finger technique, including, but not limited to, tabla playing.  

Rudiments for Four Limbs: A New Approach to Developing Coordination on the Drum Set 

In both teaching and practicing drum set, I have come across a number of exercises that are incredibly helpful in developing and maintaining the basic skills necessary for proficiency on the instrument.  Many of these exercises are simply repeated sticking and pedaling combinations over a set rhythmic grid.  Eventually I started adding these patterns, one by one, to the end of Alan Dawson's "Rudimental Ritual."  I eventually realized that the definition I gave (repeated sticking patterns over a clearly defined rhythmic base) is the most basic definition of a drum rudiment, and that these patterns are therefore rudiments themselves.  Further, as I stated earlier, these exercises foster the development of basic, or rudimentary, skill and technique. 

This workshop demonstrates a compilation of the best of these new drum set rudiments and examples of some basic ideas for variations.  Many, in fact most of these were gathered from students, teachers, and recordings; some are simply licks that you will no doubt recognize.  The goal of this masterclass is simply to present these exercises in a cohesive, organized fashion, and not necessarily to present newly composed material, but I do discuss methods for turning a fun lick into a technical exercise, or "rudiment."