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Sambinary by Jerry Leake

Jun 2, 2021, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

This article examines an original samba pattern for drum set that explores four metric perspectives and two approaches for the bass drum. Unlike a traditional samba adaptation, one that incorporates an interlocking bass drum and hi-hat pattern, this more basic treatment will help players get inside the changing meters and time feels. Once the eight examples have been mastered, by all means explore other foot combinations.

“Sambinary” (samba+binary) began as an exercise for a class I teach at Berklee College called Alternate Setups for Drum Set. In it, I talk at length about the “alternate setups” that must also take place in the player’s mind to develop a more “percussionist” approach to playing drum set. We strive for higher aesthetics of limb independence and the orchestration to a wide array of instruments and sound combinations, including piano. Substituting for the bass drum can be ankle bells, jam block, foot cowbell, shakers, and so on. With the limbs set strongly into motion, these patterns can be played anywhere.

Bass Drum: Phrases A, B, C, and D establish a strong “four feel” with the quarter-note bass drum pattern. Phrases E, F, G, and H apply the same hand patterns, except that the bass drum is now set to dotted quarter notes for a more challenging “three feel.”

Phrase A: This one-bar pattern in 4/4 is presented as a repeating four-bar phrase. The strong hand plays the cymbal, with the weak hand playing rim clicks using samba-inspired on- and off-beat syncopation. The bass drum quarter-note pulse grounds the phrase. Repeat this many times before moving to Phrase B.

Phrase B: This phrase adapts the pattern into triple meter by eliminating the first beat of Phrase A. Once you are comfortable in 3/4, switch back and forth between A and B phrases.

Phrase C: This phrase, in 2/4, continues the paradigm of eliminating the first beat of the previous phrase. The result is a continuous off-beat syncopation of the rim-click pattern.

Phrase D: This phrase, back in 3/4, deviates from the model of dropping beats, and is derived by repeating just the first cymbal hit and rim hit of Phrase C. This results in a potent 4:3 against the bass drum and marks a clear musical conclusion to the samba reduction that began with Phrase A. Repeat the sequence A, B, C, and D many times, and come to “own” the reduction concept. Also shuffle phrases freely: e.g., B, D, C, A, and so on.

Phrases E, F, G, and H: The hands play the exact same patterns as shown in phrases A thru D; however, the bass drum now plays dotted-quarter notes instead of quarter notes. This change results in a profound shift of feel, cycle, and limb independence. As shown in the composition, Phrase E in 4/4 requires a three-bar cycle before returning to its original position, with the bass drum starting on the 1, whereas Phrase F works as a one-bar phrase that is repeated four times.

Phrase G is probably the most demanding in the composition. In my Berklee class, we played just phrase G for 15 minutes, with only me aware of the clock. Afterwards, students described their transformation of mind and body as they worked through moments of agony and ecstasy to conquer the complex pattern. By the end of class, they owned it all!

Phrase H, which aligns the hand pattern to the bass drum, concludes the “Sambinary” composition on a more relaxed and satisfying note. Repeat the entire sequence and get your eyes off the page.

Enjoy the ride and make it your own!


Sambinary from Percussive Arts Society on Vimeo.

Sambinary by Jerry Leake
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Jerry LeakeJerry Leake is a Professor of World Percussion at Berklee College of Music, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, and the New England Conservatory. He leads the world-rock-fusion octet Cubist, which performs compositions from his acclaimed CDs. He is a founding member of Natraj and Club d’Elf, and is a long-standing member of the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society. Jerry has written eight widely used texts on North and South Indian, West African, and Afro-Cuban percussion, and has published numerous articles for Percussive Notes magazine. Jerry presented his “Harmonic Time” method at a 2011 TED Talk in Cambridge. He earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz vibraphone from the Berklee College of Music and has studied with Gary Burton, Ed Saindon, Pablo Landrum (Berklee), Godwin Agbeli, Alhaji Dolsi-naa Abubakariu Lunna (Ghana), Rajeev Devasthali, T.K. Ramakrishnan (North and South India), Souleymane Coulibaly (Burkina Faso), and David Locke (Boston).

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