Working with Carmine Guida's Baby Beginner Doumbek Workshop

Take enough bellydance classes, listen to enough Middle Eastern music, and eventually you have to come to terms with a simple fact: you're going to have to learn to recognize and dance to the rhythms.

Now, I'm guessing that for most people this is not a hardship. Then again, most people can clap in time with a crowd, whereas I was always the person who clapped exactly halfway between the beats. I've had people explain some bellydance rhythms in class, but that's just way too little exposure to really learn. I've played around with the rhythm lessons on videos like Jenna and Raquy's The Heartbeat of Bellydance: Rhythms & Belly Dance Combinations for Drum Solos, but although that kind of program is valuable for learning how to dance to rhythms once you know them, for me it was still too little.

Eventually I recognized that if I really wanted to improve my sense of rhythm, I'd just have to ahead and learn how to drum. And frankly, the doumbek is a pretty sexy musical instrument. Did I mention I'm also pretty unmusical? So an instrument where I wouldn't have to worry about melodic pitch really appealed to me.
This is by way of introduction to Carmine T. Guida's Baby Beginner Doumbek Workshop, a DVD that starts at the beginning -- at the very, very beginning -- of learning how to play a doumbek. Which is great, since I think a lot of the material you can find assumes some facility at drumming, and goes at a pretty fast pace. But I'm not the only dancer who has wanted to learn a bit of doumbek, and the fingers we learn to move so gracefully are not always adept at making dums and teks!

Although I have a review copy from Carmine, I think it actually doesn't make sense to watch the video once and review it. I do have a tiny bit of background: I took a world drumming class this spring, and whether we used doumbeks or djembes, we learned new rhythms very slowly, and were taught to practice them a lot. So I'll work with the video gradually, and let you all know how it goes.

Some first reactions: 

The first cool thing you'll notice is not even on the DVD -- it's the inside cover. Open up the cardboard DVD case and you'll see all the basic rhythms taught in the main workshop. I think this is nothing short of brilliant. Simple, but brilliant. I'm a visual person, and I often need to see a rhythm written down as well as to hear it. However, files included on DVDs tend to be annoying to work with, since I'd have to print them or the like, and just having the rhythm pop up on the screen means that I can't practice with it. Having a handy, portable guide to the rhythms is wonderful, because I can use it to practice without even putting on the video.

The instruction is a filmed workshop, and Carmine begins with the very basics: how to hold the drum, a relaxed posture, finger positions, and how to hit the drum with the dum and the tek. My previous teacher had us do our teks with more of a closed hand (or maybe I just followed incorrectly!), and following Carmine's instructions gave me a nicer sound that was easier to achieve. A few basic drills (again, all different from what I'd done before) help students switch between dum and tek -- trickier than it sounds at first.

I recognize that look of intense concentration...
The workshop context is actually really nice. This kind of thing can be distracting in dance instructionals, but with drumming, where so much is about getting into a groove with others, it really makes sense. Carmine jokes around with the students which makes the whole thing more fun, and when he corrects them I notice that I was making the same mistake.

The thing that was very different from my class was this: while we were taught to count out rhythms, Carmine teaches them by sound. I worked with the sections for maqsum and baladi to start with. In each, he plays the very bare bones of the rhythm a few times slowly, then has the group join in and repeat. Once they get it, he might embellish the rhythm a few times, regularly returning to the skeleton form. On the one hand, I'm used to counting and missed it a bit. On the other, I liked that this way of teaching taught a focus on the general shape and sound of a rhythm, rather than an abstract count. Some of the workshop members seem to be dancers, and certainly much of the audience of the DVD will be too, so it makes sense to teach a kind of instinctive feeling for how the rhythms sound.

So far, I'm already excited about getting up tomorrow morning and tormenting my neighbours with baby maqsum and baby baladi! Next time: saidi, and my personal nemesis, the dreaded ka.

Baby Beginner Doumbek Workshop is also available at

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