Review: Dombek Technique and Rhythms for Arabic Percussion with Amir Naoum

DombekTechniqueI got a doumbek. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, and finally got one. I was excited to start practicing (ok, I am *always* excited about new things, so sue me). I managed to get my hands on a copy of this DVD, popped it in, grabbed my doumbek and prepared myself for practice.

I have got the drum for a week. I have got the DVD for a week too, but I’m already congratulating myself for not buying it new. The DVD has good reviews on Amazon, so what’s wrong? Something very, very simple, and very basic. The instructor is clear and quite likeable, and thankfully that’s not the issue. The “technique” part of the DVD covers Doums, Teks, Kas, there’s a passing mention and explanation about Seks(Slaps), and a slightly longer explanation on Pops with the provision that they are an advanced technique. There are some basic exercises to build up the left hand for Kas and the right technique and sound for Doums and Teks; at least one or two of them are shown on the video below. Now, if you look a bit forwards, when talking about the Baladi Arabic style, or the Saiidi, you’ll notice some pesky “S” on the description… Yes, he is using Slaps for the Arabic rhythm descriptions. He’s hardly ever given you much of a chance to play with them. So if you’ve moved from the basic exercises into the malfouf and ayoub rhythms, which are the first ones described, you’ll be thrown from basic stuff (which will be easy to follow) into variations that use slaps (which you haven’t had a chance to practice at all and therefore will confuse the heck out of you and will sound bad) and straight into syncopated version without even an explanation other than a super-quick flash on screen of what you are expected to do. And of course, you’re most definitely not supposed to throw your hands in the air and give up. There’s no time to catch up, no slow down version to get to grips: you either hit the ground running and go for it, or you fall flat on your drum and weep.

What I liked about this is that there is a LOT of information, and once I am more familiar with the drum and comfortable producing Doums, Teks, Kas and Seks with a reasonable quality and speed, I should be able to use this as a good reference for rhythms and variations. But I don’t think it is really usable as instruction, let alone for “Beginner Level” as is listed on Amazon. It would be the equivalent, in dancing terms, of providing a DVD instructing and drilling on figure 8s, Mayas and Hip Drops, and then including a choreography that uses Hagallas extensively. Good for reference, yes, but not really usable by a beginner until they can find instruction which isn’t covered.

Possible uses, if somehow you can find this used, or gifted or whatever: if you’re still coming to grips with the different sounds, write the exercises at the beginning and do them regularly; find yourself some instruction on Seks, and try to get the right sound for them too. Write down the rhythms and variations, and practice yourself at a lower speed until you are comfortable. But don’t look at this expecting it to be your sole instruction, or for something that you can drill to, because it’s not the case. I do understand that having a mini-encyclopedia of Middle Eastern rhythms is nothing to scoff at, but what’s the point in presenting material for beginners when they are not presenting the tools for those beginners to be able to follow that material? A few more exercises using Seks, and a bit longer explanation on how to get the right sound for it would have gone a LONG way into making this far, FAR more usable.

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4 Responses

  1. I have that DVD and when I’m drilling to it, I use the time where he goes into slaps as an opportunity to learn how to keep going on my beginner rhythm while other things are going on. I wish he would encourage that explicitly though as I don’t think a true beginner would get that on their own.

    • Arien says:

      I don’t think so either, and while I was fine doing exactly what you are doing, a true beginner would also be completely confused when they start syncopating. What I’ve done is to find a YouTube video for the slap, which lasted all of 1:50′, and start repeating the exercises in the first part with the doums on the second half of each bar replaced by slaps. But again, that’s not something I’d expect a true beginner to think of doing.

      What I think really disappointed me of this was that it was *so* close to being perfect. All it was missing was that extra bit of info on the slap, a few words about creating an effective practice, and how to best use it. I know I’ve got the advantage of several years of intense musical training behind me so I learnt how to create a practice for myself and how to deal with tricky parts. I also know that a lot of people (including several dance teachers I’ve been with) think that simplifying things means removing a layer while keeping the speed, but IMNSHO that approach encourages sloppiness, and still causes frustration… it’s far, FAR more effective to practice slowly paying attention to technique, and yes, pairing it down if necessary, then adding the complex layers STILL slow, and only THEN start speeding up… removing a few kas are not going to do much for your technique if you’re still not sure where to hit the drum for the best doums, and you are having to play so fast to keep up that you can’t really see/feel *where* those good sounds have landed. So you get, the right tone first as opposed to just hitting the drum at speed and hoping some of it lands in the right spot and in the right way. And even if you don’t want to put in that slow-to-fast boring practice in the DVD (nobody does, let’s face it) even a few words to explain this would have gone a long way to make it better.

      Again, none of it is something that, myself, I’ve got real issue with, I could set up a metronome on my phone to count slower, I’ve even got an app that covers basics rhythms that I can slow down for practice, or I could even do that to a favourite song. But I can get past these limitations because of prior training, which not everybody has, and for a TOTAL beginner, I still don’t think the DVD would work without the caveats.

  2. Sandra says:

    I have the DVD, too and tried to learn Doumbek with it plus other YouTube videos explaining the techniques.
    I used the DVD to start into the practice, grab a bite of its content and come back when ready for more. I frequently used this function on my player to repeat a specified sequence for following along a given excercise some dozen times over.

    I liked how and how much (background/ musical) Information was presented, though I struggled with the Kas a lot, like you seemed to have done with the slaps, which came very easily to me. What stopped me from using the DVD was the realization I had to go back to absolute basics and learn how to coordinate my movements to a given count of music without any sort of anxiety I might miss the right moment for my action – yes, after so many years of bellydance plus a short practice of drumming I was one of those who had no understanding of keeping rhythm at all. This I could better work on with matching steps and soft slapping on my legs or belly than hitting the drum.
    The progression from basic patterns to variations on the DVD helped me understand how oriental drumming works, rather than helping me learn a specific pattern. But I felt that such basic understanding is crucial to help you moving on from beginner’s first steps to really using it. Like in bellydance class, after learning basic moves and combinations using them, when you are asked to make up and dance new combinations.

    • Arien says:

      Oh definitely! I don’t think it’s a bad DVD at all, I’m sorry I might have given that impression. But it’s most definitely *not* a beginners’ DVD, and I’d almost call it a reference DVD more than an instructional. I haven’t struggled with the Kas, but I did some research before buying a drum (long story short, I’ve got RSI, I wanted to make sure the movements I would do would not cause a flare) and the video I randomly watched was for doums and Kas… now I wonder whether I didn’t have issues not because of the instruction but because I saw those online videos so I filled in the blanks I needed.

      And as I’ve said before about the fan veils DVD, I do object to an instructional calling itself such when it directs you -or you need to- fill up the instructions from somewhere else to follow it, particularly when filling things in would have taken such few minutes. As a reference material, though, it is very good, and should be nice to play along fully once I’ve done my work by myself and my drumming gets a bit more consistent.

      These DVDs do have their place, I just wish they would stop being presented as beginner’s.

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