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SAMBA Essential Parts
The samba is Brazil's most popular music and dance form. The style is found throughout the country with many variations in existence. One of the most popular of these variations is a style known as samba de enredo, performed during the carnival, and featuring the escolas de samba. The escolas de samba or 'samba schools', are a type of club dedicated to the development of musical numbers, accompanied by a large bateria (percussion section), with the sole purpose of performing during the carnival's official parade. The percussion section contains up to 300 players, dividing them in groups of 10-30 per instrument. Among the percussion instruments used you'll find the surdo (a large double headed drum played with a felt covered mallet and the open hand), the pandeiro (a tambourine with a skin and flat jingles), the tamborim (a small frame drum played with a stick), the agogo (twin bells), the caixa (snare drum), the ganza (metal shaker), the cuica (a friction drum), and the repenique (a high pitch double headed drum played with a stick, which often acts as the conductor of the bateria).

As far as the basic samba rhythm is concerned, I tend to think in terms of three essential parts. The first being the 'pulse' as played by the surdo with a strong open tone on beat two:

Legend:  M=Muffled Tone  F=Fingers  O=Open Tone  P=Palm


The second essential part is the steady flow of sixteenth notes as played by among others the ganza:


And the third essential part being the syncopation as played by instruments such as the tamborim:


As is the case with many Afro-American forms, Brazilian styles make use of two bar rhythms, which can be approached two ways, the direction being dictated by the melody of the tune. In Afro-Cuban music the two bars are clearly defined as 3/2 or forward clave, which features more syncopated figures, or 2/3 or reverse clave, with figures tending to fall more on downbeats (for further information please refer to the articles CLAVE CONCEPTS Afro-Cuban Rhythms, CLAVE CONCEPTS Tito Puente's Para Los Rumberos.

As Brazilian music does not seem to employ a clear system to explain this characteristic, I have incorporated the letter (A) to identify the 'first side' of the two bar pattern (or 3/2 forward clave as used in Afro-Cuban styles), and (B) for the 'second side' (or 2/3 reverse clave as used in Afro-Cuban styles) as written in the tamborim pattern above. By reversing the order of the bars, you will arrive at the tamborim pattern featured below:

tamborim (reverse)

The next step is to listen to as much Brazilian music as you can, and spend some serious time analysing the 'rhythmic direction' the tunes employ. One good source which is readily available, is a compact disc compilation of Brazilian artists entitled O Samba Brazil Classics 2 - Luaka Bop/Sire 926 019-2.

© Alex Pertout. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission from the author. This article was first published in Drumscene magazine.

© Alex Pertout. All Rights Reserved.