Bill playing Daff (Riqq) at Mary Ellen's Drum Marathon

Middle Eastern Drum

OK. So I don't have pictures or music clips here yet. But I will. In the meantime you will have to live with just the rhythm list and glossary.

NEWS 7 Mar 2000: I have added four sound files (.au) as an experiment.

I am indebted to Mary Ellen Donald for most of this information, much of which--and much more--is contained in her books Doumbec Delight and Arabic Tambourine. For more information about books or lessons, contact Mary Ellen at 1-415-826-DRUM. (That's 3786 if you have no letters on your phone.)


There are a lot of rhythms that can be loosely called Middle Eastern. Some are from as far afield as Morocco and Afghanistan. Many are known by different names in different countries. Note that transliterations, particularly from Arabic, are chancy--and these rhythms have different names in different locales. Your mileage (or drum teacher) may vary.

Here are a bunch of them, from Ayyub to Zaffah:

Played slowly and hypnotically to accompany an Egyptian ritual dance, the zar. Played more rapidly for belly dancing and Egyption folk music. In the Levant, the same rhythm (under a different name) is played rapidly to accompany the dabkah.
Baladi (Beledi, Balady, etc.) [.au sound file]
This is the "standard belly dance rhythm." If you have ever heard Middle Eastern music, you have heard Baladi or one of its relatives Masmudi, Fallahi, or Maqsum. The name baladi means "of the country people," but in fact the most common folk rhythm in many regions is Fallahi. When played slowly with a heavy beat, this rhythm is called baladi, but up-tempo it goes by the name maqsum.
A syncopated rhythm with a rocking flavor, played at a moderate or slow tempo. Listen for this pattern in the drum solo sections of belly dance music.
A hypnotic rhythm, often used for the slow part (floor and veil work) in belly dance. Due to the Moorish conquest, much Spanish music has a Middle Eastern flavor. Played more quickly, this is a Rhumba.
This rhythm comes in two versions: fast (4 beats) and slow (8 beats). The slow version is often used to back up taqsim, as in the slow section of belly dance. Common in Greek and Turkish music (the name chiftetelli is Turkish.)
Dawr Hindi
A 7/8 rhythm used to accompany muwashshahat.
Rhythmically, this is a Baladi relative but is played at double tempo, giving it a completely different feel. The name comes from fallah, peasant. It is used to accompany folk dances, and is particularly common in Upper Egypt. Fallahi is played so fast there is little room for subtlety or frills. The accent pattern can be played entirely with the right hand.
The rhythm pattern is similar to a fast Ayyub, but with dumms and tekks reversed. Usually played fast, common in modern Egyptian music.
A 9/8 Turkish rhythm.
Also known as wahidah sayrah, this rhythm is called Libi by some Egyptian musicians, referring to its popularity in Libya. There is a "straight" version (essentially 2/4) and a syncopated version, played in triplets. The syncopated version bears some relation to the fast 6/8 rhythms popular in the Maghreb.
Maqsum (Maksoum)
A fast version of a Baladi, played for the fast movements of belly dance. There are variations called "walking maqsum" and "marching maqsum."
Malfuf (Malfouf)
A 3-3-2 rhythm, like Saudi except for the accent pattern. Common in Levantine and Egyptian popular music, often alternating with sections in Baladi. A popular accompaniment to dabkah dancing.
Masmudi (Masmoudi) [.au sound file]
This rhythm can be considered a Baladi played at half tempo, or conversely a Baladi can be considered a Masmudi played at double speed. For this reason, Masmudi is sometimes called masmudi kabir (big Masmudi) while Baladi is called masmudi sarir (small Masmudi). However, the feeling is completely different from that of Baladi. There are numerous variations.
A 14/4 rhythm used to accompany muwashshahat.
A 13/4 rhythm used to accompany muwashshahat.
See Tayir.
Levantine tabl baladi players sometimes use this rhythm to accompany the dabkah. The accent pattern is like Baladi, but with some inversion of dumms and takks, and occasional syncopation.
A faster version of a Bolero, often with an additional dumm stroke near the end. Popular in Kuwaiti and modern Egyptian music.
Sama'i Darij
A 6/8 rhythm, used in the sama'i and to accompany muwashshahat.
Sama'i Thaqil [.au sound file]
A 10/4 rhythm, this takes its name from the Turkish classical form which it usually accompanies. This form begins in 10/4, switches to 3/4 or 6/8 in the middle, and then returns to 10/4 for a short time before it ends. Sometimes this rhythm is used to accompany pieces of music other than sama'is.
A 3-3-2 rhythm, used to accompany Saudi Arabian music. Played at a moderate tempo, hypnotically. Often played polyrhythmically across from other rhythms in 8/8 time.
Has the same accent pattern as the Baladi but with a different arrangement of dumms and takks. Popular in Upper Egypt, often played on the tabl baladi to accompany the mizmar.
A Moroccan polyrhythm, consisting of a 6/8 "heart" and 12/8 "lung" played opposite each other. You can't put this one in a solo.
Also called naqrah, and known to many Arab musicians as "fox" (from the Western Fox Trot rhythm). Used as a finale to many belly dance pieces.
Wahidah [.au sound file]
The name comes from Arabic wahid meaning "one." So-called because there is only one doum, at the beginning. The complete name for this rhythm is wahidah saghr”ra, meaning "small One." (Wahidah sayrah is another name for Libi.)
Traditional accompaniment to the Arabic wedding procession.

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A frame drum (tar) played in Morocco. Often has gut snares just behind the head, giving it a buzzy sound.
A folk line dance common in the Levant.
Another name for a dumbek.
Middle Eastern tambourine, a small frame drum, usually with five double sets of cymbals around the circumference. In Egyptian cabaret style, the performer plays on the drumhead and on the cymbals. In Egyptian classical style, only the drumhead is played. In many Arab countries, this is also a name for the tar.
Dumbek (Doumbec)
Goblet-shaped Middle Eastern drum, named after the sounds it makes: bass (dumm) and treble (tekk). Struck with the hands rather than a stick or beater. Classically made of ceramic or brass with a goatskin or fishskin head. Modern professional instruments are often aluminum with a Mylar head.
Hamza El-Dîn
Noted musician from southern Egypt, exponent of the tar. Here is a soft sculpture inspired by Hamza.
Northern region of the Middle East, loosely comprising Lebanon, Syria, and Israel/Palestine.
The Arabic word for West, this term refers to the North African countries Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. Libya is sometimes considered part of the Maghreb.
The Jolly Green Giant's daff. Constructed like a daff but much larger, usually with a cutaway section in the frame to improve the grip. Heavy. Tiring. Loud.
Double-reed instrument, ancestor of the oboe. Can sound pretty awful to Western ears.
Muwashshah (pl. muwashshahat)
A vocal Arabic musical form, whose text consists of love poetry in classical Arabic, plus commonly used syllabic vocalizations. The form was cultivated in Moorish Spain and is highly regarded today. Common rhythmic accompaniments are Dawr Hindi, Masmudi, Muhajjar, Murabba', Wahidah, Sama'i Darij, and Sama'i Thaqil.
Egyptian term for the daff.
Tabl baladi
A large double-headed folk drum, played with beaters.
Melodic improvisation by a solo instrument, often a keyboard or ûd.
A frame drum with a single head, played with the hands. Often has a hole in the rim for the left thumb. This drum is found all over North Africa and has many names. It is called "tar" by Hamza El-Dîn.
See daff, riqq.
Ûd, oud
Middle Eastern lute. (The word "lute" is a corruption of the Arabic al-Ûd). Usually fretless, which is important for playing Egyptian quarter-tonal music.

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