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Rhythm Sense


Expressions
A Break in Movement
Son Phrasing (Part 1):
Son and Mambo
Son Phrasing (Part 2):
Starting Son, and Clave
Son Phrasing (Part 3):
Son Montuno
Zarabanda: A Context for
Rhythmic Anticipation
Transformations:
Merengue to Salsa
Back To Dance Online
Zarabanda:
A context for rhythmic anticipation in 6/8 time

Ned Sublette says of the zarabanda:

"The chord change in the second measure occurs an eight-note beat earlier than the chord change in the first measure, thereby causing the upper part of your body to move differently than the lower. Some people call it syncopation, though Africans certainly didn't have that concept. It's a version of that characteristic African undulation that Cubans later came to call the clave." – From 'Cuba and its music', page 81.

What we can infer of the zarabanda from this passage is that there are two rhythms involved; since in order for a beat to be determined as occuring earlier, there has to be a comparison to a reference rhythm which causes the listener to expect the beat in a later place. We can also understand that one rhythm is interpreted by the upper part of the body, and the other by the lower part.

Instead of using 'syncopation' or 'rhythmic undulation', I use 'rhythmic anticipation' to describe a rhythmic phenomenon occurring earlier than expected (consistent with all tutorials on this site). I would contend, however, that the 'rhythmic undulation' as described by Mr.Sublette is a characteristic of the clave, and not the clave itself.

Since the zarabanda displays African characteristics that are faithfully preserved in its Cuban descendants, it provides an ideal case study of rhythmic anticipation closer-to-source. And being in 6/8 time, it allows a typical salsa dancer the opportunity to move in a different time-signature thereby expanding one's rhythm vocabulary.

6/8 time simply means that there are six quavers (or eigth-notes) in each bear (or measure) of music. Hence we will be utilising a six-count. If a rhythmic phrase spans two six-counts, I will still use only the numbers one through six and repeat them, so as to keep the counts monosyllabic (avoiding the two-syllable word 'seven' and the three-syllable word 'eleven').

Prerequisites

Rhythm Principles

Six is an interesting number to have as a time-signature, as it is divisible by two as well as three. So, we can have three evenly-spaced beats in a bar (as found in the waltz):
 

 
figure_5_1_three_beats_in_a_six_count

Figure 5.1 Three beats in a six-count
 

Or we can have two evenly-spaced beats in a bar, which is a trademark more of African genres than European ones:
 

figure_5_2_two_beats_in_a_six_count

Figure 5.2 Two beats in a six-count
 

Learning Strategy
We will establish an even two-beat pulse to 6/8 rhythm for the lower body; an upper-body rhythm based on the three-beat bar; and merge them both. Then we'll change it to a zarabanda-based context, and finally learn how to apply it in salsa via the clave rhythm.

Practice Tracks
No practice tracks are provided. This tutorial will rely on the use of rhythmic vocalisations
.
 

1 – Establishing a lower-body pulse to 6/8 time
 

figure_5_3_Afro_68_pulse

Figure 5.3 Afro 6/8 pulse rhythm
 

  1. Start vocally with a count of "one-two-three-four-five-six".
  2. Stress vocally the numbers one and four, to result in
    a count of "one-two-three-four-five-six".
  3. Take a small step to the left on the count of one, and
    take a small step to the right on the count of four.
  4. Think rhythm: replace the count with sound so that you get:
    "bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam".
  5. Naturalise the practice, correlating sound with movement.

Notes:

  • The steps should be taken according to the merengue tutorial.
  • You can think of the vocalisation rhythm as triplet beats, beginning on every pulse beat.
  • This rhythmic pattern is sometimes called the Afro 6/8 pulse.
     

2 – Establishing an upper-body rhythm to a 3-beat measure
 

figure_5_4_torso_movement_rhythm

Figure 5.4 Torso movement rhythm
 

  1. Start vocally with a count of "one-two-three-four-five-six".
  2. Stress vocally the numbers one and three, to result in
    a count of "one-two-three-four-five-six".
  3. Move your torso to the left on the count of one, and
    move your torso to the right on the count of three.
  4. Think rhythm: replace the count with sound so that you get:
    "bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam".
  5. Naturalise the practice, correlating sound with movement.

Notes:

  • Only the first two beats are used, the third is a null beat.
  • Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
     

3 – Combining lower-body and upper-body rhythms
 

figure_5_5_torso_movement_and_pulse_rhythm_combined

Figure 5.5 Torso movement and pulse rhythms combined
 

  1. Start vocally with a count of "one-two-three-four-five-six".
  2. Stress vocally the numbers one, three and four, to result in
    a count of "one-two-three-four-five-six".
  3. Move your torso and take a small step to the left on the count of one;
    move your torso to the right on the count of three; and
    take a small step to the right on the count of four.
  4. Think rhythm: replace the count with sound so that you get:
    "bam-bam-bah-bam-bam-bam"
    (where "bah" corresponds to torso movement on its own).
  5. Naturalise the practice, correlating sound with movement.

Notes:

  • The movement of the torso to the right anticipates the small step to the right. This is what Mr.Sublette refers to as "rhythmic undulation", expressed physically in dance.
  • Focus your attention on the "bah-bam" stresses, which acoustically mark rhythmic tension and resolution.
  • Movement of the torso and foot to the left occurs in unison.
  • Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.

The interactions of the two rhythms become clearer if we place them in the context of a common conga tumbao in 6/8 time:
 

figure_5_6_torso_movement_and_pulse_rhythm_in_conga_context

Figure 5.6 Torso movement and pulse rhythms
in the context of a conga tumbao
 

We can see (above) that the open tones still cue the steps, as do the slap strokes; and that the anticipated movement of the torso occurs in agreement with the slap stroke.
 

4 – The Zarabanda context

The zarabanda's chord rhythm comprises one bar of 2 even-beats; followed by one bar of 3 even-beats, the third of which is a nul beat. This is represented below by the torso rhythm (second row):
 

figure_5_7_torso_movement_and_pulse_rhythm_in_zarabanda_context

Figure 5.7 Zarabanda rhythm (torso) over Afro 6/8 pulse (lower body)
 

Looking at the torso rhythm compared to the pulse, we can see what Mr.Sublette means by:

"The chord change in the second measure occurs an eight-note beat earlier than the chord change in the first measure, thereby causing the upper part of your body to move differently than the lower."

We can achieve this very simply by moving the upper and lower parts of the body in the way described in Figure 5.7, and using the vocalisation:

"bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, bam-bam-bah-bam-bam-bam"

Eventually to silence the placeholder vocalisations:

"bam - … - … - bam - … - … , bam - … - bah-bam - … - …"

where the "bam" syllable is the pulse beat and the "bah" syllable is the anticipated torso movement. There are two things to remember: what the torso anticipation feels like; and the incessant quality of the pulse.
 

5 – Rhythmic Anticipation In Son Clave

Both the zarabanda and the son clave have the pulse as a common reference rhythm. And since you now have the feeling of rhythmic anticipation relative to the pulse, and can already dance pulse to son clave, it is a simple matter to get the physical expression of rhythmic anticipation into 2-3 son clave using the same vocalisation:

"bam-…-…-…-bam-…-…-… , bam-…-…-bah-bam-…-…-…"

where the "bam" syllable is the pulse beat, and the "bah" syllable is the anticipated torso movement occuring on the bombó. I find that the side-to-side and cucaracha basics provide a good context for side-to-side chest movements; and latin and cucaracha basics are useful for front-and-back chest movements.

Interestingly, it now becomes clear how the son clave rhythm, a Cuban creole development, derives its ancestry from the older zarabanda.
 

6 – Rhythmic Anticipation In Rumba Clave

Again, both the zarabanda and the rumba clave share the pulse as a reference rhythm. In addition to the bombó, rumba clave has a second point of rhythmic anticipation at the ponché. Hence the vocalisations would be:

in 2-3 clave

"bam-…-…-…-bam-…-…-… , bam-…-…-bah-bam-…-…-bah"

in 3-2 clave

"bam-…-…-bah-bam-…-…-bah, bam-…-…-…-bam-…-…-…"

where the "bam" syllable is the pulse beat, and the "bah" syllable is the anticipated torso movement occuring on the bombó and ponché. If you are taking alternating steps on the pulse beats, or even dancing the salsa step rhythm, you will find that the second chest movement is performed in the opposite direction to the first. Hence rumba clave is a symmetrical pattern with respect to the physical expression of rhythmic anticipation.
 

A final word...
The upper body is a considerable mass to mobilise and halt within a short period of time. The temptation is to use a heavily accentuated chest movement simply because you can, but you should be mindful of its impact on timing, physical stability, and your lower body's relationship with the floor. A subtle accent is often a more potent enhancement.

 

 
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