Lennart Hallstrom´s Personal Page

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Welcome to my Personal Page!

This is where you can read about my personal
views and thoughts - especially on rhythmical

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Ever since I first started playing the djembe in the early 90s I´ve been drumming for African dance classes, performing with local drum and dance groups and teaching a lot.

Rhythm and Dance have always been like two sides of the same coin to me.
In the West African djembe tradition I find this unity perfectly expressed.

I was dancing before I started playing the djembe, and the only agony I feel
about drumming and dancing is that I cannot do both at the same time...

I´ve been working professionally with computer networks, DTP and programming since 1985, and I am currently involved in a number of internet projects (not drum related).

Computers are great tools, but they can also drive you crazy from time to time.
Here´s my favourite video clip:
"Bad Day at the Office" (may take a while to open, but it´s worth it!)





Personal News

Leading drum classes and playing for dance classes takes up most of my time right now.
This means that all my pending web projects have been put on hold for a while:

The notation project I´ve been working on recently is to replace not only the "SHARE" site and the "Notation Playback Rhythm Exchange", but also the "Notation Playback" software itself.

It will include features like multiple parts playback with CD-quality sound at any desirable tempo, easy-to-follow animated handing instructions and online notation interactivity.

You will probably see the first appearance of this before long, as it will gradually take over the above mentioned resources, one by one.





On the Origin of the Rhythms

It is always useful and interesting to know the origin and context of the African rhythms you play. However, in my books and CDs I refrain from stating this for the following reasons:

- The tradition differs from village to village, just as in any other kind of folk music. Every villager will of course claim that their way is the right way. When I get the context of a rhythm from one source, there may be different contexts just as valid from other sources that I don´t know about. Publishing just one would be misleading.

- The traditional rhythms are continously being "updated" by influential drummers; they make variations of the traditional rhythms which are then used in their performances and teachings. I´ve been told "Yes, but we don´t play it like that nowadays", when discussing the right way to play a certain traditional rhythm with a couple of acknowledged West African teachers.

- My books and CDs are made by a Westerner for other Westerners about playing the djembe in the West. I find it more appropriate to leave the deeper cultural and traditional aspects to West African master drummers.






On the Use of Rhythm Notation

The African drum tradition has always been passed on from master to student without the use of a written language. Any use of rhythm notation is therefore a violation of this tradition.

This does not mean that the traditional way of learning is the only way or even the best way. But it is definitely the only traditional way.

In my djembe classes over the years I have noticed that there are at least three ways of learning. Some learn by listening to the rhythm, some learn by doing the actual movements, and some learn by watching the movements of the teacher, visualising the rhythm or noting it down.

Most people seem to use a combination of these three, although one of them is often the predominant and preferred way of learning.

Rhythm notation is a great aid for anyone who is inclined to learn visually (while it may be of very little use for others). It also relieves your memory and helps you get the rhythm right the next time you play. Notation can never replace a good drum teacher, but it sure can replace a bad one!





On the use of Western Notation for West African Drum Rhythms

Western notation is used to describe Western musical traditions in writing. It has evolved over the centuries to become the system that is used today. Whatever we may think of it, it is in fact the notation standard of our time.

One of the main features of Western notation is the bar, which is always constituted of a strong (accented) part and a weak (unaccented) part. This is also the main flaw when using Western notation to describe African drum rhythms.

African drum rhythms are not put together in this way. Our concept of bars simply does not apply. In fact, using Western notation here would be highly misleading, because it implies that the rhythm is supposed to be perceived and played with the traditional Western accents.

I quote from professor Simha Arom´s book African Polyphony and Polyrhythm:

"Let us have the courage to admit that our method of numbering measures is a masterpiece of absurdity. It cannot be logically defended, ... and its only explanation is to be found... in the historical stages of its derivation."

"Western music has made do with this method as best it could. But when a system of this kind is forced on African music, the result can only be nonsense."

Professor Arom has spent more that 30 years of rhythm research in Central Africa.

He found that:

In Central African music, the periodicity constitutes the basis of temporal organisation. Each period is characterized by an equal number of isochronous pulsations, which are therefore essential for defining the boundaries of the period.

The polyphonic and polyrhythmic music of this region is so structured that its component parts are usually assigned different periodicities, which nevertheless always stand in simple ratios to one another.

Under these conditions, the pulsation becomes more than a mere marker. It takes on the role of temporal reference unit, a common regulator which syncronises all parts and consequently coordinates the superposition of their periods.

Professor Arom introduces the concept "minimal operational value" as the shortest distinctive duration resulting from a subdivision; all durations that are not identical vith this value are necessarily multiples of it.

This minimal operational value is reflected in all box notation systems, as well as in the Djembe Font notation system that I use on this website and in my educational material.

However, as soon as we add a Western time signature to the notation, we imply a Western perception of the rhythm that will probably keep us from perceiving its true nature.




On Handing Instructions

I am sometimes asked what handing to use for a particular djembe part. The answer is always the same: It all depends on the tempo!

If you are playing at a high tempo (>150 bpm), you will have to use the most efficient handing just to be able to manage it, i.e. a handing that will involve the least possible hand movements.

If you are playing at a low tempo (<80 bpm), you may feel the need for some physical timing support in order to be able to play it steadily, i.e. you may do better if you play all the "ghost strokes" or "taps" to produce a steady beat.

Between these two extremes there may be a traditional handing that goes with the part that will make you play it with the correct "feel".

The problem is that the handing itself won´t make you play it correct - it can only be of
assistance to any "feel" you manage to grasp. Instead, you should make sure that you are familiar with all the different handings that are possible to use for each part.

My general view is that if you can make it sound right no matter what handing you use,
you´re on the right track! Therefore, I very rarely include any handing instructions along with the notation of rhythms.






I would finally like to acknowledge my drum teachers over the years (chronologically):

Poe Jatta, Lamine "Dibo" Camara, N´Fanly "Alya" Camara, Miguel Camara, Mamadou Lamine Sow, Stefan Sorey Holm, Sal Dibba, Inger Olevik, Ayi Solomon, Sayo Bangura, Ousmane Sylla, Soriba Touré, John Jatta, Theodore Awuletey, Arafan Touré, Badi Bangoura, Alasan Camara, Amadou Kienou and Mamadou Kienou.

Thank you!

Lennart Hallstrom



Copyright 2000 Lennart Hallström, Glasbruksvägen 57, SE-361 94 Eriksmåla, Sweden
Phone +46-(0)8-612 17 82  ·  lennart.hallstrom@djembe.net  ·  Cell +46-(0)70-725 42 63

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