Understanding Triplet Feel

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Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby 440ranch » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:54 am

This may be old news for y'all, but I recently found "Understanding The triplet Feel in Afro Cuban Centric Music" work shop by M. Spiro, on youtube. Really excellent. 4 part series that he gave at a PASIC convention. Make sure you see all four parts, that includes one they call a "Preview."
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby Kaban » Fri Jun 27, 2014 6:00 am

Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby congamyk » Wed Jul 02, 2014 1:46 am

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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby 440ranch » Fri Jul 04, 2014 2:50 pm

Yup, that's it Congamyk, but it starts to get really good in part 2 and 3.
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby windhorse » Tue Jul 08, 2014 4:27 pm

Thanks for posting it Myk! Had to go back to his "Conga Drummers Guide Book" What he covered is on page 10. Really nice to be reminded of this again. More woodsheddage required. :oops:
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby davidpenalosa » Thu Jul 10, 2014 5:21 am

Sometimes I get the sense that we are over complicating, or are making the subject more exotic than necessary. A Waltz is in 3/4—simple triple meter. There are three main beats per measure and each beat is divided into two pulses. This is not the metric structure of African music.

simple triple meter.jpg
The waltz is in simple triple meter.


Triple-pulse African music is in 6/8—compound duple meter. There are two main beats per measure and each beat is divided into three pulses. We may not have grown up with African-based rhythms, but 6/8 is taught to all elementary school music students. 6/8 is heard in plenty of European-based music such as marches, polkas, and Irish jigs. I can remember my music teacher in 4th grade telling me to tap my foot two times per measure (I played flute—not very well).

compound duple meter 1.jpg
6/8 is compound duple meter.


6/8 is made more complex when three crossbeats are superimposed over the two main beats. Three-over-two is known in European music as a hemiola. Hemiolas can be heard in French baroque music, and the music of Mozart, Handel, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. 6/8 and hemiolas are not foreign to our Euro ears.

compound duple meter 2.jpg
The hemiola (three-over-two) is the basis of sub-Saharan rhythm and its New World descendants.


The challenge is to hear the two beats as the main beats when there are three crossbeats being sounded. Most often in African music, the three beats are emphasized by the music, while the dancer's feet mark the two main beats.

Mongo Santamaria's original recording of "Afro Blue" begins with the bass playing three crossbeats per measure (or six crossbeats per clave). The cool thing is that the soloists emphasize the main beats. Improvising on a simple pentatonic blues with an onbeat emphasis, creates the complete crossrhythm in a very satisfying way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbE7jf_Hp5w

John Coltrane inverted the crossrhythm on his version of "Afro Blue" by making the three beats the main beats and the two beats, the crossbeats. The Trane version has a more complex harmonic structure, and is a jazz waltz, not the meter used in African music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-56JerzFO4&feature=kp
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby 440ranch » Thu Jul 10, 2014 3:54 pm

The thing is, for me, after watching Spiros videos on triplets and working on the exercises, I can now keep the 4 pulse with my foot, the bell pattern with my right, and cycle the 4 pulse and re voice it, open, slap, palm, with my left... But, the 4 pulse is not natural for me.
If I just listen to the bell pattern, and find the "downbeat" that feels natural to me, it's not the same. I'm hoping I can train myself to feel it naturally, so that I can concentrate on my playing, not just on holding it all together.

I assume that's what Spiro means by saying it is foreign to the European ear.
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby jorge » Fri Jul 11, 2014 11:38 am

Interesting contrast you raise between the 2 versions of Afro Blue, David. I have recently tried in vain to get a group I play with to play Afro Blue more like Mongo's version but a couple of them are jazz players not Afrocuban players and can't seem to get it. Mongo's original version is the only version I have heard in which the melody stays in clave, listen to 11th bar of the flute line, the flute is playing right on clave, while that same part of the melody in Trane's version is on the duple downbeats. Trane's version really does not have a clave feel at all, jazz waltz is a good description. Not to say that it doesn't swing. Even Chembo Corniel's version on his new Afro Blue Monk CD, which also has an Abakua pattern similar to Mongo's original version, has more jazz feel than clave feel. This is in spite of Iliana Santamaria's (Mongo's daughter) vocals with new lyrics commissioned by her father. Althought there is some bembe feel as well, to my ear, Mongo's version is essentially an Abakua pattern from the time the obiapa part begins through the bonko solo to the end. This goes beyond "triplet feel" and is fundamentally a 2 bar phrasing, not a 1 bar phrasing like triplets would be. I have never heard a version of Afro Blue that I liked as much as the original and I think it is the Abakua feel not just the triplet feel that makes Mongo's original version so timeless and fascinating.
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby JohnnyConga » Fri Jul 11, 2014 4:23 pm

Thank you David ...great breakdown and I learned a new word "hemiola"....hahaha...all the Best!....JC
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby davidpenalosa » Fri Jul 11, 2014 5:36 pm

You are very welcome Johnny. More on hemiola:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemiola

Jorge, I hear ya. The original version is my favorite. I especially like Francisco Aguabella's bonkó-like solo.
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby Mike » Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:12 pm

davidpenalosa wrote:Hemiolas can be heard in French baroque music, and the music of Mozart, Handel, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. 6/8 and hemiolas are not foreign to our Euro ears.

compound duple meter 2.jpg


The challenge is to hear the two beats as the main beats when there are three crossbeats being sounded. Most often in African music, the three beats are emphasized by the music, while the dancer's feet mark the two main beats.

Mongo Santamaria's original recording of "Afro Blue" begins with the bass playing three crossbeats per measure (or six crossbeats per clave). The cool thing is that the soloists emphasize the main beats. Improvising on a simple pentatonic blues with an onbeat emphasis, creates the complete crossrhythm in a very satisfying way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbE7jf_Hp5w


Thanks very much for clarifying this, David, very precise as always. :D
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby jorge » Fri Jul 11, 2014 7:44 pm

davidpenalosa wrote:You are very welcome Johnny. More on hemiola:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemiola

Jorge, I hear ya. The original version is my favorite. I especially like Francisco Aguabella's bonkó-like solo.


So we agree on that bonko solo, David. I do think, however, that some bonko figures and some quinto riffs are unwriteable in any musical notation I have seen. They are not triplets and are not in triple or duple time. Michael Spiro has used the term "fix" to combine 4 and 6 but I think it is deeper than that. Last night Mauricio Herrera played quinto at the Midnight Rumba at the Zinc Bar and alot of the stuff he played is just simply unwriteable, although it fits perfectly with the guaguanco clave and the feel of the rumba. I have heard Pedrito Martinez, Migelo Valdes, Ivan Alfonso (ibae), Daniel Ponce (ibae), Sandy Perez and a few other outstanding Cuban quinto players play similar figures. One simple example is the bonko riff Francisco plays twice in Mongo's Afro Blue at 3:37. Roman and Chori played similar riffs alot with Yoruba Andabo in their Abakua songs. I can't write that pattern, can you? It is not an even 9 beats in 2 measures and it is not 12 beats dropping every 4th beat, it is somewhere between those. Mauricio's and Pedrito's stuff is a few levels beyond that still, so let's not go there yet.
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby davidpenalosa » Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:31 pm

OK, we won't go there yet. 8)

Jorge,
Francisco is playing a very common bonkó phrase (I'm sure you are familiar with) at 3:37. It is based on a displaced three-beat cycle: grouping triple pulses in sets of four, but only sounding three of the four pulses in each set.

bonkó phrase.jpg
typical bonkó phrase


He is simply stretching the time by slightly "dragging" the phrase. I've heard Roman Diaz do this and I think it's a widely used interpretation of that particular phrase. I'm not comparing myself to these masters, but I enjoy stretching this phrase too. I think using the "fix" concept as a means of understanding Francisco's execution of the phrase would make the analysis unnecessarily complicated.

In terms of Western theory, Francisco's feel is that of a momentary retard. Of course, retarding this very counter-metric phrase in a 6/8 crossrhythm is easier said than done.

Those who transcribe solos are not inhibited by the particular feels a soloist employs. Typically, the transcriber writes the phrase straight, but indicates in some way that the phrase is played "slightly laid-back," or something to that effect. It actually is not that helpful to write Francisco's interpretation of phrases like the one above more precisely, because reading 32nd note triplets or other abstract subdivisions is nearly impossible. With today's computer technology, it is possible to be quite accurate in writing out elusive feels, but yeah, from a practical standpoint, they are "unwriteable." It's better to write the phrase straight, indicate the type of feel that is employed by way of a short text note, and then refer the reader to the recording so that they can hear the feel for themselves.
Last edited by davidpenalosa on Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby davidpenalosa » Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:57 pm

Mike wrote: Thanks very much for clarifying this, David, very precise as always. :D


Thanks Mike!
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Re: Understanding Triplet Feel

Postby jorge » Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:43 pm

What you wrote is a variation of the ekon pattern that is sometimes used as a floreo of the ekon, but the bonko floreo pattern they are playing is more different from that than just a "retarded" or "pulled" feel added to the oversimplified "straight" pattern. The 3 sets of 3 notes are not all spaced evenly as the written notation would suggest, the third set starts a little earlier than the third "straight" set of triplets would start but it still ends on the same beat the "straight" triplets end on. This is not just "feel", the rhythmic melody created by the bonko floreo on top of the other parts (in this case Mongo's high drum, in Abakua the ekon 4th strike) sounds different from the melody that would be created when you play that "straight" pattern on top of the other parts, like flam timing instead of 2 concurrent hits. You can hear it better in Yoruba Andabo's Abakua recordings than in Francisco's solo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC1PuHooY80

Since it is impossible to derive the actual sound of either the bonko floreo pattern or the total biankomeko orchestra from the oversimplified written notation alone (ie, without hearing it), my view is that it is really not helpful to write that bonko floreo at all, it really needs to be heard and learned in the traditional way: by ear, from someone who knows it and can play it well and/or a recording of them playing. It is really all about the total sound of all the drums and other instruments not just the bonko part. Western music notation is in effect useless to provide the necessary information to accurately reproduce that sound, hence my claim that that floreo is unwriteable.

By the way, how would you translate "floreo" into English? Riff, motif, pattern and phrase all seem a bit different from floreo and don't capture the complete, salient, improvisational, but non-repetitive nature of the floreo in rumba or Abakua music.
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