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Les 4 familles de rythmes en Afrique de l’Ouest

Voici la théorie (et son vocabulaire) sur laquelle je m’appuie pour comprendre et
transmettre ce que je comprends des rythmes de la musique d’Afrique de
l’Ouest. Attention, il ne s’agit que d’un modèle. Révisable donc…

Les rythmes d’Afrique de l’Ouest se divisent en 4 familles. Pour ceux qui sont familiarisés
avec les concepts de binaire/ternaire, 2 familles sont binaires, 2 ternaires.

Par la suite j’appellerai les binaires Binaires Classiques (BC), les plus courants, et Binaires
Inversés (BI), plus rares (on les utilise surtout au Mali, comme le rythme Sandia).

Et pour les ternaires j’utiliserai une nomenclature déjà utilisée en jazz : les Ternaires
Iambiques (TI) et les Ternaires Shuffles (TS). Les seconds sont très spécifiques de la région
ouest africaine (les dununbas de Haute-Guinée, par exemple, en font partie). Les premiers
sont très proches des rythmes ternaires d’autres cultures (comme dans le maloya de La
Réunion, la rumba de Cuba par exemple).

A chaque famille correspond un débit et des clés rythmiques.

En me focalisant sur le concept de débit, je sous-entends que les divisions du temps (de la
noire ou de la noire pointée) ne sont jamais régulières. Ainsi, les subdivisions du temps sont
définies par un débit irrégulier de notes. Dans ce modèle, chaque débit défini une famille.

Les clés rythmiques sont des phrases rythmiques de référence sur lesquelles sont construites
les rythmes. Un peu comme les claves cubaines, qui structurent des musiques comme la
rumba, la salsa.

Au sein d’une famille, un rythme sera défini par une superposition de plusieurs phrases
rythmiques respectant le même débit et jouant avec les mêmes clés rythmiques.

Chaque famille a également des propriétés remarquables, comme l’accentuation systématique


de certaines syncopes (note placée ailleurs que sur la pulsation ou temps).

Comme nous le verrons plus tard, il est possible de passer d’une famille à l’autre en “forçant”
l’interprétation d’un débit, ou en se référant à une plus grande division du temps (en passant
des doubles croches aux sextolets par exemple). Ainsi, un rythme peut, selon la vitesse de la
pulsation, passer d’une famille à l’autre.

Bien sûr, cette théorie a ses limites. Tout d’abord parce que certains rythmes n’appartiennent à
aucune de ses 4 familles, telles que je les décrirai dans les prochains articles. Heureusement,
le modèle utilisant débits et clés permet de décrypter le fonctionnement de ces rythmes
atypiques, et on pourra créer pour ces derniers de nouvelles familles. Je vous laisserai
découvrir les autres limites de ce modèle au fil des articles. Mais je commencerai surtout par
vous montrer pourquoi elle fonctionne dans la plupart des cas…
En résumé : il y a 4 familles de rythmes, 2 familles de binaires et 2 familles de ternaires.
Chacune est définie par son débit (irrégulier) de notes. A chaque famille
correspond des phrases rythmiques de référence, les clés.

Débit des rythmes ternaires shuffles

Les Ternaires Shuffles (TS) sont des rythmes très caractéristiques de l’Afrique
mandingue. Cette famille couvre près la moitié des rythmes ternaires utilisés
dans la musique mandingue.

Et jusqu’à présent je n’ai pas trouvé leur correspondance dans d’autres cultures, contrairement
aux Ternaires Iambiques, très utilisés dans les autres musiques d’Afrique et d’ailleurs (La
Réunion, Cuba…).

Pour commencer cette série d’article sur les Ternaires Shuffle, je vais tenter de vous décrire
leur débit. C’est à dire la manière dont s’enchaînent les subdivisions, irrégulières, du temps
(de la noire pointée) pour tous les rythmes de cette famille de ternaires. C’est précisément ce
débit qui me permet de définir cette famille.

example: Soli, un rythme de Haute-Guinée, joué par un maître du genre, Famoudou Konate

Comme pour toute musique ternaire, le temps est divisé en 3, soit une note sur le temps et
deux syncopes. Et la particularité des TS est que la première syncope est systématiquement
très proche du temps (rappelez vous : les divisions du temps sont irrégulières ! ).

Un dessin pour l’illustrer :

Sur ce schéma j’ai représenté sur une ligne temporelle le débit moyen des TS (Merci à
Matthieu Lamarche pour les calculs ! ). Entre un temps et le suivant nous avons la durée de la
noire (solfège). L’écart entre le temps et la première syncope est donc le plus court
(4/15ème de la noire pointée, légèrement moins qu’une croche), suivi de l’écart entre les 2
syncopes (5/15, soit 1/3 de la noire pointée, i.e. une croche), puis de l’écart entre la seconde
syncope et le temps suivant (6/15ème de la noire pointée, légèrement plus qu’une croche).

Une conséquence de cette déformation est que la seconde syncope, en rose sur le schéma,
est la note la plus accentuée dans ces rythmes. Plus accentuée parfois que le temps lui-
même ! Dans les célèbres rythmes dununba par exemple…
C’est pourquoi dans le premier extrait musical, Famoudou Konate joue un “solo
accompagnement” basé sur cette seconde syncope. (écoutez entre 1:40 et 1:50).

Une fois le débit choisi, tous les instruments accompagnateurs, et toutes les chansons
respecteront exactement le même débit. Le résultat est ce groove particulier au Ternaires
Shuffles. Et les thèmes auront très souvent un accent prononcé sur la seconde syncope.

Le débit des rythmes ternaires iambiques

La musique ternaire iambique est présente dans tous les styles musicaux du Mali, de la
Guinée, du Burkina Faso et de la Côte d’Ivoire. Très simple à comprendre
théoriquement, cette musique ternaire est parfois très difficile à entendre
correctement, c’est-à-dire de l’écouter en frappant la juste pulsation.

Je vais tenter de vous expliquer comment ces musiques ternaires iambiques fonctionnent, en
théorie.

La principale particularité de ces rythmes est que la première syncope est éloignée du
temps la précédant.

Regardez sur le schéma ci-dessous :

Les trois intervalles sont donc différents. Entre le temps et la première syncope, l’intervalle
est le plus long (6/15 de la noire pointée, soit un peu plus d’une croche) ; l’intervalle entre les
2 syncopes est le plus court (4/15 de la noire pointée, un eu moins d’une croche) ; et le dernier
intervalle, entre la seconde syncope et le temps équivaut à une croche.

De cette déformation du débit découle une propriété importante : la première syncope (en
rose sur le schéma) est la note la plus accentuée dans ces musiques ternaires. D’où ce coup
sur le karignan dans la chanson de Yoro Sidibe.

La première syncope n’est pas systématiquement jouée plus fort que le temps. Quand elle
l’est, elle peut nous amener à entendre le rythme sur la mauvaise pulsation. Surtout que les
thèmes appuient très souvent la première syncope.
Essayez ce jeu pour apprendre à visualiser les clés rythmiques
shuffles !

Pour découvrir les clés rythmiques de la famille ternaire shuffle, je propose un petit jeu de
logique. Combien trouverez vous de phrases rythmiques respectant les règles
énonçées ci-dessous ?

Pour simplifier le jeu, je vous le présente sous forme de jeu graphique.

L’objectif de ce jeu est de vous apprendre à visualiser les clés rythmiques des ternaires
shuffles. Et je fait le pari que cette visualisation vous sera indispensable par la suite, pour
apprendre, comprendre et jouer des phrases rythmiques.

Voici les règles du jeu…

Vous devrez dessiner une suite de ronds et petits points. Ce dessin nous servira de partition
par la suite.

Vous devez placer un rond (qui représentera une croche) ou un petit point (un demi-soupir) au
bout de chaque branche verticale pour compléter ce dessin vierge :

Par exemple comme ceci :

Mais attention ! Cet exemple est faux !

Car votre dessin devra aussi respecter les 4 règles suivantes :


1. Vous considérerez que que la dernière branche et la première sont consécutives ;
comme si le dessin était un motif qui se répétait à l’infini.
2. Entre 2 ronds il ne pourra y avoir qu’un seul petit point maximum (il ne
comportera jamais 2 petits points consécutifs).
3. Entre 2 petits points il ne pourra y avoir que 2 ronds maximum (il ne peut y avoir
plus de 2 ronds consécutifs).
4. Enfin, les 4 ronds suivants sont imposés :
A vous de jouer…

Combien de dessins différents trouvez-vous ? Donnez vos réponses dans les


commentaires pour en faire profiter tous le monde !

Dans les prochains articles, je vous montrerai comment les réponses à ce jeu sont utilisées
rythmiquement en Afrique de l’Ouest pour les rythmes ternaires shuffle.

Les 3 figures rythmiques à maîtriser absolument quand on joue un


rythme ternaire shuffle

Par où commencer pour travailler les rythmes ternaires shuffles ? Laissez de côté un instant
vos vieux métronomes, nous vous avons concocté des petits outils audios à
télécharger pour travailler les rythmes ternaires shuffles…

Petit rappel théorique


Tout d’abord un petit rappel du précédent chapitre concernant les rythmes ternaires
shuffles. Pour tous les rythmes de cette famille, le débit a la forme suivante :

Ainsi la durée entre 2 temps étant égale à une croche pointée, les 3 subdivisions de cette durée
sont :

1. une croche entre la première syncope et la seconde syncope


2. un peu plus d’une croche entre la seconde syncope et le temps suivant
3. un peu moins d’une croche entre le temps et la première syncope

Une série d’enregistrements de travail pour chaque paire


de notes
Pour maîtriser ce débit particulier, il vous faudra donc absolument connaître ses 3
intervalles. En particulier, vous devrez être capable de jouer les 3 paires de
notes correspondantes, à savoir :
1. les 2 syncopes
2. la seconde syncope et le temps
3. le temps et la première syncope

Matthieu Lamarche nous a donc préparé une série d’enregistrements


qui serviront de trame pour nos exercices de rythmes shuffles. Sur
ces enregistrements vous entendrez donc à chaque fois l’une des
paires de notes, à 80 bpm.

Pour chaque paire, Matthieu nous a mis 3 types de boucles :

1. la paire avec le débit (joué par une cloche, plus aigüe) et les temps (joués par un coup
de percussion plus grave)
2. la paire avec le débit seulement
3. la paire seule

Une petite remarque avant d’aller plus loin. A 80 bpm, le débit représenté plus haut est très
étrange ; il semble très accentué tellement l’écart entre les 3 subdivisions de la croche
pointée semble long. J’ai fait le choix de vous proposer des exercices sur ce débit très
accentué premièrement pour vous faire ressentir fortement l’influence qu’il a sur les 3 paires.
Une fois ce ressenti intégré, vous serez à même de le jouer plus subtilement. De plus, une fois
bien accéléré, ce debit ne semble plus si accentué. Il est alors plus proche de ce qui peut se
jouer en Afrique de l’Ouest.

Mais de quels enregistrements parle-t-on depuis le début


de cet article ?!!
Les voici…

Pour la première paire de notes (les 2 syncopes) :


La seconde paire (seconde syncope et temps):

Et enfin la troisième et dernière paire (temps et première syncope) :

Et comment travailler avec ces enregistrements ?


Voici comment vous pourrez assimiler chacune des 3 paires de notes. Choisissez la première
paire que vous souhaitez travailler et suivez les instructions suivantes…

Commencez par choisir votre arme (saxophone, djembe, guitare, kora, mains qui tapent sur
une table…). Enfilez votre casque audio préféré, et faites en sorte qu’il vous envoie le premier
extrait audio (correspondant à la paire de note choisie) dans les oreilles.

Essayez alors de jouer des paires de notes sur votre instrument, en les calquant sur les paires
de notes de l’enregistrement. Pendant tout le temps qu’il vous faudra pour parfaitement
assimiler ce placement rythmique.

Puis passez à l’enregistrement suivant. Même paire donc, mais le repère sur le temps a
disparu. A ce stade, il vous faudra peut-être passer plus de temps encore, jusqu’à ce que vous
ressentiez parfaitement le temps, qui n’est plus marqué par le son grave.

Enfin passez au troisième enregistrement. Toujours la même paire de notes, la cloche a


disparu. Donc plus aucun repère sur le temps ! Il vous faudra pourtant le ressentir, et
l’entendre…

Maintenant, il va falloir tout recommencer en augmentant la vitesse de lecture de


l’enregistrement de travail. En utilisant VLC ou Audacity par exemple. Je vous conseille
d’augmenter la vitesse progressivement, en ajoutant à chaque fois seulement 5 ou 10 bpm. Et
de revenir en arrière de temps en temps, à la vitesse la plus basse (80 bpm), dès que vous
sentez un blocage.

Une remarque : ces exercices sont très fastidieux. Alternez les avec des exercices moins
“prise de tête”, et avec du jeu plus musical. Et évitez l’acharnement. Mieux vaut 10
minutes de travail quotidien que 2 heures d’affilée une fois par semaine !

Visualisez les 4 clés rythmiques des Ternaires Shuffles

Suite au petit jeu que je proposais le mois dernier, voici les 4 clés primaires des rythmiques
shuffles. Et en bonus, une proposition de visualisation de ces clés, sans solfège rythmique…

Visualiser le solfège rythmique


Cette semaine je me suis initié à Illustrator, le logiciel de dessin vectoriel, pour tenter de vous
transmettre comment je visualise les clés rythmiques.

Or, je ne visualise pas des partitions classiques, mais plutôt des partitions non
conventionnelles utilisant un solfège rythmique simplifié. Je ne vais pas m’étendre sur ce que
je visualise réellement. Car cela ressemble à des images 3D mouvantes, un peu comme ce qui
est utilisé dans le jeu Guitar Hero… Et là je ne suis pas encore à la hauteur en infographie
pour vous créer ce genre d’images !

Alors j’ai préféré vous montrer de belles images en 2 dimensions. Plus simples. Qui ont la
forme suivante :

Chaque petite “feuille” représente ici une note. Sous celles placées sur les temps sont écrits
des chiffres, qui comptent les temps. Ici, nous avons donc une mesure de 4 temps.

Vous remarquerez que les écarts entre les notes sont irréguliers. Ils correspondent aux écarts
propres au débit irrégulier des rythmiques Ternaires Shuffles.

Appliquons maintenant ces codes graphiques au clés rythmiques.

Les 4 clés primaires des Ternaires Shuffles


Je vous ai proposé il y a un mois un petit jeu de logique qui permettait de découvrir 6 clés
rythmiques.

Parmi ces 6 clés, 4 sont essentielles pour comprendre les rythmes ternaires shuffles :
Pour chacune de ces clés, les notes appartenant à la clé sont dessinées en couleurs vives. Les
notes n’appartenant pas à la clé (absence de note), en pastel.

Nous verrons plus tard comment ces clés peuvent se superposer pour construire ce que l’on
appelle communément des polyrythmies. En particulier les 2 clés centrales, la rouge et la
bleue, qui sont les 2 premières clés à travailler en exercices pratiques. Pour le moment,
voyons comment visualiser leurs enchaînements…

Des enchaînements de clés shuffle


Visuellement, ces clés s’enchaînent comme des wagons. Attachés l’un à la suite de l’autre.

Mais il convient de respecter une règle : 2 notes ne peuvent être espacées que d’une
“absence de note”(soit un demi-soupir, en solfège rythmique conventionnel). C’est-à-dire que,
sur le dessin, il ne peut y avoir 2 notes de couleur pastel consécutives.

Toutes les clés peuvent s’enchaîner à elles-même, comme dans les 4 exemples suivants :
On peut également poser à la suite, dans n’importe quel ordre, les clés violette, rouge et
marron. Voici 3 exemples d’enchaînements possibles :

En revanche, on ne peut pas, en l’état, enchainer une clé bleue, avec une des 3 autres. Car la
règle énoncée plus haut nous l’interdit : il y aurait 2 demi-soupirs consécutifs.

Il faut donc ruser. Comme on ne peut enchainer ces clés en partant de la note placée sur le
premier temps, il faut choisir un autre point de départ. Et celui le plus couramment utilisé est
la note placée sur la première syncope après le 4ème temps.

Comme les clés devront s’articuler autour de cette syncope, il faut changer leur apparence. Et
créer de nouveaux wagons, démarrant sur cette syncope particulière.

Les wagons bleu et rouge prennent alors cette forme :


Et sous cette forme, on peut les enchaîner tout en respectant la règle, comme ceci :

ou comme cela :
categorization of ternary rhythms

by chin » Tue Oct 30, 2012 2:24 pm

I'm quite a "newbie" in understanding of different families of ternary rhythms...


Only until recently I had been able to play the shuffle bell pattern, including the offbeat... (eg.
Soli, Mendiani, Soboninkun etc.)
I'm still struggling with Dununbas, although I am really really interested in them. (In fact I
had stopped for a while... since I couldn't even play the shuffle offbeat before, now that I can
do that maybe it's time to try again)

Since I've been studying those ternary rhythms more in depth, I started to find that there are
"vague" differences among them. (maybe vague to me only...) Then I started to geek out here
and found there had been discussions (heated) here concerning the families. But to be honest,
I had been trying to understand by reading the same 2 threads for days but am not really sure
if I really understand. So I would appreciate if someone could help this newbie out!
However due to very limited exposure to ternary rhythms at my area, my repetoire is really
limited...

I noticed:
1) Dununbas (and other rhythms like Mendiani)
2) Dya (and rhythms like soko)
3) Binary

My questions:
a) I noticed that the signal of 1) and 2) are different, is it always 1) brugudu gudu gudu while
2) gudugudu gudu gudu gu?
b) Chauffe: I read in another thread that the chauffe of dununba in 1) is always upbeat (to
recall, during my only chance to study with Famoudou, it's the case too) and 2) is always
"towards" the beat, am I correct too?
c) Bell pattern of kenkeni of Dya family is usually **.**.**.**. am I right? How about
Dununba family, is there a usual pattern?
d) I read about something about "Dya bell pattern" (or something similar), but I cannot really
understand this... is it the bell pattern of Sangban? That there could be "one stroke" bell?
e) Very importantly... when I hear/learn a ternary rhythm, actually how do I distinguish which
family it goes? What is the salient feature? Or all the above? Would there be exceptions? Then
if I already am able to distinguish to which family, and if I am on dununba is it that I can
automatic play the respective chauffe to the family?
f) I already read that soli could be regarded as another small family, why? The version I
learned is from Mamady, I am not very sure of other version... say Hamanah version (which
I'd be very very interested... I seem to be gravitated towards Hamanah music)? And maybe
that is why it shall be regarded separately? (if so, is it possible for me to find notation/clip
somewhere?)

Thanks a lot in advance for kind reply!


chin
Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by bubudi » Wed Oct 31, 2012 6:03 am

hi chin, what a first post! please introduce yourself in the introduction section and let us know
how long you have been playing, where you live and who your teachers are, and anything else
you wish to share.
chin wrote:I started to geek out here and found there had been discussions (heated) here
concerning the families. But to be honest, I had been trying to understand by reading the same
2 threads for days but am not really sure if I really understand.

this is to be expected. this music has very few absolutes and occassionally 2 masters will even
disagree. with regards to the families, this is made more complicated by the fact there are
many ways to classify rhythm families. as discussed on the other thread, you can group them
by function, or feel, for example. so you will hear people talk about 'dununba family' or 'kassa
family' classified on their function. in the other thread we mostly talked about form and feel. i
tend to look at it more from the point of view of rhythms evolving from several core rhythms
while others may take a different approach.

I noticed:
1) Dununbas (and other rhythms like Mendiani)
2) Dya (and rhythms like soko)
3) Binary

for hamana this may be true, but with some debate over whether soli fits into the first category
or an additional one. also, there are 2 types of binary feel at least. the rhythms in the
categories depend on the geographical region. for instance, sega sidibe considers suku (soli),
denba (maraka) and dansa to be the core rhythm families in mande music.
a) I noticed that the signal of 1) and 2) are different, is it always 1) brugudu gudu gudu while
2) gudugudu gudu gudu gu?

quite often, but not always. also, in many villages they will not use many calls, if at all.

i'll do my best to answer yout other questions a little later.


bubudi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by chin » Wed Oct 31, 2012 9:23 am

I'm really sorry and I didn't mean to be so rude... but I guess I was too overwhelmed and
excited and forgot to even say hi to all of you... Please forgive my weirdness...

Thanks a lot bubudi, I understand what you said on classification can be on functions or
evolvement from core rhythms. What I have been struggling to understand is, what is the
significant difference between the 1) and 2), put aside those "vague", exceptions and
debatable rhythms.

I hope this doesn't sound dumb... but when I was reading another thread about dununbas, it
occurred to me that I understand every single word in the thread but somehow I fail to follow
how the logic falls... maybe I know too little on the music...

Anyway, binary aside, is it possible to deduce into a generic saying of "if I hear x feature and
y feature, I can know that it probably is 1... so it is logical that I play the chauffe of dununba
as xx"??

Thanks again bubudi!


chin

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by chin » Wed Oct 31, 2012 9:53 am

I found that I was not very clear before... right now I'm trying to understand the categorisation
musically instead of functionally/socially.

Thanks!
chin

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by bubudi » Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:40 am

dununba chauffs vary depending on the particular dununba rhythm but yes they tend to be
offbeat (while the djembe chauff keeps it anchored to the beat). i'm not sure exactly what you
mean by 'towards the beat'?

correct about most dja family kenkeni bell patterns. dununba rhythm kenkeni patterns are
almost always '-xx -xx -xx -xx', with some exceptions which are all, to the best of my
knowledge, played outside hamana. another interesting kenkeni bell pattern for dununba
rhythms, which is good to use if for some reason you don't have a strong sangban bell, is:
x-x x-x x-x x-x
--o -oo --o -oo

this is good for hand independence too, as you're required to play the kenkeni strokes and bell
strokes at different times. i will stress, though, that it's not traditionally found in hamana.

i think the reference to the one stroke bell is having single strokes rather than double strokes.
for example, the three single strokes in the dja sangban pattern:
x-x -x- xx- x-x

more later!
bubudi
Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by African Rythm » Sun Dec 09, 2012 10:19 am

There are 4 families of rhythm in mandingo music. 2 families of binary rhythms, 2 of


ternary rhythm. I try to explain every properties of each family, on my blog. But I wrote it in
french, and I'm not confident in my english...

Could anybody help me to translate my post in english, so that I can show you how I
conceptualize the west african music ?

Here are my first post about the 4 families :


http://www.africanrythm.com/rythmes-afrique/

2 posts about the 2 ternary families :


http://www.africanrythm.com/musique-ternaire/
http://www.africanrythm.com/musique-ternaire-famoudou/

And 2 other posts for a further understanding of one ternary family that I called "shuffle
ternary"
http://www.africanrythm.com/jeu-rythmique/
http://www.africanrythm.com/exercices-rythme/

African Rythm

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Sun Dec 09, 2012 10:27 am

Thanks for posting this!

Google Translate does a fairly decent job of converting it to English, but it would be great if
someone who speaks both French and English could do a proper translation!

Cheers,

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:33 pm


michi wrote:Thanks for posting this!

Google Translate does a fairly decent job of converting it to English, but it would be great if
someone who speaks both French and English could do a proper translation!

Cheers,

Michi.

Hmmnn...it's written in a very formal academic french. I translated the first half of the first
page but it took quite a while as I had to look quite a few phrases up. If someone better than
me doesn't do it I might get round to it at some point. Of course, I could paraphase it but a full
translation would be better.

Jon

djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:52 pm

Hey Jon, anything would be great. It doesn't have to be perfect!

Cheers,

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:48 am

OK it doesn't look like anyone with better french than me is going to do this so here goes.
This is only the first article. I will translate the others when I get round to it. I don't claim that
it is all perfect as it pushed my french skills to their limit and beyond. It's kind of like writing
in classical score...I can do it but its a ball-ache!

Certain phrases (most notably 'debit') I can't find a good translation for even though I
understand the sense. In the end I decided to translate 'debit' as 'spacing'. Please correct me if
you have a better translation...

The 4 Rhythmic Families of West Africa


Here is the theory (and its vocabulary) which supports my understanding and teaching of the
rhythms of West African music. Careful, it's only a model and therefore revisable...

West African rhythms are divisible into four families. To those who are familiar with the
concepts of binary / ternary: two families are binary and two are ternary.

Hereafter I will call the binaries Binary Classic (BC) - the most common - and Binary Inverse
(BI) - more rare (they are used mostly in Mali, like the rhythm Sandia).

For the ternaries I will use the nomenclature already used in Jazz: Ternary Iambic (TI) and
Ternary Shuffle (TS). The latter are very specific to West Africa (the dununbas from Haut
Guinea, for example, are part of that). The former are very close to ternary rhythms of other
cultures (like the maloya de la Reunion or the rumba of Cuba for example).

For each family there is a corresponding spacing and a rhythmic key.

By focusing on the concept of 'spacing' I do not mean to imply that the divisions in time (of
the quarter notes and the dotted quarter notes) are never regular. Thus, the subdivisions of
time are defined by an irregular spacing of notes. In this model, each spacing defines a family.

The rhythmic keys are the rhythmic phrases of reference on which the rhythms are built. A bit
like Cuban claves, which structure music like rumba and salsa.

Within a family, a rhythm will be defined by the overlapping of several rhythmic phrases
within the same spacing and played with the same rhythmic key.

Each family has equally noteworthy properties, like the systematic accentuation of
syncopations (notes displaced from the pulse or time)

As we shall see later, it is possible to switch from one family to another by 'forcing' the
interpretation of spacing, or by referring to finer subdivisions of time (including sixteenth
notes and sixteenth note triplets for example). Thus, a rhythm can, depending on the speed of
the pulse, pass from one family to another.

Of course this theory has its limitations. Primarily because certain rhythms don't fit into any
of the four families, as I will explain in the following articles. Luckily, the model using
spacing and keys allows us to understand the functioning of these atypical rhythms, for which
we can create new families. I leave you to discover the other limitations of this model over the
course of these articles. But above all I will begin by showing you why it works in most cases.

To summarize: There are four families of rhythms, two binary and two ternary. Each one is
defined by its (irregular) spacing of notes. Each family corresponds to rhythmic phrases of
reference: the keys.

If any part of this article is not clear, or if you do not understand certain technical words, pose
the question in the comments. It will be my pleasure to answer them.

And now, to enter into the detail of each family, and therefore of the following theory and the
beginning of the practical exercises, I invite you to read the following articles concerning each
of the families....

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Phew.....more to come when I have the energy!

Jon

djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Fri Jan 11, 2013 1:56 pm

And here's the next one:

The Spacing of Iambic Ternary Rhythms

Ternary iambic music is present in all styles of music in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and
Ivory Coast. Whilst theoretically simple to understand, this ternary music is sometimes very
difficult to hear correctly. That is to say to listen to the beat of the true pulse.

A little audio example will illustrate my point. Here is a piece of music for hunters, the
donsos by the Malian Yoro Sidibe (photo above)

In this example we hear two instruments: the ngoni, a lute-harp (that Yoro Sidibe is playing in
the above photo), and the karignan, a metal percussion instrument. It is actually the karignan
player who fools us by playing an accented beat on a syncopated beat rather than on a pulse
beat.

I will try to explain how iambic ternary music functions in theory.

The principle characteristic of these rhythms is that the first sub-pulse lies further from
the preceding pulse.

Look at the diagram below.

The three spaces are therefore different. The interval between the pulse and the first sub-pulse
is the longest (6/15 of a dotted crotchet or quarter note, being a bit longer than a quaver or 8th
note); the interval between the two sub-pulses is the shortest (4/15 of a dotted crotchet or
quarter note, a little less than a quaver or an 8th note); and the last interval, between the
second sub-pulse and the pulse, equates to a quaver or 8th note.

This distortion of spacing results from an important property: The first sub-pulse (pink in
the diagram) is the most accented note in this ternary music. It is where the karignan
plays in Yoro Sidibe's song.
The first sub-pulse is not systematically played stronger than the pulse. Where it is, it can lead
us to mis-hear the pulse.

Above all these themes are often apparent in the first sub-pulse.

Listen to this, where the pulse note is accented:

And here are some pieces that use iambic ternary rhythms:

The first is a sample of Malinke flute, played by the Guinean Mamady Manaré. The second,
played by Kanazoé and his group from Burkina Faso, is a piece from the Senoufo people.
Finally the last is a soninké rhythm very popular in Mali called maraka, interpreted by the late
Karim Tounkara on djembe and on dunun khassonke by Dramané ("left hand") Diabate.

Did you find the pulse in these examples?

Do you have examples of iambic ternary rhythms to share?

Questions? Comments?

In the next article of the iambic ternary category I will propose practical exercises for
internalizing this timing, then I will seek to describe the principle rhythmic figures of
reference, the iambic ternary keys.

OK my head hurts now.

Jon

djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:02 pm

Hi Jon,

thanks heaps for the heroic effort!

That's really interesting, and it lines up with what's described in "Séga Kan Do".

Sega refers to the swing where the first micro-pulse after the beat is delayed as the "sentiment
of Demba Foly." (In the book, that's the only rhythm that is quoted as an example of this
micro-timing. What others fall into that family?)
Sega also gives examples of the opposite swing, where the first micro-pulse after the beat
comes a little early: Suku, Garangedon, and Mendiani. (This swing is particularly evident in
the classical Mendiani call.)

A good exercise is to play tsstsstsstss echauffements without swing (easy), with the Suku
swing (harder for me), and the Mendiani swing (hardest for me).

Would be interesting to find out whether that difficulty is the same for most people, or
whether some people have an easier time with the Mendiani swing than the Demba Foli one…

Jon, if you can spare the time, I'd love to read the remainder of the articles! Thanks again for
doing all this work!

Cheers,

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:14 am

No problem Michi (actually that's not strictly true!)

This is exactly how I categorize rhythms. In my opinion all rhythms with the soko-style signal
are Iambic Ternary. Hence Soko, Sorsornet, Wassolonka (Toulounbeh) etc etc. I find this type
of swing much easier to play than the shuffle (most noticeable for me in Mendiani but I think
the swing gets more pronounced the closer to Mali you get).

Anyway, here is the third article:

Translators note: there is one sentence that I am struggling to translate. It is the second
sentence below the flow diagram. The sentence reads: Entre un temps et le suivant nous avons
la durée de la noire (solfège). This translates as, "Between one pulse and the next we have the
duration of a noire (solfege)" Now then, 'noire' in this context (music theory) means a
crotchet or quarter note. The problem is that in 6/8 (or 12/8) the length of a pulse beat is a
dotted crotchet or quarter note. In french this would be 'noire pointée', as the author points out
in the following brackets where he shows what fraction of a dotted crotchet each sub-pulse
represents. 'Solfege' normally means the orthography of the music (music theory if you like).
This might be a mistake on the part of the author but I'm just not sure so I've left this phrase in
the original french (yes a cop out I know)...

Spacing of Ternary Shuffle Rhythms

The ternary shuffles are particularly characteristic of Mandeng Africa. This family covers
nearly half of the ternary rhythms used in Mandeng music. To date I have not found their
equivalents in the music of other cultures, unlike the iambic ternaries which are often used in
other african music and further afield (La Reunion, Cuba)

To begin this series of articles on the ternary shuffles, I will try to explain their spacing. That's
to say the way in which the irregular subdivisions of the beat (of the dotted quarter notes) are
put together in all the rhyhtms of this ternary family. It's precisely this spacing that allows me
to define this family.

Let's begin with a little musical extract; here is Soli, a rhythm from Haut-Guinea, played by a
master of this genre, Famoudou Konate...

Like all ternary rhythms the pulse is divided into 3, thus there is one note on the pulse and 2
sub-pulses. The defining feature of TS is that the first sub-pulse is consistently very close to
the pulse (Remember: the divisions of time are irregular!)

A diagram to illustrate:

In this diagram I have represented the average spacing of TS along a temporal line (thank you
Matthieu Lamarche for the maths!) Between one pulse and the next we have the duration of a
noire (solfege). The gap between the pulse and the first sub-pulse is therefore shorter (4/15 of
a dotted quarter note, a little less than an 8th note) than the gap between the two sub-pulses
(5/15 being a third of a dotted quarter note, i.e. an 8th note or quaver) or the gap between the
second sub-pulse and the next pulse beat (6/15 of a dotted crotchet or quarter note, a little
more than an 8th or quaver)

Here is the structure in isolation, at several tempos (again, thank you Matthieu):

We can hear this in the extract at the top of the page, where Famoudou Konate, the soloist,
plays all the notes in the structure (we call this an echauffement...I have pointed out the first
few instances of this in the extract). I leave it to you to listen to this.

A consequence of this deformation is that the second sub-pulse, in pink in the diagram, is the
most accented note in these rhythms. Sometimes it is more accented than the pulse itself! For
example in the well-known rhythm Dununba...

This is why in the first extract Famoudou Konate plays a "solo accompaniment" based on the
second sub-pulse (listen between 1:40 & 1:50)

Once the structure has been selected, all the accompaniment instruments and all the voices
respect exactly the same spacing. The result is the groove particular to ternary shuffles.
These pieces very often have a pronounced accent on the second sub-pulse.

And now I suggest you listen to how these rhythmic properties are applied in melodic phrases:

The first is a piece of balafon music of toussian ethnicity, Fama, interpreted by Daouda
Diabate from Burkina (careful...this extract is based on a measure of 6 time; a time signature
of 18/8). The second is the magnificent song Ko Benna Toumana Le, by the guinean artist
Djen Doumbia. Finally the last is a guinean piece, Mamaya, interpreted here by the voice and
kora of Djeli Moussa Diawara.

Jon

djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:45 pm

Thanks heaps for that Jon!

Here two sound clips that illustrate the lambic swing. The first one is from "Rhythmen der
Malinke", Mendiani:

Mendiani Excerpt—Famoudou.mp3
Mendiani excerpt, Famoudou Konaté
(940.07 KiB) Downloaded 46 times

You can clearly hear the "bent" spacing during the echauffement.

This one is from Fadouba's CD, Soko. It's the call at the beginning.

Soko (Excerpt)—Fadouba.mp3
Soko excerpt, Fadouba Oulare
(311.9 KiB) Downloaded 34 times

This also indicates that the standard ternary calls (bri-bidi-bidi-bidi and bribidibi-dibi-dibi-di)
don't necessarily indicate the swing. Soli uses the first and soko the second, but both are
lambic.

But what also seems to be true that the following accompaniment is always associated with
bri-bidi-bidi-bidi, and never with bribidibi-dibi-dibi-di:

Code: Select all


1..2..3..4..
s..stts..stt
Conversely, the following accompaniment is always associated with bribidibi-dibi-dibi-di, and
never with bri-bidi-bidi-bidi:

Code: Select all


1..2..3..4..
s.sstts.sstt

Whereas the standard ka-dika is used with either call and with either swing.

Another observation: lambic swing emphasizes the third micro-pulse. For example, think
about Garangedon and Soli. Many of the solo phrases place a slap on the third micro-pulse
just before the down-beat. Conversely, rhythms that use the other swing, such as Maraka,
emphasize the second (delayed) micro-pulse. Many of the solo phrases and accompaniments
put a slap on the second micro-pulse.

It seems to be true that, at least generally, bri-bidi-bidi-bidi is associated with lambic swing,
and bribidibi-dibi-dibi-di with the other swing, but there are exceptions, such as Soko. (I can't
think of an example for the opposite. Anyone know of such a rhythm?)

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembefeeling » Sun Jan 13, 2013 6:18 am

hey jon,

thank you so much for this effort! After reading these articles I wonder why the one ternary
family is called iambic and the other shuffle. In a binary shuffle the second pulse (or in the
terms of the article: the first sub-pulse) is delayed while in the ternary shuffle it is brought
forward. That's confusing. Does anybody know why it is still called ternary shuffle?

For me, TS is easier to play than TI. I think this is because I started to practise deflected
microtiming with TS and never really practised systematically the microtiming of TI after
that. It's easier to deflect after you get used to some way, I guess...

As for Soko, I don't think that Fadouba's intro is a paradigm for TS in Soko. It is just an intro,
and there are tons of examples of bands using e.g. binary intros for ternary rhythms and vice
versa. But I know of soloists who like to "swing" on TI once in a while in solophrases. I guess
this is due to the fact that they use to impose a binary structure on TI, and the first sub-pulse
of three sounds like a strong swing?! In Mali, the typical Wassulunka microtiming also
integrates a fourth note into the big space between the pulse and the first sub-pulse. this can
be confused with (a very strong) swing, as well. So there are several examples of "swing" in
TI.
djembefeeling
Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Sun Jan 13, 2013 9:33 am

djembefeeling wrote:As for Soko, I don't think that Fadouba's intro is a paradigm for TS in
Soko. It is just an intro, and there are tons of examples of bands using e.g. binary intros for
ternary rhythms and vice versa

OK, point taken!

Here is a more representative sample: Soko, from "Rhythmen der Malinke". That's a perfect
example of a swung echauffement.

Soko (Excerpt)—Famoudou.mp3
Soko (Excerpt)—Famoudou Konaté
(690.86 KiB) Downloaded 48 times

But I know of soloists who like to "swing" on TI once in a while in solophrases. I guess this is
due to the fact that they use to impose a binary structure on TI, and the first sub-pulse of three
sounds like a strong swing?!

It's difficult to know at point one crosses the boundary between playing a swung ternary
phrase and playing a four-over-three cross-meter. I don't think there is a definite point. It's all
a continuum.

In Mali, the typical Wassulunka microtiming also integrates a fourth note into the big space
between the pulse and the first sub-pulse. this can be confused with (a very strong) swing, as
well. So there are several examples of "swing" in TI.

To my ear, the Wassolonka swing is ternary, not binary over ternary. But, with the same of the
Malian playing is bent, I can't be sure sometimes…

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembefeeling » Sun Jan 13, 2013 1:06 pm

michi wrote:Here is a more representative sample: Soko, from "Rhythmen der Malinke".
That's a perfect example of a swung echauffement.

Soko (Excerpt)—Fadouba.mp3
Soko (Excerpt)—Famoudou Konaté
(311.9 KiB) Downloaded 5 times

Michi, I think you attached the same fadouba intro by accident


djembefeeling

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Sun Jan 13, 2013 8:32 pm

djembefeeling wrote:Michi, I think you attached the same fadouba intro by accident

Right you are, thanks for that! I've edited the post and attached the correct snippet.

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembefeeling » Sun Jan 13, 2013 9:52 pm

michi wrote:Soko, from "Rhythmen der Malinke". That's a perfect example of a swung
echauffement

But this is a perfect example of iambic microtiming, the two sub-pulses and the next pulse
forming a group with some extra space before the next group starts with the first sub-pulse.
Do you hear the beat/pulse different in this one? Actually, it is hard for me to hear your
example from Mendiani with the right pulse, cause I miss the passport accompaniement. I
hear the last stroke of the sangban on the one so the mendiani sounds to me like an example
for a iambic rhythm...
djembefeeling

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:28 am

Yeah sorry Michi I'm 100% with Jurgen on this. Soko has an elongated space between the
pulse and the first sub-pulse (what the author of the article calls iambic). This is consistent
across all the folas I have heard, although some swing it more than others. I have done a
pollak-style analysis of this for several folas bu analysing the proportion of the total space
between pulses taken up by each sub-pulse.

Conversely Mendiani has a pinched first space (what the author calls a shuffle). Again I have
done the analysis and it is very consistent across djembe folas, especially in the classic solo
phrases and chauf.

I repeat: every rhythm with a soko-style signal that I have come across has an elongated first
space. Rhythms that use this signal always have a double on-beat bell (pulse and first sub-
pulse) that emphasizes this swing. The clue is in the signal: it has a double on-beat on the 2
and the 3 which anticipates the bell parts. This is the case for Soko, Wassolonka, Tiriba,
Kakalambe, Solo de Manian etc etc. Further evidence (and this links in with what Jurgen was
saying about extra beat that can be inserted) is that you only play 4/4 over 12/8 on rhythms
like these. It's fine to play in 4/4 over Soko (and in fact the classic Mamady solo has just such
a motif...as you know Michi as I've heard you play it very well) but not Mendiani.

Jon

djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:36 am

By the way, I tried to keep my translation consistent with the discussion we had on
terminology for pulse, beat, sub-pulse etc. The author uses the words 'temp' (pulse) and
syncopé (syncopation). I chose to translate 'syncope' as 'sub-pulse'. I hope that makes it
clearer rather than more opaque!

Jon

djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Tue Jan 15, 2013 11:18 am

djembeweaver wrote:Yeah sorry Michi I'm 100% with Jurgen on this.

Yeah, me too

Brain-fart on my part. I posted the intro, then Jürgen correctly pointed out that the intro
doesn't mean much, then I went to look for another echauffement in the rhythm, and
completely forgot that Soko has the swing on the other side.

I'll let this horribly embarrassing mistake stand for posterity

One observation though: at least with the way Mamady teaches, Soko has both bells: the one
for the sangban starts on down-beat and finishes on the micro-pulse after the down-beat, but
the dundunba bell start on the third micro-pules before the down-beat and finishes on the
down-beat.

Soko is one of the very few rhythms I've come across where both those shuffles are played
simultaneously.

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au
michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:32 pm

I'll let this horribly embarrassing mistake stand for posterity

10 out of 10 for humility then!

One observation though: at least with the way Mamady teaches, Soko has both bells: the one
for the sangban starts on down-beat and finishes on the micro-pulse after the down-beat, but
the dundunba bell start on the third micro-pules before the down-beat and finishes on the
down-beat.

Soko is one of the very few rhythms I've come across where both those shuffles are played
simultaneously

Every Soko I've ever learned has the same combination of basic bell parts (i.e a double on-
beat bell with a swing bell) I'll have to wrack my brains to see if I can think of any others with
the same combination.

I think it is a truism though, that you can have double on-beat + swing (which gives the
iambic swing like in Soko) or double off-beat + swing (as in Mendiani or Dununbeng) but
never double on-beat + double off-beat. I'm sure someone will provide a counter-example if
one exists!

Jon
djembeweaver

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by michi » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:51 pm

djembeweaver wrote:
One observation though: at least with the way Mamady teaches, Soko has both bells: the one
for the sangban starts on down-beat and finishes on the micro-pulse after the down-beat, but
the dundunba bell start on the third micro-pules before the down-beat and finishes on the
down-beat.

Soko is one of the very few rhythms I've come across where both those shuffles are played
simultaneously

Any others? I can't think of any right now, but I expect that there might a few.
I think it is a truism though, that you can have double on-beat + swing (which gives the
iambic swing like in Soko) or double off-beat + swing (as in Mendiani or Dununbeng) but
never double on-beat + double off-beat. I'm sure someone will provide a counter-example if
one exists!

I can't think of any rhythm that combines double on-beat and double off-beat either. That's not
surprising, really. If the whole thing about the two distinct ternary rhythm families is right,
combining those two bells is meaningless because they would send conflicting messages, one
suggesting a smaller gap between the down-beat and the first micro-pulse, and the other
suggesting a larger gap. It would work only if you played the rhythm perfectly straight,
without any swing in either direction.

Michi.
http://www.drumanddance.com.au

michi

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by Mikeleza » Sun Jan 20, 2013 5:29 pm

Hi all, happy new year! :dundun

I'm sure you would have talked about this before on another thread but I thought I'd share my
recent investigations into these swing concepts.

In ternary rhythms there are FOUR main mathematical possibilities for different types of
swing. Put in the simplest form I can manage;
* The first possibility is by delaying both offbeats slightly. (I relate this to Soko)
* The second possibility is that you delay the first but "tighten" (play earlier) the second
offbeat (I relate this to Zimbabwean ternary rhythms)
*The third possibility is if you tighten both offbeats.
*The last main possibility is if you tighten the first and the delay the second off beat.

I would like to know the your thoughts on shuffle ternary rhythms and whether or not you
think they fit more commonly into the 3rd or 4th category I've outlined above. I have noticed
that between different players you will hear different kinds of inflections of this, sometimes
you hear the kenkenney part of mendiani quite stretched as though the second offbeat is
coming earlier but then the same player (in the same recording ) might "tighten" the groove
and delay the second offbeat giving that more classic blues shuffle feel.

It certainly is interesting!
These concepts have lead me to practice really new ideas, for example, it opens up all the
doorways between rhythms for practice. For example to master samba swing I use ternary
rhythms to help inflect the rhythm correctly. There are rhythms between ternary and binary
that relate to each other in this mathematical approach. The 4/4 passport accompaniment
being just like the (m. keita) soko accompaniment 1 is a perfect example of what I'm talking
about...
Interestingly, in binary rhythms, there also seems to be FOUR main possibilities for swing,
although one of them is something I've never heard in music. In saying that, I have heard
some pretty way out stuff these days in the American R&B scene where they are messing with
a lot of these kinds of ideas.

Happy drumming!

Mike

Mikeleza

Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by djembeweaver » Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:54 pm

Hi Mike.

As we've found in other threads even talking about these concepts is difficult because there is
no established terminology that everyone understands.

The best system I have come across is that proposed by Rainer Pollak in his paper "Rhythmic
Feel as Meter: Non-Isochronous Beat Subdivision in Jembe Music from Mali".

Basically Pollak analyses the echauffements of different djembe folas across different
rhythms, then assigns a value to each of the spaces between pulse beats. The values are S
(short), M (medium), L (long), and F (flexible).

Pollak does extensive analysis of Mendiani and concludes that the basic structure is SFL.
Within that there are variations across different folas and even within the solos of the same
folas. Two commonly played structures are SML and SLL (achieved by really squeezing the
first two beats).

The other main ternary structure Pollak proposes is LFF, which is obviously characterised by
a long first space (what we have been calling iambic in this thread). Again there are several
possibilities within this basic structure.

Looked at like this there are more than even four possibilities for ternary, and more again for
binary. Of course not all of them are used.

Pollak then goes on to look at how each of the ternary structures can be nested within a
corresponding binary structure and this accounts for some of the more bizarre sounding
rhtyhms that are half way between binary and ternary.

You should read the paper if you're into this sort of thing. It's easily available online.

Jon
djembeweaver
Re: categorization of ternary rhythms

by Mikeleza » Sun Jan 27, 2013 3:43 pm

Thanks, this does answer my question.

People explain things in different ways, the paper you mention is a big more kind of abstract
and therefore the possibilities seem endless.

What you said about Mendiani does answer my question because if the last spacing is always
long, that means that the last offbeat before the down beat is played earlier. This means that
Mendiani and probably a lot of dunumbas fit in to the my category system which has both off
beats coming earlier.

I don't think I've ever heard a swing that has SLM or SLS as the feel. With my thinking, this
doesn't happen because you don't find rhythms that have the sangban playing off beat bells
and the dun playing the swing bell. It's a mind boggle to think why I come to that logic but I
think it has something to do that with many rhythms the sangban is the lead (melody) and the
dun an accompaniment.

Mikeleza