Monday, May 23, 1988

Senegal (c. 20,000 BC) - Percussion - Rhythm

Senegal is south of the Sénégal River in Western Africa, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south. The Gambia lies almost entirely within Senegal, surrounded on the north, east and south; from its western coast, Gambia's territory follows the Gambia River more than 186 miles inland. Dakar is the capital city of Senegal, located on the Cape Verde Peninsula on the country's Atlantic coast.

Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times.

Prehistory is a term often used to describe the period before written history. Paul Tournal originally coined the term Pré-historique in describing the finds he had made in the caves of southern France. It came into use in French in the 1830's to describe the time before writing, and was introduced into English by Daniel Wilson in 1851.

Prehistory can be said to date back to the beginning of the universe itself, although the term is most often used to describe periods when there was life on Earth; dinosaurs can be described as prehistoric animals and cavemen are described as prehistoric people. Usually the context implies what geologic or prehistoric time period is discussed, e.g. "Middle Palaeolithic Homo sapiens," 20,0000 years ago.

[Village near Podor]

Senegal - Greetings from Podor

[19th-Century French fort at Podor]

Podor is the northernmost town in Senegal, Africa, lying on Morfil Island between the Sénégal River and Doué River.


[Idiophones from Southeast Asia]

A solid-body percussion instrument, or idiophone, is any musical instrument which creates sound primarily by way of the instrument vibrating itself, without the use of strings or membranes. It is one of the four main divisions in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification. Idiophones are probably the oldest type of musical instrument (not counting the human voice). In the early classification of Victor-Charles Mahillon, this group of instruments was called autophones.

Most percussion instruments which are not drums are idiophones. Hornbostel-Sachs divides idiophones into four main sub-categories. The first division is the struck idiophones (sometimes called concussion idiophones). This includes most of the non-drum percussion instruments familiar in the west. They include all idiophones which are made to vibrate by being hit, either directly with a stick or hand (like the wood block, singing bowl, triangle or marimba), or indirectly, by way of a scraping or shaking motion (like maracas or flexatone).

Various types of bells fall into both categories.

The other three sub-divisions are rarer. They are plucked idiophones, such as the jew's harp, amplified cactus, music box or mbira (thumb piano); blown idiophones, of which there are a very small number of examples, the Aeolsklavier being one; and friction idiophones, such as the singing bowl, glass harmonica, glass harp, turntable, verrophone, daxophone, styrophone, musical saw, or nail violin (a number of pieces of metal or wood rubbed with a bow).
A number of idiophones that are normally struck, such as vibraphone bars and cymbals, can also be bowed.


The drum, or membranophone, consists of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with parts of a player's body, or with some sort of implement such as a drumstick, to produce sound. Drums are the world's oldest and most ubiquitous musical instruments, and the basic design has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Most drums are considered "untuned instruments."

The shell almost invariably has a circular opening over which the drumhead is stretched, but the shape of the remainder of the shell varies widely. In the western musical tradition, the most usual shape is a cylinder, although timpani, for example, use bowl-shaped shells. Other shapes include a frame design (tar, Bodhrán), truncated cones (bongo drums, Ashiko), goblet shaped (djembe), and joined truncated cones (talking drum).

Drums with cylindrical shells can be open at one end (as is the case with timbales), or can have two drum heads. Single-headed drums normally consist of a skin which is stretched over an enclosed space, or over one of the ends of a hollow vessel. Drums with two heads covering both ends of a cylindrical shell often have a small hole somewhat halfway between the two heads; the shell forms a resonating chamber for the resulting sound. Exceptions include the African slit drum, made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, and the Caribbean steel drum, made from a metal barrel. Drums with two heads can also have a set of wires, called snares, held across the bottom head, top head, or both heads, hence the name snare drum.

Prior to the invention of tension rods drum skins were attached and tuned by rope systems such as that used on the Djembe or pegs and ropes such as that used on Ewe Drums.

Several factors determine the sound a drum produces, including the type of shell the drum has, the type of drumheads it has, and the tension of the drumheads. Different drum sounds have different uses in music. For example, a jazz drummer may want drums that sound crisp, clean, and a little on the soft side, whereas a rock and roll drummer may prefer drums that sound loud and deep. Because these drummers want different sounds, their drums will be constructed differently.

The drumhead has the most effect on how a drum sounds. Each type of drumhead serves its own musical purpose and has its own unique sound. Thicker drumheads are lower-pitched and can be very loud. Drumheads with a white plastic coating on them muffle the overtones of the drumhead slightly, producing a less diverse pitch. Drumheads with central silver or black dots tend to muffle the overtones even more. And drumheads with perimeter sound rings mostly eliminate overtones . Some jazz drummers avoid using thick drumheads, preferring double ply drumheads or drumheads with perimeter sound rings. Rock drummers often prefer the thicker or coated drumheads.

The second biggest factor affecting the sound produced by a drum is the tension at which the drumhead is held against the shell of the drum. When the hoop is placed around the drumhead and shell and tightened down with bolts, the tension of the head can be adjusted. When the tension is increased, the amplitude of the sound is reduced and the frequency is increased, making the pitch higher and the volume lower.

The type of shell also affects the sound of a drum. Because the vibrations resonate in the shell of the drum, the shell can be used to increase the volume and to manipulate the type of sound produced. The larger the diameter of the shell, the lower the pitch of the drum will be. The type of wood is important as well. Birch generates a bright, crisp, and clean sound, maple reproduces the frequency of the drumhead as it resonates and has a warm, wholesome sound while mahogany raises the frequency of low pitches and keeps higher frequencies at about the same speed. When choosing a set of shells, a jazz drummer may want smaller maple shells, while a rock drummer may want larger birch shells. For more information about tuning drums or the physics of a drum, visit the external links listed below.

Drums are usually played by the hands, or by one or two sticks. In many traditional cultures drums have a symbolic function and are often used in religious ceremonies. Drums are often used in music therapy, especially hand drums, because of their tactile nature and easy use by a wide variety of people.

The earliest known drum-like instrument is from Mezhirich, near Kiev, Ukraine, and dates back to approximately 15,000 years ago. The instrument was found at the site of the oldest known house, constructed of mammoth bones. They were found in 1965 by a farmer digging a new basement six feet below the ground. The drum-like instrument is a hollow mammoth skull with signs of wear from being hit by mammoth bones decorated with red paint.

In the past drums have been used not only for their musical qualities, but also as a means of communication, especially through signals. The talking drums of Africa can imitate the inflections and pitch variations of a spoken language and are used for communicating over great distances. Throughout Sri Lankan history drums have been used for communication between the state and the community, and Sri Lankan drums have a history stretching back over 2500 years. Japanese troops used Taiko drums to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Fife-and-drum corps of Swiss mercenary foot soldiers also used drums. They used an early version of the snare drum carried over the player's right shoulder, suspended by a strap (typically played with one hand using traditional grip). It is to this instrument that English word "drum" was first used.


Rhythm (from Greek - rhythmos, "any measured flow or movement, symmetry") is the variation of the length and accentuation of a series of sounds or other events.


The earliest performable notation comes from Iraq, West Asia (Sumeria, 1400 BC), using letter names for pitch (Korea, in Northwest Asia, developed a related notion).

In Western Europe, a repeating 7-letter notation (ABCDEFGABC....) became supplemented by graphics. Medieval monks began with squiggles called neumes, read left to right through time, with pitch depicted as high or low on the page.

Horizontal staff lines were added, with a clef, specifying a pitch,

such as "G," for high (treble) singers.


A clef (from the French for "key") is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes.

Placed on one of the lines at the beginning of the staff, it indicates the name and pitch of the notes on that line. This line serves as a reference point by which the names of the notes on any other line or space of the staff may be determined.

These days, the curlicues of the G-clef are almost invariably placed on the second line (from the bottom) of the staff, and is called the "treble clef." This is by far the most common clef used today, and the only G-clef still in use. For this reason, the terms G-clef and treble clef are basically seen as synonymous. It was formerly also known as the "violin clef."

This clef is used for the bagpipes, violin, flutes, oboe, English horn, all clarinets, all saxophones, horn, euphonium (occasionally), trumpet, guitar, vibraphone, xylophone and handbells; for the upper part of keyboard instruments like the piano, organ, harp, and harpsichord (of which the lower part is usually written in the bass clef); for the highest notes played by the cello (the old convention was to write an octave higher, unless preceded by a tenor clef), bassoon, trombone (which otherwise use the bass and tenor clefs), and viola (which otherwise uses the alto clef); and for the soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, and tenor voices.


Squarish neumes with four lines became notes on a five-line staff.

Quarter notes (and their equivalent silent counterparts known as rests) often receive one "beat" or time unit, at any designated speed (tempo, time).

Vertical bar lines were added for measured intervals of time -- the space between bar lines called a "measure." Repeat signs save space, thin double bars end sections, and double bars end pieces.

The repeated notes in Greetings from Podor, could be notated as Middle C Quarter Notes. As the main notes of the piece, they could also be called "I" or "Do." This C is on a ledger line, just below the five-note staff...

Middle C is indeed roughly in the center of a piano keyboard. Any note adjacent to the left of a "gang of two" black notes will be a C.

2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 are meters (time signature). All the notes above are High C's, one octave (eight white notes above Middle C).

"3/4" means 3 beats per measure, with the quarter (1/4) note getting the beat.

The above example shows quarter notes, eighths (half as long as quarters), and sixteenth notes (half as long as eighths).

Other important notes and rests include the half (twice as long as a quarter)

and the whole (twice as long as a half, four times as long as a quarter).


Tempo (Italian for 'time, movement') is the speed or pace of a given piece. It is an extremely crucial element of sound, as it can affect the mood and difficulty of a piece.

The plural of tempo in Italian is tempi. Some writers employ this plural when writing in English. Others use the native English plural tempos. Standard dictionaries reflect both usages.

The tempo of a piece will typically be written at the start of a piece of music, and is usually indicated in beats per minute (mm metronome marks). This means that a particular note value (for example, a quarter note) is specified as the beat, and the marking indicates that a certain number of these beats must be played per minute. The greater the tempo, the larger the number of beats that must be played in a minute is and, therefore, the faster a piece must be played. Mathematical tempo markings of this kind became increasingly popular during the first half of the 19th century, after the metronome had been invented by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, although early metronomes were somewhat inconsistent. Some people consider Beethoven's metronome markings, in particular, to be notoriously unreliable.

As an alternative to metronome markings, some 20th century composers (such as Béla Bartók and John Cage) would give the total execution time of a piece, from which the proper tempo can be roughly derived.

Whether a music piece has a mathematical time indication or not, in classical music it is customary to describe the tempo of a piece by one or more words. Most of these words are Italian, a result of the fact that many of the most important composers of the 17th century were Italian, and this period was when tempo indications were used extensively for the first time.

Before the metronome, words were the only way to describe the tempo of a composition. Yet after the metronome's invention, these words continued to be used, often additionally indicating the mood of the piece, thus blurring the traditional distinction between tempo and mood indicators. For example, presto and allegro both indicate a speedy execution (presto being faster), but allegro also connotes joy (from its original meaning in Italian). Presto, on the other hand, indicates speed as such (while possibly connoting virtuosity, a connotation it did not acquire until the late 18th century).

Additional Italian words also indicate tempo and mood. For example, the "agitato" in the Allegro agitato of the last movement of George Gershwin's piano concerto in F has both a tempo indication (undoubtedly faster than a usual Allegro) and a mood indication ("agitated").

In some cases (quite often up to the end of the Baroque period), conventions governing musical composition were so strong that no tempo had to be indicated. For example, the first movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 has no tempo or mood indication whatsoever.

To provide movement names, publishers of recordings resort to ad hoc measures, for instance marking the Brandenburg movements "Allegro," "(Allegro)," "(Without indication)," and so on.

In Renaissance music most music was understood to flow at a tempo defined by the tactus, roughly the rate of the human heartbeat. Which note value corresponded to the tactus was indicated by the mensural time signature.

Often a particular musical form or genre implies its own tempo, so no further explanation is placed in the score. Thus musicians expect a minuet to be performed at a fairly stately tempo, slower than a Viennese waltz; a Perpetuum Mobile to be quite fast, and so on. Genres can be used to imply tempos; thus Ludwig van Beethoven wrote "In tempo d'un Menuetto" over the first movement of his Piano Sonata, Op. 54, although that movement is not a minuet. Popular music charts use terms such as "bossa nova", "ballad", and "Latin rock" in much the same way.

It is important to remember when interpreting these words that not only have tempos changed over historical time, and even in different places, but sometimes even the ordering of terms has changed. Thus a modern largo is slower than an adagio, but in the Baroque period it was faster.

From fastest to slowest, the common tempo markings are:

Prestissimo - extremely fast

Vivacissimamente - adverb of vivacissimo, "very quickly and lively"

Vivacissimo - very fast and lively

Presto - very fast

Allegrissimo - very fast

Vivo - lively and fast

Vivace - lively and fast

Allegro (Italian "happy") - fast and bright

Allegro moderato - moderately quick

Allegretto (a "little allegro") - moderately fast (but less so than allegro)

Allegretto grazioso - moderately fast and with grace

Moderato - moderately

Moderato con espressivo - moderately with expression

Andantino - alternatively faster or slower than andante (a rather ambiguous tempo)

Andante - at a walking pace

Tranquillamente - adverb of tranquillo, "tranquilly"

Tranquillo - tranquil

Adagietto - rather slow

Adagio - slow and stately (literally, "at ease")

Grave - slow and solemn

Larghetto - rather broadly

Largo - Very slow, very similar to lento

Lento - very slow

Largamente/Largo - "broadly," very slow

Larghissimo - very slow

Other terms include:

Marcato - marching tempo

Misterioso - mysteriously

Tempo commodo - at a comfortable speed

Tempo giusto - at a consistent, or exact, speed

L'istesso tempo - at the same speed (as before)

Non troppo - not too much (e.g. Allegro ma non troppo, "fast but not too much")

Assai - rather, very, enough as is needed (e.g. Adagio assai)

Con - with (e.g. Andante con moto, "at a walking pace with motion")

Molto - much, very (e.g. Molto allegro)

Poco - a little (e.g. Poco allegro)

Quasi - as if (e.g. Più allegro quasi presto, "faster, as if presto")

tempo di... - the speed of a ... (e.g. Tempo di valse (speed of a waltz), Tempo di marzo/marcia (speed of a march))

All of these markings are based on a few root words such as allegro, largo, adagio, vivace, presto, andante, and lento. By adding the -issimo ending the word is amplified, by adding the -ino ending the word is diminished, and by adding the -etto ending the word is endeared. Many tempos also can be translated with the same meaning, and it is up to the player to interpret the speed that best suits the period, composer, and individual work.

Common qualifiers

assai - very, very much, as in Allegro assai (but also understood by some as "enough")

con brio - with vigour or spirit

con moto - with movement

non troppo - not too much, e.g. Allegro non troppo (or Allegro ma non troppo) means "Fast, but not too much."

non tanto - not so much

molto - much, very, as in Molto allegro (very fast and bright) or Adagio molto

poco - slightly, little, as in Poco adagio

più - more, as in Più allegro; used as a relative indication when the tempo changes

meno - less, as in Meno presto

poco a poco - little by little

In addition to the common allegretto, composers freely apply Italian diminutive and superlative suffixes to various tempo indications: andantino, larghetto, adagietto, and larghissimo.

Some markings that primarily mark a mood (or character) also have a tempo connotation:

Agitato - agitated, with implied quickness

Appasionato - to play passionately

Dolce - sweetly

Espressivo - expressively

Furioso - to play in an angry or furious manner

Giocoso - merrily

Maestoso - majestic or stately (which generally indicates a solemn, slow movement)

Morendo - dying

Sostenuto - sustained, sometimes with a slackening of tempo

Scherzando - playful

Vivace - lively and fast

Composers may use expressive marks to adjust the tempo:

Accelerando - speeding up (abbreviation: accel.)

Allargando - growing broader; decreasing tempo, usually near the end of a piece

Meno mosso - less movement or slower

Mosso - movement, more lively, or quicker, much like più mosso, but not as extreme

Più mosso - more movement or faster

Rallentando - slowing down, especially near the end of a section (abbreviation: rall.)

Ritardando - slowing down (abbreviation: rit. or more specifically, ritard.)

Ritenuto - slightly slower; temporarily holding back. (Note that the abbreviation for ritardando can also be rit. Thus a more specific abbreviation is riten. Also sometimes ritenuto does not reflect a tempo change but a character change instead.)

Rubato - free adjustment of tempo for expressive purposes

Stretto - rushing ahead; temporarily speeding up

Stringendo - pressing on faster

While the base tempo indication (such as allegro) appears in large type above the staff, these adjustments typically appear below the staff or (in the case of keyboard instrument) in the middle of the grand staff.

They generally designate a gradual change in tempo; for immediate tempo shifts, composers normally just provide the designation for the new tempo. (Note, however, that when Più Mosso or Meno Mosso appears in large type above the staff, it functions as a new tempo, and thus implies an immediate change.) Several terms control how large and how gradual this change are:

poco a poco - bit by bit, gradually

subito - suddenly

poco - a little

molto - a lot

assai - quite a lot, very

After a tempo change, a composer may return to a previous tempo in two different ways:
a tempo - returns to the base tempo after an adjustment (e.g. "ritardando ... a tempo" undoes the effect of the ritardando).

Tempo primo or Tempo I - denotes an immediate return to the piece's original base tempo after a section in a different tempo (e.g. "Allegro ... Lento ... Tempo I" indicates a return to the Allegro). This indication often functions as a structural marker in pieces in binary form.

These terms also indicate an immediate, not a gradual, tempo change. Although they are Italian, composers typically use them even if they have written their initial tempo marking in some other language.

Although Italian has been the prevalent language for tempo markings throughout most of classical music history, many composers have written tempo indications in their own language.

Several composers have written markings in French, among them baroque composers François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau as well as Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Maurice Ravel and Alexander Scriabin. Common tempo markings in French are:

Rapide - fast

Vite - fast

Vif - lively

Très - very, as in Très vif (very lively)

Modéré - at a moderate tempo

Moins - less, as in Moins vite (less fast)

Lent - slowly

Grave - slowly and solemnly

Au mouvement - play the (first or main) tempo.

Many composers (including Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg) have used German tempo markings. Typical German tempo markings are:

Schnell — fast

Rasch — quickly

Lebhaft — lively (mood)

Mäßig — moderately

Langsam — slowly

One of the first German composers to use tempo markings in his native language was Ludwig van Beethoven. The one using the most elaborate combined tempo and mood markings was probably Gustav Mahler. For example, the second movement of his Symphony No. 9 is marked Im tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers, etwas täppisch und sehr derb, indicating a slowish folk-dance–like movement, with some awkwardness and vulgarity in the execution. Mahler would also sometimes combine German tempo markings with traditional Italian markings, as in the first movement of his Symphony No. 6, marked Allegro energico, ma non troppo. Heftig, aber markig.

English indications, for example quickly, have also been used, by Benjamin Britten and Percy Grainger, among many others.


Meter is a concept related to an underlying division of time, the measurement of a musical line into measures of stressed and unstressed "beats," indicated in Western music notation by a symbol called a time signature.

Ametric music includes chant, some graphically scored works since the 1950's, and non-European music such as Honkyoku repertoire for shakuhachi.

Polymeter or Polyrhythm is the use of two or more metric frameworks simultaneously, or in regular alternation

[1990 France Pitch / 1988 Senegal Rhythm / 1987 France Aerophone]