Feedback from my students on learning to play finger cymbals - by Anthea Kawakib
Finger Cymbal Patterns for Beginners, continued
Video PLAYLIST how-to play Finger Cymbals for Beginners

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What Students Say About Finger Cymbals or Zills

Zaghareet! Magazine (Sep/Oct 2009)
by Anthea (Kawakib)

Learning Finger Cymbals, A Digression

As I'm writing this, it’s hard getting my brain back to work after vacation (Pennsic), and the hard work of our annual Recital the week before that, so I asked a few of my lovely students for help me with material on learning finger cymbals. Here they relate their thoughts and experiences on that topic, and it will give us a little more insight into how different methods work for different people, and that’s helpful to me  as a teacher too.

First, some background...

It’s been years since I had to teach finger cymbals the way I’m doing it in the “how-to” series I have on Youtube ( and I sure don’t miss that method at all. It was really not the easiest way for students to learn, but for many of you (especially Oriental dancers, as compared to Tribal Improv dancers) I know that’s how you’re learning, through drills and exercises.
Pick a few dance combinations or travel steps from my video clips to practise with your cymbal patterns until they become comfortable for you. It’s important to develop muscle memory by repeating the dance steps so that you can “keep an ear” on your cymbal playing.

These days when it’s time for my students to learn finger cymbals I incorporate the patterns one by one (starting with the easiest of course) as my students dance in our group improv style, Tribal Odyssey. So while they are dancing, they know “this pattern goes with this combination”, but they don’t have to play continuously.  It’s also a plus that they get to hear other students (and myself) playing while we’re dancing together, before they even pick up any cymbals.

Even so, one student, Al-'Anqa, says she does use my YouYube clips to practise with at home:

“I’ve actually been using the online “how to videos” and I’ve found that they help me get the basic pattern down in my body so then when I go back to hearing them in class, I have an easier time applying them to the music. I needed the visual instruction. The way the videos break down each pattern was really helpful. Reading the patterns in the (Tribal Odyssey) handbook and having what they should sound like memorized in my head wasn’t enough for me to be able to play them.”
She says the Triples pattern gave her the most issues out of all the patterns she’s learned so far. What pattern do you find the hardest?

Another student, Yaalini, is one of my best cymbal players. She has her own strategy for nailing the skill of cymbal playing. She says,
“Learning to play finger cymbals for (Tribal Odyssey) was an excellent way to learn how to dance and play at the same time. As we knew at least the basic seven T.O. dance combinations, I could dance using muscle memory while I focused on playing the patterns. In order for me to become comfortable moving and playing at the same time, I practiced at home with non-class music. Music that I liked to just bop around to in general. I think all dancers should know how to play finger cymbals as they are a useful accent instrument plus they come in handy if your recorded music ever dies!”
That’s a good point! My students and I have been in a couple of performances together and had our music drop out unexpectedly.... but we kept dancing to our own finger cymbals!  It’s happened to me as a soloist a couple of times as well - and finger cymbals help immensely in that situation.
Naida, still new to finger cymbals, adds this:
“My point of view is that I love playing the zills in tribal. it's hard to do tribal w/out them now. but I do remember way back before we used zills and whenever you and (Yaalini) would play zills in our non-zill class, I loved it - thought it helped w/the dancing. same goes for drumming. music is great, but when you add zills and/or drums, the dancing comes easier.”
Naida and I also discussed how hard it was for her to play in class when others, even one person, is off-tempo...somehow it can drag the whole group off. If I turned the music up all the way we would be disturbing others in the building - and the sound level of a group of danceers playing finger cymbals is very high!

So practise practise practise at home WITH music, or a drumbeat, to develop your timing.  Keep adjusting your timing while you’re playing - check in and really listen to the music frequently to make sure you’re still on beat.

The only other major caveat I have for beginners practising finger cymbals is two-fold:

  1. Keep your arms in a dance position, not just in front of you.
  2. Keep your hands still - don’t let them flip or jerk at all.

Video PLAYLIST of "how to play" Finger Cymbals Patterns for Beginners:

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