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Chapter Three excerpt.pdf

Chapter Three excerpt.pdf

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1 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Introduction, Key Patterns

Chapter Three

The Standard Bell Pattern

standard pattern motif 1

Key Patterns The third fundamental element of clave music after the primary and secondary beat cycles, is the key pattern, also known as a guide pattern.2 * Played properly, a key pattern is always joined with the primary beat cycle, the main accent of the dancer’s steps, whether or not those beats are actually sounded or stepped. Key patterns are felt and perceived as a composite rhythm (key pattern + primary beats).3 Even when played alone, key patterns indicate not only the primary beats, but also the complete crossrhythm.4 Moreover, they express the rhythm’s organizing principle, defining rhythmic structure, as scales or tonal modes define harmonic structure. All key patterns are interrelated and serve the same function, which is to guide all members of the ensemble by conveying the structural core of the rhythm in a condensed and concentrated form.5 Put simply, key patterns epitomize the complete rhythmic matrix. For the student, key patterns are the most important tool in unlocking the rhythmic code of the music. They are the “compass” by which you set your proper bearings within the rhythmic matrix. Key patterns are typically clapped or played on idiophones, for example a bell, a piece of bamboo or wooden claves.6 In some ensembles, such as iyesá and batá, a key pattern may be played on a high-pitched drumhead.7 The three most common key patterns used in Afro-Cuban music and African music south of the Sahara are the standard pattern, son clave and rumba clave.8 * Also known as phrasing referent, or asymmetrical timeline.9 None of these names came from Africa. C.K. Ladzekpo,

an Ewe master drummer/scholar, states, “In my country, Ghana, the bell doesn’t have a name, we don’t have a name for music...it’s just an embodiment of the people.” 10

pg. 2 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Introduction, Key Patterns

photo: Kellie Jo Brown

Ghanaian gankoqui bells

Brazilian agogo bell
photo: Kellie Jo Brown

Cuban-style cowbells

photo: Kellie Jo Brown

Right: two Cuban idiophones that play key patterns; the güiro (left) plays the baqueteo pattern (an embellishment of son clave) in the danzón and the mid-pitched chekere (right) plays a variant of the standard pattern in some arrangements of agbe.11

photo: Kellie Jo Brown

pg. 3 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Introduction, Key Patterns

Sub-Saharan Africa African cross-rhythm originated with the people of the Niger-Congo linguistic group, residing south of the Sahara Desert (see shaded area on map below).12 Music organized around key patterns convey a twocelled (binary) structure, which is a complex level of African cross-rhythm. shaded area: Niger-Congo linguistic group


Five principal African ethnic groups brought to Cuba as slaves. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Fon (Arará) Yoruba (Lucumí) Ibo Efik (Abakuá) Bantu (Congo)

pg. 4 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Introduction, Key Patterns

The numerous types of iron bells found within this vast belt exhibit an identical welding process in their construction.13 The same technology is also used in the making of certain bells in Cuba.14

Bantu iron bell 15

Cuban iron bell 16

The Archetypal Key Pattern Of all the key patterns, the foremost archetype is a seven-stroke figure called the standard pattern by ethnomusicologists, and the 12 bell or 6/8 bell by North American percussionists.17 ex. 3: 1 standard pattern

The standard bell pattern is found primarily within a geographic belt extending from northwest to southeast Africa (darker shaded area on map).18 Many of the slaves brought to the New World came from that part of Africa where the standard pattern is used. Consequently, the standard pattern is found in those former New World colonies where African cultural practices were preserved and adapted to the greatest extent: Cuba, Haiti and Brazil.19 The homelands of five principal African ethnic groups brought to Cuba are indicated on the map.

pg. 5 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Notes

Chapter Three
1 2


design created by the author “I propose that the term key pattern replace the term standard pattern...I feel that this terminology better reflects the structural significance of the pattern, and it also reflects upon the parallel term, clave, that has been in use for generations as a description of Cuban timelines. As noted by Afro-Cuban [music] scholar John Santos (1986: 32), ‘the word clave literally means key, keystone, or code’. As the clave is literally the key to understanding Afro-Cuban musics, so also is the African key pattern the key to understanding African rhythmic structures.”— Novotney (1998: 165)

I have adopted Novotney’s term key pattern to identify all binary (two-celled) timelines found in African music and the music of the African Diaspora that generally function in the same way as clave does. As used in Unlocking Clave, most bell parts are considered key patterns. Afro-Cuban folkloric musics that use key patterns include: abakuá, agbe (toque de güiro), many arará and batá rhythms, bembé, bricamo, conga, dundún, gagá, gangá, iyesá, kinfuiti, kuelé, makuta, nagó, palo, radá, rumba, tahona, yuba and yuka.

“The recurring bell pattern establishes the basic musical period or time span and the beats divide that span into equal divisions...four beats to each cycle of the bell pattern...[italics are mine].”—Locke (1982: 220-221) “No one hears a [key pattern] without also hearing – actuality or imaginatively – the movement of feet. And the movement of feet in turn registers directly or indirectly the metrical structure of the dance. Conceptually, then, the music and dance of a given [key pattern] exist at the same level; the music is not prior to the dance, nor is the dance to the music”—Agawu (2003: 73)


“...cross-rhythms do not necessarily appear in their theoretical form...they are ‘brought out’ by rhythmic patterns...”—Locke (1982: 233)

It is the key pattern, more than any other ensemble part that ‘brings out’ the theoretical (or generative) form of cross-rhythm.

pg. 6 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Notes


“At the broadest level, the African asymmetrical time-line patterns are all interrelated...”—Kubik (1999: 54) “A regular and recurrent rhythm pattern played on the bell provides the time referent by which members of the performing group reckon the alignment of their rhythm patterns, song melodies, and dance movements. Not only is the basic musical period established by the bell pattern but its distinctive rhythmic shape influences all aspects of the music and dance.”—Locke (1982: 217-218) “Whether performed individually or shared as a collective experience, the music is nonetheless rigidly controlled by a recurrent rhythm often associated with the role of the bell pattern typical of West and Central African drumming.”—Anku (2000: 1) “[Gerhard] Kubik...claims that a time-line pattern ‘represents’ the structural core of a musical piece, something like a condensed and extremely concentrated expression of the motional possibilities open to the participants (musicians and dancers).”—Agawu (2006: 1)


“This pattern is sometimes made by hand-clapping, sometimes it occurs as a bellrhythm, and it is even played on the drums.”—Jones (1959: 210)

Some of the idiophones used to play key patterns in Afro-Cuban folkloric music are: claves, agogo, ekón and ogán (iron bells), guataca (iron hoe blade), sartenes (frying pans), catá or guagua (bamboo), acheré (single metal maraca), erikundi (basket shakers), cencerro (cowbell). In popular music the güiro (scraped gourd), paila (timbale drum shell) and drumset cymbal are also used.

Recorded examples of a key pattern played on Cuban iyesá and batá drums. Iyesá—Grupo Afrocuba (1996: CD) Agayu—Coburg/Davalos (2006: CD) Arará—Ros (CD) King (1961: 14) shows that the Yoruba kanango drum part for Sango is the standard pattern. Recorded example of the standard pattern played on an African bata drum. Ogogo—Yoruba Drums from Benin, West Africa (1996: CD)

pg. 7 excerpt from The Clave Matrix; Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Notes


A.M. Jones (1959: 211-212) cites these three key patterns as the most widely used in sub-Saharan Africa. He says all three are “basically one and the same pattern.” Other writers also note the prevalence of the patterns in Africa


“As is well known, many West and Central African dances feature a prominently articulated, recurring rhythmic pattern that serves as an identifying feature or signature of the particular dance/drumming. These patterns are known by different names: time line, bell pattern, phrasing referent and so on...a short, distinct, and often memorable rhythmic figure of modest duration (about a metric length or a single cycle), usually played by the bell or high-pitched instrument in the ensemble, and serves as a point of temporal reference [italics are mine].”—Agawu (2003:


C.K. Ladzekpo (1999: pers. comm.) I learned the seven-stroke standard pattern from C.K.’s brother Kwaku, who called it basic Ewe. This chekeré was made by Hohanna Rose. “Polyrhythm music and dance...is often thought of as quintessentially African. In fact it appears to be a feature of culture particularly associated with Niger-Congo peoples... Outside of the Niger-Congo speaking regions of Africa other styles, frequently based on stringed instruments, tend to prevail, along with different styles of dance.”—Epstein (1973: 63 / Kubik

11 12

Jones observes that the common rhythmic principles of sub-Saharan Africa music constitute “one main system”. “...[T]he music of Africa south of the Sahara is one main system”—Jones (1959: 222) “[M]usically, a large part of West Africa forms an indivisible whole with Bantu Africa.”—Jones (1959: 200) “The music of the Western Sudanic-speaking Ewe people is one and the same as that of the Bantu-speaking Lala tribe...[It] is...evident but...even a moderate ear could tell without analysis that the musics are similar.”—Jones (1959: 200) “...as to the relationship between the linguistic cleavage and yet the musical unity of the various language families of Africa south of the Sahara, one fact is clear: the fundamental identity of the musical system is as certain and as striking as the disparity in languages. In our opinion, with Africans, music is more permanent than language.”—Jones (1959: 202)

pg. 8 excerpt from Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Notes

C.K. Ladzekpo affirms the “profound homogeneity” of sub-Saharan African rhythmic principles. “During my professional career as a master drummer and scholar of African dance drumming with the Ghana National Dance Ensemble and the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies, I have had the privilege of participating in several elaborate research and study residencies in many cultures across the sub-Sahara. In these residencies of intense participation in dance drumming very much different from my own ethnic origin, I have had the rare opportunity of comparing my Anlo-Ewe experiences as remarkably similar with the shared concepts of these other sub-Saharan cultures. The surface structures or sound-products among all these ethnic groups were indeed very diverse but the undercurrent principles demonstrated profound homogeneity.”—Ladzekpo (1995: webpage)

Jones first introduced the term standard pattern in a series of lectures during the 1950’s. King (1960: 51) codified the term in his published works, applying it to both the seven and five-stroke patterns. I’ve adapted Locke’s (1982: 225) practice of only calling the archetypal seven-stroke figure the standard pattern. The standard pattern is a pristine rhythmic model worthy of distinction within the lexicon of music terminology. Rendón (2001: 56) shows an example of what he calls the “most commonly used 6/8 bell.” Malabe (1990: 9) refers to it as the 6/8 cowbell pattern. Recorded examples of the standard pattern in African drumming: Obatala (pattern played on drums)—Nigerian Beat (1989: CD) 6/8 Rhythm—Benin – Rhythms and Songs for the Vodun (1990: CD) Ogogo (pattern played on drum)—Yoruba Drums from Benin, West Africa (1996: CD) Afá—Ewe Drumming of Ghana (2004: CD) Coburg (2004) shows eleven Afro-Cuban rhythms that use the standard pattern; Congolese (Bantu): palo, triallo, Lucumí (Yoruba): iyesá (12/8 form), bembé, agbe, Arará (Fon): sabalú, egbado, “Haitiano” (Bantu, Fon, Yoruba): vodú-radá, yanvalú, nagó and the rumba form columbia. Recorded examples of the standard pattern in Afro-Cuban drumming: Yambú—Music Of Cuba (1978: CD) Toque y canto Kututó—Música Arará - Antologia de la música afro cubana (1981: CD) Bembé—Grupo Afrocuba (1996: CD) Iyesá—Grupo Afrocuba (1996: CD) Palo—Grupo Afrocuba (1996: CD) Agbe—Grupo Explóracion (2000: CD) Rumba Columbia—Grupo Explóracion (2000: CD) Recorded example of the standard pattern in Haitian drumming: St. Jacques—Vodou (1997: CD) Recorded example of the standard pattern in Brazilian drumming: Age / Jinka d’yemanja—Candomblé (2005: CD)

pg. 9 excerpt from Chapter Three The Standard Pattern; Notes


My map is taken from Kubik’s maps (1999: 61, 101) and his description of the region where the standard pattern is used: “Some of the more complex time-lines, such as the twelve-pulse standard pattern, are confined to well demarcated African regions: the Guinea Coast with its speakers of Akan, Fo, Yoruba, and so on; west-central Africa from eastern Nigeria to Gabon, Congo, Angola; southern Congo-Zaire, into Zambia; and to southeast Africa in a broad belt, covering Zambezi and Ruvuma cultures...“[Asy mmetrical] time-line patterns are unknown in most of East Africa, in South Africa, and elsewhere. The few exceptions to this rule can be all be accounted for historically.”—Kubik (1999: 60)

“Throughout Africa, wherever these gongs have occurred they have been manufactured by the same process of welding the two halves together along a wide flange. This indicates a common origin.”—Walton (1955: 22)


“In her study of the musical instruments of the Afro-Cubans, Gerda Tornberg refers to iron gongs identical with those from the Congo: ‘Among the Arará and Abakuá both single and double bells without clappers are used. The single bell, fitted with a riveted-on iron handle, consists of two metal pieces put together with rivets, alternately forged or soldered together. The single inverted bell is used in the ordinary Abakuá orchestra and with Arará instruments as accompaniment to cult dances and social dances. In Arará funeral rites in Matanzas a double bell with a U-shaped handle is used ’.”—Walton (1955: 23 / Tornberg, 1954: 107)

“The most important fact about the...time-line patterns is that their mathematical structures are cultural invariables, i.e., their mathematics cannot be changed by cultural determinants. They are immune to all social, cultural, or environmental influences. One can change a time-line pattern’s instrumentation, accentuation, speed, starting point, and the mnemonic syllables used to teach it, but not its mathematical structure. Any attempt to change that devolves the pattern. For this reason, timeline patterns are formidable diagnostic markers for detecting historical connections between certain New World African Diaspora musical styles and those of distinctive language zones on the African continent...”—Kubik (1999: 56)
18 19

Iron bell found at Great Zimbabwe ruins—from Walton (1955: 21) Cuban iron bell—from CIDMUC (1997: 104)

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