Ham Bone Lesson 2: No Batteries Required!
Watch the video and then spend time practicing every day. It’s a good idea to watch the video several times, so that you get the feel and technique.
Try playing along with Teilhard!
Welcome to session two in the series Music: No Batteries Required!
We’re going to do three new moves today and talk about polyrhythm.
We will find polyrhythm throughout this course, in fact you will find it throughout most music we listen to. Polyrhythm is the combination of two time signatures or meters played at once, giving a piece of music, or a section within the music a really cool feeling which makes you want to groove and dance.
Polyrhythm opens the door to interesting syncopation; syncopation is the accent of a beat which is unexpected. For instance, if you are clapping 1, 2, 3, 4, and emphasis the 2nd and 4th beats, it’s as simple as that. A drummer will play the bass drum on the 1 and 3, and will play the snare on 2 and 4. Polyrhythm provides more places to emphasize a note. For some reason, most music is divisible by 4. We seem to like this feeling, I reckon it comes from walking where have have two beats, our right and left feet. At the same time, you can sing in three or six over top of that fundamental rhythm.
Give it a go while you are out for a walk.
In fact take yourself out for a walk just for this exercise!
When you walk, first say ONE TWO ONE TWO with each step. Do that for a short distance, like a city block, or in the country walk down the road a spell, like 4 telephone posts worth. Let’s use the word Manitoba or Nova Scotia, or pomegranate or whatever 4 syllable word you choose. I like MANITOBA as it has a percussive Tuh! sound in the middle (I also love the province!). Saying it over your footfalls you will notice that the word always begins on the foot you started with. If you start with your right foot, the word will always begin on your right foot.
Now, with out stopping, count to three, as in ONE (R) TWO (L) THREE (R). You will notice the ONE, the starting point, switches from right foot to left foot.Now, change to a three syllable word, like Buffalo and follow the same pattern as with the numbers. Now increase the number to SIX, with each foot falling like this R-1 L-3, R-5. It will start again, same as before on the LEFT foot. Now, we are getting polyrhythmic! Can you feel it? Start again on your right foot with the emphasis on ‘BUFF’, and like counting to 6, the ‘AH’ (falling at the same place we would say ‘2’ ) will fall between your footsteps and then the ‘LO’ will land on your left foot. Keep going, the same as you would with counting to SIX, saying buffalo twice in the time you would count to SIX. The next emphasis will land on the RIGHT foot at FAH of buFAHlo, next you will find the emphasis or accent is on BUFF but on the LEFT foot. Do this for a little while until you get the feel for it. When you think “Ya ya, I’ve got this”, switch back to MANITOBA for a while and back to Buffalo and so on. This is the most common polyrhythm you will hear.
The easiest way to learn these as a unified rhythm is to say, Hot cup of tea.
This is a 3 to 2 polyrhythm. HOT is both hands at the same time, CUP is you RIGHT hand, OF lands on Left and TEA back on the Right hand.Another really good one is Pass the salt and pepper. This is a 4 to 3 polyrhythm.Starting with PASS on both hands, ‘THE’ on RIGHT, ‘SALT’ on LEFT, ‘AND’ on Right, ‘PEP’ on LEFT, ‘PER’ on RIGHT. Voila! Polyrhythm! Being able to do this will not only help you groove better and get the party going, but it is also the beginning of right and left hand independence. If you play piano or watch a piano player you will notice the LEFT and RIGHT hands doing different things; this is independence; each hand working independently from the other.
This is good for your brain!
This will be very useful if you play any other instrument or dance or even sing, especially if you play an instrument and sing!
It opens up the possibility of more interesting phrasing. Like when we speak, you want some interesting dynamics to occur to get peoples’ attention. On top of all that, it somehow helps us comprehend maths and sciences more! You can articulate your speech more clearly and it will also help you catch food which might fall out of your mouth when you are in a trance from polyrhythmising!
The Moves of the Week
The first I call ‘Round the World’.
You will notice we are using three points on our bodies for this rhythm; leg, leg, & chest. These will now form the basis of our polyrhythm.
We’ll start by patting the top of our legs in a ‘square’ rhythm, or ONE, TWO, ONE, TWO. Now we need to establish the basic beat, the foot tap, the place where we naturally tap our foot when listening to music. We refer to this as the DOWNBEAT.
Let’s say ManiTOba, tapping our foot at the same time, in time with the whole thing. Here we go, off on a trip ROUND THE WORLD! Now you will notice, as we progress around the three tapping locations of leg, leg and chest, the start of the word MANITOBA shifts from one point to the next, in sequence. With the DOWNBEAT established and carrying on, uninterrupted, the combination of the two things makes the polyrhythm happen, relatively easily. Do this now to really get the feel for it.
Let’s move on to HowD’YaDo!
Put your LEFT hand out as though you are about to shake hands with someone. Now slap it with your RIGHT hand. Slide that off to land on your RIGHT LEG, now drop your left hand onto your LEFT LEG, like this: HAND LEG LEG or 1,2,3! All following each other. Each beat is the same length, like the sound of a stop watch. You will notice though that the clap sound is different from the leg slap. This will now become the accent over the established downbeat Do this for a few minutes to really get into it and not think about it anymore. Thinking can really get in the way!
Next, we will add a beat by actually doing nothing. NOTHING!
This will change the whole feel. It will make it ‘square’. What we’ll do is we will leave a wee space at the end, making the count to FOUR instead of THREE.
Like this: Clap, leg leg (rest) clap, leg, leg, rest; 1, 2, 3, 4.
Have a go at that and see how it feels. The ‘rest’ can be in the circular motion of your arm.
Now let’s organize this into a polyrhythmic groove.
First, do the pattern of FOUR beats: clap, leg, leg, rest. Do this 8 times, starting with the clap and using that as your time counter.
Next, we will use the pattern of THREE five times and stop.
Continue to use the ‘clap’ as your counter. This is funny for me, I usually just feel this stuff out and encourage people to feel it instead of counting, but counting can really help! We will repeat this pattern and you will see how it makes a neat groove that probably feels familiar. It’s in so much music we all listen to!
Now onto the ROLL.
This acts as a drum roll to emphasize a moment of transition. It is based on the same movement as the How’d Ya Do, except we will be slapping across both legs after the clap and finish with a leg slap using the left hand. Starting with the LEFT hand at the side of your LEFT LEG, it will be clap, leg, leg, thigh slap. The whole move is using the RIGHT hand except the last leg slap with the LEFT hand. Of course you can use the other side of your body too!
These rolls fit at the end of another move:
My old friend Lotus Wight likes to do a double slap at the end of the roll, giving it a polyrhythmic groove. Let’s do it THREE times with the last time ending as a single note.
It should sound like SKOODLEY BOP BOP SKOODLEY BOP BOP SKOODLEY BOP!
Here is a song which works well with the Hambone and all the rest of the instruments we will be learning in this course. It’s called Cluck Old Hen and is a traditional Appalachian folk song, a kind of nonsense song. You can make up all kinds of verses, anything you like really.
Cluck Old Hen
I had an old hen she had a wooden leg
Best old hen that never laid an egg
Laid more eggs than any hen around the barn
Another drink of cider wouldn’t do me any harm
Cluck old hen cluck and sing
Ain’t seen an egg since way last Spring
Cluck old hen cluck and squall,
Ain’t laid an egg since way last fall
My old hen’s a good old hen
She lays eggs for the railroad men
Sometimes one sometimes two
Sometimes enough for the whole darn crew
Cluck old hen cluck and sing
Ain’t seen an egg since way last spring
Cluck old hen cluck and shout,
Ain’t laid an egg
Cause you can’t get it out!
Cluck old hen, cluck in the lot
Next time you cackle you’ll cackle in the pot