What Exactly is Darbuka Ornamentation?

Here’s a term that’s thrown around a lot in the Darbuka world. All over the internet and in pretty much every Darbuka guide you will read, you will find mention of the word ornamentation, so what exactly is it? Read on to find out what exactly Darbuka ornamentation is!

Let’s define the word ornamentation.

First things first, let’s get a dictionary definition for the word ornamentation to give us some structure:

Ornamentation is the action of adding decorations to something to enhance it’s appearance or make it more elaborate. 

So ornamentation, in simple terms, is taking something simple and adding to it to make it prettier. The way we see it, that translates to one of two things when put in the context of the Darbuka:

  1. Adding ornaments to the Darbuka itself
  2. Adding ornaments to a Darbuka rhythm

Let’s explore these two kinds of ornamentations and look at some examples of different types of ornaments used in practice.

The first kind: Adding ornaments to the Darbuka itself

The first kind of ornamentation would be adding ornaments to the Darbuka itself, or in other words, making the Darbuka prettier. Darbuka craftsmen work very hard to make sure that the Darbuka instrument itself looks stunning. There are few instruments out there today that look as good a Darbuka, and that’s a fact. The stunning Mother of Pearl designs used on Darbukas are not found anywhere else in the world of musical instruments. Read how Mother of Pearl designs have been used in our Lotfy Process here. You can purchase our Mother of Pearl Sombaty Darbukas here (or our Blue Mother of Pearl Sombaty Darbukas here).

The Ruby Orchid Darbuka
Stunning Mother of Pearl Darbuka Designs

One of the reasons that ornamentation is such a keyword in the Darbuka world is because the Darbuka, by its very nature, wants to be elaborate. The Darbuka is not intrinsically a simple instrument. As such, the instrument itself is something that craftsmen work very hard to ensure is a beautiful instrument to look at. So now it is the responsibility of us, as players, to ensure that the rhythms themselves are made more elaborate to match the beautiful Darbuka bodies.

This kind of ornamentation is apparent, although not overt. It is clear that the Darbuka’s aluminium shells are ornamented with incredible designs, however typically when we refer to Darbuka ornamentation we are referring to the second kind of ornamentation:  

The second kind: Adding ornaments to a Darbuka rhythm

This is really what most people are referring to when they talk about Darbuka ornamentation, making a rhythm prettier. This topic is quite vast and makes up a large part of all learning that one will do in the Darbuka world. However, in short, we are talking about adding flavour to a basic Darbuka rhythm. 

The Darbuka players individual flavour

Ornamenting a Darbuka rhythm means adding your own individual flavour to the rhythm. Typically, there will be a core rhythm that will provide the basis for you to start ornamenting from. This core rhythm’s only purpose is to give you a direction, a general route to follow. This is handy in many ways, as it helps set the time signature, and it helps define where the band or group want the main notes to be in the drum rhythm. After this, though, it’s up to you as a drummer to make the rhythm fit the song or whatever piece of music or dance you are playing. A fancy elaborate rhythm played when the rest of the musicians are playing a simple beat will seem out of place, a slow, basic rhythm when the music is reaching a climactic point will spoil the mood of the song. As such, it’s essential to take the bare bones of any rhythm and build them into something fit for purpose. Just as a chef adds seasoning based on the dish he is preparing, you too should add ornaments to your strokes based on what piece of music is being made.

Types of ornamentations

Ornamentations on the Darbuka can come in many forms, here are some examples:

  • Using the Ka technique to fill in the gaps
  • Using the Rizz technique to ornament a basic Doum
  • Using the ascending/descending Glascendo techniques to step up the music when entering a faster part of the song, and to step down the music when entering a slower part of the song
  • Using the Bridge technique to transition between segments of a song
  • Breaking out of the current rhythm for a few bars to add impact and then returning to the original rhythm

Space is beautiful

This is the crucial final point when it comes to ornamentation. Beginner and intermediate Darbuka players have a strong tendency to add too much when they start their ornamentation journey. This causes the rhythm to become overcooked and makes it feel congested. While it is great to begin using ornaments in your rhythms, always keep in mind that the reason you are adding ornaments is that you want to highlight how amazing your Darbuka skills are. If you want heads to turn when you play; you need to do something extra-ordinary. If your whole rhythm is highly and elaborately ornamented, people will actually start getting bored of the rhythm.

Conversely, if your rhythm is simple, relevant and enjoyable, and then you add an extra-ordinary few bars of ornamentation, you’ll get heads turning, and people will think “Wow. That’s some fantastic Darbuka playing. That’s the goal, never forget it.  

If you're still learning about rhythms, make sure to check out our article about Drum Tabs.

So there we have it, Darbuka ornamentation. We hope this has inspired you to start thinking more about how you can personalise your rhythms and make them your own. By all means, steal from other people all you like, but start developing your own unique repertoire, your own unique sound, and you will begin to create a fantastic legacy for yourself as a Darbuka player!

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