Foundation Course in African Music

Cross-Rhythmic Textures


SIX AGAINST FOUR CROSS RHYTHMS

i. Basic Texture

A simultaneous interaction of a main beat scheme (a purpose in life) and a secondary beat scheme (a perceived obstacle) produces a cross rhythmic texture. A thorough understanding of the structure of these characters is very essential in comprehending a cross rhythmic texture.

We have discussed main beat schemes and their textures earlier in this chapter. It is important to point out, however, that four recurrent groupings of a triple structure main beat scheme produce a musical period of twelve pulsations. We shall refer to these four recurrent groupings of a triple structure main beat scheme as a four main beat scheme.

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Figure 11
Four recurrent groupings of a triple structure main beat scheme
forming a musical period of twelve pulsations.

The term secondary beat scheme refers to a component beat scheme of a cross rhythm other than the main beat scheme. In a similar manner as a main beat, each secondary beat is distinguished by measuring off a distinct number of pulsations. A recurrent grouping of a number of these beats in a musical period forms a distinct secondary beat scheme.

A beat scheme measuring off two pulsations as its distinctive feature in a musical period of twelve pulsations is one of the most important secondary beat schemes in the development of cross rhythms. In the musical period, there are six recurrent groupings of this two pulse beat scheme. In contrast to the triple structure main beat scheme, the two pulse beat scheme produces a faster rhythmic motion. We shall identify this six recurrent groupings of the two pulse beat scheme as a six secondary beat scheme.

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Figure 12
Six recurrent groupings of a two-pulse beat scheme
in a musical period of twelve pulsations

Interacting the four recurrent triple structure main beat schemes (four beat scheme) simultaneously with the six recurrent two pulse beat schemes (six beat scheme) produces the first most useful cross rhythmic texture in the development of Anlo-Ewe dance-drumming.

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Figure 13
Basic Pattern of Six against Four Cross Rhythm

The interaction of the two rhythmic motions produces a short figure (motif), half the length of the musical period, that recurs giving the cross rhythm a coherent character. The motif begins with a moment of resolution and continues with moments of conflict, thus showing a progression from a "static" beginning to a "dynamic continuation. As the basic cross rhythmic pattern, the first moment of resolution occur on the first main beat and the second occur on the third main beat within the musical period.

As a child growing up and struggling to make sense of cross rhythmic textures and make them part of my usable rhythmic vocabulary, verbalizing the composite structures by giving each character a syllabic pitch and singing them like a melody in their proper rhythm was very helpful in my discovering and absorbing the distinct texture. Many Anlo-Ewe kids do this and often turn it into a communal game of playing drum verbally. Each kid would sing a specific cross rhythmic texture that interlocks with one another into a dynamic fabric. They would entertain themselves spiritedly with the structure while enriching their understanding and ability to carry their own weight in the complex fabric.

A syllabic pitch "Kpla" is designated for a moment of resolution or when the two component beats coincide. The pitch "Tu" represents main beats in alternate motion with secondary beats articulated with the syllabic pitch "Ka".

The following is a syllabic intonation of the six against four cross rhythmic texture.

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Figure 14
Syllabic intonation of six against four cross rhythm

ii. Polyrhythmic Variant
(Six Against Four Cross Rhythm)

The basic pattern of the six against four cross rhythm is inverted to produce one variant polyrhythmic texture by shifting the beginning moment of the six beat scheme a pulsation later than the main beat scheme.

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Figure 15
Polyrhythmic Texture
Six against Four Cross Rhythm

As the student will notice in figure 15 above, the alternate interplay produces moments of resolution on the second and fourth main beats. Each moment of resolution is preceded by moments of conflict and thus showing a progression from a "dynamic" beginning to a "static" conclusion.

The following is the usual syllabic intonation of the polyrhythmic variant of six against four cross rhythm.

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Figure 16
Syllabic Intonation
Polyrhythmic texture
Six against Four Cross Rhythm

iii. Overlapping The Basic
and Polyrhythmic Textures
Of Six Against Four Cross Rhythm

Anlo-Ewe composers have a tendency of overlapping several layers of cross rhythmic textures in the process of creating a dance-drumming. A skill in comprehending overlapping cross rhythmic textures is very essential in developing a repertoire of usable rhythmic vocabulary.

Absorbing the distinct texture and energy of each cross rhythm is the first step in developing this repertoire of usable rhythmic vocabulary. Another essential step is recognizing the manner in which the cross rhythmic textures differ from each other and most importantly, developing the ability to comprehend them overlapping one another.

As part of a communal game of playing drum verbally, Anlo-Ewe kids would drill themselves spiritedly in the skill of comprehending overlapping cross rhythmic textures. In a competitive but playful spirit, one kid would sing the basic pattern of six against four cross rhythm and the other the polyrhythmic variant. Each kid must carry his own weight (cross rhythmic pattern) in the complex fabric created by the simultaneous interplay of the two cross rhythmic textures. A winner emerges if one kid loses his pattern.

This competitive game of playing drum verbally encourages the development of a greater understanding of the structural components of dance-drumming, their interrelationship and most importantly, their performance. It prepares the Anlo-Ewe kid for a fulfilled participation in the development and performance of traditional Anlo-Ewe dance-drumming. It would achieve a similar result for any enthusiast.

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Figure 17
Syllabic Intonation of
Six against Four Cross Rhythms
(A competitive game of playing drum verbally)

iv. Sequential Arrangement Of
A Motif of each Texture in
a Musical Period

Arranging a motif of each six against four cross rhythmic texture following each other in a musical period is another essential technique of Anlo-Ewe composers we should anticipate in the development of usable rhythmic vocabulary. In fact the tenacity of Anlo-Ewe dance drumming resides in the rhythmic interest and variety provided by this sequential ordering of diverse motifs or cross rhythmic textures in the development of structural component phrases. This technique also offers a combination of intellectual and artistic enjoyment much favored by Anlo-Ewe composers.

Below is the structure of the syllabic intonation of a motif of the basic six against four cross rhythmic texture, "Kpla Ka Tu Ka" and its polyrhythmic variant, "Tu Ka Kpla Ka" following each other in a musical period.

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Figure 18
A structure of a motif of basic six against four cross
rhythm and its polyrhythmic variant following
each other in a musical period.

The above sequential arrangement of half a measure of the basic 6:4 cross rhythm (a 3:2 cross-rhythmic relationship) and its polyrhythmic variant in a musical period is the foundation of the most popular time line in the development of Anlo-Ewe dance-drumming.

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Figure 19
Popular Anlo-Ewe Time Line 1

As demonstrated in the figure above, the last note of the basic motif is modified by articulating it in two faster pulses to facilitate a smooth transition. This adds an extra attack to the normal six bringing the time line to its distinguished seven attack points structure.

In creating an alternate seven attack points time line, the composer facilitates a smooth transition, by adding the extra attack on the third main beat as a pick-up for the polyrhythmic 3:2 texture.

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Figure 20
Popular Time Line 2

Another favorite time line very popular in sacred dance-drumming repertoires of the Anlo-Ewe has only five attack points by simply avoiding to articulate the last note of the polyrhythmic motif.

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Figure 21
Popular Anlo-Ewe Time Line 3

Assignment:

The student should learn how to perform these important time lines by tapping the four main beat scheme with the feet and also with the weak hand on the weak leg thigh while tapping, with the strong hand, the attack notes of the time line on the strong leg thigh. The composite structure as represented in the syllabic intonations should emerge immediately. Remember the syllabic intonations are functional guides to discover the dynamic activities of rhythmic resolutions and conflicts as the resultant time line evolves. It is also a great exercise in discovering how to conceive and reproduce the resultant time lines with ease.

Self Evaluation

As you gain confidence, give yourself a simple test to evaluate and confirm your ability to conceive and perform the time lines with a good comprehension of their fundamental components. Try counting the main beats verbally by numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, as you perform the time line drills, If you continue to have fun and hold your ground, congratulations, you have developed a good understanding of these very important foundation rhythms. This test exercise is also very important for the development of a multi-dimensional attitude to rhythm, a skill needed to participate in a musical culture dominated largely by creating several layers of rhythmic and melodic activities. However, If you encounter problems, continue the drill exercise and the self evaluation process until a discernable ability to conceive and perform the time lines are achieved.

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Figure 22
Time Line 1/Four Beat Scheme

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Figure 23
Time Line 2/Four Beat Scheme

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Figure 24
Time Line 3/Four Beat Scheme

Try the same process with the six beat schemes also and see how you fair. As you perform the time line drills verbally count the six beat scheme by numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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Figure 25
Time Line 1/Basic 6 Beat Scheme

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Figure 26
Time Line 2/Basic 6 Beat Scheme

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Figure 27
Time Line 3/Basic 6 Beat Scheme

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Figure 28
Time Line 1/Variant 6 Beat Scheme

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Figure 29
Time Line 2/Variant 6 Beat Scheme

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Figure 30
Time Line 3/Variant 6 Beat Scheme

A good exercise to get more familiar with the different component rhythmic frameworks is to amplify verbally one measure of each component beat scheme following one another as you perform the time line drill as in the examples below:

Figure 31
Time Line 1/Component Beat Schemes

Figure 32
Time Line 2/Component Beat Schemes

Figure 33
Time Line 3/Component Beat Schemes


Three Against Four Cross Rhythms


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