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zills & finger cymbals

how to play finger cymbals -  zill rhythms for bellydance

All finger cymbal rhythms for bellydance can be broken-down into combinations of doubles or triplets.

Learn to play doubles (straight time) zills

Tap your foot on the floor in even beats. 1-2-1-2-1-2 etc.

In "Straight time" doubles ... 2 beats of your foot = 2 zill sounds

To play a faster tempo ... 2 beats of your foot = 4 zills sounds
Alternate the hands R-L-R-L if you are right-handed
L-R-L-R if you are left-handed

Learn to play Triplet zills

Triplets means 2 beats = 3 sounds.
For every 2 taps of your foot (tap evenly as above) ... you will make 3 zill sounds
Count 1&2-1&2 (etc.). 
This is the "universal" zill pattern for 2/4, 4/4, and 8/8 bellydance songs.
You can "sing" triplets using traditional Near Eastern vocalization:
tekka dum - tekka dum - (etc.)

Any given zill rhythm is simply a combination of doubles and triplets played in a particular pattern and tempo.

Practice zills and count with the charts

In the chart below, the numbers are when your foot taps the floor.
The "&" is when your foot is up.  Start zilling on your dominant hand.

D = Dum (bass note)  usually on dominant hand
T = Tek (high note)  dominant or subdominant hand
P = Pop (accent note)
tk = tekka (2 sounds in 1 beat  "1&" part of a triplet)
combination uses both hands (dominant then sub-dom hand)

Triplet Zills (2/4 or 4/4)
easy learning method

1
&
2
&
1
&
2
&
t
k
D
-
t
k
D
-

Triplet Zills (2/4 or 4/4)
real time

1&
2&
3&
4&
1&
2&
3&
4&
tk
D
tk
D
tk
D
tk
D
song:  tekka dum - tekka dum -


Beledi Zills (4/4 or 8/8)

1
&
2
&
3
&
4
&
D
D
D
beginner
D
D
tk
t
D
tk
t
tk
advanced
"Song":  dum dum tekka tek dum tekka tek tekka

Bolero Zills (8/8)

1
&
2
&
3
&
4
&
D
tk
D
T
D
T
D
T
Song:  dum tekka dum tek dum tek dum tek

The following rhythms are advanced ...
the foot-tapping gets a bit dicey

Tsiftetelli (16/8)

1&
2&
3&
4&
5&
6&
7&
8&
 
D-
tk
- t
k -
D-
D-
T-
- -
arabic
Dtk
tkT
tktk
T tk
tkD
tkD
tkP
- -
greek
1/2
3/4
5/6
7/8
9/10
11/12
13/14
15/16

9/8 rhythms
basic, tamsara, karsilama, agir roman, zeybegi

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
D
T
D
T
T
T
D
tk
D
tk
D
tk
D
T
-
D
tk
D
tk
D
tk
D
T
T
D
D
T
T
T
-
D
tk
T
tk
D
tk
D
T
-
karsilama song:   dum tekka dum tekka dum tekka dum tek tek

I don't include indications for right or left hand because everyone is different ... typically  you play the first DUM (Downbeat) on your dominant hand.  Thus for right handers triplets = RLR - RLR -
For left handers triplets = LRL - LRL -

history of finger cymbals

Dance, the custom of movement to rhythm, is as ancient as life itself. Percussion devices, the conveyors of rhythm, were the first instruments created, probably as an extension of clapping hands and stomping feet to express rhythm. 

Ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek dancers used hand-held percussion for religious and secular dances.  Dancers' clappers, held pairwise in the hands of maenads (female participants in Dionysian rites) and other female dancers, often stressed the rhythm of accompanying auloi (the ancient Greek reed pipes). Maenads also wore snakes in their hair, although most modern dancers achieve the look with extensions or dreads. 
Our modern word "cymbal" derives from the Greek word "kymbala".

With the advent of the Bronze Age, the musical quality of metals naturally became an important tonal addition to existing instrumentation.  Modern zill manufacturers generally use brass (sometimes plated with nickel), but I have found that bronze alloy zills still yield the most beautiful, mellow sound. 

Avedis Zildjian was an Armenian alchemist in the city of Constantinople during the seventeenth century. His attempts to create gold by combining base metals led to an alloy of copper, tin, and traces of silver with unique sound qualities.  Avedis used this discovery to create cymbals of spectacular sound quality.  As his reputation grew, he was given the name “Zildjian”, an Armenian word meaning “son of cymbal maker.” The Zildjian secret alloy is still used by the Zildjian Company to make both drumkit cymbals and finger cymbals.  Given the commercial success of the Ziljian company ... Avedis did accomplish his dream of transforming base metal to gold!

Zills in other languages:
Arabic: Sagat, Sunouj, Sil Sil
Turkish: Zill or Zil
Persian / Farsi: Zang, Salasih

Sources:  Encyclopedia Britanica, Zildjian, Saroyan Zills, wikipedia,