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Skip Hadden on The New Method for Afro-Cuban Drumming

Review: Jimmy Branly’s The New Method for Afro-Cuban Drumming by Skip Hadden

The release of Jimmy Branly’s book/CD “The New Method for Afro-Cuban Drumming” is an essential primer for those of us seeking to unlock the mysteries of Afro-Cuban drumming. It is written from a fusion perspective on these rhythms rather than a traditional one. It quickly moves you beyond the basic clavé elements prompting you to not worry and obsess about them but to get the basic elements under your hands and feet and then concentrate on their musicality.

The book is a condensed and compact text imparting a step by step breakdown of the exercises to help unlock and develop your control of the rhythms on the drumset. It is also inspirational, pushing you to want to develop the exercises, to hear more of these rhythms in a musical setting and seek them out in their traditional ensembles. The book  inspired me to want to hear more of his playing with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Isaac Delgado, Hernan Lopez and NG La Banda.

The subtle use of dynamics in his playing is very apparent in the section on developing bombo and hi hat variations. (CD tracks 32-44) On pages thirteen and fourteen his use of cross stick and ghost notes on the snare under a maraca pattern or cascara on the hi hat, lead us into what can be played in timba style.

The accompanying CD is there to lean on, to listen to how the rhythms sound as he takes you through the exercises. He also points out again how much better they sound when you have developed them enough to use other sound sources and dynamics. The two play-along tracks, #94 and #97 near the end of the CD allow you to just settle in and play along with any of the exercises as you develop them. The Rumba track is with piano and bass tumbao and the other with clavé and click track, each is over 7 minutes in length. Of course there are several tracks near the end of the CD where he solos over the same elements and incorporates the material within the book and beyond. This is another example of how the book/CD can be used as an inspirational tool as he demonstrates blazing a path over the clavé.

On pages 19 and 20, he has written exercises containing basic rhythmic figures and phrases and he mentions that they can be applied in various ways. I immediately thought of how many of us use the Ted Reed “Syncopation” book in our teaching and that those ideas could easily be applied here.

Another simple yet elegant development idea is for the rumba clavé rhythm (which he points out always starts as 3:2) and is at the bottom of page 25 (in the Guaguanco section). He plays the exercise on track #68 and through his deep feel, the use of dynamics, long and short organic sounds on the rims and open snare we hear an example of what he asks us to do at the beginning of the book – to  play musically.

This is definitely a book we can use to develop ourselves and those who seek our assistance through the world of rhythm.

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