A short guide to playing Doumbek and Middle-Eastern Rhythms

It’s a good idea to start very slowly – use a metronome if you have one. If you don’t, then feel free to use this one:

Metronome by

Then, when you feel you’ve got the part- STOP playing, adjust your metronome, THEN start again at the faster tempo, rather than speeding up as you are playing, which tends to produce a very bad habit of speeding up during performance.

Here’s a key to the notes. The “dominant” would be your right hand if you are right-handed, your left hand if you are left handed.

  • D is for the DOUM (dominant hand)
  • T is for the TEK (dominant hand)
  • k is for the KA (non-dominant hand)
  • tis for the unaccented tek (dominant hand)
  • A blank space means nothing is played there (a rest)

Remember that the left arm should rest on the drum – not held up in the air. Also work to get “tek” and “ka” to have the same sound. With both strokes the finger should strike the drum at the point where the drum head comes into contact with the rim of the drum. Both strokes should have a “ringing” sound, not a “muffled” or “choked” sound. I recommend letting the edge of the left hand rest on the drum. This may take some getting used to, but in the end you will probably play better, faster and with less fatigue as it is a very relaxed position.

There are also some very good drummers who recommend playing the “ka” note by bringing the forearm down to the drum – from the elbow – and striking the note with the finger as the hand comes in contact with the drum. This is fine too – pick the style that works best for you. Just remember – you are going for consistency in the sound of your notes.

So, let’s start with one of the most common rhythms for belly dancing, the Baladi.

Remember to start out slowly, and work your way to faster speeds. Stay relaxed as you play – enjoy!

There is probably no rhythm with more variations than Masmuudii. Here’s the one we’re using now:

Here’s another rhythm that is similar to Ayub that would be fun to use. (Actually, I think it is more interesting):

Three variations on Malfouf (starting with the easiest).

Note that this is a “syncopated” rhythm – the Teks do NOT come on the downbeat. If you’re not sure if you’re doing it right, try doing the hardest one at a very slow tempo to get the feel of it.

This last one, by the way, is a very good exercise for building left-hand speed! Again, remember to start very slowly and keep the tempo consistent, then work your way up to faster tempos! We’ll be using this rhythm quite a bit this year.

Previously used rhythms

Following are some additional rhythms not yet being used in the class.

Here’s a simple and yet powerful (sometimes simple is best!) variation on Masmuudii that I’ve been using a lot lately:

If you are viewing the printed version of this, you can check the online version at for updates.

There are some other sites with excellent and exhaustive information on middle-eastern rhythms and technique:

Quick and Dirty – Includes some excellent commentary on drum/dancer interface
Kesslari’s – breaks rhythms into 2’s and 3’s – you may get a little different perspective here on some familiar rhythms.
– EXHAUSTIVE list of rhythms
RhythmWeb – This is a site for all kinds of drummers – there are some excellent links here that I’ve not bothered to include – go check it out.

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