Saturday, March 2, 2013

The iPhone App Every Dancer Needs

I recently discovered the most amazing, most useful, iPhone app that it deserves it's own post. The app is called call Dum-Tek and is available in iTunes. Dum-Tek is a Middle Eastern rhythm generator for learning and practicing rhythms.  In the five years of studying Middle Eastern rhythms as part of my belly dance practice, this was been the most valuable tool that I've found for really understanding and cementing those rhythms.  Ultimately, it's a fairly simple app that's very easy to use, but I think the design is really genius because it combines auditory and visual learning.

Let's get into how it works. The app has 37 rhythms and variations, including ciftielli, kalagi, karsilama, malfouf, maqsuum, masmoudi saghir (beledi), samaii, saidii, and more.  You use the app by first selecting the rhythm you would like to listen to.  Most of the rhythms have the bare bones basic version of the rhythm, played only with the defining "dums" and "teks".  For those not familiar with the terms "dum" and "tek", these are essentially a shorthand version of verbally saying the sounds played on a tabla (a drum), with the "dum" being the low-sound and the "tek" being the high sound or pop.  Not having studied the tabla, I'm not sure if there is officially a Middle Eastern drum tablature, but in my mind, it's a way of describing and reading music without having to know how to read actual music, just like guitar tab or Western drum tab (for a full drum kit). Drifting into a bit of music theory.  Back to the app.  You can also choose to listen to the rhythm with what the app calls "filled with bridge", which is usually (but not always) the non-down beat ("and one"), or syncopated portions in the rhythm.  You can also adjust the beats per minute, or how fast the rhythm plays, either up or down.

Then the app adds in the visual component.  This is where it gets really cool for me. First, the app tells you the time signature (2/2, 4/4, 9/8, etc.). Just to insert a quick explanation for anyone who hasn't studied music and music theory, in a time signature, the first number is how many beats there are in a measure and the second number is what type of note gets a beat.  So in a 9/8 time signature, there are nine beats in a measure and an eighth note gets a beat. 

Okay, back on track again.

But not only does the app tell you the time signature, it also visually displays one measure with the "dums" and "teks" written in to show which beats they fall on.  Using the visual of the samai rhythm below, you can see that the app tells you it's a 10/8 time signature and then in the grid you can see that the numbers, representing the 10 beats (the down beat) in the measure, are written out from one to 10.  The "e-&-a" show the subdivision of each beat.  And finally the "D's" and "T's" show on which beat, or which subdivided beat the "dum" or "tek" falls on.  And as the last final icing on the cake, as the rhythm plays, the blue highlighter scrolls along so you can see exactly where in the measure you are.

As a classically trained musician, seeing the placement of the "dums" and "teks" in the time signature was incredible.  Most teachers teach rhythms by just speaking the "dums" and "teks", but for me personally, this isn't very meaningful as there was no correlation to meter or the time signature. To really be able to understand the rhythm, I needed to understand the musical structure and notation of the rhythm, which this nifty little app shows.

Cost of this wonderful app you ask?  It's FREE. However, I certainly would have paid for it. As a thank you to the creators, I would encourage everyone to leave them a nice rating and/or review.  And please leave comments below to let me know if you find this app to be as useful as I do!

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