Monday, 28 November 2011

Tambourine technique IV.

As I´m playing again the wonderful "Capriccio Espagnol" by Rimsky-Korsakov (I have played this work several times with different orchestras, different instruments, it was the last work I played before moving to London, and it was the first I listened to being played by an orchestra in London), I´d like to write about the tambourine part, the different techniques we can use, the various "tempi" conductors can take, phrasing...

As always, before going on, here you have a copy of the part:

The tambourine doubles the melody, so precise rhythm and phrasing are a must. Having said this, there are many ways to play this excerpt but, if there´s something that is going to determine how we play it, it will be, no doubt, the tempo chosen by the maestro. Indeed, there are techniques that don´t work when the tempo is slow (the knee technique comes to mind), and others don´t work when the tempo is fast (the ordinary technique, for example). Knowing the tempo the maestro is going to take is paramount in order to successfully choose a technique to play this fragment. Once we know the tempo, we can adapt our technique.

During the last week, preparing the concert I was going to play with the Asturias Symphony Orchestra at the Vatican City, I used the regular/normal technique, as the tempo was slow enough so I could use just one hand. This also allowed me to keep the instrument high, reinforcing the visual concept.

On this video you can see various options, but it´s only at the end that technique is put into context, playing with the rest of the orchestra. The first four techniques were recorded in my classroom at the Gijón Conservatory, while the last one was recorded at "Príncipe Felipe" Auditorium during a rehearsal with the Asturias Symphony Orchestra, the camera on the music stand:

As you can see, the tempo is pretty slow, so I can use the "normal" technique. Any other, given that speed, wouldn´t have worked.

On the contrary, I want you to listen to this same fragment recorded with the Gijón Symphony Orchestra, me on tambourine as well:

It is quite obvious that the tempo is much faster, and I wouldn´t have been able to play that fast using the technique on the last video: on this recording I´m using my knee.

As you see, it´s very important to be flexible and have as many musical resources as possible, so we can face the different musical situations.

The indication "strepitoso" in the part (which literally means "with great din, racket") doesn´t involve to play with no phrasing or musical direction. It is the triangle the one in charge of "making noise", which plays 16th notes left, right and centre: in my opinion, it´s this instrument the one adding the festive and noisy character to the alborada (phrasing the triangle would be, in my modest opinion, overplaying: it is a rhythmical and phrasing pedal that should be played impassive). On the contrary, the tambourine (and later on the snare drum) has to phrase and follow the melody. My musical idea with respect to the tambourine is as follows:

You can see there are many possibilities, but just one fits a certain context. The more ways we have to face a fragment, the more possibilities of making music. Also, it´s obvious that every single technique has its own timbre, character and dynamic posibilities so, depending on what we want, we can "dive" into our "technical catalogue" and choose the technique that best suits the musical context.

As soon as I get a copy of the video featuring the concert we played at "Sala Nervi" in the Vatican City, I´ll post it so you can see the result of my "tambourine obsession".

How would you play this fragment?

…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés


  1. Excellent! Thank you for recording and posting this!

  2. Really interesting post on tambourines! Most think that tambourines are only a part of traditional drum sets or to be used as classroom percussion instruments. But, it's great to hear a talented percussionist's approach to the instrument.

  3. brilliant , thanks so much for your explanation , we need to have several options to play certain parts in the orchestra, specialy playing the tambourine. Richard Fraser