Playing zills/sagat (finger cymbals) during your belly dance performance is a great way to add excitement and more skill to your show. Playing zills during your belly dance performance is also a great way to drive your audience away and searching for an aspirin bottle.
1. Limit your zill playing
The drummer is already keeping the song rhythm so there is no reason to mirror the drumming for the entire song. Play for a couple phrases through a melody and then switch to adding accents for a while. There is no better way to agitate an audience than playing a gallop/triple through an entire song.
2. Share the sound space
In Arabic music, the singing is a very important part of the song. If audience members understand Arabic, they will want to hear the lyrics, not constant zilling over the voice. This is especially important when dancing with a live band. Limit your heavy finger cymbal playing to the musical interludes and use accents during the verse and chorus sections. This also applies to instrumental pieces where an instrument takes the place of the singer.
3. Vary your intensity
Singers and melody musicians play different notes. Drummers also make different sounds by using different drums or hitting the same drum in different ways. Although you may not consider yourself a musician, you are playing a musical instrument and need to follow suit to make the song pleasant to listen to. At the very least, finger cymbals can make 3 different sounds. A flat clack or clap, a ring, and a click.
- To make the clack or clap sound, use your pointer and/or ring finger to stabilize the zill so the sound is muted when you hit the zills together.
- To make the ring sound, make sure nothing is touching the zill (except for where it is attached to your finger) and release the zills immediately after hitting them together.
- To make a clicking sound, play the finger cymbals in a “T” formation where the thumb zill is vertical and the middle finger zill is horizontal.
4. Learn your rhythms and use them
If your current belly dance teacher doesn’t teach finger cymbals, instructional books, tapes, and videos are a second best. If you do a quick Google search for “finger cymbal instruction”, you will find a wide variety of books, CDs, and DVDs to buy. I recommend using Mary Ellen Donald’s finger cymbal instructional book and CDs. Start by learning the basic rhythms and learn how to recognize them. If the drummer is playing a fellahi rhythm, you should either be playing it too or accenting where appropriate. Playing a different rhythm can confuse the musicians or make a recorded CD sound too “busy”.
5. Take time to prep your zills
This may seem like a no brainer, but how many of us have played finger cymbals that were either too tight and cutting off circulation, or too loose and flopping around to mumble the rhythm? Safety pins are not the answer to securing the elastic. Safety pins will get hammered out of shape eventually and will either fall off or the pin will stick in the elastic of the opposite zill and keep it stuck shut. The safety pins and extra elastic will also dampen the sound in a finger cymbal. Measure the elastic so it fits snug on your fingers and sew the ends together so they overlap and don’t leave a tail hanging in the bell space. To keep your zills fitting properly, don’t let other people wear them. They might stretch out the elastic if their fingers are bigger than yours and you’ll have to spend time sewing new elastic on.
For more information on finger cymbals, check out these articles by Yasmin and Artemis and Shira’s online finger cymbal workshop.
Have more finger cymbal advice that I didn’t talk about or links to other zill articles you like? Please leave them in the comment box below. Thank you!