The lion's share of the hours have been devoured by the fundamentals - I've approached this little escapade as somewhat of a restart, a chance to put the perfection of hindsight and years of accumulated experience into practice.
How many times have we uttered the phrase "if only I knew then, what I know now" and had the opportunity to do it all over again?
I'd decided long ago that closed strokes, sometimes called press strokes, would form the backbone of my playing. This is when the timbale sticks stay on the shells after each strike to mute their ringing. It's decidedly old school, from back in the days of the danzón when the dance salons of Cuba knew nothing of microphones. Timbales were played in this way so as not to overpower the delicate violins, just perfect for 4de12's charanga line-up and the confines of the practice room.
Old Skool is a patient person's game; it takes more energy to perform and takes longer to learn. But what it yields are greater dynamics and more articulate expression.
The dynamics come from a greater contrast between the sound of the initial strike and the silence of the shells being closed to ringing - the timbalero plays the silences. The articulation comes the way the sticks come off the shell, either: straight off; or slightly rolled off, towards or away from the drummer.
Its brought back early memories of training as a dancer: learning to thread movement through each floor contact; and why foot placements, on and off, are more articulate than footfalls. The principles are identical: minimise movement to achieve consistency, and lessen background noise so that actions can be clearer without needing to be louder.
Dancing the silences draws your partner into your sense of time.
Playing the silences does the same. The technicalities might be different, some analogous some not, but both are also alike in requiring an exacting level of detail at fundamental level for success. With the timbales, for example:
- control resonance by striking the shell directly opposite the rubber stand-off, so that vibrations travelling clockwise and anti-clockwise have identical distances to travel;
- sense the stand-off through the timbale sticks when the shell is placed under different levels of compression;
- the sticks must become extensions of the hands, where the position of the tips and the speed of their movement are known even when they're unsighted; and
- know which part of the stick gives the best feel of the stand-off, the best sound, and the most versatility in voicing.
Particularly with silence.