A Riq, a djembe, and 4 tars walk into a bar…

Riq says, “Play it again, Sam.” Get it? Riq says? Casablanca? Ok, moving on…

I’ll wrap up the series of blog posts on my new works published by Bachovich with three works for hand drums; Merck’s Tattoo for solo riq, Kirina Dreams for solo djembe with ksink-ksink, and Maqsumed for frame drum quartet.

Bachovich Merck’s Tattoo COVER

Merck’s Tattoo for solo riq, written for Kyle Merck, is one of several works I’ve composed for students to perform on recitals. The piece is loosely based on funk-style drumset rhythms, with brief references to the bell pattern used in the West African Ewe dance “Gahu.” The title is inspired by a very distinctive tattoo that Kyle Merck sports on the underside of his left wrist. It occurred to me that every time Kyle plays the riq, he has a clear view of his special tattoo.

Merck's Tattoo

Merck’s Tattoo

Bachovich Kirina Dreams COVER

Kirina Dreams, written for Jonathan Harrisis based on the Malian rhythm called Madan, traditionally played to celebrate the millet harvest. According to master djembefola Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara, Madan originated in the village of Kirina in the Koulikoro region of Mali, near the Guinean border. Kirina holds a special place in the history of the Mande people, as it is the location of the famous battle of Kirina, where Sundiata Keita defeated the Sosso king Sumanguru Kante in 1235 to mark the beginning of the Great Mali Empire. Legend has it that Sundiata overcame tremendous adversity in his rise to become king of one of the greatest civilizations in history. Sundiata’s story is a classic tale of the hero’s journey, recounted for generations and capturing the dreams and imaginations of young and old alike.

This solo requires the use of added jingle plates called ksink-ksink (also called “kashink-kashink” or “seke-seke”). These fan-shaped shakers are inserted between the tensioning ropes of the djembe and typically vibrate sympathetically in a manner similar to the snares on a snare drum. In Kirina Dreams, they are also played directly with the hands. It is said that ksink-ksink represent the shields once used to protect drummers during battle as they oversaw the battlefield and drummed messages to the troops.

 Bachovich Maqsumed COVER

In the spirit of Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, Maqsumed (as in “consumed”) employs a system of building up fragments of permuted rhythms derived from the traditional Arabic rhythm Maqsum. The number of repeats in each bar is not fixed. It may vary within the approximate limits marked in each bar (e.g. bar 1 may be repeated 4-6 times, then player two enters at bar 2 for about 5-9 repeats and so on). The indications for approximate numbers of repeats are written above the part responsible for making the particular change in each bar (e.g. player 2 is responsible for bars 2 through  8 since player one repeats without changing in those bars), and consequently the approximate number of repeats (5-9) is written above player two’s part, and similarly throughout the piece. Once a player’s rhythm has completed its build-up process, a decrescendo is indicated with an approximate number of repeats (e.g. 3-4) in which to accomplish the dynamic change in order for the player’s part to meld into the prevailing timbre and allow the next player’s entrances to stand out. This piece may be performed using any frame drum (tar, bendir, bodhran, riq, etc.) or combinations of drums as desired. The piece may also be played on doumbek or any sounding source capable of producing the three sounds (dum, tak, slap).


Merck’s Tattoo, Kirina Dreams, and Maqsumed are avialable now at www.bachovich.com.


Rhythmic Journey Series for Frame Drums

The Rhythmic Journey series currently consists of three solos for frame drums: Rhythmic Journey No. 1: Conakry to Harare for tar, Rhythmic Journey No. 2: The Cage Sieve for bodhran, and Rhythmic Journey No. 3: Post Minimal for riq. Each was composed for a student’s degree recital at Winthrop University.


Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 1 COVER

Rhythmic Journey No. 1, written for Michael Scarboro, is for North African tar with ankle bells (or any foot-operated percussive device; cowbell, jam block, or even a small kick drum). The opening section is inspired by the West African djembe rhythms “Makru” and “Wolosodon,” with a brief excursion through the traditional rudimental snare drum solo “Three Camps” sandwiched between the two. The “journey” continues into the rhythms of the Zimbabwean karimba tune “Chigwaya,” (with its 5+4 division of 9/8) and on to the mbira tune “Kuzanga” (with a division of 3+3+3), thus completing the journey from “Conakry to Harare.” Throughout, the ankle bells provide a polyrhythmic perspective underlying the predominate rhythms in the frame drum.


Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 2 COVER

Rhythmic Journey No. 2: The Cage Sieve for bodhran, composed for Chad Boyles in commemoration of Cage’s centennial, explores the rhythms of John Cage’s early percussion works, including First Construction (In Metal), Amores (the pod rattle and tom-tom motives from movement II and the wood block motive from movement III), Second Construction (the “string piano” motive as well as the “fugue” theme), Living Room Music, and Third Construction (especially the tom-toms, teponaxtle, and conch shell motives). The spirit of Cage’s seminal 4’33” even makes a brief appearance in a 10″-15″ silence at measure 42.

The subtitle The Cage Sieve has a double meaning. It is said that the original Irish bodhran was created from a grain sieve; a strainer used to separate the grain from the chaff during the winnowing process following the harvest. I used the bodhran as a “sieve” for musical ideas with one simple rule: if the rhythm could be played on the bodhran, it was considered “musical grain,” and was kept as a motive for further variation and musical exploration in the piece.

Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 3 COVER

Rhythmic Journey No. 3: Post Minimal, written for Will Keith, was inspired by the motoric rhythms of such composers as David Lang, Paul Lansky, Julia Wolfe, and John Luther Adams. I had been interested in writing a work for Egyptian riq that would explore the sounds of these so-called “post-minimalist” composers, but had little success until I heard a performance of Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet by New York-based percussion quartet So Percussion on the Internet. I didn’t analyze Reich’s work or attempt to decipher his rhythms, but immediately got up from my computer and wrote this solo. I’m still not exactly sure what post-minimal music is, but this is what I think it sounds like.

There is a spoken rhythm appearing first at measure 21 and returning several times throughout the piece. This rhythm can be enunciated using whatever sounds the performer chooses (singing, scatting, whistling, or any other creative vocalization). An effective performance will reveal the polyrhythmic qualities of the recurring 5-pulse figure in the zils of the riq against the 7/8-4/4 rhythmic motive in the voice. The pulse of the riq figure turns around on itself in the 4/4 section of the pattern, indicated by parenthetical accents marked in the score. These accents are not to be heard, but are provided to guide the performer in proper rhythmic placement.


These are excellent recital pieces for the aspiring frame drummer. The Rhythmic Journey series is published by Bachovich Music Publications, available at www.bachovich.com.


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Bachovich Music Publications


I am pleased to announce several new compositions recently published by Bachovich Music Publications. Bachovich was founded by NYC percussionist Andrew Beall. You can view their extensive collection of cutting-edge compositions for percussion at their website, www.bachovich.com. Future blogs will discuss details of individual pieces with video/audio samples.

Andrew Beall

Andrew Beall

Hand Drums – Rhythmic Journey Series

Bachovich Rhythmic Journey 1 COVERBachovich Rhythmic Journey 2 COVERBachovich Rhythmic Journey 3 COVER

Hand Drums – Other Works

Bachovich Kirina Dreams COVERBachovich Merck’s Tattoo COVERBachovich Maqsumed COVER


Mallet Ensembles

 Bachovich Danse Macabre COVERBachovich Funeral March COVERBachovich Shona Spirit COVER

MbiraTab Series

Bachovich Mbiratab 1 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 2 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 3 COVERBachovich Mbiratab 4 COVER



Welcome Back to the New BMW.COM!



Welcome to my new website! It’s clean, neat, and….NEW! I’ve been test-driving the features and I like the way this site handles. Kudos and thanks to my webmaster and colleague at Winthrop University, Joe Miller (http://soundslikejoe.com/). Joe is a film composer/guitarist/tech guru and overall terrific guy! In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting updates on some exciting new ventures and experiences that have come along for me and my students at Winthrop University. It’s been a fun ride this past year and a half since I’ve been away from the blogosphere, and I am looking forward to sharing all the fun with you!

I’ll be on the road in March performing and giving clinics at the University of Central Arkansas Percussion Festival with Blake Tyson and the West Tennessee Day of Percussion with Josh Smith and Bethel University. On the way, I’ll visit Julie Hill for some djembe drumming with her students at UT-Martin. Look for more posts coming soon!

UCA Percussioon Festival

West Tenn DOP



I’m very sorry to report that the NAFDA South event in the Atlanta area scheduled for September 12 has been cancelled. The NAFDA leadership made a valiant effort, but as the date drew closer there were too few pre-registered participants. My understanding is that they will go back to the drawing board and look into other possible dates/venues in the near future. Stay tuned!



NAFDA South – Atlanta 9/12/09

NAFDA South Flyer

Dear Friends,

This is a terrific opportunity to immerse yourself in frame drumming for a day in the Atlanta area September 12. You get five workshops with notable frame drum experts plus an evening concert for just $100! I think it’s a great deal. My students and I will be there performing some new works in the evening concert. Check us out on YouTube here:


To reserve a spot at NAFDA South, send email to nafda1@gmail.com or visit www.nafda1.com/nafdasouth.php.

Hope to see you there!



N. Scott Robinson at Winthrop University

NSR with BMW and Winthrop percussion students

NSR with BMW and Winthrop percussion students

We had a great time with N. Scott Robinson at Winthrop during the first week of April, 2009. Students had an opportunity to study with Scott privately and in group sessions on all types of frame drums including tar, riq, bodhran, and kanjira. His handouts on technical development (which we understand will soon be part of his new book) were very helpful. Scott does a fantastic job communicating with students in a clinic setting. As part of his residency, he also presented a PowerPoint slide presentation titled “The New Percussionist.” You can find more information about this terrific presentation at www.nscottrobinson.com/presentations.php.

We were most excited to have the opportunity to perform several of Scott’s compositions on our spring percussion ensemble concert, including Ghanaba Celebration for singer/handclappers, Sankofa for congas, shekeres, djembes, and African bells, Trio for Ogun for three congas and three conch shell trumpets (which we performed at PASIC in Austin last November), and a work commissioned by the Winthrop University Percussion Ensemble, Carnatic Variations for tars and bodhrans with solkattu. Scott also performed two of his solo compositions on the concert, Shaken, Not Stirred for riq and Global Positions for ghaval. All pieces are available on NSR’s website, by the way. Check them out at www.nscottrobinson.com/ordering.php (well, maybe not the new piece just yet, but it’ll probably be up soon).

Scott was a featured clinician at the South Carolina Day of Percussion held at Winthrop April 4, 2009. His clinic on hand drumming and brushes was full of very practical hints on performing in a variety of real-world settings.

My students had a great hang with NSR at Winthrop and SCDOP. He’s a wonderful musician, composer, teacher, and friend.

Thanks, Scott!


Frame Drum: A Beginning…


I first heard a frame drum at the 1982 Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Dallas, TX. It wasn’t just the amazing variety of sounds Glen Velez got out of a single drum that riveted the audience in that memorable performance. I have never heard any musical instrument played more expressively. Glen’s performance that day raised the bar for me in terms of musical expression. To this day it remains one of the most memorable and inspiring performances I have ever witnessed.

It wasn’t long before Remo came out with a line of frame drums and percussionists started buying them up like hotcakes. My students and I got tars, bodhrans, and riqs and then wondered what to do with them! I began to keep a little notebook in which I notated grooves as I improvised on the drums.

My first composition for a frame drum was actually a transcription of an improvised performance. I had been invited to perform the prelude to a world communion church service. Instead of the usual organ prelude, I played an improvisation on a tar in a style I considered appropriate to the spirit of the occasion. Following the service, I remember one very large man who approached me with what I thought was an angry look on his face. I feared he was offended by my having played a drum in a church service. As he shook my hand, he moved closer and embraced me saying, “That was the most reverent thing I’ve ever heard!” Later on, I wrote down what I had played and called the piece Quatrinity. It was the first of what would become Four Solos for Frame Drums, to my knowledge the first published collection of solos for the instrument. The only work I know of that preceded it was John Cage’s Composed Improvisation for Frame Drum, written for Glen Velez in 1988.

My compositions for frame drums are informed by my experience in American rudimental drumming, some traditional Arabic rhythms, a little South Indian influence borrowed from Glen Velez and N. Scott Robinson, and my own experience with West African drumming. Quatrinity, for example, uses 5-stroke rolls, ruffs, and 11-stroke rolls (executed with the fingers) from rudimental drumming, one-handed kanjira “rolls” from South Indian drumming, and the ubiquitous gankogui bell pattern from West Africa. One of my most recent compositions, Rhythmic Journey No.1 : Conakry to Harare for tar, employs traditional djembe rhythms from Guinea, West Africa sandwiched around a brief reference to the traditional rudimental snare drum solo, Three Camps, before moving on to rhythms derived from a traditional kalimba tune called “Chigwaya” from Zimbabwe and a tune for mbira dzavadzimu titled “Kuzanga.” My first solo for riq, Another New Riq, was influenced almost entirely from the rhythmic feel of the Malinke dance rhythm “Manjani,” even though there aren’t any direct quotes from the original dance rhythm in the piece.
One of my favorite compositions that I don’t think has been performed very often is Etude in Arabic Rhythms from Four Solos for Frame Drums. It’s a great introduction to seven traditional Arabic rhythms: “Dawr Hindi,” “Malfuf,” “Maqsum,” “Saudi,” “Chiftetelli,” “Nawwari,” and “Masmudi.”

Nearly all my frame drum works were written for my students to play on their degree recitals. Way back in the ‘80s, when I was so enthralled with this amazing “new” medium of musical expression, I began writing pieces for the simple reason that my students and I didn’t have any pieces to play on these extraordinarily versatile instruments. I have since encouraged my students to transcribe rhythms, keep their own notebooks of grooves, and compose their own pieces. My best advice is, “If I can do it, you can do it!”

Playing frame drums for me is a visceral experience unmatched by any experience I’ve ever had playing stick drums. There is something about having direct contact with the membrane, and the feel of the various sounding areas of the drum, that seems to put my entire body into vibration. I wanted to give my students an opportunity to have that kind of visceral experience, so I wrote some pieces for them. In the process, I developed an eclectic compositional style that drew on my experiences as a percussionist playing a large variety of music from a wide cultural, geographical, and historical range. Come to think about it, maybe that’s what being a percussionist is all about.



Welcome to the B. Michael Williams blog


Welcome to my news page and blog.  Over the years I’ve had experiences or insights that I thought were worth sharing with a wider audience, but may not have been so significant or thoroughly researched as to warrant a published article. Perhaps this blog will be the perfect venue for little tidbits I’ve discovered about this and that.

I guess I’m a bit of an anomaly in the percussion world, but maybe not. After all, percussionists are by nature “jacks of all trades.” I began my career as an orchestral percussionist and high school band director, then did some research and writing on John Cage, wrote some pieces for frame drums, studied West African drumming, and later learned to play a lamellaphone from Zimbabwe. Some years ago I remember asking a colleague what he’d thought of an article I’d recently published about Stockhausen’s percussion solo No. 9 Zyklus. His response was, “You wrote that? I thought it was another Michael Williams.”

The fact is, diversity is what we percussionists do best. My teacher at Northwestern University, Terry Applebaum, always said, “Our virtuosity is our versatility.” I took that wisdom to heart and it is a major platform in my teaching philosophy. Anyway, I hope to engage you on these pages with some observations, experiences, and my own questions about a variety of topics; frame drums, djembe, contemporary percussion, percussion education, mbira, and my own musings about everything from Almglocken to Zen.

Thanks for visiting… and come back any time!