Dafnis Prieto: Rhythmic Synchronicity: Video, Photos

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A review of the book by Dafnis Prieto, entitled Rhythmic Synchronicity – Individual and Collective Drumming Skills: A rhythmic course for non-drummers.

Anyone who has heard Dafnis Prieto play music will realize that his musicianship goes much further beyond mere virtuosity on his instrument: the drums. Mr Prieto is a musician who is able to decode the complexities of music that can only come when someone supremely gifted in his sphere of music is able to pierce the membrane that separates music from its mythical, sonic source. Mr Prieto, for example, does not simply proffer drum-accompaniment in an Afro-Cuban setting, but he can – and does – drum at the edge of magic, often bringing the most complex rhythmic patterns to light as the music progresses. But Mr Prieto also does something else: he teaches music – drumming specifically – and has already written a definitive book (a manual) for playing the drums which was entitled A World of Rhythmic Possibilities. This time, however, he seems to have taken pedagogy not simply a step further, but he seems to have made a more almost philosophical leap. His latest book, Rhythmic Synchronicity posits that non-drummers – yes, even non-drummers – can have the key to unlocking the secrets to “playing with rhythmic accuracy in any situation”.

Dafnis Prieto - Rhythmic SynchronicityIs this true? Can a non-drummer really learn to drum in “any situation”? The late, great Oliver Sacks was one of the most celebrated physicians. As a doctor who lived at the leading edge of neuro-science and ever since 1965 when he began a fellowship in neurochemistry and neuropathology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York he was launched on a quest that took him into the vaults and caverns of the human brain. His neuro-research resulted in his ground-breaking treatment of sleeping sickness encephalitis lethargia, the results of which became the basis for his book Awakenings. But in 2007 Dr Sacks published another path-breaking book, Musicophilia in which he examined the brain and its remarkable association with music. In one of the first case-studies he discusses at the beginning of the book, Dr Sacks describes how one of his patients woke up from a shock and discovered how deep a connection he had with music; so deep, in fact, that he began to play the piano with an abnormally high degree of proficiency.

Why is Dr Sacks important to this review? Simply because in his book Mr Prieto also posits what some – especially hard-working drummers who may still be paying their proverbial dues – might believe to be a bit of a tall order. Of course, Mr Prieto is not a miracle-worker, nor does he make any such claim here or anywhere else. However, struggling musicians – especially struggling drummers may have also benefitted from Mr Prieto’s earlier book might take heart, along with other musicians who might also need to understand the world of rhythm better because this book promises not simply an insight into the complex world of drumming, but also help navigate – especially the musician – develop and fine-tune the much-needed skills to recognise and acquire proficiency in rhythmic synchronisation.

Remarkably there are such skills available to those who have musical skills and learning behind them. Mr Prieto’s book helps unlock the vault of those skills, unpack the tool-kit and bring it to the drum chair. Admittedly, drumming is no easy task. In fact it is downright complex, for it not only demands the ability of understanding and mastering time, in addition to hearing and understanding melody and harmony. It also requires a great deal of stamina for the long haul, being able to listen with open ears, adapt to rhythmic changes and propel the music on a set or variable course. Add to that if you are a drummer – a practicing musician, that is – who plays in the Afro-Cuban or in the broader Afro-Caribbean and/or in the mother lode of all – the African – rhythmic languages you need to play at a high and complex rate of speed and be ready to make abrupt and dramatic changes at very short notice. But this is exactly what Mr Prieto’s book might help you do – to prepare yourself for a life of such dynamism, equip yourself, so to speak, with a toolbox which must of necessity be built into the place of your brain where it responds to musical rhythm.

We do know from scientists, that the human brain is capable of decoding complex messages relating to rhythm, which, in turn, allow us to mimic the messages externally – that is, keep time – to music. Musicians – especially drummers – master these messages to a very high degree. And now, with the help of exercises devised by Mr Prieto, the student can develop not just a greater proficiency for drumming but also acquire a sense of how to respond to musical changes in rhythmic duplets and triplets; in other words to develop rhythmic synchronicity. Mr Prieto’s book proffers 188 audio tracks and more numerous exercises with which to acquire this high degree of proficiency through understanding – and mastering – syncopation and rhythmic independence. Although not everyone who reads the book or practices incessantly may, of course, reach the level of excellence that Mr Prieto himself has. That comes from within; Mr Prieto believes, and while his own beguiling example – and display – of this gift may be mind-boggling, Mr Prieto’s book does offer more than hope: it does suggest a path to “gaining access to rhythmic synchronicity with oneself and others through the use of syncopation and rhythmic independence” for as Mr Prieto shows throughout this book this is, indeed possible. How, you might ask? Hard work and practice is one route – specifically practicing the scores of exercises that are contained within this book.

Mr Prieto is a very good teacher and guide and this is reflected in the pages of the book. The exercises have been written in a simple manner, illustrated so even musicians with rudimentary music reading proficiency can follow. Symbols have been used to punctuate as well as to explain the more complex exercises; signposts, if you will, en route to helping the reader – music practitioner and aspiring drummer – unpack the secrets of drumming with rhythmic synchronicity. The book is broken up into three parts or levels. Level One deals with placing small rhythmic cells into varied subdivisions, with handclapping and vocalising the myriad rhythmic patterns at once – the rhythmic independence that Mr Prieto speaks of and offers a section on open improvisation. Level Two teaches memorisation, performing longer rhythmic sequences, and teaches vocalisation of melody while handclapping to a particular rhythmic sequence and finally improvising handclaps while practicing singing a melody. The final – Level Three – sets out to develop a palimpsest of Numerology and its rhythmic potential as a guide to composition. This section – and the book – ends with a guided course in odd meters, combinations of meters and note (intervallic) groupings.

Clearly much thought and a wealth of working experience and teaching skill has gone into creating this book. The practical experience that Mr Prieto brings to teaching is invaluable. But what he also does to make the complexities of rhythm easier to understand, practice, learn and perhaps even excel at, might very possibly be almost as great an achievement as his own musicianship. Musicians such as Mr Prieto are, after all, part of the continuum of music that has existed and developed through the centuries and their own development has been made possible by teaching and learning such as by methods that unfold in this book.

Dafnis Prieto - Rhythmic Synchronicity

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