What are Happidotto™?
As a graphic (ergo visual) score composer, I am interested the arrangement of colors, shapes and forms as a visual gestalt for spontaneous composition: non-idiomatic (free) improvisation. How can I compose with curves and triangles? How can I think like a circle?
Also, as a simultaneous percussionist, saxophonist, ethnomusicologist, artist, and writer I have to organize my time rather efficiently, as I don’t have enough hours in the day to practice/study/write/draw as long as I would like. So in the interest of getting more value out of my practice time I find ways to get more done in less time, more efficient ways of fitting seven hours worth of learning into one or two hours of practice. One of the ways I have maximized this time is through the study of melodic cross rhythms on the drums: ways of moving around the kit to add an extra dimension of musicality to my standardized technique. So a few years ago, as a fun way to explain how one can move their hands and feet in such patterns, I invented a system I call Happidotto (a Japanese-ish word I invented for “Joyous/Happy Dots”) – felt squares and circles to visually organize my hands. Consider it a type of gestalt kata – visual Tai Ch’i.
How do they work?
Basically, they are a visual representation of a set of hand motions played around the kit in a way that creates an asymmetrical set of drum tones. What makes them so interesting though is that they make it sound like you are playing in 5/4 or 7/8 when in actual fact you are playing simple, even notes in 4/4, etc. And, when you do eventually play odd time signatures, this process will help you create exciting beast, fills and riffs with ease.
What are the benefits?
Happidotto™ are a great way to introduce kids to visual organization and rhythm on the drumset in a more holistic way – which keeps them from merely learning rote patterns which they never develop any further, such as standard 4/4 rock or swing beats.
There are also many benefits to studying melodic cross-rhythms through Happidotto™ for adults too. The soft felt means you can practice anywhere and not disturb the neighbors. Also, you can create your own unique set of patterns, and invent rhythmic follow-the-leader games to play with your kids as a way of introducing them to the actual study of drums. This process invariably inspires new patterns or licks as well as ideas for new songs, as well as opens up possibilities for the linear rudiments you have already studied in George Stone’s stick control book, etc. It also is a fun way to practice improvising drum solos and discovering new ways of playing syncopated fills, which helps percussionists of all types create grooves and patterns that compliment the rest of the band.
And the best part is they are DIY: you can make them yourself out of old clothes and towels, thus you don’t have to send me money for a pre-manufactured set. It’s quiet fun for all, it’s educational, it builds coordination and spatial thinking, and it’s so cheap it is virtually FREE!
How do I start?
Create your own set using various colours to differentiate each hand, and use a separate colour to represent striking both hands down at the same time. For my set I used felt, which you can get pretty cheap at Fabricland.
Fig. 1: 3 and 2
In Figure 1 we see three blue shapes on the left hand and two yellow shapes on the right hand. Start with each hand on a circle. Tap each shape with your drumsticks at the same time going clockwise. You will notice that your left hand will make it back to the blue circle later than the right hand does the yellow circle, because there are more shapes to move through, and the right hand is moving horizontally. Doing this helps develop a rudimentary independence in your hands while keeping the process simple. Doing this for a few cycles helps you grow accustom to the process. Then, do the same thing moving counterclockwise for a few cycles. It is actually a little harder than it looks. Make a game of it. See if you can do ten cycles in either direction. If you can, reward yourself. I like to use Diet Pepsi – ten successful cycles? One nice long sip! Twenty cycles? The rest of the can. Make sure you move slowly and correctly, as this is not a speed exercise. This is a spatial exercise and, eventually, a musical vocabulary builder. Speed is unnecessary.
Fig. 2: Up Down And Side
In this game you move your right hand back and forth (yellow) and your left hand up and down (blue). Begin by tapping both hands at the same time. Do this five times. Then begin tapping them in order: blue-yellow-blue-yellow, alternating your hands. Do this Left/Right pattern in different directions. Then add another yellow or blue so you are tapping yellow four times and blue three times. Now we are beginning to get a feel for spatial creativity a the same time we are starting to building rhythmic symmetry and asymmetry, which will translate into a wide variety of tones and patterns on the actual drum set or percussion instruments themselves. Once again, keep this fun and don’t stress out. Rhythm should be a joy in our life, not a depressing regimen.
Fig. 3: Both Hands Return
Now we will add a new colour, which you tap with both hands together. Start with both sticks on the middle (grey) square and move your right hand right and you left hand left, returning back to the middle square. This begins to develop a kind of horizontal symmetry you want to be comfortable with before we begin creating asymmetry. Now, tap the shapes in succession: blue triangle, yellow circle, blue circle, yellow square, then jump both hands back to the grey middle square to tap it with both hands. This leads us to our next exercise.
Fig. 4: The Tower
Start with both your hands at the top then split them as your right hand goes down the yellow shapes and your left hand goes down the blue shapes until you arrive at the bottom square and tap it with both sticks. Then move back up, tapping your sticks on each side at the same time or alternating left/right or right/left. This helps develop a sense of vertical rhythm, which translates into a lot of variations you can use on the drum set when you move from your toms to your cymbals, or to different parts of your djembe, etc.
Fig. 5: Crossing Hands
Now you can begin crossing you hands and/or sticks as you figure how to move clockwise or counter clockwise around each set of shapes: tapping with both hands at the same time, alternating right/left, switching sides, etc. Exercises you invent based on this idea will be rather challenging, so take you time and find hand/stick solutions that you like – these will become part of your signature style on the drums or percussion.
Fig. 6: The Forest/Tanglesticks
Also, to add another level of fun and/or difficulty, start tapping some shapes twice on the left side while tapping the right side shapes once. Then, tap every second shape in your hand three times while striking each left hand shape only once! Then, start making large circles and groupings of shapes all mixed together, creating you own little rhythm ‘labyrinths’ for you to negotiate. Now, can you play this set of Happidotto with a friend, without tangling your sticks together? Can you play yellow while they play blue, with the grey squares as your home bases? Personally, I like to make a large circle of shapes and practice sticking patterns based on South Indian solkattu syllables.
There are many more patterns/games I have invented, which I will add to this post in the coming days. But for now I thought I would introduce Happidotto™ to my newer readers.
Happidotto™ are a fun way to approach the amazing, beautiful art of expressing rhythm creatively. Go ahead and develop your own Happidotto set, and have fun. It’s my idea but creating them it is FREE, and you owe me nothing. And if/when you pass this concept on, please at least do me the favour of mentioning you got it from me.
Thank You… and Good Luck!
© 2012 Happidotto™
© 2016 Daniel Schnee.danielpaulschnee.wordpress.com