Eastern European folk music is known for its unique “additive” rhythms, rhythms that are composed of small groups of beats added to one another to make an exciting phrase. Rather than counting a straightforward 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, we take bunches of 1, 2, 3 or 4 beats and add ’em up — 2 + 2 + 3 = 7 beats, or 3 + 3 + 3 + 2, or 4 + 3 + 3 + 1. We count that out, hop when we feel like hopping, and dance!
Influential Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist Bela Bartók, who used asymmetrical rhythms in some of the music he composed, called these rhythms “Bulgarian rhythms” because they appear often in Bulgarian music. For example, the original rhythm for the Bulgarian song we sing in class, “Dilmano Dilbero,” is asymmetrical, starting in the 8/16 time signature, moving to 11/16, going back to 8/16, then to 5/16….tricky. And fun. And we’re going to try it.
In class we take our asymmetrical rhythmic singing to the next level and using them as a basis for a dance. There are many Eastern European dances that use additive rhythms, such as the Transylvanian Fecioreasca (usually a 7/8 dance — check it out on YouTube), the Rustem (generally in 5/16, though it sometimes floats toward 3/8 — here’s an example) and the Purtata, or “walking dance” (sometimes in 10/16–interesting….).
(If you want to hear some Eastern European rhythms, visit Jas’s Middle Eastern rhythms page and scroll down or search for “the Balkans.”)