Ending A Rhythm

Review the tips on jamming and remember to follow them, including how we want to bring something to an end. Here is an expansion on ending.

Listen to the composition, often given shape by the flute or balafon. Accent their phrasing. Note when they have concluded a passage or a number. The flute player will have stopped. Or the balafonist will have looked up from the instrument, and the mallets won't be hovering over the keys. Whoever is taking the initiative to end the piece for the percussionists and drummers needs to gain everyone's attention: eye contact is the best, an audible signal might be needed to stir someone out of trance mode. It doesn't have to be a traditional echauffement. A whistle, shout, call, sung phrase, or visible signal can do the job.

Often a sitting drummer is not in a good position to do some of these things effectively, but a roving clave or other hand-held-percussion player definitely is. In lounge music, we sometimes resort to the gentle fade-out, so listen and watch for that; it's a nice change of pace from the traditional, predictable endings that often put us over the desired decibel level. When the latter happens, people are glad that we've stopped, not necessarily happy about the music we've just played for them. A fade won't normally engender that kind of reaction.

Here's another thing. When one, then another person drops out of a number, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Maybe they are resting, thinking of what to do next, or planning to take a break. It doesn't mean they've given up. Maybe stopping for a while is the best thing for them to do at the time, especially in a jam situation where the group isn't depending on them for a particular essential voice. Make the best of it, whoever is left. Look on it as an opportunity. Bring it to a brilliant close when the time is right. And, especially if you remember point number one above, you won't be nonplussed if someone appears to be quitting on you.

If it is apparent that the zip has gone out of a number, it's best to end it quickly, so if that's the case, bring it to an elegant, purposeful conclusion as described above; don't just fizzle out and say (or think) 'well, that just fizzled out, didn't it?' or words to that effect. When the liveliness has gone out of a number, the audience will detect it as soon as anyone else, and we need to remedy the situation quickly, not let it (and them) suffer on through an agonizing rhythmic demise.

A tip for success when playing in small enclosed places, keep the volume down. If you think you might be playing just about right, cut it in half and you'll be in a much safer zone. One or two instruments played too loud can ruin it for the whole group, so pay close attention. It's better, much much better, to have the people at the other end of the room straining to hear us than to have them hearing everything while the front half of the room is blasted out of their comfort zone. A palm down, downward movement of the hand will be our signal to each other to lower the volume.