Practice Music for Drummers & Dancers by Mary Ellen Donald
reviewed by Sharina

Isn’t it amazing that there’s always someone out there that can give us EXACTLY what we need, sometimes even before we realize we need it? Well, Mary Ellen Donald has done it again with her “Practice Music for Drummers and Dancers”! And why does Mary Ellen Donald know what we need? Well with 30 years experience in percussion, she should have a pretty good idea!

This practice series is available in two volumes, each as a 2-CD set. The series was originally produced in 1979 on cassettes, then remastered in 1999, but recently released this year on CDs just to make our lives easier (no more fast-forwarding to find the right section!!).

Each volume covers several rhythms, and each rhythm is played through several musical selections for a total of approximately 18 minutes. The really innovative part about this series is that within each rhythm, the first few selections are played with oud (or nay) and doumbec; the next few selections are played with oud and tambourine; and in the final few selections, Mary Ellen’s percussion support drops out completely, and we’re left to on our own to accompany the oud with our own rhythm! Kind of scary at first, but wow, what a great way to learn! You don’t realize how easy it is to just play along with Mary Ellen until she drops out completely! But this series makes it so easy to follow each rhythm pattern that even someone as severely “finger cymbal-impaired” as I am can do it!

That’s why this series is so good for anyone trying to learn finger cymbals, doumbec or tambourine … you get to play along with the Master, and then you’re on your own. It’s the best of both worlds. The series is also good for any dancer who is trying to learn to dance to different rhythms because the music is all very easy-listening and danceable, and by the time you work your way through a whole rhythm section, you really feel like you’ve spent some time with each pattern (and if not, the CDs make it so easy to go back and replay the section you want!).

Another really great bonus from these CDs is for belly dance instructors who like to have students drill movements to certain tempos, but have to keep changing CDs every few minutes or replaying tracks to keep the same rhythm. On this series, we know the rhythm is going to last for 18 minutes AND play different musical selections in the process!

This series covers a large selection of rhythms: Volume I has “Walking Maqsoum, Bolero, Ayyoub, Karsilama (9/8) and Chifte-telli. Volume II covers Masmoudi, “Fast” Chifte-telli, Syrto/Saudi, and two full dance routines (Arabic and Turkish). And there’s great music to listen to as we play along! For instance, the Bolero rhythm sections includes favorites such Cleopatra, Jamila and Miserlou (with Mary Ellen on doumbec), Nahna Ovel’amar Jiraan (with Mary Ellen on tambourine), then Bir Demet Yasemen and Yarus (where we supply our own percussion).

If you want to learn rhythms … to improve your percussion skills, to learn to play with live musicians or to improve your dance skills … or if you want to have a great set of CDs to use in your dance class, this series is for you. Take this opportunity to study with the master: Mary Ellen Donald!

For more information about Mary Ellen Donald or to find out more about her CDs, see her website at
This review appeared in the May/June 2005 issue of Zaghareet Magazine

Zaghareet Magazine

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