When I was first introduced to the zills, I thought they were a pretty plain instrument. After looking at instruments like piano or cello, 4 little cymbals don't seem like they'd present much of a challenge. I was wrong! At first they just felt so foreign on my hands. My fingers just couldn't seem to move fast enough! Then after adjusting to the feel of them and conquering the most basic pattern, you think you're cruising. You can zill and dance at the same time, hurray! Oooh no. What musician stops when they learn their scales?! Even 'Twinkle Twinkle'? The learning NEVER stops. You keep expanding your knowledge and challenging yourself. Zills are no different, and there are so many intricate rhythm patterns that there is no way you could learn it all.
When practicing zills, it's better to be moving. If you stay still while practicing, when it comes to dancing you might freeze up. I suggest simply moving the hands up and down when learning a new pattern. When it is memorized and you start practicing, move your arms from your sides to above your head to out in front. Add in walking as well. Try dancing a simple, familiar move with the new pattern and see how it goes. You can go between walking and dancing until you can keep it up longer while dancing. It doesn't matter what you do really, just don't stay still!
It's incredible to think that some of the patterns have been passed down for hundreds of years. It can't help but make you feel connected to the people who have played that beat long before you. :) In light of that, we're going to cover a few basic rhythms in this post. Hope it helps you challenge yourself!
I will be explaining the patterns in terms of right/left hands. (If you are left handed, reverse them so RLR would be LRL). Also, zill patterns can be explained in terms of Doumbek Rythyms, as "Doum" "Tek" and "ka". Here is a link to more: http://middleeasterndance.homestead.com/riqdaffrythym.html
The most basic zill pattern is called a Gallop, or Triplets.
RLR RLR RLR RLR
TkT TkT TkT TkT
The next pattern is Military, also called 3-3-7.
RLR RLR RLRLRLR
TkT TkT TkTkTkT
An easy way to think of this one is to say the words "I can zill I can zill I can really really zill"
RR RLR R RLR RL
DD TkT D TkT Tk
Here are some more great resources for zill information and patterns: