Thursday, 10 March 2011

Part One: Zill Basics

A belly dancer's movements and inspiration originates from an ancient time. Naturally then, the instrument we use comes from a very early time as well. In fact, it is believed that finger cymbals were probably the first instrument invented. The first recordings of their use date back to 500 AD. They can also be called zagats/sagats. Zills are a very simply instrument made of 2 pieces of metal affixed to the middle finger and thumb. However, as any beginner will tell you, simple does not equal easy! The patterns and rhythms can be very challenging.

Zills vary in weight, size, design, shape, and the types of metal used. All these small differences mean there is a surprisingly large range of tone and pitch available. To clarify, pitch means the actual note that is played. Tone refers to the character or quality of the pitch. For example, an opera singer and crow could hit the same note, but the results will differ greatly because of tone! ;)  There are also a surprising number of ways to hit the zills together to create different sounds.

Generally the smaller (and lighter) the set, the higher the pitch. A heavy, large zill will have a much lower pitch. There is a myth that the more experienced you are, the bigger your zills would be. In reality, a beginner just needs something they will feel comfortable practicing with. As your confidence and knowledge grows, you may want to invest in a few sets that will give you more options, especially when performing.

Wearing zills can feel strange and awkward at first, but over time you just get used to it. Do make sure that the zills you purchase have two slots rather than one hole for the elastic, as this will allow for greater stability and control. The elastic should fit snugly enough that they won't move or slip off, but not so tightly that your fingertips turn blue! When you find the right fit, you can pin or sew the elastic in place. Also, the elastic should always be below the nail bed. You may find it is close to it on your thumb, but that's fine as long as it doesn't cover the nail.

Zill accessories would basically just be a bag to hold them in, perhaps a cloth to buff them once in a while or a metal cleaning product such as brasso. There are also zill mufflers, any piece of fabric or material that will (to varying degrees) mute the noise of the zills. This allows us belly dancers to practice zilling in the same building as family members ;)  You can buy zill mufflers, but they are very simple to make! So simple in fact, that I will have an easy tutorial for you next up in the series!

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