Tambourin

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This article is about the musical form and the old French drum, both called the tambourin. For the percussion instrument with a similar name in English, see Tambourine.

A tambourin is a piece of music that imitates a drum, usually as a repetitive not-very-melodic figure in the bass.

A tambourin itself is a small, two-headed drum of Arabic origin, mentioned as early as the 1080s (noted as a "tabor" in Roman de Roland). It was played together with a small flute (galoubet, flaviol).

A tambourin, as a dance, hails from Provence. It was accompanied by a pipe and, curiously enough, a tambourine (modern meaning), which is also called a "tambour de Basque."

A tambourin as a concert piece is lively and in duple meter. Jean-Philippe Rameau wrote many of them as parts of his operas. The most famous one is his Tambourin in E Minor from his Pièces de Clavecin, originally from his opera Les fêtes d'Hébé (1739).

The left hand of Rameau's famous E Minor piece represents the drum beat (a tambour is a generic French term for drum).

These notes should not be arpeggiated, particularly in the measures in which the left hand plays a 10th (E-E-G). Hands that cannot accommodate this interval should not play the G at all, instead playing the left-hand part as E-B-E.

Nor should the G be played an octave lower and fitted in to the left-hand chord (E-G-B-E). This is because the G is the third of an E Minor triad. The third of a triad played this low generally sounds "muddy" and should be avoided.

Mention also must be made of the ornaments, all of which are trills. In the Baroque period, all trills start on the upper note. This "preparatory note" falls on the beat of the note it embellishes, with that printed note following immediately and the rest of the trill thereafter, ending with the printed note bearing the trill. The preparatory note is never given. The Baroque performer was assumed to know to do this.

This preparatory-note-from-above rule means that occasionally the printed note preceding the trilled note is the same pitch as the preparatory note. In this case, the printed note does not substitute for the preparatory note. Instead, the preparatory note is played again on the beat of the note bearing the trill. This structure is seen many times in this piece.

An example is in measure 24. The first quarter-note is a G and bears a trill. The preparatory note for a trill on G is A. Therefore, the keyboardist should play A on the downbeat of measure 24 and begin the trill immediately thereafter, ending the ornament on G. Confusion ensues because the last quarter-note of measure 23 is also an A. This A does not substitute for the preparatory note in the following measure. Instead, the A in measure 23 is played as written and for full value; and A is re-struck on the downbeat of measure 24 as the preparatory note for the trill on the printed note (which is G). Immediately, the A devolves into the trill on G.

French Baroque music may be ornamented as the performer chooses. Accordingly, additional trills and other ornaments may be added "as taste dictates."