Body percussion may be performed on its own or as an accompaniment to music and/or dance. Examples of countries' folk traditions that incorporate body percussion include Indonesian saman, Ethiopian armpit music, palmas in flamenco, and the hambone from the United States. Body percussion is a subset of "body music".
Body percussion is the art of striking the body to produce various types of sounds for didactic, therapeutic, anthropological and social purposes. In both the world of musical traditions and the world of the performance, body percussion has had various roles, which can be classified into its uses, meanings and functions which are specific to each individual culture. It is important to point out that nowadays the media and social networks play an important role in promoting body percussion due to their high levels of visual and aesthetic content. That said, however, its applications are highly varied, which is why we can classify the publications up until now into thematic blocks.
Warner & Babatunde (1965) is a fundamental publication for an understanding of body percussion as a discipline. As a specific source, it was one of the first to explain the importance of the body in relation to musical culture from an ethnographic perspective. The first chapter of their book, “Musical Instruments of Africa”, published in the 1960s, is titled “Body Percussion”, and explains, at an ethnomusicological level, the importance of body percussion in tribal forms of learning. In the same way, Curtis (1920) can be mentioned, who dedicated specific paragraphs to the types of sounds which can be made with hands at a tribal level in Africa:
“they are tinted with many tonal effects produced simply by hitting one hand with the other in different ways. Sometimes a hand is cupped in order to hit the other, emitting a low, thick sound; on other occasions, handclaps are given with open palms, with a dry, sharp sound. Such sonic contrasts and the gradations in tone and volume are launched into the air with such a unique sense of their dynamic values that the white listener is astounded by these forms of artistic expression (...). Surely, it seems as if all the possible combinations of rhythms, stress and tones, formed by such simple means, are turned into art this percussive orchestra formed of human hands”.
Other authors have dealt with body percussion in a more tangential fashion in their ethnomusicological works, as is the case in Sachs (1937), Blacking (1967), Jones & Lomax (1972), Kubik (1978), Tani (1983), Arom (1985), Schütz (1992) and Aguadé (1999).
Body percussion sounds
Percussion instruments produce their sound when a player hits, scrapes, rubs or shakes them to produce vibrations. These techniques can also be applied to the human body. The body also presents several unique possibilities including the use of inhaled or exhaled air and vocal sounds.
Traditionally the four main body percussion sounds (in order from lowest pitch to highest in pitch) are:
- Stomp: Striking left, right, or both feet against the floor or other resonant surface
- Patsch: Patting either the left, right, or both thighs with hands; or patting cheeks
- Clapping hands together
- Snapping fingers
However, there are numerous other possibilities including: hitting the chest, whistling, slapping or flicking the cheeks with an open mouth, clicking with the tongue against the roof of the mouth, grunting, and hitting the buttocks.
Variations of sound are possible through changing the playing technique. For example, clapping the hands in various positions will affect factors such as pitch and resonance.
HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS RELATED TO DANCE
In times past, the link between music and movement in a tribal context was inseparable. This is why, even today, in Ghana it is common to hear the phrase “if you can talk you can sing, if you can walk you can dance”. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and especially in the Baroque period, music and dance were also inseparable because they were both synonyms of high culture and refined tastes. It is for this reason that during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, monarchs were always masters in the skills of dance. Furthermore, for the nobility, dance was an essential discipline in education, going by the famous rule mens sana in corpore sano, that stemmed from the trívium and quadrivium in Medieval times which during the Renaissance and Baroque periods was adopted into noble education, along with many other principles of the Classical era. The nobles wished to emulate the monarchs, and therefore copied their ways and customs. This is the reason why they took such pains to learn the necessary skills to participate actively in the theatrical festivities in the palace (in masked balls and parties), in which dance had another aim, that of emulating royalty and thus get ahead socially and economically.
BODY PERCUSSION IN CHIMPANZEES AND GORILLAS
The use of slaps and the beating of the chest by chimpanzees and gorillas has been much studied from the point of view of animal behaviour. Some authors show that in certain cases they use it to assert their territorial boundaries, which can be seen in the publications of Lyle et al. (2009), Fay (1989), Koops (2006), Fletcher (2006) and Kalan (2009) amongst others.
Body percussion is used extensively in music education, because of its accessibility—the human body is the original musical instrument and the only instrument that every student possesses. Using the body in this manner gives students a direct experience of musical elements, such as beat, rhythm, and metre and helps a student internalise rhythmic skills. Certain approaches to music education, including Orff, Kodály and Bapne make particular use of body percussion.
The first musical pedagogue who incorporated this musical pairing into the basic training of all musicians was J. Dalcroze (1865-1950). He spent several years in the north of Africa, specifically in Algeria, which gave him an ethnographic perspective with which to focus on rhythm and movement in the education of other countries. Dalcroze himself then began to use body percussion in a very basic way (through handclaps, slaps on the thighs and stamps) within his musical training. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that this was not his main interest.
His method is based on carrying out exercises which, by means of the muscular sensations created, allow for the interior perception of the sound, rhythm and form, to be created and made stronger. In this way, it is possible to correct and improve the hearing and playing of young musicians (Jaques-Dalcroze, 1965). Followers of Dalcroze’s theory have brought in other movements, and thus broadened his methods (Brice, 2003).
BODY PERCUSSION & HANDCLAPPING SONGS
The clear link between body percussion and so-called ‘handclapping songs’ is of upmost importance, and thus a discussion cannot be omitted (Romero, 2012e). Many authors’ concerns have focused on investigation into them, and offered up information in various different fields. Thus we classify the lines of investigation into handclapping games into five main blocks:
- Ethnomusicological studies. These are studies carried out by ethnomusicologists in order to analyse their musical structure, their origins and transmission from one generation to the next, and from rural to urban environments (Nettl, 2004; Kartomi, 1980; Blacking, 1967).
- Compilation studies. These are aimed towards compiling and transcribing all the handclapping games and other children’s handclap games which are used in childhood coordination games (Hemsy de Gainza, 1996; Martín & Carbajo (2002, 2010).
- Didactic studies. These are focused on studying the application of handclaps from an educational perspective, both within and outside the classroom (Harwood, 1992, 1993, 1998; Riddel, 1990; Marsh, 1995, 2008; Obuo, 1996; Martín, 1997).
- Scientific neurological studies. These studies look at the stimulation of physical, cognitive and mental abilities of children, focusing on how they influence their psychomotor, psychological, social and cognitive development (Sheehan, 1998; Thaut, 2008; Kesserling et al. 2006; Brodsky & Sulkin, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011).
- Therapeutic studies. These are works that were carried out in order to stimulate, through sound and movement by means of body percussion, the development of communication skills, of body language and inclusive work skills in various illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Down’s Syndrome, dyscalculia, and autism, amongst others. (Thaut, 2008; Romero, 2012a, 2012e).
Body percussion may be performed solo or several performers may combine to create a musical ensemble. One of the most accomplished body percussion soloists is Keith Terry. Terry resides in San Francisco, California and in the 1980s he established Cross Pulse, a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation, performance and recording of rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance. Perhaps the most famous body percussion ensemble is the United Kingdom percussion group Stomp. Stomp perform in a musical genre known as trash percussion, which involves the use of non-traditional instruments combined with body percussion. In Brazil, the most well-known body percussion group is Barbatuques.
- Naranjo, Francisco Javier Romero (2018). BodyPercussion basic, Bapne. Body music Body percussion. ISBN 9788409009831.
- Terry, Keith. "Body Music". World Arts West. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- Alonso-Sanz, Amparo; Naranjo, Francisco Javier Romero (2014). "Percursión corporal y "Stepping" en la cultura visual norteamericana". Una perspectiva caleidoscópica. Letra de Palo. pp. 185–196. ISBN 9788415794066.
- Percussive Notes -1984 Volume 23 - Page 50 "Body music was probably the first music - before people began slapping rocks and hollowing logs for drums, they were probably stomping, clapping and grunting to express their musical ideas. There are many body musics still thriving today: in the United States hambone was popular at the turn of the century and is still in practice; some South Pacific island people create music by clapping and slapping the chest and thighs; in Morocco there is a version that involves beating the chest... These are only a few examples of a varied and vital body music scene...."
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