Tips for Sagat (Finger Cymbals/Zills) for Belly Dance

Sagat (also called finger cymbals or zills) are one of the harder things to master in belly dance. They take coordination, musicality, and rhythm all at once! You don’t have to be a musician to effectively play the zills while dancing. It takes practice and time, but below are a few tips to help you along the way.

Not all zills sound or play the same.

The shape, type of metal, and gauge can all change the sound of your zills. Hate the way zills sound? Find a sound that you like best. Zills are musical instruments. Different types are meant for different music. However, if you are new to practicing with them, pick the sound that best suites YOUR ear.

A great place to hear (and buy) different styles of zills is https://www.saroyancymbals.com/store . They carry all types at different prices, shapes, weights, and tones. I could spend HOURS listening to their sound clips. I recommend checking it out!

Generally, if you are just starting out I recommend a smaller zill. The Nefertiti are great to start with and will last you a lifetime. I still have my first pair. If you are already experienced try a heavier weight. You’ll be wow’d with just how loud you can be. These mega-zills are my personal favorite.

Make sure the elastics fit your fingers.

Zills are played on your thumb and middle finger on each hand. They are attached with elastics that should be tight enough to not fall off of your finger but not tight enough to make your finger uncomfortably purple. If yours are falling and difficult to keep on your hand you need to tighten your elastic or purchase new elastic if its failing. Make playing them easier and not a struggle to keep them on your hands.

Start with the basics, and work slow.

There are many patterns to master but the one I recommend learning first is the gallop. The gallop is defined like this:

And a 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4

or

Right Left Right RLR RLR RLR

or

Left Right Left LRL LRL LRL

This pattern works best with 4/4 music, which is most american and popular belly dance music. The general rule is, is if you can clap to the music on beat, you can zill to it. Work this pattern WITHOUT music. Get used the flow and say it out loud as you play it. Play slow and deliberately. Work this pattern with your hands on a surface. I used to do this all the time on my thigh when I had a free moment. Continue working on this pattern until it becomes second nature.

Once you feel comfortable with the pattern, grab the metronome app (or a slow song) and play with the music. I recommend the metronome because you can truly focus on your timing and not the music. But don’t get too comfy. Remember you are playing while dancing. Make sure to get off your seat and add very basic movement with your zilling. Keep it on beat and simple. For example; hip hits, hip drops, step together steps. Speed up your metronome or music choices and find your speed limit. Stay at that speed until you feel comfortable with a challenge.

Don’t forget to try other patterns along the way. There are so many ways to play the finger cymbals for belly dance. My friend Shira of www.shira.net has a great resource on different patterns. You can check those out here.

Allow yourself to jam along a little.

Like most musicians do, nothing is better than getting together and creating something that is improvised and organic. Turn on music you like and just play along to what you think you should play to. Think in the same way that you sing in the car when no ones around. Do you add extra long notes? Maybe add a word or too? Do that, but with zills! Play with the melody, play with the drum, and some pizzazz! The exercise of this is not to play well but to get yourself playing and out of your comfort zone.

Not the whole song needs to be played to.

No need to beat your song to death. Zilling doesn’t need to play over the song but play with the song. Think of the cowbell sketch from SNL. Did the cowbell add to the song or play OVER the song? Play to the chorus, but avoid playing too much over any singing.

Kat teaches, dances, and produces shows in Tacoma, Washington. You can find out more about her belly dance classes, belly dance performances, and belly dance shows at www.tacomabellydance.com

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