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I know of the standard western technique where the beats (quarter notes) are numbered and eighths are vocalized as 'and' and sixteenths are vocalized as 'ee' and 'uh' (One-ee-and-uh Two-ee-and-uh).

I've also come across "Ta titi Ta Ta", but don't know how to subdivide it further.

And in the liner notes to some Sheila Chandra recordings entitled Vocal Percussion, there's reference to a traditional Indian system (or several) of associating syllables with rhythms?

What other systems exist? Note: the more complete, the better; does it have provisions for triplets or higher compressed-time figures?

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There was another question that touched on this, mentioning something like lu-la-li for triplets. But I couldn't find it when I searched. – luser droog Jan 30 '13 at 8:04
Is this intended to be a wiki-style resource? Should we make it CW? – Matthew Read Jan 30 '13 at 19:59
Yes. Good call. – luser droog Jan 30 '13 at 21:43
@luserdroog: I'm guessing you referred to tis question:… – Ulf Åkerstedt Jan 31 '13 at 13:02
@UlfÅkerstedt That's one's good, too. But this is the one I remembered:… – luser droog Feb 5 '13 at 7:23

6 Answers 6

For the most part when it gets faster than 16ths, it's easier to to slow it down so you can count the 32nds using 'ee and uh'. The more fun vocal rhythms that I've come across are usually from things that aren't straight 4s (quarter, sixteenth, etc.) but from triplets, pentuplets, interesting time signatures, and groovy beats (swing, etc).

For exapmle: 7/8 was once explained to me as 'yaba daba dabadoo' with emphasis on the first syllables. 'tuduh tuduh tuhduhkah' works as well.

Pentuplets are usually just any 5 syllable word that you can think of. I'm a fan of 'hippopotamus', but words like 'incrementally' work. Triplets are similar, except using 3 syllables. Usually I've heard 'trip-uh-let', but 'squish-flop-ape' works as well (as long as they're not particularly fast).

When you start dealing with swung beats, in my experience, people either start scatting or imitating drum sets. 'Buddha' is a good one though

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The takadimi system solved my rhythmic needs.

Here's the creator's website:

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Wow. That does look useful. +1 – luser droog Feb 5 '13 at 7:34

Having learned the already familiar "one-ee-and-uh" system, what I can add to this question is a way to handle triplets:

"Tri-pul-let" is how I learned it

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The Kodaly system uses logically built up names for rhymic patterns. Ta is one beat, ti-ti is quavers, tika-tika is semi-quavers, t-k-t for triplets, etc. There are variations for ease of pronounciation in different languages, or personal preference. It's worth noting that these are only viewed as aids until rhythmic patterns are well embedded. The Kodaly Method page on Wikipedia can take you further on this, including useful publications.

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The Indian system is highly developed and the syllables used to vocalize specific drum rhythms and sounds are referred to as bols. They are often encountered in North Indian music as 'tabla bols,' though the tabla is usually played together with a lower drum called the baya. I studied this system only for a year many years ago. Now there are many text and video resources on Indian rhythm that can be found through Googling the above terms, but I don't know what is best.

Nigerian-born Babatunde Olatunji used a simple system of syllables for large African drums. There does not seem to be a comparable system for the currently popular West African djembe--dunun ensembles, though the Olatunji system is still in use.

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Carnatic tradition konnakol, maybe - Konnakol in Wikipedia. Here's an example from Steve Smith and Vital Information: Interwoven Rhythms - Synchronous. John McLaughlin uses the system as well.

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