Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tambourine Etiquette

Ah yes, the tambourine. What a beautiful instrument. It's texture is subtle, yet arousing. When used properly, it elicits a kind of added excitement to music. However, at some of the recent karaoke nights at the Harvest Moon, I have noticed a distinct lack of respect for the tambourine. Drunken fools are haphazardly handling this beautiful instrument and treating it as a childs' toy, much to the annoyance of myself and others. What is it about the tambourine that does not command respect from certain individuals?

Yes, it is a simple instrument. Yet, most people lack the natural rhythm necessary to handle it. True, the brightly colored yellow tambourine I employ at karaoke night does closely resemble one which a child might occasionally bang on, but that's only because people kept ripping off the nicer ones I would bring (such as the one in the picture above.. nice brass jingles, molded plastic handle, ergonomic and easy-to-play half-moon shape). Perhaps people have not fully considered the concept and application of the tambourine.

The tambourine has been employed by every great rock and pop band in the history of recorded music. For starters, you could take a look at the roster of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and you won't find one that hasn't used the tambourine as an accent in any number of great songs. From the ominous opening bars of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" to near lead-instrument status in Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?", from the Beatles to the Stones to the Jackson Five to almost every Oasis song ever recorded, the tambourine is more than an accent, it provides either a sweet flourish, a breathy layer, a deft swing, a swift kick, or lots of forward momentum. (This is not to say there are no detractors: In my old band, The Carpetbaggers, our lead singer Lars flat-out refused to play the tambourine on any song. He was way too into math-rock at the time to be bothered with such things. Lars would later go on to split a pig's skull open and roast the pig at our Cinco de Mayo party last year.)

Some thoughts on employing the tambourine for karaoke purposes:

- There are always certain songs which automatically call for tambourine. "Shout" by the Isley Brothers. Any Monkees song. Any Oasis song. The part in "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the line "...sends shivers down my spine [insert quick tambourine shake here], body's aching all the time." (drummer Roger Taylor employed a large orchestral triangle for the sound on the recorded version, but most karaoke dj's won't carry a large triangle with them). I'm fond of adding tambourine to the gospel choir part in Madonna's "Like a Prayer".

- Less is always more. I'm sure there are very few songs where the tambourine is played from start to finish. Keep the excitement of the tambourine fresh, use it only at key moments. When in doubt, use it during the chorus.

- Recently, for two weeks in a row, some dumb lipstick hippie chick would bogart the tambourine for, like, two hours. SHUT UP! This isn't a jam session, no one wants to hear you "rock out" the tambourine for two hours, especially the people who are trying to sing their song. Quit being such an attention whore.

- Sometimes, the tambourine is so critical to a song, it sounds empty without it. Make sure if you are singing one of these songs, you are prepared to go when it's your turn. Secure the tambourine as soon as possible.

- Lastly, if you lack rhythm, a little practice might go a long way. Nothing sounds worse than an out-of-time tambourine.

As you can see, I am a big fan of the tambourine, but it must be used properly. Adherence to these simple rules will help you establish your rock star credentials, and will vault you into the upper-echelon of karaoke masters.