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Zills ~ Zafat

Zills or Safat are a percussion instrument, a set of cymbals that are attached to the thumb and the forefinger.

They are stuck together using different areas of the surface and differing amounts of force allowing resonance.

Used to keep time & rhythm with a band or as a dancer.

Also used to create rhythm as percussion.

The precursors to Zills are Hand clappers dating around 3,000 B.C. ancient styles from Egypt were made of wood occasionally ivory and we shaped like a pair of hand and arms and were favored by Romans, Greeks and more.

Pair of Egyptian clappers with the head of the goddess Hathor Middle or New Kingdom 2033 - 1069 BCE Ivory from hippopotamus teeth,

Height: 35,40 cm

Length: 7,40 cm

Found on the floor of the Annex in Tutankamuns tomb , these arm-shaped clappers measure some 6-1/8 in length. Holes at the proximal end of each clapper were intended for the insertion of a cord linking the two together in the manner of castanets - though, as tomb scenes apparently show, the noise would have been produced by shaking rather than by controlled percussion. Each arm is rather crudely incised on its polished outer surface with an elongated cartouche associating Queen Tiye with her granddaughter, Meritaten:

'The great royal wife Tiye, may she live; the king's daughter Meritaten'. Precisely why granddaughter and grandmother should have been linked in this way is uncertain.

The clappers' presence in the tomb of Tutankhamun is considered obscure.

Clapping with the hands is still a large part of Dance throughout the Middle east and Mediterranean.

Pre-Historic music dates back at least 4,000 years ago when the "oldest known song" form was written in cuneiform. It was composed in harmonies of thirds using the Pythagorean theory.

Bronze age:

An ancient civilization is defined to be in the Bronze Age either by smelting its own copper and alloying with tin, arsenic, or other metals, or by trading for bronze from production areas elsewhere. Chronologically standing between the Stone age and the Iron age

With the Bronze age the musical quality of metal was harnessed and even Mastered. A natural addition to existing music. Often Including drum, woodwinds and stringed instruments.

The actual use of finger cymbals was recorded as early as 500A.D. now indispensable to Middle-Eastern music and dance. The playing of finger cymbals is even mentioned in the Bible:

"and David and all the house of Israel rejoiced before Yahveh with all kinds of cypress wood (instruments) and with lyres and with harps and with frame-drums and with shakers and with cymbals." (Samuel 6:5)

Bronze, Roman period 2nd-4th centuries CE Karanis, Egypt

Roman period 1st-2nd century AD

Ghawazee: In Egypt, the famous Ghawazee (street performers) played sajat, metal finger cymbals.They are important to finger cymbal and Bellydance history.

There exists in Luxor, Egypt today a family with claim to be the true descendants of the ancient "Ghawazee". they are believed to have been centered in Esna, Qena, or Luxor. and are known are the Banat Mazin, or the Mazin family. The Egyptian National Folkloric group used research done with this family to choreograph "Ghawazee" dances for the new folkloric tradition.

The Mazin dancers speak of their dance as "raqs sha'abi", or folk dance, rather than "raqs sharqi" or belly dancing. saying "that oriental dancers moved around more, and had a more varied repertoire, especially of arm movements. Oriental dancers perform to "oriental" music with the classic middle eastern instruments, a taqsiym (slow/arrhythmic) section; while the proper music of the Ghawazee was folk music on the mizmar and tabla baladi, and the rebabi (a type of string instrument).

We see Oriental dancers wearing more revealing costumes of delicate, gauzy materials; Ghawazi wore heavier coats that have Persian influence.

Egyptian Ghawazi at Rosetta, illustration from The Valley of the Nile, engraved by Achille Deveria 1800-57 pub. by Lemercier, 1848 Emile Prisse d'Avennes


Turkish Ottoman military bands also played metal finger cymbals, similar to what dancers play today.

The Mehteran(musicians) and Jannisaries(elite infantry) formed the first Military marching bands.

The notion of a military marching band, such as those in use even today, began to be borrowed from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. The sound associated with the mehterân also exercised an influence on European classical music, with composers such as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven all writing compositions inspired by or designed to imitate the music of the mehters.

Manjera: In India performers play Taal Manjira, a pair of brass cymbals attached by a cord, and are played while dancing. Similar cymbals are also played by Tibetans in Nepal.


As you can tell artists created many different styles of percussive cymbal-clapper types of instruments.

Castanet SIngle slot zills Double slot zills Karkaba Manijira Spoons

Persian spoons were made of wood. Spoons are also played in Greece and Turkey.

Medieval and modern Turkish and Greek musicians danced with a pair of wood spoons, kasik, in hands.

Then we look at Moorish and Spanish Castanets, again made of wood. used by Flamenco dancers, they are cupped in the hands and played in complex tapping rhythm while dancing and stepping out foot patterns. Flamenco developed from the cultural mix of Spanish folk music, North African Moorish music, classical Arabic music, and Romani music of Al-Andalus near the end of the Islamic Andalusi period (late 1400s - early 1500s)

Ancient hula dancers in the South Pacific, use a stone castanet called 'lli 'ili. They are small porous stones that are smoothed by flowing water.

Dancers holding a pair in each hand they click them together in rhythm to the music.

Now back to Zills, they can be played in several ways, creating ringing tones, soft tapping or a sharp "clap" sound that is affected by a few factors including the amount of pressure they are played with.

Dancers are of then working with the doumbeck player to follow the heart beat of the music with the cymbals. I will Introduce you to a few of the many rhythms found in Bellydance music in a moment, but first there are many factors that make cymbal so much more.







A set of zills consists of four cymbals, two for each hand. Modern zills come in a range of sizes, the most common having a diameter of about 2 in. Different sizes and shapes of zills will produce sounds that differ in volume, tone and resonance.

For instance, a dancer performing with an orchestra will use a larger zill with more volume, whereas a cabaret dancer may choose a smaller zill with a more delicate sound. American Tribal style dancers typically use a much larger zill with a more mellow tone.

Makers of zills commonly use brass rather than the bronze used for larger cymbals, but they may also employ many other alloys. They may plate some zills in order to give a silver color or a brighter surface. Performance zills vary in appearance and may be shiny, dull, plain or engraved.

Modern dancers use elastic to secure the zills, one to the thumb and one to the middle finger of each hand. Professional zills have two slots to allow the threading of the elastic through the zill, whereas cheaper versions (including tourist versions) often have only one hole.

We also see the Karkabah played in Morocco This a double set of zills on a single handle. This video is a superb demonstration.

Modern Percussionists playing finger cymbals sometimes use a less complicated technique than the traditional one used by dancers. The musician holds one cymbal in each hand by gripping the strap between the thumb and the index finger, and plays them by striking the rims together. They use this technique for occasional flourishes in the music rather than for complex rhythms and sounds.

There is also a frame drum with cymbals we call this the Riq, it is a medium sized tambourine with the cymbals attached around the sides it is found in many styles of Middle Eastern Music. There is a smaller version played in North Africa.

I have studied with many dance instructors and have been lucky enough to study Doumbeck-Tar(frame drum), Riq and Zills with these amazing percussion teachers. They are such a great resource to dancers and musicians following their passion in Middle eastern music.

There are many Middle Eastern Drum rhythms and it helps dancers to better enjoy the music to have a basic understanding of them here is a simple intro.


123 123 123 123


&a1 &a2 &a3 &a4


12 12 12 12


1& 2& 3& 4&


1 1 123 1 123 12


1 2 3&4 5 6&7 8&


1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &


dum _ dum _ tek_ dum_tek

or fancy with what are called fills:accents between and layered on the beat

tek a dum dum teka tek dum teka tek




1 e & a 2 e & a


dum tek dum tek


Chiftitelli is the Turkish word for belly dancing. It is also an 8 beat rhythm popular with belly dancers.

The difference is the use of the 3-3-2 accent pattern in the first four beats.


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + | 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + |

Zills are also played in various patterns-counts or 3's 7's 5's 8's12's

The most prolific zills are manufactured by...

because they are famed to be the best quality cymbals are:

They can give you a more in-depth understanding of the sound differences between each pair of cymbals.

Cymbal care: protect your investment

Always carry your cymbals in a padded cymbal bag or a protective cymbal case.

Store your cymbals immediately whenever you are done.

Keep your cymbals away from extreme cold or heat.

Cleaning Cymbals

Play with clean hands. Dirty, sweaty hands are not good for your cymbals.

Wipe your cymbals frequently with a soft, dry cloth, and after each practice session or performance. Remove dirt and spills immediately.

Clean your cymbals more often with just warm water and soap.

If you have to use a cleaner, use a mild, non-abrasive Paiste Cymbal Cleaner & Protector, chrome polish, or Saroyan cymbal cleaner.

First lay the cymbals flat, on a towel covered surface.

Next wet the cymbal with water and also wet a cotton cloth with water.

Use a few drops of Cymbal Cleaner onto the cloth (not onto the cymbal directly) and make sure the cleaner is watered-down.

With the cloth, gently wipe the cymbal in the direction of the lathing grooves until you see dirt being removed from the surface. Do not scrub. As soon as you see dirt or grime on the rag, stop the cleaning process.

Rinse off the cymbal with a different wet cloth until the cleaner is completely removed. You can also rinse the cymbal directly under running luke warm water instead. When the cleaner is completely removed, use a new dry cloth and gently wipe around the cymbal until it's completely dry. No need to scrub.

After cleaning use mineral oil or sewing machine type oil to protect them, and then wipe it off.

Happy Zilling!

By: Shahravar Jewel Of Bellydance 2015



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