What are Finger Cymbals? Or more commonly known as Zills in the belly dance world. These tiny metal disc, usually ranging from 5 centimeters (2 in) or 6.6 centimeters (2.5 in) are used to produce sound that differs in volume and tone. A set of Cymbals consist of four disc. Elastic is used 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) have only one hole.
The makers of Zills generally use brass for small cymbals and bronze for larger cymbals, but other alloys may be employed. Some makers may plate Zills in order to give them a silvery color or a brighter surface. Professional Zills may also vary in appearance, some can be shiny, dull, plain or engraved.
The History of Finger Cymbals: The hypnotic, compelling custom of movements to rhythm is as ancient as mankind itself. Percussion devices, the conveyors of rhythm, were the first instruments created; integral parts of the rites of celebration, mourning and religion. In Ancient Egypt the musicians and dancers sometimes played clappers made of ivory or wood. These clappers were round or rectangular in shape.
With the advent of the Bronze Age, the musical quality of metals naturally became and important tonal addition to the existing instrumentality. Derived from the Greek word “Kymbala”, cymbals were the most beautiful and versatile of these rhythmic accessories. The use of cymbals has been recorded as early as 500 A.D.
Today, Finger Cymbals (Arabic: “Sagat” or “Sunouj”. Turkish: “Zills”, Persian: “Zang”) are popular and played by most professional belly dancers. The intricate musical patterns they create and their sparking sound quality, make the cymbals indispensable to Middle Easter music. Performing with Zills accents both the music and the movement of belly dance and have become a symbol associated almost exclusively with the art of belly dancing, Especially with the American cabaret dancers.
Most American belly dancers are not considered professional unless they have mastered the art of playing Zills. Some dancers that use Zills in their performance will feel naked when not using them. Unfortunately in Egypt playing Zills is losing is popularity. In the good Cabarets they perform with large orchestras and the musicians play the Zills for them. In Turkey, belly dancers play very good Zills. Sometimes wooded spoons called Kasiklar are played in Turkey.
Zills can be played several different ways, to produce either a ringing tone or a harsh “clack” sound. Here are some examples of different Zill rhythms.
- triplets (left/right/left/pause – “giddyup, giddyup, giddyup”)
- quads (L/R/L/R/no pause)
- beledi (dum/dum/tek-a-tek/dum-tek-a-tek)
- chiftatelli (dum/dum/tek-a-tek/dum/dum/dum
Harry Saroyan has researched and developed an exquisite collection of Finger Cymbals, encompassing both historic and contemporary designs. Each set carries its own distinctive tonal effect. Saroyan cymbals have been acclaimed and endorsed by internationally known dancers, instructors, musicians and recording artists.