Not every teacher chooses to teach zills in beginner levels, but I recently became convinced by this approach by Cassandra. The zills are a beautiful, underrated instrument, and being able to accompany yourself or other dancers is really wonderful. They don’t have to be onerous–after all, they are members of the bell family.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it is actually easier to learn to play the cymbals at the same time you learn to dance. That way, the rhythms become part of your muscle memory with the dancing. Learning them at the same time takes advantage of the basic patterns of learning and remembering that your brain uses.
Cassandra’s intermediate and advanced students are zill maniacs–they can play rhythms I had never even heard of!
You will also learn to pay closer attention to the music, and to hear as well as FEEL the rhythm. The rhythm is, after all, the heartbeat of the dance. Great dancing is the music made physical and tangible. Your learning curve will be steep at first, but once your hands are playing the zills automatically, you free up energy to concentrate on more difficult dance technique.
My current group of intermediate students can play finger cymbals much better after 2-3 years than I could after 6 or 7. I learned “after the fact”, in intermediate level, and I found that I was nearly paralyzed–I could not move and play. I have experience playing musical instruments going back to the age of 6, so I can’t imagine how others in that boat were feeling!
We do 5-15 minutes of zill practice in most, but not all, classes. I used to teach them right from the first class. Now I have a “middle ground” approach–I start them in continuing beginner levels, 2 or 3 common patterns.
In between classes, you can practice at home. A little bit every day will help speed the process of ingraining the rhythms in your muscle memory. You do not need to own zills, oddly enough–the process of acquiring the muscle memory so you can play with less thinking is about your hands being on “autopilot”, not about the sound you are making. That kind of polishing of your playing technique can come later.
If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way, you will be right! Expect yourself to learn something new and wonderful. Approach it with an open mind and a willing heart.