Belly Dance: How to Choose and Play Zills

Finger cymbals - also called "zills" or "sagats" - may seem like an easy addition to your belly dance wardrobe. After all, they're just two small circles of metal with a piece of elastic attached. You'd think that using them would be easy and choosing them even easier. You're about to be surprised!

Cheap Zills

If you're a beginner and not sure whether you'll stick with belly dancing, it doesn't make much sense to buy expensive zills, does it?

Yes and no. Generally, the cheaper the zill, the nastier the sound. Really cheap zills will clang rather than ring! Considering that even the most expensive zills are under $50 - and you can always sell them to another student if you give up - it hardly seems worth economizing, when a few more dollars will give you an instrument that's a pleasure to play.

However, it's your choice, If you decide to go for a cheaper pair, there is only one thing to look out for. A proper finger cymbal has two slits in the centre to thread the elastic through. Don't buy a set which has only a single hole for the elastic instead of two slits -they're just tourist souvenirs.

Tribal zills are usually larger
Tribal zills are usually larger

The Best Zills - Brands

The two big names in zills are Saroyan and Turquoise. Both manufacturers produce a range of zills in a surprising variety of tones. They are more expensive - but once you've played a set of proper zills, you'll think it's worth it.

If you usually play in a troupe, it's a good idea to ask the troupe leader if she has a preference before you buy - you don't want your zills to look or sound out of place in the ensemble.

I made that mistake once - I had the chance to buy a pair of Saroyan Turkish zills from a former professional, and naturally, I snapped them up. Trouble was, they had such a gorgeous bell-like ring, I drowned out the cheap zills played by the rest of the troupe! Besides being rude, it was embarrassing - because as a beginner, I wasn't that good at the time, and my mistakes could be heard loud and clear...

Note that if you're a tribal dancer, you will probably need large zills.

Killer Ziller: Belly Dance Finger Cymbals
Killer Ziller: Belly Dance Finger Cymbals

This DVD is an excellent introduction to zills. Great drills to help you master the art of zilling.

 

It's not all bell-like!

We generally associate zills with a bell-like ringing sound, and your belly dance teacher may correct you if you strike the zills face-on, which makes a "clack". In fact, that is also a perfectly legitimate way to play.

The clip on the right explains the various way to hold your zills and the different sounds they can make. In the video below, you can hear them in action.

The video also demonstrates how to practise zills - sitting down! Dancing with zills is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time: it's unrealistic to expect to dance and play at the same time until you've mastered the zills on their own. It does take patience, but taking the time to learn the zills like a musical instrument, without any dance steps, really will pay dividends in the end.

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All text copyright Marisa Wright. Multicolor photo courtesy of Vmiramontes. Tribal photo by Leslie Duss.

Comments 4 comments

cosette 6 years ago

i have a pair of those...they came in my "Belly Dancing in a Kit", which i never used. i need a class, i think. after reading this hub, i checked out some belly dancing classes in my area. they offer some for only $25. i have attended "recitals" a couple of times and it is so neat to watch, and the music is stunning. cool hub Marisa.


Marisa Wright profile image

Marisa Wright 7 years ago from Sydney Author

I'm not a drum expert but I believe it's a doumbek or darbuka.

I wrote a Hub about learning belly dance at home - but I agree, there's nothing quite like dancing with others in a class.


Dawn Curio Psyche 7 years ago

Do you know what kind of drum that is in the second video (silver)? I love that sound.

I've always wanted to try zills, this makes me feel a lot more familiar with them before starting.

I don't know when I will finally, actually try them. I've actually lost touch with belly dancing, too...I guess there are always Youtube videos or my own improvisation, but classes really do seem like the way to go...I feel difficulty getting involved in real-life communities at this age. 19! Growing up...shy...so videos like these really help.


prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 7 years ago from Tumkur

Woh! it tells almost everything to a new entrant. Good clippings

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    Marisa Wright2,828 Followers
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    Marisa Wright is an Australian writer and dancer with nearly 40 years' experience in ballet, jazz, flamenco, ballroom, Latin and bellydance.



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