TUBS Grids

Reading Rhythms of Resistance Notation

The notation system that RoR “tune sheets” use to write down samba-fusion music is the Time Unit Box System (TUBS), which was created in the 60s by musicologists Philip Harland and James Koetting to notate West African drumming.

Rhythms of Resistance samba-fusion tunes are made of beats, bars, and notes. Each bar has four beats – you can count beats by stepping or swaying as you play. Notes are what you actually play. Snare players play four notes for every beat, called sixteenth notes.

Here’s the 4 beat silence break and 8 beat silence break notated using TUBS. Sixteenth notes are shown by boxes with grey lines, beats are shown by rectangles with black lines.

Sometimes, everyone (marked with E) plays sixteenths. Here’s the Karla drumroll break, which is three bars of sixteenth notes, one note on the first beat, then three beats of silence.

On this tune sheet for Karla, you can see how the snare plays the sixteenth notes. Quieter snare notes are marked with a dot, louder snare accents with x. Other instruments’ notes are marked with x.

Most instruments have a pattern that repeats every one bar (four beats). However, the tamborim has a pattern that repeats every two bars. Surdos repeat their pattern for three bars, then play a different pattern for their fourth bar. RoR Karla has no separate tom/high surdo part, as that was an XR invention! You can see XR Rhythms Karla, including the tom/high surdo part on our player.

You can’t show everything on a TUBS grid, but symbols can sometimes be used to indicate certain things. On this Karla grid, 0 tells the surdo players to press the drum skin with their free hand to “dampen” the resonance of the drum after hitting it with the beater (if you do this, you need to keep your second beater in your belt for drumrolls). l and h show the low and high notes of the agogô. In the RoR tune booklet, there’s a key to tell you what extra symbols mean. However, we can’t show things like speed or loudness.

It’s helpful to learn how to read TUBS grids, but not necessary, as samba-fusion music is informal and involves lots of reinterpretation. Nothing beats learning together!