Konnakol: Paco Peña rumba (Bruno)


Hi Bruno – here are some konnakol ideas for the Paco Peña rumba, feel free to send me questions anytime. Enjoy!

• Konnakol basics •

Intro: South Indian ‘konnakol’ (vocalised rhythm) can be applied to very complex music – but the ‘building blocks’ are simple. The best way is essentially this:

  1. Learn the ‘number syllables’ (‘TaKa, TaKiTa, TaKaDiMi’, etc)
  2. Turn music you already know into konnakol phrases
  3. Apply these ideas to unfamiliar music

Below, we’ll look at the first two steps, including the Paco Pena…

• Number syllables •

There are several variants of the basic ‘number sounds’ – but these ones are all you really need:

  • 1 = Ta (+Dha/Dhe/Dhin/etc)
  • 2 = Ta-Ka
  • 3 = Ta-Ki-Ta
  • 4 = Ta-Ka-Di-Mi
  • 5 = Ta-Di-Ki-Na-Ka
  • 6 = Ti-Re-Ka Ta-Ki-Ta
  • 7 = Ta-[]-Di-[]-Ki-Na-Ka ([]=rest)
  • 8 = Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Ju-Na

Any other combinations are acceptable too (e.g. I often just use ‘Ta-Ki-Ta + Ta-Ki-Ta’ for 6, and ‘Ta-Ka-Di-Mi + Ta-Ki-Ta’ for 7, rather than the syllables listed above). And also, you can encounter various syllables added to handle non-Indian aspects of rhythm – e.g. I use ‘ah’ as a ‘weak note‘, and ‘Ja-Ra’ for swung beats.

  • You can learn this vocabulary lots of different ways: for example with a dice. Try out things like this…

• La Lola: konnakol ideas •

  • Paco Pena – La Lola Rumba (full track):

• Seq. 1 (‘conversational’) •

Konnakol makes rhythmic sequences ‘conversational’. It’s not just about working out the numbers – it’s about being able to ‘speak’ rhythms more naturally. In this exercise, we’ll just take the starting melody of the rumba, and turn it into ‘phrases’.


Don’t worry about exact counting (I’ve deliberately left the numbers off here). Approach it the same way you would try and learn a new spoken language: i.e. learn the sounds before the grammar

  • Demo 1: ‘Conversational’ konnakol

(Ta-)Din, Ta-Ki-Ta

Din, ah-Ta-Ka

Din, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka

Din, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka

Din, ah-Ta-Ka

Din, ah-Ta-Ka

Din (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka)

(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta…)


  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• Seq. 2 (‘rumba groove’) •

You can use konnakol to match the phrases of the rhythm (as above) – and also to groove along with the main rhythmic cycle. For a fast rumba, we can feel the ‘3-3-2’ in many different ways – most obviously as ‘Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka’. We can turn the ‘3-2’ into a 5 as well, making ‘3-5‘ (a bit like an offset of James Brown’s Funky Drummer groove).

The main challenge with applying the syllables to music is getting the emphasis in the right places. So make sure the first syllable of each ‘word’ is noticeably louder.
Again, aim to make it sound ‘conversational’ (i.e. don’t sing, but do change your pitch and tone of voice to add emphasis). And see the different ways of dividing things up:

  • Demo 2: rumba groove


(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) [3,3,2]

(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Di-Ki-Na-Ka) [3,5]

(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) [3,3,2]

(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Di-Ki-Na-Ka) [3,5]

(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din-) [3,3,2]


Ta-Ki-Ta, Din

ah-Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din

ah-Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din

Ta-Din, Ta-Ka –Din


  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• Seq. 3 (‘melodic phrases’)  •

For non-Carnatic music, we sometimes need to add our own elements. For example, I use ‘ah’ as a ‘weak 1’ – when there’s a non-emphasised note just before a strong note. Here, we use it to match some faster melodic phrases (this one will feel faster and more complicated…practice it slow at first!).


Also, we introduce a few new ‘1 sounds’ (e.g. ‘Din, Na, Dom’) – India has many varieties, used to mimic different drum sounds – and they can just as well apply to the ‘shapes’ of a melody too. Also note the new syllable I’ve added – ‘Ja-Ra‘ – for flexible swung rhythms (there isn’t really an equivalent in traditional Carnatic music).

  • Demo 3: melodic phrases

Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka-Di-Mi

Ta-Ki-Ta, Din

Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din


ah-Ta-Ka, [Ti-Re-Ke], Ta-Ka

Din, Na, Na, Din, Ja-Ra Din, ah-Din, Na


ah-Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din, Na, Dom

ah-Din, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din, Na, Dom

ah-Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din, Na, Dom

ah-Din, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din, Na, Dom


  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• Seq. 4 (‘faster grooves’)  •

One of the main challenges with learning konnakol is just saying the phrases fast enough. As with guitar, this just comes with time (although it’s a much quicker process…). Here, we handle the rumba groove at some faster speeds (and upward tempo shifts), from near the end of the Paco Peña – including the use of the tabla-style ‘Ti-Re-Ke’ as a ‘fast 3‘ (it’s slightly easier to say than Ta-Ki-Ta).


Aim for clarity with each syllable: although the first one should always be the strongest (e.g. ‘Ta-Ki-Ta’). Think about the ‘mouth movements’ needed for each syllable, and how you can make them flow better – and also consider where is best to pause for breath. Don’t worry about matching the speed of the demos, just jam along with guitar at whatever speed you want to – and keep everything physically relaxed!

  • Demo 4: faster grooves

…a few ideas to choose from:

• Din, ah-Din, ah-Ta-Ka

• Ta-Ki-Ta, Din, ah-Ta-Ka

• Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka

• Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din

• Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Di-Ki-Na-Ka

• Ti-Re-Ke, Ti-Re-Ke, Ta-Ka

• Ti-Re-Ke, Ta-Ki-Ta, Din


  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• More on konnakol •

Carnatic context: For more on the social, theoretical, and mystical dimensions of South Indian classical music, the best thing is of course to listen to (& watch) the musicians!

  • Tani Avartanam (‘percussion interplay’) – live from Darbar, who I sometimes freelance for (lots of amazing stuff on their channel):

  • Konnakol phrases: If you haven’t found it already…here’s a full playlist of John McLaughlin & Selvaganesh’s Gateway to Rhythm instructional series (short and excellent):


A few general learning principles:

  • Listen to lots of different music: feed the brain with good sounds
  • Train the ear: this gives you the ‘toolbox’ to teach yourself any style
  • ‘Sing inside’ as you play: music is about emotions, not finger muscles
  • Experiment freely: constantly create your own patterns & variations
  • Enjoy it! Find fun in improvement…then mastery is no struggle

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.

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Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!

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