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 fairly 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 regional variants of the basic ‘number sounds’ – but these ones are all you 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). You can learn these lots of different ways: for example with a dice. Try out things like this…

  • Demo 1: syllables/dice/layers/exaggeration

• La Lola: konnakol ideas •

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

• Sequence 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 left the numbers off deliberately here) – try and learn this sequence similar to how you would learn a new spoken language

  • Seq. 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
Dom (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka)
(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka)

  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• Sequence 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’ as ‘Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka’.

The main challenge with applying these syllables to music is getting the emphasis in the right places.

Again, aim to make it sound ‘conversational’ (i.e. don’t sing, but do change your pitch and tone of voice to add structure and emphasis)

  • Seq. 2: rumba groove


(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka)

  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• Sequence 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:

  • Seq. 3: melodic phrases


(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka)

  • Practice loops: normal + slow

• Sequence 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).


Aim for clarity of 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. Keep everythng physically relaxed!

  • Seq. 4: faster grooves


(Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka)

  • 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.


Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John 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!