Friday, September 22, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - RRLL and variations

This little series presents a kind of writing problem; it has to be either very short or very long, each of which will hit resistance with users. I've done it the long way, simply because it's the only way anyone may actually practice the thing. The first entry and today's entry are easy enough to figure out on the fly by following simple instructions, but they're good preparation for reading the later entries, so go ahead and read through them.

This is a very basic drumset orchestration for the 8th note sticking exercises found at the beginning of Stick Control, by George L. Stone. We're simply moving the right hand to a cymbal, and playing the bass drum in unison with it, and then doing a number of stock tom tom moves with the left hand. We'll also do them in a triplet rhythm. And practice any very similar exercises found in Stone— for example, today's starting pattern is RRLL; you should run the same steps with LLRR, RLLR, and LRRL.

We've opted to be very thorough with the tom moves, covering all possible combinations, and it it will take quite of bit of time to get through all of them. Which is a good thing— tricking you into playing the basic pattern for longer than you would have is half the point. The patterns we're covering are very fundamental, and you want to be really good at them in a variety of rhythms, tempos, dynamics, and movements around the drums. Note that we're in 2/2— cut time— so each measure is two beats long, and we're playing a four-note subdivision— treat these exercises as you would 16th notes in 2/4. You can also play the 12/8 versions of the exercises (on page 2) as sixtuplets in 2/4.

I've only written out left hand moves, but you can also move your right hand between cymbals. Just improvise those moves as you play through the written exercises; if you try to be systematic about it you'll never finish this thing.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Transcription: Blues March - two intros

Two intros to a famous tune: Blues March, by Benny Golson. One is by Art Blakey, from the Jazz Messengers album Moanin', and the other is by Lex Humphries, from Art Farmer and Benny Golson album  Meet The Jazztet.

Swing the 8th notes on both intros, except the roll-off in the last two measures, which is played with straight 8ths. And of course the 16th note part of the Humphries intro does not swing. Rolls are all multiple-bounce— 16th note pulsation 5-stroke and 9-stroke for the short rolls, triplet pulsation 13-stroke for the longer rolls. Both drummers play their flams pretty flat; the grace note is so tight against the main note it's sometimes hard to tell if they are playing flams. It's noteworthy that on each recording when the band comes in the tempo slows down— to 130 on the Blakey version, and 140 on the Farmer/Golson version. Maybe that happens all the time; it never occurred to me to check that on other recordings.

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Audio of the tracks is after the break.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Practice loop in 6/4: Lilin

Here's that practice loop for yesterday's Figure Control page in 6/4, sampled from Lilin, played by John Zorn's Masada. The tempo is a little easier than the other recent loop in 6.

You'll also find this useful for working on any harder triplet coordination materials you may be struggling with— I've been using it to walk through the triplet “harmonic” independence portion of Dahlgren & Fine, or the jazz independence portion of vol. 3 of Gary Chaffee's Patterns series. Just make the first three notes of the practice loop the rate of your 8th note triplet. That puts your quarter note at about 65 BPM.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Figure Control: 6-4 - Lilin - 01

Let's just assume every post begins with an apology for the light posting— I've just been very busy with playing, teaching, and getting ready for an art show this past few weeks.

This Funk Control/Figure Control/Whatever Control format I've been working with lately is proving to be quite a useful concept— taking interpretations commonly applied to Syncopation, and using them with a single rhythm, and then combining them. Today we've got another rhythm in 6/4, based on the bass vamp from Lilin, a tune played by John Zorn's Masada.

There will be a practice loop to use with this page forthcoming in the next couple of days. The tempo is more reasonable than that of the Free Design loop we used with the previous page in 6.

Play through the base rhythm and iterations at the top of the page once,  just so you can be familiar with the foundations of the lettered exercises. Then learn the individual lettered exercises, repeating each of them many times. Then practice combining lettered exercises, in the following template:

A-B, A-C, A-D, etc... B-C, B-D, B-E, etc... C-D, C-E, C-F, etc...

Follow that system until you've played all combinations of patterns. Note that you don't have to work backwards; when you get to the combinations starting with B, you don't have to do B-A, because you already did A-B when you did the As.

With each combination, play each component pattern one or two times, repeating the entire combination phrase many times:

||: A-A-B-B :|| 
||: A-B :||

With all of the pages in this series, there are so many exercises and combinations of exercises to learn, that if you really have a problem with any of them at a certain tempo, there's no problem with just cutting those exercises from your routine. Learning to play the exercises is just the first part of this system— what's more important is learning to combine whatever patterns you can play really well. There's no point in including a pattern you're really struggling with in practicing that part of the system.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Michael Shrieve interviews Elvin Jones

Very busy this week, so just another little link share of something very cool: part 1 of Michael Shrieve's interview with Elvin Jones. You'll probably want to follow Shrieve on Facebook, too— he's always posting good stuff.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - basic

This is the type of thing I usually wouldn't bother writing out, the instructions are so simple, but the more advanced variations are challenging enough that you'll want to see them on paper. So let's start with the very basics.

What we are doing is playing the first exercises in Stick Control on the drumset. Today we're using the very simple RLRL pattern from page 5. R-indicated notes are played with the right hand on a cymbal, with the bass drum in unison; L-indicated notes are played with the left hand moving around the snare or toms, according to a set of stock moves.

We're in 2/2, so we'll be playing a four note subdivision— functionally “16th notes.” You could count the rhythms 1e&a 2e&a if you wanted. Set your metronome to half note = 60 or faster. For the 12/8 version, set your metronome to dotted quarter note = 60 or faster. Play the RLRL exercises which I've written out, then apply the same orchestration/moves to the LRLR sticking.

Adding the left foot: In 2/2 you can play quarter notes, half notes, or the 2 and 4 (counting in 4/4). In 12/8 put the hihat on dotted quarter notes, or the 2 and 4— remember 12/8 is a compound (“triplet” subdivision) meter counted in 4, with the beat falling on a dotted quarter note rhythm. The simple way to put that is:12/8 = triplets in 4.

Learn this straightforward template well; we'll be applying it to a few other Stick Control exercises, and maybe some related things not found in that book.

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Best books: Timbale Solo Transcriptions by Victor Rendon

Just a link share today for anyone interested in Salsa, Cuban music, and related musics. From Unlocking Clave's Facebook feed, here's a nice free book, Timbale Solo Transcriptions by Victor Rendon.

Do give Unlocking Clave and Rendon a follow.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why jazz

Pourquoi le jazz? The question on
everyone's lips.
An item related to our old music post last week: this is a reader question sent to Portland bassist Damien Erskine (nephew of Peter, and an outstanding musician). The questioner is an electric bassist who is into funk and fusion:

Q: I struggled with asking if I HAVE to learn trad jazz or if I SHOULD learn it, so take this question as both. And just as a disclaimer, I’m using “trad jazz” to mean the standards and the jazz being played predominantly from the ’20s to the ’60s and the styles that encompassed. 

So we're clear on terminology, “trad jazz” is a term that has come into use in recent decades, which means Dixieland, and probably would also include “Gypsy” jazz. It does not mean contemporary modern jazz of the 20s-60s, as this person implies. If you're on a gig and someone calls Dolphin Dance, and you say “I'm not into that trad stuff” or “cool, I love trad jazz” you will get a very funny look and probably never be called again.

He continues:

I’ve been led by a lot of people to think that, even if you’re into more funky fusion styles of jazz, in order to play more modern stuff proficiently you should learn to walk, transcribe, and learn standards, etc., etc. And even if you aren’t playing that kind of music the discipline and technical gains will help you as a player, which I have no doubt is true. But if I am definitely most interested in more funk/fusion type music and I rarely ever listen to traditional jazz how important do you think it is it to practice this stuff? This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time. I’ve jumped into learning to walk and solo over standard changes but always found myself jumping out after a while because it just doesn’t relate to what I like to play and the music I hear and like to write. And I don’t listen to it that much either which makes it more difficult. 
If I had 5 hours a day to practice, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. I could fit in many different topics to practice. However, real life limits the number of hours I have to practice. So I guess this boils down to wondering if I should be spending my time in the shed on things that are really not totally related to what I like to play just for the knowledge I will gain on the instrument and for the technical and overall musical outcome it will provide. 
Maybe another way to sum it up and put it is this: Should I be learning the bass lines on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage album to help me better play and write the type of stuff he was doing with the Headhunters, which I’m much more into musically?

The question is kind of a throwback to the 70s and 80s— the last time funk influences seemed to be eclipsing swing influences in jazz. I suppose it's easy now to forget how successful Wynton Marsalis's campaign was to re-center jazz around bebop. For decades it has been an unquestioned thing that if you're calling yourself a jazz musician in any way, shape or form, you have to be able to play bebop.

I actually don't know what the questioner here is complaining about— learning to play acoustic bass would be a much bigger commitment than just learning to play jazz on electric. Like, learn some tunes and shut up. For drummers, though, bebop is quite different stylistically from anything else we do, so maybe the question is more relevant— it involves a big commitment of time and attention.

Here's why to do it:

It's a baseline skill for professional drummers. Jazz has been dying, so they say, since the 50s, but it keeps hanging around, and there are still significant gigs available. Many of the steadiest and best paying gigs accessible to average players involve some degree of playing jazz.

There's a professional culture built around it.
Apart from gigs where you actually have to play jazz, there is a sizable cadre of professional musicians who are primarily jazz musicians, who will really only call other jazz musicians for gigs— whatever the style of music. At the very least, they're most likely to call people they already play with, which will be jazz guys.

It's what's taught in school. If you're in high school or college and wanting to play modern music, jazz is the main form in which they teach it.

Teaches you to improvise. There's a reason jazz musicians don't sweat rehearsals— indeed, it's hard to get them to rehearse at all: they have learned to sound good the first time they play something, with or without music, without ever having heard the tune before.

Teaches you to think melodically.
Not just in the Ari Hoenig sense of tapping out melodies on the drums, but in the sense of playing off of the melody of a tune, or a bass line, or a soloist. See the Syncopation-based methods I'm constantly talking about... that system was originally created in aid of playing jazz, and most teachers only know it in that context.

Teaches you to play musically. There are numerous large and small ways in which the demands of playing jazz improve your overall musicianship. Do you think I have time to think of them all and list them all for the sake of a little blog post? Sir or madam, I do not.

It's what good drummers do.
It's a very creatively rewarding and challenging field of music, which is the type of thing intelligent, ambitious players seek out. Even if, like me, you don't think you're very intelligent, you should just do what the smart people do. Imitate their actions, and in a couple of decades no one can tell the difference.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Transcription: Steve Gadd - Autumn Leaves

We should make a series out of this: “little known records where you can learn more about a drummer than from his really famous ones.” Something like that. This 70s album by Chet Baker gives you a chance to really check out Steve Gadd's jazz playing. You've heard him kill it with Chick Corea on albums like The Mad Hatter and Three Quartets, but maybe you could use an easier entry into what he's really doing. On this record the tempos are a little slower, the tunes are standards, and the drums are mixed right up front. Gadd tends to be thought of as a studio/fusion/R&B player, but he's also a great, very influential jazz drummer. There are a lot of elements to his playing that have become stylistic features of post-60s jazz drumming— his playing embodies some classic elements of newer playing the way Art Blakey or Philly Joe Jones did 50s playing.

The album is She Was Too Good To Me by Chet Baker, released in 1974. The tune is Autumn Leaves, from which I've transcribed Gadd's drumming during the two choruses of Bob James's Fender Rhodes solo. Autumn Leaves is 32 bars long with an AABC form, but in this arrangement by Don Sebesky, the C section is 6 bars long plus an 8-bar tag— 14 measures. It sounds weird, but the tag just begins on the last note of the tune. They play the elongated form every time— on the head and on every chorus of the solos (sometimes arranged tags are played on the head only, or on the last chorus of solos only).

What he does owes a lot to Elvin Jones, simplified and polished, emphasizing Gadd's own deep groove. The cymbal interpretation is similar, and Gadd plays a lot of triplets in three and four way coordination. I hear a lot of Roy Haynes in Gadd's big syncopated accents on the cymbal and bass drum or cymbal and snare. Certainly there's a Tony Williams influence, but it's less obvious to me— certainly in the use of larger toms and bass drum.

The drum sound is different from a typical jazz sound through the 60s, and in the 90s and later; it's punchier, with more bottom. The tom toms are larger, with Black Dot heads tuned low, maybe with the bottom heads removed. The snare drum is tuned lower than normal for jazz, with a fat, muffled sound. Basically a straight studio pop sound for the time.

An interesting thing I'm noting on the second chorus especially is some feathering of the bass drum, mainly on the 2 and 4. There also seems to be a fair amount of playing both feet in unison. Interesting avenues for exploration if, like me, you want to add some bottom but you don't want to be playing quarter notes on the bass drum all night. The feathered bass drum is not in the transcription— everything I've included is a full, audible note.

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