Saturday, August 13, 2022

It's suspect: nothing but singles, doubles, and flams

New recurring (maybe) feature, inspired by Modern Drummer's It's Questionable column. I'll call it It's Suspect, and say a few words about an annoyingly wrong but persistent drumming myth. 

This question was asked on a forum: 

There is a common sentiment I have heard when it comes to rudiments: "Everything you play is either a single stroke, double stroke, flam, or a combination of the three". What does it mean though? Does it literally mean that I should spend hours simply drilling each of these rudiments?


It's true-ish— I guess— all single strokes are not created equal. And they left out multiple bounce strokes. And I guess rim shots, stick shots, rim clicks, dead strokes, and brush technique generally don't merit inclusion in this equation. Why? I couldn't say. I also cannot say why we've limited our purview to hand technique only; we also have feet, and use them. 

Whatever. It's totally misleading. Let's listen to this record: 

Now, if you say well, Jack Dejohnette is simply playing single strokes, double strokes, and flams, that would be a totally useless analysis. What we want to know is: what is he doing to make it be that, and what do we practice?  

Like, OK, they're singles, doubles, and flams, but they're used in a playing framework. The frameworks are the whole point, that's what you practice. Which are all the normal things you were just about to practice when the guy showed up wasting your time with did you know all of drumming is simply single strokes, double strokes, and flams? 

Maybe this is the product of a snare drummer mentality? You'd have to be a single surface, single instrument, single literature player to think that way. And I don't know what constructive purpose it serves, since it begs the question:

So if I spend hours simply drilling each of these rudiments I'll be fine then?

The answer to which is obviously:

No, it's actually about the ways you practice them, which are specific and myriad and are really the whole point of all this, and do not even particularly rely on your ability to play quality singles/doubles/flams in the abstract. So it could be said that the singles/doubles/flams are really incidental to the framework in which you play them, and focusing on them this way has been a diversion and a waste of all of our time, sorry.


Monday, August 08, 2022

Transcription: Jack Dejohnette - Gentle Rain

This tune shows you one way of opening up a Bossa Nova groove, in a modern jazz setting. It's Jack Dejohnette playing on Gentle Rain, from George Benson's album Beyond The Blue Horizon. I'm listening to a lot of CTI records lately. I like the cymbals sounds, and the music. 

This is the first part of George Benson's solo, starting at 1:38. He mostly stays in the original 8th note bossa groove, taking it in a rather funky direction at times. This is largely about cymbal and bass drum. Early on he plays some isolated 16th, later he gets denser— on this part he doesn't fully double time it, on the next part he goes into a more double time post-bop feel. The organ keeps the bass line in the original groove. 

The bass drum here is a rather high and dry sound, so it's nimble enough to do all the stuff he's doing by just touching it. Note that he plays a tresillo-type rhythm on the bass drum sometimes— to my ear that's suggested by what the organ is doing. The written accents are subtle— just a suggestion that the groove has some dynamic shape within itself you might not expect. He's using a narrow range of sounds here— one cymbal, rim clicks on the snare drum (sparsely), and bass drum. If he's playing the hihat, it's mostly inaudible. 

Things get busy in part two, I'll post that whenever I get around to doing it. 

Get the pdf

Friday, August 05, 2022

Cymbalistic: new Reverb store!

CYMBALISTIC: I finally got around to setting up a Reverb store for Cymbalistic, my cymbal site, for those who wish to buy that way. 

It's functional now; I'll be adding the remaining cymbals I have in stock, and upgrading the photos in coming days.

If you've visited the Cymbalistic site, you'll notice the prices on Reverb are higher— to cover the “free” shipping. It just simplifies things; your final cost will be close to the same buying either way. 

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Reed tweak: filler options

Some filler options for a basic, very common right hand lead method used with the book Syncopation— the top line book rhythm is played with the RH/RF on a cymbal and bass drum in unison, left hand fills in remaining 8th notes. So this rhythm in the book: 

Would be played like this: 

You've seen elsewhere recently that there are some other things we can do with those filled in notes. Here are some other possibilities for how to play any single 8th note worth of filler: 

Other than the single left hand 8th note, these all follow a similar basic motion— they have a RL sticking, maybe with one or both notes doubled, sometimes with bass drum added at the end. The only other exception to that is the 32nd notes played RLRL. They all involve a lot of right hand movement, so the tempo range for any of these ideas will be kind of limited. 

Here's how the above example would be played with each of those filler rhythms: 

Many of the rhythms in Syncopation have more than one 8th note of filler in a row— which opens up some possibilities for combining filler ideas, but we'll deal with that another time. 

Oh, I left one out, but I'm not opening up Finale to revise the post. Do this one: 

—but put that second 16th note on the bass drum. You can do it with or without the flam. 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The state of the cheap real cymbal market

No, no, no
True to my whiplash self-contradiction form, I'm following up my “THERE'S TOO MUCH PRODUCT INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET” rant with a dense informational post about shopping for cheap cymbals on the internet. Not really, though. My advice is, if you need cheap cymbals, get a 20, an 18, and 14" hihats and stop worrying about it. This is just to help you find them.   

Ten years ago I wrote a post “how to get real cymbals when you're poor”, in which I suggested looking for dirty 70's A. Zildjians, or early Sabian AAs, or pre-serial Paiste 602s. Dirty and funky, but no cracks or damage. In 2012 it was easy to find those types of cymbals in desirable models (medium rides, crash/rides, thin crashes, New Beat or medium hihats) in the $80-100 range. It looks like that market may be thinning out a bit, and shifting— and prices increasing, dramatically with some items/brands. 

Here are some impressions from looking for those kinds of cymbals on Reverb, eBay, and Craigslist: 

Prices generally

You should be able to find ample good regular cymbals in the $100-150 range, with some occasional 16" crashes or heavier 20" rides below $100. With the following caveats, by brand name:  

A. Zildjian: Below $100, forget it. Around $120 we start seeing a few real cymbals you might want, around $140 they start becoming plentiful. Which, frankly, is about where they should have been all along. It's still a good deal for ordinary professional cymbals. Most of the cymbals we want are found in the $140-175 range. Around $175 we start seeing a lot more ink on cymbals— meaning 80s and newer— and collectible things, or things being passed as collectible. 

Sabian AA/AAX: Many more good options below $100, a couple below $80. And quite plentiful through the same range as the Zildjians. These are generally 10-20 years newer than the A. Zildjians, so they're mostly squarely in that heavier 80s mode. 

Paiste 602: When I wrote that first post in 2012 it was possible to find bargains on beat-up old “pre-serial” 602s (with no silk screening and no stamped serial number), but that's sure ancient history.


Virtually all old 602s are priced to the tune of $100-300 above even a premium A. Zildjian of the same vintage. They're very consistent and reliably good, but they're also basically simplified, cleaner-sounding A. Zildjians. Same category of cymbal, with less character, but also fewer bad cymbals.  

Paiste 2002: I don't really recommend buying these any more. It's a badly dated sound to me. They should be in the same category as the above cymbals, or cheaper, but they're more expensive. They don't become plentiful below ~$175. Same is true of the comparable 2000 and 3000 lines— or Sound Formula or Signature, for that matter.

Other brands: Turkish cymbal manufacturing has really exploded in the last 20 years, but I'm not seeing many of them used in our price range. Dream cymbals, from China, have been around for a long time, and some of them are priced well, but so many of them are weird and bad, that there's no reason to mess with them if you can't play them in person. 

This broad increase in prices on ordinary bargain pro cymbals is enough to make us raise our standard, and it'll be harder to take a risk buying something you're not sure about. You'll want to know the weight in grams, and hopefully get a recording of it. You may find you can get the same price or better at your local drum shop or pawn shop. 

The fundamentals remain the same
A. Zildjians from the 60s-present are still the ordinary, modern, cutting, very bright cymbals we all know and are used to, and few/none of them are collectible, premium items. Nothing has changed now that the cymbals are ten years older. 60s-70s, maybe 80s vintage are the most desirable of them to me. My feeling is that in the 90s the quality begins getting worse, and most of them I play are hard on my ears. Newer Sabian AA/AAX cymbals are often quite good— they're my preferred "current" (90s-present) cymbal for a modern "A" sound. 

Cymbal orphanage

Looking at the lower end of the price spectrum really makes you grieve for the state of the world. It's looking very flaky. I guess it always did, but I was struck by it this time. Lots of orphaned hihat bottoms, damaged cymbals, single marching/band cymbals, tons of budget grade cymbals of all kinds— 40 years worth now, since Zildjian and then Sabian began producing them by the cubic mile. Cracks and "repairs" are much more commonplace and accepted than I ever remember them being— previously cymbals like that were considered virtually DOA, now they seem to be half-expected. 

Stamp mania
Cymbal geeks use cold stamp design to judge the age of older K. and A. Zildjian cymbals— I'm skeptical of the accuracy of that, but there it is— some people are now trying to sell ordinary modern cymbals as somehow a vintage collectible by describing their stamp. Beware of that— once again, no A. Zildjian from the 1960s or later is collectible, in my opinion. 

Know your gram weights 
You need to know how much a cymbal weighs in grams, and what that means. Many of these cymbals are unlabeled, and actual weight often varied widely even when you know the model name. People

Get this. 
selling an unlabeled cymbal may be guessing what category of cymbal they're selling, or deliberately using the non-labeling to sell you an undesirable orphaned marching cymbal as a "crash cymbal." If you can't get a gram weight from the seller, you're taking your chances. 

Here's a pretty good guideline for ride cymbal weights, for 19-22" rides. This cymbal weight calculator seems pretty accurate for >20" cymbals (likely to be rides), and quite misleading for <20" cymbals (likely to be crashes). Enter the size and gram weight, and it tells you the weight category of the cymbal. I think it's "calibrated" for ride cymbals. Anything you want to perform as a crash cymbal should come back as "extremely light" or "very light." Merely "light" will get you a what is normally considered a medium crash, which you do not want, trust me.    

Those new better cheap cymbals
There have been a couple of newer lines of better-than-usual cheaper B20 cast cymbals— XS20 by Sabian and Xist by Agop— they're almost real cymbals, and they've been around long enough to start finding their way onto the used market. Normally used cheap cymbals are virtually worthless, but these hold their value pretty well— so well, in fact, that there's no point in buying them. For the XS20 there's a small price break, but not enough to justify buying them over an AA. There are a few reasonable Xists you can get for the same price as the cheapest AAs, but they're still worse cymbals. The fancy looking Xist "dry dark" series aren't really bargain cymbals; they're priced about the same as very new used A.s and AAs. Instead of being great bargain cymbals, they decided to price them as crappy premium cymbals. 

Right now there are not any non-professional series cymbals I would recommend buying for more than $50 per cymbal. I'll write another post soon rounding up some of these attractive sub-professional lines. 

What to do about “jazz cymbals”
You can use any of these type of cymbals we're talking about as jazz cymbals, provided your ride isn't ridiculously heavy. You could look for a crash/ride or light right for your main cymbal. "Hand-hammered" type cymbals, Sabian HH cymbals start appearing in the $120-150 range. American made K. Zildjians with the big 80s-looking "K" printed on them are generally $50-100 more. There are a lot of mediocre ride cymbals by either brand. That's another topic for another day, in fact. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Groove o' the day: Idris Muhammad - Last Train to Clarkesville

Idris Muhammad plays a hip train beat on George Benson's cover of a Monkees hit, Last Train To Clarkesville, from his 1968 album Shape Of Things To Come. He's playing rim clicks with a stick in a bossa rhythm with his left hand, and filling in with a brush with his right:

Both hands work together to build this groove— he accents the last note of those doubles; the RH accent right before the rim click gives the rhythm some structure. He plays the straight groove all the way through, with a few stops. No bass drum at all except on the breaks. 

Listening to someone play a composed beat like this, I'm always listening for how (and if) they vary it, and develop it, and how they make ensemble accents, and get away from it to do a fill— and get back to it afterwards. All those little ordinary things you do without thinking when playing a stock groove, create a special problem when doing a specific worked-out groove. Usually people have to scale way back on the other stuff, and mostly just play the groove, and that's basically what's happening here.  

Friday, July 29, 2022

Sidebar: Shopping in the YouTube age

Continuing a particular aspect of that why I hate videos post: information paralysis. It hits me whenever I have to buy camera equipment, or electronics, or computer related products. It's always a manic descent into the hell of comparisons of irrelevant minutiae. 

It's a peculiar thing of this digital age: the endless gathering of more data than you will ever be able to use in the whole remainder of your now-miserable life. Doing something and living with it is intolerable, we need to get everything right in advance, before risking anything. 

Except by doing that we're not avoiding risk, we're committing to something worse: a whole lot of time wasted on frustrating, largely hypothetical, partially-informed data analysis. And never getting around to the thing we said we wanted to do. 

All you really want to know is: is it a good value, is it going to do what I want, is it going to work for a long time. Will I like it, will it be enough of an improvement on what I have to be worth the purchase.

What to do is:

Just buy some things, live with them awhile, find out how well they suit your needs. Learn their shortcomings with respect to same, find something better next time. Get stuff, use stuff, get better stuff based on that experience.

Stop trying to cover your ass for every possible hypothetical situation they just told you about, put the focus on what you're doing, not the consumer item you're using to do it. Do the thing. 

Usually, what you get will be good enough, and if not, your actual loss is minimal... if you didn't approach it like a jackass, spending way too much money buying a new item because you have a fetish for shiny things and unwrapping virgin packages untainted by human hands.  

It helps to find out what's normal, what everybody uses— not the rabble, the smaller number of people who are serious about an activity. Low budget professionals, who buy infrequently, and use it a lot. Like a lot of problems created by the internet, it's solved by talking to people.   

Finally, about how product lines are designed:

A lot of very new, very expensive, rapidly depreciating items are intended for moneyed bleeding-edgers. They'll have some awesome wonder-features that create the illusion of “changing the game”— they do not, “the game” is always about fundamentals— and may be designed to render some previous reasonably priced workhorse item obsolete.

What pros use is usually a level below that— “pros” being people who use the thing as their main business, or use it in the course of doing another kind of business. But professionals spend their money wisely*, and can often do their work with years-old equipment. Which is where the best value is generally found in used gear— moderately priced moderately old used pro stuff. This type of thing tends to hold its resale value after its a few years old.  

*- There are certainly some big money, high volume pros who constantly
update to the newest thing, but that's definitely not me, probably not you. 

There's a large middle grade “pro-sumer” area for more or less normal people who are into the hobby, who like new stuff, but don't have unlimited money to spend. These are mostly perfectly functional for most people, even some pros/professional situations, but does not hold its value over time. Neither a good nor terrible value. 

And there's the cheap junk, for broke or permanently poor people. Maybe it's very cheap, but still overpriced for what it is. The economics are designed to bleed poor people dry. Instead of spending $1500 once in ten years (that you can recover at the end), you spend $3000 spread out over ten years, ending up with a lot of valueless junk. The products are designed to be semi-usable for a time, and virtual waste when you're done with them. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Art Blakey - The Core

Here's something great that deserves much better than the cursory treatment I'm about to give it: The Core, from Art Blakey's record Free For All. Blakey's doing a little bit of an Elvin Jones thing on this record— like it says, it's very hard core. 

On a forum someone asked what he's doing on this tune. On a big part of it he's playing off of this piano figure from the intro, that recurs for extended passages throughout:

He does a sort of rubadub treatment— these are two two-measure examples from the intro: 

It gets pretty raggedy, so the transcription hardly does it justice. The occasional triplets are hardly calculated; when playing at the edge of your abilities things can weird— things emerge that are not in your control. A lot of other stuff happens. There's a section with some horn hits. Part of the solos swing. Sometimes he deviates from that basic figure during those sections— he'll extend playing in 3 over 4/4 time a la Elvin. It's hot as hell in my office right now (101° in Portland today) and I have neither the patience nor the focus to listen through and figure out the form.