Saturday, August 01, 2015

Getting around the drums: the ultra basics

A quick little page of stuff on getting around the drums with one hand, and both hands. In the first part I've basically written out the collection of tom moves we use with the Pages o' Coordination, including the Stick Control-derived method. With that method, you use the Rs and Ls in the book patterns to indicate one drum or another. So if you're calling the R the low tom, and the L the high tom, a patter of RRLL would have you play low-low-high-high. Or if you call them snare and low tom, respectively, you would play snare-snare-low-low. Take a look at the examples on the page, divine the principle, and apply it.

On the bottom half of the page we've got patterns for getting around the drums when playing two or three notes per drum. As you'll see from attempting the patterns labeled “awkward”, to get around smoothly you need to be strategic in how you do your moves.

Play the one-handed exercises many times, with either hand. You can apply the same moves to the left hand part of any pattern at all— just play one note (or one double) on each drum, as indicated in the patterns on this page. Play the two-handed patterns with an alternating sticking, starting with the right hand— if you start them with the left, they mostly won't work.

If you want to add the feet, you can play quarter notes or half notes with the left foot, or use any ostinato you want.

Get the pdf


This is from an interview by Jake Feinberg in Tucson, who you should be following— he's interviewed a lot of great people:

“I've been a sideman in a lot of different bands. The only time I ever took instructions was when I was a studio shark in London. The producer of the record would come in and say, 'I want this kind of sound; I want an edgier sound; I want this, I want that.' They've given instructions right, left, and center.

The only instructions Miles Davis ever gave me were, 'play it like you don't know how to play the guitar.' It's not something you can logically understand. To me Miles was a very advanced human being—a Zen Master. I'm standing with this piece of music, and he totally threw me out of my normal state of mind. I had no idea what I was doing when I was playing after that request. And yet Miles loved it. That was the 'In A Silent Way' recording. I can tell you that I had no idea what I was doing until I heard the playback.

Which is the way you should be when you play music. You cannot be in an ordinary state of mind.
You have to be kind of inspired. You have to have some kind of joy—some kind of exultation. You need basically what's inside everybody, but in music we have to be able to bring it out.

I remember we were in the middle of a session and he wasn't happy. He stops the band and walks over to Jack DeJohnette. He said, 'Jack: ba........Ba.......boom.....Ba....Ba...ok?' Now what do you make of that? Jack says, 'ok Miles,' and his playing changed dramatically from that point. He just cut right loose; he freed right up. That's the genius of Miles. Never ever would he speak about reading or guiding—you had to watch him, and see what he was doing, and how he was doing it. It's as important to know what you don't want as it is what you do. I learned just being with him as a sideman.

'Bitches Brew' is a classic example, in my candid opinion. Miles didn't know what he wanted. All of BB he didn't know what he wanted. But he knew very well what he did not want. So that left the door open for all kinds of opportunity.

My first gig with Miles was a lesson of humility in my life. We finished the first set and I thought he played like a god. We're sitting in the locker room, and he comes over to me and says, 'aw John, I didn't play shit.' He's apologizing to me, and I'm just the young guy who joined the band. I'm this young white guy from Europe. I thought he played like a god. He came over to me, and he didn't need to say that to me. That's how sincere he was. That's how dedicated he was. He knew I loved him. I admired him back 12 years prior to meeting him. He could feel that, and in a way he wanted to live up to my expectations of him. He was brutally critical of himself. He was critical of everybody but he was critical most of all of himself. That's the beautiful thing, and that's what made him great. He was not just a great musician—he was a great artist. New conceptions, directions, and forms—I got lucky. I got to play with one of the great masters of that era. Just being there and hanging out with him, I was picking up all the time: how to do it—how to see things. When you see things through his eyes, you see things differently. When you hear things through his ears, you hear things differently.”

—Guitarist John McLaughlin on Miles Davis, interviewed by Jake Feinberg

Friday, July 31, 2015

Rowdy Roddy Piper 1954-2015

UPDATE: Notice in Rolling Stone.

This one's a real heartbreaker— Portland-based pro wrestling icon Rowdy Roddy Piper has passed away. Years ago he was a regular on Portland Wrestling, an iconic Oregon TV program in the 1970s, which came on after Creature Features on Saturday nights on KPTV— I watched a few seconds of it here and there when I was a kid. He was also one of the personalities in the first big wave of national attention pro wrestling got in the 80s.

But his biggest achievement was starring in John Carpenter's 1988 low-budget, blue collar, political, sci-fi action movie They Live. That movie featured perhaps the greatest extended— near interminable, actually— savage beating in film history, between Piper and Keith David, also one of my favorite actors. Put this on full screen:

That scene inspired the famous “Cripple Fight” episode from South Park:

He was 61.

More Dom

I'll say again, I strongly encourage you to check out comedian Dom Irrera's podcasts. There's a lot that reflects musicians' world— what these guys are, musicians used to be. They are very intimate with what's happening in their scene, and with the work of their contemporaries, and with their immediate influences, but are not necessarily all-encompassing scholars of the history of comedy. That's actually the way it's supposed to be, in an active, living scene— it seems that musicians have gotten more serious about history and scholarship as the scene has fallen apart.

Critical opinions are oriented around funny/not funny, and original vs. “stolen” material, rather than the type of judgments fans make, about who's currently hot and who “sucks.” For example, you'll hear neutral, non-snide references to Carrot Top and Larry The Cable Guy, each perennial figures of loathing among comedy fans. The interview with Rob Schneider, who is also the subject of a lot of antipathy, is really good:

Much of the conversation is NSFW in a big way, so best not to play these in front of your grandmother— these guys are pretty “low chakra” types, as Bob Moses said of most musicians in a recent clinic. There's also some racial stuff that's pretty marginal in my book. The comedians have a lot of verbal intelligence, but not necessarily a lot of education, and are generally not real sophisticated politically.

But these things are a great working class entertainment business hang, and very worth the time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Never enough 7/8

Hey, it's what I'm working on this week. I can't help it if it's not especially high-priority. This is an easy Stick Control-based method in 7/8 time. Together with the other pages, including a couple more that are yet to come, and a reasonable amount of practicing, you should be in pretty good shape to survive an encounter with a fast 7/8.

I haven't broken down the method completely for you here, but it should be apparent enough if you are ready to practice it. We're playing a four note cymbal rhythm with the right hand on the cymbal, and playing the bass drum and snare drum in unison with it, based on the sticking patterns on the first thirteen exercises in the first section of Stick Control. R means bass drum, L means snare drum, so if the pattern in the book is RLRL, you'll play bass-snare-bass-snare, in the same rhythm as the cymbal part. Look— compare the exercises here with the same-numbered exercises in Stone:

At the bottom of the page are some examples of variations you can do with each of the patterns, which I recommend. Get all the patterns together as written, then do whatever variations you can come up with, with each of the patterns. On the second page of the pdf, there's a set of exercises for developing a lick which you'll certainly use a lot in improvising in this style. I've put the hihat on the 1, but you could also put it on the fourth 8th note of the measure— the “2” of the lopsided 3 that is 7/8.

I should probably get you the practice loop I'm using, hey? It's coming...

Get the pdf

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More Igbo grooves for drumset

More grooves from that video of Igbo percussionists from the other day— I called it “ogene”, but that is the name of the bells the musicians are playing; the name of the tribe and the music is Igbo. These drumset grooves here are composites of the shaker, udo (bass sound), and ogene (bell) parts. Most of the left hand parts are based on the parts of the bell player on screen right; the floor tom notes are played by the bell player on screen left, the leader.

The grooves have long, short, and ghosted articulations in the bass drum and tonal parts— the left hand parts played on the toms and snare drum with snares off. The pitches of the drums from low to high are floor tom, high tom, snare drum; so you can substitute a smaller tom tom for the snare drum if you want.

Get the pdf

The video is worth many viewings— you may or may not be able to hear all of these grooves in the audio; some of them are pretty transitory.

Vic Firth 1930-2015

By now everyone knows Vic Firth has passed away. I don't know what to say about it, except that he wasn't just a gear manufacturer, he was also a musician, and made major contributions to the literature of percussion. For many of us, his snare drum stick, the SD-1 General, is the only snare drum stick, and is treated with respect and not abused, so one pair is made to last many years or decades— I'm sure a lot of my friends are still on their first pair. So it's a very personally felt thing that he's gone. There's a long piece in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, and notices from BillboardJazz Times, and NPR. You can also leave your condolences on the company Facebook page.

UPDATE: Notice on the Percussive Arts Society web site, with this from Peter Erskine:
“I have had the great pleasure of knowing Vic personally for twenty-five years," said Peter Erskine, "and thanks to television and recordings, I have known his great music-making as timpanist of the Boston Symphony for even longer. And I have used his sticks since high school. Vic is the consummate musician, teacher and business person. No matter whose drumstick or mallet you use, we must all be grateful to Vic Firth for raising the level of stick and mallet design and production. Simply put, I wouldn't want to make any of my music without his sticks, and I cherish the friendship of the man and his family.”

And a New York Times notice.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Page o' coordination: blazing Zorn 7/8

More 7/8, this one specifically for very fast tempos, based on the riff from a tune called Solitaire, from John Zorn's album O'o. It's a short, simple, but very challenging vehicle for a drum solo, and Joey Baron absolutely kills it. I don't know if there's a real good reason to work this up if you're not playing a lot of modern music. I do get asked to play hard stuff, and the idea of having a piece like this put in front of me on a recording date, and me eating it as badly as I do practicing along with the recording, gives me hives. So I want to take a few minutes to learn to cover it.

The measures are phrased 3+2+2— unusual— but the tune is basically played “in 1”— one seven-note-subdivided-beat per measure. The format of the exercises is different than we usually do for the POCs— the left hand column  has the cymbal rhythm, with both feet on the downbeat, and a variety of left hand parts; the right hand column has the same patterns with additional bass drum notes.

Play it down in columns, go left to right down the page, whatever you want. I think if you're not able to whip through this up to speed in less than half an hour, you should probably be working on something else. Don't screw around.

Get the pdf

No YouTube for this one, which is just as well. Buy the track here, or the whole album. I wish I could give a link that forces you to go to your local record store and buy it there, instead of from Amazon. But it's good, buy it. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Groove o' the day: Ogene 6/8

Via African Muzik Magazine and Famoudou Don Moye, music by traditional Ogene musicians, from Nigeria:

I'm transcribing some of the cool instrumental breaks they're playing on the bells, between vocal parts, but until I get those done, here are some of the things happening with the time feel— simplified a little bit, and adapted for the drumset.

The basic groove, played with shaker and jug— a bass sound; since we're drumset musicians, we'll play the parts on the bass drum, and any right hand sound you want— hihat, bell, rim, whatever you have handy. It's felt “in 1”; one beat per measure of 6/8.

Note the staccato, muffled bass drum note in the first measure, and the accented long note in the second measure. The circled note is an optional variation, played occasionally; when you play it, it's a long note, slightly softer than the accented note.

With a tonal middle voice added; in the video it's played on a bell; we'll play it on the high tom, or on the snare drum with the snares off. This occurs briefly after many of the instrumental breaks— the strong, interactive bell parts that happen between vocal phrases. Listen for the double in the second measure; you can hear it pretty clearly at 2:02:

A more complex middle voice, with articulations— this is played by the bell player on the right during many of the vocal parts:

The housetop accent is a stronger note with an open sound; the staccato notes are softer, with a dead stroke; the note in parenthesis is the softest, and also a dead stroke. If you watch the player, you can see there's often more going on than what I've written— more soft notes— when I get some more time with this, I'll post some more...