Sunday, April 05, 2020

Annals of wrong things: UNUSED POTENTIAL

Here's a little sub-rant of my other recent teaching rant. I wrote this in January, and wasn't going to post it— it's kind of silly. But people seem to enjoy these, and it's not totally devoid of educational value, so here it is.

Some things are so wrong you have to talk about them at great length just to understand how wrong they are, so here's that graphic that other post:

I grabbed it off the web and shoehorned it into that post because I couldn't find anything better to illustrate the subject: drum instruction that is totally divorced from reality.

What are we seeing here?
The graphic is taken from from Dom Famularo's book It's Your Move, and posted online at a site called The Black Page, where it is used to illustrate an article called “Pedal control.” I don't know the site, but it appears to be about the development of extreme drumming chops in the Jim Chapin / Dom Famularo mode.

It's a kind of diagram of the universe of developing drumming abilities. There are axes of SLOW/FAST and SOFT/LOUD, each expanding outward into infinity. Within that field there's a sort of Venn diagram of the overlapping slow/fast/loud/soft requirements for three ways of playing the drums: JAZZ, FUNK, and METAL. The three ways.

In the ether of that dual-binary cosmos, beyond the scope of all abilities you could conceivably need  for THE THREE ways of playing, floats the infinite gulf of your UNUSED POTENTIAL. We could alternatively call that “technical skill unneeded for any known music.” It hovers out there forever like Original Sin, since it is infinite, and every human being will always have unused potential.

What? No.

In plain old musical reality, there is no infinite frontier of speed and volume. There's no such thing as SLOW, for example. It's an illusion. In drum technique terms, there is nothing slower than a single isolated note, regardless of the actual space between notes, or the tempo of the musical context. To play slow tempos we subdivide; converting the slow tempo the audience hears to a more easily performable faster tempo. So slowness is not a thing.

Fastness has the problem of the long tone barrier. We've talked about this before; above a certain rate, the human ear perceives single notes as a long tone. The rate at which that happens varies with the instrument, but it is well within the reach of any committed student. Rates faster than that are purely statistical, because they have little musical effect, beyond a slight change in texture.

The pursuit of infinite quietness is checked by the meathook reality of the signal to noise ratio. There's a certain level of volume beneath which room noise, the sounds of player's fingers on their instruments, blood pressure on the human participants' ear drums, tinnitus, the waitress serving drinks, begin to disrupt the perception of the music— for the listeners, and just as importantly, for the other performers. All music intended to be heard needs to be loud enough relative to environmental sounds to be perceived continuously. Try it sometime. Learn to play really quiet, and then play that way on a job. You may not get any complaints, but it will be a weird experience for everyone.

I'm getting bored, so let's just say this of infinite loudness: is anyone really asking you for that? If so, get a PA.

There are other things
What did these qualities slowness/fastness/loudness/quietness ever do to earn this claim on your time and energy? Try listening to records, learning about African music, playing piano, composing, arranging, learning about recording, learning to paint, writing poetry, raising your kids, finding a spouse, maintaining your relationship with your spouse. Learn to cook.

It's just a graphic from a drum book. I know this. But you can't introduce the concept of infinity and UNUSED POTENTIAL and then limit your scope to these tawdry and ultimately wrong metrics of ability. Come on.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Long rolls, Reed format

A supplemental Reed item— this is about the level of thing I'm capable of right now. Not written out of any pressing need, hahaha, except this is a basic thing it's not easy for intermediate students to do reading from Syncopation. I've just rewritten “lesson 1” in the current editions, replacing the rests with rolls, and made a long roll out of line 1. There's no shortage of existing materials for practicing quarter note and longer rolls, but what the hell, the Reed format works, so let's have this, too. This would be a good page to use to get your Baby Dodds groove together.

Tempo is always important in practicing rolls, because it determines the rate of the pulsation you will use— the rate of the strokes during the roll. With this page you could use anything between 32nd notes (very slow tempos) and 8th notes (very bright tempos)— including triplets, quintuplets, sixtuplets, and septuplets.

Get the pdf

Friday, April 03, 2020

Best books: 143 Binary Algorhythms Applied to Paradiddles

This book has been out for a couple of years, but fellow Portland drummer Ed Pierce just brought it to my attention: 143 Binary Algorhythms Applied to Paradiddles.

...possibly the worst book title ever, but who am I to cast that stone. It's a collection of practice methods to use with the first pages of the book Stick Control, mostly for snare drum, some for drum set. Steve Forster, the author, was a student of Joe Morello's, and you'll notice a definite continuity with materials found in Morello's books Master Studies I and II. 143 BAATP is definitely a worthy addition to that canon— Stick Control, Accents & Rebounds, Master Studies, as well as the other two new recent Stone titles.

This has got to be the final, authoritative volume on the subject of what to do with Stick Control on the snare drum... the first pages, at least. The method it details is infinitely expandable, and someone could keep writing if they wanted to, but what would be the point.

The concept is to make new exercises out of Stone patterns by substituting things for the Rs and Ls, basically:

R = play X / L = play Y

Those are the binary “algorhythms” (that's the way they spell it) referenced in the title, and we are given many ways of doing that, as well as some verbal explanation and background on Morello's methods— well-edited and concisely presented, which I like a lot. The book also includes 43 exercises based on Ravel's Bolero, an idea I approve of completely. The design and layout are not exactly elegant, but they are functional... and surprisingly appealing in such a serious book.

My reservation about Stick Control has long been that patterns of Rs and Ls are not music. For many years I didn't use the book at all. I've changed my mind on that— Rs/Ls may not be music, but they are drumming language, and it's useful to be fluent in those terms. It's a creative tool you want to use sometimes.

I do want the Rs/Ls to have some connection to physical reality, however— in physically playing the drums, right side and left side are things. I want my Stone-based methods to reflect that, somehow. I'm resistant to reading Rs/Ls as a pure abstract variables— like X/Y, containers for anything at all. Some of the more distant advanced methods here approach that level of abstraction.

Most often, I want my interpreted practice methods to have some basis in music-reading reality, and I think many of the drills in this book could be done to better effect by reading out of Syncopation— which Forster himself notes in the introduction. Much of Syncopation uses “binary” patterns, written as rhythms, and it would be easy to find pages in Reed that imply the rhythms used in a particular “algorhythm.”

So I think we're reaching the limit of what can/should be done on the drums while reading Stone-type patterns. I don't believe endless snare drum training is the best way to learn to be a good drummer, and this body of materials is far larger than I think anyone can or should reasonably practice. Every drummer will choose to focus on different things, and it's up to us to determine how far to go with any particular thing.

And to be useful, a book doesn't have to be the final word on everything; the main attraction of this one is that it outlines an essential creative attitude towards our materials, one that is widely used by professionals. Anyone playing or teaching the drums seriously will want to get it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Accented singles with rumba clave

I was playing along with a loop sampled from the track below, and wanted to have this page to work with. We're doing accented accented singles— with a three note and five note spacing— along with rumba clave played with the left foot. You can play each line individually, then run 1-3 and 4-8 straight through for the accents to make a running cross rhythm.

When practicing I basically never play anything on the drum set in a “neutral” way— I always use a musical touch, move around the instrument, and vary my sound, dynamics, and articulations. And I'll play whatever variations occur to me as I go. Very often I won't make it through the full page of stuff. It's an organic process. And maintaining the left foot ostinato is not particularly important to me; it's less about making parts and more about learning this clave as a rhythmic form. 

If you want to add bass drum, put it on the & of 2 in the first measure, or maybe the 1 and & of 2.

Get the pdf

Monday, March 30, 2020

From the zone: cycling patterns

Since I am completely blocked for writing anything other than profane tweets right now, here are a couple of things from the practice room of our friend in Berlin, Michael Griener. It's a very elegant way of cycling inversions of three note patterns by alternating measures of triplets and 16th notes.

First as a solo idea, using the extremely useful RLB (B = bass drum) sticking in the first half, and LRB in the second half. No reason not to do these substituting the hihat played with the foot for the bass drum. Or both feet in unison— something I'm doing a lot lately. After learning the basic exercise, you should move your hands around the drums, of course. 

The same basic idea in context of a time feel, played along with a cymbal rhythm— first with snare drum and bass drum, then with snare drum and hihat: 

You could extend either of these to drill each individual inversion by repeating the triplet measures, or by extending one of the 16th note measures into 6/4:

You only have to do one of them— as independence practice, at least— because that includes all inversions of the pattern against the cymbal rhythm. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Transcription: Philly Joe Jones - Gone

From the Miles Davis album Porgy & Bess, here is Philly Joe Jones playing Gil Evans's arrangement of Gone. It's mostly just drums and horns, with a lot of drum breaks, plus a bridge where the rhythm section plays, and a trumpet solo. I've written out the whole track, except for the solo— give that a close listen or transcribe it yourself if you want to know what else to do while playing that Philly Joe beat, with the rim click on 4.

On the breaks he has a complete, simple little language happening, along the lines of what we did with that Philly Joe solo lesson from January. There's a lot of forward motion here— the tune starts at around quarter note = 205, and speeds up to around 240 by the beginning of the trumpet solo, where it stays, more or less, for the rest of the tune.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Daily best music in the world: Elvin plays brushes

You would think with all of this extra quarantine time I would just be writing up a storm, but I'm actually kind of blocked this week. So here's Tommy Flanagan's Overseas—a nice record with Elvin Jones playing only brushes. Recorded in 1957 in Sweden, while touring with JJ Johnson.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Transcription: more Max

More from Max Roach: his solo on the same tune from last post— Flossie Lou from Clifford Brown & Max Roach At Basin Street. It's 32 bars long, and starts at 2:39.

He plays quarter notes on the bass drum through much of it but I've only written the accents. It's quite audible at the beginning, and I'm not going to call it “feathering” just because that's the only word people know for playing the bass drum that way. You'll need to mark in stickings on several passages— whatever works for you.

Get the pdf

Friday, March 20, 2020

Very occasional quote of the day: solitude

“Solitude fuels creativity, whereas brotherly camaraderie tends to dissipate it. Isolation is the one sure way to happiness.”

— Glenn Gould

(h/t to Dean Frey)