Friday, September 04, 2015

Drumming myths

A decent piece from the Modern Drummer site— 12 Drumming Myths Debunked. Here are the entries that interest me, with my comments on them:

2. Mistakes are always bad.
Honor thy mistakes with repetition—I think the legendary Brian Eno said that. If it’s the right mistake, and you react quickly enough to it and then either repeat it artfully or create some cool variation of it, you could end up being called a drumming genius. 
Plus, if you obsess over playing everything just right, you’ll likely have trouble relaxing enough to groove well. And you’ll have trouble opening yourself up to the unknown, which is something great artists continuously strive for. 
So you blew that fill—what are they gonna do, arrest you? Lighten up and have some fun.

As I always tell my students, mistakes are real music trying to happen. They're things you know how to play, but that you haven't accepted you know how to play yet. Obviously, there are mistakes and there are mistakes; you don't want to drop beats or rush terribly. But things that you didn't mean to play, but are basically in time with a good sound, are not mistakes. It's an especially valuable philosophy in the practice room: playing out of books, mistakes are actually natural variations on the written thing. When they happen, recognize what you did “wrong”, and learn to play that on purpose, as well as the “correct” pattern you were trying to learn. Learning the written idea, plus all of the things you did leading up to learning it, it becomes living vocabulary; a little related body of stuff to play, instead of just the one written-out book-thing.

3. More resonance is always good.
About fifteen, twenty years ago, the drum industry fell all over itself trying to create mechanisms that allow toms to resonate as freely as possible. The trend continues today, with some manufacturers shackling their otherwise gorgeous kits with hideous-looking suspension mounts in response to this “need.” 
It seems to me that a blind ambition toward more resonance represents a case of art following technology, rather than the other way around. Yes, a less choked drum can often mean a better-sounding drum, and the resultant longer sustain of a note can be a desired effect. The opposites are obviously sometimes true as well, given the existence of things like Moongel and electronic gates. 
In cases like this I find it helpful to think about all of the profound pieces of recorded music that were produced before the advent of suspension mounts. Would Bonzo’s drums on Zeppelin IV sound better if they’d been recorded with hung toms? How about Art Blakey’s on Orgy in Rhythm? Or Nick Mason’s on Dark Side of the Moon?
And check this out: Freely resonating toms can actually make it harder for you to be heard. Controlled drum sounds can be more easily mixed, manipulated, and amplified, allowing them to be better heard without obliterating the other instruments. 
While it’s cool that mechanical “improvements” like suspension mounts give us more options, be careful to separate the marketing from the motivation. In this day and age of overly programmed music, it’s always wise to question the importance of any piece of technology, no matter how seemingly benign.

Mind you, Bonham's drums and Blakey's drums were basically unmuffled on those recordings. The author seems to mainly be taking issue with mounting systems. Personally, I don't think RIMS-type mounts vs. standard mounts is the big issue— it's more about unmuffled, single ply heads vs. dampened heads. There is a time and place for each; for many years I had all my drums, bass drum included, wide open in all situations. As it turns out, there are times you want to use some muffling: when playing on the softer end of the spectrum, or with incompetent soundmen, or in the recording studio, based on consulting with your engineer.

Several more after the break:

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Rhythms in 7/4

Here's a page of basic rhythms in 7/4 to go with yesterday's practice loop. The vamp on the loop is phrased in 3+2+2/4, so I've given a Ted Reed-style guide part on the bass drum line in that phrasing. 

If you've worked with Ted Reed's book Syncopation at all, or followed this blog, you should know some ways of using these rhythms on the drum set, but here are some ideas anyway. Using this rhythm as an example:

I haven't given a key here, but you probably know that Xs = cymbal, middle line = snare, bottom line = bass drum— if  not, this isn't what you should be working on. Anyway: you could revoice the rhythm between the snare drum and bass drum, in a rock-type phrasing, and play 8th notes (or another rhythm) on the cymbal:

You could play the rhythm on the cymbal, along with a basic rock-type groove on the snare drum and bass drum:

You could play the rhythm with the right hand on the cymbal, along with the bass drum, and fill in the gaps in the rhythm with the left hand on the snare drum (or moving around the drums):

You could play the rhythm with both hands together, on a cymbal and on the snare drum (or on any two drums), and fill in the gaps with the bass drum:

On that last one, where more than two bass drum hits in a row are called for, I'll often break up the multi-note runs by putting a rest in the middle of them. Of course there are many other Reed-style interpretations you can apply to these rhythms.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Practice loop in 7/4— Hadasha by John Zorn

Another practice loop, a moderate-tempo 7/4, sampled from Hadasha by John Zorn, from the album The Circle Maker. Use my recent POC in 7 with this:

Creative Apocalypse coda

No, it's this.
Since my last update, there have been many more responses to Steven Johnson's New York Times Magazine piece The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn't, but it was largely piling on, and the essential points had been covered in the articles I originally linked to. The tone was continued unanimous outrage and derision, except for this blog post by Cortney Harding, The Creative Nonpocalypse. About the response to Johnson's piece, she says this— mind you, just about all I have left on this subject is snark. I think we're being played for suckers in this “debate”, and scorn is actually an appropriate response. Anyway, Harding says this:

Predictably, the responses from the music industry rolled in...

Yes, predictably, like a knee-jerk thing. Thoughtless, and likely meritless. Industry, suggesting representatives of big business, not the actual working artists who the respondents largely were. A bad start, to quote Zack Galifianakis.

First, [the major responses to TCATW] operate off of a narrow definition of “creative work.” The New York Times piece focuses on a giant data set that includes professional athletes, and then a smaller data set of self-employed musicians; Levine’s refutation responds to these stats. What’s being left out here is the massive number of creative workers who have jumped from self-employment into other creative professions — careers that didn’t exist before the rise of the internet. 

While I have no doubt that large numbers of formerly-creative artists have gotten day jobs, we have nothing but Harding's assurance that “massive” numbers of people are moving into other creative professions. She provides no evidence of that, save one example:

Take Bruce Henderson, for example. In 1999, he was a self-employed musician and writer who was booked on Letterman — surely something that would boost his career into the stratosphere. He played the Late Show and sold a grand total of 80 copies of his latest album. Around the same time, he started working at a fledgling website called He was doing creative work, some of it musical, just in a different place. Henderson stayed in the advertising world, eventually become the chief creative officer for North America of Geometry Global. When I spoke to him last month, he was calling from his beach house, so you can guess how things worked out for him.

Oh my goodness, a beach house! How incredibly patronizing. I guess, because the journalist obviously did not ask, the fact that he owns a beach house of indeterminate size/niceness somewhere on Earth, suggests he's making a lower middle class income or better. If you were wondering if there were non-music jobs that pay that kind of money, there's your answer.

Continued after the break— the best part, a response from another writer, is at the end:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

More Rational Funk

It's testimony to the lameness of the Internet— not my readers, who are awesome, but all the rest of that rabble— that the videos in Bad Plus drummer Dave King's Rational Funk series mostly get around eight to ten thousand views— occasionally commanding as much attention as this joker's worst video, but never, in anyone's most cocaine-induced fit of megalomania, achieving more than a fraction of the views of this video by some guy called Turdadactyl. Let's see, how are we doing today, still worse than Turdadactyl? Yep. Wonderful, let's all commit suicide.

If you're a follower of this blog, you're going to love Rational Funk, so get in there and subscribe to the series on YouTube, follow him on Twitter, and all that jive. Show some support for good drumming stuff on the web.

Here are a couple of good recent videos— extended techniques, and dealing with children:

Commentary on Whiplash:

Dahlgren & Fine in 7/8 — 01

This is a continuation of a thing we did before, in which we worked on playing a very standard three note pattern, RLF, in 7/8, phrased 3+2+2— as it is in the tune Solitaire, by John Zorn, which has been our context for this series. If you're like me, you play a lot of three-note patterns, and have learned to do them well in 4/4 and 3/4 without getting lost. It's considerably more challenging in this fast 7/8. Here we'll take some triplet patterns from page 10 of  the book 4-Way Coordination, by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine, and learn to fit them into one measure of 7/8, creating a two measure phrase, alternating with an easy right hand-lead pattern in the second measure— a sticking pattern of RLLRLRL, with the RH on the cymbal, playing the bass drum along with the cymbal:

Mainly our job here is 1) to figure out what one measure of the three note pattern feels like— played all the way to beat one of the next measure, and 2) to figure out how to get into the second-measure RLLRLRL pattern, when, due to job 1, the first note may be a RH, RF, LH, or LF. And do it in a way that makes the downbeats clear to the people you're playing with.

On the page are several examples of a sequence of exercises for developing this idea— apply them to each of the 48 one-beat patterns on p. 10 of 4WC. We're using a Dahlgren & Fine-style staff, with each line representing a specified hand or foot. We're assuming the right hand is on a cymbal, the left hand on the snare drum, right foot on bass drum, left foot on hihat. You'll notice there's a black note head in the right hand part in the second and fourth examples— play those notes on the snare drum. In those cases, our three-note pattern ended on a left hand, and to get into the second measure pattern, we're starting it with a LRL on the snare drum. Also, in the fourth example, you'll notice that the second measure of the last exercise ends with a quarter note; that's just to avoid doing three notes in a row with the left hand on the repeat— one of my biases in my practice methods is that I'll try to avoid more than two hits in a row with any limb. It makes it easier to go faster, and lessens the need for developing a lot of chops. It's just a basic philosophy of mine— I don't want my playing to be dependent on having a lot of technical prowess. You can do whatever you want, of course. Just put together one measure of the three note pattern with one measure of RLLRLRL, and connect them however you see fit.

...what an ugly mass of verbiage. If I were you, I wouldn't read it— I'd just look at what's on the page, and try to figure out why it is the way it is, and apply it to the other patterns in 4WC.

Other suggestions: It's a good idea to accent the first note of each measure, and also the fourth note: 1-2-3-1-2-1-2. When the second measure starts with a solo right hand, play the bass drum along with it; when it starts with a solo bass drum, play the cymbal along with it— if you don't have to do anything awkward to do that. Whatever you do, go for the easiest, most flowing thing, that also states the downbeats clearly.

More of this type of thing coming soon...

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Service announcement — EVERYTHING WORKING, apparently

OK, it looks like we've gotten this hosting nonsense sorted out. PDF downloads are working for the whole site, and you can get to the site via, or via the blogspot address, Just typing in takes you to the interim placeholder I put up when the thing was down.

Please let me know if you encounter anything strange strange behavior by the site in coming days... hit the email Todd link in the sidebar. Thanks for your patience.

Posting will continue to be light, as I'm getting married next week, and have lots of stuff to do...

SUNDAY UPDATE: No BS, now everything is actually together. What a pain. Please let me know if you encounter anything strange...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Vanguard 'n' me

Looking through my archives I found some of my old drum corps music, from the Santa Clara Vanguard in 1986. Hastily copied from Ralph Hardimon's score— I think this was basically my audition, now that I think about it; Ralph left me with the score for about 90 minutes, and I had to copy it out and learn the vibraphone part for the opener, Festive Overture by Shostakovich. So it's rather rough looking. I think I had only been playing mallets for about a year at this point— the first piece I ever actually learned was to prepare for my college audition, and that was in the spring of 1985.

I was in my freshman year in college, and thought my drum corps career was over after the Salem, Oregon corps I had marched with for several years folded after being edged out of DCI associate status, finishing 26th at nationals in 1985. I had been shifting my focus to drum set for several years, and was ready to move on from corps. Then a fellow percussion major at the University of Oregon, who was with the Vanguard in 1984, let me know in April that they had lost a couple of people from the pit (I think they call it “front ensemble” now?), and hooked it up for me to go down to California and audition for the spot. They also lost a tenor drummer, and for a moment I was deluded enough to think I could get that spot. But you don't just walk into a position like that six weeks before the first shows.

I think the person I was replacing may have been the low man in the section, because the parts were mostly not extremely difficult. I had a fast lick on the vibes in the opener, and some big, exposed concert tom parts in a fast piece called The Hut; the rest was mainly sound disks (tuned crotales), gong, concert snare drum, and bass drum. I did get to play the Garden Weasel, sort of a legendary SCV garden implement turned musical instrument, as well as destroy a very expensive 36" Paiste gong, several mallets, and nearly my wrist on the closer, The Great Gate of Kiev, from Prokofiev's Pictures At An Exhibition. One day early in the season Ralph rehearsed that part of the show— which we were playing with great taste and decorum, like good classical percussion students— he continually demanded more and more volume, until I was putting my whole body weight into these gong notes. That earned me a close up on the television broadcast of the DCI World Championships— I think a few veteran members were jealous of that.

The experience of being in the group was different from what I was expecting, based on the SCV alumni I knew; they were all music majors— Tony Cirone or Charles Dowd students— or music professionals, and I shared a lot more in common with them than I did with many members who were not on that path. There was a little bit of culture shock, me being the northwest, little-corps, hippie-schooled, ultra-left wing, transitioning-into-being-a-jazz-musician guy that I was. Overall it was a good experience; Ralph Hardimon I think is one of very few real artists involved in drum corps— he writes music— and I was very fortunate to get to be in one of his groups. Talking to my friend Nathan Beck, who I marched with previously, and who stuck around SCV after me, getting to work with Ralph was really our whole interest in continuing in the activity after high school.

Here's a recording of the show:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Page o' coordination: straight 8th 7/4

More 7! This is a collection of exercises based on a pattern not unlike some of our old Elvin waltz patterns, for use with a new sampled practice loop that will be forthcoming today or tomorrow. The idea is to play these with straight 8th notes, but you can swing them, too— just turn the beats with 16th notes into triplets, in whatever way makes sense to you.

Do the left hand tom moves— they're a value-multiplier. Play through an exercise a few times as written, then play it many more times with each of the moves. Loop coming soon.

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