Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sidebar: mind what you say

Teachers, speaking to students: I know everyone thinks we're not being heard, but a lot of them are more engaged than we think they are, and a lot of things we say to them, particularly the one-liners, are instantly converted into doctrine in their minds. They believe it and follow it, even if they're not showing you any outward signs of it. 

A few from my own life: 

“NEVER turn down paying work.”

“The difference between amateurs and pros is that pros play louder.”

“F*kin' learn the music yourself.”

“Each note is a little pearl.”

“Take your stick in your hand, and hit the drum.”

“You have to be a maniac!”

Everybody has those, and none of us ever told our teacher they meant anything to us. They stick with you and completely form your concept of being a drummer and musician, for years, sometimes forever. 

The people who said them probably don't even remember it. It's like the movie Talladega Nights, where the derelict father says to his kid, a future race car driver, “If you're not first, you're last.” The kid proceeds to live his whole life by that nonsense, only to find out: 

The attitude created some problems for the character. It motivated him, but it also turned him into a selfish egomaniac. In a way there's nothing you can do about it— young people latch onto those kinds of categorical lines specifically. It's a powerful thing when the teacher's priorities are in the right place. 

Most of my very occasional quotes of the day are examples of it— things said in an interview, that weren't necessarily thought out, but contain a lot of truth and guide your whole way of thinking about what you do. 

It's a problem when people do it defensively, in a reactionary way, trying to appear clever, and just create prejudices. 

Everybody used to have their clever line about Country music— “I buy a country record every few years to see if anything's changed” is one I remember from a good drummer in a clinic about 40 years ago. So everybody gets a superior attitude about Country. Which they have to instantly unlearn when they find themselves doing some Country gigs. You can't be working with people playing their music and treat it like it's a joke.   

We saw it on mass media scale in my Stewart Copeland is an idiot post some weeks ago. Copeland has his jazz-is-all-bulls*t schtick he worked up for his media appearances, including a nonsensical line he stole from the movie 24 Hour Party People: “jazz is the last refuge of the untalented.” So now a lot of people who think he's cool will have their own stock line of BS they'll use the next time anybody puts on a jazz record, and they won't even listen to the music. 

And it's a big part of YouTube. Apart from the larger problem of an algorithm telling us what our priorities in drumming should be, we have a lot of not-entertaining people trying to be entertaining, and quipping a lot on drumming related topics. Leading to a lot of bad lines of this type reaching a lot of people. 

Like, from one well-known guy: “you could play your whole life and never play a flam.” That inspired a lot of online conversation. Which, hooray for him, he wins, he got some attention. But he also engraved a really stupid idea in a lot of minds. Previously it would have been a stupid thing he said once to one student, now there are ten thousand guys out there fully indoctrinated with the idea. 

One of the few people who does this in a mostly positive way, who is actually entertaining, is Dave King of the Rational Funk series— one of the least-watched YT drumming channels, natch. 

Anyhow, think about it, it happens every time you speak to your students, it's powerful tool to wield carefully. As teachers we're the some of the very few artists these kids are ever in contact with. Our job is a little bit subversive, helping them be serious about art in some capacity, when all of society is giving them easy, ego-satisfying reasons not to be. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Reed interpretations: triplet feel R&B

This is a triplet-feel R&B groove practice method we did in a lesson with a student recently. It has a snare drum backbeat on 2 and 4, quarter notes on the cymbal, and some triplet filler on the snare drum. You can do this with pp. 10-11, 30-31, and 34-45 of Syncopation by Ted Reed. 

To make this kind of groove it would be simple enough to just play a swing version of our regular rock beat method, but where's the fun in that? This way has more notes.  

To illustrate it clearly we'll go through a few steps, but once it's learned it's easy to do the finished method on the fly while reading out of Syncopation.

To begin, let's use the humble line 1 from p. 4: 

Play the top line rhythm (coincidentally the same as the bottom line rhythm) on the bass drum, fill in with the left hand on the snare drum to make triplets, add quarter notes on the hihat (coincidentally the same as the pattern rhythm), like so: 

We want to have a snare drum backbeat, so let's move the notes on the 2 and 4 to the snare drum— accent them, and play the rest of the triplets softly: 

Now see p.11, line 11: 

Again, play the top line rhythm with a swing interpretation on the bass drum, fill in the middle of the swing 8th notes on the snare drum, to make triplets; add quarter notes on the hihat: 

Move the 2 and 4 to the snare drum, accented: 

Now do this rhythm  from page 30: 

Again: play top line rhythm on bass drum, swing interpretation; fill in with snare drum to make triplets, add quarter notes on the hihat: 

When there's bass drum sounding on the & only of beat 1 or 3, like that, you can drop out the first snare drum note on those beats, making a RLB pattern: 

So— open your book now— here is how you would play the second line of the famous p. 38 (née 37) exercise: 

And the same thing again with the RLB thing where appropriate: 

You could also do this method while playing a shuffle rhythm on the cymbal, or a jazz-type rhythm, if you choose. This type of thing is more useful in a jazz setting than you might expect. In that case, I might drop out more of the snare drum filler like so:  

In the end, there are no more variations for this than there are for standard rock beats— this is way easier than the large amount of materials in the book suggests. 

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.