Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The chart reading pyramid

I've gotten quite good at reading charts. By which I mean I've gotten quite good at ignoring charts. As a rule I avoid reading as much as possible— I've gotten burned too many times trying to follow somebody's lousy arrangement, only to realize I could have played twice as well by just listening and playing. But sometimes it's unavoidable, and either way, you should know how to interpret drum charts, lead sheets, and arrangements.

Here I've put together a list of pieces of information you get from whatever piece of music someone hands you in a playing situation, in the rough order in which you process them:

1. Title
Do I know this tune? Have I played or heard it before? Is this the familiar form of the tune, and I can throw the chart away, or has somebody written an arrangement that I'm going to have to actually read?

You have to just listen to a lot of records, play a lot of gigs, learn a lot of tunes— especially tunes you know people in your town are playing, which are therefore likely to come up on gigs you'll be playing.

2. Meter
Looking at the time signature at the top of a chart, along with the context (what kind of band is it, what other tunes have you been playing this evening?), will tell you a lot about what you're going to play. If every tune on the session has been a swing tune, it's probably going to be another swing tune.

3. Style
Most of your actual job is to play time in the style of the tune. There may be a style indication on the upper left of the chart, or above the staff if there is a style change during the tune. If there is no indication on the chart, and you don't feel confident about guessing based on the meter and the context, you can ask the person who called the tune. If it's an actual arrangement with a drum part there will usually be a style indication, and the arranger will probably have sketched out a crappy drum groove, or indication of a swing beat.

4. Form / roadmap
Is it a standard form, or a modified standard form? Is it a non-standard form, meaning you'll have to follow the chart carefully all the way through? Is there a written intro apart from the normal form of the tune? If there is a D.S./D.C.? Do you take it on the head only, or also during the solos? Or only the last time through? Is there a coda? Is there a fine? Do those apply only to the ending of the tune, or every time through? Those are things that are often ambiguous on charts, and you're not stupid for asking. Is there a solo form that is different than the form on the head of the tune? Usually you can spot this on the page— it may just be simplified chords for blowing, or it may be a different form just for the solos.

5. Harmonic rhythm
Typically this means how many chords there are per measure— often one, two, or four, or one chord for multiple measures. Obviously we're not playing chord changes on the drums, but paying attention to them helps you keep from getting lost, and helps you reorient yourself when you do get lost, and it can also represent energetic changes that you want to reflect in your playing.

Use your eyes and ears, follow the chart, and pay attention to the changing color of the chord progression as you play through the tune. Notice the difference in sound when there is one chord per measure vs two or four. Mentally flag the chords that jump out to your ear— if are any special spots that sound significant, you can use that to reorient yourself if you get lost. Look and listen for that chord to happen elsewhere in the chart.

6. Stops/breaks
This is the first order of actual specific playing instructions you need to observe: places in the arrangement where you're supposed to stop playing time. On lead sheets they're often indicated with “N.C.” in the place of a chord symbol; on actual arrangements they're indicated by normally-written rests.

Be able to stop and start your grooves cleanly, be able to count rests, and be able to do some simple lead ins getting back into the groove.

7. Other arrangement elements
Dynamics, written bass lines, tempo changes, feel changes, fermatas. Know what these and other common notations mean. Be able to play a time feel to fits, supports, or at least doesn't clash with the a bass line in whatever rhythm.

7. Figures
Things the rest of the band plays that you're supposed to play along with them, and possibly set up— either with a simple setup of one or two notes, or with a fill. In big band style charts there will be section figures written above the staff which are optional/informational, and ensemble figures written inside the staff that you are definitely supposed to play.

This is actually a fairly large area of study. Learn to read syncopated rhythms, dotted rhythms and ties using mainly 8th notes and quarter notes (a la Ted Reed's Syncopation), as well as 16th note rhythms, 8th note triplets and quarter note triplets (see Louis Bellson's Reading Text in 4/4 or The New Breed)— to a lesser extent. Learn to set up syncopated kicks with one or two notes on the snare drum or bass drum, or a combination of the two, with or without extra embellishments. Be able to fill in a way people can follow, ending cleanly on any beat. Good books for working on this are Studio and Big Band Drumming by Steve Houghton, and Drum Set Reading by Ron Fink.

9. Melody line
The actual written melody of the tune. This may be very important— with a tune like Evidence, on which the drummer usually plays the entire melody rhythm on the drums— or fairly inconsequential—many standards don't have a strong rhythmic element, and are often played loosely by the lead instrument, in which case you just play time. Usually you do something in between, catching a few salient points in the melody line (often tied notes, other long notes landing on an &, isolated notes, or other obvious accented notes), and possibly filling in the spaces in the melody with comping or actual fills.

10. Drum notation 
The last thing I ever want to read in a piece of music is an exact drum part. If a chart has actual drum notation in it, you can usually consider it to be a loose suggestion, or an example of the type of thing the arranger wants— you don't have to play exact grooves and fills. You may use the written drum part to inform the way you play the style; if it says “LATIN” at the top of the page, and the arranger has written out a kind of mambo beat, you wouldn't play a samba. On a funk chart you may pay attention to the bass drum rhythm, which may be intended to line up with the rest of the rhythm section. Often you can tell from the way they've sketched out the swing beat whether you're supposed to play in 2 or in 4.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Daily best music in the world: Roy Haynes Hip Ensemble

Hip Ensemble is Roy Haynes's fusion band that was around for a couple of years around 1970. Or is it just the title of the one record under Roy's name? I don't know, man. Anyone born before the 1990s is accustomed to a measure of uncertainty in life. Whatever: here are a few new bootleg tracks (courtesy of Fabio Baglioni) by this great band, plus part of the albums Hip Ensemble and Senyah, which had (mostly) the same personnel:

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Paradiddle stick control patterns in 3

I don't know what's going on, but I'm using a lot of Stick Control-type stuff in practicing lately. Sometimes you just want things written as a sticking. Here I've written out some paradiddle variations in 3 that I was improvising on the drumset:

I don't believe you need to spend a lot of time in life playing 8th note sticking patterns on the practice pad at an even volume. You got all you needed of that in the first few years of playing the regular stuff in Stick Control— you don't need to do that with these pages. Add accents, or do them on the drums like this:

  1. R = RH-cym + BD / L = left on snare and/or toms
  2. R = BD / L = both hands in unison on drums or SD+cym
  3. R = BD / L = LH on snare drum - ADD RH on cym in stock rhythm of your choice

These are fun to play in 6/4 with my Lilin or Free Design practice loops. They can also be played as 16th notes in 3/4.

Get the pdf

Sunday, May 06, 2018


The true struggle comes in the practice room, facing those drums everyday for 10 hours.
Famoudou Don Moye

When I was in college I decided that, at some point in their career, everyone who can play practiced 4-8 hours a day, for a period of years at least. I just got that impression from my teachers, from going to clinics, and from reading Modern Drummer magazine.  Today I finally decided to check; I got into my MD archives and pull as many actual quotes as I could about the number of hours people practiced.  
These quotes are all out of context, and spoken in the '70s and '80s— within the first decade of many of the players' professional careers— so don't draw too many ironclad conclusions about anyone's practice habits over their lifetime. David Garibaldi and Steve Smith, for example, were touring heavily at this time. John Guerin was probably doing recording dates 350 days a year. Most of them also talked about spending an equal amount of time listening to music, and playing with people— often practicing less when they were playing more. 

I know teachers who tell their students to practice four hours a day, eight hours a day. If you can't accomplish what you want in an hour, you're not gonna get it in four days.
Buddy Rich

I practiced my ass off! I practiced eight hours a day. I would get up in the morning - grab a towel, put on a tee shirt and swimming trunks and go down in the basement and practice until everyone came home. I was sixteen years old[.] I would practice EVERYTHING! I practiced with records and without records. I practiced straight time, with a metronome and without a metronome. I practiced soloing with everything - sticks, brushes, mallets and fingers, and I practiced 4/4, 3/4 and 5/4 time, Latin beats... everything. I practiced everything I felt like - but I had to feel it.

There was a point when I was practicing 6 to 8 hours a day, 4 to 5 days per week. I just had all these things I wanted to work on.
— Butch Miles

Working on the road doesn't really give you that much of an opportunity to practice, but I still like to work out for at least three or four hours.
David Garibaldi

I haven't practiced in ten or fifteen years. I'm just about to start again. When I was 19, I practiced six hours a day for about three months. I feel a need to do three months of practice; the next three months it does me good.
John Guerin

You can play all day on the drum set if you want to, but you can accomplish more in ten minutes of good practice as opposed to two hours of wasteful practice. The amount of time isn't necessarily important.
Peter Erskine

I used to practice seven and eight hours per day.
— Gene Krupa

A  minimum  of two hours a day, mostly on muffled drums. I normally practice an hour at home, and an hour or so at the studio.

I used to practice eight hours a day.
— Ed Shaughnessy

When I say practice I don't mean just for my hands either. I mean creative practicing, working on an idea. One idea for like two hours.

Some drummers have more natural ability than others. Some drummers need a half hour, others need four hours. It's an individual thing,

There's no such thing as you must practice 6 hours a day. You practice until it happens. Until whatever you want to happen, happens.
— Joe Cocuzzo

I would practice for four or five hours every day, and if I didn't practice that many hours in a day, at least I would practice something every day. I really noticed that, if I practiced every day, it made a difference.
Steve Smith

[W]hen I was a kid, I'd come home from school and I would get on that practice pad for at least a couple of hours. Until I was about 17, that's all my life was. I didn't have girl friends or anything. That was it.
— Eddie Marshall

Sometimes an hour and a half, sometimes six or seven hours a day. It all depends. I go in cycles. Sometimes I can practice a whole lot every day; other times I'll be gigging a lot and won't practice at all.
— Casey Scheurell

Holy shit, I've been sitting here and practicing the Barimbau six hours a day.
— Mickey Hart

From 3:00 in the afternoon until 6:00. Three hours a day, seven days a week, forever!
James Black

I don't think I could do anything for eight hours. I would get too bored doing one thing that long. Now, I could maybe play with a group for that period of time. But doing something like that for eight
hours in a room by myself—I don't have that kind of attention span. For two or three hours? Yes. But, eight hours? No. I know a lot of people who do that. If somebody practices for eight hours a day, they should be a monster.
— Terri Lyne Carrington

I practiced. I practiced timpani for five hours a day when I studied with Vic Firth, and I practiced five or six hours a day when I was getting mallets together with George Gaber. That's the only way you're going to get good at something. 

I was practicing six, seven, eight hours a day, learning to play like a rock'n'roll drummer.
— Kenny Aronoff

When I sit at the drums for four or six hours—whether I'm playing one rhythm for a long period of time, or playing with a rhythm machine or something like that—it creates a real trance-like quality. That's what I love best about drumming. That trance. It's the happiest place for me. It's the deepest place inside and it makes me understand "why" I play the drums.
— Michael Shrieve

 During the school term, I would practice several hours a day—all on drums.
— Kenny Washington

I would be practicing every day for like ten hours.
— Marvin “Smitty” Smith

For three months, I diligently did two or three hours a day of just Accents and Rebounds at a very slow tempo.
Andy Newmark

Each student is an individual. One person may be able to handle a half hour tops. That individual might not be able to handle more. I had a student once who would practice eight to 11 hours a day. If
I were to practice half of that time, it would drive me crazy. The most I ever practiced myself was three hours a day for one year, and I almost ended up bananas. So you have to be realistic; you have to deal with your own particular situation.
— Chuck Flores

My most productive time was during my first year at college. I had the whole summer off, I didn't know anybody, and I was up at school alone. So I made up a practice schedule, and hit it ten to 15 hours a day for about three months. I went through two summers of that, and it never got under six or seven hours, even when school was in session.
Dave Weckl

You've got to practice five to seven hours a day.
— Louis Hayes

There was nobody twisting my arm to practice six to eight hours a day.
Terry Bozzio

Play at least ten minutes a day on the drum set.
Paul Motian

Friday, May 04, 2018

Stick Control - CSD! version

UPDATE: Download link working. You'd think I'd have that part of it down.

Everybody and his literal dog practices the first page of the book Stick Control, as do I— at least I teach it, and use it on drumset for certain things. I've said before the reasons I'm not that in favor of it, but so many people use it, and understand drumming this way, I'll work with it. It has its uses. The following item takes the most useful 36 exercises of the 72 in the book, and puts them in the order in which I teach them. I think these are the patterns that are either good for your hands in a specific way, or that apply well to the drum set.

If you're just getting your technique together, do these on the snare drum or practice pad, two to four repetitions, or up to one minute of each exercise. I think you should do them at an easy tempo and a slightly challenging tempo. The first, easiest drumset application is to play your left hand on the snare drum, and your right hand on any cymbal, with the bass drum in unison. See my Funk Control series for clues on other ways of doing this, or contact me (see the sidebar) for a Skype lesson about it.

Get the pdf

(h/t to Andrew at The Melodic Drummer, who did this before me)

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Page o' coordination: Jabo shuffle

If you watched that video of Jabo Starks playing with John Scofield et al, you'll notice that he does some hip stuff on the bell of the cymbal behind the trombone during the bridge between solos. Here's a page for working up that independence— but it's mostly an excuse for spending a lot of time copying the way he plays his bass drum, snare drum, and hihat.

If you watch the video carefully, you'll notice that although we're hearing a strong quarter note pulse (dotted-quarter, since we're in 12/8), he's actually not ghosting any part of the bass drum rhythm, as I've notated here. I've given a couple of alternative bass drum rhythms— you could also practice all three bass drum rhythms leaving out the notes in unison with the snare. There's also a little more going on with the snare drum than just the backbeats I've indicated here, but they're basically inaudible. The backbeats are what you should be thinking about. And notice that the snare drum backbeats aren't perfectly in unison with the bass drum— they fall a little late, so there's a big, fat flam between the two drums. It would also be worth it to spend some time copying his hihat technique— he taps his heel on 1 and 3, and plays the hihats with his foot on 2 and 4.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The 1

And some more listening for the passing of Jabo Starks:

Monday, April 30, 2018

Rehearsal cymbals

this type of situation
Everybody's always looking for excuses to spend money on gear, so here's a concept: rehearsal cymbals. We've all played rehearsals where the instrumentation and/or acoustics made it extremely difficult to play normally. Maybe there's an unmiked vocalist, acoustic guitar, strings, whatever. A clarinetist with a really weak sound. Playing our normal 20-24" cymbals at normal-quiet volume blows them away, so we end up playing the entire rehearsal with brushes on the snare drum and closed hihat, and it's nothing at all like what's going to happen on the gig. Complete waste of time.

A lot of these situations can't be salvaged, but in general it would be nice to have cymbals that sound good when played quietly in somebody's living room, with no audience, and when we only need to project to the other players standing a few feet away.

Here is generally what I would suggest: little, thin, dry cymbals.

  • 18" ride — light to medium, unlathed/partially lathed, small or no bell 
  • 15" crash — paper thin to medium thin
  • 13" hihats — light to medium

Some thoughts on makes and models:

Bosphorus cymbals
Their Turk series are nice cymbals, with great definition, and playing them you feel like Tony Williams on Nefertiti. They sound really nice from the playing position. I was into them for awhile, but eventually found them to be too soft for most real world playing with an audience. They don't project well unmiked, and they don't balance well with the rest of the drumset or with the ensemble. I've written about this before. But they're great for recording and they would be great for rehearsals.

Master Series are an option that are even quieter... I have actually found many of them to be so thin and delicate they virtually have no real world performance application. But a ride that is not too thin, or a 16-18" Master thin crash (check your gram weight— it should be comparable to any other brand of paper thin crash) could work very well for what we're talking about here. Beware: there are a lot of extremely thin examples floating around used that I think are completely useless.

Flat rides
I'm kind of done with flat rides. I find them to be one dimensional and not worth the real estate they take up in my set up. They can be good for rehearsals, though. And certain special situations. Try an 18"— or smaller, if you dare, and can find one.

Little rides
I got interested in sub-18" rides after reading T. Bruce Wittet's account of Connie Kay's 17" medium-heavy. I had a 17" 602 and a 16" Zildjian medium ride which were both intriguing— they really do handle like real ride cymbals, except they're small— but for whatever reason did not hang onto them.

Paper thin crashes
I find these to mostly be too delicate for the real world, but for this usage you can get a real crash sound without generating a lot of volume and sustain.

Dixieland hihats
Usually pre-60s A. Zildjian, smaller than 14". Revival Drum Shop, a great Portland vintage shop seems to find and carry a lot of them. They're extremely thin, tight, and splashy, without much of a foot sound.

Sabian Sound Control
I started thinking about softer cymbals when playing a boat gig with abysmal acoustics on stage, and these Sabians were some of the first things I looked at. They're supposed to be quieter than normal cymbals. I never found one to purchase before I got into Bosphorus cymbals, and the few I encountered never struck me as particularly quiet. But I've actually found many newer Sabian AAs and AAXs to have a minor case of Bosphorusitis— they have such a refined sound that they lose some body... which makes them excellent for this purpose. A 20" Raw Ride (18" if you can find one) would be good, or a small El Sabor crash.

Often the problem in these situations is the signal to noise ratio: when playing very soft, and in close quarters, the wash of the cymbal is amplified relative to the attack of the note. You can cut down on the wash by applying 1-4 pieces of masking tape on the underside of the cymbal, radiating out from the bell. It's not a very popular solution any more, and not as fun as buying more cymbals. Less is more, if you choose to do this.

What do I use? 
  • 13" Bosphorus Turk hihats — their normal light model. I've used mine on every recording I've made in the last 15 years. 
  • 17" Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail crash — a great cymbal I now never go anywhere without. Thin, rather dead, with great crash, ride, and bell sounds. I could do the whole rehearsal just on this cymbal.  
  • I don't have a great ride cymbal for this purpose yet. I usually use my 20" Cymbal & Gong “custom” (light medium, similar lathing to Bosphorus Antique), which is extremely flexible. I also may use my Sabian 22" AAX Raw Ride (unlathed, thin), or Sabian Jack Dejohnette Signature ride (medium heavy, but very dry). Cymbal & Gong should have some 18" rides in stock soon, one of which will hopefully be mine.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Three-note syncopation rhythms

Here are a couple of pages of syncopation rhythms in 4/4. Most of them can already be found in Progressive Steps to Syncopation, in one form or another, but sometimes I want to have certain things grouped together. In this case, I was playing along and I wanted to see all the variations,  displacements, and similar rhythms to a Cuban tresillo rhythm— all possible three-note rhythms in 4/4, with a quarter note or greater spacing, on an 8th note subdivision.

You can of course do any of the usual practice practice routines with these pages, in 4/4 or 2/2. I wanted them to use as independence rhythms for the left hand and bass drum, with a Mozambique cymbal rhythm, moving the rhythms around the drums. You could use them as jazz comping rhythms on the snare and/or bass drum; or as bass drum variations in a samba, bossa nova, or baiao, alternating measures with the usual rhythm; or for bass drum independence practice in other Cuban/salsa/Caribbean styles like mamboguaguanco, or songo.

Like I said, I see many of these rhythms as variations on the familiar tresillo rhythm (written on line 5), with an accented & of 2, which occurs in Cuban music, New Orleans music, and Brazilian music; rhythms with a quarter note on beat 2 (or 2 and 3) relate to the 2 side of a clave rhythm; rhythms with a note on 3 (or 3 and 1) relate to a samba surdo part— all the kinds of connections you need to make to play creatively in those styles.

Get the pdf