Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Learning to comp with 16th notes is a necessary misery.

Here I'm elaborating on what some comments in a Drummerworld.com discussion on these pages/recorded example from Jim Chapin's Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer:

I could just be trying to drag everyone else into my particular personal hell, but I think everybody hates the 16th note section in Chapin. I have three different 1986 assignment dates marked in my copy because I basically flat refused to work them up. OK, it's a minor hell.

My operative theory/makeshift dogma at the time went something like: 1) I'm an Elvin man! I don't want to be messing with my nice triplety ride interpretation by introducing that nasty dotted-8th/16th thing, 2) the patterns don't swing, 3) double time is wack. 16th notes suggest double time, and double time is wack!

I don't know what I was about with that last part. I was a little dogmatic at one point about double time being nothing but a CS means of evading moderately uncomfortable tempos. I did eventually learn that 1) Elvin plays a lot of 16th notes, and I did not in fact have a nice triplety ride interpretation to mess up 2) ideas are not swinging or non-swinging, it's how and where you play them, and 3) double time is and is not wack, but it also simply is.

Here are some thoughts about this:

Straight 8ths and 16ths are common subdivisions in jazz, on tunes that otherwise swing. Monk leaps to mind as someone who puts in a lot of straight 8ths. Soloists are so fond of 16ths that I don't even need to give an example- you can pick out a ton of them in the Monk clip. Sometimes s/he (that's how I refer to lead instruments) will play them with the intention of setting up a feel change, but generally the whole point is to be doing something different than the rhythm section. So it defeats the purpose if the drummer is constantly chasing them down rhythmically. This goes for meter-within-meter stuff, too- one of the biggest rookie moves in drumming is to jump on board as soon as the soloist plays three dotted-quarters in a row. All that being said, it's good to have options. Being fluent with 16ths gives you a chance to intersect with the soloist in less obvious ways than the usual "see me respond in kind!" thing.

Extra rhythmic layer to draw from. As my own playing matures, I become more aware of different rhythmic "grids" happening simultaneously- I may not be playing them, or thinking them explicitly, but I have a sense of them, and they're having a subtle influence on what I play. Depending on the tune, tempo, and what's going musically, at any given time I may be feeling, alongside the primary pulse: half notes, quarter notes, swinging 8ths, straight 8ths, dotted half notes, dotted quarter notes, quarter note triplets, half note triplets, and/or 16th notes (so far the dotted 8th has been elusive, and just gets me into trouble). This is actually a main feature of post-60's improvising drummers.

Connective material. For many drummers, jazz is in its own little stylistic compartment, a separate thing from other areas of playing. At the same time, they tend to be very comfortable with 16th notes, from their snare drum practice, and pop/funk/fusion playing. This helps bridge that divide, hopefully allowing you to bring those familiar things into your jazz playing.

Flexibility with the feel. As lovely as you think your triplety ride interpretation is, you want to have some room to take it someplace else when the situation- tune, tempo, players- warrants it. You may not want to take it to straight 16ths, but you can push it around a little bit. The idea is for your ear to be sensitive enough to what the music is subtly asking from you feel-wise, and for your hands to be trained enough to follow that.

Hey, in addition to suggesting double time, it can also suggests half time at fast tempos. The usual way to do that is to go to a half-time swing feel, but keeping the same subdivision can keep the intensity up while moving the big pulse. I wouldn't be real surprised if there was an example of Dannie Richmond doing this with Mingus somewhere. Options.

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