Monday, March 21, 2011

Best Books: Basic Drumming by Joel Rothman

In case you haven't figured it out already, I'm a big fan of Joel Rothman's books. His many, many books- I think he has written about a hundred of varying lengths since the early 60's. Basic Drumming is probably the most widely-owned, and contains more than a little of just about everything, without being in any way dumbed-down. A drummer who mastered everything in this book, with an equal amount of performance experience, would be cooking indeed. So the word "basic" is a little misleading.

Rothman has a unique logic to his presentation, which he follows selectively, with a bias in favor of practicality. Often he will use a common performance pattern as a starting place, and then compose a number of variations based on it, which gives the student a starting place, then a number of musical directions to go from it.

Compare that to many books in the wake of Stone's Stick Control, which follow a strictly mathematical logic through every possible combination, without regard for musicality, burying the user in redundancy. Worse are the books that seem to catalog licks, with little on how to get from one to another (cough *Advanced Funk Studies*).

There is very little that is difficult for it's own sake- virtually all of the materials are oriented towards a practical application, developing ideas to the point of covering 98% of what will ever be needed in a performance situation, or for developing general facility. You could say that the book aims to make you expert rather than virtuoso. The only exception to this I can see are several pages of hihat coordination exercises, which go well beyond what most players ever develop.

The book takes the modern-circa-the-70's approach to rudiments; paradiddles, rolls, drags and flams are covered pretty thoroughly, while the more traditional "rudimenty" rudiments (if that isn't totally nonsensical) flamacues, ratamacues, are dealt with only on the two "40 International Rudiments" pages.

Applying the materials in this book mindlessly, without any musical sense, could possibly come off as a little square- it will not aid in hiding non-creativity by spoon-feeding a lot of bleeding-edge-of-hip stuff. A phrase I use a lot, from the Tao Te Ching via the Church of the SubGenius, "stop sucking on the finger and go where it points", definitely applies here. It's an excellent starting point, but the artistry has to come from the musician.

Contains, among other things:
- Very robust 50-page rhythm reading section.
- 15-page roll section. Terminology is interesting- he calls a 6-stroke roll a 5-stroke roll starting on 'e', and a 7-stroke roll a dotted-8th note roll.
- Several pages of stickings over an even rhythm, similar to the beginning of Stick Control. Mostly they are longer than in SC, and follow different logic; there are several pages of two-measure exercises that are through-composed (the longer exercises in SC just repeat the pattern leading with the opposite hand). They are also applied to a triplet rhythm, and there are several pages focusing on strengthening the left hand.
- Several pages of accent studies. The triplet accent pages are especially valuable.
- Flams are dealt with on two pretty decent pages.
- Robust sections on developing drags, short rolls as singles, four stroke ruffs, "open" three stroke ruffs.
- Pages developing doubles, triples, paradiddles.
- Several stand alone pages of variations on different basic groove styles- 16ths in the bass drum, sextuplets with the snare and bass drum, 6/8 feels, 6/8 with 16th notes, shuffles, 16th note rock ballad, alternating 16ths on the hihat, and on and on. I love these pages- they are concise, masterable(?), and 100% immediately applicable to real life playing.
- Marching cadences in 2/4 and 6/8. I can't say I find these very necessary, but younger students will enjoy them.
- Several big band style drum charts.
- Fifteen pages of "dance" band beats, which will get you through most Elks' Lodge, musical theater, dance band gigs and Bar Mitzvahs.

UPDATE: Mr. Rothman informs me "the newest edition of the book, which will be out shortly, contains an extra 8 pages on linear drumming, which I haven't covered in any other book".

Purchase Basic Drumming by Joel Rothman.

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