Sunday, October 30, 2011

Very occasional quote of the day: on life choices

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make big choices in life. Because almost everything- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose... There is no reason not to follow your heart."

- Steve Jobs

(h/t to bseawell at

Saturday, October 29, 2011


So-called because it consists of three and a half "paras" (RL RL RL R), plus a diddle (LL), and I... never mind. I was hitting the practice pad along with an Illinois Jacquet/Wild Bill Davis recording (Blues for New Orleans, a very slow blues), and worked out this little pattern:

This can be very useful if you're working on your Jack Dejohnette "fast within slow" thing, or as just triplet solo vocabulary in 3/4 (convert the rhythm to 8th note triplets, in that case). This pattern does not change hands like a regular triple paradiddle, so practice these leading with the left as well. Once you have them together as single measures, combine measures as I've outlined previously.

Get the pdf.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How to be a jazz drummer

Here are some tips for a rock drummer who wrote to me wanting to begin learning jazz, but is unsure how to go about it:

1. Play a lot. With people. Everything you do as a drummer follows from this, so it's important to be playing with people from earliest possible stage- as soon as you can play a swing beat. Or sooner- I actually didn't know how what a swing beat was, exactly, when I first got into jazz band in school. You learn very quickly when you're put on the spot. Don't become so focused on practice and preparation that you don't do this.

2. Listen to a lot of jazz. Usually people start with whatever turns them on, plus the more famous recordings of the 1950's and '60's. Building a record collection and generally having a lot of curiosity about the music are  universal things among jazz musicians.

3. Go to jazz gigs. You need to see how drummers play the actual gigs you'll be playing in your own town. YouTube clips are good, but they don't tell you how to do that. This is also how you meet the people who you'll be playing with, your teachers, and your audience.

These first three are critical and non-negotiable. After the break are some more important things- read on:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Transcription: James Gadson - Use Me

I guess we could also file this under Groove o'the day. While I'm getting some longer posts together, here are James Gadson's drum breaks from the song Use Me, by Bill Withers. As you'll notice from listening to the track, you shouldn't play the accents too strongly, and the open hihat notes should just have a little sizzle to them.

Get the pdf

My favorite YouTube video in the world after the break:

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Hey, here's a chance for you to support the blog and keep this wonderful free content coming your way day in and day out! I'm fund-raising for a project I'll be recording and touring with next year, Glorie Incogniti.

The leader is Casey Scott, an expert pop songwriter and charismatic performer (as you'll see from the video), and veteran of the early-90's scene in New York that spawned Beck and Paleface, among others. We're partnering with a European independent label, Topsy Turvy, and are seeking funds to record at Jet Studios in Brussels in March of 2012. We'll be playing a few dates while we're in Europe, and will return for a real tour in fall, 2012.

Please visit us at IndieGoGo to contribute. Thanks for supporting the blog!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Page of funk beats

This is a fairly straightforward page of funk beats, which I wrote up for one of my middle school students. Each line starts with a fairly simple groove, with notes added in the following measures, mostly on the bass drum. It's a good idea to practice within one line, moving back and forth between the busier and simpler beats, and then improvising your own variations on the simple version. Where the snare drum part varies, emphasize the 2 and 4.

Get the pdf

2023 UPDATE: At the request of a reader, here is an iPhone video of me playing this page down— each measure played two times— plus a little improvising, because I felt like playing some more. 

Very occasional quote of the day: Monk

It's vague to me how I was thinking.

- Thelonious Monk, in Art Taylor's Notes and Tones

Friday, October 21, 2011

A growing community

Following up this post by Mark Feldman, I thought it would be good to direct your attention to my drumming blogroll, in case you somehow are not a regular follower of them already. There are other blogs than the ones I've mentioned, mainly dealing with gear, amazingness, or heavy metal, or just telling what the blogger is up to, but I'm interested in ones that deal with actually learning to play the drums and being a musician. I also haven't mentioned a few good ones that are either defunct, or extremely occasional posters.

If you write or know of a drumming blog not mentioned here, please let us know about it in the comments.

Four on the Floor - Along with Trap'd, Jon McCaslin of Calgary has the most active and prominent drumming blog. Excellent text and YouTube clips, occasional technical pieces. Most recent post: The Calgary Scene - Michelle Grégoire

Trap'd - By Ted Warren in Ontario. As I've already mentioned, I love his online teaching style. Most recent post: A little jam

Tim's Parlour - The one that inspired me to make this an actual drumming blog. Very sporadic posting, and not easy to navigate (get thee on Blogger/Wordpress!), but great content. Most recent post: Idea #11 ("This is a simple idea for working on hand co-ordination and involves playing different figures in each hand over a basic foot pattern.")

Bang! the Drum School - Mark Feldman in Brooklyn, NY has a great blog on his teaching studio site. Lots of downloadable content, just like here, for every level of player. Most recent post (after the one that inspired this one): Samba Independence Part 2

The Melodic Drummer - Andrew Hare in DC just started this blog a few weeks ago, and already has a ton of outstanding content. Most recent post: The Caravan Warmup: Moving moeller strokes between drums

Rudimental Hands - A really good blog for keeping track of what's current in the marching percussion world. Most recent post: Wednesday: Basic Strokes

David Aldridge's Drumming Blog - Primarily text, and a sporadic poster, a little esoteric, always interesting. Most recent post: Bio Robotic Drumming... Really

Jazz Schmazz - This is an honorable mention- it's primarily a jazz recordings blog, but he does have at least a couple of excellent Max Roach and Pete LarRoca transcriptions posted.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two nice finds

Two nice things from Jazz Schmazz, a blog I'll be checking in with real often from here on out. First is a transcription of Pete LaRoca's fours on Homestretch, from Joe Henderson's Page One... and, whoops, yes I'll definitely be visiting him again....

Next is something amazing which I've never seen, a clip of Billy Higgins playing duo with Charles Lloyd, a few months before Higgins' death:

I was just thinking about what I'm going to be listening to in advance of recording my new CD next month- I think I found it- I'll be watching this again and again. This would be a good time to visit my other recent Billy Higgins posts, in case you missed them the first time.

After the break is Joe Henderson's Homestretch on YouTube.

Shuffle strategies

The shuffle.
The jazz shuffle is a struggle for a lot of people due to the technical left hand part, with the soft note right before the accents on 2 and 4. Most drummers attempt to do this with a kind of “whip” stroke— using the forearm to jerk in the accent. It works OK, with a lot of time on the stand playing shuffles, but I find it to be a lot of work, and dynamically limiting— it's hard to do it quietly. And it tends to make the accented note late. Some say that the backbeat should be a little behind the beat, but even if true, that should be a choice, and not forced on you by a limitation in your technique.

What I've found to be very helpful is to insert a quick upstroke with the wrist after the little note:

Practice that slowly and mechanically with the left hand only, doing the upstroke itself as fast as possible regardless of the tempo. The unaccented notes should be 1-3" high, and the accented notes 6-10+". As you increase the tempo into performance range, you can streamline the motion so it feels more natural and swinging, but if you keep thinking of that upstroke with the wrist before the 2 and 4, it the entire groove will feel much more relaxed, and your 2 and 4 will sit right on the money— or wherever you choose to play it. You'll also be able to play it at softer (and probably louder) volumes than with the “jerk” stroke.

A rudiment I've found helpful with shuffles in general is the right handed flamacue:

If you put it in a triplet rhythm, with the first flam landing before the beat, you have the kernel of the shuffle in the left hand:

Once that's comfortable, you can do the flamacues so the repetitions overlap. Here your left hand will be playing the shuffle rhythm (though with the accent on 1 and 3 in this case), and your right will be playing quarter note triplets:

The quarter note triplet in the right hand is actually helpful in cross-checking your rhythm, and can also give your shuffle some place to go when improvising— more about that later.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Groove o' the day: Predator by Omar Hakim

Another new "of the day" feature that is going to be nothing like daily. But I'll post them now and then, and it will be on a day, hence the... never mind.

This is the primary groove from Predator, played by Omar Hakim on Weather Report's 1984 Domino Theory record- a very under-rated album, and one of my favorites at the time. I originally transcribed the tune in 1985, and played it for my audition at the University of Oregon that year:

Give a listen (or fifty) to the original track for the context and tempo, and to see how he varies and embellishes the hihat part. And for the musical pleasure of it:

Until I figure out how to get Heineken to pay me.

I'm debuting my new header image today, a photo of the stage from my time on the Empress of the North, a river boat on the Columbia. I guess maybe the old picture of me swilling beer at the end of yet another, what, "country" night? "Patriotic" night? "20's-30's-40's" night? -didn't have the gravitas befitting a blog entitled Cruise Ship Drummer! with an exclamation point, though I thought it did capture a certain dark spirit of the thing.

So, as we say goodbye, here in all it's splendor is the uncropped photo, taken aboard the Queen of the West river boat by bassist Andrea Niemic using my camera in 2006.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Todd's methods: Son of Daku-daku-paradiddle

Right, I'm starting to regret the name I made up for this thing- until I think of the alternative, long-winded description for this very common pattern. Now if I can just bring myself to call it that without an equally long-winded exploration of why it's embarrassing to do so, we're golden.

Anyhoo, this is a simpler version of this earlier piece, using my old favorite, Lesson 4/pp.10-11 from Syncopation. I conceived it for practicing at fast tempos in jazz, with even 8ths, but there's no reason you can't play it at moderate tempos and swing it, or apply it to other styles of music. 
A good format for practicing these would be four measures time/four measures exercise. Once you're comfortable playing ex. 1-15 that way, you can experiment with moving around the drums, and adding accents/embellishments, and finally, improvising with this concept. 

Get the pdf.

The way drum instructional videos should be

30 seconds long, no explanation, no BS, no nothing except everything you need to know about the subject:

More of Ted Warren's excellent series of brush videos after the break:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Coordination "kernels"

Here's one for the teachers. This is an approach I've found helpful with students having difficulties with coordination on written patterns in jazz and Latin, and a good alternative/supplement to the usual solution of "slowing it down", or going full Jeff Berlin and taking it out of time, which is to me not an acceptable solution for drummers. Using this method I've had students of differing abilities nail problem patterns up to tempo in fairly short order.

To begin, let's take a look at the jazz time feel as it's normally written:


The part we're interested in is the little clump of notes around "2 &-3":

That "kernel" is the true, natural shape of the jazz feel as it is executed, and which we'll be working with. So, let's take a fairly basic jazz comping pattern that challenges beginners:

We'll isolate the same little coordination unit, plus the snare pickup on the & of 1, and the other snare notes:

Read on to see how we work that up to performance tempo:

Monday, October 10, 2011

VOQOTD: Joan Miró

In the beginning, it’s a direct thing. It’s the material that decides. I prepare the ground-by cleaning my brushes on the canvas, for example. Spilling a little turpentine can also work quite well. If it’s a question of drawing, I crumple the paper. I wet it. The water traces a form .... This mark determines what happens next.... It’s the medium that directs everything .... The painter works like the poet: the word comes before the thought. You don’t decide to write about the happiness of men! If you do, you're sunk.

Make a scribble. For me, it will be a point of departure, a shock. I attach great importance to the initial shock.

- Joan Miró

Sunday, October 09, 2011

I'm huge in France

Apparently a track from my 2009 CD 69 Année Érotique (the music of Serge Gainsbourg) made it onto Une brique dans le ventre, a program on French national TV this month (it starts around 4'50"). Unfortunately, the licensing bastards won't let us view it in the US- "you find yourself in a country in which the diffusion of this program is not authorized", it informs me. If anyone is able to view it, and is adept at ripping video from sites like that (they have Firefox plug-ins for that), please let me know...

This is a good time to mention that purchasing the CD is a great way to support the blog. It's been played on the radio in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, and made a few jazz writers' "best of 2009" lists, supported me through two Europe tours, yada yada yada... if you like the content I'm providing free of charge, please consider it.

Oh, and I also have some extrêmement sexy ladies t-shirts featuring the "soixante-neuf" design from the CD cover. I'm blowing them out, so they're the same price as the CDs. If you would like one, hit the purchase link and specify t-shirt, color (red or black, with the 69 in gold) and size in the "notes" box.

Todd's methods: Afro-Cuban in 6/8 and 3/4

Here's something I wrote strictly for my own use, which I thought I would share for you to make of what you will. The Afro 6/8 has been one of my stronger vehicles for a long time; my approach has always been very Elvin-like- very whole-instrument- and I've recently been working towards more jazz-like freedom with my left hand and right foot. The coordination is an order of magnitude more difficult than in jazz, but just working with it should allow some new things to happen spontaneously even if it takes some time to get full conscious control over it.

One of the major features of African rhythm is that one pattern or one piece of music can be subject to a number of different primary pulses. What I've done here is present the same patterns as 8th notes in 6/8 and as 8ths and 16ths in 3/4, which puts the pulse on the "big" 3- equivalent to half notes in the original 6/8, or a half-note triplet if we were dealing with triplets in 4/4. It's difficult to conceive in the original 6/8, but very straightforward when we put it in a single measure of 3/4.

Get the pdf.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Paradiddle round-up

In case you haven't gotten enough to work on with the paradiddle things I've posted, here are some exercises gathered from around the web. I've only linked to pages that actually use notation- I'm a little fed up with people who present things with video only- write them out, doodz. Anyway, there should be something in here for just about everyone:

First, via my pals at Drum! Magazine, here from Danny Gottlieb is a Joe Morello exercise for developing uptempo jazz.

Good Lord. PIT's Chuck Silverman gives us a big page of stuff- you'll likely get sidetracked on the way to the paradiddles. Here's another page of his using paradiddles to outline clave. This will probably get its own post later on.

Here's something very special, via Music For Drummers: a free download of Dave Tough's paradiddle book. It's out of print, and God knows who owns the rights to it. According to MFD there are three library copies in existence. If that link goes dead, you can try one of these.

Bill Rotella's Drum Beatings has a pretty hefty offering of paradiddle inversions in 16th notes and triplets, plus a couple of serious "diddle mania" pages, plus a page of paradiddles extended within 5, 7, and 9 note odd rhythms.

Tiger Bill's Drum Beat has a decent page of paradiddle inversions and combinations, along with several Accents-and-Rebounds-type applications.

A number of other worthwhile things, from basic to advanced, after the break:

Friday, October 07, 2011

VOQOTD: Pete La Roca on backbeats

What an insult for Fusion to impose the repetitive BackBeat on Jazz drummers! How ironic, since the BackBeat is merely the handclap used by American slaves when they were forbidden to have drums! How bizarre to haul a set of drums just to do what people did without drums!

- Pete LaRoca

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Two videos

Here are a couple of nice videos from my fellow drumming blogs while I recover from my little Oregon coast mini-vacation:

First, a video on practicing by Steve Smith, from the excellent new Melodic Drummer blog:

I've been meaning to post this Ed Soph improvisation master class, but as is often the case, Four on the Floor has beaten me to it:

Monday, October 03, 2011

Very occasional quote of the day: Brian Eno

I used to think that, given enough goodwill, anybody would be able to “get” any music, no matter how distant the culture from which it came. And then I heard Chinese opera.

- Brian Eno from a new interview in Salon- highly worth reading!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The great Jeff Berlin metronome controversy

This has been floating around for some time. His observations are mostly good, but I don't happen to agree with his conclusion. Watch the video, and I'll give a few thoughts about it:

His major points seem to be:

1. Learning new things is not and should not be done in time. 

Discarding the rhythmic element- as he is basically suggesting- is one way of learning new music. I don't believe it's the only way. I follow the jazz musician's view that rhythm is primary and the notes are secondary- "get the rhythm and the notes will follow" is the philosophy. I've developed some strategies for taking things not quite out of time which I'll be sharing soon. At any rate, in African-influenced musics (e.g. American music) the rhythm is the thing- lose that and you've lost the fundamental idea.

He seems to be arguing against the idea of learning new material with a metronome from the very beginning, which I certainly wouldn't recommend either. I'm sure there are some bad teachers who do that- in fact I kind of get the feeling this is just an infight with some adjunct faculty at MI (or with MI students' teachers back in Iowa).

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Transcription: Four - more intros

Once you get going on these, it's hard to stop. And it looks like I'll have to do one more, because in a near-inconceivable oversight, I left off my favorite one, by Tony Williams on Four and More. Anyhow, here are some more intros to the tune Four, by Miles Davis. Two of these are live performances with Jimmy Cobb, from 1960. The other is an earlier performance in the UK with Kenny Clarke, which I mentioned in our previous entry.

Get the pdf.

After the break- YouTube audio: