Monday, January 02, 2012

Dahlgren & Fine and me

4-Way Coordination by Dahlgren & Fine is a major piece of drumming literature that I've always had a lot of problems using. There's been a lot of discussion about it on the Drummerworld forum lately, so I've been trying to get to the bottom of my reservations about it. If you don't own it (and you should), you can peruse it online here.

Published in 1963, this is the first book I am aware of to attempt to isolate the problem of independence at the drumset. It opens with the abstract "melodic" and "harmonic" coordination sections (pp. 3-26), which could be described as the the first section of Stick Control applied to four limbs. As written they're very nearly style-free; they feel pretty remote from linear drumming as you encounter it in fusion, modern funk or jazz. I treat them as conditioning exercises, a la Stick Control, or as jumping-off points for developing into something usable. I've had friends disappear down the rabbit hole with this section, with the idea of really getting their fundamentals together once and for all, free of any stylistic baggage; for me there's too little musical hook to spend a lot of time with it. It's too thin.

The last section of jazz exercises ("Four-way coordination on the Drum Set", pp. 27-53) is a much more diluted form of the concept, and is for me the most useful part of the book. It still should be approached with caution; I treat these more as idiomatic conditioners rather than as performance vocabulary. That is, they're jazz-style technical exercises, but are not written/organized in a way that they're easy to recall and play in a musical way in performance. They're good for putting things in your muscle memory, but as presented they don't connect well with actual music. For that you need a different method.

The structure of this section is unique, allowing you to put the patterns in a number of different meters. Each section of pp. 33-48 consists of a base ostinato plus six lines of variations. Each line consists of two 2/4 measures and two 3/4 measures, labeled A, B, C, and D, which you can combine to make measures of 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4. I think it's most constructive to practice each measure individually for all sections- that is, play the A measures only for sections 1-22, then the B measures, and so on.

In general, I'm not wild about the premise of the book, which treats a drum part as four independent, equal voices. It can be good practice, but it's fundamentally different from the way jazz drumming is normally conceived. In real playing there are "leader" notes and "follower" notes; important notes and filler.

Contrast that with system based on Ted Reed's Syncopation, which derives any number of complex four-limb drum set parts from a single, relatively simple melodic line. This is fundamental to jazz drumming; basing a drum part off of a written melodic part- a lead sheet, lead trumpet part, big band chart, or sung/heard tune. So the value here for me is more in the way of filling the coordination gaps, of getting under your hands things that don't come up in the usual methods.

4-Way Coordination is a classic book that belongs in every drummer's library, but it fulfills a very narrow purpose.

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