Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Marv Dahlgren's prodigious output and the purpose of a library

Three bucks to purchase,
hundreds of hours to master.
As I was idly visiting the Really Good Music Publishing site-- the people, you'll recall, who have reissued several out of print Marvin Dahlgren books- an overwhelming amount of material-- checking to see if they had come out with volume 2 of his Variations on Three Camps book, I discovered that they have not released that book yet. Which is fine, because just the first couple of pages of variations have been dominating my pad practice time since I got the book.

No, that volume has not been released yet. Instead, there are a ten or so other new or reissued Dahlgren books: Drum Set Control in 3/4 Time, Drum Set Control in 5/4 Time, Hihat Control, 16th Note Stickings, Triplet Stickings, Setudes (drum set etudes), and on and on. The man is a machine.

Between all of that, his more famous Four Way Coordination, and his slightly-more-familiar Accent On Accents (Vol. 1 and 2)-- all together more than a lifetime's worth of practice materials; in fact very few drummers could claim to have exhausted the possibilities of any one of those books-- you begin to have to confront the question of the point of it all. Why have on hand piles of books if there is virtually no possibility of ever being able to master them? Why buy more books when you haven't completely learned the ones you have? What the hell are we doing?

A few thoughts on those questions after the break:

What is a library? 
It's a collection of books and media to draw upon in the course of your daily work; a place to go for answers, for alternative ways of approaching musical or teaching problems, and if you're a little bit of a geek-- like me-- for inspiration. And since public and university libraries are generally pretty light on the stuff we want, drummers and teachers in the field generally have to build our own.

Cost vs. value
My view is that you've gotten your $10-25 value out of a book when you have learned any 3-5 pages thoroughly. If you end up doing more than that, consider it a free bonus from the author.

"I can never play all of that."
Maybe not, but you can play a lot of it-- you're going to be playing the drums for many, many years-- and to do that it needs to be immediately available to you. But playing all of it is not even the point-- it's more that having an excess of materials available means you can follow lines of lines of thought in your practice. In working on one thing you may use one or two pages from several books, resulting in a deeper understanding of the concept than if you just came at it from one angle.

Why have ten different books covering the same thing?
Unique organization and logic, that's why. Very similar materials can have completely different implications as to where you can take them beyond the author's intent. When I look at a page of drum patterns I don't just see a bunch of licks, I see a music lesson; the content of the lesson is formed by the patterns the author chooses to include; the sequence of patterns, and its implicit logic; even differences in notation style can make a certain type interpretation of the same materials easy with one book and counterintuitive with another.

Cost of admission
There needs to be a functioning musical economy for your new found drumming skills to have any dollar value, and responsibility for that starts with each of us-- we have to put our own money into it as part of our regular monthly expenses. Just like WOW subscriptions, beer money, the data plan on our smart phones and all the other important things we pay for. Buying books and other music media is one form of that. Think of the cost as membership dues for being a drummer.

No comments: