Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Completism ad absurdum

x10,000. Go. 
It's kind of interesting when someone runs a common concept to its logical conclusion, forcing you to examine the premise of the original thing. In this case, the Stick Control model of practice materials: applying a variety of sticking patterns to a simple rhythm or rudimental combination, and then combining them using a basic mathematical logic.

Here drummer and scientist Dr. Damian Gregory Allis has taken a Perl script written for generating DNA sequences and adapted it to reel off every single possible 16-note and 12-note sticking combination, in Stick Control format. The end result is over a thousand pages of patterns, which he has made available in several freely-downloadable pdf files [Thanks for the link, Jason! - tb].

Obviously, that's way more than any drummer could (or should) ever dedicate to running conditioning exercises in a single lifetime, and begs a number of thoughts/questions/conclusions:

 1. What the... I... this is- God- what? What am I supposed to do with this when I haven't mastered the first three pages of Stone?

2. Since they are just 8th notes with sticking written in, Stick Control-style exercises have extremely minimal overt musical content; their implied musical content is a couple of steps removed from them, and I've concluded that they are not the best basis for arriving at a true musical conception for playing the drums. It's still a great book-- a primary source-- so I can deal with this approach as a supplement to my usual Syncopation-oriented method. But when confronted with these extra multiple lifetimes worth of materials written in this style, I have to ask if it's the right way to go.

3. I'm noticing that with a number of authors, strictly logical or mathematical sequence has come to be a substitute for musical and educational know-how. Just an observation.

4. This seems comparable to, say, learning French by writing out every single possible subject/verb/object combination in the language. You don't see it done. Even randomly testing yourself with phrases like "the guardrail elucidates the badger" is of extremely limited value. Music and language are dynamic systems- writing out every possibility within a narrow, artificial set of parameters misses the point altogether.

Continued after the break:

5. Worse, the way these pages are organized, you would spend the whole day basically practicing the musical equivalent of sequences of phrases like:

The guardrail elucidates the badger. 
The guardrail elucidates the badgerer. 
The guardrail elucidates the badger dog.  
The guardrail elucidates the Badger State.  
The guardrail elucidates the  badgering.
The guardrail elucidates the badinage.   

6. I'm starting to think that strictly mathematical logic is not the way to go in writing practice materials.

Allis concludes:

Is there a good reason for doing this? Not particularly. There are lots of patterns here that are a mechanical challenge for your arms, but many (many, many) of these patterns do not immediately lend themselves to the funk-ability of some of the Stone patterns (which tend to at least have groupings that, again, reflect rudiments or make you work one limb preferentially in a “usable” way). They are here mostly for completeness and, for when you want to confuse your limbs, picking a page or more at random and seeing how the patterns feel. As independence exercises teach us very early on, our brains are wired for preferential patterning (you hit the same foot as you would hand, you’re non-dominant hand sucks, your hi-hat foot is born useless, and other revelations). This document is simply another PDF you can lose on your machine somewhere or have in that hidden work folder that comes out and gets an intense few looks as you try to split your left and right hands apart more.

I agree with him, except about the value of  "completeness" and of practicing randomly.


Jason said...

The "Stone Boulders" are available from his blog page:

Cool blog, I read it all the time and appreciate what you are doing! Keep it up!

Todd Bishop said...

Fantastic, thanks Jason!

Anonymous said...

Agree. The stick control excercises are just that... excercises. They have a value in say removing you from the reliance on say RLRL. But there has to be a relative concept i.e. interacting with other musos, and this has no place within that.

Damian Allis said...

Wordpress sent me. I think we're in violent agreement with several aspects of the PDFs (if you're playing Stick Control exercises for the sticking combinations alone and ignoring the musical possibilities that come from the independence you obtain by working your left and right hands equally, you're missing the point of the exercises; I think the mathematical approach can be useful as an organizational tool for people who might not know what they don't know in terms of coordination but don't have a teacher to show them all the ropes, but aspects won't fly at the gig; and the procession of the stickings in the PDFs is very logical (it's how the sequences are made) but very monotonous to the basket case who would work through them). I made a few distilled PDFs I've found more useful and threw together another page that takes some redirects as well (where you identify "implied rhythms," I see a way to get comfortable with the sticking!) - Otherwise, I love Ornette, so glad I found your site!

Todd Bishop said...

Hi Damian— thanks for checking in— I'm looking forward to looking at your distilled pdf when I have a moment. Mad and impractical as it is, I'm definitely not opposed to what you've done here— it's a good thing for libraries like this to exist. With a little shaping I think they have some possibility of being useful.

Along those lines, there are a few things I would be interested in seeing, if you're still messing with this script:

— The patterns presented in random order. Like I said, I'm not wild about practicing random materials, but I think this would stand the most chance of being useful.

— A pdf of only the patterns with one or two hits per hand. Same with one-three hits per hand.

— The same thing you've done already, for three limbs, and for four limbs. I'm kind of curious to see the possibilities when you include combinations of limbs— two, three or four limbs in unison— but that's really just a sick desire to be appalled at the astronomical number of patterns.

Anyway, do let me know about anything you do with this in the future, and I'll gladly link to it.