Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best books: the Dahlgren & Fine rock book

Complete Text for the Rock and Roll Drummer
by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine
Really Good Music Publishing
66 pages

When Really Good Music Publishing reissued a raft of Marvin Dahlgren titles last year, I was especially curious to see how Marv (along with Elliot Fine, in this case) would handle the question of how to play rock drums. I've gotten to do a little more work with this one since that original notice, and it's definitely a product of those two authors; the methodology is completely original, using their own special mathematical/logical, independence-oriented approach. Applied to rock and roll, that's very unusual.

After a fairly abstract introduction to using the four limbs on the drum set, there are sections on 8th note rock, triplet rock, shuffles, rock with 16th notes, and 8th note rock with right hand variations, plus a large section on fills. The authors' unique four-limb staff is used throughout; some of the fill pages using the toms are a little difficult to read, using different note heads for each tom.

tom notation

The major method used throughout the book involves playing snare drum variations (or fills) along with ostinatos played with the right hand, and/or the feet. The left hand parts either are generic, given names like “Latin”, “rock and roll”, or “bossa nova”, or are logically derived from the bass drum part (by adding snare notes before or after BD notes, for example), or are completely independent.

More, with examples, after the break:

first page of rock beats

Exercises are written by combining a bass pattern and a snare pattern, regardless of how they intersect, which is for me a little bit of a controversial choice— I especially don't think it is necessary to continue a bass drum vamp while filling. Or if it is, then the fill should be guided by the bass drum part. To my way of thinking there is very little “true” independence in rock drumming; usually one part makes way for, or follows another. As much as possible I encourage conceiving of the SD and BD parts as a single melodic line, and if the two are played in unison, it's for a specific purpose, usually to make a stronger 2 and 4.

heavier independence than you
usually use with this type of feel

So, I think the general approach here is fairly foreign to modern rock drumming. It is, however, very much in line with bossa nova and samba, and that's what I've been using this book for. Quite a lot. Working through it using a bossa touch and sound— playing along with recordings for context— helps open that feel up nicely, giving you a sense of how different rhythms support it. It especially helps with the bass drum, which I think most drummers don't exploit enough when playing that style. I think less independence-oriented rock books would not serve this purpose as well as this book.

No book can give an exact blueprint for how play the drums, and that is definitely the case here. While you do need to have a strong musical sensibility independent of any book, the purpose of a drum method is to reinforce at least a rough framework for making an actual performance. And I don't think we have that here, at least as far as rock/pop drumming is concerned. If you treated the given rules of the road as true musical rules, you would be taking on a very unusual, and I think needlessly difficult to master, style of drumming.  

My own philosophies for teaching and playing rock— and almost anything else— are think easy and do easy. Dahlgren & Fine's method here cuts a big lateral track across that, enforcing awareness of the coordinational mechanics of playing the drums. That's a valuable thing, worth the price of the book, but don't mistake this for a first approach to the style.

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