Thursday, May 16, 2013

Annals of wrong things: ride cymbal technique

I try to run a positively-focused, ah, ship around here, and I hope not to make a regular feature out of this, but occasionally things are put before you that you just have to respond to, and crankily so. In this case, it's a video by someone who wants to help us with our jazz ride cymbal technique:

I was with him 100% until he started moving. After about 0:08, I have some complaints:

  • The grip in “position 2” is unlike anything I've seen in drumming, and I don't want to be told that it's “important” to play this way. What he's doing appears to be an exaggerated form of the “whip” stroke some drummers do, in which the arm leads the motion, and the thing that actually contacts the instrument— the bead of the stick— is the last thing to move. I'm not really a fan of it, even when it's done correctly, which I'll go into another time. 
  • I'm in favor of a solid quarter note pulse when playing a swing feel, but this thing he's doing with ff quarter notes and a pp 'skip' note, is not musically viable— utterly useless on a real ride cymbal, playing real music. I don't know where the idea that the skip note should be “felt, not heard” came from— it wasn't from listening to music or from speaking to a professional jazz musician. 
  • The elbow motion he introduces after 1:55 appears to be totally gratuitous choreography, and not a natural part of the the stroke.  
  • The end result does not swing, which is supposed to be the point of all of this. Playing your time feel this way would draw some strange looks from the other musicians in a real playing situation. 

Conclusion: There was a time when you could invent improved ways of doing things and have them utterly fail in anonymity, but now, thanks to YouTube, you get to do it on a world stage, while confusing many more people than was previously possible. The technique described in this video was invented in the practice room, and is only part way through its evolution; the remainder of it— which will occur on its first usage in an actual jazz playing situation— will play out approximately like the aftermath to this photograph:


Unknown said...

On the plus side, it's a great way to work on one's ice cream scooping chops!

Anonymous said...

YouTube sometimes has really useful instructional videos - the Joe Morello and CK Ladzekpo ones spring to mind - but it is also awash with poop that would probably end making beginner/intermediate players feel confused and end up with bad technique. If you want to play a particular style of music, a good start is to listen to it as much as possible and shed. A few hours a day playing along to your favourite songs can really advance your playing. As mentioned on this blog before, there are many drummers who just do 'jazz' because they think it's an obligatory thing to do. There's no harm in wanting to master every style but the end result might lack musicality and conviction as there isn't a genuine passion for it. As far as technique goes, spend time and energy developing solid chops - George Lawrence Stone wrote a great book to help with this. If you want to learn French grip, I would suggest checking out books and videos for Timpani players. In the meantime, avoid the novices.

David Fitzgerald said...

So I actually made this video a few years ago. I agree with what you're saying, but unfortunately at the time I thought posting this would be helpful because I thought I was using a viable technique. I have since been locked out of that account, so I can't take it down. Part of the problem was that I was taught this technique by a professional drum teacher who told me that the skip note should be felt not heard, which I now realise was not true.

Having said that, although demonstrated poorly, I still use a variant of this technique. The stroke with the skip note is effectively a push-pull technique where the skip note is "dropping" the stick and the quarter note is snapping the fingers back, all done in french grip. The idea of the scoop, which I exaggerated to (unfortunately) comic effect, is to help keep the quarter note pulse solid by adding something like a skip note into the technique which does not actually play anything. The elbow moving is a result of this. I still find that it helps, but I no longer look like an idiot trying to scoop ice cream; it's much more subtle.

So basically, what I'm saying is you're right about this being bad technique, but it was not my invention and it is valid when done properly, which looks not a lot like what you see in the video. I will definitely think twice before posting anything like this again, as I realise that it is dangerous to teach something you may not understand.

Todd Bishop said...

Hi David- Thanks for commenting-- people will want to read your caveats about the video. Sorry if my criticism is harsh; in an effort to be entertaining, I sometimes put things in more scathing terms than I would when dealing with someone in person. It's really just about the information, and not meant personally. All of our first duty here has to be to the music, and to putting out information that is well-founded-- that's more important than your or my feelings about our stuff. I've certainly been severely corrected on my stuff before, and expect I will be again. Thanks again-- tb

David Fitzgerald said...

No hard feelings. I have commented as my new account name on the video saying that I made it and have linked to this post so that people will hopefully think about whether they should actually try to learn any of the techniques