Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gone camping

Back to regular posting in a moment...

Waldo Lake, high in the Oregon Cascades. My friend did
the Leonardo Di Caprio pose at my behest... that's my fault...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Page o' coordination: metric modulation — 1/3

Or rather superimposed metric modulation, per Vinnie Colaiuta's term, which few people use, but is actually correct. This is the first of three pages 'o... developing a swing feel in 2 within a measure of 3/4. We'll do the hard one first, which suggests the 2 in the cymbal and bass drum, while keeping the waltz feel with the hihat:

In case it's not clear from looking at it, here's how the superimposed feel works. Here's the base ostinato for this page:

The same rhythm rebeamed for 6/8, minus the hihat:

Which of course looks like this written as triplets in 4/4:

Playing the page in a swing feel will not give that rhythm exactly, so don't try— just render the exercises in 3/4, and the metric modulation will take care of itself later. Remember that the tom moves are a big part of the value of these exercises— counting out loud while doing them “1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 4-2-3” is also very helpful.

Get the pdf

Monday, July 22, 2013

Self-improvement through neurosis

Normally I don't bother editorializing about cartoons, but this thing has gotten so ubiquitous on the music ed-related Internet, I thought I'd say something about it.

Let's get this out of the way up front: to become an “average” expert musician, one of the things you need to do is to dedicate several-to-many hours a day to practicing, over a period of many years, which requires you to be very motivated and fairly single-minded. And let's stipulate that most people probably practice too little to actually achieve their musical goals, whatever they are.

That being said, I don't think this is very helpful:

Call it the be more like a crack addict school of motivation. It's hard to believe this isn't meant as a joke about musicians' neuroses, but the thing is so devoid of nuance, humor, or anything more elevated than the mechanical stimulation of the brain's guilt/competition center, that I can only conclude that this is how they want you to be. They're trying to be funny by exaggerating a little bit, but basically being a musician/music student is nothing more than an endless, mindless, all-consuming need to practice more. It doesn't work for me. If the only way you can get a student to practice is to make them neurotic about it, the hell with it, maybe that person should not be a professional musician.

And for the record, among the other things you “should be doing right now” if you are a musician are: listening to music, playing music with people, playing gigs, looking for gigs, booking gigs, going to other people's gigs, reading about music, writing music, playing piano, transcribing, creating/maintaining your publicity material, daydreaming about art, and just hanging with musicians. In fact I probably need to make a Should you be hanging right now? cartoon and post it on the wall of my studio. That would be really useful.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Key to right hand accented triplets using Syncopation

There's a very common interpretation used with Ted Reed's Syncopation: the right hand plays the melody line, swinging the 8th notes, and the left hand fills out the triplets— hopefully everyone has heard of that one by now. If you've tried it, you've figured out that it leads to a lot of multiple hits with the left hand, which will obviously put a pretty hard ceiling on how fast you can do them. But I've seen put forward surprisingly few ways of getting around that; I think one, actually, by Steve Houghton. What I do to make these playable at higher speeds is insert as many single unaccented right hand notes as are needed to break up the left hand multiples (runs of more than two notes), while avoiding any loud-soft or soft-loud right hand doubles.

So here I've given the key for (I think!) every sticking situation occurring in the long exercises in Syncopation, though they sit in different parts of the measure in the actual book. You should be able to do these stickings on the fly while reading the long exercises out of Syncopation (pp. 37-44, old edition), at 200+ bpm.

Get the pdf

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to play Pent Up House

Or, how to play it the way it was played originally. What we'll do in this series is look at the definitive recorded versions of some commonly played jazz tunes, and nail down all the stuff a drummer should know to really know the thing. Pent Up House, by Sonny Rollins is an easy tune that gets played a lot at sessions, so much that it's easy to be lazy with it. I'm certain I've never looked at a chart while playing it, and have never listened to it with the goal of retaining all of the performance info about it.

Our format here is sort of a glorified drum chart/partial transcription, liberally doused with whatever verbal notes are necessary:

I've given a transcription of the rhythm of the melody of the tune, along with a sketch of the drum part, and some pieces of information you should know: the form, style, tempo, and— why not?— the key. It is recommended that you sit down with a lead sheet, the pdf, and the recording and give the thing a couple of listens (and plays) through. If you're not adept at playing from lead sheets, then this should help give you an idea of how to do that.

There will be questions at the end of the form, about the dotted quarter/8th note figure I've marked with an asterisk, and about the break leading into the solos. The dotted quarter figure is given in most fake books, but on the recording it is only played seemingly accidentally— pianist Richie Powell plays it once, then plays a variation on it, and then Max Roach plays it as part of his fill leading into the solos. The composer— Sonny— never plays it. The pre-solo break is usually played by the drums, but you should be aware that the first soloist may also come in there.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Monday, July 15, 2013

VOQOTD: Q & A with Jim Black

Are you always in control?

>That’s a great question:)))

— Interview question by Sergio, from Black's site.

OK, a little more:

“[D]rums and guitar suffer from serious technical sportsperson-like abuse, which can be fun, of course, but that has nothing to do with what I consider music. The technique only is there to serve the bigger musical picture – again, sounds pretty damn obvious but genius technique is the kiss of death to most students until they go through an identity crisis when they realize they are not hearing a note of what they play (a great realization actually), then they find the what and the why of their music. That’s all I am trying to do as well, and everyday I ask myself those questions, which is my form of self teaching/realization.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

DBMITW: magnum opus

Resisting the urge to post Le Tigre's Bang Bang in this space today. Instead: McCoy Tyner's Passion Dance, from the Real McCoy album, came on KMHD radio yesterday on my way to a lesson (you can listen online if you don't have a decent local jazz station), and it was like walking around the corner and running into Michaelangelo's Pieta. I try to keep the superlatives to a minimum around here, but it's hard for me to think of this as a played piece of music— this feels to me more like something hewn by God. The ride cymbal performance during McCoy's solo alone should be hanging on a museum wall somewhere:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Page of Mozambique

So here's what we were setting up with that last thing— a page of Mozambique for the drum set:

Work up each pattern individually until it feels good, and then combine parts as you see fit according to your needs. I personally am running them first as written, then + hihat, then + hihat and bass drum. If you're using them in a jazz context, you can do basically whatever you like, that doesn't get you fired; if you plan on playing salsa (so-called) for real, there's a definite right and wrong way to do it, and a lot of further study will be required. Some of the patterns relate to the audio from the previous post, so do refer back to that.

Get the pdf

Friday, July 12, 2013

Conga to Mozambique

Let me say up front that I'm always a little paranoid about venturing into Afro-Cuban music on the blog— I don't have a lot of field experience playing it with knowledgeable people, and have had to get my information on it mainly by inferior means— by listening and reading. But looking at the Wikipedia entry for the topic here, after I had this piece mostly written, I was relieved to see that I was not horribly wrong in my own research, and that the entry confirmed some things I had surmised, but wasn't going to hazard putting in the piece.

So, I want to look at the background of what is for drummers basically a semi-popular Latin groove, the Mozambique. In Afro-Cuban music, Mozambique is a style that evolved when Conga de Comparsa— a folkloric parade style— was moved into the popular music and then Latin jazz realms.

With Pello El Afrokan, the originator of the style, the connection with the original Conga is pretty overt, with similar instrumentation— percussion, voice (lead and chorus), horns— and, seemingly, much of the flavor of the parade music:

In New York soon after, people like Eddie Palmieri were developing their own version of the style with a regular salsa band instrumentation, and we start getting the elements that are more familiar now, including the bell pattern that appears to be definitive:

The very emphatic bombo rhythm in the percussion and bass also seems to be a feature of the style:

Continued after the break:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paradiddle-diddle variations, for jazz

Hey, we haven't done anything for the snare drum in awhile— in my own practicing I've been preoccupied with Dahlgren & Fine's Accent On Accents books, and Buster Bailey's Wrist Twisters, and my students are doing other things. But a Drummerworld forum member requested some snare drum exercises suitable for developing jazz coordination, so here we are. Paradiddle-diddles are extremely well-suited to this task, since playing them with your right hand on a cymbal makes the standard jazz ride pattern, with the left hand filling out the triplets on the snare drum. Varying the accents and adding flams will develop some left hand chops, while exploring some different ride interpretations with the right.

Only the right hand lead form is given, because the goal is to turn this directly into a jazz coordination pattern; but do them left hand lead, too. When playing them as triplets on the drumset, you can also play the bass drum lightly on all four beats, or on 1 and 3.

Get the pdf

DBMITW: just some kids in Cuba playing Conga

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

VOQOTD: Erskine on Keltner and space

When you think of Keltner you think of these delicious, huge gaps, and when that backbeat comes down, it’s just sweet. And the reason it’s sweet is that it’s not filled up with a bunch of stuff.

— Peter Erskine

From Erskine's 2000 Drum! magazine piece.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Groove o' the day: Chico Hamilton — Conquistadores

Here's a little 60's funky LA cha cha (or guajira? Or something— it's not a standard style) from the relatively unsung drummer/bandleader Chico Hamilton. This is Conquistadores, from his 1965 album El Chico:

The right hand plays a guiro part on the cymbal. I've notated it as a rhythm, but as you can hear, it's basically a buzz. Hamilton holds the groove throughout, freeing him up to shout at the band, and generally create a vibe.

Audio after the break:

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Kenny Clarke plays an intro

Putting together a bebop podcast (which we'll see here whenever I get it finished), this intro from 1941 by Kenny Clarke jumped out at me— the tune is Hot House, and the playing feels more like the end of the swing era than the beginning of bebop:

I have it on a record called The Immortal Charlie Christian, but it has apparently been released under Dizzy Gillespie's name, too:

There's also a little history lesson here. This is very early in the bebop era, and throughout the tune Clarke plays the time on the hihat— Papa Jo Jones's thing, and immediately before bebop, the hip way of playing. He only uses the cymbal as punctuation, like on the little choke he does in the third measure of that intro; he wasn't actually riding on it yet, as was the standard thing a few years later. Thanks to Clarke himself, to be clear.

Examples after the break:

Friday, July 05, 2013

Page o' coordination: another 5/4

OK, if you get burned playing a 5/4 because you haven't practiced enough, don't come crying to me. I'm doing all I can. This page is based on an ostinato that is sort of a companion to this early item in the series.. If you're coming late to the party, these two pages would actually be a good place to start, along with the 3/4 pattern they are based on.

Hopefully you've found your own groove with these things, but here's how I work on them:

1. Learn the ostinato.
2. Familiarize yourself with the entire page as written.
3. Play the entire page at your chosen tempo, 4-8 times on each exercise, each way, without stopping:
  • Short workout: Left hand on snare drum only.  
  • Medium workout:: Left hand does minimal tom moves. 
  • Long workout: Left hand does all tom moves

Get the pdf

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


A TECHNICAL NOTE: With the mid-90's siren gif and everything, so you know it's serious. Evidently our downloads have been, ah, down— inoperative— for a couple of days now, without my knowledge. The problem is being remedied, and our trove of sweet, sweet, free drum stuff should be once again available for download by around 10pm Pacific Standard Time.

UPDATE: Fixed. Downloads working again.

Transcription: Superstition — groove variations and fills

Experimenting with a different kind of transcription here. Stevie Wonder's Superstition— from the album Talking Book, drums played by Wonder himself— is mainly a groove piece, but the groove is highly variable, and writing out any one measure of it wouldn't give you the full picture of what's going on. A full transcription would be better, except— even though I make a lot of them— I don't like actually working on things on the drums in that format. So what I've done is to break the recorded part down to a collection of one-measure patterns in 2/4— the song is in 4, but it is phrased pretty neatly in two-beat chunks. If you learn the entire page, you should be able to improvise a time feel very much like what is on the recording.

There are some interesting breaks throughout the piece, which I'll have for you another time.

The 16th notes are lightly swung; play them almost with a sixtuplet feel, but not quite. On the groove section,  assume the snare is accented on beat 2, and apply the given accents to the hihat part; generally the cymbals will be slightly open for those notes. On the fill section, accents apply as written. There are a couple spots where you can assume an alternating sticking between the hihat and snare— mainly when there's a snare note on 2 without a hihat note (played with the hand).

Get the pdf

Monday, July 01, 2013

Perspectives on cymbals: part two

A recording engineer cries out:

[...] I've been giving some thought to the one thing that pisses me off the most when recording rock bands: drummers who incessantly bash the cymbals so they're the loudest thing in the room.
[...] I know this is a very common problem, every engineer has to deal with it, and we all have our special tricks. I seldom intervene in a band's musical choices, but this problem is SO obnoxious and SO inexcusable that I'm not going to put up with it any more.
We're going to offer a free pre-production meeting to any client that spends more than X dollars, to identify problems with the sound, performance, or arrangement before they come in to record. Step one: warn the band in advance that we don't put up with cymbal-bashing. Step two: if we hear a problem, ask the drummer to work on his balance for a week or two before they come in. Hit the drums about 3x as hard as the cymbals, use half-open hat sparingly, do not use the crash as a ride, do not hit the crash on the downbeat of every measure. [Emphasis mine— tb] Step three: if the drummer fails to correct his balance, we start muting the cymbals. Tape on the ride, hat clamped in place, and rubber mutes on the crashes. The crashes will be overdubbed separately. The result: a drastic improvement in the sound that cannot be accomplished by technological means, and a significant savings of time and money.
I know that everyone secretly hates these cymbal-bashing clowns but is too polite to say so. They need to be told the truth about their oh-so-unique playing style. I think it's worth the occasional hurt-in-the-ass drummer.

This is the beginning of a discussion among engineers, on an engineering forum, and the link comes from Steve Goold, who gives the very wise advice: Read this article immediately and don’t try to argue with it. Well, at least we'll try to address this person's legitimate perspective apart from the offensive manner in which he deals with his clients. I'll say that a meeting like the one he describes would have me immediately shopping for another studio, while making a note to not, in the future, trust the judgment of the person who recommended the place.

But his suggestions (that's what we'll call his demands), which I bolded, are not unreasonable rules of thumb for recording backbeat-based music— rock, funk, blues, whatever. At least, it's good to be aware of when you're stepping into playing territory that may be problematic for the engineer, and therefore for getting the recording you want with minimal hassle. In the following discussion there seems to be a consensus that, at the very least, however you play the cymbals, you should play the drums louder.

Some engineer's comments, and examples after the break: