Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The useful from the useless

Here's something I've been meaning to get to. This question— edited slightly— came up on the Drummerworld discussion forum today:

I keep finding tons of new material on line, YouTube in particular, and am constantly practicing different things that I almost always forget (is it just me being thick?). How can I organize everything? Do people really assimilate all that amount of material and move on? Most of it seems to be— or is presented as— fundamental for your drumming. How can I discern useful from useless?

Great question: what are we supposed to do with all this drum crap, with which the Internet is literally teeming? Let's take this in parts:

A) Be working on your basic thing.

This is your foundation for judging if materials are any good for you, and for making sure you can get through them.

1. Learn some fundamentals. For novices, understand basic rhythm— like, be able to count and play pp. 4-31 of Syncopation on the snare drum. Be able to play moderate-speed alternating singles, doubles, and paradiddles. Be able to read basic things in 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8. Get a few lessons, and buy a beginning snare drum book, and a beginning rock book, and try to figure them out. You may be able to find similar things on line, but with a published book at least you know the author was compelled to give you some kind of coherent, progressive vision. No online product is a substitute for an in-person lesson with a competent teacher.

2. Be playing music. If you are already playing, it's easier to tell if certain given practice materials are going to help you with that. If you can play a rock beat without falling off the drum throne, you are ready to play music with people.

3. Also be watching music in person. Fifty guys on YouTube showing you the couple of flashy things they are actually good at is not a realistic picture of being a drummer. Hell, neither is a video of a good or great drummer showing you whatever. Going to a show and seeing how the drummer— any drummer— plays all the music in a 60-minute set is a realistic picture of being a drummer. Then you can judge better what materials are going to help you do that thing.

More after the break:

B) Watch out for bullshit.

The Internet is nothing if not a vector for the propagation of bullshit, so beware, and filter it ruthlessly.

1. Are the ideas presented mathematically fascinating? Or otherwise conceptually amazing in their abstractness/advancedness? They may be bullshit. Or, at best, “of little utility at present.” Pass.

2. Are you dazzled by the thing or technique they are showing you? There is a whole lot of dazzling-but-useless bullshit on the Internet. There's nothing wrong with a certain amount of that, but the real thing of music is somewhere else. Great playing is not just loads of sparkly crap— like being a “foodie” is not just about eating candy all day.

3. Is it a video on YouTube? That's probably bullshit. Just talking probabilities here.

4. Does it call itself a “lesson”? For some reason, people like to call their video bullshit “lessons.”  Actual lessons are things you do in real-time communication with another human being.

5. Is it in any way connected with the major, big, commercial drum instruction web sites? It may not be complete bullshit, but it is primarily designed to make you a paying customer of their product, and not necessarily to make you a better drummer and musician. The videos for the major drum products companies, like Vic Firth, are usually quite good, though.

6. Forget about Metal. To borrow a phrase from the late Tom Magliozzi: nobody listens to Metal, and Metal people don't listen to anybody else. You could substitute plays for listens, there, too. It's really its own little insular thing. Like the drum corps and gospel communities, they have developed into a kind of cult of technical facility; and there are a lot of amazing videos of people doing Metal, but there's very little there that's relevant to any other music which uses the drumset. My opinion(!) is that if you're not specifically going to be a Metal guy, you miss very little by ignoring all of it.

C) Finally, what do you do with the actual stuff?

“OK, Mr. Bishop, I GET IT: I'm doing the things you suggested at the beginning, and I have filtered out a raft of bullshit, as you so eloquently put it. Now, what do I do with these fifty pages of drum crap in front of me, please?”

1. Do one thing at a time. The most important thing to practice is the thing you're working on right now. Any one thing you learn to do well is a big deal, and any one hard thing you learn to do well is a really big deal. So give yourself a moment to actually focus on the thing in front of you, without feeling pressured to move on to other things.

2. Adopt a “reasonable progress” standard, not a “mastery” standard, or a “holy crap, some guy with a YouTube video did it this fast and loud” standard. For difficult stuff, you may have to adopt a “substantial, consistent effort” standard, because it can take a while to make any apparent progress with it.

3. Make a reasonable-length workout out of it— 10-20 minutes, up to about 45 minutes for something new and/or especially difficult, and/or that you really want to learn. Do that for a few days if you think the page deserves a fair hearing, then, if you decide it's worth continuing with it, do it every day for one week to one month, or more. Or just keep it in the stack to rotate through every so often.

4. Filter redundant stuff. A lot of writers go permutation-mad, and try to cover way too many variations of the same basic idea. You don't need to do that, like you don't have to practice every single noun/verb/tense combination to learn French. Cut that stuff down to a reasonable-length workout.

5. Don't over-commit to one thing, book, or system. Except the Ted Reed “system”— that is a professional, proven method, which has really gotten close to a universal, modern language of the drum set, while being attainable to most players with reasonable time and effort. That's a run-on sentence, but do all the Reed-related stuff you want. Others have written huge corpora of materials, with which you could burn through several lifetimes of practicing. It's sort of a trend for authors to try to shackle you to their product line, and to an eternity in the practice room. Always bring it back to what are your musical needs, use your judgment, and don't hesitate to jump to other things.


Ed Pierce said...

Nailed it, Todd (as usual).

R Valentine said...

I think I just got whiplash nodding my head in agreement.