Friday, February 28, 2014

There's no excuse at all for buying student cymbals any more

Unless you just live for peeling away factory packaging, or have some kind of sick virginity fetish. Following up on my previous piece on this subject— to get good, cheap cymbals now, all you have to do is just hold out your hands and wait for the the low-hanging fruit to plop into them. This is what many older used Sabian AAs—not cracked or otherwise damaged, nor even all that dirty— are selling for these days:

And then I just stopped looking. There were many more that were under $100, and many more than that under ~$130, which I would've considered to be a nice bargain a few years ago. Same goes for late-60's-mid-80's A. Zildjians; for $72 I just picked up an early 80s 20" Deep Ride which looks like it could've been sitting on the rack in a music store for the past 30 years. They're cheap as dirt. This is just as sellers of the contemporary Paiste equivalent— the pre-serial 602 line— have gone out of their minds in the opposite direction, tacking on at least $100 to the selling price of the ubiquitous 20" Medium Rides, and basically doubling the price of everything else. Then there's this sleazebag:

Back in 1959 PAISTE launched a series of cymbals that was destined to change the world and to become one of the world's most revered cymbals in the history of cymbal making.... 
This one was produced between 1959 and 1966 Its beautiful, pristine, and always controlled musical tone was adopted by well-known drummers and percussionists including none other than Joe Morell, Art Blakey, Paul Motian, Ndugu Chancler, Jon Hiseman, Charlie Watts and a host more! For your consideration, a '50' year old +, vintage, pre-serial, PAISTE Formula 602, 22" MEDIUM RIDE! This "Pretty-Paleolithic-Piece-of-PAISTE-Perfection" is one of the 'Holy Grail' of rides. This cymbal has absolutely unbelievable balance, with excellent stick definition and the perfect amount of wash & volume!This is a very old Paiste cymbal made in Switzerland during the pre-serial number era (1959-1966), and it has been kept in its original condition; that is to say, never cleaned. 
Considered by some to be the "holy grail" of cymbals, these original Paiste cymbals have a unique sound that have not been matched, even with the re-installment of the Formula
Highly collectable and fairly rare …get yours ...

“Considered by some” indeed; the guy (user name soundinvestmentsusa, located in New Jersey) is asking $1850 for a disgusting-looking 22" 602 Medium Ride from around 1970. Considered by everyone but the aforementioned some to be worth around $180. It's a good cymbal, and maybe you could get up to around $250 for a really nice one. The second-most insane psychotic selling one of these is asking a full $1100 less than this guy— still an outrageous gouging.

Anyhow, if you want to take advantage of this upside-down price bubble, my previous advice is basically sound: get thee on eBay, look for 1960's-80's A. Zildjians or Sabian AAs up for no-reserve auction (rather than Buy-It-Now), and be very patient in holding out for your dream price. Anything under $100 is still a score, as far as I'm concerned, and you may be able to do much better than that. Restrict yourself to normal cymbals— New Beat hihats (or Sabian Regular hihats), thin or medium thin crashes, medium rides. Some sort-of unpopular models may be extra cheap— Quick Beat hihats, Ping rides, Mini-Cup rides— as well as some heavier cymbals— Medium crashes and Rock rides. Cracks/dents = bad; do not buy. Keyholing = doesn't matter. Dirt = doesn't matter.

While it's possible prices may rebound into a more normal range, I would not plan on buying low and selling high and making a killing. And if you want to preserve this buyer's market, be chivalrous in your bidding— don't drive prices up trying to outbid people. There are plenty of other similar cymbals out there. Let the other guy get a great deal once in awhile.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Survey time!

I kind of snuck this into the Skype post, but I have put together a user survey, so if you could please take a moment to fill it out, I would really appreciate it. “So we can better serve you”, and all that rot. It's ten questions, and should take no time at all. Thanks! 

Don't forget to make up and email me a unique code word or phrase (like “thriving snake farm”, or “keekirikee”) to be in the running for a random free Skype lesson.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Groove o' the day: Mel Lewis — Jive Samba

Mel Lewis plays a funk groove. The tune is Nat Adderly's Jive Samba, and the album is Thad Jones / Mel Lewis, Central Park North, from 1969. The intro has some fun tom fills, so let's write that out, too:

The tempo is around ~126-128, and the 16ths have just a slight lilt to them. Today the fashion would be to give the fills some shape by accenting part of them— well, I guess even at the time most good jazz drummers would've played them that way, too— but Mel plays every note of them at a pretty even volume, like you might expect a studio drummer of the time to do. Most good players now would be too hip to do them that way, but it sounds great.

Here's the groove he plays after that, when the band is in, with obvious bass drum variations:

Later in the tune, he also moves to an earlier-60's style groove, playing all four beats on the snare drum.

Audio after the break:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Skype lessons coming soon

OK, then: starting in March, I'll be offering private lessons via Skype. And as I get my act together teaching this way, I think I'll give away a few free lessons. Let's do it like this: I'll select someone at random from new followers, and from people who complete the my new user survey. I'll keep doing that until I feel I'm ready to go live with it for real, so as long as this post is up, you have a chance of winning.

So! If you would like a free lesson, you can:

  1. Become a member. Go to the sidebar, scroll down to where it says followers, click “join this site”, and go through whatever rigamarole Google makes you do to become a follower of the site. It will help me identify and contact you if you also send me an email letting me know you're interested, and that you became a member; my email is at the top of the sidebar under “my major links > email Todd.”
  2. Follow this link to fill out our user survey. The last question requests that you make up a unique code word or phrase— like “Rappahannok”, or “peligro de muerte”— which you need to then email to me, so I can confirm that you completed the survey.  

Actually, please do those things even if you don't want the free lesson. And don't be shy; despite the generally hard level of stuff we have on the blog, I am quite happy to teach all levels of students.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

VOQOTD: Elvin's epitaph

“You got to remember, music is all about love.”
—Elvin Jones

From Drum Therapy: Elvin Jones 9/9/27-5/18/04, by Adam Mansbach, a very moving Jazz Times piece about Elvin's last days.

[h/t to AA]

Book review!

Hey, there's a nice little review— my first book review ever, actually— of the 2013 Book of the Blog at Joe The Drummer's place:

“There is a theme of the 3:2 polyrhythm running through the book and the highlight, for me, is the Afro-Cuban/Brazilian section which is bursting with coordination exercises to develop playing in 6/8. I have a need to develop my Songos, Mozambiques and Guaguancos too so I think I’ll be spending a lot of time in this section in particular. 
Todd’s exercises are always very methodically written with a view to covering the subject at hand comprehensively but efficiently. One of his favourite things is interpreting reading exercises from Reed’s Syncopation and by learning the different ways to use Reed (or similar reading texts) we are given a framework for developing our own interpretations of any material we’re working on. 
The Cruise Ship Drummer Book of The Blog – 2013 is a wonderful compendium of stuff that could keep enthusiastic drummers busy for years and is a great example of how self-publishing creates opportunities for talented and well educated people to make their contribution to the world of music education.”

 He's right about the 3:2 thing— more and more I think that's the African gene that, without which I think we'd all be just boom-chucking our lives away...

Joe is a blogger himself, with a lot of good stuff I haven't seen anywhere else— I highly recommend digging through his archives, and making the blog a regular stop.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Groove(s) o' the day: On the streets of Aba, Nigeria

I loved this video so much I wanted to lay on you a transcription of the whole thing, but we're going to have to settle for just getting the basic groove. I hit a wall about a minute in— there's an interlude there that is going to be very difficult to notate. It may sound like he's all over the place, but when you study the thing closely in Audacity, his execution is pretty much impeccable, and he stays oriented in 4 the whole time— he does a couple of slight tempo changes, and adds beats when he does the little fills, but that's about it. Let's listen first:

His set up is a little different, and he's playing the bell part with his left hand, but you can play all of these on a normal drumset, and leading with your right. On all the grooves, the accents refer to the bell pattern— he has a really good left hand, and the accents jump around quite a bit. These are all from the first minute of the performance, and the tempo is around quarter note = 195 bpm.

Here is the main groove from the beginning:

A little further in he plays the traditional “short” bell pattern:

This bell variation happens quite a bit:

At about 0:43 there's a change in the drum-hand part (our left, his right). I transcribed this without looking at the video, so I missed that he is playing the first two notes of each triplet on all four beats. You'll have to pencil in another low tom note on the downbeats of 2 and 4. He implies a cross rhythm by playing the second note of each triplet a little late with the left hand. The only way to execute that is to be extremely fluent with the first polyrhythm on line 5 of the Ladzekpo page from a few days ago. Our drummer today executes this rhythm in the cracks between the triplet notation below, and Ladzekpo's rhythm:

And for fun, here's a little lick he does at about 0:13. It's possible I was one beat off by in the way I wrote this out; the actual downbeat could be on beat 2 of this example, which would give us a normal short bell pattern in the first measure, and alternating triplets starting with the left hand in the second measure:

So, those are some of the notes. Being and playing as real as this kid is the really hard part.

[h/t to Peter Kalu, Arky, Victor Wooten  for making and sharing the video]

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Transcription: Ringo Starr — Isolation

I hate to keep beating up on our man Kollias— well, I'm not beating up on him, I'm making serious points about music... OK, I wasn't making a serious point about music with the last thing, but I am now. And it's not about him personally; he's an incredible performer-athlete who happens to be working within a genre I believe is basically artistically bankrupt. But hearing today's piece in that context really gets you thinking about the true meaning of the much-abused phrase “less is more.”

The song is Isolation, from John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band record, with Ringo Starr on drums. The production here is stripped down, and while it's a virtually perfect expression of pop craft, it hardly seems made for public consumption. I'm thinking about the difference between this and that metal thing, and all I can think is of walking through the Louvre and seeing a 15 foot high painting by somebody like Delecroix; the frame alone weighs 800 pounds. I'm not being effusive, that's just straightforward analogy— this is objectively a heavier, more impactful piece of work.

Obviously, the rhythm section here is all about the quarter notes. The only subdivisions happening are occasional triplets in the piano, which often happen at the same time as the straight 8th notes on the hihat. The vocal line has a lot of legato 16th notes, both straight and swung; on the drums the 16ths are strongly swung. Crash cymbal hits that are unaccented are just touches. The mood is soft, but the drums are played strongly enough to get a tone. As with our last Ringo/Lennon transcription, the drums track the dynamics of the piano and vocals closely. Ringo is really listening. He also leaves the heavy emotion to the vocals; he doesn't overplay, trying to match its intensity.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

This/not this: death metal

By popular request (well, one guy), here's another one of these— we'll take this in reverse order:

Not this:


[h/t to Bo]

Bonus Melvins after the break:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Another page of Brazilian rhythms

Here is another page of Brazilian rhythms, written in 4/4. The last set was written as 8th and 16th notes in 2/4, the native meter of much of Brazilian music, but when playing lead sheets made by Americans (like out of The Real Book), they will usually be written in 4/4. These are transcribed mainly from tunes by Airto and Dom Um Romao. Some are left hand parts played on drumset, others are percussion parts— tamborim or agogo— a few are horn parts or rhythm section parts. That's why you want to listen to, and play along with, the actual music from Brazil: all the players know the percussion rhythms, and play them.

You also need to listen to develop an ear for how they are inflected; most of them are played with varying accents, long or short notes, and multiple pitches. Where there is a circled note, play the rhythm with that note and without it. Here are a couple of (well, pretty obvious) ways of putting these into context, using this rhythm, for example:

Play the rhythm as rim clicks on the snare drum, with 8th notes on the cymbal, and the usual Samba/Bossa Nova feet parts:

Or play both hands in unison on the snare and cymbal:

Get the pdf

A couple of the tunes these came from are after the break:

Friday, February 14, 2014

C.K. Ladzekpo's basic polyrhythms

From the This portion of the recent This/not this: polyrhythm post, I've written out C.K. Ladzekpo's list of basic polyrhythms every Ewe learns while growing up, along with our now familiar 6/8 bell pattern:

You can do these with whatever combination of limbs/sounds you want. In the video, Ladzekpo claps the bell pattern (the top line), counts or sings the polyrhythm, and taps his foot on the dotted quarter notes (the bottom line). Our usual orchestration on the drum set would be to play the bell with the right hand, the independent part with the left on the snare, and the dotted quarters on the hihat with the left foot. You could also play that part with the bass drum, or both feet together.

Ladzekpo does an unusual thing of counting the polyrhythm with the 1 on the first note of the cross rhythm, rather than the one of the bell pattern; I don't know if he's just illustrating the number of notes in the cross rhythm, or if Ewe musicians really conceive an alternate downbeat with those rhythms. I would also count the dotted quarter note pulse with all of the patterns, matching the foot part, either counting in 4, or in two measures of 2.

The rhythm with the dotted 16th notes is, ah, rather difficult to conceive as written, so I've transcribed it into quarter time, so you can more easily work out the relationships between notes.

Get the pdf

“When in doubt, groove.”

Branford Marsalis's drummer Justin Faulkner gives a drum clinic at the Seattle, and says lots of great stuff:

Part 2 is after the break:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sid Caesar 1922-2014

Very sorry to lose the great Sid Caesar today— even if it seems incredible we had him around as long as we did. I was a kid in the 70's, and knew him best from small parts in Mel Brooks movies, and as the mild-mannered dentist who ends up trying to bash his way out of a hardware store basement with a sledgehammer in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. But, if you aren't familiar with his TV work from the 1950's, and care anything about comedy, you really owe it to yourself to track down the videos— nothing on YouTube does him justice. He was just a rampaging bull of talent and hilarity. An incredible lunatic.

There's a remembrance on Salon, here.

 Here's a small thing of his that is one of my own favorites, from Mel Brooks's 1976 film, Silent Movie:

Page o' coordination: 2 over 3 metric modulation

We've done some jazz waltz POCs, and some metric modulation POCs, but some people will still have problems moving between the two in actual playing, so here's something that may help with that. The modulation we're doing is 2 over 3; playing a slower 2 over a measure of 3/4:

This is a jazz waltz study, so you're going to want to swing the 8th notes. You should probably do the previous metric modulation POC entries before doing this one. Make sure you can play each measure by itself before playing the entire line. If you want, you can double or halve each part of the line, so you're playing 4 measures, or 1 measure, of each pattern. Or you can vamp on each half of the the line— play the first two measures for a long time, then whenever you're comfortable, play the second two measures, and repeat. It will be tempting to feel the second two measures of each line at the slower, modulated tempo, but keep counting and feeling the original quarter note pulse, at least at first. And do the tom moves.

Get the pdf

Monday, February 10, 2014

This/not this: polyrhythm

This post was going to be a survey of YouTube videos on polyrhythm, but most of them were so bad, it was shaping up to be a real bloodbath. So let's just summarize by reviving a series from the early days of the blog:


Not this: 

There's much more from UC Berkley professor CK Ledzekpo after the break— definitely watch these videos if you've been working with my Afro 6/8 pages.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Dick Berk 1939-2014

Just learned that the drummer Dick Berk has died. He was best known for being Billy Holliday's last drummer; he is also on recordings by Ted Curson, Nick Brignola, Milt Jackson, George Duke, Cal Tjader, Jean-Luc Ponty, Bobby Shew, Pete Christlieb, as well as his own bands. He seemed to know, and to have played with, everybody; he knew Mingus, knew the comedian Lenny Bruce, subbed with Ornette Coleman's band in LA, and had an apparently long-running, good-natured feud with Mel Lewis. He also had small roles in Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull and New York, New York. I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg [UPDATE: It's true.]— I didn't get to hang with him as much as a lot of other people in town did, and not at all in recent years.

In addition to living in LA, Boston, and New York, Dick was a leading figure in the Portland jazz scene for many years, and I learned a lot from watching him— his playing was a direct line back to jazz the way it was played in the 50's. He played his ride cymbal strongly, and was not afraid of spontaneously conducting Mingus-style stops and tempo changes. Seeing him play the Les McCann beat was a real education in grooving. He was also a great example for younger players by always being out making the hang— consistently being out in the clubs for something like 55+ years. He once told me, after he finally got married in his 40s or 50s, that part of the arrangement was that he would be out most nights— the hang was non-negotiable.

I once expressed to him some doubts about how I would compete with some flashier players around, and his response, coming from such a forceful, New-Yorkish cat, was memorable: “Music's not a competition.”

Here he is playing with Nick Brignola— my old USC combo leader, pianist Dwight Dickerson, is also on this recording:

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Transcription: Tony Williams — Seven Steps to Heaven, trumpet solo

Continuing with our Seven Steps To Heaven transcription in installments, here is Tony Wiliams's playing behind Miles Davis's solo, starting at 0:43, on the version of the tune from the album Four & More:

The hihat is mostly inaudible to me, but don't assume that just because it isn't written, he isn't doing anything with it— more on that after the break.

Get this transcription and four more by purchasing my e-book 5 TONY WILLIAMS TRANSCRIPTIONS. Only $4.95.

Audio after the break:

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Todd's African triplet lick

I call this an African idea, but really it's just a thing that keeps happening when I solo with an Afro 6 feel; it's African by vibe. And it's not really a “lick”, it's more an entry point into playing triplets groove-soloistically on the drums, in this style. The bass drum parts I've given are mostly generic— you could substitute anything at all from your library, on a triplet grid— but I've put them in a logical order for the hand part, and the cross rhythm is just weird enough that you might want to actually see it on the page, so here we are:

You should be able to burn through most of this page pretty quickly. Much of the point of doing the bass drum parts is to just force you to play the pattern longer, to refine your touch with it. But they also shift the emphasis around in some interesting ways. I try to draw a hand-drum type of sound of the instrument here, maybe popping the rim click a little stronger than the other notes.

Get the pdf

Monday, February 03, 2014

What to do with Reed

I stumbled across this in the depths of the Drummerworld discussion forum— drum instructor Jacob Kaye from Montreal has posted a little summary of some of the stickings used with Ted Reed's Syncopation. I don't know if it's his original work, or what; it looks like about a fourth-generation photocopy of something that has seen the walls of a lot of drummers' studios:

And of course you do all of those starting with the left hand as well. Kaye has a handful of good downloadable stuff posted on his site, which I encourage you to go get. He studied with Jim Chapin and my guy Charles Dowd's mentor, Saul Goodman, and he looks like a good person to study with if you are in Montreal.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Transcription: Tony Williams — Seven Steps to Heaven, head in

Man, I am getting tired of writing words. Let's get back to what you actually come here for: drum shit. In honor of the Superbowl— which they tell me is today— here is something that's bigger than any football game, ever: Tony Williams's playing on Seven Steps to Heaven, from Miles Davis's album Four & More. Like every other jazz musician in the world, I've listened to this about a thousand times before today, but have never transcribed it. Every part of this song deserves close study, but I'm not writing the whole thing out today, so maybe I'll try to do it in installments. Here's the first time through the head, then:

Tony is very much in “jazz percussion” mode here— playing very linearly, not-so-much layered in the traditional way. At the end of the first page begins the first iteration of a meter-within-meter thing that recurs throughout the piece. The tempo here is around 310, or half note = 155. Everything speeds up severely on this record, and as I recorded in my earlier piece on fast tempos on albums, the tune ends at 356/178. That's supposed to be a Very Bad Thing, which will almost always get you in trouble with anyone, but F&M is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz albums ever (...ever... EVAR) so... draw your own conclusion. It would be nice if some technically-wrong things were just regarded as facts of that particular performance, and judged for their real musical effect, but it doesn't work that way with most players, and you will still get in trouble for rushing.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Books are here!

With alternate covers
Hey, the new books have arrived! cranks them out fast. If you haven't ordered your copy of the 2013 Book of the Blog yet, there's an added enticement to buy it now: Lulu is offering 14% off book orders through February 14th— just enter the code AMOR14 on check out. you like it because it's a couple of bucks off, I like it because it doesn't come out of my end. That's on top of the 15% discount I'm offering on the 2011 BOTB, if you've been thinking about picking that one up.


“Phaw, please, it's tempi, not temPOS.” 
In which the blogger once again addresses the voices in his head berating him for minor breaches of correctness in the application of musical terminology. 

You may have noticed that, writing on the blog, I just add an s when pluralizing certain musical terms, like tempo and ostinato— I say tempos and ostinatos. Speaking proper Italian, and using conservatory terminology, the correct plurals are of course tempi and ostinati. But I'm a drummer, and I'm writing this in America, and to people like me, that sounds a little snooty. Like, outside of the classical music world, we don't say flautist, or pianist with the emphasis on the first syllable, if we can help it. Throwing those into everyday musical conversation sounds a little affected, and puts others in the awkward position of having to decide whether to follow your lead in sounding kind of pompous. It's a little rude, even if correct. You can usually slide tempos in there without the same ripple of discomfort.

In using musical terms, we're not actually lapsing into Italian. The word tempo actually has become a slightly exotic English synonym for speed; and in English, when you want to make two or more of something, you slap an s on the end of it. Since at least the Battle of Hastings we've been freely slapping s-s on the end of foreign nouns and calling them English; it's only Americans' feelings of cultural inferiority that cause us to be defensive about that. It's the same thing that motivates us to miserably, cluelessly sit through operas presented in a foreign language, and read subtitles on films, while Europeans are happily listening to Don Giovanni translated into Flemish, The Godfather dubbed into French, and the quintessentially German Inspector Derrick dubbed into everything:

At one point in the history of music, the major practitioners all spoke Italian, and they weren't trying to be fancy about the words they chose for their terminology. They were using mostly straightforward, even terse, descriptive words in the native language of most of the expert musicians— or at least a language in which most of them would be fluent, the way computer people worldwide are with English today. Today, musicians come from everywhere, and few of us speak Italian, and to us those words sound a little mysterious and high-flown. But really, when you see a piu forte on the page— and you know you're in the serious repertoire when you see a piu; they don't put those in for just anybody— all it means is more loud. Fortississimo (indicated by an fff) basically means louderer. It's not a real Italian word. If we think for a moment about where the fff marking comes from, it may as well be LLL for loud loud loud. That's the kind of primitive-ass use of language we are actually dealing with, here.

And with the word drummer— which a lot of American youngsters struggle with when they are first getting serious, calling themselves “percussionists” instead— the European example again is instructive. Mainly: the sexy, dynamic-sounding French batteur is even more primitive than our word drummer— it means hitter. Not even a reference to an instrument— it could just as well describe someone working in a slaughterhouse. Talk about a step backwards in our self-conception as artists. 

Anyhow, when we say tempos, or ostinatos, or whatever, we're not speaking pidgin Italian, we're correctly using an adopted English word according to English rules. I'll admit that, being musical jargon, these words are in a little bit of a gray area— most non-musicians kind of know what tempo means, but they rarely have reason to pluralize it; and ostinato isn't used at all outside of music— so the normal rules that also make le week-end a correct French word, may have to be used with caution. You do want to be careful how many liberties you take with technically-correct terminology— you can easily sound like you don't know what you're talking about.

And for the record, I do insist on watching foreign films with subtitles, and put Todd Bishop: batteur on posters whenever I have the opportunity. And I never, ever, say timpanis