Saturday, May 31, 2014


Not quite the sense of menace I was
hoping for, but that'll have to do...
One of the effects of this new Internet wonderland of information is that now everyone feels they are in competition with everyone else, everywhere in the world. It's as if every famous drummer who has ever lived, and an endless parade of seeming child prodigies, are now poking their fat noses into your studio and saying “Yeah, but can you do this? Or this? How are you going to make it if you can't do this? Or this? All of us are doing this— why aren't you doing it? What about this?”

The reality is, it's just you, the gigs available to you, and the other people already playing those gigs.

There's an old, dumb-ass, redneck joke about two men in the wilderness, who encounter a bear. One of them begins preparing to do some running— in the usual inane telling he puts on running shoes. Whatever. The other says “Bill, are you crazy? You can't outrun that bear!” To which the first guy replies, “That's OK, I only have to outrun you.”

Haw haw, that guy's going to get mauled by a bear! It's easy to mock the savagery of these frontier people, but now imagine the bear is Vinnie Colaiuta... no, imagine the bear is the abstract concept of career opportunity... no, imagine the bear is a call for a gig. The non-running redneck is “eaten” by the call for the job— he gets the gig in other words— while the other, who has been wasting his time learning to sprint (which, it turns out, is not a primary wilderness survival skill) ends up alone, naked and afraid...

That's not it, either.

It's more as if every bear/drummer in the world has been air-dropped into your back yard, and whatever you thought was your life/career has been instantly transformed into a frantic, futile, and very short, scramble for your life, before being engulfed and ripped quite literally limb from limb. But what they didn't tell you is that the bears are all holograms piped in from zoos around the world, and none of them can actually hurt you.

Grasping that, you go about your business building a shelter, finding a water source, and gathering pine nuts, and are able to survive quite comfortably. Our character with the running shoes thinks this is the way the world actually is, and now puts on a bear costume in hopes of blending in and moving up the bear hierarchy; but since the bears aren't real, and himself having no actual survival skills relevant to his true environment, he soon starves to death.


Yeah. This bear thing was just supposed to be the preface to something else, but it kind of got away from me. We'll delve into this subject with a little more discipline soon...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Todd's tom tom thing — part 1

This is something that has come up organically in my own playing, which I've been trying to get a handle on more systematically— we saw a little bit of this before with my “quasi-African” tom lick. Mainly, we're combining moving around the drums with sound/articulation changes with the left hand. This is mainly a soloing thing, but the kind of fluency we'll be developing should generally apply when playing Latin styles that are mainly on the drums, like a rhumba, or calypso; or when you want a texture change on a Latin tune, like during a bass solo.

This sort of thing looks like hell on the page, so we'll break it down as much as possible:

Play the snare drum with the snares off. The left hand will be playing the snare drum normally, rim clicks, rim shots, and ghost notes. The right hand moves between the snare drum (played normally) and floor tom. Once you can do the basic moves, you can begin to play with your sound— adding some accents, changing the quality of your rim shots, and experimenting with the way your left hand muffles the drum during the rim clicks. If you want to use your feet, you can play quarter notes (or dotted quarters in 12/8) on the hihat, or with both feet, to start.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Sometimes it can be really hard to just do the the obvious unfinished work in front of you. A fairly unproductive week put me to mind of this famous engraving by the artist Albrecht Dürer, and what was written about it by Sir Kenneth Clark:

“In the Middle Ages melancholia meant a simple combination of sloth, boredom and despondency that must have been common in illiterate society. But Dürer's application is far from simple. This figure is humanity at its most evolved, with wings to carry her upwards. She sits in the attitude of Rodin's Penseur, and still holds in her hands the compasses, symbols of measurement by which science will conquer the world. Around her are all the emblems of constructive action: a saw, a plane, pincers, scales, a hammer, a melting pot, and two elements in solid geometry, a polyhedron and sphere. Yet all these aids to construction are discarded and she sits there brooding on the futility of human effort.” 

In my case, this condition has approximately the gravitas of Alan Partridge getting bored and dismantling the Corby trouser press in his hotel room, and walking to the gas station to stock up on windshield washer fluid:

So, yeah. More soon.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Page o' coordination: Afro 6/8 — a hard one

This is something I wasn't going to post until I had made decent headway with it; which I have, at the cost of some misery. If you've been keeping up with current events, the Afro 6 Pages o'... should be familiar, if challenging, terrain by now, but this one is on another level. Without being completely silly. The HH/BD parts are not based on authentic parts— they actually come out of Dahlgren & Fine— but they do have a kind of African quality about them...

Most of these pages have a fairly short adjustment period— my purpose with them was to have them all be of nearly-equivalent difficulty. This one you'll likely find to be very slow going. Consider it to be a straight technical piece, with a side benefit of introducing something into your 6 feel which no one else is going to be able to cop.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Here it comes

Another clip from the jazz education melodrama Whiplash has been released:

Pretty soon you're going to be able to pay money to see the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Groove o' the day: Neftali Santiago — Too Late

Because I don't think your funk is 70s is enough, here's some more Mandrill, with one of the greatest-named drummers ever, Neftali Santiago. And just a great drummer, period. This is Too Late, from the album New Worlds, by Mandrill. It's 1978, Disco is happening, and in keeping with the times, funk drummers are simplifying and cleaning things up a bit. Santiago is pretty freewheeling on the band's earlier records, but here he matches the vamp all the way through. And he still sounds absolutely great.

The great funk hihat accenting debate— which I started, with myself, and no one else is participating in— continues with track; there is no regular accenting the hihat on the beat here. He plays it generally pretty strong and even, but I notice he'll ghost the downbeat every so often; and he'll accent occasionally, usually off the beat, along with the bass drum, or not.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Page o' coordination: Afro 9/8

The “Afro” feel in 9/8, or 3/4, is not exactly a standard feel, but it does come up. Like, in Portland, a tune by the drummer/composer Lawrence Williams gets called quite often, among several different people I play with. It's based on the Afro-Cuban 6/8 (which I hope is causing you a lot of pain via the other POCs), but I don't believe there's a “correct” version of it in 9; so this is a little bit of a bastardization. If you find a bell pattern that works better for you, by all means use it— you won't get in trouble.

A fresh link for the tom moves, for you. 

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Gordon Willis 1931-2014

Still from Manhattan, by Gordon Willis
When thinking of an era in the arts where there's a strong zeitgeist, I always feel that there a large field of people working within a style, doing this era-defining work. And I'm always surprised when it turns out to be just a handful of people, sometimes only one guy, one group, or one company. Like Saul Bass in the design world. And the cinematographer Gordon Willis, who has just died.

Between Willis, Laszlo Kovacs, Owen Roizman, Conrad Hall, and Robert Surtees— some of my favorite artists ever, in any medium— you cover most of the greatest things done in American film in the 70s. Among Willis's credits are The Godfather, The Parallax View, All The President's Men, and some of Woody Allen's most visually beautiful movies: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Zelig, and Broadway Danny Rose.

It's not clear to a lot of people what a cinematographer does; he is the camera man, the photographer— which is not to say he is always the camera operator, a separate job description, lower down the food chain. The usual job title today is director of photography, which gives you more the sense that he is the head of an entire branch of the production.

Because of the popularity of the auteur theory of filmmaking— well, of film criticism, actually— we're prone to giving directors credit for everything that happens in their films, except maybe the acting performances. But there's a lot more involved than just pointing the camera where the director tells you. Unless he was a cinematographer before, the director relies heavily on the artistry of the director of photograpy; shots like the one above could not be executed, or often even conceived, without him. A cinematographer is like a commercial photographer or graphic designer, or studio musician; his art is defined in relation to fulfilling a job in collaboration with a client, which is why the men I listed above are not famous among the general public as artists in their own right. But if you like the way certain movies look as visual art, it's time to start looking past the director, to that DP/cinematographer credit.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Stone method for uptempo jazz — 01

Most of the regular drumming literature is poorly adapted to the special conditions of very fast tempos in jazz; the practice materials are either too dense, or are triplet-based, which obviously isn't going to work. Playing those tempos is a major topic of discussion online— a little bit out of proportion for how often you have to do it in the field, actually— but most of the conversation is centered around technique for playing the ride pattern repetitively— not much about comping and actually playing music. I gave a paradiddle-diddle method a couple of years ago, and there are some good things in John Riley's books, but for the most part what is offered are strategies, or guidelines, rather than actual practice materials.

So here we have here is the beginning of a method, applying the first few pages of Stick Control to a few written exercises. We'll be seeing more of these as I develop them.

Each exercise has four comping notes, to which you will apply the stickings in Stone, playing the bass drum where there's an R, and the snare drum where there's an L. Usually it will suffice to just use Stone exercises 1-13, but you could also do ex. 63-72 to test your fluency. The cymbal pattern is mainly quarter notes; we'll be introducing the familiar three-note grouping strategically, to fit the comping rhythm. You can add extra measures of time (either quarter notes, or the regular jazz time pattern, or improvised variations on the cymbal) between exercise phrases, if you want.

Practicing these in a tempo range of around half note = 143-175 should cover you for almost any situation you're ever going to encounter; I would master that range of tempos before worrying about going into the truly stratospheric tempos. Try not to go below ~HN=120-130 to start, and don't swing the 8th notes, even when playing the exercises in medium-up tempo ranges, where you would normally swing the 8ths in jazz. You can check out my old list of tempos of famous recordings to see how you're doing compared to your favorite drummers/recordings.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Partido Alto variations

The partido alto rhythm, in this case; it's also a Brazilian song style, a type of funk groove, and a tune (see below). It's one of the major rhythms in Brazilian music— several of the batucada instruments often play versions of it, as do drums, piano, and guitar in groups with a bossa nova/jazz instrumentation. The basic idea of the rhythm is that there is a series of notes played on the beat, and then several offbeats, usually crossing the bar line. It's become a very important rhythm for me, in all straight 8th note styles.

To illustrate the basic structure of the rhythm, the first set of exercises changes from downbeats to offbeats at the bar line; I can't recall hearing the rhythm played that way repetitively in actual Brazilian music. More often the change happens in the middle of the measure, as in the second and third sets of exercises.

Also play the patterns with the measures reversed. You can use these as the left hand part on a bossa nova, or with both hands in unison on a samba, for starters; you can also build a half time feel funk groove like this— later we'll have more on how to do that:

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Very occasional quote of the day: new music

“And I said, 'How about you? Who's your favorite drummer?' He said, 'Tony Williams.' And I didn't know who Tony Williams was, so the next day I went to a record store, and on the wall was this Tony Williams record called Ego. So I bought it and took it home and put it on my turntable.

I listen to this, and it was like someone has just started speaking Greek. I was confused, because viscerally I knew there was something here that was huge, but I just couldn't get it. And so the next day I put the record on again...”

—Vinnie Colaiuta, Drum! Magazine interview, May 2014

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Busy week here, moving my girlfriend Casey Scott to Ashland, Oregon for the summer, where she will be acting and playing bass in Family Album, the new play by Stew Stewart, part of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival. I don't know theater, but Stewart is a big deal, with big awards, acclaim, and a long Broadway run for his last show, Passing Strange. Virtually the whole Ashland run is already sold out before they've even begun rehearsals, as everyone in that world is flying in to see what he's going to do next. So, until I can get back to regular blogging on the weekend, enjoy some Tom Zé:

Monday, May 05, 2014

Page o' coordination: hihat splash in 5/4

Here's the disconcerting third dropped shoe in this recent spate of hihat splash pages o'..., now in 5/4, and I...

Wow, I think that may be the ugliest, most incomprehensible sentence I've ever written. I'm going to leave it. Don't write that way. Anyway, this page of stuff will help you anticipate the 1 when playing in 5, if using my previous methods haven't done the trick:

I play the hihat heel down, here, using a very small foot motion. It's not a bad idea to count out loud— 1-2-3-4-5, 2-2-3-4-5, up to 4 measures— while doing the tom moves, especially when the moves don't resolve back to the same drum every bar. If there are four notes in the move, like snare>high tom>snare>low tom, but only three left hand notes per measure, it will take four measures to come back to the beginning of the cycle, while creating a deceptive melodic cross rhythm. It's easy, at first, to lose the larger phrase if you don't count.
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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Gladstone (et al) method for Stick Control

I stumbled across this piece of drumming lore, posted in 2006 on the Drummerworld discussion forum: Billy Gladstone's way of practicing Stick Control. According to a guy posting anonymously on the Internet. It does sound like he learned the routine from a reliable source; it's entirely possible that there are only 1-3 degrees of separation between him and Gladstone himself. Or he could be just a misinformed individual with out-of-whack priorities— you be the judge. I've never done this regime— and never will do it, because I can already kind of play the drums, and life is too short— but here it is, for posterity, and your consideration:

“This is by no means the only way to do [Stick Control], but this is a proven way to get some serious technique together. It requires A LOT of patience, and I don’t suggest starting it if you aren’t going to finish it. It’s EXTREMELY difficult sometimes. And also, the method takes about 3-5 years to complete. And you only practice the first page of the book.


Set your metronome to an 8th note of about 100. Most drummers should be able to do anything on the first page at that tempo after a few minutes of messing around. Now spend an entire week working [text is garbled— sounds like he means Stick Control, page 4, exercises 1-5]. Just singles, doubles, and the first paradiddle exercise. Only those [exercises], extremely slow. The doubles and paradiddles should sound EXACTLY like singles. It’s good to go over this method with a teacher, or to record yourself doing it on a snare drum to make sure everything is perfect. Then, one week later, you practice single, doubles, and the next exercise, inverted paradiddles (RLLRLRRL). If it takes you two weeks to get it perfect, fine. Give youself time on these excercises. 
Another difficult part of the exercise is that every minute or so you should raise your stick to at least a 12-16 inch height and play at that height for 8 measures. Then you bring in back down. You must do this perfectly in time and make sure all the strokes are still uniform in dynamic and tonal quality and all that jibba jabba. This will give you “good pain” after a while, your muscles WILL get sore, but they will never give you terrible pain. 
Remember, just like G.L. Stone said, stay relaxed 100% of the time, even when you go up. You should be putting at least 30 minutes a day into these excercises. 
So you spend 2 months, going through excercises 5-24 or something at tempo 100. Done now? Great! Now you do it all over again at 104! and 108! and 112! and 116! and so on!. Never go up more then one click on a metronome when starting the page over. 
The reason this exercise method is so difficult is because you have to be so patient. A lot of younger drummers especially want to start faster, speed up the next day, blah blah blah. If you do that you WILL NOT IMPROVE AS QUICKLY. This exercise really seriously does require patience. It apparently takes an entire year to get from 200 to 208. 
The reasons this exercise is GREAT are numerous. First of all, you are always working on singles and doubles. Singles and doubles are what most of drumming is made of. Second of all, spending a couple weeks on only one combination of 8 notes makes you completely intimate with the pattern, and you will be able to interchange it in time with any feel you want. I guarantee you that by the time you finish this exercise (in 2112 or so) you will have some SERIOUS technique. One of my drum teacher’s older students is on 176 or something(he's been doing for 3 1/2 years) and has some crazy technical abilities.

Good technique means you can learn parts faster.
Yay for good technique! 
p.s. do these excercises on a practice pad with LOTS of rebound. Don't worry, you won't need a pillow to "feel the burn" once you get to about 138 or so.”

Yay, indeed. But what do we do with that? This sort of simplicity is appealing to a lot of people— they're attracted to simple, rigorous-seeming practice philosophies, but which demand what I consider to be impossibly vast reserves of time and patience. Since there are many, many other things in drumming at least as important as stellar snare drum technique, we have to take it on faith that results of this very narrow, virtually content-free, regime will be much greater than the sum of its parts. I would also caution novices against self-teaching this regime— do not attempt it until you have spend some time with a good, professional teacher, and you have a pretty good idea of correct technique.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Groove o' the day: more DC Go Go

Last year we looked at the quintessential Go-Go groove, in my mind, played by Ricky Wellman, with Chuck Brown. Trouble Funk is another major act in that style, and their drummer Emmett Nixon did things slightly differently. Today's grooves are from the group's 1981 record, Straight Up Funk Go Go Style; and as you'll hear, the song is a long open jam, with a lot of call-and-response with the audience, with section changes made on cue, rather than following a set structure. Swing the 16th notes— this style is very sixtuplet-y:

Nixon will frequently do this with the hihat— do the open note on 1 in the first measure, and on the & of 1 on the second measure. This pattern occurs on the fade out:

This cowbell part, played by a percussionist, is sort of interesting; it is basically the same rhythm as the standard Go Go bass drum pattern, but with the halves of the measure reversed. If that bass drum rhythm were the “clave” of Go Go music— you could make a case for that— then the cowbell would be reversing clave; a no-no in music that is actually clave-based.

This same rhythm happens to be used in Brazilian music, but as far as I know there is no direct connection between the styles.

Here's the track:

Friday, May 02, 2014

Syncopation exercises in 3/4 — 01

This is a straight library piece: some syncopation exercises in 3/4, similar to the one-measure exercises in the middle section of Ted Reed's Syncopation, for doing all of the usual things you do with that book. We'll probably be seeing more of these, soon.

I've kept the format from Reed, with the quarter notes in the bass drum, even though I always ignore that part.

Get the pdf

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Al Feldstein 1925-2014

A bigger cultural milestone than most people know has been passed today: Al Feldstein, the editor of Mad Magazine for many years, has passed away. From Huffington Post:

Before "The Daily Show," ''The Simpsons" or even "Saturday Night Live," Al Feldstein helped show America how to laugh at authority and giggle at popular culture.

Millions of young baby boomers looked forward to that day when the new issue of Mad magazine, which Feldstein ran for 28 years, arrived in the mail or on newsstands. Alone in their room, or huddled with friends, they looked for the latest of send-up of the president or of a television commercial. They savored the mystery of the fold-in, where a topical cartoon appeared with a question on top that was answered by collapsing the page and creating a new, and often, hilarious image.

Thanks in part to Feldstein, who died Tuesday at his home in Montana at age 88, comics were more than escapes into alternate worlds of superheroes and clean-cut children. They were a funhouse tour of current events and the latest crazes. Mad was breakthrough satire for the post-World War II era — the kind of magazine Holden Caulfield of "The Catcher In the Rye" might have read, or better, might have founded.

"Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad, and that's where your sense of humor came from," producer Bill Oakley of "The Simpsons" later explained.