Sunday, January 31, 2016

Make your own practice loops

I have a saying: Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and you shift the burden away from yourself and wash your hands of all responsibility when he starves to death. Thus completing your shameful descent into moral bankruptcy.

I forget what my point was, but here's how you make practice loops! This will be oriented towards Windows users— I assume you Mac people already know how to do everything in the world, and will never get sick or die. If I am mistaken in that assumption, you'll have to look in your menus for the equivalent Apple keyboard shortcuts for the ones I give here. But here we go:

1. Get some music in computer format: mp3, wav. If you're like most people you must have a few terabytes of pirated music lying around. Use that.

2. Get Audacity. A very handy free audio editing program. You will probably also want a version of LAME, an open-source mp3 encoding program which will let Audacity export your finished tracks as mp3s. Otherwise all of your loops will just be giant uncompressed wav files.

3. Open your digital track in Audacity. I don't need to tell you how to do that. OK, looking at your mp3 file in Windows Explorer, right click on the file name, go to open with, select Audacity.

When the program opens, you'll see this: the Audacity interface, with your audio track visually represented on a timeline:

I know we're kind of light on things you didn't already know so far— the useful part is all after the break. Read on...

Practice loop: Black Sabbath - The Wizard

I've been making and using a lot of sampled loops lately— it's a fun way to practice. And this is a fun one: the main riff from The Wizard, from Black Sabbath's first record. It's doom-y in kind of a hilarious way. Actually playing the riff is fine, but you can run anything you want with it.

I suggest getting one of those allegedly-legal YouTube audio ripping browser extensions/add-ons/plug-ins and ripping the mp3, and setting it to loop on your mp3 player. It loops cleanly, so you can play all day without resetting it.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Enough with the prodigies.

Impressive technical abilities for
child, still a hack painting.
The universal plaintive cry is “If they're that good now, imagine how good they'll be in ten years!” Well, maybe. There's a great article on kids and creativity from the New York Times:

How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off 

They learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. 
Consider the nation’s most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes. For every Lisa Randall who revolutionizes theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential. 
Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn’t suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted — as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee. 
What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new. 
The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights. They conform to codified rules, rather than inventing their own. Research suggests that the most creative children are the least likely to become the teacher’s pet, and in response, many learn to keep their original ideas to themselves. In the language of the critic William Deresiewicz, they become the excellent sheep.
In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet “only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. “Those who do must make a painful transition” to an adult who “ultimately remakes a domain.” 
Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves. 
So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.

Continued after the break:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Daily best music in the world: crash course in rock & roll

Here's a playlist I put together for one of my new students, a 5th grader who is talented and motivated, but hasn't heard a lot of music yet. Hopefully this will help get him hooked:

Track list with album info after the break:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2-3-4 Method

With today's “2-3-4” method, I'm getting into the “give your practice idea a name so people will remember it and treat it like it's a thing” racket. This is a pretty easy method for use with Syncopation/Ted Reed-type materials— remember, that's where we read a single rhythm of the page, and extrapolate a complete drum set part from it. The “2-3-4” method is so-called because it uses fill-in patterns that are two, three, or four 8th notes long. It may not work as intended with many of the exercises actually in Reed, so I've written up a page of exercises for it.

The concept is very simple: you'll play the notes from the page (the stems-up notes— ignore the stems-down notes) on the cymbal and bass drum together, and fill in between those notes with the snare drum, or snare drum and bass drum, according to the formula below. Count them in cut time— these will be easy to play fast. The concept will come in handy any time you need to play real actively, in any genre of music.

So, all of the rhythms on the page will call for one of the following two, three, or four note patterns. For page rhythms two 8th notes long, like quarter notes or tied 8th notes:

For rhythms three 8th notes long, like dotted quarter notes, or tied quarter and 8th notes:

For rhythms four 8th notes long, like half notes, or tied 8th notes and dotted quarters:

These are just examples; you may see other combinations of notes and rests. Just look at the page, and analyze whether the rhythm calls for the two, three, or four note pattern. You can mark it in with a 2, 3, or 4 above the note if you need to. There are actually some 1s in there, too— that's the dirty little secret of the “2-3-4” method. I guess calling it the “1-2-3-4”, or the “1-4 inclusive” method seemed a little... stupid. Stupider. Anyway, any time you see a single untied 8th note, you play it on the bass drum and cymbal, with no filler note after it. I've kept those to a minimum on this page; I'll be posting some more pages that will have more of them.

Since the reading rather difficult on some of the later exercises, I've written out the exercises with the interpretation applied on the second page of the pdf. Only use it be sure you understand the method— do your practicing from page 1 and figure out the interpretation on the fly.

Get the pdf

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Transcription: Barney Miller Theme

Here are the drum performances on two versions of the very famous theme song from the TV show Barney Miller, which ran from 1974-82. The show was in syndication for many years, so the tune is well known to several generations of musicians. I sure watched a whole lot of it. The first version is by Sol Gubin, from the first season of the show; the second is by the great Paul Humphrey, from the third season. They're both playing in sort of a John Guerin studio funk bag, with the concert toms and everything...

The ending four measures of each version is played on the bell of the cymbal, and there's a third tom tom and crash cymbal used on the second version. You may need to work out some stickings on the fills on the Humphrey version as well. The drum sounds are classic 70s.

Get the pdf

The transcriptions begin at 0:00 and 2:26:

A favorite episode is after the break, if you've never seen the show...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Transcription: Billy Higgins / Tears Inside

Tears Inside, from Pat Metheny's album Rejoicing, is such a favorite track of mine, I'm surprised we haven't done anything with it before. I did transcribe the drum intro for the forthcoming[!!!] Book of Intros. So to tie into that, here's Billy Higgins comping behind the first three choruses of Metheny's guitar solo. His playing on this record is one of the greatest things in recorded drumming, and this tune is like a textbook of medium tempo bop drumming— I hate to reduce it to that, because it's primarily a great work of art, but it's also educational.

Swing the 8th notes. Higgins plays his ride cymbal at a fairly even volume— generally without the accenting characteristic of many drummers' playing; and he tends to not be over-triplety in his swing feel. He flattens it out a bit. There's no hihat audible, but you can add it on 2 and 4 if you want. He does often play time on the bass drum— feathers it, in current parlance— and probably is doing that here. You can practice the page in one, two, or four measure chunks, or learn the whole thing like an etude.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Page o' coordination: Afro 6 - 6/4 feel

Another Afro 6 POC. It's a very rich and rewarding style, which is why I do so bloody much stuff with it. I was surprised to see I had never written up this variation before— it seems obvious. The BD/HH part, which suggests 6/4 or 3/2 across the primary meter of 6/8, is not authentic to the Cuban music that is the source for this groove— not that I am aware of. We're doing this just to open up other possibilities, and increase awareness of the major cross rhythms.

Like I said only yesterday, do the left hand tom moves when you practice this.

Get the pdf

Monday, January 11, 2016

GOTD & POC: Elvin Jones — That 5/4 Bag

First-ever combined Groove o' the Day and Page o' Coordination. We're completely off the chain. From Elvin Jones's second album as leader, Dear John C., here is the major groove for That 5/4 Bag, with transcribed variations, and some exercises I've written for developing it.

Elvin doesn't sound quite as comfortable here as on his recording of 5/4 Thing five years after this; he plays pretty repetitively, with a few basic comping ideas. The ride pattern is unusual— quarter notes plus a skip note at the end. One variation he does frequently is to put a tied note on the & of 1. It's all there on the page...

I'll keep re-explaining the tom moves I use with the Pages o' Coordination— I know everybody doesn't read every single thing I've ever written. When working on these pages, I move the left hand to different drums every note, or every note or double— I don't like having to do a super-fast move between drums, so I keep very close-together notes on the same drum. I use a few stock moves; S = snare, H = high tom, L = low tom:


I find this to be a real value-multiplier— follow the link above for more explanation.

Get the pdf

David Bowie (1947-2016)

(h/t Luqman Brown)

UPDATE: A very cool article about Bowie's final album.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Simple one-handed Reed interpretation

UPDATE: Download link is working now...

This is a simple exercise which arose while working on my Zigaboo Modeliste-like half time feel funk method. It will be easy to master— it's fun to work on hard stuff, but in the field you really benefit from having a whole lot of simple things together. This will come in handy if you drop a stick, if nothing else.

Play exercises 1-15, plus the 20-bar exercise, leading with either hand. You can move the snare part around the drums, and the cymbal part between cymbals, if you'd like. You can also do flams on the drum notes, per the last example.

Get the pdf

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Daily best music in the world: Howlin' Wolf

We'll be getting back into regular blogging soon enough— I've just finished the 2015 Book of the Blog (available for purchase soon!), and am chilling out with some Howlin' Wolf right now...

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Daily best music in the world: Milton

Listening to Milton Nascimento's Clube Da Esquina 2 while working on the 2015 Book of the Blog, which should be finished today. We slowed up with the downloadable materials towards the end of the year, and I was concerned about that, but it's actually going to be pretty sweet. Over 100 pages.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Paul Bley 1932-2016

We've lost quite a few great people this week: the singer Natalie Cole, cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Haskell Wexler, Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon, and now pianist Paul Bley— word is, he passed away while listening to an album of his with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. RIP

The drummer on this recording is Barry Altschul. The ending as he plays it, incidentally, is exactly the way I end tunes whenever there's any kind of ritard and fermata— I won't play in unison with the lead instrument until the last note. Often I'll set up the ensemble last note with an accent on the drums, when there's space. I didn't think there was anything unusual about it, but a couple of people have commented. Just a little postscript on one of my favorite endings ever...

What to do in college

Wow, a whole month without any posts. Let's eaaase back into blogging after having returned from Europe with a wicked case of the flu: here's Advice To A College Music Student, by Michael D'Angelo. Here are the bullet points, which are pretty self-explanatory by themselves, but do go read the whole piece:

1) Your professional career starts as soon as you step foot on campus     
2) Be prepared 
3) Be reliable 
4) Practice your ass off
Remember, at some point in their lives, everybody good practiced 4-12 hours a day, every day, for a period of years. College is the best time to do a good chunk of that.

5) Record yourself often 
6) Listen 

7) Don’t get discouraged 
As Brad Pitt said in Moneyball, It's a process, it's a process, it's a process. Other students may be further along in their development, and progress faster than you, but that doesn't mean they're going to be better than you forever. Or even if they are, it doesn't mean they're going to be a better artist than you, or have a better career. You're young. Lots of things are going to happen with your development, and the other guy's, in the first 5-10 years you're out of school, much less the 50-75 years you hopefully have left to live. All you have to do is keep going, and not get complacent.

8) Save everything 
9) Perform as much as possible 
It's a three-legged stool: play, listen, practice. Sorry for the tired metaphor.

10) Get out of your comfort zone 
11) Don’t be afraid to ask for help 
12) Last but certainly not least, have fun
Do I have to tell you not to live in a Whiplash-style tent of fear and alienation? You are allowed and encouraged to do a certain amount of college stuff. Have a girlfriend. Check yourself if you can't stop drinking once you start, and avoid heavier, non-psychedelic, drugs— if I may completely frank. Stay away from people with predatory attitudes towards women. Do not become, or continue to be, a bro. Go to movies on campus, read some new books, work on evolving your sense of art and humor.

I would add, remember that college is college. It's not real life. Don't mistake college reality for real reality, and don't get too comfortable merely excelling at being a student. You have to embrace it enough to learn the stuff they're trying to teach you, and not be miserable for 4-6 years, but eventually you have to get tired of it and want to do something else. Personally, I embraced it to the absolute minimum possible, and probably didn't learn as much as I should've as a result. Other people I know embraced it too much, and are still working in the same building 20+ years later.

This also means that how you do in college is not necessarily reflective of how you're going to do in life. When you're out putting together a career, none of the people you hit it off with are going to give a shit if you ate it on Ballad For The Dance on fall juries your junior year.