Saturday, April 30, 2016

Daily best music in the world: India

I've listened to this so many times it's like classical music; just realized I haven't listened to it in several years:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Handedness is dubious

Granted, we may have gone
overboard in the past...
There's a long blog post called Teaching Lefty Drummers, written by Illinois percussionist, drummer, and teacher Don Skoog, about the importance of handedness in drumming. I've seen it linked to more than once, which elevates it somewhat as a piece of internet drumming literature, so I think it's worth putting my contrary opinion out there. I've shared most of the article below, interspersed with my comments, written in my usual style— let's call it “irreverent.” No disrespect is intended; I don't know Skoog, and I have no reason to believe he is not a very skilled and experienced professional. But I disagree strongly with some of his ideas as he has presented them.

It begins:
I remember the very first time I ever hit a drum. It was in my first lesson, I went tap on the snare drum and my teacher’s eyebrows popped up, “Are you left-handed?” he asked. When I said yes, he stopped the lesson and turned the drumset around. “Let’s try it this way.”

My first instinct is to burst in with  fire that teacher, but I'm just being prematurely cranky. We haven't even started with this thing. A lot of good teachers will suggest left-handed students play the drums left-handed— setting up the drums backwards, riding with the left hand. I happen to think it's unnecessary, but it's not wrong. I get bothered when it's taken to the extremes we'll see further on.

Here, I'll make my case quickly: modern drumming in the North American/European mode is based on highly developed technique and roughly equal facility with both hands. We spend a lot of time working on that, to the point that natural handedness becomes of minor importance in comparison. As a teacher and as a right-handed drummer/left-handed person, my experience has been that success with a particular drum set orientation is not significantly connected to handedness in things other than drumming. For that reason, and since any player with interest in marching percussion, mallets, or timpani will have to learn to play right handed, and given the realities of sharing drumsets when sitting in, attending jam sessions, and playing gigs with a backline, I think it's best for most students to just play right handed on a normal right handed drum set. That's my view.

Continuing with the article:

     Thirty years of playing and teaching later, not a practice goes by when I don’t silently thank him for starting me out with a setup that allows me to make the best use of my natural hardwiring. 

You can't argue with hardwiring... or can you? People use that word when they want to claim handedness is very important in drumming, but they don't want to have to prove it. “Don't you get it? This is hard wiring! This is the way it is and you can't do anything about it!” is the message of that choice of words.

Countless times, as both instructor and spectator, I have seen the unfortunate results when teachers, and I include myself here, weren’t so foresighted. Many young lefties have been through the frustration of trying to play as a right-hander, adapting to an approach that negates their strengths and intensifies their weaknesses. Others develop lefty solutions for playing a right-handed kit, bushwhacking through the undergrowth and making tough decisions while their righty competition cruise along a well-worn path. 

Because drumming is so easy for people whose drum configuration is named after the hand they write with? Where are all these natural right-handers cruising effortlessly to total mastery of the instrument? How is it that I, a lefty who plays righty, play better than 99% of them?

Much more after the break:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Syncopation is so great

Here's a question that comes up often, and which I always I feel I have to address every time I have a new student buy Ted Reed's Progressive Steps To Syncopation:
Whuh— this is just a bunch of snare drum rhythms... what's the big deal? What am I supposed to do with that?” 

Mainly: It's not the book so much as it is the method used with it, which is the best method for learning to improvise and read musically on the drums. You read the rhythms in the book, and, using a galaxy of creative interpretations, create a complete drum set part from it. It's the primary method many good drummers use to play amazing-sounding stuff with minimal mental effort, while still sounding musical.

Also: You're learning to read rhythms the way they are written by professional writers and arrangers, the way they will appear on professional charts.

You learn to play off of a single, changing melodic line— like, a complicated one 32 bars long, figuring out complex interpretations on the fly. Once you've done several of those, improvising becomes very easy.

You learn to think like a horn, conceiving your drumming in terms of a single melodic line. It's a big deal for your musicianship when you think of your drumming that way— even complex, four-limb textures— and not just as a bunch of drum parts.

The format reinforces reinforces thinking in four bar phrases. In Reed, even the one-measure patterns are written out in four measure phrases. You get used to seeing four measures at a time, and you get used to moving your eye along the page even when you're reading something easy.

Even if you don't think you'll ever need to read music when you're playing, this reading-based method is still the best way to learn to play. While you're learning to read, count, and play these rhythms, you're also learning to hear them; and listening is your primary means of fitting in with the music around you, whether you're not using a chart or not. Learning through reading this way gives you clarity about what you're doing, while reducing it to its simplest form mentally, freeing you to concentrate on the music.

“Buh-but, what about all the things that are missing? Complicated 16th note rhythms, meters other than 4/4, triplet partials, quarter note triplets, etc?”

I like to give my hypothetical questioners a stammer. The point is well taken regarding other meters, and quarter note triplets. I'd like to have seen some two-measure rhythms, and some things developing meter-within-meter ideas, too. I've also had need for Reed-type exercises adapted to certain styles, with a limited range of note values, and of varying rhythmic density. I've made up some reading rules, and written up a lot of pages of exercises, and picked up some other books to cover some of those things.

The absence of 16th note rhythms is not so glaring as it seems— you can arrive at similar rhythms by playing the book in 2/2. Reed rhythms in 2/2 are functionally like complex 16th note rhythms in 4/4. True, you're not getting used to seeing the actual 16th note rhythms on the page; for that you could buy Louis Bellson's book, or use the exercises in The New Breed. I personally don't get very many charts written with those types of rhythms.

About the triplet partials— mainly the middle note of the triplet, or the last two notes of the triplet: the book is really about interpreting melodies, and we don't really see those written into melodies often. I've told you how I feel about the middle of the triplet. I don't feel it's a terrible omission. And we do play those notes with many of the interpretations, we just aren't reading them.

“OK, I get that, JEEZ! But there's hardly any words in it! I have a ton of questions!”

There are a lot of other ways to get your specific questions answered— talking to people, listening to music, and playing music. And, as a last resort, other books. It is quite possible to be an excellent drummer with very little defined verbal information. What we get in Syncopation is not verbal information, but an extremely versatile and efficient universal method for playing the drums, and interacting with music creatively.

Friday, April 22, 2016


Prince was great. This would be a good time to watch Purple Rain if you haven't seen it, or if you have.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Transcription: Joe Chambers - Granted

Here's a transcription of some jazz comping with a 3/4-within-4/4 feel, by Joe Chambers. This is from Granted, on Joe Henderson's album Mode For Joe. It's sort of a companion to the Elvin Jones Groove o' the Day for Rose Marie, where Elvin does something similar. I've just written out the first chorus of the trombone solo— because, hey, I've been slow posting stuff and I need to make it easy on myself. But this small sample is illustrative of what he plays for much of the tune.

The dominant theme with the comping is a running dotted quarter note rhythm alternating between the snare drum and bass drum; he does it from the beginning of the transcription, breaks it up a bit in measures 9-10, then picks it up again by measure 12, continuing— mostly unbroken, but with variations— until the last measure where he breaks it up for a punctuation at the end of the chorus.

The tempo is bright, but the 8th notes still swing. It's not necessary to play this up to speed to get the rhythmic thing that's happening with Chambers's comping. The notes in parentheses are played extremely softly— almost soft enough to omit altogether. Listen to the recording, and make sure the dynamics of the snare drum and bass drum parts communicate that dotted quarter note pulse.

And, just for interest, I'll note that the tune begins at 257 bpm, pushes up to about 270 by the end of the trumpet solo, and around 276 by the end of the last solo. It begins to back down on the unison horn part at 6:45, and by the head out, the tempo is about where it started. If you compare those on your metronome, they're like gradations of the same basic tempo idea— the slowest one is more deliberate, for the horns to execute the complex unison figures, and the faster tempos are more energetic, and building intensity for the solos. This is expressive use of time, and is not a fault.

Get the pdf

Monday, April 18, 2016

Orchestrations of a figure: Groove Elation

Today we'll do a little survey of ways of orchestrating on the drums a rhythmic figure— the bass line from the tune Groove Elation, by John Scofield. It's a bright New Orleans-influenced thing, with a light swing feel. There's nothing systematic about this; I just wrote up a series of largely groove-oriented things that work with the style and tempo of the tune. The orchestrations are similar to some common Reed interpretations, except I fill the space at the end of the second measure with some different, easy things.

You can play them with the 8th notes swinging, or straight; on the actual recording there's a light NOLA-style half-swing feel. Feel free to combine elements, of course— add hihat where it's not written, move the left hand to the toms, move the right hand to the toms where it's in unison with the left hand— numbers 5-7. These should be a jumping-off point for improvisation. When you get them up to speed, play them along with the recording. I'll have a practice loop of the vamp for you sometime— or you can just make your own.

Get the pdf

Listen to the actual track after the break:

Daily best music in the world: Spirit of '86

Funny how dramatically the zeitgeist can change in a few years. Did you know that fusion was actually a serious thing, for many years? Until Wynton Marsalis hit us with his thing in the mid 80s, fusion was the only thing; jazz played with acoustic instruments and a swing beat was still around, but all the energy and money was in fusion.

Individual albums had a lot more influence. Chick Corea's Elektric Band album was the huge-deal release for musicians in 1986, with everybody envying Dave Weckl's effects rack, 8 and 10 inch mounted toms, and poofy mullet. And, hey, his playing— he was sort of a super-Steve Gadd. Hyper Gadd. Now it looks like the sort of twilight of LA as the center of the musical universe.

John Scofield's Blue Matter is technically an '86 release, but we didn't hear it until around spring of '87. It's fusion, but it's more New York. The weird out-of-time snare drum thing at 0:10 and the sixtuplets on the bass drum after 0:25 announced Dennis Chambers, and what seemed to be a whole thing in drumming.

More after the break:

Friday, April 08, 2016

Jeff Watts on Billy Higgins

This is from Ted Panken's memorial drummers' roundtable on Billy Higgins, broadcast on WKCR after Billy Higgins's death in 2001. Here Jeff Watts talks about what Higgins meant to him:

I first began to collect jazz records around 1978 and 1979, just obvious things like Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach.  By a certain point I was able to identify people like that and Roy Haynes, but every once in a while I would get fooled, because I would hear a drummer who would have a certain sound in his cymbal beat that had like a street thing in it, and it was kind of reminiscent of Art Blakey but something was different about it. 
I kind of became able to identify his style just through a process of elimination, just through seeing the range of things he was able to do.  I think a lot of the things that are going to be said about him are going to be a bit redundant, as far as unique touch and his spiritual quality and the way he could conjure up things that are African and play beats that… Like many of the great jazz drummers, they would tend to put a personal stamp on things from the Caribbean and Latin America, find their own ways of playing Latin music that would in turn influence the Latin drummers.  Things like that, and the boogaloo beat he played that’s unsurpassed that I think people will be sampling twenty years from now— if they’re still doing that stuff. 
But I didn’t see him much until I came to New York, and seeing him is a whole nother trip, because you see how he goes about doing his thing.  The ease and the economy of motion he had… Probably the closest thing for me to seeing someone like Papa Jo Jones, someone that I  never got to see in person— that ease with the instrument. 
Whenever you’re trying to learn about this music, at least the way my mind works, I’ll try to put things together and get a combination of this and that.  But after seeing the breadth of his wisdom and his career, I’ve started to recognize someone who had a very organic relationship with life and with music.  Even though he had a lot of specific information under his hands and in his mind, at the moment when he interacted with the music it was like an environmental thing.  Whatever he was in the middle of, he would just find something really special for that music, something that you couldn’t just figure out.  A lot of is experience, but a lot of it is just having a very natural relationship with life and with people.  You’d see how he interacts and talks with people that I’m sure he never met before, but he would just be like a regular brother and very-very cool.

Much more at Panken's site— go read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Very occasional quote of the day: Max Roach - how you build a solo

Max Roach by Jean-Michel Basquiat
“What makes a piece an art piece is design. Design.

If you play any instrument, if you don’t create design…. If the artist doesn’t know how to utilize space and sound, and the dynamics of soft and loud — all the little things — and repitition and sequential dealing with all the rules that make up what we know as an art piece — and then some more –then it’s not [an art] piece anyway. Whether you’re playing an instrument of determinate or indeterminate pitch.

I hear some people who run up-and-down the piano and it’s not musical. All I can say is, “Well, he’s got good technique.” But I never say he’s playing music, or [that] he’s creating some design.

So when I build a solo it’s design within the structure of something, sometime. Basically it’s design. Like creating a poem, a painting, or anything else. It’s how you use [design] to set up certain things.

Space is important and dynamics are important. And things like sequences or sequential things are important. And how you relate to certain timbres on the [drum]set itself is important.

And that’s how you build a solo.”

- Max Roach, interview by Scott K. Fish

There's more— hit the link, go read the whole thing. Be visiting Fish's blog all the time— it's full of great stuff.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Best books: Odd Meter Calisthenics by Mitchell Peters

Odd Meter Calisthenics for the Snare Drummer 
by Mitchell Peters - 79 pages

I own several books by Mitchell Peters, and though they're mostly excellent, I approached this one with caution. I was not wild about his other straight technique book I own, Developing Dexterity— which isn't bad, I just do not find myself using it very productively. I blame the book when I don't practice it. But Odd Meter Calisthenics, it turns out, is excellent. I would say that (along with Gary Chaffee's Odd Time Stickings and Ralph Humphrey's Even In The Odds) it's an essential library item for anyone interested in odd meters generally— the odd */8 meters especially.

It's sort of a Stick Control for odd meters, but more performance oriented, and just better and more fun in general. It covers the major technical essentials, mainly accents, singles, doubles, mixed stickings , flams, and rolls in */8 meters— mostly in 5/8 and 7/8, with some 10/8, 11/8, and other meters. The exercises are well organized into one or two page workouts, and the learning curve for any one section is not steep; the emphasis is more on practical dexterity in these meters, rather than demanding technical combinations. Taken as a whole, the book is basically a complete practical language for the hands for improvising in these meters. Highly recommended.

As a companion to this book, I also recommend Peters's Odd Meter Rudimental Etudes, a book of fairly traditional rudimental etudes along the lines of Haskell Harr, mainly in 5/8 and 7/8.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Chaffee linear phrases in 3/4 - 16th notes - 01

I've been trying to figure out why I never did that much with Gary Chaffee's linear system; I find I'm a lot more interested when I vary the rhythm, and when I'm not always starting with the right hand. Hence today's companion to this earlier page of one-measure triplet phrases— we'll do the same thing here, with 16th notes: basic one measure phrases, starting on each note of the first pattern in the phrase.

If you need a refresher on just what the hell we're talking about here, see this explanation of the concept, along with our other posts about this type of thing.

Play these with both hands on the snare drum (not fun), moving around the drums systematically (semi-fun), or freely (actually fun), or with one hand on the hihats and one hand on the snare drum. Do be careful to maintain the stickings as you move around the drums.

You can practice the exercises repeating endlessly; or play them as fills with a time feel, playing a groove in 3, with one or two measures of the patterns ending with a bass drum and cymbal accent on 1 as you go back into the groove. You can also play them as fills with a groove in 4/4— just start the fill on beat 2. Nothing stopping you from mentally rebeaming these and playing them in 6/8, too, should you be working in 6/8 right now...

This system is designed to be playable really fast, but don't just work for speed. It will take some work to sound good and maintain the groove when playing them at slower funk tempos, too.

Get the pdf