Sunday, May 29, 2016

EZ Reed interpretation: triplet lick

Here's an easy practice method for use with Ted Reed's Syncopation, developing a triplet lick. What I like about these things is they're finite. You do the fifteen lines, plus the long exercise, and you're done. You've given yourself a good workout with whatever one little lick you're learning.

Today we're using the rarely-used triplets-and-quarter notes portion of the book— pp. 14-15. We're going to revoice the melody rhythm (the top/stems-up part from the book, ignoring the stems-down part) between the snare and bass drum, and add a basic part on the cymbal and hihat. For starters, we'll play the first two notes of the triplet on the snare drum with the left hand, the last note of the triplet and the quarter notes on the bass drum. So for this exercise from the book:

The rhythm would be voiced:

Or play just the first quarter note after the triplet on the bass drum, and all of the other quarters on the snare:

Or you could just do all of the quarter notes on the snare, too. It becomes a slightly different lick in that case:

Or mix the quarter notes up freely. Do what you want— these are just options. This fun little workout quickly becomes quite tedious if you decide to be a pill about running every single possibility.

We'll want to add quarter notes on the cymbal:

Add hihat on 2 and 4 to make a jazz-like feel:

In which case you may want to go ahead and play a complete jazz cymbal rhythm— swing the 8th notes here:

If the incessant quarter notes get to be a drag, you can just play the triplet(s) plus the quarter note right after it/them, eliminating the other quarter notes:

In real playing, beware of too many licks ending strongly on the beat, especially on beat 1. Follow the usual dynamic guidelines for jazz— balance everything with the cymbal voice; play the snare drum softly (unless you choose to add some accents) and go easy on the bass drum, especially on the quarter notes.

Playing the hihat on the 1 and 3, is more funk-like, emphasizing a cut-time feel:

In that case, you'll really be thinking of these licks as 16th note triplets and 8th notes. Be aware of how they translate:

You also have the option of playing the triplets RLB— you'll have to come off of the cymbal to do that, of course. Feel free to move that onto the toms as well.

Terry Bozzio does that a few measures into the “yowza” interlude on Dancin' Fool, by the way— RLBB with no cymbal on the end. He's got two bass drums, but it doesn't matter...

When you're doing it that way, it's easy enough to fill out the triplets for the rest of the measure, with your left hand:

There you are. Pick 1-3 ways above that make sense to you, and get to smoking through lines 1-15 plus the 16 bar exercise from pp. 14-15 of Syncopation. This is a pretty easy lick you should be able to play blazing fast with a little practice.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Funk practice loop: Betty Davis - If I'm In Luck...

My apologies for the lack of posts lately— I've been very busy with gigs, and with work on my house. Mainly installing a patio in my back yard, which involves digging up and moving out God knows how many thousands of pounds of dirt and moving in an equal amount of gravel, sand, and pavers. It can kick your ass. But here's a new funk loop I've been enjoying working with. It's sampled from Betty Davis's If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up, from her first solo album. Tempo good for any of your more demanding or dense funk practice materials, quarter note = 64 bpm. I'm using it to run the harmonic coordination section of Dahlgren & Fine— it almost sounds grooving when you play it with this loop.

Now, if I were you, I'd get one of those YouTube mp3 ripping web browser extensions, download this sucker, and put it on your mp3 player. Set it to repeat and it loops seamlessly forever. 

Video of the complete track is after the break. Greg Errico is on drums. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Page o' coordination: shuffle bass drum variations

It's a busy, busy, busy, busy time here— lots of gigs, lots of teaching, lots of work to be done on my house as we convert our little back house into an Air b'n'b. Nevertheless, here's a normal-difficulty POC for getting your bass drum together when playing a normal jazz shuffle:

Patterns 1-6, 14, maybe 15, you may end up using your actual time feel at some point. The remainder are for developing facility so you can make variations and build intensity without falling apart.

You have the option of just playing the hands in unison, both hands playing the shuffle rhythm; or you could play dotted quarters notes (or quarter notes in 4/4) on the cymbal, eliminating the skip note. But learn that page as written first.

If you want a track to play with, try Jimmy Smith's Back At The Chicken Shack. Or root around in Smith's catalog for a slower or faster shuffle.

Get the pdf

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ballard Jazz Festival happening NOW

If you're in Seattle, get your butt to Ballard. My group will be playing tonight at Egan's on Market from 7:40-10:00, with Rich Cole, Jasnam Daya Singh, and Chris Higgins.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dahlgren & Fine practice order

The “harmonic” coordination exercises from Dahlgren & Fine's 4-Way Coordination is one of the more daunting collections of junk in the drumming literature. For many years I resisted using the book at all, but I finally got my head around the possibility of it having some value, and here we are. So here's the pattern sequence I use and recommend for working on it. We're talking pages 15-18 and 20; I use it with the page 10 linear triplets, too. Here's how the patterns are presented in the book, with the letter names of the patterns:

Play each three- or four-note pattern by itself. I play the top staff followed by the bottom staff, so the letter sequence is out of order:

||: A :||     ||: C :||     ||: B :||     ||: D :||

Once you've worked through all of the patterns on the first page of exercises, you should be ready to begin combining patterns. Play all sequences of two patterns:

||: AC :||     ||: BD :||     ||: AB :||     

||: CD :||     ||: AD :||     ||: BC :||

Again, when you've covered all the two pattern combinations for the first page, you can begin playing all four patterns in sequence:

||: ACBD :||     ||: ABCD :||     ||: ADBC :||

If you are practicing many hours every day and want to get nutso about this, there may be some benefit to playing each pattern twice, on the multipattern phrases:

||: AB :||  becomes  ||: AABB :||

||: ABCD :||  becomes  ||: AABBCCDD :||

In the book each numbered system of two staves is four measures long, but I only take them one measure at a time, as above. At some point there may be some value in combining measures, doing the whole line at once, but I really don't want to make a career out of practicing this book. I don't know about you. I think when we've completed the system I've described above, we can consider ourselves to have covered it thoroughly. The purpose of the book is conditioning, after all— we're not trying to learn to play exactly like the book patterns.

Obviously, this makes a long process out of practicing these pages. I would expect to get through about a half page to one page every practice session. It's fine. There is no rush to get through it quickly.

Finally, the tempo marking will be meaningless for the foreseeable future. Cover all of the patterns at whatever tempo at which you can actually play them. About halfway through that process, you can consider upping the tempo part of the time.

Friday, May 06, 2016


Have I mentioned what a great idea it is to follow @Bose on Twitter? I follow a comedian (and former Superchunk drummer) Todd Barry, and saw this tweet of his, and had this exchange:

I thought what Barry said was a joke, but the Bose people messaged me after I followed them, took my address, and overnighted me some of their latest-generation noise-canceling headphones:

These things cost 300 bucks. And they're quite amazing; I tried practicing with the NC function on, and it seriously reduces the sound of the drums— about 75-85% I guess— so the volume through the headphones can be lower. With both cans on it's actually too much— I need to hear more drums— so I practice with one can off my ear. But I do that anyway. The sound fidelity is awesome, of course.

Anyway, I recommend you follow Bose on Twitter, and take it seriously when they start tweeting about free stuff. Follow me on twitter, too.

EZ Tony Williams-like method

EZ-ish. The concept is extremely simple, anyway. Scarcely worth writing up, but here it is. And when I say Tony Williams-like, I mean “it reminds me of one thing he kind of did on a thing I listened to a lot.” I know on the internet his name is just shorthand for five notes on the cymbal, fast, and that's it, but he occasionally played some other things. Here and there. And this thing, when I was practicing it and improvising with it, reminded me of the vibe from the blowing on Frelon Brun. It's an entry point, anyway.

We'll use the Syncopation section from Reed— Syncopation Sets 1 and 2, plus full-page Exercises 1-8. Heck, you could also use “Lesson 4” (new edition lingo— the pages with the quarter notes and 8th notes early in the book). Here's a passage that should be plaguing your dreams:

Like I said, it's easy: play the short notes (untied 8th notes) on the snare drum, long notes (quarter notes, dotted-quarters, tied notes) on the bass drum. Play the cymbal with everything. That's backwards. Play the melody rhythm on the cymbal, add snare drum on the short notes and add bass drum on the long notes, like so:

Not much to it. Sometimes you need to just play a rhythm, simply voiced. You can't play genius stuff 100% of the time.

Do whatever you want with the hihat. Play quarter notes with it for an extra Tony Williams-like effect.

Or play it on 2 and 4, or play it in unison with the bass drum, making a splash sound.

Here and there you can do some runs of just cymbal and bass drum:

Where you get longer runs of 8th notes, if you'd like, you can come off the cymbal, add some embellishments, whatever. Like with this passage from Exercise 2:

You could do something like this:

Like I said, this is an entry point. You can certainly open it up and let your own stuff find its way into the texture, or let things drift away from a strict rendering of the method. Just playing the method verbatim at a bright tempo is an excellent workout, too, though.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Getting your practice pad time in

Just copy every detail of
this photograph and you'll
be fine— KIDDING!!!
I see this question on line pretty often: “How do I get my snare drum chops together? Which system do I use?” I have a one-word system for that, and it goes: practice. Or maybe a two-word system: actually practice. Here are some guidelines for a) actually doing that, b) doing that effectively, c) doing that long enough and consistently enough to actually make a difference in your playing.

1. Get your set up together. You need a regular private space to work, a practice pad, a stand, some sticks, a music stand, a drum throne, a metronome, and a mirror big enough to see your hands. Maybe some headphones.

2. There's more to life than just the first page of Stick Control. Get some books. Technical books. method books, and books of etudes— actual snare drum solos. There's a list of recommended ones after the break. Take your pick to the tune of ~$50.

Of course, there's also a ton of stuff on the blog and in my books.

3. Make a habit out of it. Or at least a daily obligation— and not the kind you don't fulfill, and then hate yourself for it. Block out a regular time, and hit it every day. I do it after 9 pm on non-gig nights. You don't have to commit to a certain amount of time— at first— just set up your stuff, sit down, and start. Stop whenever you feel like it. When you've hit your stride, you'll hopefully not feel like stopping in less than 90 minutes.

4. Think about keeping a practice log. And then don't do it. I imagine I could guide my own progress better if I kept track of what I practiced, and at what tempo, but I just can't summon the interest. If you're inclined to do that, it might be helpful. At minimum, you might just make a note in your calendar that you practiced, and for how long; then at the end of the month you can judge whether you're really putting in an effort equal to your goals.

5. Eschew “routines.” People are fanatics about the idea of turning off their brain and following somebody's set routine, and becoming a total monster player because the guy who wrote the routine is so smart. They get into it with the intention of being a machine, man— and then burn out after a week because, hey, routines are F__ING BORING. I sometimes think the people who make these things up are deliberately trying to punish themselves and others for their interest in music, for unknown messed-up reasons.

Like, maybe I'd have the world's greatest technique if I did this routine for the 5-10 miserable years it would take to do it thoroughly, but I'm never going to find out because it's not worth it to me. I'd rather do 5-10 in prison.

Instead, allow yourself at least the possibility of staying interested by doing different things. Do what you want, and keep it moving.

6. Play repeating technical exercises for one minute. That's all. You could do them for 30 seconds if you want to smoke through a lot of things. If you must count repetitions, count them in sets of four. If you want to engage your musical brain, sing a tune. I don't do that when I'm doing practice pad stuff.

7. Check yourself. Watch your hands in the mirror and correct any weird or unnecessary motions. Try to make both hands look alike. Go for efficient, unpretentious-looking technique.

8. Keep your heights low— 2-6" off the drum. One of the most popular pieces of advice I see on the internet is “play full strokes” or “free strokes”— 90-degree strokes ~16" off the drum. Maybe that's great advice and I just don't get it, but in my life, the biggest positive change with my real-world hand technique happened after age 40, when I started practicing low.

9. Use a slow click. As much as possible, I try to keep my metronome set under 40bpm. This makes you think about the time, and tests you for accuracy every single measure you play. Set it to click half notes or whole notes or double whole notes as appropriate for whatever you're working on. If you're playing something in 4/4 at 120bpm, set your metronome for 30bpm.

10. Pay attention to your sound: tone production is actually the entire point of technique. It's your first purpose, so try to make a good sound. I think it's best to use pads with a head (like the ones Remo makes) it will pop when you're playing well, and make a crappy thin little plastic sound when you're not. I'm against silent pads— you need to hear yourself.

11. Get your videos going. Believe it or not, playing three hours of technical exercises on a practice pad by yourself can be rather boring. I need something to help the time keep moving, so I play videos on my computer. I am still mostly focused on my practicing— I just don't want to be aware of the clock slowing, stopping, and about to start running backwards. Just a little background thread to encourage you to not get up and do something else.

There's a list of recommended books after the break:

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Dahlgren & Fine linear funk method

4-Way Coordination by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine is one the more punishing books in the literature of drumming. I've written about my past issues with the book— mainly, its foundational exercises are organized based on a mathematical logic, without apparent consideration of a musical purpose— that's all. But we've made up now, and I've been using it quite a bit in in the last few years.

You should already own it, but here's a sample from the first page of exercises:

Unusual notation system aside, this looks like normal linear funk vocabulary (normal now, in part because of the existence of this book) but the way it's actually written, it doesn't sound like music. So practicing it can feel like you're digging a very large ditch. What we'll do here is look at some ways of making actual funk grooves out of it, which will hopefully be an enticement to working on it more, while making it more influential on your real-world playing.

In normal drum notation, the first measure of line 4 looks like this:

An easy thing to do to make it sound like a funk groove is to accent the snare drum on 3 (we're playing in 2/2, but for clarity I'll count the rhythms in 4), and ghost the other snare drum notes:

The next obvious thing missing that we normally expect to see is a bass drum on 1. Let's add that:

Adding a bass drum to any of the right hand/hihat notes is also a no brainer. You could use any combination of these added notes:

Much more after the break:

Monday, May 02, 2016

Page o' coordination: Ventimiglia

This is something I wrote for working on one of my own tunes: Ventimiglia, from my 2014 album, Travelogue. It's a bright 6/8 with a strong pull towards 3/4. The bass line is borrowed from Eddie Palmieri, and in fact we've seen it before in an another practice loop. I'll provide a loop sampled from my record, but you can use the Palmieri loop to do this at a slower tempo.

I do the hopefully-by-now-familiar left hand moves with all of these POCs— I think you should, too.
Be aware of how the ostinato plays in 3/4. I suggest counting in both meters as you play the exercises.

What makes playing in 6/8, and 3/4, so rewarding is that these two meters really coexist— you can play off of a simultaneous quarter note and dotted quarter note pulse— a compound 3:2 pulse.

Get the pdf