Monday, October 16, 2017

Comping the Billy way

Here's a fresh lesson on simplicity in comping in jazz— file this along with the post about the “Kenny” note from a few years ago. I've transcribed some ideas from Billy Higgins's playing on  Things Ain't What They Used To Be with Hank Jones and Ray Drummond, from their trio album The Essence. They form an easy progression, and it's almost the order in which Billy played them on the recording.

You'll note that like Kenny Clarke in the earlier post, Higgins plays a lot of & of 1/& of 3 on the snare drum. He especially seems to be centered around the 1, and his ideas are very contained within each measure of 4— that's my feeling upon listening and not really analyzing, anyhow.

Swing the 8th notes. If you listen to the record, Higgins's phrasing is very legato, and timingwise he's playing behind the beat. People claim to love Billy's playing, but it would be a real challenge for most of them to play, sound, and be as alertly relaxed as he is here.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Practice loop: Wilson Pickett - Mojo Mama

By the way, all of yesterday's ranting and raving about people's drum covers doesn't apply to my sampled practice loops, which are lovely, highly recommended, and serve a totally different function. We're not aiming for a simulated musical performance here. The loops just act as a glorified metronome substitute and  a) give you a chance to hear your drumming exercises as musical ideas, and b) with their infectious goodness, keep you playing said exercises longer than you would have if you were just playing them solo. Or you can have fun grooving or soloing along with them— with the caveats I raised yesterday.

Today's thing I sampled from the intro of Mojo Mama by Wilson Pickett, and it'll be great for getting your 8th notes together. That's what I'm doing with it and I can already kind of play 8th notes. The tempo is quarter note = 120 BPM.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A rant: limits of playalong tracks

You playing along with a backing track.
So, I watch the YouTube videos of drummers playing along with their playalong tracks, and sounding pretty OK, and I think you know, I probably wouldn't sound any better than that doing that, but there's this nagging feeling that there has to be more to this job of drumming than following along and making all the right notes, maybe playing a cool fill for the fill part, doing cool comping junk, and generally signifying an OK jazz performance.

The notes are there, but something's wrong— the energy is all wrong. The drummers are all as relaxed as a Hindu cows, knowing that whatever they play will be accepted by the band with perfect equanimity— they will give the exact same blandoid competent performance no matter what the drummer does.

That's because the fundamental dynamic of where a performance comes from has been violated.

Usually the energy goes both ways; you play the context, but you also influence the context. In your videos the band isn't reacting to you. No one is playing extra well because they like you. No one is walking off because they hate what you're doing and they can't play with you. The bass player isn't moving his attacks around trying to get a handle on how to play with you. No one is playing too loud, or too busy, or trying to rush and/or drag. No one didn't get what you were trying to do, and blew a figure or entrance after a break. No one is disagreeing with you about what tempo was counted off. No one reacted badly when you played that one thing. Nobody doesn't quite get the idiom of the tune, and is playing the wrong stuff which makes what you're doing sound wrong. No one knows how to help you sound good so you start playing extra well. Your feathering the bass drum isn't pissing off the bass player. There isn't a famous player on the session who is actually weird to play with, and you have to figure out how to deal with that. You will never be fired. There is no possibility of you influencing the band in any way, so you forget that's even a thing.

Those are the actual dynamics in which you have to sound good and try to make other people like playing with you.

You in an actual performance.
You think these are all small complaints, and all a matter of “seasoning”, and the main thing is still getting all the right notes in there, having ideas and being able to play them during an actual pass at playing an arrangement. Surely that's the first thing a student has to be able to do, and for that, these playalong tracks are very valuable!

I don't know. Maybe. I imagine one could become a fairly complete mediocre musician by getting good at playing with them. Probably the baseline of student competency has gotten higher as they've become more popular, and means of playing with them have improved. And who cares. Seriously. Managing performance dynamics— meaning energy— is really the whole thing. What you actually have to do, after you've spent a couple of years getting the very basics together, is to play with people and figure out how to make a performance work. I think spending a lot of time polishing these drum covers is missing the boat. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Page o' coordination: Latin in 3 - 05

This is a fairly subtle variation on this Afro 6 feel, which we've covered pretty fully in the past few years, and possibly one of the easier entries in the series. I suppose you could say we're taking an incremental approach to developing and expanding on this style, learning one small new thing with each page of stuff. Today we're just using a slightly different bell pattern I heard on a Cal Tjader record, which really suggests a 3/4 feel. Increasingly jazz musicians I play with are playing waltzes with a Latin feel, which drummingwise is very similar to the Afro-Cuban 6/8 (or 12/8), except that you have to be able to count it in 3/4.

Play the snare drum/left hand part as a rim click, or normally on the snare drum, in a jazz-like way— I don't swing the 8th notes, but you could do that if you choose, treating this page almost as an interpretation of a jazz waltz. Once you can play the page that way, do our stock left hand moves around the drums. I've been practicing this along with an Afro-Peruvian guitar riff loop— perhaps I'll post that if I can figure out who it is... I may have forgotten where I got it...

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Groove o' the day: Jimmy Smith / Midnight Special

In about 1991 I lived in Eugene, Oregon, and every once in awhile KLCC 87.9 would play something that would send you immediately to Cat's Meow (the jazz record store that survived for 30 years in that little town of 100,000 people) and cause you to give up a very dear $15 buying the CD. I typically felt rich enough (and compelled enough) to do that maybe once or twice a month. One such record was Fourmost, by the organist Jimmy Smith, with Stanley Turrentine and Kenny Burrell, and Grady Tate on drums— a very great drummer who just passed away this weekend. What grabbed me was the way Tate played a shuffle, with the hihat on &s of the shuffle rhythm:

I also liked a lick he played at the end of choruses, which I still use today; he would play quarter note triplets on the cymbal and bass drum, filling out the triplets on each note with the left hand on the snare drum:

Except he did it in a way that's very difficult to notate with the snare drum filler, with the quarter triplet inverted:

You could try thinking of it this way, playing the snare drum notes very legato, and dropping them in earlier than you would when playing a strict 8th note triplet timing:

Ending the lick is also weird if you're thinking in quarter note triplet terms. Here's approximately what Tate does on the record— he fudges it a little bit at times:

Here's the recording— I played along with this a lot:

I assumed the main groove was just Grady Tate's hip way of playing a shuffle, but here is Donald Bailey playing basically the same groove with Smith 30 years earlier. My knowledge of organ trio playing is not encyclopedic, and it's similar to what Al Jackson does on the Booker T records, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's a more common groove than I'm presenting it as. No matter, to me it's the Midnight Special groove. Bailey plays a normal swing rhythm on the cymbal (Tate mixes it up with straight quarter notes), and plays the rim click on 2 or 4 only during some sections:

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - RLRR-LRLL

Part 3 of this series, where the need to write out the exercises becomes perhaps more apparent. We're playing a basic drumset orchestration of exercises from the first page of Stick Control by George L. Stone, while doing a variety of stock left hand moves around the drums. Usually when doing those moves along with an exercise I'll keep any doubles on the same drum, rather than moving on every single note; here we're doing it both ways— as you'll see, there are some very hip melodic things that happen with the toms when you split the doubles between drums.

There are 33 drumset exercises total here, so if you do them for 30 seconds each without stopping, it'll take you a little over 16 minutes to do the entire drill. I usually do them 4 or 8 times each. If you can do these along with my Betty Davis practice loop (playing in cut time, so the 8th notes are at the loop's 16th note speed), that's a pretty good first state for this exercise.

Ambitious students looking for ways to take this farther can do the same thing with patterns 6-8 in Stick Control— the paradiddle inversions, RLLR-LRRL, RRLR-LLRL, and RLRL-LRLR. After you've practiced these pages, hopefully you'll have the moves memorized, and know how they lay vs. a paradiddle, and won't need to them written out. You can also do the above exercises with any standard funk cymbal rhythm of your choice.

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Groove o' the day: Spider Webb - It Feels So Good

This is by a drummer I need to know more about, because he's great: Kenneth “Spider Webb” Rice. I guess I need to do some homework, dig up some records, and listen Jake Feinberg's interview with him.

This is the opening groove on the title track from Grover Washington's Feels So Good album, and the drumming performance is a textbook on how to play a funk arrangement. There's not really any fancy drummer stuff here, but if you play this well, nobody will care (nobody cares anyway, actually, but still). Rice shares drumming credits with Steve Gadd on this record.

To make this groove you really have to know where the quarter note pulse is, and place the 2 and 3— the little notes after the displaced backbeat on the 'a' of 1, and after the open hihat. Don't accent them, just think about them and place them. As you listen to the track you'll hear some of the 16th notes swing— on that ending bass drum note, and on some of the fills. The snare drum on the 'a' of 1 is not swung, however.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Linear Chaffee lick in 32nd notes

This is one of the more fun-and-easy-and-cool-sounding short linear phrases from the Gary Chaffee pantheon: 5 notes (RLRLB) + 3 notes (RLB). Today I've written out some ways of playing it as a 32nd note lick in a funk or fusion context. I guess we're going a little “gospel chops” today, teaching you a canned lick— don't abuse it.

Play the cymbal part on any cymbal— on the version ending with the RL cymbal hits, catch the ride cymbal and the crash cymbal, or whatever you have on the right and left. Don't try to get both hands over to the hihats for that. Take some time to figure out some different possibilities for moving the actual lick around the drums. On some of the examples where the lick happens earlier in the measure, I've written in some simple fills to finish the measure— you should also improvise your own fills there, as I've indicated on the page.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - RRLL and variations

This little series presents a kind of writing problem; it has to be either very short or very long, each of which will hit resistance with users. I've done it the long way, simply because it's the only way anyone may actually practice the thing. The first entry and today's entry are easy enough to figure out on the fly by following simple instructions, but they're good preparation for reading the later entries, so go ahead and read through them.

This is a very basic drumset orchestration for the 8th note sticking exercises found at the beginning of Stick Control, by George L. Stone. We're simply moving the right hand to a cymbal, and playing the bass drum in unison with it, and then doing a number of stock tom tom moves with the left hand. We'll also do them in a triplet rhythm. And practice any very similar exercises found in Stone— for example, today's starting pattern is RRLL; you should run the same steps with LLRR, RLLR, and LRRL.

We've opted to be very thorough with the tom moves, covering all possible combinations, and it it will take quite of bit of time to get through all of them. Which is a good thing— tricking you into playing the basic pattern for longer than you would have is half the point. The patterns we're covering are very fundamental, and you want to be really good at them in a variety of rhythms, tempos, dynamics, and movements around the drums. Note that we're in 2/2— cut time— so each measure is two beats long, and we're playing a four-note subdivision— treat these exercises as you would 16th notes in 2/4. You can also play the 12/8 versions of the exercises (on page 2) as sixtuplets in 2/4.

I've only written out left hand moves, but you can also move your right hand between cymbals. Just improvise those moves as you play through the written exercises; if you try to be systematic about it you'll never finish this thing.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Transcription: Blues March - two intros

Two intros to a famous tune: Blues March, by Benny Golson. One is by Art Blakey, from the Jazz Messengers album Moanin', and the other is by Lex Humphries, from Art Farmer and Benny Golson album  Meet The Jazztet.

Swing the 8th notes on both intros, except the roll-off in the last two measures, which is played with straight 8ths. And of course the 16th note part of the Humphries intro does not swing. Rolls are all multiple-bounce— 16th note pulsation 5-stroke and 9-stroke for the short rolls, triplet pulsation 13-stroke for the longer rolls. Both drummers play their flams pretty flat; the grace note is so tight against the main note it's sometimes hard to tell if they are playing flams. It's noteworthy that on each recording when the band comes in the tempo slows down— to 130 on the Blakey version, and 140 on the Farmer/Golson version. Maybe that happens all the time; it never occurred to me to check that on other recordings.

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Audio of the tracks is after the break.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Practice loop in 6/4: Lilin

Here's that practice loop for yesterday's Figure Control page in 6/4, sampled from Lilin, played by John Zorn's Masada. The tempo is a little easier than the other recent loop in 6.

You'll also find this useful for working on any harder triplet coordination materials you may be struggling with— I've been using it to walk through the triplet “harmonic” independence portion of Dahlgren & Fine, or the jazz independence portion of vol. 3 of Gary Chaffee's Patterns series. Just make the first three notes of the practice loop the rate of your 8th note triplet. That puts your quarter note at about 65 BPM.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Figure Control: 6-4 - Lilin - 01

Let's just assume every post begins with an apology for the light posting— I've just been very busy with playing, teaching, and getting ready for an art show this past few weeks.

This Funk Control/Figure Control/Whatever Control format I've been working with lately is proving to be quite a useful concept— taking interpretations commonly applied to Syncopation, and using them with a single rhythm, and then combining them. Today we've got another rhythm in 6/4, based on the bass vamp from Lilin, a tune played by John Zorn's Masada.

There will be a practice loop to use with this page forthcoming in the next couple of days. The tempo is more reasonable than that of the Free Design loop we used with the previous page in 6.

Play through the base rhythm and iterations at the top of the page once,  just so you can be familiar with the foundations of the lettered exercises. Then learn the individual lettered exercises, repeating each of them many times. Then practice combining lettered exercises, in the following template:

A-B, A-C, A-D, etc... B-C, B-D, B-E, etc... C-D, C-E, C-F, etc...

Follow that system until you've played all combinations of patterns. Note that you don't have to work backwards; when you get to the combinations starting with B, you don't have to do B-A, because you already did A-B when you did the As.

With each combination, play each component pattern one or two times, repeating the entire combination phrase many times:

||: A-A-B-B :|| 
||: A-B :||

With all of the pages in this series, there are so many exercises and combinations of exercises to learn, that if you really have a problem with any of them at a certain tempo, there's no problem with just cutting those exercises from your routine. Learning to play the exercises is just the first part of this system— what's more important is learning to combine whatever patterns you can play really well. There's no point in including a pattern you're really struggling with in practicing that part of the system.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Michael Shrieve interviews Elvin Jones

Very busy this week, so just another little link share of something very cool: part 1 of Michael Shrieve's interview with Elvin Jones. You'll probably want to follow Shrieve on Facebook, too— he's always posting good stuff.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - basic

This is the type of thing I usually wouldn't bother writing out, the instructions are so simple, but the more advanced variations are challenging enough that you'll want to see them on paper. So let's start with the very basics.

What we are doing is playing the first exercises in Stick Control on the drumset. Today we're using the very simple RLRL pattern from page 5. R-indicated notes are played with the right hand on a cymbal, with the bass drum in unison; L-indicated notes are played with the left hand moving around the snare or toms, according to a set of stock moves.

We're in 2/2, so we'll be playing a four note subdivision— functionally “16th notes.” You could count the rhythms 1e&a 2e&a if you wanted. Set your metronome to half note = 60 or faster. For the 12/8 version, set your metronome to dotted quarter note = 60 or faster. Play the RLRL exercises which I've written out, then apply the same orchestration/moves to the LRLR sticking.

Adding the left foot: In 2/2 you can play quarter notes, half notes, or the 2 and 4 (counting in 4/4). In 12/8 put the hihat on dotted quarter notes, or the 2 and 4— remember 12/8 is a compound (“triplet” subdivision) meter counted in 4, with the beat falling on a dotted quarter note rhythm. The simple way to put that is:12/8 = triplets in 4.

Learn this straightforward template well; we'll be applying it to a few other Stick Control exercises, and maybe some related things not found in that book.

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Best books: Timbale Solo Transcriptions by Victor Rendon

Just a link share today for anyone interested in Salsa, Cuban music, and related musics. From Unlocking Clave's Facebook feed, here's a nice free book, Timbale Solo Transcriptions by Victor Rendon.

Do give Unlocking Clave and Rendon a follow.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why jazz

Pourquoi le jazz? The question on
everyone's lips.
An item related to our old music post last week: this is a reader question sent to Portland bassist Damien Erskine (nephew of Peter, and an outstanding musician). The questioner is an electric bassist who is into funk and fusion:

Q: I struggled with asking if I HAVE to learn trad jazz or if I SHOULD learn it, so take this question as both. And just as a disclaimer, I’m using “trad jazz” to mean the standards and the jazz being played predominantly from the ’20s to the ’60s and the styles that encompassed. 

So we're clear on terminology, “trad jazz” is a term that has come into use in recent decades, which means Dixieland, and probably would also include “Gypsy” jazz. It does not mean contemporary modern jazz of the 20s-60s, as this person implies. If you're on a gig and someone calls Dolphin Dance, and you say “I'm not into that trad stuff” or “cool, I love trad jazz” you will get a very funny look and probably never be called again.

He continues:

I’ve been led by a lot of people to think that, even if you’re into more funky fusion styles of jazz, in order to play more modern stuff proficiently you should learn to walk, transcribe, and learn standards, etc., etc. And even if you aren’t playing that kind of music the discipline and technical gains will help you as a player, which I have no doubt is true. But if I am definitely most interested in more funk/fusion type music and I rarely ever listen to traditional jazz how important do you think it is it to practice this stuff? This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time. I’ve jumped into learning to walk and solo over standard changes but always found myself jumping out after a while because it just doesn’t relate to what I like to play and the music I hear and like to write. And I don’t listen to it that much either which makes it more difficult. 
If I had 5 hours a day to practice, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. I could fit in many different topics to practice. However, real life limits the number of hours I have to practice. So I guess this boils down to wondering if I should be spending my time in the shed on things that are really not totally related to what I like to play just for the knowledge I will gain on the instrument and for the technical and overall musical outcome it will provide. 
Maybe another way to sum it up and put it is this: Should I be learning the bass lines on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage album to help me better play and write the type of stuff he was doing with the Headhunters, which I’m much more into musically?

The question is kind of a throwback to the 70s and 80s— the last time funk influences seemed to be eclipsing swing influences in jazz. I suppose it's easy now to forget how successful Wynton Marsalis's campaign was to re-center jazz around bebop. For decades it has been an unquestioned thing that if you're calling yourself a jazz musician in any way, shape or form, you have to be able to play bebop.

I actually don't know what the questioner here is complaining about— learning to play acoustic bass would be a much bigger commitment than just learning to play jazz on electric. Like, learn some tunes and shut up. For drummers, though, bebop is quite different stylistically from anything else we do, so maybe the question is more relevant— it involves a big commitment of time and attention.

Here's why to do it:

It's a baseline skill for professional drummers. Jazz has been dying, so they say, since the 50s, but it keeps hanging around, and there are still significant gigs available. Many of the steadiest and best paying gigs accessible to average players involve some degree of playing jazz.

There's a professional culture built around it.
Apart from gigs where you actually have to play jazz, there is a sizable cadre of professional musicians who are primarily jazz musicians, who will really only call other jazz musicians for gigs— whatever the style of music. At the very least, they're most likely to call people they already play with, which will be jazz guys.

It's what's taught in school. If you're in high school or college and wanting to play modern music, jazz is the main form in which they teach it.

Teaches you to improvise. There's a reason jazz musicians don't sweat rehearsals— indeed, it's hard to get them to rehearse at all: they have learned to sound good the first time they play something, with or without music, without ever having heard the tune before.

Teaches you to think melodically.
Not just in the Ari Hoenig sense of tapping out melodies on the drums, but in the sense of playing off of the melody of a tune, or a bass line, or a soloist. See the Syncopation-based methods I'm constantly talking about... that system was originally created in aid of playing jazz, and most teachers only know it in that context.

Teaches you to play musically. There are numerous large and small ways in which the demands of playing jazz improve your overall musicianship. Do you think I have time to think of them all and list them all for the sake of a little blog post? Sir or madam, I do not.

It's what good drummers do.
It's a very creatively rewarding and challenging field of music, which is the type of thing intelligent, ambitious players seek out. Even if, like me, you don't think you're very intelligent, you should just do what the smart people do. Imitate their actions, and in a couple of decades no one can tell the difference.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Transcription: Steve Gadd - Autumn Leaves

We should make a series out of this: “little known records where you can learn more about a drummer than from his really famous ones.” Something like that. This 70s album by Chet Baker gives you a chance to really check out Steve Gadd's jazz playing. You've heard him kill it with Chick Corea on albums like The Mad Hatter and Three Quartets, but maybe you could use an easier entry into what he's really doing. On this record the tempos are a little slower, the tunes are standards, and the drums are mixed right up front. Gadd tends to be thought of as a studio/fusion/R&B player, but he's also a great, very influential jazz drummer. There are a lot of elements to his playing that have become stylistic features of post-60s jazz drumming— his playing embodies some classic elements of newer playing the way Art Blakey or Philly Joe Jones did 50s playing.

The album is She Was Too Good To Me by Chet Baker, released in 1974. The tune is Autumn Leaves, from which I've transcribed Gadd's drumming during the two choruses of Bob James's Fender Rhodes solo. Autumn Leaves is 32 bars long with an AABC form, but in this arrangement by Don Sebesky, the C section is 6 bars long plus an 8-bar tag— 14 measures. It sounds weird, but the tag just begins on the last note of the tune. They play the elongated form every time— on the head and on every chorus of the solos (sometimes arranged tags are played on the head only, or on the last chorus of solos only).

What he does owes a lot to Elvin Jones, simplified and polished, emphasizing Gadd's own deep groove. The cymbal interpretation is similar, and Gadd plays a lot of triplets in three and four way coordination. I hear a lot of Roy Haynes in Gadd's big syncopated accents on the cymbal and bass drum or cymbal and snare. Certainly there's a Tony Williams influence, but it's less obvious to me— certainly in the use of larger toms and bass drum.

The drum sound is different from a typical jazz sound through the 60s, and in the 90s and later; it's punchier, with more bottom. The tom toms are larger, with Black Dot heads tuned low, maybe with the bottom heads removed. The snare drum is tuned lower than normal for jazz, with a fat, muffled sound. Basically a straight studio pop sound for the time.

An interesting thing I'm noting on the second chorus especially is some feathering of the bass drum, mainly on the 2 and 4. There also seems to be a fair amount of playing both feet in unison. Interesting avenues for exploration if, like me, you want to add some bottom but you don't want to be playing quarter notes on the bass drum all night. The feathered bass drum is not in the transcription— everything I've included is a full, audible note.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Our interest in old music

Is this what you us to be, Bishop?
It occurred to me that most of the music we cover on the blog is fairly old: 20-70 years for the most part, with not a lot from the present century. It's good to be explicit on what that's about. We're not into old music for its own sake— we're not pining after the music of our youth, or some mythical golden age before we were born. It's primarily about taking in the whole modern history of our instrument, the way people in all other creative fields do. Painters don't question the value of looking at artists one, two, or five or more centuries old. Writers don't resist reading authors so old modern English hadn't even been invented yet.

In my thinking, the modern era of our instrument, the drum set, runs from roughly 1945 to 2017; about 70 years. On the blog we're most interested in the middle 40, about 1955-1995. In the mid to late 40s, the drumset became more or less standardized in its modern form, and the language of drumming evolved into what we currently use— even when playing earlier music, drummers now largely use language developed in the 40s. At that point drummers became perhaps more pure musicians— the players we like to follow had mostly lost the show drumming and Vaudeville elements that were a feature of earlier playing. And the actual style of music played then is still played today— bebop is regarded as the foundational style for jazz musicians, and it's widely taught in college. Also in the late 40s the LP format was first used to record jazz, allowing each side of a record to be more than 3 minutes long. At the same time recording technology improved fidelity to the point where engineers could record full drum sets played normally, and the drums could be heard clearly on the recording.

We are not enamored with fedoras
literally or metaphorically. 
So drumming of that period and after is easily studiable, and is directly relevant to currently-played music in an obvious way. Before that, a more archeological approach is required, and more education, to figure out what you're listening to, and why it's relevant to current drumming. We could consider the music of the teens-30s to be drumming's ancient world. The evidence is more fragmentary— the constraints of the recording technology of the time have left us with less to study. I wouldn't take that idea too far— we're still talking about a period of history within the lifetime of, for example, my grandparents (b. 1890s-1910s), and music that is still performed and still in the culture. It shouldn't be dismissed, but it's more of a challenge with regard to learning from the drumming.

Since we're into the job of playing the drums, we also are most interested in music that highlights that— a drummer playing a complete tune from beginning to end. We also like a fairly natural sound, in which we can visualize the actual performance. That's the reason we don't really get into much drumming involving a lot of electronics, or sampling, or very artificial production and processing— all increasingly prevalent since the 80s.

So what does this mean for us as artists? If we're just into music from 40-50 years ago, aren't we going to sound old fashioned? Aren't we just doing things that have been done?

Not really. Whatever is the formal history of something you play, you're playing it in the moment, in interaction with other players, in the context of a living musical event. And present drumming is heavily reliant on the drumming of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Sampling has made drumming stylistically of that period directly relevant to modern music. The actual content of modern drumming has not radically advanced; things played by, say, Tony Williams or Jack Dejohnette or Jon Christensen in the 60s or 70s are conceptually as modern as anything played since.

Once the future of men's fashion.
I consider it a creative advantage to not be too caught up in transient stylistic things, which often have not been real useful in the field (see any number of drumming trends popular on the internet), and generally do not live up to their hype longevity-wise: the Jungle thing (in the future, all tempos will be very fast), the glitch thing (mimicking an electronic form of “swinging”, which has evolved into something kind of stupid), tonal melodic playing (actually one player's signature thing), all of which have come and gone as the new future of drumming.

There have been, and continue to be many great, individualistic players working more or less within a language and concept developed in the 60s-80s. It's not a problem. Painters did not stop painting after the 1950s, by which time the frontiers of what could be done with pigment on a two-dimensional surface had been fully explored. The historical imperative to do the next most formally radical thing is exhausted, and people are free to paint what they want, drawing from the entire history of the medium.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Transcription: Jack Dejohnette - Backwoods Song

In honor of the passing of the guitarist John Abercrombie— along with Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and Bill Frisell, one of the most important guitarists of the last ~45 years— here's Jack Dejohnette's playing on the opening of Backwoods Song, from the first Gateway album. Gateway was Abercrombie's trio with Dejohnette and Dave Holland. Every serious drummer needs to own all four of their records: Gateway, Gateway II, Homecoming, In The Moment.

I've transcribed the intro and head of the tune, up to the beginning of the guitar solo— probably I'll write out more of the track for a future Dejohnette transcription e-book.

There's a lot of stuff on the page, but this is pretty straightforward and playable. Play rolls, ruffs, and drags open— as 32nd note doubles. Where I've notated 32nd notes, play an alternating sticking. There are also a number of closed buzz-strokes, indicated with the z articulation. It's interesting where he plays the hihat with his foot— often when it's played sporadically like this, it seems to be happening by accident; the player is moving his foot the whole time, and occasionally some notes sound. Here Dejohnette mostly plays it during fills, not so much during the regular time feel— it's interesting to me because it suggests deliberation. I don't know if that observation will mean anything to anyone else.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Meter-within-meter: 5/8 in 4/4 rock - 01

This is something inspired by Joey Baron's playing on Bill Frisell's Child At Heart— I always come back to the same few things, and that's a particularly fertile, mainly simple, piece of drumming. Some of what he does sounds like it's derived from another meter, which leads us to what we're doing today: playing a rock beat in 5/8 in 4/4.

I'll state up front that the “metric modulation” thing currently fascinating the internet is not what we're about here. This is more about bringing a way of phrasing into your rock playing which you would not arrive at just thinking in straight 4/4.

On the page we have the basic idea in 5/8; then played twice metered in 5/4; then in 4/4 several one, two, three-measure (with an extra measure of 4/4 time at the beginning), and four-measure practice phrases, with the 5/8 pattern starting on 1, and with the 5/8 pattern on the end of the measure— the last five 8th notes of the measure. The accents are mainly for the hihat, but you can also accent the bass drum— notice that the first note of the 5/8 pattern is accented, and the last is not. It's not a terrible idea to count out loud in 4, especially on the longer practice phrases.

Practice the phrases, run them with the Child At Heart practice loop, and let this idea come into your actual playing in an organic way. You should at least hear some new phrasing possibilities even if you don't want to do this thing exactly.

Get the pdf

Friday, August 18, 2017

Figure Control - 6/4 - 02

Another page of Funk Control type exercises for use with my Stereolab/Free Design practice loop. We're calling this portion of the series Figure Control since it's not really funk, and we're basing the exercises on a specific rhythmic figure— I'm still working it out the concept. The practice variations are slightly different from the first page in 6/4, too. The tempo of the Stereolab loop is pretty cooking, so you might find a slower one to work these up.

You remember the methodology: learn each of the lettered practice exercises, and play them many times, say for one minute each. Then combine them; play every combination of patterns:

A-B, A-C, A-D, etc / B-C, B-D, B-E, etc / C-D, C-E, etc

For whatever letter exercise is first in the combination, you only have to combine it with letters that come after it. For example you don't have to practice B-A, because you already did A-B when you practiced the As.

Play each exercise in the combination one or two times; play the sequence many times:

||: A - B :||
||: A - A- B - B :||

The cymbal part in the exercises can be played on any cymbal; if an open hihat is indicated, play that exercise on the hihat. The drum parts can be played on the snare drum or moving around the drums.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Groove o' the day: Milton Nascimento - Tudo Que VocĂȘ Podia Ser

My apologies for the lack of new posts. I'm putting together a new show of my paintings— first one in 15 years— and that has been occupying most of my spare time of late. Here's a straightforward little GOTD played by one of my favorite Brazilian drummers, Robertinho Silva: Tudo Que VocĂȘ Podia Ser, on Milton Nascimento's epic Clube de Esquina album. The groove happens mainly on an instrumental break between vocal parts. The crash happens every measure.

Silva plays through one of the verses without the crash:

What the heck, since the groove is pretty easy, let's do a practice loop too. At quarter note = 99 BPM, this will be a good right hand workout. Practice it with and without the crash. Here's a link to the actual song, which you'll love.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Groove o' the day: Billy Cobham - The Dancer

Today we have a funk samba groove from Billy Cobham, playing The Dancer on Stanley Clarke's School Days— one of the biggest fusion albums of the 70s. We're actually throwing a bone to the open-handed players here, because I think Cobham was playing his left hand on the hihat on this. The break in the bass drum pattern on 4 is unusual for a samba feel; the long sound on 4 is also very 70s-fusion to me. This is a very 70s groove.

There are three tom toms here— two medium-pitched drums and a 20" or 22" gong drum. If you don't want to screw with the open-handed thing, just play your right hand on a cymbal. It's not a big deal. The groove develops somewhat during the tune, but the toms are always prioritized. There is a recurring unison on the snare and tom tom on beat 4 of the first measure, which requires a fast move from the hihat to a drum. The quick open hihat on the e of 3 of the second measure is not really a regular part of the groove— you can continue the regular hihat rhythm there if you want.

Monday, July 31, 2017

When they say they have drums

All right dude I told ya we had
a sweet drum set for you, here you go
They don't have drums. You're going to get burned. Always.

Pardon me— I just had a couple of annoying gig and rehearsal experiences— most recently one where I was told there would be drums “aplenty.” Bad sign.

I think the worst situation I ever found myself in was on a gig in Germany, where the club was supposed to provide a nice jazz set, and it turned out the only drums in the building were part of a Sonor student set, with a 24" bass drum, a 10" tom, and a 12" tom, and that's it. Another good one was arriving for a month long engagement at a 4-star hotel in Hong Kong, and finding a battered set of Pearl Exports that wouldn't have been out of place in some kid's garage in Kentucky.

Let's briefly go over what you need to bring to situations where people claim they have drums for you. We're assuming you're bringing your cymbals, sticks, and a drum key no matter what. 

Absolute minimum, flying by the seat of your pants, rollin' the dice: 
— Hihat clutches in the two standard sizes. Odds are 50/50, maybe 60/40 against the hihat stand having a clutch. And it sucks getting stuck without usable hihats. 
— Cymbal felts, sleeves, and washers. These will be absent. We don't want metal touching our cymbals while we're playing. Wingnuts are up to you— companies have gotten propriety with their wingnuts, and whichever ones you buy probably won't work. You can play with the cymbal on the thing without a nut.

Normal faith in humanity, a tad unrealistically so; bring the above plus: 
— Snare drum
— Bass drum pedal
— Throne
— Cymbal stand (they're always going to be short one)

A sane level of paranoia. What you actually have to bring; the above plus: 
— Another cymbal stand. 
— Snare stand (extreme paranoid types will bring two snare stands in case there is no tom mount, or the tom mount is defective)
— Hihat stand
— Duct tape, screw driver, pliers, WD-40
— Rug
— Basically everything but tom toms and bass drum. 

You can decide for yourself what level of mistrust suits your personality; how important the gig or rehearsal is, and how big of a hardship it will be when they don't have the exact item you decide not to bring. It's very hard to get out of the house without cymbals, snare, and a stand case. Usually I would have to have seen the drums— recently— to bring less.

Some people get weird and panicky about having spare heads, but that's never been a problem for me. I think the only reason to bring heads is if you routinely break or damage heads, and you're going to need to leave some new ones for the next guy. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Groove o' the day: Betty Davis - Shut Off The Light

Fairly funky thing here... fairly compared to nuclear war, maybe... the opening groove from Shut Off The Light from Betty Davis's Nasty Gal album. Drums are variously credited as being Nicky Neal, Semmie Neal Jr., and Buddy Williams on bass drum— sounds like there was an overdub in there later in the tune. We already have a transcription of the title track from this album credited to Semmie Neal, so we'll stay with that here too.

The cue in the pickup measure is keyboards, and drums are in on the & of 1 of the first full measure. There are no tom toms or cymbals other than hihats anywhere on the track.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

EZ “harmonic” independence

Fairly EZ. EZ compared to the thing it's based on. This is something that came out of practicing the harmonic independence section of 4-Way Coordination by Dahlgren & Fine. Looking at that book makes you go crosseyed after the 8th or 9th hour, so this is a nice change of gears that should help acquire at least the easier patterns out of that book.

The essence of that part of 4-Way Coordination is to play Stick Control-like sticking patterns with your hands while playing different Stick Control-like patterns with your feet. It's kind of a goofy idea, so just think of the exercises as coordination conditioners, rather than as an actual way of playing.

We could try to create similar patterns just using Stick Control, but it would require way too much mental effort for my taste. It's easier if we use our old friend Syncopation by Ted Reed. If you're far enough along in your studies to be messing with Dahlgren & Fine, it will be easier to use Reed.

We'll use the Syncopation section of Reed to make a pattern for both feet: the right foot plays the written part (ignoring the stems-down part, usual), the left foot fills in the remaining 8th notes. You should start with the one-line exercises, but for the examples we'll use our usual excerpt from Reed.

So this:

Becomes this:

To that we'll add some simple sticking combinations with the hands, in unison with the feet. We'll do the same orchestration on the drums as with my last Dahlgren & Fine post on this subject: hand notes in unison with the bass drum are played on a cymbal, and hand notes in unison with the hihat are played on a drum— snare or tom tom.

Start with running 8th notes played all with the left hand or all with the right hand:

You can then do one full measure R only alternating with one full measure L only— there's no need for me to notate that. Next do two beats with the R and two beats with the L:

And then one beat of each, RRLL, or LLRR:

And then alternating, RLRL or LRLR— you may find this to be surprisingly challenging:

If you get this far, you may be able to try some other stickings:


Or maybe a few of the more complicated stickings:

RLRR LRLL (the big test)

Beyond that, you may as well go back to 4-Way Coordination. I don't want anyone having a stroke trying to keep track of this stuff. Doing things that demand focus = good, but let's be reasonable.

When you get really fed up, there's an easy derivative exercise making a funk groove out of it: play the feet as I've described, play 8th notes on the cymbal with the right hand, and play the 3 on the snare with the left. Or, what the hey, you could reverse the hands and do it “open-handed”— you already practiced doing the running 8ths with your left hand. We're working on independence here, so why not?

Now, let me be clear: I've been playing the drums a long time, and I've never felt the need to practice this kind of thing— sticking patterns between the feet. I don't see that as an end in itself. It's more a way of practicing some physical coordination you might not do with any other way. And since what we're doing with the hands and bass drum are fairly normal, we're maybe hoping to gain a little more independence with the left foot generally.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

FIGURE CONTROL: 6/4 - Free Design riff

Stretching the concept of my Funk Control series a little bit. Here we're just doing some basic orchestrations with a rhythmic figure, the vamp in 6/4 from Stereolab's The Free Design, which I posted before as a fun practice loop.

The idea behind this and the Funk Control series is to learn all the patterns, play them many times, then do all possible combinations of patterns using the following logic:

A-B, A-C, A-D... B-C, B-D, B-F... C-D, C-E... etc

Play each combination many times, playing each component pattern one or two times:

||: A - B :||  or  ||: A - A - B - B :||

Feel free to move your hands around the drums and cymbals. The cymbal part can be played on the ride cymbal or hihat— obviously any that include open hihat must be played on the hihat. There are some places where the hands are in unison; feel free to play the right hand on a tom tom instead of the cymbal. The part written on the snare drum line in the middle of the staff can be played on the snare, or on any drum.

The first two lines just illustrate the foundation rhythm, and the basic orchestrations from which the other orchestrations are derived.

Get the pdf

Friday, July 14, 2017

Todd's funk shuffle drill

This is a loose collection of stuff with which you can drill a rather busy, modern funk shuffle feel or triplet funk feel, a la Lopsy Lu or The Brecker Brothers' Inside Out:

OK, those examples are 40 years old, but people still play this way— if they're lucky, actually...

And this is indeed another practice method for use with Ted Reed's Syncopation— if you're not practicing that way, you'd better get on it. Talk to your teacher about it, or get some Skype lessons with me— something. This is how you learn to play. The examples here use the very famous first line of the very famous p. 37 exercise (which is on p. 38 of the new edition of the book):

We'll be using the Syncopation section of Reed— pp. x-x— reading the top line only, as is usual for that book. Play the book rhythm on the bass drum, except notes on the 2 and 4, which you play on the snare drum. We want to have a running snare drum backbeat, so if there's a rest or a held note on the 2 or 4, go ahead and add snare drum. Play quarter notes on the hihat or ride. Swing the 8th notes.

Next, do the same thing, but play entire line on the bass drum as written, plus the 2 and 4 on the snare, and the quarter notes on the cymbal. There will be some unisons between the snare and bass now. I haven't notated anything for the left foot here, but when your right hand is on the ride cymbal, you can add left foot on 2 and 4, or wherever you like.

The next few things are based on a very common Reed method, in which the RH/RF are played in unison, and the LH fills in the triplets. I usually move the RH to the snare occasionally to break up any multiple lefts, you can do this, or not:

Do this same method, except accent the 2 and 4 on the snare drum. If there is no snare on 2 or 4, add it:

Do that again, with quarter notes on the cymbal:

And with a jazz rhythm on the cymbal:

You could also do it with a straight shuffle rhythm on the cymbal if you are so moved. That gets to be a whole lot of activity when filling in the triplets, so I only bother with it when playing the simpler version.

As I'm further along in drilling this, I will occasionally go to the alternating-sticking version of the triplet way, with accents on the cymbals. On either the last measure of a line or the last two measures, like a fill. In this style of playing, doing this fill-like thing, I will play the snare drum fairly strongly— for the rest of this drill the snare should be played softly, except for the 2 and 4.

That adds up to a lot of stuff. You can rigorously play all these things with all the exercises, and it will take maybe 90 minutes to just play through it. If you've played that first triplet interpretation before, you can get through it much faster. Make about a 30-45 minute drill out of it, moving fairly quickly through the easy parts, combining methods, adding your own fills (alternating triplets on the drums or with both hands in unison are always good). We're interested in improvising, reading, and developing musically here, so you don't need to be too picky about getting every detail of the instructions exactly right.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The hard way

Lately I've been noticing a lot of talk about doing things the hardest way possible— among
drumming students there's a great fear of “crutches” and “cheating.” The path of least resistance offends people's protestant work ethic, or it doesn't jibe with their athletic sensibility of no pain, no gain.

This mindset is all wrong. Craftsmen in every field economize and mechanize, and use whatever tools are available to them to make their job easier, and give them reliable results. Work smarter, not harder, is what they say.

Take a look at an pre-computer cartooning or commercial art how-to book— that example leaps to mind for me because we had books like that around when I was young— the entire project is based on doing everything the easiest, most repeatable way possible, while keeping the hard parts to an absolute minimum (which is not to say there are no hard parts). You've got a deadline to keep, and can't just draw everything freehand directly from your mind onto the page. They have an entire arsenal of tools and techniques that are essentially cheating, if you have the above attitude.

If I were to apply a pure production mindset to drumming, I would probably be doing a lot  with sequencing, using electronics, triggering, click tracks, quantizing and editing in Pro Tools to make the few things I had to actually play “freehand” absolutely perfect. There are people who do that, and that's their job.

Most of us are not doing a lot of commercial work like that, and we're more concerned with playing the drums well, and creatively. How do we economize the actual performance aspect? That's largely the subject of this entire blog, so there's not really a quick answer for that. How you actually engage that mindset gets very particular. Very broadly speaking, though:

Become economy-oriented. This is a great time to re-read William S. Burroughs's The Discipline of DE.

not this
Know what you're trying to do. You're looking for the easiest way to learn to play creatively and appropriately in the moment while listening to the other players, playing the music, maybe reading, and not getting lost, while grooving the entire time.

Understand that it's one instrument played by one person. We have a complex job, playing a four-limbed instrument while doing all the things I listed above, and we need to look for ways to simplify and make the parts work together—there's just one person working the controls, so there's really no choice. Most often, everything is derived from, and reduces to, a single idea. There are a number of ways of accomplishing that, including, but not limited to, all the things we do with the book Syncopation. It's why I harp on that book so much.

Simplify. This doesn't mean you can't play busy, or that you have to play quarter notes the rest of your life. It means, look for ways to sound good with a minimum of technique. My general approach is oriented around exploiting singles and doubles, unisons, and simple multi-limb patterns for example. I lot of drummers use simple ostinatos, as well. Bob Moses's “non-independent” (or “dependent”, he'll say at other times) method is another example of what I'm talking about.

Everything is not a muscle— stop trying to develop playing skills like one. Not all of them, and not all the time, at least. Look into Pilates, Yoga, or Tai Chi for an alternative mindset.

Another book you might want
to pick up.
Be realistic about the hard stuff you practice. Am I ever going to perform this? If not, what exactly am I trying to accomplish? Will doing it this way help me perform? Is it worth the time I'm investing in it? Is there something else I can spend my practice time on that will help my real playing more?

Learn to spot pointless rigor: for example, in a recent online discussion a player was advocating improving time by practicing very slowly without subdividing. I'm not saying this is a pure waste of time, but it's a little like a carpenter trying to build a house without a tape measure— or any measuring device. Maybe after completing that messed-up project he'll be a little better at guessing how long a yard is, but not enough for any practical effect on how he does his work. He's always going to need his tape measure. Likewise, there's never a reason not to subdivide, and never an instance where you'll be deprived of that ability, so there's little to be gained by imposing that pointless handicap.

Learn licks and techniques. This is a common approach on the internet: learning a particular little technique for doing one thing— a certain kind of bass drum lick, an uptempo ride cymbal thing, whatever. I do very little of that; Metal drumming is almost all that. To me it's a formulaic approach to playing which I do not like, but it has its place, and it's a relatively easy way for players to sound impressive regardless of whether they actually have anything to say musically.