Sunday, June 25, 2017

Practice loop in 6/4: The Free Design

A fun practice loop, in a fast 6/4, sampled from The Free Design, by Stereolab. Tempo is about quarter note = 217 BPM.

The rhythm for the bass vamp:

Have fun. This loops seamlessly, if one were to use one of those audio-ripping browser extensions, and put it on one's mp3 player... 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Displacing a groove - 16th notes - 01

This is an easy funk exercise, getting acquainted with rhythmic displacements that happen routinely in funk drumming, while relating them back to a simple groove. When this word displacement comes up, it's usually suggestive of some kind of rhythmic trickery, for people who are too cool to play things other people can follow. That's not what we're about here— we're just learning one simple creative move for use in normal, groove-oriented playing.

Play each pattern four times, then move on to the next one without stopping. If you have any difficulty with any of the patterns (I'm guessing, the ones without a bass drum on 1), you can alternate it with pattern 1— repeat pattern 1 and the problem pattern one time each for a minute. Most people won't need to work this to death; you can play through the page in 5-10 minutes, during 1-3 practice sessions, and you will have learned everything it has to show you. Like a lot of fairly dry exercises, this will be more fun if you play it with a practice loop.

Get the pdf

Friday, June 23, 2017

Groove o' the day: James Gadson - Shout It Out

Another “enhanced” groove o' the day (that is not a thing), from a Patrice Rushen record, this time with the great James Gadson on drums. The record and tune is Shout It Out, and it's very 1977, very LA. By now you'll recognize the presence of Tom Scott's a-little-too-cute saxophone stylings. I've written out a few bars from the middle of the tune, at the end of a breakdown, so you can see the fill he plays to get back to the groove, a few little fills, and a bigger fill at the end of the phrase:

The tempo is about quarter note = 77 BPM . Gadson plays four tom toms here— probably a normal 5-piece set plus two concert toms— 8"/10" or 10"/12". Ndugu Leon Chancler played a similar set. Since we've been listening to some Ndugu recently, note the difference in approach here: Gadson's fatter, cleaner sound; this is more of a straight funk performance— Chancler is perhaps more of an improviser.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Groove o' the day, ENHANCED: MORE NDUGU

This is how it goes around here, I get into a certain thing and do only that, and the blog content becomes unbalanced. What do I care, I love Ndugu Leon Chancler's playing. You can take these transcriptions as follow up on the Playing Funk Effectively post— they illustrate some of the things I was talking about there.

This is a short transcription that is mostly groove, plus a few very cool fills, so we'll call it a “Groove o' The Day ENHANCED”, like that's a thing. It's the intro from a tune called Haw Right Now, from Patrice Rushen's Prelusion album. There are a bunch of great LA players on this record.

Chancler does a number of hip things here: the opening fill, the crash on the & of 4 in the middle, the audaciously long fill at the end. All a little unusual in small ways, revealing of the player's intelligence, and COOL-SOUNDING.

I don't know what's going on at the beginning of that ending fill— it looks like it needs to lead with the left, but the last four beats seem to be a mixed sticking with the right hand on the toms, left hand on snare drum. The specifics aren't real important.

Get the pdf

Monday, June 19, 2017

Transcription: Ndugu Leon Chancler - Blues For Walls

I say that every time I post something about him: Ndugu Leon Chancler has to be the player I love the most, for the least exposure to his playing— for years I just had the one record, Reach For It, by George Duke. Here he is playing behind Oscar Brashear's trumpet solo on Blues For Walls, from the Hampton Hawes record of the same name— it should be interesting in light of the funk post from the other day:

The transcription starts at 0:36 in the recording. Swing the 8th notes— they're not triplets exactly, but they're close. And whoops, we're in half time feel, but I forgot to make the time signature 2/2 rather than 4/4. The tempo indicates half notes, anyway...

Ndugu appears to be playing a five piece set here— at least there are no more than three tom toms being played in the course of any one fill. Cymbalwise, there are hihats, ride, crash, and China type. Hihats are played half-open for most of the tune. Where there is an accent on a hihat note, usually the open sound is also a little more pronounced, which makes sense. Watch out for cymbal accents tied across the barline— often he'll crash before the downbeat, and play the bass drum again on the downbeat, but not the cymbal. There are a few filler ghost notes on the snare drum; it's possible he's doing more of that than is written here, and it's just not audible.

Get the pdf

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Three Camps - isolated parts and complete piece

UPDATE: Jeez, I'm getting sloppy. Typos in the pdf fixed....

You know, I've never settled on a really satisfactory presentation of Three Camps— the very famous, very old rudimental snare drum piece. It's much simpler than it ever looks on the page, written out, which I take as evidence of its history as an oral tradition.

But I'll keep trying. Here I've written out each individual measure of the piece— there are only four different, closely related things that actually happen— and the complete piece. Don't be thrown by the varying staff lengths, it's meant to be played straight through with no stops.

Usually the piece is played with rolls, but I've written as just accented triplets, which is excellent for developing your singles. I suggest trying that with brushes. Quarter note = 260 would be a good goal. Play the unaccented notes as open drags if you want to play it the traditional way. I'm using the modern ending, with a fp and a measure of crescendo, instead of the goofy old school tag used in Wilcoxon, Mitchell Peters, and elsewhere.

Get the pdf

Friday, June 16, 2017

Drum lessons with Todd Bishop IN SEATTLE

Actually this is about the neighborhood
where I'll be teaching.
Announcement for my Seattle followers:

I may soon begin teaching in your fair city.

I'm talking with Mark Di Florio, a great drummer and teacher, about taking on a portion of his student load as he is moving to Los Angeles at the end of the summer. This will put me in Seattle one day a week (probably Mondays), teaching at a music store (TBD) somewhere within the Ballard-Northgate-U District triangle.

If you would be interested in private lessons please get in touch— I need to put together several hours of lessons to even be able to do this, so your call now may make the difference with it happening.

And let me assure you: we get into some pretty heavy stuff on the site, but I am delighted to work with all levels of students to help you play better and have more fun with the drums. In fact, I encourage you to contact me especially if you think you're a hopeless case. I can fix you up.

Email Todd | call or text message (503)380-9259

Playing funk effectively

Here are a few tips on playing funk and related music, focusing on how to project to the audience and facilitate groove among the musicians while playing live unmiked, at a moderate to moderately strong volume— a very common situation in your gigging life. The present dominant style, heavily influenced by Steve Gadd and David Garibaldi, has been around a good 40 years— actually internet drumming is kind of milking it to death and running it into the ground, choose your metaphor. So it's good to go back to fundamental principles and create our own way of playing this music by listening to some other drummers, and thinking about what we're actually doing here.

First, some listening. Start this sucker up while you read— most of this isn't pure funk, but the style of the drumming illustrates some of the things I'm talking about below. We've covered several of these tracks on the blog before, and there are links for them at the end of the post.

In no particular order of importance:

A solid tone
The tendency today is to tune the snare drum high and play hard rim shots on it, mistaking savagely aggressive attack for... I don't know what, emotion? Depth of funk? We're looking for a chunky tone out of every part of the drumset— snare drum, bass drum, hihat, toms. Play so your important notes— hopefully all of them— project to the back of the room, while maintaining a balance with the band.

Play with the butt(s)
I almost always play with the left stick backwards, to get a fatter sound out of the snare and toms. Increasingly I'll do that with the right stick as well, for a more solid tone out of the hihat. And not just for volume— I actually do this more often on softer tunes and lower-volume gigs. At normal, non-slamming volumes you have to have pretty good dynamic control if you're going to move to the ride cymbal without flipping your stick— you have to be able to play your right hand softly while maintaining your sound with your bass drum and left hand.

Stop trying to be funky
Everybody has their favorite things to play to prove they're not as white as they look, but don't go to that stuff automatically. Lay down a solid 2 and 4, and 1 and 3, and hihat rhythm, and see what the music asks you to add or change from there— if anything.

Whither ghost notes
I know it's the hot topic du jour, and they sound cool when you're playing by yourself, or when somebody samples somebody else playing them, but they don't necessarily do a whole lot in real playing. They're ghost notes— by their nature they're not really heard, especially when there's other activity in the venue, the drums aren't miked, and the balance within the band may not be perfect. It just becomes more clutter. And with all of that left hand activity, there's not a lot of time to think about what you're doing, and to maybe decide to do something different. Clear out some of that junk and give yourself some room to think between snare hits.

Accents/dynamics on fills
It's a good idea to play your fills on the toms a little stronger than the surrounding music, since the toms tend not to project. You want to continue expressing the groove with your fills, so try forgetting about accenting— those unaccented notes are just holes in the groove. See how playing the entire fill at an even volume works for you— a minor case of Ginger Bakeritis can be helpful. (Caveat: see Ginger Baker's actual playing for examples of the pitfalls of taking that too far.) You may crescendo.

Accents/dynamics in general
People who want to be good musicians are always looking for ways to distinguish ourselves from that other rabble of drumming meatheads, and often we'll do that by playing a lot of subtle internal dynamics— ghost notes, accents, accenting the hihat rhythm. But often the most effective thing is to play fewer notes and play them at an even volume.

Don't just jam
A very bad thing a lot of people do— not just drummers— when playing any kind of R&B is to go into mindless jamming mode. Don't do that. Play the tune, and always be going somewhere— what you're playing may sound static to a casual listener, but you're actually very keyed into to the dynamic shape of phrases and sections. Discourage other players from going into jamming mode by controlling the dynamics— mainly, you have to figure out how to back the volume down so the rest of the group knows they're supposed to back off with you. It's often a difficult challenge, because the players who just jam also tend not to be aware of other options, to not know the material, and not be very good listeners.

Listening and groove
I used to think if I listened very hard to the other players, the band would find a groove that is correct for that particular set of musicians on that particular day. It didn't really work. Instead— unless the other players are exceptional groove players, or are extremely well rehearsed— try being somewhat detached and self contained with regard to the time. When the others realize that the foundation is solid, and the little (or big) inaccuracies in their own playing are not messing up the groove, they relax and start playing better themselves. It does take a delicate touch, because you can't just obstinately hang onto your perception of the tempo when the rest of the group is obviously someplace else.

Groove and the grid
A common piece of advice is to groove by thinking about the grid— an overlay of undifferentiated 16th notes or 8th notes— I don't believe that by itself is enough. Instead, think about expressing the grid through the single rhythm created by your interlocking parts. This means you know how to count rhythms, and you are aware of how everything you play lines up and fits together. Thinking this way you have to know what you're playing, so you may have to simplify (at first) and not play on autopilot. But groove is extremely important— more important than you playing all your stuff.

Younger players and fairly-serious amateur players talk a lot about this, but much of the above advice leads away from focusing on this cherished “feel” idea, and more into playing somewhat mechanically. Frankly, most of the time people aren't hearing your wonderfully subtle feel as you imagine it, they're hearing a weak performance. Just know what you want to play, perform it, and your true feel will emerge.

I say this with the caveat that sounding too mechanical is extremely difficult, and you'll probably never get there. But increasingly I see examples of people pulling off that feat, and sounding bad as a result. You just have to judge for yourself if what you're doing breathes and sounds like music, or if you've taken a good idea too far.

Don't double-time
Finally, for now: don't go into double time at every opportunity, and discourage the other players from doing it. That frenetic faster 16th note stuff doesn't sound as cool as you feel playing it.

Blog post links for today's listening:
Transcription of Ndugu Leon Chancler playing Earth by Joe Henderson
Transcription of Ngugu Leon Chancler playing Watch Out, Baby! by George Duke
Drum grooves by Tiki Fulwood, from Maggot Brain by Funkadelic
Transcription of Ivan Conti playing Linha do Horizonte by Azymuth
Transcription of Roger Hawkins playing Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin
Commentary on Harvey Mason playing Breezin' by George Benson

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Left hand lead developer - for soloing

In soloing I tend to lead with the left a lot, and play a lot of normally alternating flam rudiments in only left hand lead form— in the past I've shared a couple of different pages based on that. Here's another page of exercises developing a few different ideas a little further, using combinations of flam accents and flamacues, or things closely derived from them:

We've got some different time signatures here, but the idea is not just to use them in those meters. Instead, once you can play all the patterns, try incorporating them into a flow of 8th notes, 16th notes, or triplets in whatever meter you happen to be practicing. The goal here is not to set up a running cross rhythm, so you really only need to play them once or twice in a row in context— if you can do more repetitions without getting lost, go for it, it's just not the main point. You could also try starting the exercise idea on the 1 or 2, or on an &. Speed is also not particularly important.

Get the pdf

Monday, June 12, 2017

Very occasional quote of the day: Motian on time

“I believe that 'time' is always there. I don't mean a particular pulse, but the time itself. It's all there somehow like a huge sign that's up there and it says time. It's there and you can play all around it.”

— Paul Motian, Modern Drummer interview by Scott K. Fish

This reminded me of one of the first things I shared on the blog, from Chuck Braman's invaluable 1996 interview with Motian:

“There's a specific tempo that's stated in the very beginning, and that's already there. I don't have to force it on to everybody else and myself included. I don't have to enforce it. It's happening already. I don't have to do shit. I could have just stayed there and not played a fuckin' note. They're playing along, they're playing that speed, you know? And so, what I'm doing is trying to add some kind of music to that.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

More Robert Henri: on technique

 SOMEHOW CONNECTED: The way art and
music is taught, most artists and musicians really have
nothing to say. T
here are acres of  anonymously
competent junk like this in the museums in Rome, as there
are millions of hours of anonymously competent music
recorded that you'd never want to listen to.  
More from The Art Spirit, by the painter Robert Henri. Once again, the writing style is wordy and dated, but do you notice the similarity in attitude to many drumming students?

The real study of an art student is generally missed in the pursuit of a copying technique. 
I knew men who were students at the Academie Julian in Paris, where I studied in 1888, thirteen years ago. I visited the Academie this year (1901) and found some of the same students still there, repeating the same exercises, and doing work nearly as good as they did thirteen years ago. 
At almost any time in these thirteen years they have had technical ability enough to produce masterpieces. Many of them are more facile in their trade of copying the model, and they make fewer mistakes and imperfection of literal drawing and proportion than do some of the greatest masters of art.

He then explains what the “real study” of an art student is, but it's not real helpful to us. Obviously, the kind of people he's talking about never had anything of their own to say— they never approached it with the attitude that they were already an artist, and that they were just acquiring craft to help express it. That last paragraph is extremely important, as the current generation of players may be the most over-practiced in the history of American music, at least.

I think possibly, musicians are a little more reliant on knowledge acquired through study than are painters. If learning to paint is like learning a second language— everyone is comfortable with the visual world, and can easily form ideas about what he would want to paint— learning to play the drums is more like learning a first language; without it, you can't even conceive of what a musical idea is. It's as if you took up painting, but first somebody had to tell you what a dog is, or a tree, a house, or an apple, and how to tell them apart from each other. It's why little kids can make pictures with recognizable things in them, but when they pick up an instrument it's pure noise.

This passage is also interesting:

It is useless to study technique in advance of having a motive. Instead of establishing a vast stock of technical tricks, it would be far wiser to develop creative power by constant search for means particular to a motive already in mind, by studying and developing just that technique which you feel the immediate need of, and which alone will serve you for the idea for the emotion which has moved you to expression. 

It's a little different for us as drummers, but you can see how it relates. Certainly online the conversation is dominated by talk of particular techniques or technical ideas. The attitude Henri is talking about would look more like having a lot of love for music, and learning a baseline functional technique, how to improvise, and how to play actual music, and letting that inform any additional special technical things you want to acquire.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Transcription: Billy Hart - Batuki

UPDATE: Jeez, what a moron. Naturally I spelled the title wrong on the actual page. It's Batuki, not Batuka. Well, we'll fix it for the book...

Here's an interesting little bit of playing by Billy Hart, playing with Buster Williams, on the album Pinnacle. The tune is Batuki, and I've transcribed the drums from Woody Shaw's trumpet solo, starting at 3:10 in the track. I don't know if there's anything extremely exciting in the transcription, maybe it's more an entry to understanding modern playing, and giving the entire recording a really close listen— which you should do.

The style is a 70s Bossa-derived Latin— if there were a style indication on the page, it would probably just by “Latin”— but you'll notice Hart is playing very little that's recognizable as a standard Bossa Nova groove. It's very open and modern, with a lot of space, dynamic shape, and big fills at appropriate places in the form.

It's a very musical performance, and while there's plenty of drums, there's isn't much happening that's particularly technical— throughout the entire track. In measure 20 there's a floor tom hit which could be a little awkward; absolutely no reason not to do something easier there. In measure 24 the rolls are played as single strokes. I neglected to mark the tempo— it's quarter note = 126.

Get the pdf

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Todd's funk drill

I'm pretty sure I've posted this somewhere on the site, but maybe I didn't share it as a finished drill. This is a reasonably easy thing for getting your reading, bass drum chops, effective use of the snare drum, and all around moderate-tempo funk timekeeping happening. I do this all the time, especially if I have a gig coming up and I haven't played in a few days.

I use the long exercises from Syncopation (pp. 37-44, old edition). If your reading isn't together enough to do the long exercises, you can also do this with pp. 10-11, or 29-31, or the one-line syncopation exercises on pp. 33-36. But move to the long exercises as soon as you can.

We're playing in 2/2— cut time. The melody line written in the book (the stems-up part) is predominantly your bass drum part. Ignore the stems-down part in the book. We're going to add 8th notes on the hihat, and do two different things with the snare drum.

First play the entire exercise on the bass drum, add 8th notes on the hihat, and play the snare drum on 3. If there is a rest or a held note on 3, play the snare drum anyway. Don't play the bass drum on 3. So this well-known couple of lines from Reed:

Would be played like this:

The second thing is more involved. This time we're going to play the book rhythm exactly, with the snare drum on 3, or the closest note to it, if there's a rest or held note on 3— the backbeat is displaced. Often the & of 2 sounds best, if it's in the part, but you can try some different things and see what you like.

You could play the whole drill that way, but I do one more thing with it: every two bars I play the entire last half of the measure on the snare drum— all of beats 3 and 4. Or if, because of a rest or tie, the snare is played before 3, you play the whole rest of the measure on the snare, starting on that note. I'm giving detailed instructions, but you're free to do it however you like. Here is that same two lines played that way:

The only weird part is bar 6: there's a held note on 3, so we play the snare on the & of 2, and go ahead and play the rest of the measure on the snare, since it's one of those measures.

Here's another example, the first two lines of Exercise 3— this one has more tied notes and rests on beat 3:

The first way, with the snare drum on every beat 3:

The second way: snare drum on 3 or closest note to it, last half on snare every two measures:

Playing long exercises 1-8 this way makes a decent-length workout. I recommend playing everything at an even, strong volume; the hihat can be lighter, but don't accent it. Advanced students like to play a lot of internal dynamics, accenting the hihat, ghosting things, but in real world playing, playing everything strong = playing effectively. That should be your foundation, at least.

This Betty Davis practice loop @ half note = 64 bpm is excellent for this drill— it's an easy tempo and you'll definitely acquire the intended feel and attitude. Your tempo goal for this should be around half note = mid-90s bpm. If you're really pushing yourself you could get into the low 100s, but at a certain point the cymbal rhythm starts sounding a little silly— at that point I would try a different hihat rhythm.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Very occasional quote of the day: the abilities you have at the moment

Hey, that looks like I can do it. WHY
From The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri:

An art student must be a master from the beginning; that is, he must be master of such as he has. By being a master of such as he has there is promise that he will be master in the future. 

The writing style is a little dated— Henri was a painter active about 100 years ago— but he's saying something important: you have to create with whatever abilities you have at the moment, and you have to do that from the beginning. You don't learn a laundry list of skills— which gets longer every year— and then start being a creative artist. You can do real playing at virtually all levels of technical skill.

So you can't just be into amazing, mind-blowing stuff; you also have to like music scaled to your present ability— things that sound like you can play them now: basic rock, pop, Motown, country, some free jazz, maybe very time-oriented bebop. All those things require a lot of skill to actually do well, but they're simple enough to give you an entry point, so you at least think you're able to do them well, and you can do them confidence, and maybe some creativity.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Groove o' the day: Go Ahead John

Getting loose definitionally with our groove o' the day here— this one is all variations, really, and no foundational groove. This is Jack Dejohnette playing the beginning of Go Ahead, John, from Miles Davis's album Big Fun. He's playing a two-measure groove with a stop in the first measure, and a busy second measure. I've just transcribed the first 15 bars of the track:

He's playing around with it, but you can see there are a few basic ingredients he's using. They got cute panning the drums in the mixing— if you want to give the track a close listen, you may want to go to your digital file of the track and load it in Transcribe or Audacity, and play it in mono.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Apropos of no particular part of this post,
these are remarkably similar to many drum
teachers I've encountered.
A short beef about the nature of teaching. Maybe I should've included this in my recent post, “I complain about things said online.” There's a special attitude among some teachers, some students,  and a considerable number of people on the internet, that your job as a teacher is to teach the client “what they want” or “the way they want.” The customer is always right, they're the one signing the check, blah blah, insert another platitude...

Problem: You're supposed to be the expert. Part of your actual job is to educate the client on how things are done, and on the reasons for doing things the way they're done. Often this comes up in regard to reading, or “theory”— whatever they think that is, they don't want it. Usually it means reading. The student can't read, has never had much success with it, and wants you to teach him without doing any reading. Can't we come up with a way of doing that? It seems doable!

Maybe it is doable in the sense that you can definitely eat up a lot of lesson time walking someone through whatever basic patterns you can get through in 30-60 minutes. It's poor practice, and they're not going to learn anything much, but they'll pay you to do it for a few weeks or months— however long it takes them to get bored with their lack of real progress— so you do it.

This is not good. In doing this you are a hack. It's the definition of hack work.

Actually Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines hackwork as “literary, artistic, or professional work done on order usually according to formula and in conformity with commercial standards.” I would expand that to include “doing anything at all for money”, regardless of professional standards and best practices. Or doing whatever stupid thing the client thinks he wants, or lazily doing whatever you can get away with because the client doesn't know any better. Perhaps a level below hack are teachers who deliberately teach this way with the goal of making the student permanently dependent on the teacher. That appears to be business model of several online “lessons” sites.

The ethical thing to do: Maintain your standards. Take a minute and educate the student on how things are done, and why the thing they are asking you to do is not done.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Practice loop in 5/4: Everything's All Right

I've had a busy week here, ending with going to Seattle for the weekend to play in/hang out at the Ballard Jazz Festival, so let's ease back in to blogging with a practice loop— a nice, cheesy one: the vamp from Everything's All Right, from the Jesus Christ Superstar original soundtrack, from 1973. It's moderate-tempo, in 5/4, with a swing feel; it's not remotely jazz, but it's good for beginning to get your jazz in 5 together. No, it's not very hip, but— I'll level with you— a lot of jazz in 5 is not that hip either. Tempo is about quarter note = 130.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Finally getting a handle on this Dahlgren & Fine business

No getting around it, this sucks. But...
It's funny how it can take years to figure out fairly simple things. 4-Way Coordination by Dahlgren and Fine has always been a problematic book for me, but in recent years I've been making an effort to actually learn it, and have come up with a few productive strategies. The “harmonic” coordination section, with unisons between the hands and feet, is particularly challenging, both technically and musically— on its face it looks like a pure mathematically-derived technical study, unlike anything I normally play on the drums. It's a real grind to practice.

The book uses a four-limb staff without instrument assignments, but I default to a normal timekeeping position with the right hand on a cymbal, left hand on the snare— and feet on the normal hihat and bass drum, of course. Lately I've been doing something different: playing the cymbals on all notes in unison with the bass drum, and playing the snare/toms on all notes in unison with the hihat— the left foot. This causes you to do a lot of moving around, with both hands moving between the cymbals and drums.

Usually I try to make things as easy as possible, but this actually makes the exercises more difficult and time consuming. And it requires extra focus— since both hands play both drums and cymbals, you can't rely on your ears to tell you whether you're playing the correct hand for the pattern. But this is a more realistic way of playing, so the patterns sound less arbitrary, and eventually they begin to feel more natural— at any rate, you're practicing normal drumset motions and orchestrations, so you will be improving, even if you don't feel like you are.

It takes a long time to learn this section of the book, and if you use my recommended practice sequence along with this voicing scheme, it takes even longer. You can't think in terms of mastering these materials— think of it more like physical training and just put the time in. If you're just getting acquainted with the book, it's probably a good idea to play just the individual 3 and 4 note patterns on pp. 15-18 and 20-21 for some time, and combine them later.

Oh, and you'll have a lot more fun if you use a practice loop. This is a great one:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Key players: Elvin Jones

This is the first in a series of thumbnail introductions to some important players. Like everything on the blog, this is my personal perspective— there's no pretense that these are complete historical sketches, or a complete style analyses; they'll just be little verbal introductions for drummers wanting to learn more about these players' work.

And I should clarify right up front that your entire job is to listen to the recordings, enjoy them, and learn something about musicianship from them. No verbal explanation has any meaning, and there is no understanding, without a whole lot of listening.

Elvin Jones (1927-2004), you might have gathered, is a very special player. Today basically every jazz drummer with any aspirations to modernity develops a very close personal relationship to his playing, and learns some approximation of his “thing.” His way of playing has become an actual style— I've been asked to play an “Elvin-like” feel many times, and have played many tunes on which it was obviously the intended style... which is not to suggest that he's merely a stylist who can ever be fully imitated.

On first impression his playing is deeply swinging, emotional, organic, rolling— and also impenetrable— it can be hard to tell what's going on, and it often takes students awhile to figure out why he's so great. Once you do figure it out, he may be the only player who sounds like he's doing anything— it's very common for students to be into Elvin and no one else— for a time, at least. His playing is so deep it suggests a connection to ancient things, to African drumming, to some old form of swing, but he is an American phenomenon, extremely modern, and a unique artist.

Elvin is also a jazz drummer, and what he plays can't be fully understood without understanding that context: jazz tunes, standards, and circa-50s-70s modern/avant-garde jazz forms. In fact this is one reason to get into jazz— so you can understand the greatest artists on your instrument.

He is one of the most recorded and most influential jazz musicians in history, and he played in one of the greatest and most influential bands in history, the John Coltrane Quartet. He's extremely important to the evolution of the instrument as the first truly multi-directional drummer— he improvises with all four limbs in an integrated way. The major triplety, linear methods of practicing are really derived from his playing. The stereotype of his playing is that it is all triplets, but he uses a lot of 16th notes as well. Much of the “organic” quality of his playing is created by the way he combines triplet and 16th note rhythms— sometimes within the same beat— as well as his very legato phrasing and articulation.

He had a unique way of playing the jazz cymbal rhythm, which is now widely copied. Where other drummers would accent the 2 and 4, or accent the quarter notes, Elvin typically accents the “skip” note:

And de-emphasizes the note after it, sometimes to the point of eliminating it:

He was one of the great players of the jazz waltz, even when playing in 4/4— he has a polyrhythm built into his playing, with an omnipresent 3/4 and 6/8 cross rhythm. This is encouraged by his cymbal interpretation, which flows easily into a dotted-quarter note emphasized rhythm:

Played in 4/4:

His playing in general is marked by that rolling feel, dramatic dynamics, adventurous rhythm, and aggressive accompaniment. Elvin's comping is it times is so forward it almost puts him in a co-soloist role. But hearing him only on the famous records it's easy to overestimate his aggressiveness (and volume)— on seeing him play in person I was actually surprised to see him play straight time quietly with brushes during a piano solo; his real playing confounds the stereotypes it is so easy to form about him.

His drums are a little different-sounding to non-jazz drummers; the snare is tuned high, and sounds crisp, aggressive and metallic. The toms and bass drum are tuned as an ensemble, high (especially the bass drum) and wide open. His cymbals are generally large (remembering that in the 40s and 50s a 20" cymbal was considered large), thin, and dark. That sound is standard for jazz drummers now, and was not uncommon in the 50s, but Elvin's playing in the 60s was one of the things that fixed it as the jazz sound. At the very least, from the 40s to the 60s there was a general trend from smaller to larger, darker cymbals, and Elvin's popularity was certainly a major factor in that.

These things don't work in neat progressions, but Art Blakey and Max Roach seem to be Elvin's closest musical “ancestors.” They were only 8 and 3 years older than him, respectively, but Elvin's career didn't take off until 10-15 years after they were well known. In the 60s and after, Roy Haynes's playing seems very connected to Elvin, but I don't hear a particular influence either way in Roy's playing in the 50s. Elvin was born two years after Roy, but again, his career didn't take off until later.

Practice materials:
My materials and transcriptions
Jon McCaslin's Elvin Jones independence exercises
Four Way Coordination - the jazz section at the end of the book.
Syncopation methods using triplets
Haskell Harr drum method, and Charley Wilcoxon's Rudimental Swing Solos
Three Camps - with rolls
Joel Rothman's Compleat Jazz Drummer, Basic Drumming, Drumming And All That Jazz, 3-5-7-9-Jazz. These aren't regarded as the hippest in the world, but Rothman's jazz independence materials using triplets are very Elvin-like.
The Art of Modern Jazz Drumming by Jack Dejohnette and Charlie Perry

Ten recordings:
McCoy Tyner - The Real McCoy
John Coltrane - Live At The Village Vanguard
John Coltrane - Live At Birdland
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things
Elvin Jones - Live At The Lighthouse
Elvin Jones - The Ultimate
Sonny Sharrock - Ask The Ages
Elvin Jones / Dewey Redman / Cecil Taylor - Momentum Space
Sonny Rollins - Night At The Village Vanguard
Larry Young - Unity

Ten great tracks: 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

EZ Zigaboo method

Should have included this when I first made this up way back when, but... here's an EZ entry into my quite challenging and extensive Zigaboo Modeliste/Cissy Strut-style practice method. It's a way of playing funk grooves with a mixed rhythm on the hihat, played with both hands, which is how Modeliste played the very famous groove on Cissy Strut. Credit to Stanton Moore for writing about this in his book Groove Alchemy.

It uses the syncopation section (pp.32-44) of Ted Reed's Progressive Steps to Syncopation, but you can also use pp. 29-31— the 8th note rest portion— or pp. 10-11, with 8th notes and quarter notes. The crux of the method is that you play the book rhythms in natural sticking on the hihat and snare drum, and add bass drum. The method is in cut time, so, to make a funk groove, the snare drum is played on beat 3, or if there's a rest on 3, the closest note to it. In the original method the bass drum played an array of stock patterns; with today's EZ method, we're just going to play it in unison with the hihats— exactly the same as the book rhythm, except you don't play the bass drum when you're playing the snare.

Natural sticking, you'll recall, means that you play all the notes on strong beats (in this case, the 1, 2, 3, and 4) with the right hand, and the weak beats (all the &s) with the left hand. It's a very good system for playing mixed 16th note rhythms accurately— or their functional equivalent in cut time, mixed, syncopated quarter note and 8th note rhythms, as we're playing here.

Tempo for this method is roughly half note = 60-100. I suggest doing this two different ways— first by playing the snare drum on 3 all the time, no matter what's written in the book. So with this familiar line of music from Reed:

You'll play this— notice that on measures 2 and 6 there's a rest on 3, and the end of a tied note on 3, and we're playing the snare drum there anyway:

Then do it playing the book rhythms exactly. When there's a rest on 3, play the closest note to 3 on the snare drum, with whichever hand it falls on— usually the left. Usually you'll want to play the note before the 3 if possible— & of 2 is generally preferred to & of 3. So for the same passage above, you would play this:

Here's another line of music from the bottom of the same page:

Here's what you would play the always-play-the-3 way:

And here's what you would play the exact-rhythm way:

I neglected to put in the stickings on those examples, but remember: 1-2-3-4 = RH, &s = LH.

Pretty straightforward once you have natural sticking figured out, and can read the rhythms. We don't call these EZ methods for nothing. When do this with all of the first eight full-page syncopation exercises (pp. 37-44), you can take a crack at the more challenging original method, playing the hands as in this method, along with this page of bass drum ostinatos.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Tony clichés

This is an interesting recording, with a strange performance by a great drummer, Marvin 'Smitty' Smith— it consists almost entirely of Tony Williams clichés. When I heard this in a record store I realized I knew a lot of Tony things I didn't know that I knew. I guess Smith is making a kind of tribute by playing this way, or maybe it's some kind of post-Young Lions neo-classicist idea that the correct way to play Nefertiti is to play Tony stuff.

Here, give a listen to the original, in case you don't have it memorized:

I should clarify what jazz musicians mean by clichés, since drummers don't use the word as often as horn players. It just means stock licks or ideas; it doesn't necessarily carry the negative connotation it does in normal speech.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Page o' coordination: Latin in 3 - 04

Here's a fairly easy page of exercises in 3/4 Latin. The bell/cymbal pattern is similar to the regular Afro 6/8 rhythm, but simplified— you sometimes hear American drummers playing this rhythm in the 50s and 60s. The bass drum part here is functional if you include the circled note, and more interesting if you omit it.

So we're clear on the terms: “Latin in 3”isn't a “real” style per se— it's sort of a 3/4 version of the Afro 6/8 feel, adapted for modern jazz. Sometimes someone will actually ask for Latin in 3; other times it will be an ECM-feel in 3, or just a fast modern jazz waltz. Additionally, playing the familiar Afro feel in 3/4 will also help your understanding/flexibility with the more authentic groove metered in 6/8... which isn't authentic, because you're playing it on drumset (which has only been used Latin music for 50-60[!] years), and most likely in a non-traditional setting— a topic for another day...

Play the left hand as a rim click on the snare drum, or improvise moves between any two drums— or all the drums— or do my stock left hand moves which you should already have memorized if you've done any of these things at all. You could try playing it along with my old Eddie Palmieri practice loop— they fit together pretty well.

Get the pdf

Friday, May 05, 2017

Chaffee linear phrase as 32nd notes

This is a thing I was working on with a student— this particular Chaffee-style linear phrase (5/3/5/3) happens to work really well as a fill— it sounds impressive, and it's really easy to play. In the original presentation— in vol. 3 of Gary Chaffee's Patterns books— the patterns are written as 16th notes in 4/4. Here we'll put them in context, as a 32nd note fill in 4/4, using parts of the linear phrase, building up to using the whole thing. By following the progression below, you'll be getting the most real vocabulary out of the book exercise, while making sure the internal architecture of the lick is solid when you go to play it in longer repetitions.

I think it's a good idea to learn this system with the given stickings, so each 5 or 3 note pattern (RLRLB or RLB) starts with the right hand. Feel free to change the sticking any time you think you have a good reason to. If you move your hands around the drums (both hands or just the right), you'll have a fancy fusion/“gospel chops”-style fill; if you leave your right hand on the hihat, you'll have a little burst of hyperactive Chris Dave-syle action. When practicing at slower tempos, you may want to play 16th notes during the time portion of the measure. You can also add an extra measure of time between fills, so you have a two measure phrase with the 32nd note fill at the end of the second measure.

The inverted way on the bottom half of the page is not something I normally do with every Chaffee phrase; it just seemed like an obvious thing to do when practicing this particular lick this particular way. Which is part of the method: when something strikes you, do it. People think that there is some pristine system that must be followed to the letter to get the intended result... there isn't. Try to understand what parts of idea are important, and do what you want.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Chaffee linear phrases: adding 2s

This is a baby-step entry into adding a two-note pattern (RB) to Gary Chaffee's linear system, which is based on 3-to-8 note patterns— dig into Patterns, vol. 3 for Chaffee's full explanation of that, or see my many earlier posts on the subject. The number of possible phrases really explodes when you add the 2, so we'll start very simply, with an eight note phrase— one measure of 16th notes in 2/4.

I've only included phrases that include the 2; the other possibilities are 8, 5/3, 4/4, and 3/5. In the right hand column I've written the phrases displaced one 16th note, starting on the last note of the normal phrase.

Practice these as you do the other Chaffee phrases: start with both hands on snare drum, then try LH on snare drum, RH on hihat, or moving around the drums. Or both hands moving. You can make groove, fill, or solo ideas out of these, depending on how you play them— there are a few posts brewing that are about ways of doing that, so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Very occasional quote of the day: Ndugu on talent

 Another great quote from Ndugu Leon Chancler, from his 1983 Modern Drummer interview:

“I think the most important thing is your attitude. There were, and still are, a lot of musicians who have more technique than I have, or more talent. But inside the talent is a way of not only knowing how to manipulate it through the ranks to get the maximum out of it, but there is also an attitude that you must project to make people feel you as a person. I very much wanted to get along with everybody, and wanted to add as much as I could to whatever situation.

From the beginning, I wanted to be a workhorse, and I had to work harder at drumming than some of my peers. There was a guy I grew up with who was much more advanced than I was at the time. Right now you can't give him away. Much more talent than I had at the time, but the thing that was missing was the knowledge of how to utilize that in the marketplace of the music and not just in his own home or practice room. He had the talent but it didn't work for him, overall.”

Help a young drummer out

Slow posting for a few days, but if you're in a giving mood, there's a very talented young Portland drummer named Domo Branch who needs some help getting to the Centrum and Stanford jazz camps. Bounce over there and kick in a few bucks if you can.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What's the point?

Yeahhh, you probably don't
need to bother with this one.*

* - Not a terrible book, actually.
Since we here at CRUISE SHIP DRUMMER! dump countless pages of quality practice materials onto the internet annually, and with the unprecedented quantity of drum stuff generally available to practice— some authors hell bent on dominating the rest of your natural life practicing their stuff— it's a good idea to talk about what we're supposed to do with all that. There's obviously too much out there to “master” in a lifetime, and seemingly every nook and cranny of drumming has been covered, so what's the point? Why continue buying books? Why write more?

First, realize that just because you have a lot of drumming books, doesn't mean you have to blaze on every single thing in them, or else you're a failure. We don't have libraries because we're going to memorize everything in them and then burn them down; we have them so they're available when you need something, to give you choices of what to focus on.

Let me put this as politely as I can: not every drum book doesn't suck. A lot of books from my formative years were mainly about some guy's fascination with writing down “hip”/“funky” drum patterns (ahem see any number of 70s/80s funk/fusion books). Or they use archaic notation and are way too hard to read (kof  Realistic Rock / Moeller Book). Some of them are sub-par rehashes of standard material better presented elsewhere (koooff many Mel Bay titles). There are genre books that are now hopelessly out of date (see that early 80s rap drumming book). Most pre-80s “Latin” books are completely inept, with the authors having no idea of how to introduce you to those musics (sorry Ted Reed, that book doesn't make it).

Currently a lot of books seem to think you're stupid as well as vision impaired (kofkofkoooff hack argh see any Drumeo/Drumming System-related pdf). I've seen a few recent books with a high internet profile, which are largely dedicated to a very laborious rehashing of things covered in Chaffee, New Breed, flipping Stick Control, and other standard books. Most of those repel me from practicing them— they refuse to stay on my music stand.

With all of that off the table, among the x-hundred pages remaining, things you actually would want to practice, there often just aren't that many pages dedicated to any one particular subject. Or even if there are, each presentation of an area of drumming will be a little different, and will be conducive to practicing certain ways, and resistant to practicing other ways. One page may be way too difficult for you to use this year, but it will open your eyes to a certain way of thinking, and you'll find a way to work on that using something else in your library— and maybe you'll be ready for that hard page in 1 or 5 or 10 years. And sometimes you just want to vary the terrain.

Listen: I'm of the opinion that you really only need one book, which costs about $7. You can make a Reed interpretation to practice virtually anything, and that's usually the best way to go, if possible. But Syncopation doesn't have everything in it, and some items are boringly presented. Or just because of the nature of the writing, Reed exercises may be ill-suited to doing certain things with them. There are also some things you'll want to practice that it would be counter-productively difficult to try to do with Reed. That's the reason for the page o' coordination series. The funk control series consists of nothing but things you can do with Reed, except it would be very difficult to practice that way out of Reed. And the sameness of the terrain can get to be limiting. Sometimes you need to see something written a different way to realize that you can make a Reed thing out of it.

I keep writing materials because a) I need them for my practicing or teaching, b) they're actually not available elsewhere, c) they're not available elsewhere in precisely the form I want, d)  rarely, they're available elsewhere, but I just want to have my own equivalent. I make transcriptions for my own ear training and to increase my knowledge of what people play, and how— for me those are truly not about the end result of a written-down page of stuff. In buying books, I consider the $10-25 to be (reasonably!) well-spent even if I only learn ok, that sucked— let's not do it that way.

Buying, owning, and using drum books is not just a simplistic linear transaction of I bought this; I must master the whole thing to Buddy Rich level or I suck. Instead consider a book to be well-used if a) you practiced a few pages out of it a lot, b) it helped you increase your drumming intelligence a little bit, c) you see there are some things in it you'll actually want to practice for years to come— which you can now tell because, through exposure, you have learned to be discriminating about what you practice.

After reading this, you'll probably want to re-read this old post on how much to practice something.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tony Williams comping

Here's a nice record I would've have liked to have known about 30 years ago, on which Charles Lloyd is rocking a Jimmy Giuffre kind of vibe. It's Of Course, Of Course, and it was recorded in 1965, with Tony Williams on drums and Ron Carter on bass. Tony is playing all the stuff he plays on the Miles Philharmonic records, but toned down, slowed down, and with better audio, so we get a real clean listen to his stuff.

Here I've transcribed some of the comping from The Best Thing For You, on the sections where the bass is walking— on the intro, and the second chorus of Lloyd's solo, at 1:30 in the track:

The second excerpt starts on the last measure of form, so we can get the tom fill, and it ends before the end of the form as Tony starts transitioning into the guitar solo. In case you're wondering about the general absence of hihat: he's not playing it. I imagine there's some kind of left foot motion happening, but, except for a few spots, it's not making any sound that registers on the recording. About the dynamics in the transcription: the notes in parenthesis are all played very soft, and the housetop accents are all played very strong; the difference between regular unaccented notes and accented notes may be more subtle.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Transcription: Art Blakey - Afrique

Here's the drum solo from the same tune as our GOTD the other day: Afrique, from The Witch Doctor, by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Blakey's solos with his group often serve a compositional function, and also a show function. They're not just about look how well I can play, or here's me playing these changes. There's also nothing contemplative about this solo— it's all about power and rising intensity. The volume is uniformly very loud all the way through— basically every note is accented. The housetop accents are rim shots, and extra strong.

The solo is 32 bars long, with four 8-bar sections. The first and third sections are cleanly composed of 2-bar phrases; the second and fourth sections are each more an undifferentiated wall of triplets. His phrasing is interesting to me, changes are marked more by doing something new in the first measure of the phrase than by building or changing in the last measure of a phrase, or by placing an accent on 1— I don't know why that seems surprising to me. He plays bigger on measure 17, the first measure of the bridge, for example.

I would take those moving triplet passages as an invitation to experiment and figure out a similar thing that works for you. You can hear there's quite a roar happening, and I may not be getting every single note he played. Figure out your own version of whatever showy crossover thing he's doing. It's less likely to be some kind of mixed sticking with singles and doubles.

Note the pitch bends that happen in the middle— play these by turning the snares off and pressing into the head with one stick, or your elbow— Han Bennink uses the heel of his foot. It probably helps to use calf heads and to not cranking your drum too high.

Heading back into the Afro vamp at the end of the solo, it's easier to notate the transition by putting it in 6/8— as a “groove o' the day” I put it in 3/4, since on the vamp the other instruments are playing strongly in 3.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Groove o' the day: Art Blakey - Afrique

Here's Art Blakey playing an Afro 6 feel in 1961, on Afrique, from the Jazz Messengers album The Witch Doctor— the first Blakey record I ever bought. I should start noticing when this type of groove found its way into jazz. Certainly Blakey was one of the early adopters, and here he plays it in a fairly rudimentary form, without the usual bell pattern we expect to hear in actual Cuban music, or in later jazz.

I've written it in 3/4, but it could have been written in 6/4, or 6/8, or 12/8. Going into the solos there is a metric modulation into 4/4— the dotted quarter during this intro groove becomes the quarter note in the 4/4— which would argue for  writing it in an */8 meter, but the accompanying parts are so strongly in 3/4, that's the meter I put it in. Wayne Shorter's and Lee Morgan's solos on this are great. Transcription of Blakey's solo on this tune coming soon...