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.

Get the pdf

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.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Displacing a groove - 16th notes - 02

Part 2 of the previous displacement thing. This is the kind of thing that's so obvious I don't like to put it on the site, but it's an intermediate step to the next thing, and it's not totally without value. Play it a few times, and take advantage of its easiness to work on your sound and accuracy. The goal is to learn a certain creative move based on a basic beat— once you know it's a thing you can do, and can execute it with confidence, you can move on. It won't take long.

Again, it's not a terrible idea to play each pattern alternating with pattern 1. You can do both of these pages with the various standard cymbal rhythms— quarter notes, offbeat 8th notes, 16th notes, 16th notes alternating, 1 &a-2 &as.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Drum lessons with Todd Bishop IN SEATTLE

Actually this is about the neighborhood
where I'll be teaching.
UPDATE: Bumping this to the top again. Get in touch if you have any interest.

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

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

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: