Sunday, March 19, 2017

Things other people say that I think are stupid

T.H.I.S. S.U.C.K.S.
I'm sorry I said stupid. I just wanted you to read this. If you hang out on the internet a little bit, you start noticing patterns in people's views about drumming, and that a few of them are not actually the greatest thing in the world. In the following I will comment on some practices and advice that often come up around “the web” and give my own value-added advice on same.

“Practice your rudiments”
And that's it. End of suggestion. Just general rudiments. No indication of which ones or what you're supposed to do with them. It sounds like people are just getting out the list of rudiments, and playing through them in dictionary entry format, which I think is a big waste of time.

My advice: Get a book, and learn it. Haskell Harr (mainly book 2) is an excellent traditional choice, and my current favorite. Rudimental Primer by Mitchell Peters is a more modern option. Matt Savage's Rudimental Workshop is good if you're involved in drum corps. Rudimental Swing Solos by Wilcoxon if you're a serious jazz student, and fairly advanced. All of those books give you the rudiments and their variations, preparatory studies for learning them, and solos in which you learn to use them in context, in a variety of common meters.

“Practice the book Stick Control— just the first page.
Or sometimes just the first thirteen exercises. The idea is, I guess, that those patterns are so fundamental, you can do anything else in drumming just by doing them a lot. I honestly don't know why people give this advice. Maybe they've been lazy and never got past the first pages, so they created this notion that you should only do the first pages. Shield their behinds from criticism.

My advice: Look, practicing Stick Control is a nightmare. And not in a good way. The beginning of the book is the most boring part, and practicing only that part is needlessly painful and ineffective. They wrote all those other pages for a reason. Challenge yourself, move on.

“Four per hand”
I don't know why going RRRR-LLLL is suddenly a thing, but it is. RRRR-LLLL is the gateway to a fairyland of amazing drumming abilities.

My advice: It looks cool to be able to do blazing 4s, like Chapin, but so what? Are you a professional practice pad chops demonstrator? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE ACCOMPLISHING?

Excuse me. It's fine. It's a thing. I personally don't think it's the most important thing to work on, but whatever. I think you'll get more value out of practicing it if you put the last note on a strong beat, like: RLLL-LRRR.

Push-pull/Moeller/free strokes/etc/etc/etc
I put all of these complex, rebound-reliant strokes under the Moeller umbrella. Most great drummers, actually do not use this technique, but it's become an article of faith that on the internet that this is the one true best way to play a drum. It's very hard to argue with it because the people who are good at it are truly impressive. I think the approach has serious limitations when it comes to real world playing.

My advice: Follow my technical advice in this old post, Playing Quieter, or contact me for a Skype lesson or three. I spent a good 15 years with this general type of technique, and I developed something cool with it, but I eventually figured out it really doesn't work for everything. It's good for relaxed power. It's good for automatic running notes at certain rates of speed. It's generally not good for playing normal combo volume, and actually not great for playing creatively— you tend to get locked into repetitive motions. Tempos tend to gravitate towards what feels right mechanically. And I found that there's a built in weakness in not training the up part of the stroke as well as the attack.

Not this.
Preoccupation with “techniques” in general
A certain element of humanity tends to be preoccupied with compartmentalizing and giving things names. If something has a name you can talk about how awesome it is, and about who's good at and who sucks, and you can distinguish yourself from those poor clueless outsiders who don't know about it. Metal drummers are really into this. “If I learn X, Y and Z techniques I'm a good drummer.”

My advice: This is a low form of consciousness, a magician mindset. What we want to do is play creatively thinking about rhythm, melody, groove, sound, and energy— explanation of that is beyond the scope of this piece.

Everything is just singles and doubles, so just practice singles and doubles. 
If you can do those, you can do anything! So do just those. This is the self-flagellating minimalist version of the Stick Control thing above. People think your natural creativity will be unleashed if you master a couple of “universal” ideas.

My advice: Minimalist practice methods don't work. You don't become Marcel Proust by just reciting the alphabet, or verb conjugations. Naming pronouns. You have to acquire content. That's actually your primary job as a student drummer— it isn't about just learning physical motions. In the practice room you do that by playing through a lot of stuff. In the larger scheme you also listen a lot and play a lot.


Andre said...


I always appreciate your opinion and practice. Even the fact that you have an opinion on practicing and the usefulness/not so usefulness of very popular drumming advice. Like probably a lot of drummers I came up hearing Dave Weckel talk about the Moller technique, I was taught to play the ride cymbal with big open rebounding strokes, to think about my swung 8ths like triplets....Ect.

I feel like all of these can be useful tools, and can have a place in practice/teaching but so often I feel like teaching falls short of being applicable to the students life experience. When I my biggest technical issue was control, precision, and endurance....What was the point of all that Moller practice. Personally, I benefited from some drum corps type excercises to develop my wrists, and I also shedded some orchestral snare books to work on control and dynamics. But that was me....At a particular place in my life/musicanship with a particular experiences that required me to shed that stuff.

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks Andre-- of course nothing I say is ever meant to be taken as the one final true answer. Particularly on the internet I see people fixate on certain ideas which then become dogma, when they are just one possible way among many for doing things.

Something similar to what you're talking about with cymbal technique was a thing I picked up when I was at USC-- from a drummer named Jeff Falcone, who had studied with Ed Soph, and had great ride cymbal technique. Soph's exercise, as explained by Jeff, was to play a jazz cymbal rhythm at ~ 40 bpm, with very flowing, lift-y, timpani-like strokes-- full strokes with French grip, in current terms. That was a useful exercise, though maybe not very "Moeller", the way I did it-- the lift in a timpani stroke is not rebound, of course...

I also arrived at a "low Moeller" type thing through the back door, when