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.

Get the pdf

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.

Get the pdf

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...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Very occasional quote of the day: Ndugu on musicality

“I think a drummer's success and notability are based on sensitivity as a musician—not as a drummer. I don't even approach myself as a drummer. I'm an orchestrator. The drums are just the instrument I use to orchestrate—paint the picture.

It is very important that you don't lull the people to sleep with one volume or one style. I think the great drummers are the ones who can give you peaks and valleys in their performance. That's very important. Dynamically we're playing an instrument that naturally can be played loud and hard, but the beauty of the instrument is when it's played soft. Just as you can get your point across loud, you can get it across more so soft because you can draw more attention, number one. Number two, dynamics and accentuations are part of music, period. For drummers to think that they can't do that means that they're not total musicians.

It's very important for drummers to vary not only their speed concept, but their volume concept, because those things are synonymous. If you play everything fast— your fill-ins, your beats, a lot of intricate things— you don't give the people time to breathe. If you play everything loud you don't give their ears rest from the volume, so you slowly numb people to what you're doing, which is unfair. So I think that's half of being a drummer. We're not at a point where anybody's playing anything so drastically different. It's just that the style they're using is different. That's all.”

—Ndugu Leon Chancler, Modern Drummer interview, November, 1983

Friday, April 14, 2017

EZ linear solo method

Ever find yourself playing too much bass drum? It's easy to do when, like me, you practice out of Syncopation a lot. And a thing I've noticed in doing so many transcriptions is how sparsely many drummers use it. So this is a little practice method— really just a minor tweak on an existing method— simplifying the bass drum and introducing some space. I think of this as being for bop soloing, but it's good for a lot of contexts— either soloing or broken time feels in straight 8th/post-bop jazz settings and in funk or fusion, or soloing in Cuban or Brazilian styles.

So: Reading from the Syncopation section (pp. 32-44) of Progressive Steps to Syncopation, ignore the stems-down part, play the stems-up part with your hands— alternating sticking, natural sticking, improvised sticking, or both hands in unison— and wherever there's an 8th note of space between hand notes, add a bass drum note. Where there's a longer space between hand notes, play as written— don't add anything. Swing the 8th notes, if you're playing this as a jazz method, and you're in that tempo range— around quarter note 100-250.

The first two lines from p. 37 in Syncopation (p. 38 in the new edition):

Would be played like this:

There are rare exceptions where we'll add a bass drum to the longer spaces. Further on on that same pages, there are a few isolated single notes. Where there are single notes with long spaces before and after them, add a bass drum after them. So the first two measures of line 5 of p.37/38:

Would be played:

Same thing when there are two notes isolated. On the last two measures of line 6 from the same page:

Play this:

In the book that first quarter note is the end of a longer run, so we don't add bass drum after it with this method. Of course this is all a means to an end— small reading errors don't matter, and small errors applying the interpretation really don't matter. Instead of sweating small stuff, go for continuity, and a good feel, sound, and dynamic shape.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Linear phrases in 3/4, mixed rhythm - 02

Here's the companion to the Gary Chaffee linear phrases in 3/4, which I posted the other day. This page just has the same phrases displaced by one note; the last note of each phrase, a bass drum note, has been moved over to beat 1, so the first pattern of each phrase begins on the & of 1.

As I said, I've done quite a few pages of this type of thing, and we're at the point where the added value of each new page may be diminishing. Whether you work on my 5/4 pages, or my 7/4 pages, or just the exercises in 4/4 and 12/8 in the original book, the difference between things is fairly small. So you may as well jump around. You shouldn't be feeling oh my God, there are so many pages to work on. It's really just one thing.

Use the stickings given at the top of the page— alternating, each pattern starting with the right hand. You can also reverse the stickings, or try a natural sticking system— although I think it really becomes a different concept if you do that. You can move your hands around the drums, or play the right hand on the ride or hihat, left hand on snare drum, or left hand moving.

If you do these exercises “in 1”— fast, feeling one beat per measure— they translate easily into a 6/8 or 12/8 feel; in that context they would be played as 16th notes and 16th note triplets.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Playing free

“No chaos, damn it!” —Jackson Pollock
responding to a critic who called his work chaotic.
Here at CRUISE SHIP DRUMMER! there are some subjects we don't talk about much— not because they're not important, but because it's hard to talk about them. It's hard to say anything real specific about how you go about playing so-called free jazz— totally improvised music. But that type of playing has been a a big part of my thing for many years, and I think all players should learn how to do it, so I'll give a few guidelines.

While there are areas of free playing where the drummer plays similarly to regular “non-free”  music, the way of playing I'm talking about is largely textural, unmetered, without a defined tempo, and— here, just go listen to Interstellar Space. We're talking about how to play that vibe. Following are some suggestions for how to approach it, think about it, and how to actually “execute” it.

“Free Jazz” is not supposed to be a style, but it is sort of a style— people expect a certain ballpark thing. You're not supposed to go in and play a Polka beat or clave all night. Get some records and get an idea of the parameters of the music historically, at least. It helps if you actually try to like the music and get excited about it.

What's going on? How to I sound like that? Start by playing the drums, moving your limbs in an uncontrolled way. Make a mess. If you dedicate some time to that, eventually the stuttering racket will begin to organize itself, and you'll be playing some things you couldn't have arrived at any other way.

Try to copy the vibe of some free playing you like. If you look at videos of those players, you can see that many of them will use a kind of naive technique at least some of the time— they play like they don't know how to play. You can do that too.

The “Action Painting” concept— that results didn't matter,
and that painting was all about just the physical action of it
— was bullshit. De Kooning spent a lot of time looking
between every few strokes you see here. The goal was always
to make a painting in the traditional sense.
Listen to the people you're playing with more than you listen to yourself. Listen more than you think about what you're doing.

This music is usually considered to be “tempoless”, but that's not right— the things you play, together with the other musicians, create a kind of tempo feeling— a sense of velocity. You can't avoid it, so it's best to understand that it's happening, and work with it. Like with normal, metered music, you can do certain time-stretching things that will sound like cross rhythms, creating musical tension; also, if you violate the implied velocity too much, things break down, and you begin to sound directionless, meandering, boneless, and you're on your way to an unsatisfying musical experience.

Normal rules of phrasing apply— by which I mean, the audience is going to perceive phrases, so as you play you may as well be aware of the occurrence of the free jazz equivalent of two, four, eight, or sixteen measure phrases. The length of the horn player's breath is a natural phrase length that happens even if there are no other structures in the music.

A good strategy for developing ideas, as well as cohesion and coherence, is to repeat whatever you play until you have a reason to change to something else. Whatever first random thing you do, keep doing it, allowing little changes happen to it— if you've gotten comfortable with that type of semi-controlled playing I described above, that development will happen on its own.

You should realize, as you and your friends are going bananas, that in doing this type of playing, you are actually composing a normal piece of music with a beginning, middle, and end. It's happening whether you intend it to or not. Everything you play = the composition. Do what you will with that information. You can use normal composer tactics of repeating and developing motifs, contrasting sections, intros and codas, whatever.

Pointillism: making a
painting out of discrete dots.
There are some drummers who make a career out of the full-time hell-of-a-racket approach, but most will be bored by that. You can change things up between “tunes” by switching to brushes, or mallets, or hands, or to mainly-drums, or mainly-cymbals, whatever. You can also suggest broad approaches to the other players— let's play long tones, or let's play pointillistic, or let's try to sound like a bird attack*, or a gladiator fight*, or like pleistocene megafauna*.

* - All ideas used by me. I'll play you the record sometime.

Free improvisation is not a new way of making music, and it is no longer avant-garde.  Avant-garde refers to a form of expression that the artist understands before everyone else— the artist gets it now, soon everyone will get it. In 2017, everybody gets it, and no sophisticated or sympathetic listener will be affronted by it. There are some anti-social types in the free music community who seem to think that being deliberately hard to listen to is the same as being avant-garde, and it is not. Avant-garde is a term used by historians to describe an artist's personal expression that was out of step with the taste/standards of the time, and turned out to be historically significant.

There's no special significance to this music, or to this way of playing, and nothing to know that you're not already learning in other areas of music. It exists for your playing and listening pleasure. There are books you can get (kof  FREE PLAY) that tell you how great free improvising is, and what a rich, wonderful world of exploration, freedom, and self-discovery it is. I advise that you never open books like that more than a few running steps from the nearest bathroom. You don't need those books and no verbal explanation or theory will help you get it. Please just listen and play.

Here is some listening to get you started:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Very occasional quote of the day: groove interference

“Coordination is a nice thing to have going, don't get me wrong. But taken to extremes, you set up rhythmic interference instead of maintaining a groove. It's not that you're being too busy. It's just a case of having things running so counter to each other that the whole thing stops swinging. Grooving means getting into whatever's happening around you in the band. Basically, it means following the path of least resistance.”

—Alan Dawson, Modern Drummer, July '1977

Monday, April 10, 2017

EZ Tony-like method: two variations

We're calling this “Tony Williams-like” on the thinnest possible pretext, of course— playing it, it reminded me of some things he did on Frelon Brun, is all. These are two even easier things you can do with an already very simple idea. Our purpose is to drill modern, fast-tempo, broken-time, non-genius stuff you'll play all the time, and become really fluent with it.

Review the first thing: using Ted Reed's Progressive Steps to Syncopation, reading the snare drum part from the long syncopation exercises 1-8: play the short notes (untied 8th notes) on the snare drum, and the long notes (everything else: tied 8ths, all forms of quarter notes) on the bass drum. Play the cymbal in unison with everything.

What we'll do today is even easier. We'll illustrate these using the first two lines of the Syncopation Exercise 1, the famous page 37 (now on page 38, in the new edition):

First, play the cymbal in unison with the snare drum only— bass drum notes are solo bass drum. No reason not to do some of those unisons with the hands on a tom tom and snare drum, too. Mix it up, and try to make music out of it.

Generally you can accent bass drum notes on an off beat. Where there are multiple quarter notes on the bass drum, accent the last note, and play the others a little lighter.

Second, play the cymbal in unison with the bass drum only. Snare drum is played with the left hand, but you can try other stickings with the multi-note runs. In doing that I try to still play all the cymbal notes with my right hand, but do whatever you like. Vary the accents, and try adding flams at the beginning of those multiple snare drum notes, too.

Easy? Sure. So easy you should be able to smoke exercises 1-8 without complaint. Do these in normal uptempo range: half note = 130-165. At those tempos you will not swing the 8th notes. Do whatever you like with the hihat.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Transcription: Dave King - Rational Funk / Trading 8s

Here's something I don't normally do: transcribe stuff from solo/demo/“lesson” videos online. But this is a) cool, b) illustrative of something I talk about a lot here, which is UNDERLYING SIMPLICITY.

The video is “Memes / Trading 8s”—  Episode 41 of Dave King's YouTube series Rational Funk. If you like my site you've probably already heard of King and the series, and are following him. I'm just always amazed that any Joe-Ray Dickstein's blast beat video will get 1,000,000 hits, and most of these videos are languishing between 10-20k views. If you want to be a musician, this is the real content. And if you're going to take free content, you've got to help people monetize— follow, share, tweet, retweet, buy product.

So I've written out three four-measure solos (alternating with a funk groove) which are hip, interesting, and fancy-sounding, and I thought people might like to know what's going on. The transcription starts at 2:55 in the video:

The straight groove portion is something not unlike what we've seen in my recent FUNK CONTROL series of posts: a hand pattern of RLRR-LRRL plus accents and bass drum.

If you analyze the page a little bit, you can see there are a lot of alternating 16th notes happening, moving around between the snare drum, hihat, and crash cymbal; there's syncopated accenting, occasional tied notes or rests, drags, and a few doubles. There's a little bass drum added, and the occasional hihat played with the foot, either in unison with the hands, or punched in a gap. He alludes to a five note pattern in measure 6, and a three note pattern in measure 25.

The one squirrelly lick is the 5-let thing near the end— the rhythm may be approximate, but that appears to be the sequence of notes played. Good to remember that a lot of weird-looking stuff you see in these transcriptions is not necessarily written the way it was conceived by the player.

I should note that my articulations for the hihat are all over the place on this one— usually where there's an accent, the cymbals are half-open; I also use a tenuto mark to indicate a half-open note, and I've got a few standard 'o's in there to indicate an open sound, which are also kind of half-open. It doesn't matter. And there are a couple of minor typos in the jpeg above, which are corrected in the pdf, so download the pdf.

Get the pdf

Monday, April 03, 2017

Very occasional quote of the day: Harvey Mason on listening and insecurity

“[D]o all the listening you can, to everyone who is on record, or live. Try to evaluate what really makes them function in the setting they're in. Try to add it to your arsenal or repertoire so that when you're in a situation, you have more things to call on. Listen to the music and try to figure out what your instrument does in various situations.

Don't be intimidated by anyone musically, and just do what you do best, and feel good about doing. All you can do is what you do. You can't do what anyone else does. If you've prepared enough, and have listened enough, and are musically sympathetic to a situation, you usually end up doing okay.”

—Harvey Mason, from 1981 Modern Drummer interview with Robyn Flans

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Page o' coordination: Afro-Peruvian - 01

Let's get it out of the way up front that I know nothing about Afro-Peruvian music— I played a session with John Butler, a Portland guitarist who plays it, and he hipped me to its existence, and that's it. These are just my observations from a little bit of listening. The guitar is central, and sounds to me almost like a fusion of Son and Flamenco. The common meter seems to be ambiguously 6/8 (or 12/8)— the quarter note pulse is stronger than you would normally associate with that meter, and the dotted-quarter note pulse is more felt than played outright— many examples are easier for me to feel in 6/4. The “short” bell pattern found in Cuban music is often used, but Peruvian music (according to artist Gabriel Alegria) is not clave-based:

Being firmly rooted in Africa[...] Afro-Peruvian music has no clave, the underlying five beat pattern in much Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean music. Instead the styles within Afro-Peruvian music have many variations but, like the African-rooted American jazz music, no clave. 

And with a looser structure:

It's not a rule that you have to play festejos exactly the same every time. It has many, many, many variants just as there are variants of swing patterns in a ride cymbal for a [jazz] drummer.

The music was originally played just with a percussion section, but seems very friendly to the use of the drumset— at least in a “modern”/commercial/jazz-oriented format. The ostinato on this page is pilfered directly from a video by David Cornejo, a Peruvian drummer living in New York, and the left hand independence parts are stock rhythms useful for improvising with other forms of this “Afro 6/8” family of playing. You'll also want to pull Cornejo's left hand rhythms from his video below— and check out his other stuff; he has a YouTube channel with a bunch of good videos.

Play the left hand part as a rim click, then drill the entire page using my standard left hand moves, varying the accents and timbre. I would also learn the page in a duple, 6/4 meter— with a quarter note pulse, so the cymbal rhythm would be counted 1&-&3, 4&-&6.

Get the pdf

Here's a link to the Alex Acuña track he's playing along with. Search “Afro-Peruvian”, “Peru negro”, or “festejo” on YouTube for more.