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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.