Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The hard stuff

Do we have to? Because
I'd really rather not.
No one would ever accuse me of being a simplistic or non-technical drummer, but my philosophy has always been Do Easy. I spend a lot of time with a lot of things that are relatively easy to learn, easy to work with in real playing, while being more selective about the harder things I do. This isn't to say you don't have to work at it— it still takes a lot of time and effort. Which is why you want to be smart about the truly hard things you work on.

What I'm doing here is looking at the more demanding areas of drumming literature, and giving you my opinion on whether they are worth the effort.

These thumbnail reviews are totally biased. I like the things that have worked for me, and I don't like the things that haven't. I don't like things I never practiced enough to get what I'm supposed to get from them. The authors get at least 50% of the blame for that— it's their job to design materials that want to be practiced. If a guy like me can't get somebody's book to stay on my music stand, there's something wrong with it.

The New Breed
I've never actually used this book in any serious way. It had it's moment of being the stuff in the late 80s and early 90s, and it's still the primary method for learning funk and fusion timekeeping in the post-Dave Weckl mode. It is somewhat similar to the Reed-based method, in that it involves reading a melodic part— except New Breed is mostly about adding a single drumset voice to increasingly complex ostinatos; using Reed involves learning increasingly complex interpretations. It's clearly an effective method, because it has helped a lot of people sound very good— and Chester as a teacher produced a lot of excellent players— but there also seems to be a certain sameness in players who have used it a lot.

There's also some philosophical stuff in the book I don't agree with at all— mainly, some of the instrument setup things and the emphasis on “open-handed” playing.

4-Way Coordination
I've talked before about my journey with this book. I have major reservations about it, and a third of it is useless to me— and I practice out of it all the time. Our page o' coordination series is inspired by the jazz portion of 4WC. There are ways to use the book productively, but it's best reserved for people who are already fairly advanced players and who practice a lot. It takes some knowledge to be able to derive anything musical from it, and usually it's best to learn independence/coordination through practicing actual usable content.

Gary Chaffee 
In his Patterns series, and a few other volumes, Chaffee has written major systems for developing:

  • 16th note timekeeping and independence
  • triplet timekeeping and independence
  • linear drumming
  • stickings
  • advanced rhythm

The 16th note timekeeping (“fatback”) section is effective, and somewhat brutal. It simply presents all possible 16th note bass drum rhythms in 2/4 with the snare drum on beat 2, to be combined with a variety of cymbal rhythms. It works, and if you're listening to music and forming your own ideas about what you want to play, you should be able to figure out something musical to do with it. If you don't have any feel for musicality, you won't come away from it having acquired any. To me it feels like a pretty cold abstract exercise, and I don't enjoy practicing it. I like my Reed-based funk method better.

The triplet independence portion is based on one-beat fragments, and is even more extreme and unusable than the worst parts of Dahlgren & Fine. Much of it is so dense that the useful tempo range for it is extremely limited. As a jazz method it fairly misses the point of jazz drumming, which is not supposed to be primarily about unending triplets, and not about difficult coordination patterns.

The sticking and linear drumming systems (found in Patterns vol. 2 and 3, and Odd Time Stickings) are very playable and useful, and have been much exploited by generations of fusion drummers, as well as the Gospel Chops school. The major point of each system is that they involve easy 3-8 note patterns, which are combined mathematically into practice phrases equalling a certain number of measures of a certain rhythm in a certain meter. See my many pages of my own linear practice phrases to get an idea of what I'm describing. Chaffee's method of assembling phrases by adding up their numbers of notes has never worked for me, but that's not a problem; in practicing them you figure out your own way of using them.

The rhythm books (vol. 1 and to some extent vol. 2 of Patterns) are invaluable for anyone looking to develop very advanced, Zappa-like odd tuplet rhythms. I practiced those books a lot, and I've found very little need or use for those types of rhythms in actual playing. Most often they sound like mistakes when used in normal playing situations, and they induce other players to make mistakes “correcting” them.

David Garibaldi
Garibaldi has written a number of books that have become funk drumming canon— most notably Future Sounds. I've been familiar with his ideas since getting my hands on some of his lessons materials and reading his Modern Drummer articles in the 80s, and while they're fun to practice, they never ended up being things I could work with very effectively in my actual playing. You can sound very slick in a somewhat generic busy drummer way if you simply practice the materials a lot, and aren't shy about repeating them in your playing. Clearly a lot of players have done that. But I always come away feeling it's primarily a method for sounding like David Garibaldi— or more likely, like one of many thousands of other drummers who use his books.

But there is good information in them and you should own them. The Garibaldi title I would recommend the most is The Funky Beat.

MORE after the break:

Friday, January 26, 2018

Groove o' the day: Steve Gadd - Casino

This is Steve Gadd's opening funk-Afro 12/8 groove from Al Di Meola's epically absurd fusion opus Casino, from the album of the same name:

Listen to the recording and note the different qualities of accent— the first one is a fat backbeat, and the second one is a rim shot, played closer to the edge of the drum.

Here's the entire intro, with that ending lick:

I feel like people have issues with rhythm in */8 meters, so just understand that the underlying rhythm on the lick is quarter notes— which, in 12/8, are equivalent to quarter note triplets in 4/4. Check out Grady Tate doing a similar thing in a different context.

If you want to develop this feel further, here's an old Page o' Coordination (due for an update) for working through some bass drum variations.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Page o' coordination: SB / BS

For some reason* this particular pattern is always difficult for me: snare-bass/bass-snare on the second two triplet partials. So let's work on it, adding the left foot, and varying the cymbal rhythm. If you find this to be way too easy, try its companion piece, where the pattern is done with the feet with an Afro-Cuban cymbal rhythm.

* - I haven't practiced it very much.

Of course I rushed through posting this, because I screwed up the key before exercise 1. There are no tom toms written into the exercise, and you can play the right hand on any cymbal you want. Try the ride cymbal.

The left hand moves are always good to play through, even though the LH part doesn't change here. This is also a good candidate for deriving tom moves from sequences on the first pages of Stick Control— Play Rs in Stone on a low drum, and Ls on a high drum. So if you're looking at the RRRL pattern in Stone, play the exercises above with the left hand playing low-low-low-high.

Get the pdf

Sunday, January 21, 2018

EZ uptempo jazz method - 01

There is at least one other EZ uptempo jazz method— oh look, here's another one— but this one is first in a series of similar things I'm writing now. If you learn to be creative with enough “EZ” things, it can add up to a lot of stuff.

I cooked this up while listening to a lot of Paul Motian for these recent posts— at faster tempos he does a lot of simple figures on the snare and/or bass drum, with the cymbal in unison. It also works well for an uptempo Tony Williams-like concept— which we've already done, but this will work better for faster tempos.

We're going to combine the first four exercises from an easy page of Syncopation, with ties added, with SD/BD combinations derived from Stick Control, adding the cymbal three different ways. It's quite simple, don't worry.

First, look at page 10 from Syncopation. We're going to use exercises 1-4, plus 14-15 if you feel like it. Ignoring the written bass drum part, we're going to add a tie to the last 8th note in each group of 8ths, like so:

With each of those exercises, there will be four notes sounding every measure. We're going to voice those four notes to match the first 13 patterns in the book Stick Control, with R meaning bass drum and L meaning snare drum. So exercise 1 from Reed voiced with the first five patterns in Stone (RLRL, LRLR, RRLL, LLRR, RLRR-LRLL) would be played:

Now we'll add the cymbal in three different ways— I'll use Reed exercise 3 with Stone voicing 5 for the examples.

1. Cymbal in unison with the bass drum only:

2. Cymbal in unison with the snare drum only:

3. Cymbal in unison with everything:

You'll quickly discover what works for you. Personally, on combinations like number 2 above, coming out of a time feel, I would probably add a cymbal on beat 1. When the two 8th notes are on the same drum, but the cymbal rule doesn't put a cymbal with them, I would probably play a cymbal with one of those 8th notes anyway. Don't worry too much about forcing weird things to work; just work them into the flow and change them however you like so they make sense for you.

We'll want to play the hihat on 2 and 4 throughout:

You don't need to do the exercises strictly the way they appear in the book. You can do one or two measures of the exercise, alternating with a basic time feel. Put the exercise figures in wherever you like, and try to make four or eight measure phrases out of it.

In general you should accent the tied note, and maybe the last note in the measure when going back to your time feel. In that case, you'll probably want to tie that accent to the first note of the cymbal pattern:

Finally, don't let your accents disrupt the flow. You can make bigger accents when you have more space; on the denser variations, or when you're doing your fastest tempos, you probably will want to accent lighter, saving the biggest accent for the last note of the measure:

The hihat is omitted from the first part of that example for no good reason. Inattention to detail on my part.

You should try to do this at around half note = 130-155, up to around 168. There's really no technical challenge to doing this; we're just introducing some possibilities for breaking up the cymbal rhythm with some statements on the drums. I reckon most of us will use this loosely, as a jumping off point for playing around with similar ideas; if you don't have much idea of what to play on fast tempo tunes, you should probably pick up some vocabulary by running this a little more thoroughly.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Key players: Paul Motian

Hey, let's continue this series I started last year.

When I first started getting into him 25 years ago, I was a little bit perplexed by him; no drummers I knew were into him; he had a free jazz thing going on, but none of the free jazz writers I was into really talked about him; his drums sounded like they belonged to a rock drummer. And there was this primitive thing happening— there was virtually nothing about his playing that usually attracts drummers to listen to someone. No chops, no flash, virtually no Buddy Rich element.

The drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011, pronounced Mo-shun or Mote-ian) is best known for his musical relationships with Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Paul Bley, and for his own bands, particularly his trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. I'm especially fond of Tethered Moon, his trio with Masabumi Kikuchi and Gary Peacock. Listening to him you hear his heavy sound, 50s bebop, 60s avant-garde, sometimes a little influence of 60s rock. He's also known as a composer. Much of what I describe here reflects his playing in the 70s and after, and to a lesser extent his playing with Bill Evans.

I should mention before we get too deep into this: what artists do is confound the definitive statements you try to make about them. I'm not a scholar, and my purpose here is not to write a definitive account of his playing; this is more an invitation to listen to him— until you recognize the things I'm talking about... and eventually, why stereotyped descriptions like this are inadequate.

Much of his playing is grounded in 50s bebop, which he plays with an often freight train-like delivery: very swinging, with a driving quarter note pulse, often with a strong hihat on 2 and 4, with the regular cymbal rhythm accented on 2 and 4... when he plays it. He gives you that impression even when he's not doing it. He once said Thelonious Monk suggested he accent the skip note, a la Elvin Jones, but I don't detect that in his playing. His comping is fairly simple, with a strong emphasis on quarter notes, and relatively little in the way of triplets— often not much in the way of independence at all. He gives the impression of playing gesturally, with the snare drum or bass drum (sometimes both) in unison with the cymbal. His playing with Bill Evans is lighter and more nuanced, but still rather rough, and interesting— not-so-correct, in his own words— and relatively less modern than what Evans and bandmate Scot LaFaro were playing. Certainly less virtuosic. Pianist Lennie Tristano once said to him “[Y]our fours sound like a drunk falling down a flight of stairs!”

The first thing you notice about his playing since the 60s is that he sometimes sounds like he doesn't know how to play. There's a primitivistic aspect to his playing, and he's perhaps the highest-profile drummer to make significant use of the free-time 60s avant-garde thing— playing in the manner of Sunny Murray, Milford Graves, Andrew Cyrille, and Rashied Ali. There is rarely (if ever) any kind of technical display happening, and he never seems to be playing for any kind of contrived effect. He does not use any kind of sophisticated rhythmic effect a la Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, or Tony Williams and there doesn't seem to be any technical aspect to his playing obviously developed after the 1950s. He's obviously a big listener; we could call him a pure music player.

He uses a heavy ride cymbal (often the formidable Paiste 22" Sound Creation Dark Ride, and it's variants— he owned several) and often larger drums tuned moderately low, and which he generally plays for a full tone— he hits the drums. By full tone I mean often thunderous. He played a lot of rim shots, on the snare drum and on the toms.

This quote from from Chuck Braman's essential 1996 interview strikes me as definitive of who Motian is as a player:

It's just music, man. I'm not thinking about backbeat, rock, or whatever. I'm thinking music. 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. I mean, whether the backbeat comes on the backbeat, or the frontbeat, or the sidebeat, or what-the-fuck-ever-beat! It don't matter, man, but it should be some kind of music there. It should satisfy me. Sometimes I wonder if it's a drag for the other musicians, what I'm doing, maybe I'm not as supportive of them as I should be. But fuck it, it's too bad then, you know what I mean? 

He's generally a great example for drummers on how to be band leaders and recording artists; he selected great, very distinctive musicians, and stayed with them for a long time; he made albums based on easy to grasp concepts, with good cover art (the art was probably was not his doing, but it should be yours); as a composer he wrote distinctive tunes based on his own sensibility, despite (apparently) not having actual professional composer chops.

Here are some resources for listening and reading more about Paul Motian:

Eleven essential albums:
Bill Evans - Explorations
Bill Evans - Portrait in Jazz
Keith Jarrett - Treasure Island
Paul Motian - Dance
Paul Motian Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
Paul Motian - Monk In Motian
Tethered Moon - Plays Kurt Weill
Bill Frisell - Rambler
Paul Bley - With Gary Peacock
Keith Jarrett - Birth
Geri Allen - Etudes

Uncle Paul's Jazz Closet - podcast featuring recordings from Motian's archives
Five awkward conversations with Paul Motian by Vinnie Sperrazza
Paul Motian interview with Chuck Braman

Eleven tracks:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Arpeggio exercise in 6/4 - 7th chords in C and G

UPDATE: Too many things were bugging me about the original version of this page, so I updated it. I added measure repeats so you play each thing twice, and I added an ending in which you repeat the major 6, plus a stop. Download the updated pdf.

SECOND UPDATE: If you want to work in the min/Maj 7, put it between the min7 and min6.

Here's something new: recently a marimba has come into my possession, and I'm in the process of getting my chops back together with it... well... let's be honest; I never had much in the way of marimba chops. So this will be my big chance to get them together in the first place, with the hope that 35 years of field experience will speed me along with that. My mallet percussion books from college are buried somewhere in a) my mom's basement, or b) my basement, so rather than look for them I'll be developing my own materials based on what I know I need to work on, and on some piano and jazz books I'm working out of.

This is an easy and fun little arpeggio exercise for getting acquainted with the basic 7th chords in one key— well, there are some 6th chords in there too, and I did leave out the minor/major 7— I imagine there will be a future version of the exercise that will work that in. I've written it so you get the next chord by changing one note of the current chord, where possible.

Start with the left hand. Learn each measure individually, then play the entire exercise, playing each measure one, two, or four times. Memorize the sequence, with the chord names. The lick flows naturally enough that you should be able to develop considerable speed with it. Looking at the shapes the chords make on the keyboard helps you memorize them, but it would also be great to be able to play this without looking at the instrument. Repeat endlessly; it resolves a little nicer if you play the first measure again the last time through.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Simultaneous clave triplet pull exercise

Here's something you can do with that silly “both clave directions at the same time” idea. In clave-based Latin music, the clave rhythm is often not played with a strict march-like execution; the 4/4 version often pulls in the direction of a triplet rhythm. It's a feel thing. With the simultaneous claves thing it's easier to get the rhythms precisely accurately, and easier to find the subtle gradation between the 4/4 and triplet versions. These exercises will help you develop some flexibility with it, so you can find the correct thing through listening to music and playing the style with people.

This exercise requires combining the duple and triplet versions of clave, usually written in 4/4 and 6/8; I've written it in the form I'm guessing will be most understandable to the most people: as dotted 8th-16th and 8th note triplet rhythms in 4/4. Not a big deal, it's just not usually how the rhythms are written.

Nail the exact rhythmic changes of the exercises, with both hands at an even volume, then practice them emphasizing the right hand, de-emphasizing the left. Then do them emphasizing the left hand, de-emphasizing the right. You can start the exercise on the first or second measure; starting on the second measure will give you 2-3 clave with the right hand, and 3-2 with the left. Keep in mind that there's really only one clave happening; the off hand rhythm is really just a check pattern to help you play the rhythm accurately. To actually state both clave directions at the same time is a mistake— a big enough and common enough mistake that they have a word for it: cruzado, meaning crossed. At best consider the off-hand, backwards clave part to be an entry point for developing independence with that hand.

Note that exercises 5 and 10 have a tenuto mark on the first note of each measure— usually that means to hold the note to its full value; here we want it to actually distort the triplet rhythm a bit, pushing it a little closer to the 4/4 version of the rhythm.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Practice loop: Airto - Hot Sand

This is another loop I use a lot: Hot Sand, a bright samba by Airto, from his album Virgin Land. Great for use with my recent drumset batucada drill, and with my book Playing Samba and Bossa Nova (see the sidebar for e-book version). Somehow they always make you do the fast sambas on the quietest gigs, and it's not supposed to be a heavy feel to begin with, so it would be an excellent idea to play with this until you can do it very softly, with a relaxed right foot. Tempo is half note = 122 bpm.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Paul Motian podcast

Here's one you're going to want to follow: Uncle Paul's Jazz Closet. The caretaker of  Paul Motian's recorded archives has made a podcast that includes selections from his recordings— released and unreleased, live performances, rehearsal tapes, other people playing his music, and miscellaneous items from his collection.

There's a lot of music here— they've been posting weekly since early 2016— but I'm most excited about the rehearsal tapes with Charles Brackeen and David Izenson, and with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, and the home recordings with Masabumi Kikuchi. There's seriously a ton of stuff. Go there now and download it all. There's also a blog connected with the podcast, and a book of Motian tunes available

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Various internet drumming misconceptions complained about

What I want to do to the internet sometimes.
I wrote this as I was finishing the 2017 Book of the Blog. Getting a book ready for publication means having a lot of frustration to vent, which I've done here by complaining about things I see on the internet about practicing the drums.

Throughout this post I refer to “people” who think or do things I don't like. Usually that's a sign that the writer just likes believing everyone else in the world is an idiot, and is responding to some stereotyped other he made up himself. Not me, of course— I have seen actual instances of everything I mention here. But it's also fun to pretend there's some nameless rabble of idiots out there who we're smarter than, and for the sake of entertainment, I'm not afraid to indulge that a little bit. Don't get too serious about complaining about some nameless, clueless them.

I keep seeing this word. Usually repeated by novices for whom everything musical seems random, because they don't know anything— or by someone who made an app. Generating a random number is a built-in function of all programming languages, and it's easier to make an app do something random than it is to actually learn something about music, have a lesson plan, and write something realistic. Music is not random— it's made by humans making creative decisions, usually reflecting a musical tradition or set of conventions.

Bury the click
Cleaving desperately to the metronome is another internet thing. A common piece of lore says that when you play with a metronome, you should be so consistently accurate that you are not able to hear the click. Bury the click, is the droning advice. I see people dedicating a lot of energy to doing this, and worrying about their inability to do it. And I've seen the videos by mediocre players who have obviously worked on this way more than other, more important things, and they don't sound good.

Having excellent time and accuracy is important, but it's doesn't require that your execution be characterless, and it doesn't require infinite refinement. Which is basically what this belief demands. Also watch out for the word “micro-timing.”

Ever heard the expression work smarter, not harder? That's what this entire game is about. That could be the motto of this blog. I'm trying to limit my use of the word, but there's a persistent belief that harder = better. It's a problem when people try to make things harder in ways that make no sense in terms of where musical skill actually comes from.

Example: one drummer figured out that the way to play slow tempos accurately is to subdivide, so what if I make it harder and don't subdivide? Zero in on the exact thing that makes it realistically possible to do the hard thing, and don't do that. It's like trying to be a better carpenter by eyeballing all your measurements. Professionals know that being a good carpenter means knowing how to use a tape measure; this mentality wants you to try to be an innate human measuring machine that doesn't need a tape measure.

Dominant/weak hand
Sometimes I think people are just attracted to certain language— it will have nothing to do with actual reality, but the words sound good, and they like to pretend this is a permanent feature of the terrain. Right now, in American culture, the idea of dominance is very popular, and people like imposing it as widely and brainlessly as possible.

Most people have a preferred hand for doing various untrained activities, which is fine, but in drumming in the modern, North American mode there is no “dominant” hand, and no “weak” hand. Even in my way of playing, which is largely oriented around leading and riding with the right hand. You're supposed to practice enough for your natural hand preference not to matter. Follow that link to read more about this— both sides of this issue.

If someone complains about his “weak” hand or “weaker” side, he's admitting he doesn't practice. What do you do to remedy a weak hand? Practice your technical materials for snare drum twice as much starting with your left hand as your right, and practice in front of  a mirror to match stroke heights and technique between the hands. That's it. In a very short period of focused practiced you can develop solid, balanced technique. You don't have to play “open-handed” or learn to play all your stuff backwards.

Fear of a bad habit
Whatever you do, don't just play the drums because you may develop a bad habit which will displease the Father God and ruin you forever. It's a great excuse for never doing anything. In reality, the only bad habit you should worry about is not practicing daily, and listening enough, and playing enough. Everything else can be easily fixed with more of same.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Two clave rhythms at the same time

This is an interesting thing relating to clave, and Latin rhythms in general:

Play this rhythm and sticking:

Now play each hand on a different sound— a metal sound with the right hand, and a snare drum rim click with the left:

You should be able to see what's going on there— the right hand is playing Son clave in the 3-2 position, and the left hand is playing it in 2-3 position.

Son clave in 3-2 position; 2-3 position has the
measures reversed. You already know this.

...which is not a thing that ever happens in music, that I am aware of— usually if 2-3 clave is happening while the band is playing 3-2, somebody is screwing up and is about to get spanked. It's to be avoided. But it is interesting, so I decided to see what happens when you do the same thing with some other rhythms. Like Rumba clave:

Or 6/8 Son Clave:

Or 6/8 Rumba clave:

I also did a couple of Brazilian rhythms: the familiar Bossa rhythm, and Partido Alto. You can get the pdf to see those. I'll be thinking about what to do with this idea— it could be a useful exercise for introducing the rhythms, and the concept of 3-2 vs. 2-3; also as a starting place for developing independence. Certainly one hand should always dominate, and the last thing you should do with it is try to actually make both clave positions speak at the same time.

(h/t to Bermuda Schwartz)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

NOW AVAILABLE: 2017 Book of the Blog

OK gang, the 2017 Book of the Blog is now available for purchase!

It includes all of the downloadable practice materials posted on the site in 2017, plus the grooves o' the day, plus selected practice methods for use with the books Syncopation and Stick Control— and transcriptions of Steve Gadd, Jack Dejohnette, Tony Williams, Terry Bozzio, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, Art Blakey, Ben Riley, and others— all handsomely bound and ready for practice room abuse.

There are robust sections on jazz comping, funk, linear drumming, and a broad category described as waltz, triplet, and 6 feels.

Level: intermediate to pro. 90 pages. $14.95

BONUS: All of my other print books are 15% off until whenever I feel like changing it. End of January? Who knows? Order now!

The table of contents of the 2017 book is posted after the break— hit read more:

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Daily best music in the world: Idris Muhammad

Here's what I'm listening to as I finish writing the 2017 Book of the Blog, which will be available for you to order by Monday. I've played this thing like 10 times. My theory is that the more you study and try to play like people like Idris Muhammad and Ndugu Leon Chancler, the more people will want to play with you. 70s funk and studio drumming is where it's at.

Stay tuned for that book... the last 5 minutes of work has a way of dragging out to 5 hours... or days...

Monday, January 01, 2018

Steve Albini on recording drums

Happy 2018. To soothe your possibly-aching head, here are 90 minutes of recording engineer Steve Albini talking about recording drums for pop music, and about production in general. Let the endless technical detail wash over you like a balm. Do pay attention to the explanation of the difference between the recording engineer and the producer. Sorry the guy drumming in the first video is so painful to look at.

(h/t to Kamak at Drummerworld)

Jump to 5:00 to get past the annoying host: