Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Stairway to Heaven figure

This is something I did for a student who was looking for some help playing Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. On the out chorus— or whatever you want to call it; the song is basically just a four bar verse plus a bridge and a C section, and doesn't really have a chorus— there is a rhythmic figure which John Bonham plays a few different ways, and uses as the basis for his fills. I haven't transcribed what he plays exactly, but I wrote out some obvious ways of playing the figure which are very similar to what he's doing.

Learn the orchestrations individually, then practice them as part of the two-measure practice phrase— which happens to be the same way it happens in the song. When you have it up to speed, run them along with the practice loop. The orchestrations are not meant to be married to any particular drum or cymbal. They also don't need to be played exactly; you can improvise your own way of playing each basic idea.

Get the pdf

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Page o' coordination: 2SB-2BS

Another entry using this slightly different conception of my page o' coordination series— adding various cymbal rhythms to a repeating snare-and-bass coordination pattern. The cymbal rhythms are good for jazz, R&B, Afro-Cuban, or just general facility. 

Learn the whole page in the tempo range of quarter note = 100-120. Drill it for 3-14 days using our stock left hand moves. Move on to the next thing.

Get the pdf

Friday, February 23, 2018

Drumming technique

I want to talk about technique: the way it gets talked about it on the internet, vs. my own practices and attitude about it. We've had lots of adversarial posts lately— hopefully entertainingly so. A side effect of living in totally insane times is that people are going to have a lot of random antagonism to express, which I choose to direct at computer/tech people worming their way into the artistic world, and at people with slightly different ideas about drumming than mine. We'll be pretty low-key about it today.

There's an internet lore about drumming technique which is very oriented around the physics of things bouncing on drums... or more often practice pads. Words that you hear include free stroke, “8 to a hand”, Moeller, “throwing the stick”, push-pull, “bouncing a ball”... the same few buzzwords/catchphrases/practices come up again and again. It's derived from the group of techniques promoted Jim Chapin, Dom Famularo, and Jojo Mayer. It's implicitly oriented around the idea that technique is for extreme power and extreme high performance— implicitly because none of the bounce stuff works at normal volumes.

It sounds cool. I want extreme power! Unfortunately I'm rarely asked to play extreme power. I'm usually asked to play somewhat-to-extremely quietly. We can talk about the true need for extreme chops another time.

This video is a good summary of this general mode of thought:

I occasionally get students who have been self-teaching this approach, who were all completely missing the boat for playing actual normal snare drum stuff on a snare drum. The thing technique is supposed to be for.

Let's give an actual quasi-scholarly definition here: the first purpose of any technique is to get a sound on the instrument, and to perform the standard literature at standard performance volume. That's what technique means for any other instrument in the world— violin, piano, timpani, tamborim. For drumset musicians, “standard literature” just means the usual stuff that professional drummers play.

In aid of that, I think that whatever else you do technically, you need to be able to execute a clean basic wrist technique. Everything else follows from that. Here are the basic elements of that, the way I teach it:

  • A controlled but relaxed “German” grip. I tend to use the “American” grip more in normal playing, and the “French” grip when playing the ride cymbal, but German is the best, easiest-to-perfect foundation grip.
  • Strokes are made all with the wrist; no finger, no arm
  • No use of pad or drum bounce— you pick up the stick with your wrist after the stroke, to make a smooth, fast follow-through.
  • Stick heights between 2-7"— the height range for most normal playing. 
  • High velocity strokes. The individual stroke motion is fast regardless of the volume or tempo of what you're playing. 
  • Ability to do the basic strokes of the level system: full, down, tap, and up strokes. 
  • Most drummers habitually lift the stick before playing a note, and downstroke after playing a note— they stop the stick close to the head. I work to eliminate the automatic lift and downstroke.
  • With any controlled technique it's easy to turn the control into tension— obviously something to be avoided. We're going for a fast, light, clean motion.

You can practice this in front of a mirror, matching stick heights, playing in the center of the drum, playing left hand lead exercises about twice as long as right hand lead exercises. Try playing through Stick Control (not just the first three pages), Three Camps, whatever. I think Ron Fink's Chop Busters and Mitchell Peters's Odd Meter Calisthenics are excellent for practical advanced chops.

I started out teaching myself this approach because it was the only way to play as quietly as I was being asked to play— the extremely loose, open technique I was using before was failing at normal combo volumes. It eventually turned out that I needed very little else to do everything I needed to do, in all settings. It's true that much of the time I use a looser American grip because most of the time you don't actually need optimal fine control— it's an adequate technique, but not a better one.

Let's be clear that there is a place for that Chapin/Famularo/Mayer family of techniques: like in situations where actual power is called for, or a very showy, high-sticking technique. A few of them will improve your cymbal technique. Certainly anyone who wants to exist in the extreme drumming world. They're not generally necessary to be a plain old great, artistically successful, very impressive drummer.

If you want further explanation of my technique, contact me for a Skype lesson.

Epilogue: About the guy in the video above— Sacha K is the only name I can find. He can actually play the drums, but when he's playing he doesn't use the technique he's teaching in that video. If you take a look at what he's doing here, his technique is more like what I describe above. So why didn't he put that in the technique video? What was the bounce malarkey all about? It's like it's coming from some weird metaphysical world where ideal technique has nothing to do with actually playing music on the drums. I don't get it. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Daily best music in the world: Miroslav

Here's a great record from 1970: Purple, led by Miroslav Vitous. With John McLoughlin, Joe Zawinul, and Billy Cobham. It's very much in a post-In A Silent Way Miles mode, with Cobham sounding at times rather Tony Williams-like.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Page o' coordination: linear pattern for Latin soloing

The 5+3 note phrase is one of the easiest and most useful of Gary Chaffee's basic linear phrases. If you start phrase on the a of 2, the bass drum part makes a Latin tumbao rhythm, which makes it very useful for soloing in music where you want that type of bass drum ostinato. It's easy enough to just play the pattern and move it around the drums, but we can do a lot more with it by making some small changes in the right hand or left hand parts, which is what we're doing here:

The first two things at the top of the page show the basic pattern in book form, and displaced. The numbered exercises show the pattern with the right hand on a cymbal and left hand on the snare drum, with variations. Pay special attention to exercise 2; I've added accents and moved the right hand to the floor tom on some notes to outline 3-2 Rumba clave.

You can do the usual left hand moves, or just improvise moving both hands around the drums. It'll be more stylistically correct to mix up the articulation/timbre with the left hand— rim shots, rim clicks, doubles, buzzes, dead strokes. You should also vary the accents.

Add the left foot on quarter notes, on the &s, or on 8th notes. Or don't play it at all. It's also a good idea with any Cuban-style Latin patterns to practice getting into the pattern starting on any note of it— don't always start playing it on 1. You may also want to alternate the solo phrases with an equivalent number of measures of a time feel— Songo, Mozambique, or Guaguanco, for example.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Erskine on practicing

An exchange about general practice topics, from Peter Erskine's 1978 Modern Drummer interview with Gary Farmer.

GF:  [W]hat would an ideal practice routine consist of?

PE:  When I work on the snare drum, I try to get my hands in good shape. When I was working on the matched grip I concentrated on stick height, angle and feel. When I'm practicing on the set, I try to practice basic timekeeping. Every so often I'll play around the drums.

GF:  Would you suggest practicing on the pads, or a set?

PE:  Both. I think practicing on a pad is good because you can work on wrists and hands. You're not driving everybody nuts with the loud, distracting sound of the drum. On a pad, you can get a very objective look at how you sound and how you're playing. But I like practicing on a drum set, getting a cymbal feel going. Part of playing on a drum set is getting a sound out of it.

GF:  Have you ever tried a practice pad set?

PE:  Yes. They're pretty good, but I like to see a drummer practice as much as he can on a drum set. I never had a practice set, but I've always meant to buy one. I think they'd be good for working on independence. What's more important is the sound you get out of your instrument. The music you make. The feeling, the groove that happens. The mere technical end of drumming doesn't interest me that much.

GF:  You're more into the sound aspect?

PE:  I'm technically oriented to some degree. I've got a fair amount of speed, but that's just like a trumpet player trying to play high, or a drummer trying to play fast. Buddy can play more than just fast — and swing. Maynard can do more than just play high. It's something they're noted for, but it doesn't nearly do them justice as musicians. Young musicians get seduced by the extravagance available on an instrument.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Idiots, you're doing it wrong. Fools!

This is you trying to play a normal drum set.
Ergonomics! The science of putting things where scientists tell you to and shutting up. Our sad devotion to this clearly absurd contraption, the drum set,  has given us nothing but crippling injuries and a lifetime of frustration, but we are psychologically and intellectually unequipped to evolve it into a rational musical instrument. We don't know what the hell we're doing and we need help.

Well, our torment is finally at an end. Some scientists from the Philippines (home of the hard boiled fetal duck egg) have recognized our cognitive disability and taken pity on us, and have conducted a study to help us set up our drums and be not as stupid.

Now, before you start in with a lot of “what are you talking about I know how to set up my drums wtf is this” nonsense, let me show you some actual scientific equations used in this study:


Now let me back it up for those of you reading this and saying durm what is durm, and sadly pawing the computer screen, in some atavistic hope of making the words less incomprehensible to your inadequate drummer's brain. The scientists inform us:

A drum is simply any percussion instrument beaten by the hands or with some tool, as a stick or wire brush. However, the use of only a single drum may not be able to utilize the full capacity of a skilled drummer. This then leads to the development of the drum set.

Indeed it does.

The drum set or drum kit is a collection of percussion instruments to be struck by a single player seated at a drum throne/seat. It is, as often said, the backbone of every band, keeping the pace and driving the rhythm section of every performance. A standard set of drums consists of a snare drum, a bass drum, a hi-hat, two tom-tom drums and one or more cymbals. The hi-hat could be operated by the left foot; the bass drum is operated by the right foot, while the other drum components are struck with drum sticks. Drumsticks are normally held at their fulcrum points. 

Do not be deceived by the purposely vague language and general yada yada attitude towards this seemingly foundational part of the study. You only think that an actual understanding of the underlying issues is important because you don't think scientific. They are clearly attempting to lull us into a false sense of security— making it look like they haven't bothered to think about what actually happens in a drumming performance so they can trap us later on. That's what science is all about, man.

Though the drum kit arrangement is arbitrary, there is a common set-up widely used by drummers. The image shows the common arrangement of a drum kit (Fig. 2).

Totally arbitrary! Finally someone with a total lack of knowledge of how the drums are played has the balls to point this out.

Here is how the study team thinks you are setting up your drums. I had to invert the image from the study because they have disorientingly presented it the other way around, which makes no sense at all. This does not mean they don't know what they're doing so stop thinking that.

Fig. 2

I also want you to stop thinking what the f__ is this, who puts their floor tom off to the side of the bass drum, and the tom toms are apparently placed on snare drum stands in front of the bass drum, what the f__ is up with that, the hihats are also in a weird spot, and the crash cymbal a mile away on the far side of the small tom WHAT IS THIS— and so on. That's just what the scientists want you to think. The gross inaccuracy of the diagram will make the impact of the equations, which are truly rigorous, all the more seismic. Plus there's only so much rigor to go around. Here:

more science

Get off my back. The study looked at male drummers from the Philippines (home of revolting culinary traditions too numerous to mention) aged 14-30. I don't know why exclusively male— God knows what they thought was involved in including women in the study. They basically settled on a methodology of a) trying to figure out what drummers hit most, and b) putting those things closest. All the while ceding as little as possible to three-dimensional reality.


If you think I'm going to try to explain/understand the actual mathematical gibberish that went into this you're sadly mistaken. This is what they came up with:

Overwhelmed by your crippling hidebound conformism, you may find this confusing at first. For example:

— If we assume the player is facing north, the snare drum is positioned directly where the left knee would be on an intact human body, with the large tom tom positioned flush on its left. Assuming the player is allowed to keep that portion of his leg, the snare drum will have to be severely elevated and mounted on some kind of boom or bracket mount with enough leg clearance to allow heel-up playing on whatever pedal that foot operates. Playing the snare drum normally with both hands would require a weird asymmetrical posture by the drummer,

— The hihat is on the right, meaning either it will now be played with the right foot, or we all have to buy remote systems, the cost of which could feed an average Filipino family of five for six months. Most hihat stands also have a thin metal stick protruding 8-10" above the cymbals, which is also problematic for positioning tom 2.

— The ride cymbal is way off to the right, a bit of a reach if you jazz players ever want to ding on that thing here and there, but no big woop; going cshhh-chick-a-cshhhh on the hihat sounds way more “jazzy.” You'll get used to it. Just play different stuff.

— The placement of the second tom tom would seem to be problematic, but that may just be my relentless pig-ignorance talking. Since it overlaps the hihat, and tom toms are actual three dimensional objects in the real world, and not two dimensional circles you drag around the screen with your mouse, the drum will have to be positioned at considerable height over the hihat to be playable— just look at your drumset and imagine how a 13" tom tom would have to be positioned to match the diagram.

— The smallest tom tom is not too horrible, but if you play the toms as an ensemble, they are arranged high - middle - then low way off to the left with a crash cymbal directly in between. And if you read the description of this dream set up, the crash cymbal and smaller toms are to be positioned at the same “level 3” height. So any hand motion between the low and higher tom toms is hereby consigned to the dustbin of drumming history.

— Just put that big-ass 22" bass drum any old place. Ergonomics!


Now, I know what you're saying: “that won't work”, and “there's no f__in' way I'm f__in' doing this you f__, what's wrong with you. The f__ is wrong with you.” A torrent of f-bombs, basically.

After we've all calmed down, the general awkwardness sets in. I don't know what else to tell you. Visit the Philippines. Try the hard boiled fetal duck egg.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Groove o' the day: Ignacio Berroa 12/8

Another funk Afro 12/8 groove, played this time by Ignacio Berroa, on his record Codes, on the tune Woody'n You. From the intro:

As you can probably see he's playing rumba clave on the cowbell. The hihat foot part is not present on the recording; I've included it to emulate the shekere, which is played. What he plays in the first measure is the foundation groove— practice that by itself, too.

Ignacio is on tour with Chick Corea right now, which you'll want to catch if you can.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Practice loop: Zorn fast 4

Here's a good practice loop for working on the recent EZ uptempo methods. Tempo is 154 bpm, or 308 depending on how you want to count it— which is about as fast as most people will play voluntarily, while playing the fast subdivision. There's no walking bass here, but we're going for a broken or mixed time feel with most of my practice methods, so this will work fine.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Page o' coordination: SBSB - 01

This is an emerging twist on our old Page o' coordination formula: practicing various cymbal rhythms along with a repeating SD/BD coordination pattern. I've found that this opens up some creative possibilities; I'm a very ride cymbal-centric player, and practicing this way moves the time feel to the snare and bass, opening up a slightly different attitude towards the cymbal. It's a fairly subtle thing— your mileage may vary.

Once you can play the entire page, do the same left hand moves we always do. This page is a good candidate for the Stick Control-derived moves, as well. As always, the point is to make a reasonable-length practice session out of it— 15-25 minutes. This is an incremental-change page for people who have a lot of stuff together; and exactly the kind of thing you should not sweat too badly if you're an intermediate player just getting your basic vocabulary together. 

I practice the 3/4 exercises in 4/4— four measures of 3/4 = three measures of 4/4, right? Doing that with a sampled loop will be more useful than just making a counting exercise out of it, though you need to be able to count through it, too.

It should be easy enough to move the hihat to the &s without having to see it on written on the page. You could also put it on 2 and 4 only, or on the 2 and 3 in the 3/4 exercises. Put it initially wherever it's most comfortable for you, then do it another way.

Get the pdf

Saturday, February 03, 2018

EZ uptempo jazz method - 02

It's not so much a method as it is “some things to try”, using pp. 10-11 (“Lesson 4”) in Ted Reed's Syncopation. Last time we looked at ways of making a broken time feel using the first four patterns, from page 10. Today we're looking at some ways of making Tony Williams-like fills out of the remaining patterns, those with two and three beats of 8ths notes per measure.

Let's establish our rhythmic and phrasing framework. As before we'll tie the last of a run of 8th notes to the following quarter note:

Since we'll use these as fills, we won't do them repetitively. Where a run of 8th notes crosses the barline, we'll want to isolate it as a single lick. So where there's a book rhythm is this (with the tie added):

We'll just play the long run of 8th notes plus the tied quarter note:

On the patterns with two beats of 8th notes, there is an extra, untied quarter note in the measure, which we won't play. For example, here is line 6 repetitively, with ties, and with the lick isolated:

For practice purposes, we'll put our fill at the end of a four or eight bar phrase, playing a simple time feel with quarter notes on the ride cymbal and 2 and 4 on the hihat the rest of the time.

Keep reading— the fun stuff is after the break:

Friday, February 02, 2018

Microtiming jive

Microtiming is a term that gives me hives every time I hear musicians use it. To me it suggests misaligned priorities, a disappearance up one's own rear end, and the resulting degraded musical abilities. The way most drummers use it suggests micro-perfection of execution: metronomic perfection and machine-like accuracy. I've seen other people use it in place of subdividing, because microtiming sounds more cutting-edgy.

What the word actually refers to is deviation from machine-like accuracy— meaning expressive, human rhythm. What it actually is is a theoretical term betraying the cluelessness of the people who made it up.

Consider this horrifying headline:

Towards Machine Learning of Expressive Microtiming in Brazilian Drumming  


In this paper, we propose a new method suitable for the automatic analysis of microtiming played by drummers in jazz recordings. Specifically, we aim to estimate the drummers’ swing ratio in excerpts of jazz recordings taken from the Weimar Jazz Database. 


Where expressive human rhythm comes from is vocal rhythm, body rhythm, and a complex interaction of the human body with a musical instrument via technique to express a rhythm; and the performer's perception of his own sound in interaction with the musical environment via sounds coming through his ear hole. Intention goes in there somewhere, too: what the performer wants to do and believes he should do.

Let's take a common real world example: you grab your guitar and screech are you ready to rock, and begin playing Smoke On The Water windmill style, which you suck at. The drummer joins in and he's twirling his sticks so his backbeats are landing late— basically you can fly the 101st Airborne between the bass drum and snare drum hits that are intended to be in unison. The bass player is blasted out of his mind on a galaxy of uppers, downers, goofballs, and ketamine, and he's hearing everything in radically phase-shifted quintophonic and his execution tonight is a little fluid. He's usually quite meticulous. The singer is dry-humping your Marshall stack and it throws his rhythm off, too. And he's a heavy smoker so he's struggling to breathe. The tamborine player is dead on. The conflicting tolerances are massive, but somehow overall it still sounds pretty cool— I once heard a Melvins bootleg like that.

One could write an equally complex, multi-layered, less fun scenario involving more skilled musicians, or of the evolution of rhythm in most forms of music. But the attitude of the microtiming people is basically yeah yeah yeah just gimme a number. Tell me how to program the machine to simulate that. And that's when drummers will complain about not being able to do it. You see the level of missing-the-boat going on with this whole way of thinking. The music would never have happened in the first place.

So what do we do with this? Stop using buzzwords and stay focused on the real goal: we want to know how to play rhythm to a professional standard, with an expressive and stylistically-correct feel, while playing creatively. The way you do this— in addition to continuing to refine your time, rhythmic understanding, and execution, in all the normal ways— is to develop big ears. Be an active, focused listener when you're playing music and listening to music. Develop some precision in hearing the attacks of your notes, and the attacks of the notes of the other musicians. Do these things and the expressive timing and feel, and the “micro-perfection”will take care of themselves.

Free Steve Gadd book

Here's an excellent free book on Steve Gadd by Danish drummer Hans Fagt. Originally released in 1985, it contains the key bits— mainly grooves and solos— from some of his bigger recorded performances, from the height of his career. Includes things he did with Chick Corea, The Brecker Brothers, Tom Scott, Paul Simon, Stanley Clarke, Chuck Mangione, and more. Definitely get it now.

You'll have to sign up for his email list and confirm to receive your free copy by email. If you're going to share it, share the above link to Fagt's site rather than just sending the pdf around.

(h/t to Morgenthaler)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Groove o' the day: Bernard Purdie Bossa

Hey, this is kind of a hip variation on the stock Bossa Nova groove everyone plays— played by Bernard Purdie on his Soul Drums record, on the tune Soul Bossa Nova. From the intro:

He also does this surdo-like rhythm on the intro and for much of the body of the tune:

I've written a couple of other pages for opening up some possibilities with the bass drum when Brazilian styles— check them out. There's no reason to be locked into that usual ostinato our entire lives.