Monday, April 30, 2018

Rehearsal cymbals

this type of situation
Everybody's always looking for excuses to spend money on gear, so here's a concept: rehearsal cymbals. We've all played rehearsals where the instrumentation and/or acoustics made it extremely difficult to play normally. Maybe there's an unmiked vocalist, acoustic guitar, strings, whatever. A clarinetist with a really weak sound. Playing our normal 20-24" cymbals at normal-quiet volume blows them away, so we end up playing the entire rehearsal with brushes on the snare drum and closed hihat, and it's nothing at all like what's going to happen on the gig. Complete waste of time.

A lot of these situations can't be salvaged, but in general it would be nice to have cymbals that sound good when played quietly in somebody's living room, with no audience, and when we only need to project to the other players standing a few feet away.

Here is generally what I would suggest: little, thin, dry cymbals.

  • 18" ride — light to medium, unlathed/partially lathed, small or no bell 
  • 15" crash — paper thin to medium thin
  • 13" hihats — light to medium

Some thoughts on makes and models:

Bosphorus cymbals
Their Turk series are nice cymbals, with great definition, and playing them you feel like Tony Williams on Nefertiti. They sound really nice from the playing position. I was into them for awhile, but eventually found them to be too soft for most real world playing with an audience. They don't project well unmiked, and they don't balance well with the rest of the drumset or with the ensemble. I've written about this before. But they're great for recording and they would be great for rehearsals.

Master Series are an option that are even quieter... I have actually found many of them to be so thin and delicate they virtually have no real world performance application. But a ride that is not too thin, or a 16-18" Master thin crash (check your gram weight— it should be comparable to any other brand of paper thin crash) could work very well for what we're talking about here. Beware: there are a lot of extremely thin examples floating around used that I think are completely useless.

Flat rides
I'm kind of done with flat rides. I find them to be one dimensional and not worth the real estate they take up in my set up. They can be good for rehearsals, though. And certain special situations. Try an 18"— or smaller, if you dare, and can find one.

Little rides
I got interested in sub-18" rides after reading T. Bruce Wittet's account of Connie Kay's 17" medium-heavy. I had a 17" 602 and a 16" Zildjian medium ride which were both intriguing— they really do handle like real ride cymbals, except they're small— but for whatever reason did not hang onto them.

Paper thin crashes
I find these to mostly be too delicate for the real world, but for this usage you can get a real crash sound without generating a lot of volume and sustain.

Dixieland hihats
Usually pre-60s A. Zildjian, smaller than 14". Revival Drum Shop, a great Portland vintage shop seems to find and carry a lot of them. They're extremely thin, tight, and splashy, without much of a foot sound.

Sabian Sound Control
I started thinking about softer cymbals when playing a boat gig with abysmal acoustics on stage, and these Sabians were some of the first things I looked at. They're supposed to be quieter than normal cymbals. I never found one to purchase before I got into Bosphorus cymbals, and the few I encountered never struck me as particularly quiet. But I've actually found many newer Sabian AAs and AAXs to have a minor case of Bosphorusitis— they have such a refined sound that they lose some body... which makes them excellent for this purpose. A 20" Raw Ride (18" if you can find one) would be good, or a small El Sabor crash.

Often the problem in these situations is the signal to noise ratio: when playing very soft, and in close quarters, the wash of the cymbal is amplified relative to the attack of the note. You can cut down on the wash by applying 1-4 pieces of masking tape on the underside of the cymbal, radiating out from the bell. It's not a very popular solution any more, and not as fun as buying more cymbals. Less is more, if you choose to do this.

What do I use? 
  • 13" Bosphorus Turk hihats — their normal light model. I've used mine on every recording I've made in the last 15 years. 
  • 17" Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail crash — a great cymbal I now never go anywhere without. Thin, rather dead, with great crash, ride, and bell sounds. I could do the whole rehearsal just on this cymbal.  
  • I don't have a great ride cymbal for this purpose yet. I usually use my 20" Cymbal & Gong “custom” (light medium, similar lathing to Bosphorus Antique), which is extremely flexible. I also may use my Sabian 22" AAX Raw Ride (unlathed, thin), or Sabian Jack Dejohnette Signature ride (medium heavy, but very dry). Cymbal & Gong should have some 18" rides in stock soon, one of which will hopefully be mine.  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Three-note syncopation rhythms

Here are a couple of pages of syncopation rhythms in 4/4. Most of them can already be found in Progressive Steps to Syncopation, in one form or another, but sometimes I want to have certain things grouped together. In this case, I was playing along and I wanted to see all the variations,  displacements, and similar rhythms to a Cuban tresillo rhythm— all possible three-note rhythms in 4/4, with a quarter note or greater spacing, on an 8th note subdivision.

You can of course do any of the usual practice practice routines with these pages, in 4/4 or 2/2. I wanted them to use as independence rhythms for the left hand and bass drum, with a Mozambique cymbal rhythm, moving the rhythms around the drums. You could use them as jazz comping rhythms on the snare and/or bass drum; or as bass drum variations in a samba, bossa nova, or baiao, alternating measures with the usual rhythm; or for bass drum independence practice in other Cuban/salsa/Caribbean styles like mamboguaguanco, or songo.

Like I said, I see many of these rhythms as variations on the familiar tresillo rhythm (written on line 5), with an accented & of 2, which occurs in Cuban music, New Orleans music, and Brazilian music; rhythms with a quarter note on beat 2 (or 2 and 3) relate to the 2 side of a clave rhythm; rhythms with a note on 3 (or 3 and 1) relate to a samba surdo part— all the kinds of connections you need to make to play creatively in those styles.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hand motions for Stone flam studies

It's a funny thing, there's endless online conversation about how to play an open roll, and virtually nothing about flams. They're off the radar for some reason. And with the book Stick Control, NOBODY every talks about anything but page 1... scratch that, the first thirteen exercises on page 1. So let's get our stuff together, and get into the most miserable part of that book, the flam portion— pp. 16-23. As with the first part of the book, there are eighteen one- and two-beat exercises, which are then combined to make a total of 192 exercises. It's a real drag.

What I've done here is taken those first eighteen basic exercises and isolated the motion for each hand— the rhythm, the dynamics for the grace note, and any up or down strokes needed to make the dynamics happen. As you know, a flam is comprised of a main note, and a soft grace note that lands slightly before it. An up stroke is a soft note that ends with the stick in the raised position, and a down stroke is a normal-volume note that ends with the stick low— close to the head. Play 1-2" strokes for the grace notes, and 5-9" strokes for everything else. On the first exercise I've indicated a full stroke— a normal volume note that ends with the stick raised— for the lead hand part. You should actually play full strokes on all notes not indicated as a downstroke or upstroke. A lot of people habitually downstroke everything.

Play the parts for each hand in isolation. Initially I prefer to do the hand motions as fast as possible, rather than making them part of the rhythmic flow; so no matter how slow the tempo, you do a fast rebound or upstroke. See this post or get a Skype lesson with me (see the sidebar) for more technical guidelines.

As you do these faster, you have to streamline the hand motion, of course. But if you follow the dynamics rigorously at slow to moderate speeds, your normal-usage flams will improve dramatically, as will your accents, ghost notes, and dynamics in general.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Basic short roll studies with continuous motion

UPDATE: Download link is working!

I've got to stop putting “EZ” on every single normal-difficulty thing I post. This is an easy page of roll studies I wrote to prepare a couple of younger students to play Rolling In Rhythm, a Charley Wilcoxon etude I teach to a lot of my students. We'll also see a similar page of drag studies soon.

The main thing about this page, which is similar to the Wilcoxon etude, is that the exercises have a continuous 8th note rate hand motion, with some of the notes played as singles, and some as doubles. When you get into the upper tempo range— above about quarter note = 160— count in 2/2. So if you're playing the exercises at 160, set your metronome to 80, and count metronome pulses in 2.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Groove o' the day: Herlin Riley afro groove

I spent about three hours yesterday listening to Kenny Garrett records, which is... he's great, the bands are great, the records are great, the tunes are actually great, I just... let me put it this way: I happen to like the drums. I like listening to them. I don't like listening to relentless unedited hyperactive spectacle. After a couple of hours of that you ask what am I listening to this for? What is the actual point? I don't feel that way listening to Garrett's records with Brian Blade on them. I don't feel that way when I listen to the famously-busy Jack Dejohnette playing on other people's records. So what are these other guys doing that is such a turn-off?

I needed an antidote— some normal music that doesn't just relentlessly bang away at you— and I put on this Junko Onishi record with Herlin Riley on it. It's Live at the Village Vanguard II, and it's got this tune on it called Ringo Oywake, with an Afro 6 feel. The transcription starts where the drums start playing time about 15 seconds in:

I should clarify, because there's so much internet confusion about meter: the type of groove is generically called (by me) an Afro 6. Depending on the context it could be notated and played in 6/8, 12/8, 3/4, 6/4, or as triplets in 4/4. Regardless of the meter of the context, it's still an Afro 6, or Afro 6/8, or Afro-Cuban feel— those are the usual things jazz musicians call it.

Riley plays a lot of variations while maintaining the same basic feel, and we need to see a few measures of it to get the gist of it. You'll notice that the main cymbal rhythm is the “long” bell rhythm, trending towards running triplets. The left hand part varies; part of the time he's playing Rumba clave. With his hihat foot he plays a closed note on beat 2 and an open sound on beat 4— that's the type of thing it's good to get used to playing with a nice, relaxed, deliberate heel-down motion. Learn the basic pattern, then add the left foot after you have it figured out. 

Oh, there's probably something else going on with the bass drum than what I've written out. I forgot to finish that. You'll have to use your own ears to figure it out.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Transcription: Art Gore - Sais

More Gore. I came across Art Gore's playing a couple of years ago, and had an instant affinity with it. He's not on a whole lot of records, but he's really great, and is worth seeking out and giving a really close listen. He's living and teaching college in Cincinnati, so if you live in the region you can even go study with him. Here he's playing a funky Latin feel on Sais, from Lonnie Liston Smith's record Cosmic Funk. The primary attraction here is his nice deep touch on the cymbal, and his melodic sensibility in how handles the toms and bass drum. And there's just an obvious engaged intelligence at work here— I don't know how to quantify that.

Learn the basic groove— similar to a Mozambique— check out the variations he does, and the fills, and the double time feel in the last page. The cymbal part is played mostly on the bell, and it really drives the entire performance— I haven't even attempted to capture the way he accents it, but listen to it closely. There are three tom toms, with the floor tom tuned much lower than the other drums, so it blends with the bass drum. Even where the left hand repeats, he doesn't predictably play the same spot in the measure on the same drum all the time.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

More practice phrases for EZ fills

Here are some more practice phrases to use with my page of  EZ one-beat fills with tom moves, in a fast 4/4, and a slower tempo with the fill in 32nd notes.

On the original page, the fills were four notes long, ending with a cymbal and bass drum on beat 1; some of these end with another drum note— you can play the extra drum notes wherever it's convenient. On the ones that have a crash on the & of 4 and a crash on 1, you may want to play the crash on 1 with your left hand.

When working through these with students learning a new move, I first have them isolate the fill portion from the practice phrase, playing just the fill portion up to beat 1 of the repeat. They can either rest through the rest of the phrase, or just take a long unmetered pause before playing the fill again.

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Marvin Dahlgren has died

Someone sent me the following note today:

My friend, Marv Dahlgren, the great percussionist, and drum book author, has passed on to his celestial reward, at 92 years of age.

I visited Marv a few months back in the hospital, and he learned his time was not long.

Besides being the longtime percussionist with the Minnesota Orchestra, and author of the yearly re-printed techincal drum set bible, "4-Way Coordination," he flew Corsairs off carriers for the Navy in WWII, fighters for the National Guard, and taught stunt flying as a sideline throughout his tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra. He also launched Dahlgren's Drum Shop, on 10th Street in Minneapolis, and it was premier shop of its kind, akin to Roy Knapps in Chicago and Frank Ippolito's in New York.

Marv taught percussion at the University of Minnesota in the 60s-80s, and later, at McNally Smith, in St. Paul. Many of Marv's students went on to professional careers in music (hence, the Twin Cities is lousy with really good drummers!).

On the drum and percussion scene, Marv befriended Elvin Jones while authoring "4-Way Coordination." They became friends when Marv took a practice pad set to New York and had Elvin display his mastery with broken triplets on it. Near the back of "4-Way" are some solos directly taken from that experience. Whenever Elvin was in town, Marv and Elvin would get together (Once, in the 70s, at the Longhorn Bar, where Elvin was appearing, he was on a bad turn with his drinking, and refused to play until Marv showed up to tell him things were okay). These two were as far apart in their personal makeup, but loved each other dearly; testimony to both their characters and their love of music.

Marv's percussive passion in jazz was as a vibraphonist. And he played with his own groups in Twin Cities jazz clubs throughout his tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra.

A personal blessing for me is that Marv, later in life married my aunt Joanie, and their marriage was the stuff of romances. 
Marv was as classy as a man gets, yet had no arrogance or guile. He was a percussive obsessive; and once, at a lesson, I asked him how to play a certain figure. "Actually, I do it 16 ways."

"Just show me one, okay Marv?" I responded.

What a mind.

Salut' my friend. We drummers have all benefited from your rotations on this mudball we call Earth.

We all know him as the co-author of 4-Way Coordination, but he wrote a ton of other things that are just about as challenging. I reviewed a few of them here.

UPDATE: Here he speaks about his experiences as a fighter pilot:

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Jazz RUINED MY LIFE and other red-blooded tales

this is what jazz does to you
Apparently there is a blog called JAZZ RUINED MY LIFE that is not written by the Napoleon Dynamite guy. It's about [cue mournful saxophone]:

The long drives; the dive bars[...]; playing for the door and getting handed 14 dollars at the end of the night; the drunk dancers[...] crashing into you when you are trying to play; the creepy club owners[...]; and the fact that, for the most part, we are making the same money now that we made 20 years ago–and sometimes less[...] this is the stuff that wears you down after a while.   

He invites people to share their experiences as musicians sorry they ever got involved with the jazz music. That's the site. The following person shared his own story on the Drummerworld forum, which is how I found out about it., I don't want to pick on the guy, but there are some lessons to be learned here about how not to go about having a career in music, and how not to play music:

Jazz did not ruin my entire life, just the musical part of it. I am a drummer and everyone knows me as one. I used to be in all sorts of classic rock cover bands, indie rock bands, and filled-in for various projects over the years. Then I discovered jazz. 
My playing started to change. I was throwing in ghost notes everywhere, doing more short fills and only keeping time on the ride cymbal. That’s great for be-bop, but not so much for any other genre. I would be preparing for a fill-in gig for a country act by trying to emulate Elvin Jones as best as possible.  
and this 

I became addicted to the style. I got rid of all my drums and bought a small kit. A 16" Bass drum doesn’t work for hard rock music. Dark cymbals don’t cut through harder music. Showing off my hundreds of hours spent learning to play with brushes did not score points with the punk band I was sitting in with 
I looked around for jazz gigs, and there was simply no scene. Put out ads, recorded/filmed demos, went to open mics…never once scored a paying gig or found any reliable musicians with the same interests. 
All my expensive gear and years of practicing amounted to frustration, loneliness and isolation in the local music scene. Nobody wanted to play with “the Jazz guy.” My name is no longer a “name you can trust” for backing up your band. It’s a name that gets mocked and thrown out as a contender for any serious gig. 
Laying on the ground, unable to take it anymore, looking up at my gear, I wanted to throw it away. It brought me nothing I ever desired or worked for. Hitting rock bottom in my jazz room, there was no path from here. 
I had to give it all up. Box up those hours of listening to standards, all those ads seeking like-minded musicians, for it brought nothing positive to my life.

Sooo yeah. Can you spot where he went wrong? Here's what I caught:

1. My playing started to change. I was throwing in ghost notes everywhere 
The unseen hand of jazz made him to do these things. Oddly impersonal phrasing, as if he's describing a situation over which he had no control.

2.  I would be preparing for a fill-in gig for a country act by trying to emulate Elvin Jones
This statement should trigger intense alarm. Like, I went into my job as a line cook and I just started throwing chocolate sauce everywhere. Why would anyone do this? How is this on the radar as an appropriate way to approach a professional situation where something very obvious, very specific, is called for?

3. I became addicted to the style.
Style-of-drumming addiction is not an actual thing. We can have a philosophical discussion about the nature of free will, “how truly free is man” and all that, but you do actually have a choice in how you play a country gig.

4.  I got rid of all my drums and bought... a 16" bass drum.
He says he was doing various rock projects before jazz entered his life. Why would someone sell the gear he needs for the work for which he's actually getting called and buy something that's useless for it? Who knows?

5. [My name] gets mocked and thrown out as a contender for any serious gig etc etc
Engages in a lot of professionally self-destructive behavior, then wallows in self-pity. I think “the jazz” might not be the problem here.

6. I had to give it all up.
I don't understand this mentality: going about something in a completely crazy way, then dramatically renouncing the whole endeavor when the approach inevitably fails. What did he expect to happen? I have no idea.

I hope the lessons here are obvious, like: do your actual job like a professional in all situations, and take responsibility for your creative decisions, and don't totally abandon the thing you're ok at to do something you're bad at. Don't expect instant returns when you decide to get into something new and hard.

Regarding the larger point of the blog, (maybe “jazz kinda ruined my life in general because I could use some more gigs”?): I hope nobody is taking up jazz for the money, fame, and/or adulation. The reliable paycheck and retirement benefits. The massive gig-load. The actual reason you do get into it is maybe a subject for another day, but economically it's a very challenging field even for the best players in the world.

Friday, April 06, 2018

EZ rock drill: cut time / fast 4

This is a fast tempo rock exercise I've been using with a couple of students; it combines my EZ rock beat method, and my cut time rock method. It's very basic, but it will help with improvising, and it involves a couple of important moves over which you want to have total control when playing music. If you don't have my EZ Rock Drumming e-book, this old post explains at least the basic version of the method. You should really buy the book, though— especially if you're teaching.

As our source rhythm we'll use line 2 from page 10 of Ted Reed's Syncopation:

Per the method in EZ Rock Drumming, we'll play the top line rhythm— 1-2&-3-4 — on the bass drum and snare drum: play notes on 2 and 4 on the snare, play all the other notes on the bass drum. Add a basic cymbal rhythm—first 8th notes:

Then do it with quarter notes on the cymbal:

For the cut time interpretation of the same rhythm, play the snare drum on 3, and the rest of the rhythm on the bass drum. Here that is, with 8th notes on the cymbal:

And again, with quarter notes on the cymbal:

For the purposes of this method, we'll call the snare-on-2/4 way fast 4, and we'll call the snare-on-3 way cut time— we have to do the exercise rather fast, or else the cut time portion won't have the right feel. Hence fast 4.

Practice switching the cymbal rhythm from 8th notes to quarter notes:

And practice switching from fast 4 (with SD on 2/4) and cut time with the same cymbal rhythm:

The actual practice drill is to play the regular beat, then the cut time beat, then the cut time beat with quarter notes, then the fast 4 beat with quarter notes:

You could also start with the fast 4, then fast 4 with quarter notes, then cut time with quarter notes, then cut time with 8th notes:

You can do each part for four measures as I've indicated, or however many measures you want, and do the change whenever you're ready. FYI, one good thing about practicing with Syncopation is that you can work on developing good reading practices while you work on your drum stuff. If you want to do that, read through the entire line for every four measures you play of this exercise.

This obviously isn't something you need to work to death. You can probably learn what this lesson is designed to teach you by practicing it with the first eight lines of exercises from pp. 10-11 of Syncopation. Or you can do all fifteen lines.