Saturday, June 30, 2018

Page o' coordination: Mozambique - hands only - 01

A page of technical independence patterns for a Mozambique bell part— a hip, very useful bell rhythm. For more practical left hand parts for this bell rhythm, see my updated Page of Mozambique. Also see my other posts about Mozambique for listening and background on this style.

Play the left hand on the snare drum as a rim click, then you can move between the snare and the high tom, or do all my usual tom moves. You can practice this along with this Cal Tjader practice loop— the bell/cascara rhythms are slightly different, but they're both in the 2-3 clave orientation

The hihat part is optional; you could do this page with your hands alone. There are other hihat rhythms you might want to use in an actual Salsa/Cuban-style music setting; this one works best when playing with jazz musicians. If you want to add bass drum, start by putting it on the & of 2 of the second measure, or of both measures.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Maximizing syncopation rhythms

This is something I was doing with a Skype student recently. We're working on jazz solo vocabulary, currently getting fluent with common jazz rhythms using basic drum set orchestrations— developing a basic Billy Higgins/Frankie Dunlop-like solo vocabulary (the non-technical end of their soloing, anyway) using my simple solo method from a couple of weeks ago. This is an exercise to get the most real vocabulary from the one-line exercises in Syncopation (pp. 34-37), by isolating parts of the rhythms.

These examples will use this line from Syncopation— p. 34, line 3:

Which we would generically play like this, on the snare drum, with the hihat played on 2 and 4:

First just play one measure of the pattern, stopping on the following 1, while continuing the hihat through the rest:

Or you could leave off the 1:

The first three notes of the pattern are easy enough to isolate:

And the whole ending of the measure, with or without the 1:

The middle of the measure:

Don't always front load the two-measure phrase— put the space at the beginning sometimes:

You should be using the basic orchestrations the whole time you do this, mixing them up freely. Do this with perhaps a dozen lines of exercises from the book— that should be enough to teach you this way of thinking, so you can begin improvising naturally. All of the rhythms resulting from this system occur other places in Syncopation, so it's not necessary to work this through too rigorously just to learn rhythms.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Aka Pygmy clave

This is just a brief investigation of an interesting rhythm, a sort of clave rhythm clapped by the lead performer in the video below— a candid video of three Aka Pygmy people performing a polyphonic tribal song.

I know very little hard theory on African music, but I know that applying a Western music theory concept of meter to it is a very slippery prospect, and is basically guaranteed to be a distortion of what's actually going on. The rhythm and meter as I've transcribed them are functionally accurate, but the placement of “the barline”, and even the primary beat is questionable. If the performers conceive of a downbeat (that's the 1) as we understand it, it's often buried— not unlike with clave-based music, where the strongest note is the & of 2 of one measure, and the 1 at the beginning of the rhythm is relatively de-emphasized. This music seems to be inherently syncopated, and it's possible that the primary beat is not even being stated— the beat as you and I feel it may be the middle note or last note of a triplet to the performers. I suspect that the performers may be perceiving the beat as a compound pulse, or pulse matrix, rather than the simple pulse used in Western music. At any rate, we trust at our peril our own first instinct about what we're hearing.

I think it's best to avoid looking for the one definitive answer of “what it is”— that may not be knowable by anyone not living this culture— and take more of a matrix approach; figuring out the obvious-to-us version, then running that through inversions, with different barline placements (while remembering that barline is an extremely foreign concept here). It's a technical process, but it's all we can do as people not raised in that culture. Just trying to “feel it” without any of the cultural learning that went into it will not work on any level.

The rhythm has groupings of seven notes and four notes. The seven note group is the primary group, and the four note group the response. If we put the seven note group at the beginning, we get this:

I initially felt the seven note group as crossing “the 1”, like this:

The remaining examples will be written both of those ways— with the seven note group placed at the front, and with it crossing the bar line.

This inversion is attractive to me— favoring the middle note of the triplet is an African “thing”:

Here is the version crossing the barline:

This inversion may be closest to what is happening in the video. The secondary performers are tapping their feet approximately this way— a little after the beat as written in our first version.

Crossing the barline:

At the beginning the leader sets up the groove this way (or with some inversion of it), which appears to support the first, easy, nursery school version of the rhythm, until we remember that African musicians will often not start on the 1.

I recommend clapping all of these patterns while playing the bottom line part with both feet in unison. I'll post a few possibilities for exploring this rhythm in a few days.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

List of basic orchestrations of a syncopated rhythm

This is just a one-page summary of elementary drum set orchestrations of a syncopated rhythm, written Ted Reed-style. I'm teaching my simple solo method to a couple of students, so a printed list of the basics is handy.

It's all pretty self-explanatory; with the common long note/short note interpretation, untied 8th notes are considered short notes, and everything else are long notes— quarter notes, dotted quarter notes, 8th notes with a tie.

There is one thing here that I haven't covered elsewhere: turning the short notes into 16th notes. The easiest way to teach this to students who aren't real rhythmically sophisticated is to do it together with the previous thing on the list, with the hands in unison on snare and tom. After learning the hands in unison orchestration, they can just play the left hand a little late to make the 16th notes.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Drum intro: Billy Higgins - For Minors Only

Another intro, with a Latin feel, played by Billy Higgins on For Minors Only, from Jimmy Heath's album Picture of Heath. The cymbal rhythm is reminiscent of a Mozambique-type rhythm, with an 8th rest on 1 of the second measure of each two-measure phrase.

This is a Latin feel in a jazz context, which will typically not observe clave. The tempo is bright, and he cooks right through it. The doubles were apparent when I was transcribing it, but you don't really hear them on the recording played normally. The triplet in the second measure is just a legato double, and since Higgins swings his 8th notes slightly, it makes a legato triplet. Don't sweat any of that.

One thing I noticed writing out all those dozens of solo intros for my forthcoming(?) Book of Intros, was how many drummers don't play the hihat with their foot. It has become an expected thing, but of the things I wrote out, very few have the hihat played on 2 and 4 throughout.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Page o' coordination: Midnight Special shuffle

Page o' coordination based on the Midnight Special shuffle groove as played by Grady Tate and Donald Bailey with Jimmy Smith. We're using two different cymbal rhythms, and the snare drum part varies, but the main focus should be keeping the strong shuffle feel the whole time between the hihat, cymbal, and bass drum. When doing ostinatos people like to try to set them on auto pilot and concentrate on the independent part, but don't— think about all the parts all the time.

Normally we do a lot of left hand moves with these pages, but in this case you can just keep it on the snare drum. It's not exactly the same groove, but you could use my Lopsy Lu practice loop with this— I have a new version of the complete form of that tune which I'll be posting soon. Or just play along with either of the Jimmy Smith recordings of Midnight Special.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Art Taylor interview

Another media item: a 110 minute interview with the drummer Art Taylor. You're certainly aware of him; he's best known for playing on a lot of hard bop records in the late 50s. He also wrote a great book of interviews with jazz musicians, called Notes & Tones. He passed away in 1995.

They talk about his life and career, and then get into the drum stuff about 45 minutes in. One small thing that is very interesting to me is that when he first demonstrates the cymbal rhythm, he doesn't start it on beat 1. It's actually an African thing, and similar to my “skiplet” concept.

Daily best music in the world: Jack Walrath

Great record by trumpeter Jack Walrath, with Dannie Richmond, John Scofield, Ray Drummond, and Jim McNeely. Walrath was in Charles Mingus's last band, and of course Richmond was a long time Mingus drummer and creative partner. I've heard a couple of rough performances from later in Richmond's career, but this is not one of them. Listen to this fifty times.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Transcription: Frank Butler intro and fours

Maybe if I transcribe a bunch of drum intros and post them on the blog, I can guilt trip myself into finishing my Book of Intros. It's still hanging around 95% ready to release. I've been blocked on the damn thing. So here's an intro and solo fours played by Frank Butler on a fairly obscure album by Elmo Hope— Elmo Hope with Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler. The tune is “B's A Plenty.” Butler was a West Coast guy, and a unique sounding player. Here he's playing in a sort of less technical, less slick Philly Joe Jones mode.

I've only written five of the six solo breaks; the fourth one is messed up. I could try to figure it out, but I frankly don't have the patience. History will have to be denied that one. Don't screw up your fours. Butler attempts to correct it by playing very clearly on the next break, but the other players don't catch it, and the beat is still turned around when Hope comes in with the head at the end of the last break. Butler is on it, and nails the figure even though he was backwards from the other players. Clearly he knows the tune really well even if his soloing was a little rough for a moment.

There are also some notable tempo issues on this track; Butler's intro is played at around 255, but the band immediately settles to around 230 a few measures into the head. By the middle of the piano solo the tempo is 210, then settles further to around 204 during the bass solo, then picks up a bit to around 207 for the drum fours. A 40 bpm drop from the intro to the body of the tune seems egregious, but if we express those tempos as half notes they would be 127, 115, 105, 102, and 103— a 20 bpm drop in that easier-felt tempo range. Still significant, but not unheard of. Obviously they should have started the tune around 210, or 105.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Riley'n me

Anyone who follows this blog has certainly heard of John Riley— drummer and author of the book The Art of Bop Drumming, among other titles. He's a leading authority, and one of the most influential authors of drumming materials of the last 30 years, and I've learned a lot from his books; reading them and practicing out of them has influenced my own ideas about teaching, and writing. 

This post is mostly about his book The Art of Bop Drumming— I have a habit of referring to books by the last name of the author. Since first seeing it in the early 90s I've had reservations about it— initially based on it being too good and later, too successful. I felt it gave away too much; it stated a lot of things we previously had to figure out by watching and listening and playing and talking to other drummers. Suddenly, to be aware of the hip way of doing things, all you had to was to buy the book that everyone else was buying. It's now a standard thing to get into that book if you're kinda serious about the drums, even if you have no other interest in jazz. It's become so successful, with such specific information, that I feel it must have some kind of homogenizing effect on the way drummers approach the music. 

That's just the nature of creating and publishing information, and it's not a bad thing. You can't fault somebody for writing a great book, and for people buying it. Part of my philosophy in doing this blog is that it's better for the culture for people to have the info, and have the baseline be higher, even at the expense of slightly debasing the means by which people acquire the info. In the end, if we rabble of clueless people are slightly less clueless, the world is a slightly better place. Coming from a mediocre musical culture like white America, we have to take our improvement any way we can get it. None of what we do is about information anyway— you have to go well beyond simple information to do anything good.

Another broad criticism/reservation/funny feeling I've had about the book is that it's actually a style guide— a set of instructions for how to play correctly — and I don't think jazz should be treated as a style. It's not supposed to be about correct answers, and being too results-oriented about it feels wrong to me. What you're supposed to be doing with it is listening, playing, drawing your own conclusions and figuring out your own artistry. Even if many of your conclusions end up being the same as the ones in the book, the process is different. 

Though a number of things in his books have inspired things I've written, there are a couple of basic reasons I don't use them much in my actual practicing:

1. The two-measure format he uses for comping/independence exercises doesn't work for me. The basic exercises are good for developing riff-consciousness, and thinking in two measure phrases is helpful for getting into clave-based music, but I prefer the long exercises found in Progressive Steps to Syncopation. I don't use the more advanced comping studies at all— you could copy them exactly and know a lot of hip comping shit, and it would be totally meaningless. It's a false process. Philosophically, I don't think jazz drumming should be about working out hip comping patterns from books.    

2. His motive-based soloing method is effective, but I feel that it's too pat, and can end up sounding rather artificial— I've heard players like that. It's good to be aware of the broad concepts, and of some of the musical ideas, but I think it should be an instinctive thing, rather than fully worked-out.

To be clear, this is all just about my personal ideas and what I personally like to look at when I'm practicing. I think you should buy all of his books— TAOBD, Beyond Bop Drumming, and especially Jazz Drummer's Workshop. They are major entries in the literature of drumming, and the quality of the information is excellent. They're so good that you could easily mistake them for being a complete story on how to become an excellent jazz musician, and I don't believe that's true. Even the best books in the world are just addenda to the actual process. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Transcription: Charli Persip solo break

This is a little solo break by Charli Persip, near the end of So Sorry Please, from Red Garland's album Bright and Breezy. The tune is by Bud Powell. We're just looking at the drum break, but listen to the whole track. Charli Persip has one of the more appealing time interpretations in jazz. Very front-of-the-beat in a very pleasant way. The transcription starts after 3:30.

Note the phrasing in the first four measures: 3+3+2 beats, two times. There are some mixed stickings happening— obviously he's playing paradiddles in bar 4; on the triplets in the last three bars you can figure out your own stickings. There will be some left hand doubles in there. Print the page out and mark them in with a pencil. In the third measure there are some tenuto marks; he stretches the rhythm there almost to make a quarter note triplet. There are also a couple of different articulations on the snare drum. Rolls indicated with a z are more crushed singles— or in the fifth bar a crushed 5-stroke roll; the roll indicated with regular slash marks is a more normal closed 5-stroke roll.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Page o' coordination: jazz waltz with syncopated 4:3

Here's a jazz waltz page o' coordination with a syncopated polyrhythm in the feet— if you must know, a 4:3 polyrhythm in half notes and dotted quarter notes, starting on the & of 3 of the second measure. The math doesn't matter. Think of it as an Elvin Jones-style waltz rhythm with the bass drum phrased in half notes:

Swing the 8th notes. Page o' coordination methodology says you learn the ostinato at the top of the page, then learn the sixteen exercises, playing each exercise many times. Start by playing the left hand on the snare drum, then move it around the drums.

You could also play an open sound with the hihat on the note with both feet in the second measure of the ostinato:

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

A simple solo method

Here's a simple, non-technical solo method I was just working on with a student...

...a SKYPE student... did you know I teach lessons via Skype? I do. Anything you ever have questions about on the blog, I'm available to do a private lesson to work it out with you. Shoot me an email.

...this is very similar to some other things we've been doing here lately, like the Stick Control applications on the drumset. Basically identical in fact, except the Stone thing is geared towards funk and the ECM feel, and this is more about basic solo vocabulary in jazz— and rhythmic interpretation for ensemble playing in general. Basic, non-timekeeping rhythmic functionality on the drum set.

We'll use the one-line exercises starting on page 34 of Progressive Steps to Syncopation— current edition. Here's one measure of line 1 from on p. 34:

As I always do with this book, we're going to re-interpret the stems-up part, and ignore the stems-down part. We'll use a very common method for orchestrating that rhythm on the drum set based on long notes and short notes; short notes are untied 8th notes; long notes are everything else— tied 8th notes, quarter notes, and dotted quarter notes. Play the short notes on the snare drum with your left hand, and the long notes on the bass drum:

First play the cymbal (any cymbal, with your right hand) in unison with all of the notes:

Then play the cymbal only on the long notes— the bass drum notes:

Next play the short notes with both hands in unison, and long notes on bass drum only:

This is all simple enough that you can easily begin moving your hands around the drums and cymbals, and begin thinking about the melodic shape of what you're doing.

Let's look at the line 4 exercise:

The top line played on snare drum and bass drum, according to the short note/long note system, playing the cymbal along with all notes:

Then cymbal on the long notes only:

Short notes with both hands in unison— these unison notes can be played on any two drums, or on the snare drum with any cymbal:

Where there are two or more running 8th notes, you could also play them with an alternating sticking, with the hands on the same drum, or on different drums:

When doing that, I prefer to play the right hand on the &s, and the left hand on the beat. You could also do the alternating sticking on the cymbal-on-long-notes way.

Play through the one-line exercises with all of these interpretations, then begin working on the long syncopation exercises beginning on page 38. Move the hand parts of the exercises around the drums and cymbals, and change from one interpretation to the next without stopping. Then improvise your own solos while trading 4s or 8s.

Listen to some 50s-60s Roy Haynes (Out of the Afternoon, Misterioso by Thelonious Monk), Frankie Dunlop (the tune Jackie-ing, and the albums Criss Cross, or Monk's Dream by Thelonious Monk), and Billy Higgins (Art Deco by Don Cherry) to hear these types of things played in actual music.

Download this one page list of basic orchestrations if you haven't already memorized them.

Friday, June 08, 2018


Digging through my old cassettes I found this rather hilarious avant-garde thing I composed in 1991 on a then-fancy HR-16 drum machine, doing with it things entirely unintended by the technicians at Alesis. It's called MY NAME IS PABLO PICASSO, a suite in five movements.

This took me quite a few hours to make. At the time I was listening to a lot of John Zorn, so the movements are all extremely short; and to a lot of Ornette Coleman, especially the album Song X, so it is very dense. I performed it at a jazz combo concert at the University of Oregon, and I think half the people thought the sound system was malfunctioning, but a girl did approach me in the art library the next day to say she liked it. Turn it up loud to get the full effect...

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Figure and fills: Rover

Here's a page of drum orchestrations and fills based on a rhythmic figure from the tune Rover, on my album Travelogue, along with a practice loop sampled from it. The fills/orchestrations start very simply, building up to fairly complex. Learn to play them in your own way, and make your own variations on them.

We did a similar thing a few years ago with Herbie Hancock's Cantaloupe Island. I should write more of these!

Drum parts can and should be played on any drum, the cymbal part can be played on any cymbal. Vary the stickings as you see fit; the natural sticking for the drum set is to play the right hand on the cymbal, and the left hand on the drums, bringing your right hand to the drums as needed— in which case you can either play an alternating sticking, or doubles, or doubles mixed with singles, or a rudimental sticking. On items that don't have the hands in unison, you can also experiment with an alternating sticking— which will have your left hand moving to the cymbal sometimes. Whatever works for you.

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The tune was co-composed by me and Jasnam Daya Singh (née Weber Iago, née Weber Drummond), the pianist on the album. The loop is sampled from the intro, which was written by Jasnam:

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

A great drummer

Clarence Penn
These days I'm pretty insensitive to amazing drumming performances. I've seen a lot of people do a lot of amazing things, and I'm tired of it— I've actually never been into pure chops in the Buddy Rich sense, and have found I often don't have a lot of connection with drummers who are. That kind of square-britches fascination with ratamacue speed I do not get.

What gets me excited about drummers is when they elevate the music, and when they do actual creative magic— they play things that are great and it's not obvious where it came from and/or how they did it. Increasingly I appreciate mastery of the drums as a percussion instrument in the classical sense, playing effects and colors to fit and enhance the music. You would think that's an obvious thing, but it's not— a lot of people just play their stuff, and only think that way, maybe, when playing ballads.

Playing at the Ballard Jazz Festival recently I got to see Clarence Penn, who was the featured artist for the event, and a master of that kind of playing... that, and much more. He was playing music from his Origin CD of Thelonious Monk arrangements, which are very hairy indeed. The band was very impressive— it's really, really great to have great players who know your material— but the most legitimately amazing feat of the night was pianist Geoff Keezer apparently reading these insane charts, and still sounding great. Here's an example from the record:

Hit the link above to buy the record.

Penn is a generation after the original neo-bop young lions, but he's of that school, and has played with a ton of people, and played on a lot of records as a sideman over the last 30+ years. I found him to be great in an unexpected way. In recent years jazz education seems to have figured out how to speed talented young players along to sounding real impressive, and there's no shortage of players like that. You could almost start thinking that was the real shit until you encountered someone like Penn, with whom there's obviously something way deeper happening; deeper background with more of the history, and a lot of experience doing the actual job with top players. Very interesting to hear extremely modern music that was clearly informed by the entire history of jazz, but which didn't much reference it directly. And which also didn't reference any of the other current streams in modern jazz— a lot of which suddenly feels like shake'n bake modernism by comparison. Follow this drummer. 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Hemiola basics - UPDATED

On the sage advice of a fifth grade student, I've revised this old page introducing the 3:2 polyrhythm, or hemiola. I've added a few variations and inversions, added stickings and syllables for counting... and deleted the whole triplet/compound meter portion— to be revisited in another post.

This has been such an important concept to me for so long that you'd think I would have a complete pitch for it worked out, but I don't. It's just a piece of African rhythmic DNA that is a fundamental source of natural complexity in any music using the drum set— and by complexity, I mean anything deeper than march rhythms and two-beats. I think of it not as a lick or an idea, but as a form of compound pulse that is constantly running whether anyone is playing it or not, which can be drawn from at any time.

Hence, you want to be really familiar with it in all its forms: with its unbroken, polymetric form (the first four lines of exercises), and with the various ways it fits into a single measure of 2 or 4 (the last two lines on page 1 and all of page 2). 

Play all of the exercises as written, with hands only, then play them with all combinations of limbs: RH/RF, RH/LF, LH/RF, LH/LF, RF/LF. Count out loud, two ways: count the exact rhythm, and count beats only. Repeat all exercises many times.

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