Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Product review: Backbeater app

A rare product review here; this organization contacted me and asked me to try out and review their upcoming release, so here we go:

Backbeater is a product in development, with a Kickstarter launch coming up on August 14, created by a non-profit organization called Makers4good. It's advertised as the “World's Most Advanced Drum Metronome”; what it is is a snare drum-mounted sensor linked with an iPhone/Android app, which allows you to monitor your tempo and accuracy:

The Backbeater app runs analysis on the signal input from the sensor, to register a strike when you hit the drum. It has been designed to find the moment of greatest attack amidst the broad-band snare noise and lock on to the backbeat tempo. Hence the name! It then does crazy mathematics to make sure it gives you output you can use.

What it does

So, the name Backbeater is significant; it only does what it's supposed to when you're playing the 2 and 4— or any other evenly-spaced rhythm— on the snare drum.

It has a simple built-in metronome, and you can enter and save tempos (along with song titles, or any other label you want to give them). For some reason it only works between 20-220 bpm. If you play faster than that (like if you play a fill while you're practicing with it, or if you just play a faster tempo), it will read MAX. There are settings for sensitivity, metronome sound, “window” (2-5; how many drum hits the app uses to calculate your tempo), and “beat” (1-4; corrects the rate of drum hits so the display reflects the musical tempo you're playing). The package includes the sensor, a mounting bracket, and a headphone splitter. The sensor plugs into your smart phone or other device running their app; it attaches to your snare drum by means of a bracket which slides under a lug. There is also a hihat mounted phone holder than I didn't get to try out.

playing sloppy time via
the phone's touch screen 
The app works with or without the metronome function running. The app display shows the metronome tempo, the tempo you are playing (as calculated from the spacing of your snare drum hits), and a circular display with a snare drum graphic at the 12 o'clock position, and little red dot moving counterclockwise(?) around it. You're supposed to hit the snare drum when the dot is inside the drum graphic. When the metronome is running, the dot moves at metronome speed; when the metronome is turned off, the dot moves at whatever tempo the device thinks you're playing based on the last 2-5 hits.

Using it

With the metronome running, the device is really an accuracy detector, not a tempo detector. Unless you're completely out to lunch, you're really always playing the metronome tempo; the number it gives you as “your tempo” is really an arbitrary (and misleading) indicator of the accuracy of your hits. Musical time doesn't work that way, with the tempo changing based on your note placement. The main value in metronome mode is in improving your consistency and accuracy by following the little red dot and trying to hit the drum when it tells you to. The app is actually trying to make you listen to the click a certain way, and place your backbeats a certain way, which I don't believe is strictly necessary for grooving, professional playing, but it could be a useful tool.

With the metronome turned off the device does actually measure your tempo, but using it is a little weird. Whether or not it's a useful for actually improving your time is unknown... at the very least it's a tool for testing yourself. The moving dot could be problematic in this mode: it moves at the tempo you established with your last 2-5 hits, and I can see minor fluctuations in tempo compounding as you follow the dot, leading to actual tempo fluctuation. Best to just ignore it, play your groove, and see how well you maintain the tempo through over time while playing fills and variations. This is made more difficult by a disorienting thing that happens in this mode: when you play a fill the app momentarily goes bananas— it will read MAX for a moment, then some other random tempos, while it tries to figure out what you did. If you keep playing your original tempo, after a few measures it calms down and shows the tempo you were originally playing— or something hopefully close to it if you sped up or slowed down.


In its present form, I think the app fulfills a few extremely narrow functions: aiding in accuracy of playing evenly-spaced rhythms played on the snare drum, and monitoring tempo based on evenly-spaced rhythms played on the snare drum. The non-metronome, tempo-monitoring function is more interesting to me, but the app spazzing out whenever I play anything other than 2 and 4 makes it somewhat less useful than it could be. I would need to this product to be a little more robust to give it a full recommendation, but it could be very useful to some teachers and players. Certainly Makers4good looks like a worthy organization, and if this product interests you at all, you should consider donating to their Kickstarter campaign, which once again is launching on August 14th.

They'll be sending me a production model of the sensor when it's available, and I'll continue using it, and post any changes in my feelings about it, and write about any updates to the app as they come out. It's potentially a useful tool, especially as (I assume) they continue to develop the app.

What would make it more useful to me

More robust metronome functionality, similar to any other modern metronome: expanded tempo range, give downbeats in different meters, give subdivisions, ability to silence measures, etc.

Calibrate the track for the little moving dot. At the very least add graphical markers so I can see where the 16th note or triplet subdivisions fall on that little visual timeline. Ideally, I would like it to monitor hits on 16th note and triplet subdivisions as it does downbeats.

Ability to program rhythms. Either that, or include preset rhythms, from which the device can detect a tempo.

Ability to mount the sensor on a bass drum (I tried), hihat or ride cymbal (good luck with those latter two).   

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Jazz at Lincoln Center looking for a drummer

This is entertaining: Wynton Marsalis's Jazz at Lincoln Center has posted an ad seeking a new drummer. It's mostly realistic, though very high, standards for a jazz drummer working a top-level gig. Maybe it's 15% Marsalisian... I don't want to say BS, but many of the things he lists do not call for dramatically different playing styles, and the list of Latin styles seems slightly padded. Like I've never even heard of Corinho. But we can generally take the ad as a sort of doctrinal statement of what a jazz drummer is supposed to know, according to the JALC camp:

Open Position: Drummer
The Drummer of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra should have a personal, charismatic playing style and approach, and also must EMBRACE the role of the drums as engine of the rhythm section and as defacto conductor of the orchestra.

The drummer must be willing to study scores in order to color and punctuate arrangements like a percussion section as well as execute an unprecedented variety of rhythms/grooves in metronomic time with soulful feeling and gravitas.

Must understand and embrace JALC’s mission and be willing to serve as a representative of the organization.

Technical Requirements
Must be able to play different types of Blues shuffles and grooves at all tempos and handle the principal rhythms of all American vernacular music:

Country Western
American Popular Song
Must be able to improvise with an identifiable and uniquely personal approach in the vocabularies of all primary jazz movements:

New Orleans
Jazz Age: Hot & Sweet
Swing Era and Riff Style Swing
Post-Bop: Cool and Hard Bop
'60's Blue Note Style
All Eras of Ellingtonia
Avant Garde and Odd Meters
Afro-Latin Styles
Must understand the rhythm section concept introduced by the Wynton Marsalis Quintet and Septet in the '80's and early '90's, and must know the style and tradition of the JLCO.

The drummer must have identifiable sound and conception of the drum set, consistent metronomic and grooving feel, velocity, dynamic control, mastery of different ways of accompanying and interacting with soloist and the ability to play in balance (intensity without volume).

Must exhibit knowledge of swinging at all tempos.

Must have great cymbal beat (referencing the following styles: Billy Higgins, Mel Lewis, Sam Woodyard).

Must exhibit knowledge in performance of small group Jazz ensemble styles:
Independence on the drum kit (Max Roach 4 limb exercise)
Masterful use of brushes and mallets.
Must exhibit mastery of basic grooves in Jazz:
New Orleans 2-groove
Hi-Hat Swing
Church 2-groove
Modern 2-groove
4/4 Swing
Must exhibit mastery in big band drumming styles:

Swing Style
West Coast
Must exhibit masterful knowledge and application in Afro-Latin music by playing and enhancing the following rhythms:

Soca (Martinique)
Bossa Nova

Must exhibit knowledge and the ability to incorporate 40 PAS rudiments.

Must be able to play tambourine (in a sanctified church vernacular and western classical style).

Must be able to improvise in the Jazz vocabulary of all major styles.

Must be able to follow a conductor, as well as to conduct an ensemble from the kit.

Must have excellent reading skills and the ability to decipher and interpret music styles and genres with verbal instruction and chord changes on sight.

Must be able and willing to lead and to participate in educational events while on tour and in New York City.

Must be open to and capable of learning new music and new ways of playing in a short period of time.

Repertoire Requirements
Must have the ability to perform knowledgeably in the styles of and in all periods of the following ensembles:

Fletcher Henderson
Duke Ellington (1920s until his death)
King Oliver
Don Redman
Benny Moten
Louis Armstrong's Hot 5's and 7's
Benny Goodman
Jean Goldkette
Count Basie
Woody Herman
Jimmie Lunceford
Billy Eckstine
Dizzy Gillespie
Miles Davis
John Coltrane
Dave Brubeck
Gerry Mulligan
Ornette Coleman
Tito Puente
Thelonious Monk
Charles Mingus
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis
Wynton Marsalis

Personal Requirements
Must be prepared for vigorous tour/performance scheduling, as the orchestra is annually required to tour locally, nationally, and internationally. 

Must be willing to be collaborative in the rhythm section.

Must be able to work quickly and handle the strain, pressures, and challenges of performing live and/or recording in a variety of high-pressure settings.

Must be confident and humble enough to accept criticism in working towards perpetual improvement.

Must understand, interpret, and contribute to the Artistic Director's developing vision of Orchestral Jazz.

Must know the tradition of the chair and be as consistent and keenly accurate as the standard that has been set for the past 27 years by Herlin Riley and Ali Jackson.

Additional Experience
Candidates with skills and experience in composing/arranging that will expand our capability and musical vision are preferred. Must be able to write a big band arrangement on two week's notice. Final decisions on submissions of such compositions/arrangements for scheduled programs are at the sole discretion of the Artistic Director.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Bass drum rhythms for Latin

These bass drum rhythms are lifted from a page of Songo independence exercises I posted a few years ago. I thought it would be good to have them presented by themselves, apart from all the Songo jibber jabber, for use with that Victor Rendon timbale book, and other things.

I've included the 2-3 Son clave rhythm for reference— you can play that rhythm, or not. Use these with the bell pattern practice section from the Rendon book, or with my recent Mozambique page o' coordination, or anything else clave-based, either Son or Rumba clave. Whatever practice materials you use them with, be sure to use the same clave orientation; if you're using materials written in 3-2, you'll have to reverse the order of the measures on one of the sources so they match.

Patterns 1-3 are the ones you should use routinely with all clave-based playing. Patterns 4-6 will give you a little bit of freedom using those rhythms. Patterns 7-12 give you some more basic creative possibilities. Patterns 13-18 are advanced options, for denser, more fusion-like playing.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

EZ RH/RF lick in 16th notes

More easy rock stuff, this time developing a basic RH/RF pattern in 16th notes, adding various left hand parts, and moves between drums and cymbals:

Play all of the exercises many times, then improvise combinations. Play the cymbal part on closed hihat, open hihat, ride cymbal, cymbal bell, or any other sound you have available. Try playing them with this Black Sabbath practice loop. All of the right hand moves on patterns 13-18 can be done with any two cymbals and/or drums. Also see this page o' coordination that's based on a similar thing.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Page o' coordination: Afro 6/4 - triplets

Here we have our standard Afro-Cuban bell pattern extended a couple of beats to put it in 6. This page will work well with that Jimmy Garrison loop from the other day. Pairs well with a couple of pages of similar stuff in 9/8 from 2014, too.

Run each pattern many times. I like to move my left hand around while practicing these pages— either every note, or on every single or double. I find it's good to vary your technique, dynamics, and timbres of all the parts.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Practice rhythms: partido alto logic

This is a collection of two measure practice phrases based on the concept of the partido alto rhythm, which typically has 3 or 4 quarter notes alternating with 3 or 4 upbeats. I've expanded on that, and written all the possible practice rhythms using 1-6 quarter notes, along with the opposite number of &s, to make seven notes total.

It's really a library item; it may turn out to be very useful, or not very useful, or useful/not useful for certain people doing certain things. Most of us just plow through Syncopation and do our best with what's there, but sometimes it's better to have a single rhythmic idea presented all together like this.

Use these the way you use anything in Syncopation. Obviously they will make good left hand independence rhythms in bossa nova/samba, of left hand and bass drum in a jazz feel. They're also good for playing in 2/2, filling in the 8th notes. See my Funk Control series for examples of possible orchestrations. It could also be used for practicing big band style kicks and set ups.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Practice loop in 6/4: Greensleeves

Practice loop in 6/4, sampled from Greensleeves, recorded by John Coltrane on the album Africa/Brass. Here we just have the bass line played by Jimmy Garrison. Tempo is 142 bpm.

Garrison is phrasing the 6/4 as 2+2+2/4, but you can do all of my Elvin Jones-type stuff in 3 with this. This “figure control” page based on Stereolab's Free Design actually uses a very similar rhythm to what Garrison is playing here, just add a swing interpretation. Also see my other stuff in 6/4.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Best books: Rhythms and Techniques for Latin Timbales

UPDATE: I just realized we've already shared another excellent free-online book by Rendon, Timbale Solo Transcriptions. Get that too, if you haven't.

Rhythms and Techniques for Latin Timbales by Victor Rendon is sort of the anti-Uribe book. You'll recall from my review that Ed Uribe's Latin book is huge, intimidating, and very demanding; Rendon's book is very approachable, concise bordering on terse, and is learnable in a reasonable amount of time. And timbales are the Latin percussion instrument most similar to the drum set, so all of this can book can be played on the drums by just choosing equivalent sounds, and adding a basic bass drum part.

It's mostly a style guide, showing some ways of playing each of the major Latin styles, including Mozambique, Guaguanco, 6/8 styles, Songo, and Cha Cha— the styles we've been most interested in on the blog. He discusses lead-ins— the abanico— and gives some contexts for practicing it, and fills. There are also longer sections on developing bell patterns, and left hand independence in 2/2 and in 6/8, each of which are several pages long. There are also several pages looking at the playing of Changuito, the timbalero for Los Van Van and inventor of the Songo rhythm.

A nice thing is that this is a free book— at least it's a pdf found multiple places on the internet, that is semi-ethical to download, since the book appears to be out of print and is not available to purchase. You can compensate Rendon for his work by buying his newer book, The Art of Playing Timbales, which is available at the Amazon links below.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Double time rock beats

Easy page of double time rock beats. We're playing a little bit of a mind game here to get people to play these beats fast enough, since a lot of students get married to one basic slow to medium-slow tempo. Writing them this way automatically puts them in a faster tempo range mentally. And we do a lot of stuff in a half time feel, so this is what a double time feel looks like.

Count the rhythm of all the parts combined before playing, and make sure you're executing that rhythm cleanly when you play the grooves— that's mainly to get the bass drum landing in the right spot. Look for beats that are similar to each other, and practice moving between the two without stopping. Memorize the beats, then throw the page away.

Get the pdf

Monday, July 16, 2018

Page o' coordination: jazz waltz with syncopated 4:3 - 02

Here's a variation on the last jazz waltz POC we did, which has a syncopated 4:3 polyrhythm in the feet. Here the bass drum plays dotted quarter notes, and the hihat plays half notes, starting on the & of 2. The polyrhythm isn't actually important. This is more about developing some left hand/left foot independence within a normal modern jazz waltz feel, which will often have a strong dotted quarter note pulse throughout. The other page did something similar with the bass drum, vs. an Elvin-like hihat rhythm I use a lot

I've said before: once you do a few of these pages in a given style, you've kind of got the style covered. And you've learned most of what this format has to teach you; the more pages you do, the smaller the thing you're actually gaining in your playing. It's probably a good sign for your playing if you start practicing yet another one of these things, and it starts feeling somewhat redundant.

Swing the 8th notes. I don't feel it's as important to do all the left hand moves with some of the jazz waltz pages, but here's a fresh link to them if you want to do them. Move to a different drum on every note (or two notes, where there are doubles), according to the patterns at that link.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Groove o' the day: Contortions - Designed to Kill

Here's kind of a hip funk-type groove from the late 70s, by James Chance and the Contortions. It's New York scene shit— arty discordant high energy punk/funk jams with a charismatic front man, and not really designed for listening pleasure. That could describe any number of bands and records from that town from the late 70s-90s*. This is the drum groove from Designed to Kill, from the album Buy, produced by Brian Eno; the drummer is Don Christensen.

He does this little variation often:

You could play the whole first groove with an alternating sticking, with your right hand moving between the hihats and snare drum. Play beat 4 of the 32nd note version R L R RL. Any time you're messing with hihat splashes like this, first focus on getting the close— get a solid unison with your left foot and right hand on the & of 3 and & of 4.

* - To me this music sounds similar to a number of things I heard after college, but never really got into; my wife, the songwriter etc Casey Scott, who lived and was musically active in NYC for all of the 90s, and saw him perform many times, informs me that Chance is great.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Three camps - alternative versions

Here are some different forms of the snare drum piece Three Camps— actually we've seen them all before, except for the last one:

See this page which breaks down the piece to see how these individual measures are supposed to fit together. The paradiddle version and the triplet roll alternate version are a type of sticking I use a lot— basically they're rolls starting with a single note at the same rate as the body of the roll. On the first triplet roll version there's a little space between the tap and the body of the roll; my hip way the tap is integrated with the roll.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy 4th

Oh, and happy 4th of July.

Get the transcription of Billy Higgins's playing on this.

Page o' coordination: Afro 6 - “African”

Quite of flurry of POCs lately— a plague of POCs. I like this format. It's good for working on more complex independence; things too hard to do with a melodic line interpretation, which is my usual preferred way of practicing anything.

This page has the hihat played in the middle of the triplet*, and the bass drum where you might normally play a tom tom in a stock version of the groove, which gives this a generically African feel. This hihat placement may be a major challenge, so try this page as a warmup if necessary. The page based on David Cornejo's Afro-Peruvian groove also relates. Anyone is actually working on more than a few of these pages is going to be some kind of triplet/6-8/Afro-Cuban/waltz/Elvin groove badass.

Learn all the patterns, and then drill them with any of my standard left hand moves you want. You can also do moves based on the sticking patterns in Stick Control. Try working it with this Eddie Palmieri practice loop.

Get the pdf

* - We're in 6/8, so the triplet-sounding three note division of the beat is not actually a triplet (three notes played in the space of two notes of the same value), and readers with a musical education will object to me saying triplet. I'll write a whole post on this another time. For now suffice it to say that compound meters have a triplet feel, and triplet is an easier word than compound meter 8th notes for more readers to understand. I'm using convenient terminology that will be understood by my audience even if it's incorrect in the context of a theory discussion. Get off my back.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Practice loop: Watermelon Man

This is a practice loop I use a lot, sampled from the intro of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man, from the album Headhunters. At 74 bpm it's a little faster than one of my other favorites, If I'm In Luck... by Betty Davis. There are some interesting cross rhythms happening, so you have to pay attention to how you place your notes. This is great for working on any of my cut time funk stuff.

Monday, July 02, 2018

More Frank Butler - intro and break

Another little solo break by Frank Butler, along with something very interesting. The tune is Bobblin'— a bright, somewhat Mingus-like waltz— from the Curtis Amy & Frank Butler album Groovin' Blue, recorded in 1960-61. The tune has an AAB form, with a 10 bar B section, and Butler solos on the last B before he head out, starting at 4:32. Like the last thing, it's a good example of simple, non-technical soloing, using similar language to the simple solo method we've been working with lately.

What's really interesting to me is what he plays on the intro and coda. The sticking here is RRL all the way through— with slight variations when he plays it at the end of the tune. He plays the 8th notes almost straight:

It's a simple thing that is actually very modern— it jumped out at me as being almost Tony Williams-like.

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