Saturday, September 08, 2018

Wilcoxon weirdness

More on rolls, from a discussion on the Drummerworld forum. Look at this very strange piece of writing from Charley Wilcoxon:

From Wilcoxon's All-American Drummer

If you analyze what is written here and try to play it you will get very confused and/or angry:

What's up with the ruffs on rolls?
I see this fairly often in old rudimental literature, and I think this the way our knuckleheaded forebears would write a roll intended to begin on the second 16th note of that opening 8th note, like this:

This sticking is problematic, as is this
timing of the ruff, which I'll explain in a moment.

So the ruff is part of the body of the roll, and is played in time with it— in normal modern usage, ruffs are unmetered. I often see the familiar tap-7 stroke roll written the same way; those old rudimental guys seemed to be somewhat phobic about writing that 16th-dotted-8th rhythm:

Tap 7 written the modern way, and the old way.

What is a 12 stroke roll, and how do I fit one in that space?
It's not a common length of roll— at least it's not commonly referred to by this name. It's five double strokes and two accented taps, one at the beginning and one at the end; or two at the end. Literally:

Extremely non-textbook presentation.

Or in 2/4, in normal notation:

If you're confused by the presence of three accented taps in those examples, don't blame me— the logic of which taps are counted or not counted in the name of the roll can be kind of obscure. Take a look at Wilcoxon's book Rolling In Rhythm for many more examples of this.

So how do I play what's written in the solo? 
You can't, not with the given stickings— either Wilcoxon or the copyist has screwed this thing up. First, look at the sticking in the solo, and in my first example, compared to the sticking immediately above— the very last measure of the piece is the only one they got right. The ending accents on all of the others should be RL.

Also, the ruff is still a problem. This is what is literally indicated by the notation in the piece— with the sticking corrected:

The opening ruff is counted as part of the roll, but it has to be played at a different speed from the rest of the roll to fit it into the space it's given, which is not typically a done thing. Rolls aren't supposed to change speed.

What do I recommend? Pencil in the correct stickings, and just wing in the five double strokes (or multiple-bounce strokes), and get the timing of the surrounding accents right. Don't try to meter the internal roll speed.

Or you can try doing the ruff as in the previous example, playing it faster than the body of the roll. [NOTE: John Riley commented on the Drummerworld discussion, and he seems to favor that interpretation.] One or both of those things is/are probably what was done back then.

Or better yet, skip it and work on something interesting, and not riddled with errors. Just because Charley Wilcoxon puts something in front of you doesn't mean you have to do it. It's frankly a stupid little piece.

What's the lesson?
Don't trust everything you read. Drummers are not all infallible geniuses. Old drum notation is often shockingly unliteral. Not everything is worth the time and effort it takes to figure it out.

[h/t to Odd-Arne at Drummerworld]

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