Saturday, September 14, 2019

Transcription: Fred Braceful - All That Funk

Here's an interesting performance by Fred Braceful, a drummer from Detroit who lived in Germany for most of his career, and recorded mainly with German artists. He also recorded a couple of albums with Mal Waldron; this is part of All That Funk, from Waldron's album Spanish Bitch, recorded in 1970.

Braceful's playing here is rather eccentric, and much of it sounds kind of rough. I transcribed only part of the beginning, and the drum solo, which starts after 5:25. I had the record on in the background to doing something else, and the middle of the solo caught my attention as sounding strangely current.

He mixes up his sounds on the snare drum quite a bit; we hear a couple of different quality of rim shots, occasional rim clicks, and missed notes where he hits the rim. Maybe there's even a bongo in the set up, coupled with the snare drum. I couldn't be bothered to figure out what exactly is going on, just note that he gets a lot of variety with the snare drum voice.

The tempo does speed up substantially— mainly during the piano solo, and coming out of the drum solo. It sounds like Waldron is instigating that, and Braceful is struggling to find a pocket with him.

Get the pdf

By the way, here's a video of Braceful playing in 1967, which is much more happening.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Notes on a Lenny White performance

I got to see Lenny White play last night, with the pianist George Colligan and bassist Buster Williams, at Portland's 1905 Club. Here are a few impressions. Between watching a performance and writing a blog post about it there's plenty of room for inaccuracy and incompleteness. Anything that sounds like criticism is not criticism.

Basic orientation
He played a right handed drumset with the cymbals reversed— ride cymbal on the left, crash cymbal on the right, and did all riding with his left hand— on the big cymbal and the hihat only. Matched grip— I've seen him play traditional grip with his right hand, but didn't notice that last night. He played the hihat mainly heel up, often keeping a running pulse going with it. I didn't get a look at his bass drum technique. His body was very centered and relaxed, not herky-jerky. Like most great players, his hand technique was unremarkable-looking. He had a normal relaxed grip, so-called American or German grip, without much obvious finger technique happening. Very much a whole-drumset player in the modern sense.

He was playing the house drums— probably still with my tuning, because I played them a few nights ago— toms tuned high, with a nice interval; live, tonal bass drum; snare drum high and dry, rather weak sounding.

Like many of the players I like the most, his denser playing was economical and non-technical— and it was plenty dense at times— meaning he used lots of singles and doubles. Which is our whole project here. Not a lot of technical, snare drum-istic playing. No fancy moves with the brushes.

No particular advantage to playing open-handed
White is one of the famous examples everyone cites in defense of playing the ride cymbal with the left hand. He does indeed do it— he had the big cymbal on the left, and an 18" crash on the right. Like everyone else, he plays the cymbals mostly with his cymbal hand, and keeps the other hand mostly down on the drums. He never rode with his right hand. So he would often cross over to catch the 18 with his left hand. And being that it was on the far side of the bass drum, it was a bigger reach for his left than play the left-side cymbal typically is for a right handed drummer. The whole reason everyone wants to play open-handed— so they can play a lot of tom toms while also playing the hihat— he never really did. He did that at times when playing the ride cymbal, but it's also easy to do that when playing a standard orientation.

It doesn't matter for him; he's a great player and has been playing that way for something like 60 years. I still don't think it's a great idea for other people to do it.

Tune oriented
The primary organizing principle seemed to be the tune, and to a lesser extent the four and eight bar phrase. There were extended periods when he played mostly straight time, but I didn't experience his playing here as being primarily groove-oriented. Maybe it's better to say it wasn't mainly about stating the groove. He often played what I would call featured comments; big accompanying statements that were not always on the same grid as the primary groove. Somewhat reliant on the bass to keep the through line during the more active parts— a thing that is said about Tony Williams with Miles as well.

But he varied it. For most of the piano solo on Bemsha Swing he played a shuffle. When he played brushes he mostly played time.

Tony Williams-like
Tony's playing in the 60s was clearly a formative influence. Listen to Four & More a lot to get the effect. Lots of pattern-based melodic action between the toms. No particular Tony clichés, but he did play a five-note cymbal rhythm quite a bit when the group played ESP. At the beginning, at least. Maybe he played a superimposed waltz groove based on a quarter note triplet for a few measures, on another tune.

In this interview— all of which you should watch— he mentions “the magnificent seven”: Art Blakey, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Kenny Clarke. Listening to him the feeling of that history was obvious, but not overt; I felt the vibe of Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones— though not Philly Joe's rudimental thing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

On having done a LOT of transcriptions

I guess I've probably transcribed as much drumming as anyone. There have got to be some other lunatics out there, but not that many, and they're not publishing their work regularly. In this past 9 years of cranking this stuff out, I've noticed some patterns in people's playing.

Caveat: There is a bit of selection bias: I only transcribe things that are transcribable— a lot things can't actually be written out, or written out in a reasonable amount of time. I don't transcribe a lot of hardcore-crazy performances, but I do things that have a greater than normal amount of drumming interest— something with the groove, comping, fills, or soloing. There has to be some element of improvisation. Most of what I transcribe is from the 1950s-70s, and most of the rest of it is from the 80s-90s.

What I've noticed:

People don't use their left foot that much
I'm always surprised at how much left foot activity there isn't on most records. Jazz drumming usually calls for a more active left foot, but many do not play it on arranged sections of a tune, or when soloing.

They don't necessarily play a lot of tom toms either
Plenty of things only have the toms in one or two spots, or not at all. Often the guy never makes it down to the floor tom. Relatively few things that are not Latin tunes have lots of toms throughout.

Hell, they don't even play the bass drum that much
I view the drumset as a complete four-limb instrument, so I'm often surprised that there are still drummers who do most of their playing just with the sticks. Some of these cases may be jazz players feathering the bass drum constantly, and it isn't audible on the recording. To me that's functionally the same as not playing it— I'm more interested in what people play for effect. And the bass drum is often used for effect very sparingly.

Nor do they necessarily hit a lot of different cymbals
A lot of the things I transcribe may only have two cymbals on them, and they often don't make it over to the left side much. On the few recordings where a China cymbal is present, they're usually not wailing on it throughout the tune.

Lots of people have little hiccups in their soloing
Not just extra beat of rest, but actual moments where the drummer loses the thread, and the beat evaporates for a second. It happens when you're improvising, following your ears, and letting your hands do their thing— sometimes your ears and hands just fail for a second. These older players were not fully working every single thing out in the practice room— they were mostly playing constantly.

Increasingly in recordings since the 70s and 80s, the best known drummers are more practiced, editing performances has become possible, and standards have evolved, and I hear that less often.

They have idiosyncratic ways of playing rudiments
They often get severely slurred, squashed, messed around a bit, especially on recordings from the 50s-60s.

Funk fills often have bass drum in them
And I don't mean as a modern linear thing. A lot of people will step on the bass drum under a heavy tom tom fill— just a steady rhythm, Gene Krupa-style. Especially in 70s funk.

Time flexes
Transcribing with a program like Transcribe!, it's easy to highlight a bar of music, and drag the selection forward when you're ready to transcribe the next bar. When you do that, it's easy to see that not every bar of music is exactly the same length. Also plenty of things recorded before there were click tracks rush or drag over the course of the tune, and tempos may change on different sections.

People play both more and less repetitively than you might think 
Most people, when playing, are not focusing on how to work in more of their stuff. They may not have a huge variety of stuff worked up in the first place. Some performances that sound pretty varied have surprisingly little actual variety. Other players are constantly making variations, but it still reads basically as a repeating groove. It's weird.

Dynamics track the song
On a level too subtle to notate. Jazz drummers are expected to be very sensitive about dynamics, but I hear the same level of sensitivity on older pop and funk records— it will be very obvious that the drummer is really listening, and his dynamics are shifting subtly to support a phrase or vocal line. It's important, because a lot of people think pop/funk drumming = whacking a backbeat at a perfectly even volume.

There is not that much fancy stuff happening
Much of it is just not that technical. 

There may be a lot of semi-intentional notes happening
In writing out every single note audible on a track, I've written a lot of unplayable transcriptions. Some of these things are like archeological sites, tracking the body motions of the performer, and obscuring the intended musical performance. It may say something about a player's physical attitude towards the instrument, where they're throwing a lot of motion at the instrument, and so a lot of extra stuff is sounding that wasn't necessarily intended.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Page o' coordination: basic 6/4

The first of three pages of fundamentals to go with that John Zorn loop from the other day. These POCs are a major part of my output right now, which is a little bit misleading— I only write them and use them for things would be too difficult to practice with an interpreted, Reed-style method. It's better to do the bulk of your practicing with the Reed methods.

This page has a 3:2 polyrhythm played between the left foot and right hand/right foot in unison, with left hand “independent” parts added. It's written in 6/4, but it could easily be felt in 12/8 by feeling the cymbal/bass part as your primary pulse.

Learn the whole page with your left hand on the snare drum, then drill it by playing the page with my stock tom moves. When doing the moves, I play rim clicks on the snare drum notes.

Get the pdf

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A quick rant and etymological aside

La mano dall'inferno
OK, I want everybody stop saying “dominant” hand, “weaker” hand— anything like that, as if it's a thing. It's not a thing.

None of your drumming abilities are dictated by the hand you sign your name with or open doors with or throw a ball with.

In playing the drums there is usually a lead hand, which may or may not be the same hand you write with. That hand starts most things, plays the strong side of the rhythm, and generally gets the most practice. It also plays the cymbal rhythm, and coordinates most closely with the feet, so it can be a challenge to do that exact same things with the other hand.

That doesn't mean the other hand is “weak”, and using it is not a Sisyphean struggle against biology, as some purport. It simply is not as practiced. I have encountered exactly no players of any age with left hand problems that couldn't be addressed in a few weeks or months of the right kind of practice.

So everybody stop building failure into your language— and excusing your lack of practice— by calling it your weak hand. I have had it with that.

This isn't only our fault, or the fault of people marketing drumming systems based on you believing one of your hands is weak. This good hand/suck hand thing is baked into most languages from the beginning. Fairly benignly in English— the names right and left suggest the correct hand and the other hand or the left-over hand. German is similar, with rechts suggesting correct... and links somewhat ambiguous. It has the same ancestor as the English slink, but I don't know if it has that kind of slinking/scurrilous connotation to modern Germans.

Romance languages have the very old association of clean (or able) and dirty built into them, most plainly the Italian destra and sinistra— dextrous and sinister. In French the words seem to reference manners with droit and gauche, but the implied meaning is the same. Spanish has the screwball izquierda for left, which is borrowed from Basque, and I suspect it sounds as random to Spanish speakers as it does to us. Esperanto, which was supposed to be the language of universal peace and brotherhood has dekstra and maldekstra— basically, able and badly-able.

Other Indo-European languages mostly have the same working/dextrous/able and dirty/crappy/evil/weak thing going. One Old English thing I wish had survived was to use a euphemism for the left hand, and call it the friendly hand. It was embarrassing and indiscreet to speak openly of that dirty hand you clean yourself with, so they went the opposite way and called it the happy hand. That also happens in Greek.

I don't know the history of referring to one hand as “dominant.” A lot of Americans seem to be attracted to the word, and like thinking in those terms. I can't find any egalitarian names for the hands. I thought there might be an Asian language that gives them a Yin and Yang connotation, but there doesn't appear to be.

Drummers could call them the cymbal hand and the snare hand... a drumset-centric thing that would really irk those snare drum guys. The way the hands function practically in drumming, often we're dealing with a leading hand and an opposing or opposite hand. People who think we're supposed to aspire to perfect ambidexterity could call them hands A/B, 1/2, 0/1. If those are still too hierarchical, we could assign them any two random Greek letters. I suggest omicron (O) and chi (X).

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Practice loop in 6: Tekufah

A fun practice loop in 6/4 with a strong suggestion of 12/8. It's really a compound pulse where it's both things at the same time. Hit the time signature labels at the bottom of the post for practice materials to go with this. You also need to have my book Syncopation in 3/4. Any easy thing you want to do with that book would be great to practice with this.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Transcription: Ivan Conti

Ivan Conti and Azymuth playing A Caça, a lightweight little 70s fusion arrangement, with some fun things happening. It's from Azymuth's album Águia Não Come Mosca. It's such a clean and tight performance and arrangement this would be a good candidate for someone to actually learn to play.

What caught my attention with it was the rather outrageous long tom fill in the middle. The fills generally are interesting, and different from what an American fusion drummer would play.

Swing the 16th notes, moderately. There are four tom toms present. And a couple of unusual cymbals, which I haven't bothered to differentiate. 

Get the pdf

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Bruce Gilden, a street photographer

A few videos of Bruce Gilden, a New York photographer. He's known as a street photographer, and a rather invasive one. He gets right up in people's faces and photographs them with a flash. It seems like a sketchy way of working, but he's a member of Magnum, and is Guggenheim fellow, and is respected as a very serious, top level photographer.

This video is from Vice magazine's site, so it's intended to be “edgy”:

This gives a good idea of the level of scrutiny you have to apply to any visual work— and the level of responsibility. These are street photos taken in uncontrolled situations, but he holds the photographers accountable for everything in the frame. I also like his comment about strength in numbers— repetition shows commitment to fully exploring a concept. 

In this video you can see how he works— it's pretty obnoxious, but at least there's no ambiguity. There are ethical issues when photographing people who did not volunteer to model for you, to illustrate whatever statement you want to make about humanity, and Gilden claims to have “no ethics.” But clearly that's not the case as you hear him speak and watch how he talks to people. There are certainly plenty of photographers who actually have no ethics and no empathy for their subjects, for whom this aggressive attitude will backfire. 

Here he gives a little more defense of his way of working, contrasted with a common mentality in this kind of photography that is just about sneaking around and stealing from people.

Here's a sit down interview by another photographer. Interesting that he studied acting with Bill Hickey, with whom my wife also studied. By now you notice that he has a little schtick with how he speaks about himself and his work.

The most important part of this for me is near the end, after 19:30, where they mention younger photographers in it to find fame as gallery photographers: “We're lifers; we do it because we have to do it.”

Friday, August 30, 2019

Page o' coordination: cut time funk / fusion cymbal rhythm

A Page o' Coordination for getting together basic funk coordination using a common fusion cymbal rhythm, that comes from Latin drumming— it's also the jazz cymbal rhythm, not swung. The rhythm is difficult enough for students at a certain level, that it's worth writing it out this way, so all of the notes are visible. With more advanced, pro-aspiring students I will just assign my funk drill using this rhythm.

These aren't primarily intended to be stand alone grooves, though they can function that way. I was working with a non-jazz student on the Max Roach rubadub cells, playing them in a rock/funk context, and this is a companion to that.

Learn the patterns then drill them with a variety of my practice loops. Sometimes it's helpful to break them down in a way based on my so-called skiplet method— playing only the 2&3 or 4&1 portion of the pattern, one time, in isolation. Or just the &2&3 or &4&1— if the & of 1 or 3 are present in the pattern. 

Get the pdf

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Transcription: Billy Higgins - two breaks

Continuing yesterday's theme, here are two slick drum breaks by Billy Higgins, from Hank's Other Bag, from Hank Mobley's octet album A Slice Off The Top. They happen at the beginning and end of the track; the first is six bars after the beginning, the second is at 6:55.

Higgins's swing interpretation is very legato— by which I mean it's closer to straight 8ths than is usual— and he actually plays straight 8ths for a couple of measures of the first break. There are a few different articulations here— a stick shot with a ruff, some buzzes played with both hands, and an open drag in measure 3 of the the second break.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Transcription: Ben Dixon 8-bar break

A little 8 bar break played by Ben Dixon— this is really just an excuse to listen to his playing on this track overall. The tune is Lullaby of the Leaves, from Grant Green's album Grant's First Stand. Dixon's playing on it is what groove in jazz is all about— he just bangs it out with a really strong quarter note pulse, with a few embellishments, and conducts the section changes. He plays a few big fills during the solos, that are sort of like featured comments— they're loud, and they're not just there to be supportive of the groove.

On the head out he plays a solo break on the bridge, which is what I've transcribed here. It's very straightforward and well structured, and a good example of soloing to move the arrangement along. He plays the tune for the first four bars, then two bars of an actual solo statement, then two bars to set up the last A.

Bars 5-6 are a little rough; he's just going for it and doesn't have it all perfectly worked out. It doesn't matter. That's how people play when they're just playing all the time and don't necessarily practice a lot.

Get the pdf

Monday, August 26, 2019

Daily best music in the world: Pygmy music

I'm working on a couple of new book ideas right now, so you'll have to content yourselves with perusing our voluminous archives, and digging this absolutely amazing Pygmy music— African people also known as Aka or Bayaka.

I'm serious— this is some of the most incredible music I've ever heard in my life. The segment starting around 41:00 especially. If you assembled the best musicians in New York and budgeted a couple of million dollars for eight months of rehearsals you still couldn't duplicate what ordinary people with no money and no professional training do every day, with no goal of being heard by anyone outside of their own small community.

This video was down for awhile, and has been reposted by a different account— I imagine it will be taken down again soon.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Updating the book

Time to rework the book for my events band again. It's been eight years, and I really don't want to see most of those tunes ever again. I always felt too obligated to make this some kind of oldies/swing band, but really, for the type of gigs we do, nobody cares. We can just do normal standards that are fun to play and the clients would be fine. We don't need to play Moon River any more. Satin Doll. Come Fly With Me. Forget it, I'm done.

We were also overloaded with too much stuff. Anybody foolish enough to bring a wire stand to the gig was in serious danger of dumping the thing. So I did a quick pass through my various real/fake books, and came up with this svelte collection of tunes:

Alice In Wonderland
All Of You
Beautiful Love
Black Narcissus
Chelsea Bridge
Dearly Beloved
Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me
Everything Happens To Me
From This Moment On
Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You
Gentle Rain
Gone With The Wind
Have You Met Miss Jones?
I Hear A Rhapsody
I Should Care
I Thought About You
If I Should Lose You
If You Never Come To Me
I'll Take Romance
It Could Only Happen With You
It's You Or No One
Like Someone In Love
Long Ago And Far Away
Lullaby Of The Leaves
The Masquerade Is Over
Midnight Sun
My Little Suede Shoes
My Romance
My Shining Hour
O Grande Amor
Slow Hot Wind
The Song Is You
Soul Eyes
Spring Is Here
These Foolish Things
Things Ain't What They Used To Be
Up Jumped Spring
Very Early
Watch What Happens

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Cymbal of the minit: 18" Cymbal & Gong Turk “Toshiro”

I don't use Turk-type cymbals much any more, but this one is really special: 18" Cymbal & Gong custom Turk light ride. Weighs 1472 grams. C&G doesn't have a regular Turk line— the smiths in Istanbul call them “Krut”, Tim, the company owner, calls them “Midnight Lamp.” To me, this one has a Joey Baron kind of vibe.

As an 18" ride, this has a nice tight, controllable sound that will be great for practicing, for rehearsals, for recording, for piano trio, and for working with vocalists. Good Turks really shine when recording. Very pleasing darker sound, with no out of control trashy-noisy elements— it's a clean dark sound. It's not a loud cymbal, but it responds evenly through its full dynamic range, which makes it a real pleasure to play. Mainly, it crashes really nicely— which can't be said of many “dry” cymbals.

It's also a really cool looking cymbal. The automatic white balance on my camera makes the color look much lighter than it is in person— it actually has a rich chocolaty color.

$340.00. Shipping in the US is about $35.00. International shipping is available, should be around $60-80.

Hit the EMAIL TODD link in the sidebar to inquire or purchase. Visit to listen to a whole lot of other great cymbals from Cymbal & Gong.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Max's rubadub - cells

This Max Roach Freedom Suite transcription is like a text book on jazz comping— one method of it, anyway. I'm having my students extract some two and three beat cells from the transcribed excerpts; here I've written them out for the first three examples from that original page. You can easily do this with the other excerpts— I don't know, some people need to see something written out and an “official” lesson made out of it to take it seriously.

Don't think of this as an ostinato based system; we're not starting with a cymbal pattern and adding “independent” snare and bass drum parts. These are all complete three-voice ideas in themselves— and that's the way you should learn them, all at once.

Play these with a swing interpretation. Try it with the Tunji loop. The cells in 3 you can also play in 4/4. They'll resolve to start on beat 1 after three measures. You can also get some usable 5-beat “cells” from that original page of excerpts, or my page with triplets added, as well.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Basic drum set coordination - 01 - alternating

A page for teachers, for beginning through intermediate level students. I want them to have total clarity on what it feels like to play all the major limbs, and unisons between limbs, and the basic two-note sequences with them. At this basic level, that means right hand and right foot together, and both hands in unison. No left foot, no left hand in unison with the bass drum.

These are what's needed to begin playing basic 16th note funk-type patterns on the drum set. Actually lines 2, 6, and 7 are not strictly necessary for that, but they're such basic coordination patterns I had to include them. And there is a level of simplicity below this, for doing beginning rock beats, which requires only RH by itself, both hands in unison, and RH/RF in unison. So far I haven't had the need to write that out.

Notes for teachers— anyone who needs this page probably won't be able to self-teach it correctly:

•  Hit the individual notes of the key at the top of the page a few times: right hand, left hand, bass drum, right hand / bass drum in unison, both hands in unison.
•  Play the initial two-note pattern a few times, with an unmetered pause in between, just to be clear on the sequence of notes.
•  Play the three note pattern a few times, again with a pause in between repetitions.
•  Play the five-note, 1-e-&-a-2 pattern in time, repeating.
•  Then play the running 16th note pattern approximately one to four times, ending on 1.

There's no need to work for speed or anything else beyond a clean sequence of notes and accurate combined rhythm.

Get the pdf

Monday, August 19, 2019

Keep your pencil sharp

Drawing by Josef Albers
Every student was required to have a pencil sharpener and to keep a sharp point on the pencil when drawing. 
— Rob Roy Kelly on studying art with Josef Albers

Reading that statement was a kind of crux point for me in learning about making paintings. That's how I learn: somebody says (or plays) something that grabs my attention, and I run with it.

I did start using a pencil for the first time ever, and doing some hard-edged pictures, but mostly I took a very broad lesson from it, about paying attention to the quality of my line, and making clean, professional, finished-looking marks. And working more deliberately in general.

When I started, the most important thing to me was to move on impulse. The first things I did were Jackson Pollock-like drip paintings, which are conducive to an impulsive, dynamic technique, not unlike playing the drums*. After awhile I realized that that alone wasn't going to produce the pictures I wanted. I was putting down too many bad marks and colors, that I would have to deal with later, making a lot of extra work for myself.

So I saw that quote as I was thinking about how to maybe get it right in the first place. About making quality marks, so they look good in case they survive to be visible in the final piece— and the better they look, the more likely they are to survive. And also color selection; I sometimes would put paint on the canvas just because I had a lot of it on my palette— a really dumb way to paint.

Gotham News by Willem de Kooning
I had a similar attitude about music to my original attitude about painting. My main concern was energy. I had to learn that in both art and music is that having an intense effect does not necessarily come from physical intensity when creating it.

In playing the drums, that quote translates as paying attention to your sound, and improving your accuracy. That helps you sound good no matter what you play— though there are plenty of very accurate drummers who are boring to listen to. I always was thinking about my sound— in the Miles Davis sense of using it expressively, not in a commercial, studio drummer sense. Really thinking about accuracy came late in the process. Accuracy is also tied up with other issues of groove concept, time, and coordination, and with developing your ears as an ensemble player, so it can't really be addressed in isolation.

I'm not even sure this is great advice for anyone but me, right now. There's no shortage of artists and musicians capable of creating mannered, disciplined work. There are fewer who have the kind of energetic edge that I'm after.

* - That should also tell you something about my approach to drum technique. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Max's rubadub - triplets added

Wow, slow posting in August. This is something more to do with that Max Roach rubadub-like system I've been writing about recently. Here I've added some filler triplets to the original transcribed phrases I posted before— rather sparsely; I'll take this one more level of density in a few days.

Swing the 8th notes, of course. When you can play the patterns, practice them along with my recent Tunji practice loop.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hemiola funk series: 2/4 inversions

I wrote this out for some of my younger students, and also as a continued exploration of this hemiola rhythm in funk. It's very similar to some other things I've posted— most of these left hand rhythms already occur in this page of tresillo inversions— so you'll have to forgive the redundancy. It's an idea in development. And different levels of students need to see things written out certain ways.

I've written out a 3:2 polyrhythm in 8ths and 16ths, played twice in a single measure of 3/4, written three ways. Then I extracted the first two beats of each 3/4 rhythm, and wrote out inversions of it, starting on each 8th note of the rhythm. You can see that the results are mostly very common funk snare drum or bass drum rhythms.

I've given a sticking for each pattern: R = right hand, L = left hand, B = both hands. I find it's helpful for students to count the rhythm, and to think of the patterns as a sticking. Also play the patterns substituting the bass drum for the left hand. A couple of obvious moves for turning these into performance vocabulary are to add a snare drum back beat on 2 (if it's not already present), or add a bass drum on 1— or on any cymbal note without a unison.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Writing tips

First get the leaves off your paper and
learn how to hold a pen. Start writing
at the UPPER LEFT. Come on. 
“You have to have a command over the English language or you're just nowhere.”
— Steve Martin

Writing is a basic thing all musicians should be able to do. If for no other reason than to come off well writing your own press materials and site content. We're small businessmen after all, and we are usually our own heads of communications and public relations. Maybe some people actually want to get into writing about drumming or music.

Here's what I try to do— actually, these are all negative suggestions, so here's what I try to not do:

Don't try to be an authority
Everyone seems to feel a need to project authority. Don't try to trick people into thinking you're a cat, and therefore have the right to speak. Just assume you can speak, and let other people judge whether you know what you're talking about. Do scale your pronouncements to your actual level of knowledge, experience, and achievement.

Don't be an opinion monkey
Part of being a cat is having your judgments sought out, and having them automatically taken seriously. It's the life's dream of a lot of musicians, and it's pure ego, and it's totally stupid and useless. It's such a part of the musician mentality, that it may take a lot of work for some people to figure out what to write that is not that.

Don't talk people to death
Do you know what seeing a big block of text makes me want to do? Not read something.

Use fewer words. They are your medium, but they are also a drag on actual communication.

Stop being so damn entertaining
A lot of drumming writers try to engage readers by prattling, like they do in lessons or clinics. I guess it works in person, sort of. In print it's a total drag on communication. Read a transcript of a Donald Trump speech some time, and you'll see the approximate effect you're creating.

Exhibit A of what not to do is the text of Tommy Igoe's Groove Essentials. The information is good, but it's laden with so much conversational bullshit, I promise you no one has read the whole thing. Mike Mangini's Rhythm Knowledge book is another egregious example of that.

Stop selling
A lot of musicians suffer from a crushing inferiority complex, an irrational feeling that society has no use for us whatsoever [HAHAHAHAHA -tb], and that we therefore need to constantly sell everyone on the value of what we do. Often this takes the form of trying to win people over with our enthusiasm.

Don't do that. People care even less that you're excited about something than they do the thing in the first place. It seems desperate.

Stay in your lane
Your job is to present your idea. Your job is not to teach the idea. You can't anticipate and preemptively explain every single thing readers may not get. That will make your article into an unreadable pile, and then no one will get it.

Everyone hates to write
A writer is a person desperate to avoid writing. You just have to start making that shitty first draft, and then continue with the long slogging process of fixing it up into something good.

Oh, don't write in the negative all the time. 
Form an idea of what something is, not just what it is not. What to do, not just what not to do. Maybe I'll get to that in another post, sometime.

Friday, August 09, 2019

A balanced attitude about cymbals

Some thoughts on cymbals; sound, quality of instruments, and how that relates to playing music. We want to have nice instruments and get a great sound, but, frankly, it is not all-important. Hopefully here we'll find a balance between consumeristic cymbal fetishist and pure I-don't-give-a-damn road dog.

“Give me a cymbal and I'll play it” — Art Blakey
Some people— including some well-known players— really do not care what they play. Blakey's attitude in that quote is to wail on the thing and make it do your bidding regardless of what it sounds like. I imagine players like that don't give sound much thought, and play exactly the same way on any instrument.

I understand the attitude, to an extent. I'm mostly that way about drums. I could play anything good (and most things bad) and it wouldn't bother me. And I've had to play a lot of bad cymbals in my career— or, decent cymbals that weren't quite right for the setting— you're not quite happy with them, but you still have to play. You find a way to make music with the instrument you have. I'm not going to play badly just because a cymbal is weird. You learn how to play well while not loving your sound.

“It's the player”
A friend who studied with Danny Gottlieb got a chance to play Mel Lewis's cut up A. Zildjian, one of the more famous cymbals in jazz. He said: “I played it and it sounded like shit. Danny played it and it sounded like shit.”

Who knows, maybe it would have sounded that way if you stood next to Mel playing it in his garage.

I don't actually believe Danny Gottlieb or my friend were incapable of getting a good sound out of that cymbal. I don't believe in only particular players being able to use certain cymbals. Good players who pay attention can find the best possible sound out of any cymbal.

Most importantly: getting a good sound out of any cymbal requires a good player, playing good stuff with a good touch.

It's about what you play, and how. And when.
A cymbal is an instrument, it is not the music. Sound is important, but it is still just an envelope for the things we play. A good instrument does not make weak playing into good playing.

But they do affect what you play.
You cannot take a 22" Sound Creation Dark Ride and a 22" Bosphorus Master Turk on a piano trio gig and play them the same way. You're going to dance around with some light sticks on the Paiste; on the Bosphorus you'll spend the gig tripping out thinking you sound like Nefertiti... whether or not the audience agrees.

If you're at all guided by your ears in your playing, you're not going to be happy playing an A. Zildjian Ping Ride in a normal jazz situation. There's no good model for that kind of sound. There are some Count Basie trio records where Louis Bellson plays some heavy As, but they sound terrible. Few of us would play our best on one of those things.

Bad or mediocre cymbals put you outside the music a little bit; you have to think more about your technique, and about avoiding making the ugly sounds they have in them. The sound is always nagging you as being not quite right.

Holy Grail
To me that's a cymbal that works well as a musical instrument, that sounds like the sound in your head, that responds well to your natural personal touch, and sounds good to the other players and to the audience. And, played by a good player like you, it should be capable of an objectively beautiful sound in a traditional sense, equivalent to Charlie Haden's sound, or Paul Chambers's sound. It's not necessarily an absolutely perfect cymbal, but it's a cymbal you can have a conversation with.

This is not an advertisement
Or, it is, but I would say the same things if it wasn't. When I get excited about the cymbals I'm selling, the Cymbal & Gong cymbals, it's because they fulfill the above description so well. We can survive musically with less than perfect instruments, and should be able to, but we're supposed to be serious about our sound, and get good instruments when they're available.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Idris's clave

A page of beats based on a snare drum rhythm used a lot by Idris Muhammad. It's a sort of one-bar clave, an inversion of the rhythm commonly called tresillo, starting on beat 3. I've set it to a cymbal rhythm, and added some bass drum rhythms and ghost notes on the snare drum:

Check out my grooves o' the day of Muhammad's grooves using this rhythm. My other posts on the tresillo rhythm are also closely related to this.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Page o' coordination: another basic 3:2

UPDATE: pdf download now works

Back in Portland after a road trip to northern California... recording drums for a quasi-punk record by my wife and one of her 90s East Village cronies, in a Lions Club in a little town outside of Yuba City.

So, we'll be doing kind of a boilerplate item today: another page o' coordination in 12/8, a follow up on this recent very basic page. This page may not be necessary for anyone who has done more than a few of my other POCs in 6 or 12/8, but it fills in a gap in my literature, and will be good for people who want or need to go over the fundamentals in these meters in a very thorough way. This is background for Afro 6, jazz waltz, 6/4, or slow/medium triplet or shuffle feel.

Learn the exercises, then drill the entire page with the standard left hand moves. Use this Melvin Sparks loop if you need or want to do it at a very slow tempo. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Rock drill

Here's a rock drumming practice system, that is related to my harmonic coordination improved method, and also this post on developing rock fills. I've been using it with students of all ages, and have been doing it myself for getting in the zone for a rock recording session later in the week.

I'm finding it to be an extremely effective method for learning rock as an open texture, moving around the drums and using the whole instrument. The way people learn rock drumming is typically centered around learning beats, learning “parts” to songs, and learning fills. It's all very segregated, and way too nailed down, so I see a lot of students who are afraid to move off of the hihat, afraid to deviate from learned parts, and prone to panicking when attempting fills. This method gets us into a freer, more Keith Moon-like approach, with a driving 8th note pulse.

We'll be playing two kinds of notes in this system:

Cymbal and bass drum in unison. Any cymbal(s), played with either hand, or both hands.

Snare and toms in unison. Any two drums played at the same time, or flams on any one drum. Using both hands obviously.

You can get your practice patterns from several sources:

Using the accented 8th note exercises in Syncopation on pp.47-49. Play the written accents on a cymbal + bass drum, play unaccented notes on the snare/toms. As always, ignore the stems-down bass drum part written in the book.

Using any page of 8th note and quarter note rhythms in Syncopation, e.g. pp. 10-11, 30-32, or 34-45. Play the book rhythm on the cymbal + bass drum, and fill in the spaces in the rhythm on the snare/toms, to make a constant 8th note rhythm:

I also use my special page of 3/4 rhythms, while playing with a practice loop in 4/4.

Using the first pages of Stick Control. Play R notes on cymbal + bass drum, play L notes on the snare/toms:

Since both hands are playing the drums portion, the only sticking decision we have to make is which hand to use on the cymbals. Start by playing them all with the right hand; then all with the left hand:

Then play the cymbal notes both hands in unison, on two different cymbals:

You could also alternate hands on the cymbal notes:

Having your cymbal moves too worked-out looks contrived, goofy— see YouTube “drum cover” star Cobus whatshisface and others like him for endless examples of that. You don't need to work it to death. There are other things to think about than am I able to follow a difficult sticking system on the cymbal portion.

Every drum and combination of drums you play has a specific effect. Spend some time exploring the possibilities moving around the toms, and figure out what sounds cool to you. With only two tom toms, the moves are kind of limited when you have your hands on two different drums. There's more room to experiment when you're playing both hands on the same drum, as flams. For example:

When doing the flams, do them rock & roll style, with both hands at roughly an even volume. I suggest playing them all left-handed— meaning the right hand falls first:

 Then you can turn them into 16th notes just by displacing the left hand a little bit. The entire time you've been doing this system, you've been practicing getting your 16th note fills in time.

The idea here is to cover a lot of easy patterns, that are easy to move around the drums and cymbals, focusing on the timing, the sound, and the energy. I think you should do these with a practice loop or song, alternating measures (or several measures, or partial measures) of the drill with whatever rock beat you like for the song. No pressure at all to make the changes on the 1, or to follow a repetitive practice phrase exactly. Scroll through my practice loops and see if you can find one that is a good tempo and feel for you.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Practice loop: Tunji

Here's a practice loop made from a long sample from Tunji, by John Coltrane. It's from the album Coltrane, which is one of my favorite records in the world— everyone should own it. Also see my transcription of Elvin Jones's playing on this tune. Print version is available in my 2011 Book of the Blog.

Tempo is quarter note = 109. It's an easy and fun loop for working on your triplet-oriented jazz materials.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Transcription: Philly Joe Jones - Let's Cool One

Here's Philly Joe Jones's drum solo on Let's Cool One, from the Clark Terry album In Orbit. Just the rhythm section plays the tune here: Thelonious Monk, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe. It's a rather old fashioned way of soloing, with a lot of rudimental activity played on the snare drum, while the feet keep time, with the bass drum used mostly at phrase endings, and sparing use of the tom toms, and no cymbals at all.

So, it's mostly about the hands, and is pretty technically dense at times. Jones mostly plays the hihat on 2 and 4 and feathers quarter notes on the bass drum throughout— except where I've written something else for the bass drum. I usually don't indicate stickings in my transcriptions, but I've given some here, where it's clear what he's doing. A couple of items are sort of showy, featured drum solo type of things: the fp rolls starting at bar 9, and the running triplets with the left hand while the right hand plays the tom toms, in bars 19-20. Bar 13-14 will require some special attention if you want to learn how to play it.

Get the pdf


Friday, July 26, 2019

Groove o' the day: Chico Hamilton waltz

Here's Chico Hamilton playing his version of an Elvin-type waltz in 1962. I've always assumed it was Elvin's thing, that everybody else was copying. Maybe it was a type of groove everyone hip was doing, and Elvin just did it best. Chico Hamilton was an LA player who was not particularly highly thought of as a drummer, but he was a successful bandleader and had a lot of high profile people pass through his group in the 50s and 60s.

This is from the first section of the tune Lady Gabor, from the album Passin' Thru. I found this in my dad's record collection, and was surprised to meet the trombonist on it, George Bohanon, in the jazz department at USC. George was a grad student at SC when I was there, about 25 years after this recording.

Swing the 8th notes. That third tom tom note on beat 1 of the second measure happens occasionally; often he plays it almost inaudibly. Hamilton plays this pretty repetitively.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

CYMBAL OF THE MINIT: 20" Leon Collection Ride - “Serge” - 1600g

A new recurring item, featuring individual cymbals available on my Cymbalistic site. Mainly I sell CYMBAL & GONG cymbals; the Leon Collection cymbals are a special line made by C&G's master cymbal smith. They're generally on the brighter side, with a very dense, full harmonic profile. I delivered several of these cymbals to Germany in June, and the drummers who played them concluded that Leons are “like Paiste 602s, only better.” It's hard to find a good bright-sounding cymbal.

Most of the Leons I have played at C&G HQ have been crashes, but we're been seeing more rides recently, and I really dig them. There are also some 18 and 20" light flat rides on order.


20" Leon Collection Ride “Serge” - 1600g - $410.00
Beautiful, lush, pleasingly-bright extra-light ride. Complex but smooth harmonic profile. Great left side cymbal, or main cymbal for acoustic applications. Handles surprisingly well as a ride cymbal despite the very light weight. This will be a great cymbal for recording.

Our friend Michael Griener bought “Hector”, the slightly-funkier companion to this cymbal. Hit that link to compare them. Michael is an excellent and very active jazz drummer and college instructor based in Berlin. He bought a complete set of Leons (as well as a couple of Merseybeat rides), and now says “Who wants to buy my Spizzichino? I don’t play it anymore!”

Hit the EMAIL TODD link in the sidebar if you want to purchase this fantastic cymbal.

Visit CYMBALISTIC to check out a lot of other great cymbals by Cymbal & Gong.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Harmonic coordination improved - triplets

Here's the triplet-based companion for the harmonic coordination improved warm-up. It's a less miserable and soul-destroying, more musically relatable way of playing exercises of the type found in the harmonic coordination section of Dahlgren & Fine's 4-Way Coordination. A famously painful book. Most of our practice methods are based on finding the easiest, most natural, most economical ways of doing things. This harmonic coordination thing is about practicing inconvenient ways of doing things. We're training our limbs to expect the unexpected. 

This is a rapidly developing body of stuff, and I'm still settling on the best way of presenting it. With triplets, the best way seems to be as follows. This method has two elements: 1) orchestrating a written snare drum pattern on the drum set, 2) playing the resulting drum set pattern using a variety of stickings.  Read the voluminous notes on this method here and here

I've been teaching this method using the triplet accent pages from Syncopation— pp. 53-57. There are a lot of patterns, and a lot of stickings to use with them, and if you just take them in order you'll never finish. You could start with patterns 1, 3, 11, 12, 17, 25, 26, 27, 29, 35, 61, 62.

The orchestration works as follows. Using this pattern from the book as an example:

Ignore the written bass drum part— the stems-down part. Play accented notes on the cymbal, with bass drum in unison. Play the unaccented notes on the snare drum, with hihat (played with the foot) in unison, like so:

You can also do this system without playing the hihat:

Play the accent patterns from the book applying the above orchestration, using the following stickings:
RH only
LH only
Four beats all RH / four beats all LH
Two beats all RH / two beats all LH  
RH plays cymbal notes, LH plays snare notes (I call this “natural orchestration”)
LH plays cymbal notes, RH plays snare notes 
Alternating, starting with RH
Alternating starting with LH  

These one-beat stickings will be a little more challenging:

 This method generates a lot of material to play through, so you have to use your head, and think about which starting patterns you're going to use. Many or most of the patterns from pp. 53-54 of Syncopation are functionally duplicates for the purposes of this method. Rather than worrying about completing the system, you should just try to do this method for a set amount of time, striving for moderate discomfort the entire time. You should be able to get through the exercises, but it should be hard enough that you have to concentrate. If you don't strongly feel like doing something else, maybe you should try some harder patterns. 

Using this Melvin Sparks practice loop will make this rather tedious method a lot more tolerable, and help demonstrate the musical purpose of what we're doing here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


The other day I listed some often-played tunes that had some kind of an mystique, at least in my mind. Here's a tune that nobody ever plays, with a lot of mystique. Apropos of nothing— I've just been thinking about it a lot.

Vashkar is a rather impenetrable, hardcore, short little tune— almost a miniature— written by Carla Bley. It has been recorded several times by Paul Bley, and Gary Burton, and Tony Williams Lifetime.

It's like an 8 bar blues written on a gas planet, with a Giant Steps-like air of pitilessness about it. It's not designed to be easy to play on the drums, and it's not amenable to just playing it and getting it by vibe. But it's also weirdly attractive, and seems readable enough to make you want to learn it. Then when someone calls it sometime in the next 15 years, you can be the hard case who insists that you follow the form and make the hits on the solos.

It's not hard to whack out the notes. It is hard to just follow your nose and end up with a good performance. It doesn't develop in a normal way, or give you any room to do normal drummer things like fill, set up figures, or establish a groove.

Above is the lead sheet from Carla Bley's site. The best known chart is found in the original Real Book.

It's eight bars long— six bars of melody plus two bars of space. The opening theme is repeated in bar 5, sometimes with a subito mp dynamic change. Usually no repeat on the head in. Meter is 6/4, phrased as 4+2/4, but there's never a strong feel of being in 6. Often the 2 side is anticipated, so several measures are phrased like this:

In the fourth measure there's the hit on 2, which makes it feel like there's an odd measure. It actually makes the whole last half of the tune feel random.

The Gary Burton and Steve Swallow version on Hotel Hello is best known. On that arrangement the main punches are hit without any kind of set up, which emphasizes that random feeling. The live version below, with Bob Moses on drums, follows that same arrangement, maintaining the form and rhythmic structure during the solos. Bob doesn't set anything up on the head in, either.

Here are some different recordings of it, starting with Hotel Hello:

So, the Burton version is the hard one, where you have to actually know the tune, and be able to blow over form while catching the rhythmic stuff. It's easier when the solos are free— you can read/fake your way through the head and then just wing it. Most of the other recordings do that.

On Paul Bley's record with Pat Metheny, and Jaco Pastorious, Bruce Ditmas plays it in a more aggressive fusion-era way, which is great. In this arrangement there are some added kicks in the last two bars. The other version with Ditmas is basically completely free.

The version from Paul Bley's Footloose has the tune with a normal light rhythm section accompaniment, and more open solos. Pete La Roca is on drums, and maintains the 6 feel throughout. I imagine a lot of people give it this kind of Ida Lupino-like treatment.

The Tony Williams version uses a different arrangement to feature the drums, and him slaughtering the universe on it is part of what gives the tune its aura. He plays it faster than usual, and the melodic phrases are spaced out. Cindy Blackman's version is kind of strange— it's like a tribute rendition.

Hopefully, the tune eventually begins to feel like a long, strange vamp or repeating A section. You learn to follow its little moves, and gradually you're able to get through the tune without stepping on the other parts, and maybe actually make a creative contribution, and take it somewhere interesting on the solos.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Max's rubadub - transcribed phrases

Some excerpts from a very large transcription I'm working on— Max Roach's entire performance on Freedom Suite, by Sonny Rollins, which I plan on releasing as an e-book. All 19 bloody minutes of it. These excerpts from the first section of the piece highlight Max's rubadub-like thing I mentioned in the linked post.

The concept and underlying pattern is almost exactly the same as Mel Lewis's thing*, except Max maintains the complete cymbal rhythm, which stays in 4, or shifts backwards/forwards once or twice in a four bar phrase— it doesn't have the running 3/4 feeling of Mel's thing. Max's thing really seems to hang off of a RLRR RLRR sticking pattern, in swing 8th notes; there are a lot of snare hits on the & of 1/3. Hit the link above to see that broken down.

* - That is, Mel Lewis's thing as we've been exploring it on this site— which is entirely based on Chris Smith's very helpful explanation of it. I need to make some transcriptions of Mel's thing and get a clearer idea of how he actually played it.

To highlight the idea we're studying here, I've removed all dynamics and articulations, and edited a few of them slightly. Many of the four bar examples can be played two bars at a time, repeating. On the recording there is very little audible hihat played with the foot; you can play it on 2 and 4, or leave it out.

I've been focusing on how this connects to Mel Lewis's playing, but also see Billy Higgins's playing for something very similar to this. Higgins was a generation later, and was very influenced by Max.

Get the pdf

Friday, July 19, 2019

Ten tunes: heavy standards

Ten more tunes. These are some standards that have kind of a serious aura, that are reasonably-to-very likely to get called. They're not necessarily very hard, but they demand to be approached with respect. It's a subjective thing. Several have unusual forms; I don't feel like any of them just play themselves. Maybe this category only has meaning to me, I don't know.

All or Nothing at All

Alone Together

Central Park West

Chelsea Bridge

I'll Remember April


Mr. PC

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Old Devil Moon

Upper Manhattan Medical Group

For example: I'll Remember April is a commonplace tune with a deeper vibe happening. Alone Together has an odd form. There are several trio recordings of Joe Henderson playing long versions of Invitation that are very hardcore. Strayhorn ballads are very deep and always demand special treatment.

These tunes are most likely to come up with better players. I'll Remember April and Alone Together are the ones you'll mostly likely encounter first. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes also seems to be real popular these days.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Daily best music in the world: Bruce Ditmas

Honoring a new Facebook friend: Bruce Ditmas, an American drummer living in Rome.

Here's something he played on with Paul Bley, Jaco Pastorius, and Pat Metheny:

He's also on some Gil Evans records, including the Jimi Hendrix album, and this bananas version of the Brazilian tune Nana, from Where Flamingos Fly. He shares drumming credits with Lenny White on that album.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Groove o' the day: Philly Joe Afro 6

From the Sonny Rollins album Newk's Time, another individualistic version of an Afro 6/8 groove, played by Philly Joe Jones on Asiatic Raes, a Kenny Dorham tune.

On the snare line, the x is a rim click. It sounds like he's playing with just a snare and floor tom, no small tom. They continue the 6/8 feel for part of Sonny's solo, and it feels a little labored; you get the feeling that in 1957 it was still a pretty exotic style. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Page o' coordination: Max's rubadub?

This is a page of jazz comping exercises based on Max Roach's playing on Sonny Rollins's Freedom Suite, which I'm transcribing right now. There's a lot of interplay between the snare drum and bass drum, and there's clearly a concept happening; everything seems to hang off of comping notes on the & of 1/& of 3. It jumped out at me immediately like “this is a thing”, very similar to Mel Lewis's rubadub thing, but not.

How many pages of jazz coordination patterns does the world need? I don't know. This isn't about writing more patterns, it's about forming a concept. Max's playing on Freedom Suite, Mel Lewis's thing, those are concepts. Also with John Riley's thing, with all the things we do with Syncopation, there's a concept. You don't really get that by just playing through the endless junk in Advanced Techniques, or whatever jazz book.

Swing the 8th notes. Use patterns 1, 7, and 13 as your key. Think of them as a sticking pattern played in a swing rhythm: RLRR RLRR. Or RBRR RBRR. Or the two combined with ex. 13-18. Use those as your foundation, learn them well, and hang the added notes off of them.

If you listen to the recording there's a lot more happening than is represented in this one little idea. I'll probably rewrite this page, or at least add to it, if I can deduce any kind of formula to Max's thing.

Get the pdf