Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Practice loop: Attica Blues

This will put some intensity in your playing: a practice loop sampled from Attica Blues by Archie Shepp.

For that I also recommend my loops of Sivad, The Free Design, and Magdalena.

By the way: One nice feature of YouTube's royalties system (maybe the only one?) is that with all of these quasi-legal uses of other people's music, the copyright holders still get paid. One of my brother's groups, the Seattle piano trio New Stories, has had an mp3 of theirs included with every copy of the Windows OS since 1999. So it's convenient for people to grab and use when they make their cat videos for YouTube, or whatever. But since the file is imprinted, they get paid when any part of it is used. They've made several tens of thousands of dollars that way.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Harmonic coordination practice notes

Hard on purpose.
A few notes on practicing my recent harmonic coordination improved thing. I can write a lot of verbiage about this system because it's very abstract and time consuming, and I want to be clear on how to do it productively, and the reasons for doing it.

You could play the original materials in Dahlgren & Fine with the illusion that you're going to learn something the authors call “complete independence.” Whatever those words mean to you, it doesn't really work that way. The only thing we're really accomplishing is to learn to play the cymbals with both hands, along with the bass drum— a standard, core drumming orchestration— and learning to get to the drums and back to the cymbals at inconvenient times. And we're developing some facility with the left foot, in coordination with the bass drum.

Mainly we're creating opportunities for unexpected things to happen. If the premise of the Syncopation-based method is to do things in the easiest, most natural way, the premise here is to do things in ways that make no sense. Most of the stickings do not make the easiest way to execute the notes of the exercise. We're practicing inconvenient ways of playing things, systematically.

So, it's hard on purpose, and you can't do it all at once. You really have to be oriented around finding a reasonable workout for today. There is no finishing it— there's nothing to finish—  and no particular way of doing it that is going to make you great, while another that will screw you up. I don't see a particular need to develop a lot of speed, or to work on the harder exercises much more than the easy ones. As long as practicing the method is a moderate pain in the neck, that should mean there is improvement happening.

Terms in the following notes: the system is a combination of exercises and stickings. The exercises are sets of notes played on the drums and cymbals; the stickings are which limbs you use to play them— specifically, which hands; the parts for the feet are preset by the exercise.

General attitude
People seem to like the idea of “setting and forgetting” an ostinato, and then playing other things “over” it. For this system, I think it's better to pay attention and account for every single note— learn the exact sequence of combined limbs, and hit them accurately. This can mean sometimes working through things only a few notes at a time.

All exercises, one sticking
Play through the entire page of exercises using one sticking. To get your initial basic familiarity with the system, do that with the first set of stickings.

One exercise, all stickings
Run all the stickings with one exercise. This may be necessary as you get into the more complex exercises— one at a time, learning all the stickings for it. Again, early on, you could learn the first two exercises this way, using all of the stickings.

Make obvious edits and additions
To keep the introduction to the system a manageable length, I did not include every sticking combination forwards and backwards. Sometimes it will make sense to reverse the sticking with a particular exercise. There will also be duplicate stickings with some exercises, which you can skip.

A lot of people like to start complex exercises beginning with an ostinato— by playing the easiest part, and adding other things. I'm not convinced it's the most productive way of practicing this system. I think you should work on starting the exercises complete, with all the parts at the same time.

Another small thing that can nevertheless cause you a lot of grief. Try to go from one exercise or sticking to the next without stopping.

Open hihat
If you play the hihat with your hands, any BD/cym note immediately before a SD/foot hihat note will naturally create an open sound. It's a common drumming effect, and you could spend some time focusing on it. You may have to adjust the timing of your left foot motion to get a good open sound.

Moving around the drums/cymbals
Moving the drum notes between the snare and toms in a systematic way would be adding another level of complexity— and length, and unfinishability— to this system. I just improvise moves, or work on them occasionally with a few exercises, moving to a different drum on every note, according to the stock moves listed in the link above.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Guaguanco - two ways

A little more on general fluency with a Guaguanco-type groove on drumset. It's not a style that authentically uses a drumset, but the groove is a hip alternative for non-traditional situations. It has a nice melodic element that is at first a little confusing in how it relates to clave; mainly, it sounds like aligns with the 3 side, but it's really on the 2 side. On recordings of Cuban musicians, usually the melody is on the 2 side. But I've heard some recordings— seemingly authentic situations— where it does actually align with the 3 side.

I'm not expert on Cuban music, and don't regularly play with people who are, so I'm not going to try to draw any conclusions on it. I can say the first way is correct, but sometimes it is done the other way for reasons unknown. With these exercises we'll learn to play it both ways, with some small variations in the melodic part to give it a little life.

For an authentic sound, play the RH/palito part on a dry sound— jam block, rim, floor tom shell, or hihat. Or play it on a cymbal, cymbal bell, or cowbell. You can see that the variations are very small; we're just doubling different notes of the melodic part. Learn to combine them freely when playing the groove. Also see my previous page of Guaguanco, and other related posts.

Get the pdf

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Holy Grail

A video shared by Sebastian Merk, a great drummer living in Berlin, who teaches at the Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden. He's playing a 20" Holy Grail jazz ride by Cymbal & Gong, which he bought from me on my last visit to Germany in December '18. It's a fairly funky cymbal that was given a special patina that gives it a drier sound. It sounds really great here, with him playing it— just a perfect, classic, dry jazz sound:

Check out the videos of the cymbal before the special patina, and with the patina.

I'll be returning to Germany, with cymbals, between June 6-12. Visit and get on the mailing list to get updated tour info.

Friday, May 17, 2019

EZ fill developer

This might be more of an item for teachers. This is a sketch of a method I've found to be effective for teaching younger students to play fills, and play them in time, with both hands at an even volume. I teach this verbally, and by demonstrating it. The hand motion is virtually the same for the hands-in-unison version and 16th note version of each exercise; the left hand just falls later on the 16th note version.

A few notes:

•  On all of the exercises, the right hand does not change speed— it plays 8th notes throughout. As a warmup, some students might have play the hands-in-unison exercises with the right hand only.
• Exercises are written in 4/4, but most often I count Ex. 1 in 2/4, and Ex. 2 in 3/8. I try to minimize the counting element with this lesson.
•  When both hands are played on the same drum, flam them a little bit— rock & roll-style, with both hands at the same volume. Make sure the right hand falls first.
•  Start with three different basic ways of moving around the drums: both hands on one drum; LH on snare, RH moving; both hands moving, to the same drum. Both hands can also move to different drums independently, but it's best to do the other ways first.
•  Line 2 is really preparation for line 3, which is a common rock figure. Unless the student is already playing 6/8 or triplet feels on the drum set, there's no reason to turn this into a lesson on playing in 6/8.
• Line 4 is meant to be played non-repeating.

Get the pdf

Thursday, May 16, 2019

CYMBALISTIC: Cymbal videos up

Individual videos of our new cymbals are up. Picking out cymbals in a storage room at Cymbal & Gong HQ is not really an optimal acoustical situation, so when I get them to my studio to make the videos I'm always blown away.

With this shipment I added:

Two 20" Holy Grail jazz rides
Two 20" Leon Collection rides
Two sets 16" Holy Grail hihats
15" Holy Grail hihats
14" Holy Grail hihats

All great cymbals, but the Leon Collection cymbals really impressed me. It's a series created by Cymbal & Gong's lead smith, and until now they have been mostly crash cymbals. The few rides they've delivered have been really cool. These two are surprisingly light (~1575-1600g @ 20"), for how well they perform as ride cymbals— I've found extremely light rides by other brands to be mostly useless. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Harmonic coordination improved - preparation

UPDATE: Here are some additional notes on practicing this.

For some time I've been trying to work out a way to practice the very difficult “harmonic” coordination section of Dahlgren & Fine's 4-Way Coordination without feeling driven to murder somebody and trash my office. That's what those half-baked harmonic coordination whatsis posts were all about.

Problem: The materials are hard, and they are presented in a way that is utterly pitiless, unconscionable. Otherwise the book is lovely. But the authors essentially make you play one stick control pattern with your hands while playing a different one with your feet. That's what it is. It's presented according to a mathematical logic, and they didn't try very hard to soften the learning curve, or make it look anything like musical reality. And it's notated on a staff system they made up. It's a giant nightmare.

It took me years of brutally hacking through it to make some sense of it, and devise a method that actually starts easy and gets harder, and that relates to the way the drums are actually played.

The answer is, you have to orchestrate it: play a cymbal in unison with the bass drum, and play the snare drum in unison with the hihat. You move your hands between the cymbals and snare drum, according to which foot they're in unison with. Obviously the parts of the feet are set, since they're on pedals attached to one instrument. Doing this orchestration seemingly makes the system more difficult, but it gives it a raison d'etre, a drummer logic. To me it's harder to play things that make no drumistic sense, because they don't sound like anything, and you can't use your ears to tell if you're doing it right.

So, these exercises: This is a set of warm-ups for a larger system— or, for most people, this could be the entire system. For the real nutjobs we will go on to create an actual Reed-based method. Here are various basic cym+bass / snare+hihat combinations, with which you use some different stickings to play the cymbal and snare.

When playing the cymbals, use the closest cymbal for that hand. There are four sets of stickings to play through. Practice one set at a time, moving onto the next one when you can play them at a reasonable speed, say around half note = 50-60 bpm. The first set is easy; normal stickings used by all drummers, for basic familiarity with the practice patterns. The second set introduces some independent moves. The third and especially fourth sets will take some practice.

The end result is that you will have more flexibility in playing normal stuff. You may find yourself moving around the instrument in new ways; your musical impulses may resolve themselves in in unexpected ways. Mainly this will influence your funk, ECM-type jazz, and Latin playing. Complicated Cuban-style independence will get easier to learn.

 Get the pdf

Postscript: More about the logic of that orchestration system— cym+bass, snare+hihat. Cymbal and bass drum playing a rhythm in unison is a normal part of drumming. So is filling in between those notes with the snare drum. The odd element is the hihat in unison with the snare drum; there's no normal musical effect associated with that— and it'll help you do those funk “barks” with the hihat. There's one. Doing the system this way wasn't my idea; it's Dahlgren and Fine's. I'm just telling you how their thing works in practice. There are creative possibilities with it which you'll discover through playing it.

Monday, May 13, 2019

CYMBALISTIC: Cymbal day video

UPDATE: Bumping this to the top— there are a couple of newer posts below this...

Video of my visit to Cymbal & Gong headquarters in southeast Portland,  with company owner Tim Ennis, selecting cymbals for the Cymbalistic site, and for our Germany tour in June.

I played 14/15/16″ Holy Grail hihats, 20″ Leon Collection rides, 20″ and 22″ Holy Grail jazz rides, and 20″ Holy Grail medium rides. Scroll down for a complete list of all cymbals played and selected.  As always the quality and consistency was extremely high. I don’t believe there was a single bad/difficult cymbal (or set of cymbals) in the lot.

Individual videos of all the cymbals we took are coming next week. Most other cymbals should be available in Cymbal & Gong’s stock for a short time, so if you see anything you want, let us know as soon as possible, and I'll try to get it.

In addition to all of the great 50s/60s style jazz cymbals played, the Leon Collection rides were fantastic, with an airy, pleasingly bright sound— I think of them as the Cymbal & Gong equivalent of a Formula 602. The 20" Holy Grail medium rides were also great— light by modern standards, with a nice 70s vintage sound. Everyone should own a 20" medium ride.

Complete list of all cymbals played in the video, with times, after the break:

Preparation for Reed triplet studies

A page of short triplet exercises that are preparation for some of the major practice methods I do with the book Syncopation: the right handed solo method, and the so-called “Ruff Bossa” method, found in the book The Drummer's Complete Vocabulary.

It seems funny to learn the lick to get ready to learn the lick, but practicing out of Syncopation is not so much about initially learning the lick, it's about learning a way of reading, and putting the lick in context. So it's helpful to work out some of these things in isolation first.

Play these many times. I've included an ending downbeat on some of the exercises because I want to end all of these on a long note. Play exercises 1-5 at a fairly even volume, accenting lightly. Play 6-24 with stronger accents, and very soft unaccented notes.

Get the pdf

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Soloing on a form

don't let this happen to you
“My idea of a drum solo is that you play like you sing. It comes from different things you listen to. And the beauty is always in the simple things.” —Kenny Clarke

This is part of a question came up on the Cymbalholic forum:

I'm supposed to solo over the form and I should know where I am in the tune so that I can get in and out of the solo in the right sort of way. But I'm not nailing it. I'm losing track of myself and the tune.

He went on to ask for some “resources” for learning to do this. I'm not aware of any. It's really a thing that happens in your head, at your drums. Contemporary drumming is very enamored with the idea of muscle memory— that your body can just figure out how to do everything great if you do a lot of calisthenics. Maybe that kind of conditioning works for paradiddles, it doesn't work with higher order functions like keeping track of a larger context while playing creatively on the drums.

It's about awareness
Everybody knows the Charlie Parker quote:

You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.

The problem is, everyone's in a rush to forget what they never knew in the first place. Playing without thinking at all is a false goal; or rather, it's a rare thing— it's a very special occasion when you can play that way. Most of the time you have to know what you're doing. As I've said elsewhere, it's not about playing “intellectually”, it's about awareness.

Know the tune
You do have to know the tune, and you can't forget it while you play. Be able to sing it, however badly, and count through the form. Over time it takes less effort to be aware of the tune while you play. At first you have to prioritize thinking about the tune over what you're playing.

Start from nothing
Can you sing the tune by itself, while not playing anything? Can you count through the form without getting lost? Then you can solo without getting lost. Sing or count, and add things on the drums as you are able, without forgetting where you are in the form. You'll have to start with single notes, on downbeats, leaving a lot of space, and build from there.

Start from time
Can you play time and comp while singing the tune, or counting through it, without getting lost? Do the same thing as above— play along, and do more soloistic things as you are able, without losing track of the tune. The time itself is your solo, so you don't even have to do that much. Going from time to playing soloistically is much easier if you do the next thing:

Practice Reed-type methods
The Reed methods teach you how to play a lot of different ideas accompanying a jazz-type melodic line, and to integrate those ideas with each other, moving seamlessly from time to soloing. You can then solo by directly interpreting the rhythm of the tune, or by improvising your own lines. Practicing that way gives you the world's easiest transition from practicing to real world playing. This is what I've been trying to tell you all this time.

Think in phrases
If you can improvise in 4/4 without losing track of the 1, you can then begin thinking in 2, 4, and 8 bar phrases. Once you can play 8 measures without getting lost, awareness of the larger form becomes a simpler matter, learning to play blues, then 8 bar phrases in an AB form, and then an AABA form, and beyond.

Musical significance of the sections
The different parts of a form have to have some musical significance to you. Blues is eight bars of “free time” plus a four bar turnaround. A 16-bar AB form is simply a matter of 8 bars solo / 8 bars contrasting solo. AABA is 8+8 bars of blowing time, a contrasting bridge, and an end. For 32 bar tunes with a tag (e.g. All The Things You Are), you can do that same basic thing, and remember the extra four bar ending.

Awareness on longer forms
If you listen to a lot of blues tunes, you should know what the turnaround, the last four bars of the form, feels like. If you listen to a lot of tunes based on I Got Rhythm, which is an AABA form, you know what it feels like when you hit the bridge. Both of those things are very common, particular musical feelings, which you can express as a change of feeling in your playing. It takes a little more imagination to distinguish the last A of Rhythm changes tunes from the other As; you have to keep a general feeling of this is the last A while you play; that section is dedicated to setting up a return to the top of the form. On an AABA with a tag, you do the same thing, but then use the 4 bar tag to set up the top of the form really clearly.

So you have to be able to create contrasting phrases when you play; you have to be able to sound like you're at the top of the form; you have to be able to play something that sounds like an ending, that sets up the band to come back in. As you listen more and play more, you'll get more ideas of how to express those things in your playing, and more ideas about the broad meaning of different parts of the form, and different directions you can go with them.

Tunes to start with 
It's a good idea to start with tunes that are commonly played, that are rhythmically active, and very singable. For example:
Blues: Bags' Groove, Sonnymoon For Two, Mr. PC, Things Ain't What The Used To Be, Sandu. Listen to John Coltrane's album Coltrane Plays The Blues, which has several tunes that are simply an 8 bar vamp plus a turnaround. 
AABA: I Got Rhythm, or anything based on it: Ornithology, Scrapple From The Apple, Oleo, Rhythm-a-ning. I like playing over Bye Bye Blackbird; it's easy to hear the last A as the end of the form. Don't Get Around Much Any More is an easy medium tempo AABA tune. Doxy is a 16 bar AABA tune with four bar sections.
AABA with a tag: All The Things You Are is really ABCD, or A-A1-B-A2-tag. It may the most common tune of this type that you will play.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Cymbal day TODAY

CYMBALISTIC: FYI, I will be visiting Cymbal & Gong HQ today and picking out cymbals. If you are looking for anything special, feel free to send a text message at (503)380-9259 (USA) until about 2:30pm Pacific Standard Time. I can make a video on the spot and text it back to you. It'll be fun.

I'll primarily be looking at Holy Grail 20-22" jazz rides and hihats up to 16", Leon Collection rides, and a 17-18" thin crash or two. I have a lot of great 18" cymbals in stock, and some other things, so check out the Cymbalistic site to hear those. 

Selection video from this visit coming soon.

Stick Control for consistency

Here's an interesting video by Matt Patella, a drummer and teacher who knows a lot about the whole Stone/Morello world of drum technique. He talks about George L. Stone's intentions for his book Stick Control, which Patella says was to develop consistency between the hands.

Watch the video, and I have some comments:

Developing evenness is only one goal for practicing Stone, but with that in mind, there are some things I would do differently from the video. Mainly, I'm pickier about some details:

• Make sure both sticks return to the same height. You can see after 6:45 that the right stick is significantly higher than the left. Watch that carefully and use a mirror if necessary.

• Don't lift the stick at the beginning of the stroke, as is happening during that same segment. Start the stroke by moving the stick directly downward. The entire purpose of this level system is for the stick to end each stroke at the right height for the next stroke. Adding the extra lift serves no purpose; it's a habitual motion that is “noise” in your technique, and it defeats the purpose of practicing the level system, and you should eliminate it. Don't lift.

Note that Patella doesn't do that extra lift at the lower stick heights after 13:00. The extra lift is fatal at that volume— it makes you functionally unable to play the intended volume, and makes your volume tend to creep up generally.

• Don't change heights during an exercise, as is done after 13:00. You can see that he plays higher with on the left handed singles, to accommodate traditional grip finger technique. Your technique is supposed to fit your intended dynamic, not the other way around.

• Personally, I don't even use the so-called full Moeller that so many people use as their generic stroke. It's quite loud if you ever do it on a real drum. If you're playing quite loud, go ahead and practice it. If you're a normal person playing music with other acoustic instruments, you'll be much better off spending most of your time developing your facility in the 1-7" stroke range.

Obviously Mr. Patella knows what he's talking about with regard to Stone, and Morello's technique. And the discrepancies between what I teach and what he teaches gives you an idea of the tolerances allowable in the real world. But I think you'll achieve the stated goal of consistent, even hands more efficiently if you do what I suggest and be more picky about those details.

One other thing: The originally intended purpose of any book is nice to know, but it really doesn't matter. Stick Control is actually valuable because it can be used for a lot of other things. Stone actually invented a basic logic of drumming that has a lot of value beyond just evening out the hands and developing facility.

People tend to think that books are some kind of ironclad practice regimen that, if we just adhere closely enough to it, we will emerge as finished drummers. But it's all just a launching pad for you finding your own thing. Books are nothing more than things to be hacked.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Groove o' the day: two by Idris Muhammad with Melvin Sparks

Two similar grooves played by Idris Muhammad with the guitarist Melvin Sparks. The tunes are also very similar, following the same basic template. Both grooves have this as the main snare drum rhythm:

It's a normal hip funk rhythm, with the backbeat on 2 and the & of 4, with the more unusual extra snare hit on 3. Or maybe it's a New Orleans thing, and more common than I'm aware of.

This is from Spark Plug, from the album of the same title. Muhammad stretches out in a cool way during the solos— maybe we'll see a transcription of that... as soon as I have time to work on transcriptions:

Here is the main groove on The Stinker, from the album Sparks!. The tempo is slower, and the interaction with the cymbal and bass drum is a little more complex:

The recordings are after the break:

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

CYMBAL DAY on Friday

THIS FRIDAY: I'll be visiting Cymbal & Gong HQ to select cymbals for sale on my Cymbalistic site. Many will be for my upcoming Germany sales trip (June 4-12, Berlin/Dresden/Munich), but if you need a special cymbal, let me know and I'll get a great one for you. Hit “email Todd” in the sidebar.

Visit Cymbalistic and sign up for the mailing list to get tour updates, and new cymbal updates.

Selection video from February:

Page o' coordination: Rumba clave - hands only

Page of exercises for coordinating the left hand with rumba clave played with the right. It's not pure independence practice in the abstract— most of the patterns are related to the clave rhythm in a specific way. Some of them are actual performance patterns.

Use whatever sounds you like; RH could be played on the shell or rim of the floor tom, or on a jam block, or on the hihat. Short, dry sounds are preferred. Listen to some rumba so we have some basis in musical reality. Play the left hand as rim clicks on the snare drum, or move it around the drums while varying the accents and articulations— use rim shots, dead strokes, whatever.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Very occasional quotes of the day: L.H.O.O.Q.

“[...] I had had Genius pushed at me all through school: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Ibsen, G.B. Shaw, Chekov, all those dullards. And worse, Mark Twain, Hawthorne, the Brontë sisters, Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, it all just laid on you like a slab of cement, and you wanted to get out and away, they were like heavy stupid parents insisting upon regulations and ways that would make even the dead cringe.”
— Charles Bukowski, Hollywood

“Here [in France], as you know, whatever a person may do, he is always under the sway of Monsieur Descartes’ intelligence. Everything instantly withers and grows dusty. What France really needs is a good kick in the ass from America.”
— Salvador Dali, Conversations with Dali

Monday, May 06, 2019

Groove o' the day: Al Jackson - Soul Dressing

Hip groove from Al Jackson on the tune Soul Dressing, by Booker T. and the MGs, from their 1965 album of the same title. They recorded so many of these tight little 45s, R&B miniatures— very controlled, minimal, perfectly composed.

The right hand comes to the snare drum for that ghost note on the & of 4; that note is played near the edge of the drum, and is muffled because the left hand is resting on the drum for the rim clicks. Often a quarter note is played on the cymbal on beat 3 of both measures, instead of the 8th notes.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Daily best music in the world: Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa playing with a quartet in the 1950s. This has a nice vibe, and doesn't get ridiculous about showcasing Krupa. His accompaniment on the tenor solo on Little White Lies (starting at 19:06) is great— super hip and swinging. I don't think I've ever heard a groove quite like that.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Tresillo inversion combinations

A library item for fairly hardcore individuals: two measure combinations of all of the tresillo inversions from the item at that link. This whole area of rhythm is extremely fertile to me— it's all familiar stuff, but I've never seen a really systematic study of it; and the further I get into doing that, the more connections I see with drumming as it exists in the wild. I'm working out a complete new system for funk drumming based on it, that should be very hip, and also very functional and accessible to players of all levels.

To save space I've written only two measures of each combination, and haven't given duplicate combinations where the same two measures are simply reversed. So you should play all of these starting on the first and second measure of the pattern— especially if you're making a funk groove out of them.

You can also use these as jazz comping rhythms for snare drum or bass drum, or as left hand parts for a bossa or samba, or even as bass drum variations for a baiao-type groove. And of course there's a lot more you can do.

Get the pdf

Friday, May 03, 2019

Page o' coordination: Afro 15

Hey, as long as we're working on weird, non-traditional perversions of the natural world, here is a page of “Afro 6” groove in 5. Or 15/8, which is a triplet feel in 5.

This groove in the original 6/8 is one of my main means for understanding the world of rhythm, drumming, and the drum set. I work on it a lot, and it influences my playing even when I'm not playing that groove. So naturally adapting it into 5 will help my playing in 5 more broadly.

Learn to play the entire page without stopping, then drill it with my stock left hand moves. You could practice it with this cheesy loop sampled from the Jesus Christ Superstar OST.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Q&A: Cuban for jazz

I got a surprisingly tough question from a reader the other day:

What's a good book for playing Cuban styles in jazz?

Part of the difficulty with answering this is, what do we mean by Cuban styles in jazz? Unlike with Brazilian music, there aren't many tunes from the Cuban literature in the standard jazz repertoire. Some tunes have a Latin section as part of the stock arrangement (e.g, A Night In Tunisia), or are commonly played with alternating swing and Latin feels (e.g. The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, On Green Dolphin Street), or any tune can be played with a Latin feel— whatever that means to the players present. In normal Salsa arrangements, the entire thing is based on clave— the melody and arrangement rhythms, and the percussion and rhythm section parts. With the jazz tunes, there is usually no special effort to follow clave in the arrangement or accompaniment.

Without the clave element, we can't really say we're playing a Cuban style. What we're more doing is playing straight 8th tunes with a quasi-Latin flavor. What is done on many recordings— especially from the 50s and 60s— is that the drummer plays a repeating groove, maybe with some basic fills. There may be very little else done stylistically to make the performance “Latin.”

The books on Cuban drumming don't address that situation— they are typically about how to play Cuban/Salsa music correctly with Salsa musicians, which is a different set of concerns. The advice and even the rhythms given won't necessarily apply to a normal jazz setting, where the biggest challenge may be adapting your parts to fit with the Latin style as your bandmates (mis-?)conceive it.

Frankly, many or most jazz drummers* do not make a serious study of Cuban percussion. Just like a lot of jazz musicians don't study Cuban music as it pertains to their instrument. Probably most drummers could just learn my Mozambique-related blog items, and whichever Afro-Cuban related items seem applicable, and be covered for most jazz applications.

That doesn't excuse us from learning more about Cuban music, and Salsa more broadly. It's a major percussion art form, which should be interesting to any drummer. And it would just be nice to not embarrass ourselves when playing with good Salsa musicians... or when teaching it... or writing about it...

So here are the major books I recommend:

The Essence of Afro-Cuban Percussion and Drum Set by Ed Uribe
Big, scary book. Read my review of it here.

Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drum Set by Malabe/Weiner
This was the first serious Cuban music book I was aware of in the 80s. Still good, though I find the notation hard to read, and it's generally difficult to draw a concise drum set lesson from it.

Rhythms and Techniques for Latin Timbales by Victor Rendon
Good book, and it's free. And since the bulk of what's played on the drum set in this music is derived from the timbales, it's extremely useful for drummers.

Afro-Caribbean and Brazilian Rhythms for the Drums
by mulitiple authors, released by Drummer's Collective
Concise introductions to a number of Latin styles. Maybe a good place to start.

Conversations in Clave by Horacio Hernandez
Popular book, with an actual method for improvising. Includes interesting studies for acquiring the correct feel.

There are other books, notably Clave Matrix, and the Beyond Salsa series, that are worth looking into. Except for the Drummer's Collective book, none of these are designed for quick study. It's a hard subject to write about and notate, and I find most of the books difficult to work with. It's such a large area of study that, if you're not dedicating your entire life to it, you have to proceed on faith that your playing will benefit from spending a lot of time learning any part of it.

* - Myself included.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Page o' coordination: Afro 9/8 - “African”

I was practicing this POC from last year, and wanted a version of it in 9/8, and here it is. I called it “African” only for the middle of the triplet rhythm on the hihat, and that bass drum double in the middle of the measure. Somehow those are broadly African-seeming choices to me. They don't reference any particular rhythm. I'm aware of no folkloric version of this “Afro 9/8” groove either, but in modern music people adapt traditional styles into non-traditional meters.

Hey, remember that last post where I said you can throw away Dahlgren & Fine? This is the kind of thing you can throw it away for: things that are based on real music, that sound like something when you're done with them. This page is probably a bigger coordination challenge than most players ever attempt, so why not just do this? It's way more rewarding.

Practice this the same as all of the other POCs: learn the patterns— I usually start with the left hand as a rim click on the snare drum— then drill the entire page using a series of stock tom moves.

Get the pdf

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Practice loop: Fela Kuti - This Is Sad

This is a really cool practice loop, sampled from This Is Sad by Fela Kuti, with Tony Allen on drums. You could try to cop the actual groove, or just play anything over it and let the vibe infect your playing. My recent page of tresillo/cinquillo variations works well with this. Do the funk drill with those pages, and play with the kinds of interpretations found in the funk control series. Everything you can possibly play sounds great with this. Stick Control. Anything.

The complete original track is after the break:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Reed triplet method with RH accents

Writing yesterday's piece I realized I've never posted a really satisfactory explanation of the RH accent triplet solo method— a very useful way of practicing Progressive Steps to Syncopation, which I've relied on a lot over the years. It sounds impressive, and easy to play very fast, with a little practice— even reading the complex full page pp. 38-45 exercises. 

I wrote this up in 2013, but that version is kind of ratty. This is a little better. It has three preparatory patterns, an explanation of the basic elements, an explanation of the major exceptions, and examples from book.

The basic idea is:
1. Play the book rhythms with your right hand, accented, with a swing interpretation.
2. Fill in the unwritten remainder of the triplets with your left hand.

The slightly tricky part are the exceptions; where there are longer spaces between written notes, we break up the multiple LH filler triplets with the RH, unaccented. To be able to play it fast, we want there never to be more than two notes in a row for either hand. 

With completed system you can move the RH accents around the drums, or play them on the cymbals, with the bass drum in unison.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Practice tips for drummers with limited time

Get it, use it.
Here are some suggestions for people learning to play the drums, but who have limited time to do it... 1-2 hours a day to practice. That's most people, actually. As you'll see, even on a scaled-back program, there's still plenty to work on, which makes it all the more important that you economize your time.

These are geared to people mostly playing normal, backbeat oriented music, but they apply to everybody. Soon I'll do another post with specific recommendations for jazz students.

Practice like you play
Do everything on the drumset, think about the tempo before you start, and then maintain it; play in two, four, or eight bar phrases; move from your hihat to your ride cymbal occasionally, and add crashes on the occasional 1. Improvise variations on the thing you're practicing, and fill occasionally. Don't stop between exercises. Keep playing while you figure the next thing out— keep vamping on the thing you were just playing, or play a simple rhythm on the hihat. When you do stop, make it a real stop on 1, don't just peter out. Try to do what you do when you're playing for real.

Learn a lot of easy things
Once you know a lot of easy things, you may find you need very little else. There is a lot of very useful drumming vocabulary out there just waiting for you to pluck it from the trees.

Be simplicity oriented
You're not going to become Mike Mangini on one hour of practice a day, and thank God for that. Learn to be very creative with 8th notes. Be non-technical, and generally limit your playing to singles and doubles. Listen to people who sound great while playing simply.

Forget about most rudiments
What are you trying to accomplish with a ratamacue? Seriously.

You can work on: singles, doubles, short open rolls, all non-flammed versions of paradiddles, alternating flams. Those are all easy to become fluent with, and you can do a lot with them. Get my e-book of essential stickings.

Get into Syncopation
That's Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed. Read my post on why Syncopation Is So Great. It's the easiest way to cover a lot of practical material in a professional format, reading and playing the way professionals do. Orchestrating single rhythms you hear, think of, or read, is much of your job in playing the drums creatively, and that's what you learn to do by using this book.

These practice methods would be good places to start with it:
EZ rock beat method
EZ quarter note rock method
Todd's funk drill
Right handed triplet solo method

Learn Three Camps and its variations
Three Camps is a snare drum piece based on triplet rolls, which can be adapted for working on numerous other things, and it makes an excellent chops builder. I think the most useful versions are:

Accented triplets
Triplet rolls (same as above, just play all the unaccented notes as doubles)
First inversion paradiddles
Six stroke rolls

Always be listening. To real music. Make sure a large part of it is music you could actually play. Limit your intake of amazing drummer bullcrap. Love of music is what keeps you interested and inspired to continue this for the years it takes to learn to do it.

Don't be mindless
Mindless repetition of random stuff is not going to cut it. Think about what you're actually trying to do, and pay attention while you're doing it. Quit waiting/hoping for “muscle memory” to do your creating for you, and start thinking in terms of musical ideas— things you hear on records, and the rhythms you play in Syncopation, and the ways you play them.

If you feel you must do some repetitive, mindless, Stick Control-type practicing, carve some extra time out of your day to do it. Get a silent pad and do it in front of the TV before bed. You could play all of those versions of Three Camps twice in about 10-15 minutes.

Don't do what amateurs do
Things like learning “parts” to songs, getting involved in internet flavor of the nanosecond concerns, spending all your time thinking about gear, techniques, fiddling with your set up, wasting time with fringe techniques. None of that counts towards your real improvement as a player.

Books to use:

Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed - Seriously, do it. You can do virtually everything you really need with this book. Plus my book Syncopation in 3/4.

Mini Monster Rock Book by Joel Rothman
- Best practical volume of rock materials I've seen. Nothing in it is truly a waste of time. Will still be adequately challenging for most people.

Chop Busters by Ron Fink
- Just a collection of 1-4 measure technique studies many of which also happen to be usable vocabulary. You'd be fine practicing only the simplest things in it.

Odd Time Stickings by Gary Chaffee
- After you're done with my Essential Stickings book. These are designed to be easy to play, and easy to play fast. And they're not just for odd meters; you can play them in 4/4 by starting them in the middle of the measure. You can also change the rhythm to triplets.

Books to throw away:

Four Way Coordination by Dahlgren & Fine - For most players this is very deep background. It demands a lot of time, and a lot of insight to figure out what it means musically.

Stick Control by George L. Stone - People overdo it with this book. It's possible to use it in a musical way, but the musical content is really buried under the endless 8th notes and Rs and Ls.

The New Breed by Gary Chester - This is a book for people with a lot of time to burn, and it contains too much fringy stuff.

Anything remotely “extreme” or fringy
You know what I'm talking about. It takes a fantastic amount of time to get that stuff performance ready, and even then nobody wants to hear it.

This is mostly not that different from our normal site content, because I'm already always thinking in terms of economizing time, and going for the maximum practical value for everything I do, and the way I do it. Recommendations for jazz drummers coming soon.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Tresillo and cinquillo inversions

I've got way too much painfully unfinished stuff in the docket right now; about a dozen long written pieces languishing in my drafts folder, some in-depth practice materials in development, an ambitious new book project, a cymbal tour to Germany coming up, for which I should be writing emails...

So here's a something easy for me: a couple of pages of on the tresillo and cinquillo rhythms, with all of their inversions. I refer to them by their Cuban names for convenience, but they are extremely useful rhythms for any kind of music. You already have these in your copy of Syncopation, but they're spread out over three pages, with a lot of other rhythms, and not in any particular order. Putting these in logical order on two pages, maybe we can have a little more clarity in learning about these two important rhythms.

Use these the way you use the book Syncopation. Basically do anything with them. Another nice thing about having the variations all together is that all of the interpretations/orchestrations you do will be of equal difficulty, with the same type of flow.

Get the pdf

Friday, April 19, 2019

EZ linear quarter note rock method - drills

Here are a few specific drills for use with the EZ rock method from the other day. Not every single thing you play using this method is going to sound great, but it's a solid method for learning to improvise embellishments on a simple idea, while maintaining a strong quarter note-based groove.

I'll use the same example from last time— line 3, page 8 from Syncopation:

Which gives the follow as our foundation pattern, which we'll be embellishing with the bass drum— on various es, &a, and as added after the written snare drum and bass drum hits:

Add bass drum on all as:

Add bass drum on as after written bass drum notes, and on es/as after snare hits:

Add bass drum on &s after written bass drum hits, and e&s after snare hits, :

Add bass drum on as before written bass drum hits, and on &as before snare hits:

And there are other possibilities. When devising your own drills, you can also think about doing something different on the last snare hit in a sequence. Here we're using line 2, p. 8 from your book as the foundation pattern:

I suggest practicing all of these ideas until you can play all the exercises from the book without stopping— lines 2-15, plus the 16 bar exercise. It will be more fun if you use one of my practice loops.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Groove o' the day: Lex Humphries afro 6

Hm, Lex Humphries has been coming up a lot lately. I heard this tune played on KMHD, Portland's jazz radio station: Taboo, played by Duke Pearson on his Blue Note album Profile.

I should think about Humphries more— he is on a lot of records, and he's great. Here I've transcribed the Afro 6 feel he plays on the head of the tune, but the reason it caught my attention was the strong groove during the piano solo. He plays the cymbal beat with a strong quarter note pulse. As I listen to it on my computer, there's a pronounced tension between the bass and drums— the bass is on the front of the beat, and the drums behind. The main felt pulse is actually somewhere between them.

He also has a really nice sounding 20" ride cymbal. High pitched, clean, dark sound with sort of a pillowy quality. Mellow bell sound that is just metallic enough to give it some energy. How are you outfitted for cymbals? I sell the things, you know. I have a couple of light 20" Holy Grails in stock with a similar vibe.

Anyway, here's that Latin groove from the intro. The cymbal rhythm is unusual— it's kind of square. You hear more not-that-correct Latin interpretations from jazz drummers in the 50s than perhaps you do later. He only plays the bass drum audibly on the first measure of the tune:

He also plays it just with the snare and high tom:

He varies the cymbal when he does this move to the floor tom:

A couple of variations from the head out:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Page o' coordination: the with interruptions - 04

I don't like giving you pages with too many patterns on them. When I do that, the idea is that you move through the patterns quickly, and cover them all in one unit of practice— 15-40 minutes. I include so many patterns in this post partly just to illustrate how many ideas come from the one simple original thing.

These pages go with the original “that with interruptions” page o' coordination. We're adding some middle-of-the-triplet filler notes that go with the starting pattern, and including them in the variations. The first pattern is the hardest; after you learn that you should be able to cruise through the rest of them pretty easily.

Print out the original page, and keep this with it. The line numbers on the left correspond with the same numbered exercise on the original page— except the last four. There is a duplicate pattern on the original page. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

Play the exercise on the original page, then learn variations A-C on these pages. Hopefully after playing these pages a few times, you can throw them away and just improvise your practicing with the general concept from memory.

Get the pdf

Monday, April 15, 2019

Daily best music in the world: tax day

Listening to the Japanese band Boris while I finish my taxes. First rock band I've liked in a long time— mashing up all of the 90s (or the first half, anyway) and making it better.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

3/16 Control - 01

BOPWORKS STICKS NEWS: For those of you who asked about getting some free Bopworks sticks, I'll be sending them out this week. I'll email everyone who will be receiving them.

While I finish doing my taxes, here is an item in development. This is related to the late hemiola funk series, but I'm tired of looking at the word hemiola, so I'll call it 3/16 Control instead— since we're dealing with three-16th note patterns, played in */4 meters. The exercises develop some fundamental coordination and rhythmic ideas.

Play patterns 1-4 as written, and substituting the bass drum for the snare drum. I've given some practice ideas on page 2. Also try playing the 3/4 and 2/4 versions repeating unbroken in any meter— 3/4, 4/4, 5/4. Dig through my practice loops to find something to play with. Don't neglect patterns 3 and 4.

Get the pdf

Thursday, April 11, 2019

EZ linear quarter note rock method

I may have written this up before, but I can't find it in the archives, and I probably didn't include the embellishments I'm going to tell you today, so what the hell, let's do it again.

This is an easy rock method using the linear quarter notes pages from Progressive Steps to Syncopation— that's “Lesson 3” in the new editions of the book, or pp. 8-9. For once we'll actually use the written bass drum part— I almost always ignore the stems-down part in the book. Do the following things with exercise lines 1-15, plus the 16 bar exercise. You should quickly be able to play exercises all the way through without stopping. If you have my book Syncopation in 3/4, you could also do this drill with the equivalent patterns in that book.

For the examples we'll be interpreting line 3 from the book:

The first step is extremely simple: play the book as written, add 8th notes on the hihat:

This is how I'll write the rest of the examples— I like to put everything on the same set of stems:

Next add some more bass drum; first on the &s after the snare drum hits:

You could also add it on the & before the first snare hit:

No reason you can't do some other rhythms, like the a of the beat after the snare hits:

Plus the a before the first snare hit:

You can also add these other rhythms after the snare hits:

There's no reason you have to do only one of these things at a time— once you're basically familiar with the method, you should be able to improvise your own combinations. The method is so easy you'll probably get tired of it before you run all the combinations exhaustively. It's fine; the goal is just to play the patterns in the book with some improvised embellishments. Play through it with one of my practice loops

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Three Camps in 6-stroke rolls

For awhile I was campaigning to get this RLLRRL sticking called “Swiss sixtuplets”, based on an overheard conversation from drum corps days, when George Tuthill and Alan Kristensen, two corps legends, were talking about rudiments. George was my corps director and Alan was the drum line instructor. George mentioned that Swiss rudimental drummers routinely played sixtuplets this way, instead of as singles. I haven't found any evidence of that being the case, but I wanted to try to force a piece of my personal lore into the drumming literature anyway.

Whatever: this is a companion for the recent Three Camps in paradiddle-diddles; taken together they're an opportunity to really smoke your major sixtuplet stickings. You should be able to do these fast.

Normally when playing this rudiment I accent both of the singles— the R at the beginning and the L at the end; doing that here messes with the integrity of the piece. Accent that trailing L lightly, if you must.

Get the pdf

Monday, April 08, 2019

Groove o' the day: Charli Latin

One more item from that tune Fuss Budget, by Curtis Fuller, from the album Two Bones: there is a few bars of a Latin groove on the head of the tune, during which Charli Persip plays this:

That should look very familiar— there's barely even cause to share it, except to say haha, look, another example of someone using that same Mozambique-type bell rhythm. It's a very useful, hip rhythm for a lot of different Latin styles in jazz. It just flows nicely from the middle of the first bar to the ending 1:

Persip seemingly plays the bass drum on the first 1 only; 1 and the & of 2 is another good possibility for jazz applications— though not correct for clave-based music. A good generic bass drum rhythm for occasions when clave is being observed is & of 2 of both measures. That would work here, since the bassist is playing a quasi-Cuban rhythm on that section.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Page o' coordination: That with interruptions - 03

 I like this little series. Nothing radically innovative, but a slightly different way of thinking about normal jazz comping vocabulary, courtesy of John Riley. These pages aren't ordered for total beginners— if I were teaching this to a student new to jazz, I would reverse the order.

This is intended as a jazz thing, so swing the 8th notes. Playing it as straight 8ths in cut time will also be useful for some other styles. Approach this in page-at-once mode— cover all the patterns in fairly rapid succession, in one session.

Get the pdf

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Time and whatnot

Object To Be Destroyed
by Man Ray
It is often said that in a musical ensemble, keeping time is everyone's responsibility.

And in some hypothetical quantum universe or other fantastical musical fairyland, people may actually follow that in practice. In reality, it's all on you, the drummer. You will always be the one blamed when there are problems with the time. You are the receptacle for everyone's problems with the time— both real and imagined— and you will be expected to fix everything.

So your time has to be good, so good that you know it's good, and can speak with real confidence when it comes up.

Here are a few general philosophies and practical tips for improving your time effectively:

Feeling bad
For professionals required to play modern music in a wide variety of tempos, styles and settings, where you are basically expected to maintain metronomic accuracy, I don't believe you can rely on body motion, technique, listening, feeling... “innate groove”... whatever mickey mouse theories people have about the mysterious place good time comes from. It doesn't lie in your muscles, your soul, the motion of the sticks, or the structure of your anatomy.

It resides in your head. The time has to be conceived. You could say it's an intellectual process, I would say it's about awareness. Time awareness can be learned.

I should clarify: there is plenty of indigenous/folkoric music, some of which is extremely rhythmically sophisticated, in which the time may be very much reliant on the things I listed above. That music may be the greatest art in the world, but the demands are different for professional musicians playing the drum set.

Time is the point
In learning to play, we work on a lot of stuff. A whole lot of drumming crap, none of which matters if it isn't servicing the time. Not only do you have to be able to do it in time, you have to use it to construct the time. So we have to resign ourselves to the idea that time is something we have to build and constantly maintain with what we play. There are times where you are allowed or able to take a looser attitude, but you have to be able to do the constructive thing.

The nice part is that when you're playing really good time, little else matters. The crap you wanted to play doesn't seem that great any more. You can be a great drummer with very little drumming crap.

Counting rhythm
Vocalizing is how we make sure our brains get it. It gives you internal concept of the musical idea, which you can then express by playing it on an instrument. Counting the rhythms out loud is a functionally OK way for  doing that. I think of it as a low-grade version of the very ancient, sophisticated and effective Indian rhythmic solfege.

For any piece of music you should be able to vocalize the rhythm of the notes only, and the notes plus rests, counting rests as if they are notes. Playing something written out for the drumset, you should be able to count the combined rhythm of the snare and bass drum parts, and the combined rhythm for all of the parts. Personally I only take this to the 16th note level: 1-e-&-a 2-e-&a. At normal tempos I wouldn't count complete rhythms for sixtuplets or 32nd notes— I count those as 8th notes, with no syllables for the subdivisions.

A major place where your time will get messed up is with anticipations— long notes landing right before the beat. You hit a lot of &s of 2 and &s of 4 in jazz, and they tend to rush. When you hit a long note on the & of 4, know where the 1 is, and know how long the space is from the & of 4 to the 2. 

1 and 3
Jazz drummers can get almost phobic about the 1 and 3, like they're the white beats that will show everyone how ungrooving you truly are if you acknowledge them. But they're the context for all the super-hip stuff you play. You have to know where they are, and state them accurately, especially if you're doing an Elvin Jones type of cymbal interpretation

Slow click 
Practice with your metronome set to the slowest speed you can handle, regardless of the tempo you're playing. Like a quarter or 1/8th speed. So if you're practicing something at quarter note = 120, set your metronome to 30 or 15. This forces you to conceive the time in your own head, the exact same way you need to do when you're playing music. The metronome just comments periodically to tell you how well you're doing it. I set mine from 15-40 BPM all the time, unless there's a good reason to do something else.

People like to get cute with their metronomes, programming them to drop out for a few measures or whatever. That's just dancing around the real issue, which is ongoing focus on the time. Just learn to deal with a constant slow click.

Memorizing sound
BPM numbers and metronome pulses are lousy media for learning time. Instead, memorize sound. Here: think about the song Kashmir; hear the recording in your head, clap the beat, then check the recording to see how accurately you called it:

Try it with any other recordings you know well. If you wanted to, you could memorize the BPMs for your remembered music catalog, so you can recall the entire functional range of tempos just by thinking about it. Fool your friends.

The more important thing is just to know that this is a thing, learn to trust its accuracy, and begin exploiting it in your playing every day. For example, in playing and recording, I will often memorize the sound of the countoff— not the tempo, the actual sound of the person's voice— or the horn pickups, to check the timing of the tune in progress.

See what you think. These things have all worked very well for me, I think they'll work for you too.