Thursday, January 31, 2019

Best books: Beyer Elementary Method for the Piano

I'm always seeking out methods for introducing people to non-drumming activities— playing the piano, in this case. Last year I bought an 80s-vintage Clavinova, and got some beginner piano books so I could learn how normal people do it— I'm able to hack out the notes for transcribing and composing, but have very little technical ability on the instrument.

One book I liked was Elementary Method for the Piano by Ferdinand Beyer. It was released in 1860, and is still in print in multiple editions, but it does not seem to have many advocates today as a primary method book— not that I can find on the internet. Apparently it remains very popular in Asia. I have the Alfred Masterworks edition, with modernized notation.

Though it was first published over 150 years ago— virtually prehistoric by drum literature standards— it's a very modern method. I mean the conception, design, and apparent philosophy of the materials— I don't know where it stands relative to current views on piano technique and instruction. It will feel familiar to anyone who has seen a lot of drum method books, and is extremely friendly to beginners.

It begins with several pages of technical exercises— fingering exercises for each hand, then both hands together. There are more technical exercises other places in the book. The rest of it consists of solo pieces and teacher duets— sweet little romantic 19th century tunes. It has the most perfect, gentle, linear, learning curve I've seen in any book, which is not easy to do. See Drumeo-published beginner materials for an example of catastrophic failure at that. The literature of drumming is full of other less egregious examples.

Every page of Beyer teaches basically one thing, which can be learned instantly, or in a few easy practice sessions. There's very little resistance, and the entire book can be learned in a few weeks. By comparison, Karl Czerny's beginner piano method from 1840, still very popular and clearly the more “serious” book, is very dense, demanding a focused, hard-working student right from the beginning.

Traditional instructional technique.
There seem to be two working philosophies here: the modern how do we teach this so anyone can do it, vs. the traditional sink or swim / devil take the hindmost... that latter possibly reflecting an old world classist way of thinking that less-talented people lacking sufficient Calvinist work ethic should not be doing it.

Beyer's book anticipates the modernist philosophy of making the arts and creativity accessible to everyone, reducing things to their essential elements, developing natural instructional techniques, and rewarding students' early efforts. I'm for that.

Those Drumeo materials represent that gone wrong— rather, they're a purely commercial, educationally degenerate descendant of it. As such they're boring and ineffective, relying on endless novelty to keep “consumers” interested. The more institutional, equally loathsome descendant of the modernist approach is the graded system, which is popular with the British. It has a bureaucratic, run this by Wilkinson in accounts kind of vibe that makes me want to do something else. Any mention of graded materials and I'm Ian Holm in Brazil. I want out.

Conclusion, a method that engages and delivers results to casually committed students is a kind of holy grail of writing. As someone who writes a lot of practice materials it has been fascinating playing through Beyer.

Coda: Speaking of familiar seeming-piano books: Just received Schmitt's Preparatory Exercises for Piano, also published in the mid-19th century, and it is remarkably similar in concept to Stick Control, right down to the “play each exercise twenty times” instruction. They could have called it Finger Control if it hadn't been written 100 years before Stone.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Page o' coordination: Idris Mozambique

A page of exercises for learning basic performance vocabulary using Idris Muhammad's Mozambique-like cymbal rhythm from this recent groove o' the day.

Play each of the hand patterns many times— if you need to, start with the LH on the snare only, then add the moves to the toms. Then add the various bass drum rhythms. Add the hihat on beats 2 and 4, or put it wherever you want it, or don't. See this page for more Latin bass drum rhythms, or this page to take it a more funk like direction, using pattern 11.

Get the pdf

Monday, January 28, 2019

Cymbal sounds: Art Taylor - Sonny's Crib

This is a post I wrote about Art Taylor's cymbals, for the Cymbalistic site blog, plus a few added comments for this site:

Here is Art Taylor playing a very interesting ride cymbal that reminds me very much of some Cymbal & Gong cymbals I've played— in fact it's quite similar to the first C&G cymbal I bought. The tune (and album) is Sonny's Crib, by Sonny Clark.

It is a apparently a 20" K. Zildjian ride, with rivets, medium weight— I'm guessing around 1925-2000 grams. A traditional medium, not a modern medium. Overall pitch is high, with pronounced high and low harmonics. A moderately dark sound, and not particularly warm— while the horns are playing it seems that it could well be an A. Zildjian; the “raspy” sounding highs are, to my ear, as much a feature of the old As as “darkness” is of old Ks. I hear that quality on a lot of records, and a lot of C&G cymbals have it. The cymbal's low end has a slight exotic edge— you can hear that most clearly during the piano solo. Strangely, it almost sounds like a different cymbal with the piano than with the horns. I had to check a few times to confirm that it wasn't. Listening during the piano solo, it seems clear that it is a K.

The other cymbals present seem to be an 18" A, and 14" or 15" hihats. They're pleasing-sounding, and fairly straightforward— the 18 is clean, full, and fairly low pitched; it still is a high, energetic sound when crashed next to the 20". Taylor rides the 18 with a brush during the bass solo. The hihats seem to be light medium, with a nice foot sound that is not too chunky, not too soft. He crashes them two or three times during the track, but I couldn't get a particular handle on describing the sound there.

A few other observations: The vibe is relaxed and Taylor isn't working too hard. The time is somewhat flexible— it drifts quite a bit, in fact. The track ends much slower than it started. What is interesting about it is the overall quality of the groove; it's very different from our current metronome-fixated thing. The comping is different, too— today we like overtly hip, interactive comping, which is not what's happening here. What Taylor plays is straightforward, rhythmically similar to what a pianist might play, and focused on moving the groove along, and moving from phrase to phrase. Very little bass drum jumps out at me.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Todd's methods: Gospel 6

Get me.
Here's a practice method for people who have bought my new print book Syncopation in 3/4. It's closely related to my standard Reed 2/2 funk method, except here we'll be doing a slow gospel 6 feel, a la Natural Woman. On the drums this kind of vocabulary is normally learned in 12/8 or 6/8, which makes the reading rather difficult when you have to play this feel on an arrangement written in 3/4... like Natural Woman. In that case the drum groove is two measures long, and the backbeat is on 1 of the second measure. I found it to be more of a challenge than reading in 6/8 or 12/8, anyway.

Starting with this example, line 3 from page 6 (all references are to the print edition, not the e-book). In all cases we are reinterpreting the top line, stems-up part, and ignoring the stems-down part.

It's very simple: play the book rhythm on the bass drum, except the 1 of the second measure, which you play on the snare. Add quarter notes on any cymbal:

Using line 2 from page 18:

You would play this:

If you're copping the Natural Woman-type feel, the 8th notes will swing. There are many other instances of this type of feel where the 8ths should not swing.

On some exercises there is a rest or the end of a tied note on 1, like on line 3 of page 26:

You can either add the snare drum on 1:

Or displace the snare drum to match the book rhythm:

With all of the exercises, you can also play all of the second measure on the snare drum:

And then make a longer phrase out of it by playing all of measure 4 only on the snare drum:

Later you can change up the cymbal rhythm— here using line 1 from page 26 as the example groove:

This becomes a comprehensive way of working through triplet-feel grooves universally, while learning a challenging (though fairly rare) reading situation. I think there are other benefits to using this format, which are beyond the scope of this post. You should be aware of how these same grooves would be written in 6/8, 12/8, or as triplets in 4/4— the more usual ways this type of thing is written.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Syncopated melodic solo - 01

Here I've composed a syncopated, non-technical, four-tone melodic solo for drum set. It is through-composed, 36 bars long, in eight bar phrases with a four bar tag.

Play this with the snares off, and pencil in your own stickings as necessary. This will sound best if the drums are tuned for a nice tonal sound. Play it at a moderate volume and let the accents guide you in shaping the phrases, keeping in mind that though the piece is written without section dynamic markings, that doesn't mean all the notes should be exactly the same volume. Try not playing any two notes in a row at the same volume... subtly. Play the crescendos as self-contained within their measure— get a little softer at the beginning, build, and then subito return to the original volume after. I wasn't swinging the 8th notes when I wrote it, but you can swing them if you want.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Groove o' the day: Idris Muhammad Mozambique

Here is Idris Muhammad playing a Mozambique-like Latin groove with Melvin Sparks, on Speak Low, from the album Sparkling. Muhammad isn't on many of the records I listen to all the time, but he is one of my favorite players just for his general vibe; he's got the New Orleans thing happening, a deep R&B pocket, and he always gets a full sound. And he's not a real finicky subdivision guy— I'm always hearing the broader phrase with him.

Muhammad feathers the bass drum on beats 1 and 3 throughout— the written bass drum notes are accents. One thing I have noticed in doing a million billion transcriptions for this site is how sparingly many drummers use their left foot— it may be moving while they're playing, but there's often not much sound actually making it onto the recording.

I call this a Mozambique-like groove only for the bell rhythm— it has the familiar 8th notes/rest on 4 and 1 going into the second measure. Otherwise the bell rhythm is quarter notes— it's sort of a New Orleans Mozambique, in fact, with a strong R&B flavor.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stick Control flams in 5/8 - 01

This is pretty straightforward, almost something you can do without writing it out— I've simply transcribed the basic flam exercises from p. 16 of Stick Control into 5/8. I get bored practicing things in a straight march rhythm, and this gives them a little more interest.

I don't follow the instruction in the book about doing each exercise 20 times— if I was going to count repetitions I would do them for 4, 8, 12, 16, or 32 measures. But I just play them for 30 seconds to one minute.

Practice your flams. For some reason drumming-on-the-internet likes to ignore them, but they're important. Please do them. See my page of hand motions for Stone flam studies, or email me for a Skype lesson if you need help.

Get the pdf

Monday, January 21, 2019

The leap to playing

I feel like this
A big problem for many students is how to get from practicing exercises in a book to real playing.
It's actually an issue for everyone, but in this post we're just concerned with intermediate players who can do a few things, but can't quite make the connection between practicing things from a book, and actual playing— maybe they're not sure what actual playing is yet.

Here are some things to think about as you figure it out, and help others figure it out:

Play with people
This is the most important thing— read this paragraph and then throw away your computer. Break your monitor. Everything happens through playing with people; being in an uncontrolled environment where you don't know what you're doing, but you have to do something. You figure it out what to do because you have to, and you can't stop.

Listen to music
To play a thing musically, you first have to hear it. To do that, you need to put musical ideas in your ears, which comes from listening to a lot of music. Everything good you will play comes from your educated ear.

OK, now you can break your computer, or keep reading...

Have a context
Participating in some kind of scene will help you know what you want to do, and get you thinking about how you will fit in with the people you will play with. If you're in school, you should take band classes, have musician friends, and start a band. If you're studying on your own, you should go hear other people play, and see how music is done in your town, so you can be getting ideas about gigs you would like to have, bands you would like to join.

Practice like you play
How to do this productively is much of what we deal with on this site. It means framing all of your practicing in realistic musical terms. You try to play everything like it's a part of a song, tune, piece, performance.

when I want to be doing this
Practice realistic vocabulary
A lot of current practice materials and philosophies, especially on the internet, are based on learning technique in the abstract— imagine playing the first thirteen exercises from Stick Control at an even volume on a rubber pad, infinitely. Or “8 to a hand.”

Whatever the benefits of that way of practicing, you can get the same thing by practicing actual musical content... with the added benefit that you're learning actual musical content.

Realistic volume and touch
Practice as loud as you're going to play, on a real acoustic instrument. See how other drummers around you are playing— that will give you a direct impression of how dynamics work, and you will begin adding them to your playing instinctively. And you will learn how loud other musicians will expect you to play. 

No stopping
In music, the time never stops for somebody to go back and fix something they think they did wrong. That doesn't happen. There's never a gig where a group plays one pattern for a few measures, takes a breather for a minute, then does another thing for a few measures, takes another breather, and so on. As much as possible, don't stop for mistakes, and don't stop between exercises. If you do need to stop, try to make it an actual rest by counting through it; or you can keep the time going with one limb while you figure out the next thing.

No speeding up
However slow the nursery school tempo at which you are practicing an idea, treat it like it's a real performance tempo, and maintain it. Pretend you're in the Melvins and hold it steady like a professional.

Make a phrase
Play in four or eight measure phrases. Or two measure phrases. If you're playing one- or two-beat patterns, play them in 4/4.

All you have to do to make a phrase is count a phrase— be aware of the passage of 2/4/8 measures. There are also familiar formats, like playing 3/7 measures of a groove, then playing some kind of fill (or putting in a stop) in the 4th/8th measure. You can also trade 2s/4s/8s— play 2/4/8 measures of a time feel, alternating with 2/4/8 measures of soloing. Another easy format is to play alternating measures of a groove, and an improvised variation on it. If you practice out of Syncopation, you will automatically play 4-measure or longer phrases, because that is the way the book is written.

Playalong tracks are useful, within certain limitations— they are not a substitute for playing with people. I like my own sampled practice loops for working on technical exercises on the drumset; it creates a context so you can hear the exercises as music, rather than as a lot of Rs and Ls. A really good loop can help you play a thing much longer than you otherwise would have.

So: this is a larger process than just “how can I do my hot lick when I'm playing”, but most of these things can be done simultaneously with each other, and you'll want/need to do them for other reasons anyway. It's a ongoing process you will deal with, in different ways, for your entire career.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Groove o' the day: Soul Makossa

This is the groove from a track regarded as the first Disco song— Soul Makossa, by Cameroonian performer Manu Dibango. The drummer is Joby Jobs, and he has a bad right hand— he is apparently playing these running 16ths at quarter note = 114.

The tenuto marks indicate half-open hihat. It sounds like there is a second hihat on the recording, playing quarter notes, so it's possible the 16th notes are overdubbed, but let's credit him with being a badass.

He does this little variation around the breakdown at 3:15:

This is the one fill I hear, which happens in an odd spot in the middle of the track, after 2:00. The hihat part is interactive with the fill, which suggests that Jobs is playing the 16th notes live with the drums, and not overdubbing:

After around 2:30 there is another little variation, where he plays the snare drum on all four beats intermittently. Time to go practice our running 16ths...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

CYMBALISTIC: Two new 22" rides in stock!

CYMBALISTIC news: Thanks to a very successful Germany trip in December, stock of cymbals on hand is a little skimpy right now, but we do have a couple of new 22" A-type rides available— one thin and one medium.

I should clarify what is meant by the description A-type— with Cymbal & Gong cymbals, that refers to a higher, squarish bell similar to a 50s A. Zildjian, with moderate hammering, and usually light-medium in weight. These are complex, warm, relatively dark, hand crafted cymbals. I'm a jazz drummer, and my main 22" ride is a C&G A-type— mine happens to be similar to “Mallory” below, but higher pitched.

In each of these videos I'm using Bopworks Birdland model sticks, and then Vic Firth SD-04 Combos.

22" Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail Jazz Ride “Eloi” - 2085 grams - $450.00
Unusual jazz-weight A-type ride. Slightly exotic. Nice low roar, with a very responsive, full, booming crash with a light bwah sound. Sonorous, cutting bell sound.

22" Medium Ride “Mallory” - 2360 grams - Cymbal & Gong factory second - $280.00
Excellent, very playable A-type light-medium ride. All of C&G's medium rides are crashable, with a good balance between clean and complex harmonic profile. They would never be mistaken for a modern A-type cymbal by a major brand. This cymbal has a warm, relatively clean sound, long sustain, and an awesome, very full, musical crash sound at fortissimo levels. It will make a good jazz ride, or medium ride in settings where a live, full-sounding cymbal is called for.

A minor technical flaw in the manufacturing process means you get a big discount on this cymbal. There's a slight flaw with the lathing— the lathed-away metal is stuck in the grooves in a few spots. Only visible on close inspection, there is some light surface roughness in those spots. This makes no detectable difference in sound, and will not affect the life of the cymbal. Tim at Cymbal & Gong tells me you could go in with a dental tool and remove the stuck bits, but you will probably just play it as is.

This cymbal has the Holy Grail-type patina, but as a factory second, it has no C&G cold stamp or label.

We will be getting some more cymbals at the end of January, and then a full re-stock in March or April. If you have any interest in these cymbals, let me know what size/weight/model you're seeking. Also visit the Cymbalistic site and get on our mailing list to hear about new cymbals as they come in.

EZ rock beats in 5/4 - 01

For one of my students, an easy page of rock beats in 5/4. We did one of these a few years ago, but this page illustrates the 2+3 / 3+2 phrasing of this time signature, and the beats are a little easier for younger students.

Count in 5, or in 2+3/3+2 (e.g, say “1-2-1-2-3” while you play). Once you can play the patterns consistently and solidly, begin playing in two measure phrases, improvising simple variations or fills in the second measure.

See that earlier page for some ways of practicing these beats to improve your phrasing, and general concept for playing in 5.

Get the pdf

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tyshawn Sorey linear lick

I did something I don't usually do— transcribe a lick for a stranger on the internet with no context and no information about the player or music. I have no idea where the person got it, but the player is Tyshawn Sorey, and the thing turned out to be an interesting way of ending a linear fusion lick. Sorey is a very arty, avant-garde player, and this may be crassest possible thing we can get from his playing, but whatever. We each have to figure out the cosmic aspects of music for ourselves. Here I'm just looking for cool ways to get to 1.

We've done a lot on this site with fusion-style linear fills, so it should be easy to see how this relates— it's just a handy way of ending a fill with an alternating sticking, with the right hand hitting on 4, and a bass drum before the 1. It's the type of thing that should be easy to work with.

You could play the patterns repeating, or play them one time, ending on 1 with a cymbal and bass drum, or with another drum hit. Always play it all the way to 1. Start by learning the last beat of the lick. At faster tempos, the last beat of the fill may even out, trending towards a septuplet rhythm. 

Get the pdf

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Practice loop in 6/4: Magdalena

Practice loop in 6/4 sampled from Magdalena, from John Zorn's album O'o. Tempo is quarter note = 204, and there is an extra bar of 3/4 on the big figure at the end of the form— you'll hear it.

Use this with any of my materials in 3/4 or 6/4, the “latin in 3” pages o' coordination, and especially the Free Design figure control page, which is based on the same rhythm as the bass line here. You can also use this with my new book Syncopation in 3/4. What a wonderful idea!

Monday, January 07, 2019

NOW AVAILABLE: 2018 Book of the Blog / Syncopation in 3/4

The 2018 CRUISE SHIP DRUMMER! Book of the Blog is now available to order.

It includes all of the downloadable exercises and trancriptions posted on the site in 2018, as well as some grooves o' the day and practice methods that did not have a downloadable pdf.

Way too much in this book to summarize. There are sections on snare drum, rock & funk, jazz, and Latin. With a robust section on the Mel Lewis rub-a-dub thing we've been developing lately. Also several EZ syncopation practice methods, evolution of Songo grooves, pages o' coordination in 3/4 and 12/8, and much more.

$14.95 - 132 pages

Also now available - get both books and save on shipping:

Expanded print edition.

Reading exercises in 3/4 in the style of Progressive Steps to Syncopation. If you follow this site you know that I think the methods associated with that book are the best, fastest way for drummers to learn professional vocabulary, reading, and improvising. You're gonna want this one.

This book has chapters on quarter notes, linear quarter notes, 8th notes, 8th rests, 8ths with ties, one-line syncopation exercises, and full page syncopation exercises. Each chapter includes one line exercises, a 20 bar exercise, and a 32 bar exercise.

Print edition is formatted like Ted Reed's original book in four-measure phrases, and has eight newly composed full-length syncopation exercises, plus a some additional exercises not in the e-book.

$10.95 - 38 pages

UPDATE: I forgot to mention, all of my other books are discounted 15% during the month of January. A great time to get the whole library happening...

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Feelings and things you can't do

Taking a little break from working on the 2018 Book of the Blog, musing about different stages of attitudes about players who can do things you can't:

I want to be able to do that!
Beginning, early studenthood; you're infatuated with this new drumming thing, and your abilities are all potential, so you don't attach too much of your ego to your abilities relative to other people's.

I can't do that, I suck. 
“Serious” student. A lot of people get stuck in this phase for a long time. I'm 51 and I'm just starting to get over it. In this way of thinking, someone who can do something you can't is “better” than you, and since you can't do it, you can't really play.

I can't do that, he sucks.
Slightly more serious student, or defective professional. The other side of the coin from the last one, and marginally less unhealthy. You could call this an adolescent stage, in which you're hostile about  people who are doing something different from you.

I can't do that, I suck, and he sucks! I have to be able to do that!
Toxic-competitive/self-loathing. Learning someone else's thing to prove he sucks. I've known people like this, and don't really understand it. Leads to being bitterly productive, or just miserably bitter.

That is a distraction.
This has been my feeling sometimes. There have been very talented players I have avoided hearing—they were such overwhelming musical personalities that they would blow out the thing I was focusing on. It's hard to be thinking about Billy Higgins or Paul Motian when some guy is blowing a lot of Tony Williams on steroids spectacle in your face.

Why can you do that? can't do it!
The arrogant veteran. This is paraphrasing something Mel Lewis reported himself saying to a student. Basically: what I'm doing is the definition of the real shit, and doing more than me means you're doing it wrong. It's easier to be this way when you're a top New York player playing at the Village Vanguard every week.

Hooray, there's something I can't do! More to learn! 
This is the attitude pervading Steve Smith's personal videos— you really get the feeling that he just loves to practice, and has made a life time project of tirelessly learning everything. Not everyone is an extremely gifted relentless practicer, nor should they necessarily be. At some point we have to be able to declare ourselves proficient, and focus on creating.

I can't do that, but he can't do what I do. 
Maturity. There was a video of Jim Keltner talking with Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta, and some other extremely able players, and Keltner openly questioned how he could have anything to say about drumming with them in the room, and then stated that this was his feeling about that. It's not so much about competition, but about recognizing that different people have different gifts and different things to say, so being competitive about technical abilities is a little silly.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Transcription: Joey Baron - Resistor

Here is Joey Baron playing on Don Byron's solo on Resistor, from the Bill Frisell album This Land— Baron's playing on this record is one of the major blowing performances of the 90s. The tune is a mutant blues, and has become canon after a fashion— I'm not aware of a good published lead sheet, but I know a lot of us have been making our own charts for it over the last 30 years. Also check out the earlier version with Paul Motian on drums if you're going to learn the tune. The melody and the tuba riff on the original are the main things on which to hang your playing on it.

Here Baron is playing it with a sort of hybrid New Orleans/Songo groove— obviously those are not the style of the tune, but that's where his drumming vocabulary is coming from. Studying something like this strictly from a drumming perspective, I'm checking out the scope of the vocabulary he's using, how repetitive he is, how he outlines phrases, how much he moves his hands around— right hand moving from the cymbals, left hand moving from the snare drum. Also the nature and level of independence he's using, and how he uses his left foot.

The transcription begins at 1:17 in the track.

The 8th notes are lightly swinging. The dynamic markings can get a little dense here— most of them apply to the snare drum, or the crash cymbal; some apply to the bass drum. Usually parentheses indicate ghost notes, except in the cowbell part they indicate notes played on the shoulder of the bell. Dynamics are extreme— house top accents are very strong rim shots, and notes in parentheses are very soft.

Get the pdf

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Jazz stick roundup

these 5Bs are kind of like
One thing my German friends made me realize is that I use really big friggin' sticks. For many years I've used one stick: the Vic Firth SD-11 Slammer. It's a maple stick the size of a 5B with a rounded arrow tip. It's big, but since it's made of maple, it's not overpowering. I get a nice, full, round sound with them, and I've still been able to play as quietly* as I've ever needed. Basically, playing a hotel gig once, I realized I could switch from brushes to Slammers with no volume change, and I decided I could just use the one stick.

But a 5B is really big. I felt there are some limitations to using the one fat, light stick— under some conditions, that full round sound can be a detriment. The body of the tone can compete with the attack. They're also rather clumsy for faster playing, especially at lower volume— moving that much mass, I felt they were forcing a certain tension in my technique.

So here are some notes on sticks I've been trying out, taken roughly in order from smallest to largest— but starting with the smallest stick I previously had experience with:

Regal Tip 7A — diameter: 0.52" / length: 15"
I've had a pair of these with nylon tips kicking around for a number of years. They're short and extremely thin. Much smaller than any other stick I have normally used.

I took them out and used them on a gig, and they do make for a very intimate sound on the drums, while still having a cutting attack. Good for guitar/piano/vibes— I'm not sure I'd choose them if there was a strong horn player present. They're an excellent bossa nova stick— it's easy to play the very fast cymbal rhythm, with a very aggressive, edgy high pitched sound out of the snare drum, similar to this.

Bopworks Birdland Model — diameter: 0.5" / length: 15 5/16"
Very interesting experience playing these sticks. They're a quarter of an inch longer, but thinner than the Regal 7A, with an even longer taper, and thin oval bead. They feel extremely delicate— the thinnest, lightest stick I've ever played, in fact— if you are at all prone to digging in (like I am), these may be difficult sticks for you. They don't respond to that kind of touch, and you may break some sticks. You really have to just dance around on the drums for these to work. In the practice room, the sound of the instrument initially seemed thin and insubstantial.

...and then I used them on a gig, and they were fine. I had no problem adjusting my touch for them. There is a definite ceiling as to how loud you can play, but there was a very interesting sensation of responsiveness to dynamics— since the stick isn't instigating a whole lot of vibration in the instrument, dynamic changes can be instantaneous. That was my experience both with the Birdlands and the Regal 7As. By comparison, my Slammers are like a PT boat roaring around, leaving a big wake. The Birdlands/Regal 7As are more like stones skipping across the water.

Bopworks 7D Mel Lewis Model — diameter: 0.54" / length: 15 1/8"
Similar in size to the Regal 7A, but a quarter of an inch longer, with a shorter taper. Weight is somewhat balanced toward the bead end, so they produce a fuller sound. To me they feel rather stubby— I find myself holding them close to the butt. I can see these as being engineered for Mel's low, deep tom sound. I'm still undecided on how useful these will be for me.

The Bopworks brand, by the way, is very interesting— they are duplicating signature models of sticks from the 40s-60s, with a definite doctrinal perspective that they are the correct sticks to use for jazz. Which... I'm not any kind of originalist; I don't believe in historical correctness for its own sake. A lot has happened in music in the last 50 years, and I'm only interested in what an instrument/implement does for my playing, and how it helps me do my job accompanying other musicians. But everyone listens to the drummers of that period a lot, so it's educational any time we can get close to using the instruments they used. If you take those Birdland sticks on a gig, you realize that oh, those drummers really must have been doing a different thing from what I've been doing. It's a rare thing for any drum stick to give me any kind of musical revelation, and I will be using these a lot.

Vic Firth American Classic 7A — diameter: 0.54" / length: 15 1/2"
Very solid-feeling 7As. Half an inch longer than the Regal, fatter bead, shorter taper, slightly fatter shaft. Chunky compared to the other sticks in this size. VF American Classic hickory sticks generally seem to be stuck in the 80s, when power drumming was the norm. We were all playing medium-heavy cymbals, Pinstripes on the toms, and everything was all about slamming, full, deep sounds. In a way, I never fully got over that, which is part of the reason for me using those larger sticks.

Despite the similarity in size, these sticks are a very different playing experience from the others so far— by an order of magnitude. They're very solid lighter sticks, not so different from what I'm used to, and probably the only stick from the American Classic line I would consider using today.

Vic Firth SD-4 Combo — diameter: 0.545" / length: 15 7/8"
This is what everybody in the Pacific Northwest uses; I used them for a long time, until I switched over to the Slammers. When I gave up the Combos, I felt they were the worst of all worlds— too thin, too short, and too light. I was playing generally pretty loud at the time, and felt I had to work too hard and move my arms too much for the volume. But compared to the other sticks here, they're not at all small; about the size of a 5A, and maybe a quarter of an inch shorter than my Slammers. The tip is basically a cube with a rounded end, and they're made of maple. Definition is fairly weak compared to the other sticks here, which was part of my original complaint about them. That was borne out on the same gig where I played the Birdlands and Regals— I played the Combos for half a tune then put them away. Overall not bad, though, and I will continue to try to find a way to use them. A lot of good players use them and sound great.

Vater Sweet Ride  — diameter: 0.53" / length: 16"
Long hickory 7A with a short taper, and very small round bead. These are really strange. This stick produces a lot of body, and little attack. I don't know the reason for wanting that sound from a cymbal— maybe if it was a heavy, ugly sounding cymbal. It works OK with my 22" Sound Creation Dark Ride. But I think this may be a bad design for jazz drummers playing normal jazz cymbals.

Vic Firth American Jazz AJ6 — diameter: 0.55" / length: 15 1/2"
Weird, short hickory 5A with shaved-down end, small acorn bead. I can see breaking these easily if you're prone to digging into the drums/cymbals. The last two inches of the stick is thinner than all of the other sticks listed here, which give a strange muting effect when played on a cymbal. Maybe a good stick if you have to play with a vocalist, or play very quietly on cymbals are too heavy. A really skilled player could certainly get a very refined, museum-like sound with these... not really my thing.

Vic Firth American Jazz AJ2 — diameter: 0.565" / length: 16"
Hickory 5A with a very long taper, fat smallish acorn bead. Basically a more refined 5A. A companion to the VFAC 7A. Both of them are good alternatives to my Slammers, but being made of hickory, they do get a harder sound. Sometimes in club settings you need the cymbals and drums to cut more, and these would be good for that.

Vic Firth Peter Erskine Ride Stick — diameter: 0.575" / length: 16"
The biggest, heaviest stick here. A big 5A, hickory, with a small tip. This stick is made to give a nice sound when digging in. Weight is emphatically balanced at the bead end, which feels good when you're playing medium tempo full strokes on the cymbal. That's a very 80s feel to me— we used to like sticks weighted at the end, with some “throw.” Today people seem to like sticks more balanced for speed. Seems designed for Erskine's round, musical sound on the cymbals and toms.

These would be a good alternative if you're used to playing relatively big fusion sticks like a 5A, and want a nicer cymbal sound. Or if you're using lighter sticks and want something heavier, but still “musical.”

Vic Firth SD-11 Slammer — diameter: 0.61" / length: 16 1/4"
After playing all of these sticks, my usual sticks feel very big, but they still work for me. I have no problem playing them quietly, but I have noticed that they overwhelm certain thin, very live cymbals. I don't think people should be buying cymbals that demand a certain kind of stick, but that's a subject for a different post.

The Slammer is most similar in playing experience to the Firth AJ2 and 7A; they are all normally balanced, and produce a full range of overtones from a cymbal or drum. The Slammer gets a nicer tone, and the others have more attack— I don't think it's a very pretty attack sound. Kind of a thud with the larger sticks and a thwack with the lighter ones. As I said about the Slammer, in some conditions the body of the sound competes with the attack, and definition can suffer.

We'll be seeing more of these jazz stick roundups soon— I'll be trying out some more Bopworks sticks, as well as those by a Louisiana company called La BackBeat. I'd be happy to hear anyone's recommendations or favorite sticks in the comments.

* - Quieter, in fact. There is such a thing as playing too soft. Any time you perform, there's a band vs. room noise signal-to-noise ratio in effect— if the music is intended to be heard, you can't be so quiet that every little sound in the room is competing with you.