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

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.