Friday, August 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

Get the pdf

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Transcription: Billy Higgins - two breaks

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

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

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Transcription: Ben Dixon 8-bar break

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

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

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

Get the pdf

Monday, August 26, 2019

Daily best music in the world: Pygmy music

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

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

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

Updating the book

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

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

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Max's rubadub - cells

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

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

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

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Basic drum set coordination - 01 - alternating

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

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

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

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

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

Get the pdf

Monday, August 19, 2019

Keep your pencil sharp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Max's rubadub - triplets added

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

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

Get the pdf

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hemiola funk series: 2/4 inversions

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

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

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

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Writing tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 09, 2019

A balanced attitude about cymbals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Idris's clave

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

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

Get the pdf

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Page o' coordination: another basic 3:2

UPDATE: pdf download now works

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

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

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