Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy holidays

Merrry Christmas and whatnot everyone, here's a playlist with all 5 1/2 hours of Scott K. Fish's 1984 interview with one of my favorite drummers, Frankie Dunlop. Put this on while your turkey cooks, or whatever.

Do visit Fish's site. He was one of the main guys at Modern Drummer magazine for many years, and I don't know if people realize, but MD basically created the modern history of drumming by talking to players like Dunlop. Nobody else was interviewing them, and if they did, they weren't talking about drumming. And most of them died before the current explosion of media. But for some guys and a low budget magazine, the literature of drumming as we know it would be much thinner, or non-existent. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Syncopation exercise in 3/4: quarter / dotted-quarter spacing

Another Ted Reed-style syncopation exercise, designed for a special purpose. This one is in 3/4, with all notes spaced two or three 8th notes apart— quarter notes or dotted quarter notes, or their equivalents with rests. We had another like this in 4/4 recently.

I wrote this for smoking a very basic interpretation: right hand (on cym) + bass drum play the melody part in unison, left hand (on snare) fills in the 8th notes in between. But it's also good for drilling the hard part of another standard triplet interpretation: right hand (on cym) + bass drum plays melody, left hand (on snare) fills in triplets— except when there are more than two filler notes in a row, the right hand moves to the snare drum to break it up.

Here's how you would play the first two measures of the exercise, with that interpretation:

You can see the right hand moves to the snare twice in the second measure— both common moves when you practice this method with the long exercises in Reed. Here you have the opportunity to do them a lot, and really work them out. 

Oh, you should buy my book Syncopation in 3/4. I don't know how I lived without it the first ~30 years of my career.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Very occasional quote of the day: technique

There are a few technique-related posts coming up, and after last week's teaching rant, this quote from Bill Evans is particularly timely. Italics are mine:

“Technique we always think of as being a thing having to do with fastness, too, you know, and technique is, in its highest sense, is the ability to handle musical materials. In that sense, Miles is one of the all-time master technicians, in that he could play something which is an entirely original conception over something that’s very ordinary. So, there are different ways to look at it, too. And actually, he is virtuosic, certainly, and in the best sense of the word. You could get to a point where if you played any more notes it would be funny. So, I mean, how far can you go in that direction?”

— Bill Evans

That's from an almost-lost radio interview from 1979, mostly on the making of Kind of Blue— do read the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

CYMBALISTIC: New cymbals— Holy Grails and flats!

In Istanbul, manufacturing Cymbal & Gong cymbals.
I've just posted videos for a new batch of cymbals, handmade in Turkey by Cymbal & Gong, personally selected by me for awesomeness in the purpose of playing music, for you to purchase and love. I have several Holy Grail series, and a couple of flat rides.

The Holy Grails are a solid group, good primary cymbals for their size and model. There are three 17 and 18" crashes, two 20" rides, and a 22" ride. They are all moderately dark, with no wild/exotic elements, and trending towards medium weight. The crashes are true crash cymbals, but are distinctly medium thins, not splashy thins or paper thins. The rides are all jazz weight, but they handle like light mediums— full sound but controllable, with good definition, and a robust stick sound. It's a peculiarity of Cymbal & Gong cymbals that the heavier cymbals often act lighter than they are, and the light cymbals often act heavier than they are. What that means in practice is that most of them are excellent all-purpose jazz cymbals, suitable for riding and crashing, to varying degrees.

We also have a couple of special flat rides— an airy, delicate 20" Leon Collection, and a very tight, light-medium 18" Custom. Both have complex, pleasing brighter sounds, a la a Paiste 602... “only better”, as my German friends commented on playing them in Berlin in June.

And I have a lot of other great stuff in stock. I'll be doing a meet in Seattle in January, where I'll be moving out a lot of cymbals, so if you want to get yourself a nice holiday gift of a fantastic, heirloom musical instrument, you should order now— hit the EMAIL TODD link in the sidebar to inquire.

Listen to the new cymbals, and everything else I have in stock.

Three Camps - 16th notes, combination stickings

The traditional rudimental piece Three Camps is a good framework for drilling speed and endurance, and to that end I've written several paradiddle combination stickings to use with it. I've been playing it as 16th notes with the RLLR-LRRL sticking quite a bit, and want to expand on that. These are all good patterns for playing fast— good for double-timey, 32nd note rate stuff— and the accents help you put them solidly in time.

Practice each measure individually, then put them together to make the piece. I put them in the easiest order for learning them, not in the order they appear in the piece. Memorize the piece and it will be easy to put everything in its right place.

Get the pdf

Monday, December 16, 2019

1985 Mel Lewis clinic

Surprised I haven't already shared this Mel Lewis clinic, given in the Netherlands in 1985. He talks about his familiar opinionated subjects: playing the bass drum, drum sounds, fighting with recording engineers. Somewhere in there he addresses handling fast tempos not as an exercise in pure chops, which relates to some things I've written about that. After about the 1 hour mark he gets into talking about cymbals, which is always interesting with him. Everything he says about Istanbul cymbals holds for the Cymbal & Gong cymbals I sell through my Cymbalistic site.

After 1:35 he fields questions and gets into talking about playing the ride cymbal, playing shuffles, brushes. After 1:50 he talks about the very important concept of thinking and phrasing like a horn, and at the end are a few good words about spontaneity vs. working things out.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Transcription: Ignacio Berroa fills

Another thing I caught on Portland's great jazz radio station, KMHD: Cleopatra's Needle, by Steve Turre, with some cool featured drum fills played by Ignacio Berroa. The tune is simply a repeating 8-bar fusion riff in 4/4, with a 6/4 bar at the end for the drum fill.

The fills are very hip, with nice melodic use of the bass drum. I'm always aware of making two-tone melodies between the bass drum and snare drum. It's an unusual performance in that Berroa repeats the same fill several times— the first one is played twice verbatim, and then several more times with variations. Maybe it's a Cuban thing. Apart from the fills, it's also worth paying attention to how he changes his cymbal rhythm over the course of the tune.

There are three tom toms used on the recording. Hearing where the fill begins may be difficult for some people at first; the last ensemble accent before the fill is on beat 4 before the transcribed fill. At the end of the tune, the end of phrase figure is repeated, with only a four-beat drum fill. The last fill on the page begins on that ensemble hit on 4.

Get the pdf

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Very occasional quote of the day: What “a gig” was

“You didn't get a gig for a weekend, like two days at The Gate. It wasn't like that. We'd stay at a place a week to three weeks, sometimes seven nights a week and five sets a night! At least four or five.

Sometimes if the music was so good we were playing after 4:00 am and the people would still be there! Another thing was that musicians really didn't work steady. When I was with Bird, he would go to Chicago, Detroit or somewhere else for a week. That next week, we didn't necessarily go. The band would come back home until Bird got another gig. So, I started working with other people in between Bird's gigs.”

“The longest period I ever stayed at the Five Spot was with Monk— we'd do like 18 weeks at a time.”

— Roy Haynes, from his 1980 Modern Drummer interview by Scott K. Fish

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Practice loop in 6/4: Journey In Satchidananda

Another groovy practice loop, sampled from Journey In Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane. It's a slow, 97 bpm swing feel in 6/4— good for getting into both of my ways of doing Chaffee's jazz thing, as written as triplets, or as 8th notes in 3/4.

The time fluctuates a bit at the beginning of the sample, before the drums come in. A couple of beats just drag a bit, and I found it not to be a problem. It sometimes happens in playing that the group decides to make a beat too long, and you have to adjust. I probably wouldn't want to be practicing to something that rushes, however.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Syncopation rhythms: two notes

UPDATE: Download link is working now!

I've been posting a series of syncopation pages written/organized around a single idea for ease of practicing certain things. It's partly for my students, so I can give assignments appropriate for their level, and for myself, because I like to explore practice ideas fully— both without having to hunt for appropriate exercises in Reed or Bellson. Printer paper is cheap, so there's no reason not to have the practice library we want.

Here we have a couple of pages of one-line exercises with two notes per measure, spaced a quarter note or more apart.

These could be used as basic comping rhythms in jazz, or as left hand parts in bossa nova/samba, or for some kind of creative exploration of Bob Moses's “movable 2” concept, which you can devise yourself. They could also be used as bass drum rhythms in a rock or cut-time funk feel.

Get the pdf

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Leave them kids alone

Dumbest, wrongest quasi-educational thing
I could find to illustrate this post.
This little rant has been kicking around my drafts folder for awhile. I wasn't even going to post it, but then I had another frustrating lesson with the student mentioned in it, and I got mad all over again.

True story: I have a young student whose last teacher— a local guy who is into technique, and is fairly active online—clearly viewed him as some kind of lab specimen for trying out his technique theories. He had the kid playing “open handed” on the drumset, and counting drum beats with some kind of weird verbal method. They obviously spent way too much time working on rebound-centric techniques, and already the kid is talking about tendinitis... I'm trying to reteach him how to hit a drum and he's worried about tendinitis. It's like talking about VD on the first day of Sex Ed. The only thing the guy “taught” the kid about playing the drums is that he has a million choices about how to hold the sticks, and he's going to get tendinitis if he does it wrong. No idea what a quarter note is, or how to hold the sticks, he has to be untaught this bullshit counting system, which he now doesn't want to give up... it's totally insane. It's malpractice.

It's time to get serious, people: if you don't know what you're supposed to be teaching, you have to find out, or do something else. If you're not an expert player, do not teach according to your personal theories, even if you believe they are vouched for by Marco Minneman or Dom Famularo or the internet or whoever. Lessons are not your time to try stuff out on people too trusting and uninformed to defend themselves against them.

What you do is:

Know how things are normally done
Know when you're teaching something normal, and when you're teaching a fringe technique, and then don't teach the fringe thing. If a student is going to get into your specialty thing later, that should be his or her informed choice.

Know what a normal musical life looks like
Your school-age students' musical lives are going to consist of taking band class in school, practicing lesson assignments, listening to music, playing with friends. The serious ones are going to try to get into the higher level band and orchestra, youth symphony, theater, maybe drum corps, and will maybe consider majoring or minoring in music in college— jazz, percussion performance, or music education. A very few of them may eventually play some professional gigs. They may eventually want to focus on drum set, concert percussion, marching percussion, or “world” percussion, playing a wide variety of percussion instruments. This is what your lessons are supposed to be preparing students for.

Get a beginning snare drum book
Open it to page 1. Teach what is there. Continue thusly on the following pages. You're supposed to be teaching people about rhythm and meter, how to read music, basic musical terms, and the basic rudiments.

Teach basic technique, “German” grip
So-called German grip is the foundation technique for most of the percussion world using sticks or mallets. It is simple, versatile, easy to teach, and easy to understand. Moeller technique, finger technique, “French” grip— all of the special techniques that are so fascinating to hobbyists— will be totally useless if the kid ever wants to take up mallet percussion, for example. The way you're teaching French grip will probably be useless for actually playing timpani— the instrument for which it was developed.

Believe it or not, technique is not a primary issue in drumming. Most of the time, drummers learn a basic grip, a basic stroke, and then get to work learning music, acquiring and refining technique as it becomes necessary.

All these things you think are choices are not choices
Right handed or left handed? French grip or German grip? Open handed or “crossed” handed? Should we do double bass from the beginning, or hold off until the second month? Maybe they should use a “symmetrical” set up!

Seriously, forget it all. Even teaching left handed vs. right handed, regardless of which hand the student writes with, is virtually arbitrary as far as their development is concerned. I encourage all students to play right handed, on a “standard” set up.

The Hippocratic Oath says to first, do no harm
The drumocratic[???] oath should go do not teach things the next guy is going to have to unteach.

Ask yourself what your best local players and teachers will think when they take up working with the kid after you're done with him. Are they going be happy you have him playing open handed, so they have to devise a whole curriculum to accommodate that, or will they be unhappy? Will they be impressed that your 8 year old former student knows a lot of useless crap about stick bounce, but has no idea how to read simple rhythms?

This is all baseline stuff for teachers having clearly no idea of what they're supposed to be doing— basic guidelines for becoming a mainstream-of-drumming hack. Which would be a major improvement vs. the kind of candyland teaching I'm ranting about. Becoming better than a hack teacher requires living a full, music-centered drumming life.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Transcription: Philly Joe brush feature

I heard this on the radio yesterday— Soft Winds, from Chet Baker's album In New York. Philly Joe Jones also had a cool drum solo on it, played with brushes. Drumming right now is in a rococco-like ornamentation-obsessed phase, and Joe's solo here is refreshingly clean, deliberate, unadorned. It's sort of a bebop miniature. The way he plays the figures on the head is also really cool.

The tune is a blues, and the solo is 24 bars long— two choruses. The transcription starts after 4:30 in the recording.

In bar 5 he plays a tremolo with one hand and makes the accents with the other. In bars 17-19 he lays the brush on the drum head and rolls it in rhythm with the palm of his hand. He probably does these moves on video somewhere, and if so inclined you could track them down and see exactly what technique he's using.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Groove o' the day: Louis Hayes calypso

A calypso-type groove played by Louis Hayes in 1957, on the Curtis Fuller album Volume 3, on Blue Note. The tune is Quantrale, a light thing written by Fuller. Hayes plays variations on the groove for most of the tune— except for the bridge, which swings. I've transcribed the intro:

Play with the snares off. The house top accents are played as rim shots, though not all of them are played as strongly as that would suggest. Staccato marks indicate the drum is muffled— by the left hand resting on the drum to play the rim clicks.