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.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Very occasional quote of the day: late arrivers

“There’s a certain kind of people that are more or less late arrivers, you can – even though he was certainly on the scene and known and respected – you can hear him building his abilities from the beginning very consciously and very aware of every note he played, theoretically and motivically and everything. And it seems like those kind of people that have to really develop more analytically and consciously and dig into themselves and more or less the late arrivers, they don’t have the kind of facility — I know Miles has spoken about how he didn’t have the facility that a lot of trumpet players had, and fast tempos and all this stuff, and Bird would just tell him “Just get out there and do it,” but that kind of person, when they finally do arrive at their own expressive level, to me, seem to contain so much more.

Now there are always a lot of early arrivers that have great facility. And these guys say 'God, he’s only 15 and listen to that young guy play, man, he’s all over the horn and he seems to have it covered.' But often those people, and I’m saying this because maybe some people will be listening that have those feelings, and I certainly, myself, I’m kind of a late arriver. I knew a lot of people with those kinds of facilities, and they don’t know what to do with it often. They don’t have the ability to discard and add, and what they really do is reflect the scene and it’s a marvelous talent that they have, and I love to hear them play, but as real contributors and so forth they don’t add up that much. So often the person that has to go through a more laborious, long, digging, analytical process finally arrives at something which is much more precious.”

— Bill Evans on Miles Davis

Definitely read the entire interview— it's mainly about the making of Kind of Blue. It was broadcast once on WKCR/NY in 1979, and comes to us via a transcript of a cassette recorded off the radio at that time by Lewis Nash.

(h/t to Kurt Rosenwinkel, who shared this on Twitter)

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jazz waltz with Chaffee

Let's detail something I mentioned in the Chaffee jazz post: using the patterns in that system as 8th notes in a jazz waltz. They're three-note (or rest) patterns, so playing them two times = a complete measure of 8th notes in 3/4 time. This gives a strong feeling of a dotted quarter note pulse starting on the 1, & of 1, or 2— an Elvin Jones-like thing. I've found this to be a very interesting form of conditioning.

As I said, Chaffee's system should really be used by people who already have a working jazz vocabulary. What we'll do here is actually more practical than the regular system, but still, if you need more explanation than I'm giving here you probably shouldn't be doing it.

We'll play the patterns as 8th notes in 3/4, along with a jazz waltz cymbal rhythm. It is slightly odd to make that translation by looking at a single beat of a triplet rhythm, so here are the pattern rhythms as they appear in the book, and how they will be played in this waltz method:

I suggest playing it both with swing 8ths and straight 8ths. You could also also just play quarter notes on the cymbal, or a different jazz waltz rhythm.

There are a lot of patterns to cover, and it's very difficult to give them all equal attention. But if you have an appropriate level of experience to be doing this, you will have played many of them already through other methods, and you can move through them very quickly. Play maybe 2-8 measures of each pattern, more on the ones that are more difficult for you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Hemiola funk series: back to back

Continuing this project to see how much standard funk vocabulary can be derived from two 3:2 polyrhythm licks. Here we're doing the two main BS-BS and SB-SB hemiola licks back to back, and putting that in 2/4 and 4/4 in various permutations. 

Patterns 1-4 summarize the basic licks found on the HFS beginner sheet. The main forms of this back to back thing are in patterns 5, 6, and 17. The patterns in 2/4 and 4/4 are created by adding or subtracting beats from the main patterns in 3/4. Some of the 2/4 patterns make more sense as funk vocabulary if they are played with the beats reversed, as I've written in patterns 9 and 11.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Very occasional quote of the day: established discipline

“Bach taught how to find originality within an established discipline— actually how to live.”

— Jean-Paul Sartre

Friday, November 15, 2019

Rock unisons drill

I'm very big on drills with the hands in unison these days. It strengthens the left hand, and is excellent training for playing singles solidly, in time, without rushing. This is a very basic rock drill which I've never seen written or taught, but which I think should be included in the basic ways rock drumming is taught. It probably exists somewhere.

Like I said, it's simple: use my basic rock drill with both hands playing running 8ths in unison, accenting the 2 and 4:

Get my e-book EZ  Rock Drumming for a fuller, updated explanation of my basic rock drill, and its variations. Of course you can do this drill with any book of basic rock beats.

Play the hands on the snare and floor tom, or on any two drums. Or any one tom. Or moving between drums. To me there's something rather Joey Baron about this drill— I can't explain it any further than that.

You can improvise additional accents on 2&/4& or &2/&4 to fit around the bass drum part for whichever line of the rock drill you're playing:

Another way of experimenting with the orchestration would be to do something different on the 2 and 4— flamming on the snare drum, or accenting on the snare drum and crash cymbal together:

An excellent endurance drill would be to play pages 14-15 from Syncopation (using my rock beat application above) along with my Bill Frisell/Child At Heart loop.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Making sense of the Chaffee jazz materials

Patterns, vol. 3 by Gary Chaffee
Let's talk about a big scary hard thing: the jazz section of volume 3 of Gary Chaffee's Patterns series— the Time Functioning book. It's in a similar category with the harmonic coordination in Dahlgren & Fine, in that the materials are hard, and they're written in a way that makes it hard to practice them, so hardly anyone ever does.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm supposed to just work on what they put in front of me and shut up. Before I waste a lot of time practicing something I've always needed it to make sense musically, and time-economically. But Patterns is a big important series of books, so let's try to figure out what can and should be done with it, if anything.

What it is 
It's 12 pages of three-note (or rest) independence patterns, for up to three voices— snare drum, bass drum, and hihat. Starting on page 25 of the version with  the cover you see above, which is probably what most people have. It's intended that you play the patterns as triplets, along with several one- or two-beat jazz-type ride cymbal rhythms. There are exercises for each voice by itself, linear combinations, and “harmonic” combinations (meaning the patterns include unisons). Basically all possible 3 note/rest combinations for the three sounds.

Why it's hard
It's less a playing method than a straight technical library: a collection of raw patterns, presented in math-logical order. Which is not necessarily most helpful for actually learning to play them and use them.

Taken as a whole the materials serve a rather narrow category of jazz drumming. Single-beat comping ideas are a very small part of what is possible musically, and complex triplet-based comping materials are practical only at the lower end of the normal tempo range for jazz. Many of the patterns have a single voice playing all three notes of the triplet, which imposes a further technical limit on their maximum usable tempo.

There is also no broad concept for using the patterns in real playing. Some patterns will recognizable as normal jazz vocabulary (presented more concisely in other books), some will be useful to individual players who will figure out their own way of using them, and some will serve only as independence conditioning.

What to do with it
Just playing the system as intended at a slow tempo takes a good amount of time, but that is the first thing to do. Play all patterns with each of the four suggested cymbal rhythms.

As you increase your tempo, the first major edit I would make is to skip all rhythms where any single voice is playing all three notes of the triplet. Then if you want to develop high-speed running triplets on whatever limb, you can make it a separate project, focused on developing the special technique required for that. As you get faster you can cut the more impractical patterns, but at some point you're better off working from a book that is designed to be played at normal tempos.

I also work the patterns with a jazz waltz cymbal rhythm (still with the patterns as triplets) quarter note triplet cymbal rhythm, and an Afro 6 bell rhythm— anyone who has spent significant time with my Afro 6 pages o' coordination may want to explore that.

You could also play the patterns as 8th notes in 3/4. Any pattern played twice = one measure of 8th notes in 3/4. There's a lot of potential here for developing a rolling, Elvin-style jazz waltz.

Honestly, drummers looking to use this book to develop a functional modern jazz vocabulary could also include part of the funk section of the book— the snare drum/bass drum linear exercises and hihat exercises in 2/4, starting on page 15. Just double the rhythms so 16th notes = 8th notes, swing the 8th notes, and practice them along with the same cymbal rhythms as the regular triplet section.

I should point out: there are a lot of patterns to play in this system, and playing all of them is not the only way to approach it. In real life drumming, any one thing you learn to use effectively is a big deal. In the past, part of why I could never get through this system is that I would play one exercise, or a few exercises, and would spend so much time exploring it/them, that I would never get to the rest of it. That's not a bad idea. 

The upshot
This is a difficult book requiring a lot of time, and some ingenuity, to use effectively. It's really for elite students with extreme work ethic, operating in a very healthy musical environment. Hardcore maniacs who are also very musically together. Also good for lifers like me who never stop practicing, who like devising their own practice systems, and learning different ways of doing the same thing.

This method is more a system of conditioning than a way of playing, but it naturally supports a modern, abstract, ECM type of feel in a triplet rhythm— a la Jack Dejohnette or Jon Christiansen—at slow to moderate tempos. It will also be good for developing some freedom with normal 12/8 grooves. It's a good technical library for whatever creative purposes you can cook up for it, especially 12/8 grooves, 3/4, and meter within meter applications.

The musicianship is not in the book. With a book like Art of Bop Drumming, which is primarily a style guide, a diligent student who knows very little about jazz could actually learn to be a passable jazz drummer. That's not going to happen with Chaffee's book.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Groove o' the day: Airto - Street Vendors D'Jmbo

A baiao-type drum set groove from Airto— actually I don't know what to call this. I'm not hearing obvious markers of a particular style. Maybe Airto's just playing. Someone who really knows their berimbau rhythms could probably tell us. It's from the track Street Vendors D'Jmbo, on Airto's album Homeless. It's a sort of impressionistic percussion and vocal piece, backed with some synth.

From the intro:

This is the groove for most of the track, with subtle variations— there's a lot of overdubbed percussion and I can't tell what's happening with the left foot, if anything.

It's actually not difficult to hear that second groove backwards, starting on the fourth beat, so the bass drum rhythm is on 2, and the snare drum accent with the buzz is on 3. 

You can hear that he's swinging the 16th notes in an interesting way, that is different from the “tripteenth” interpretation we've discussed before. Some of the effect is due to the interaction of the percussion parts, but it sounds like occasional 16ths on the a are played late. Or perhaps the a is in the normal place and the 1e& is slightly compressed. Something to explore in another post.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Rhythms for Reed samba method

A special selection of syncopation rhythms for use with this multi-post samba method in progress (the main post is still to come), but obviously you can do other things with it. It would be good for working up some Ed Blackwell-like solo vocabulary on the tom toms, for example. I've written out the filler rhythms, filling in the gaps in the main rhythms, and some basic variations on them.

Like several recent similar pages, this is written for speed and flow with both parts. The main rhythms have no more than two notes in a row at 8th note speed, and no more than one 8th note between notes. Column A has the plain filler rhythm, column B has the filler rhythm plus the following note, column C has the filler rhythm plus the note before— except where that would result in more than two notes in a row at 8th note speed.

It takes a lot of words to describe it, but these are normal forms of coordination on the drums.

Coming next week will be the main page for the samba drill.

Get the pdf

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Very occasional quote of the day: Fast City

Omar Hakim speaks to Modern Drummer when he was with Weather Report in the mid 80s:

RT : How did you learn to play bop so fast? 
OH : I don't know. With much difficulty. No, with me, playing fast is a relaxation thing. You start to come up with tricks to get that right hand moving. And then it's not always the cymbals; you've got the hi-hat you're working with. To play that kind of bebop is a hands thing. The bass drum is giving the accents and dropping the bombs during the solos. The bass drum is weaving. “Fast City” is one of the fastest songs I've ever played. There were a couple of songs I did like that with Mike Mainieri, but you learn your tricks for doing it. 
RT : But it's funny you would say you had to relax to play at that speed. 
OH : You've got to relax. Before you tense up, you've immediately got to say it's not fast. Victor and I had a long discussion about that when we were learning it. Don't think of it as fast. It's not fast. Never mind the fact that you're going to pass out when it's over; it's not fast.

Here's the tune he's talking about— Fast City by Weather Report, here with Peter Erskine on drums:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Reed samba method - basic exercise

This is the first in a multi-post series outlining some ways of using Progressive Steps to Syncopation to do a samba. I usually use actual Brazilian rhythms for that, but many of the rhythms in Reed work too.

The first thing is a preparatory exercise for doing a surdo-type part on the tom toms— a basic structure for that feel, and a couple of rhythmic moves that will occur when working out of Reed. Typically this involves a high drum on 1 and a low drum on 2 (counting in 2/2), and sometimes a low drum on the whole last half of the measure— at the end of a two, four, or eight measure phrase. The sticking is simple, but it does have to be worked out to catch the right drum at the right time.

Accent the toms, especially the low tom on 2. Play the snare drum hits generally quietly, adding some accents as you see fit. You can also play rim clicks on the snare drum. I was doing this with the Hot Sand loop, which is a pretty bright tempo.

You should get my book, Playing Samba and Bossa Nova for some practical guidelines and materials for playing these styles. Also see my series of posts on samba cruzado for another way of doing the type of groove in this post.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Transcription: Kenny Clarke fours - 02

Put this in your binder with Kenny Clarke's fours from Love Me Or Leave Me that I posted a few years ago. Here he's trading fours on Two Not One from the album Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh. For some reason he has me thinking about Philly Joe Jones— I never thought about Joe being especially a Kenny guy, but I'm feeling a strong semblance here. The tempo is bright, fours begin at 3:55.

As usual, Clarke doesn't play the tom toms at all. The triplet lick in the first two lines, that happens several more times, I suspect is played with a paradiddle sticking starting with the left hand— either LRLLR or LRRLR (I prefer the latter). At the beginning of line 3 play five-stroke rolls ending with stick shots. On the last two measures of line 5, you can start with our previous paradiddle lick, then two double paradiddles, then singles. Or do the whole things as singles. Pencil in whatever sticking you want to use. Use a RRL sticking on the triplets in line 6. The four-stroke ruffs in line 7 are some little personal flash lick of Clarke's; what I wrote appears to be what is played— you can really play them however you want.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Amazingness in cymbals

Making videos of some new cymbals for sale today, so it's a good time post this thing that has been sitting in my drafts folder for some months:

In selling these fantastic Cymbal & Gong cymbals, I've been trying to work out how to advertise their strength: how well they do their actual job as musical instruments. All of the other professional players who play them say the same thing: they sound like cymbals— they sound like 95% of records we ever listen to.

It sounds obvious. Don't all cymbals sound like cymbals? Not always. It's a big deal. They sound like cymbals the way Charlie Haden sounds like the bass. Sounding the way the instrument is supposed to sound can be pretty rare.

In the cymbal-enthusiast world the sought after sounds tend to be sweeping, lush, dark... bottomlessly dark. Big amazing sounds that stand out from all the other big amazing sounds in the drum shop. This is a community of people buying 22 and 24 inch crash cymbals— useless items at any other time in history— dreaming about 26 inch cymbals, edge wobble, bendability. People love brutally bending the crap out of cymbals to demonstrate... something...

The sought-after sounds are dwaaash and whooosh. Sort of a bwaaaah or a durshaaaah sound. If you can get a good bwaaaaorrrsssh with a single stroke of a 7A, you know you've got something. The presence of a bizarre slinky-like tonality is regarded as very interesting.

The problem: I can't use any of that in actually playing music. I'm a player. I can't use a cymbal that goes dwaaaah when I play it at a mp, and GWAAAARRR??? when I play a mf. I can barely use the first sound, the second one is right out. I see a lot of cymbals like that in drum shops. On the rare occasion that I hear a cymbal like that on a record, it's usually a distraction. It sounds out of place.

Musical needs
What music normally requires from the cymbals are a ride sound, a crash sound, and a bell sound. With ride cymbals we also need an accent sound— with the shoulder of the stick, not a full-on crash. A crash cymbal needs to give an explosive crash sound, and be usable for light riding. With hihats, a solid foot sound and open sound, and a closed sound played with a stick. Some people also play a bell sound on the hihat. It's a nice bonus if we can get a good crash out of the hihats. From a Chinese-type cymbal we need a short trashy crash sound, and perhaps some kind of ride sound, while not being too wild or obnoxious.

The best cymbals— or the best cymbals for you— produces those sounds at an appropriate volume for the situation, the way you normally play, with your usual sticks. Playing your normal situations shouldn't demand any special care in how you hit the cymbal.

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Being the what
Music is always about what is played. Sound is important, but it's secondary to what is played, in what context. The sound has to communicate the what, not be the what.

Sounds that “are the what” are known as effects. The point of them is to make one special sound that jumps out at the listener. Nobody wants to have the one crazy sound leaping in their face all night, so they have to be used with some care. As Peter Erskine said in another context: sounds that are too “interesting”, used too much, can be like bad wallpaper. Or like reading a novel rendered in a “cute” font.

Strictly business
I know we're all serious artists here, but playing the drums is also a job. We are buying tools for doing a job, and big purchases for things like cymbals need to make some kind of business sense. Our tools need to be versatile enough to handle a significant part of our performance obligations. I can't be spending $700 on something that is only usable, with great care, in a narrow range of situations... and even then, if you poll the band, it may not even be doing that very well.

Drummers don't usually have a lot of money. When we buy something, we need to be able to use it happily forever— or for many years, at least.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Hemiola funk - doubles - beginner sheet

Getting into doubles with my hemiola funk series— two notes in a row at 16th note speed on the same drum/cymbal. Using the same format as the last beginner sheet, which I've found to be effective with my younger students.

Patterns 13 and 14 are the essential idea we're developing; patterns 1-12 isolate the elements, and begin playing them in sequence. Patterns 15-28 put the idea in 2/4 (with inversions) and 4/4, and re-orchestrate it slightly. 

Play patterns 1-12 several times, with an unmetered rest in between repetitions— play it once, take a breath, and play it again. Play patterns 13-28 one time as with 1-12, then play them repeating.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Practice loops: two McCoy loops

A couple of practice loops sampled from McCoy Tyner. The first is from Reaching Fourth; it's the vamp from Old Devil Moon, and at 142 bpm it's a nice medium tempo, good for working on any of your normal jazz materials:

Then a short excerpt from McCoy's solo on Song of the New World. Too short; do go listen to the whole album with Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Nobody really talks about the type of vibe that's happening here— high intensity blowing in a straight 8th feel— but it's as much of a thing as an “Elvin-type” feel, or an “ECM” feel. It's not Latin, not a samba, not funk, not anything else. You could call it a McCoy thing.

Tempo here is 220, which is kind of a crux tempo for this style— your right hand wants to imitate McCoy and play a lot of running 8ths, but it's a little too fast to do that the whole time; settling into a half time vibe also doesn't quite make it. You have to straddle the two.

Sorry I mis-titled it “Song FOR the New World” on the video.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Transcription: Jack Dejohnette - Peasant Dance

Hey, the longest transcription we've done in awhile, here, a three pager. It's Jack Dejohnette playing on a very interesting record I had not really heard before: Peacemeal, by Lee Konitz, recorded in 1969. It's a quintet, with Konitz on alto and tenor, and some electronic device, and Marshall Brown on valve trombone and baritone horn. This is a jazz arrangement of Peasant Dance, from Bela Bartók's Mikrokosmos. This is the blowing over a vamp starting at 1:20. 

It was difficult at times for me to isolate the bass drum from Eddie Gomez's bass playing, so I probably left some out, or put some things in that were actually the acoustic bass. Dejohnette swings his 16th notes for much of this; relating that back to this recent post, that's equivalent a normal jazz tune played at quarter note = 230— getting towards the upper limit for swinging the rhythm.

After the recent Max Roach series, I like the idea of making study guides based on transcriptions— maybe I'll get to that later in the week.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

What it is: beats and BPM

Following up the tempo equivalency post from the other day:

There's a lot of confusion among drummers on the internet over what “BPM” means. I don't want to have to re-explain it every time I mention it, so I'll link back to this as necessary.

It means beats per minute. It does not mean notes per minute. Drummers on the internet like to talk about speed, and talking about numbers of notes gives you higher numbers, which makes it more fun, so they talk about numbers of notes. It's become a thing largely thanks to Metal drumming and the World's Fastest Drummer competition, and it's a symptom of people not understanding how rhythm, meter, and music work generally.

beat is the primary felt pulse of a piece of music. If people were dancing or marching or tapping their feet, it's the pulse they would be dancing/etc to. If there were a conductor, it's the thing his or her conducting pattern would be marking.

A legit tempo or BPM indication consists of a number + what kind of note the number refers to, e.g. quarter note = 100 beats per minute. If the note value is not indicated, it is assumed that the number refers to the normal beat for the time signature of the piece, e.g, quarter notes in */4 meters, dotted quarter notes in regular */8 meters, half notes in */2 meters.

For talking about speed without a specific musical context, I give the rhythm value, the beat value, and the tempo, e.g 16th notes at quarter note = 120. Sixtuplets at quarter note = 140. The default beat value is typically quarter notes. Absolute speed of notes as a statistic, without a rhythm or beat reference, is for me not musically meaningful— there's no reason to assign numbers to that, unless people are just into training for its own sake.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Syncopation exercise: singles, doubles - 2-3 8th intervals

Another original syncopation exercise. The last one had single notes, spaced one or two 8th notes apart. This one has one or two notes in a row, one or two 8ths apart. Both are really designed for speed when playing the right hand on a cymbal (often with bass drum in unison) or tom toms, with the left hand filling in— with that interpretation you never play more than two notes in a row with either hand. 

See our voluminous archives of Reed interpretations for ways of orchestrating this for the drumset. 

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Friday, October 18, 2019

About vibe

Vibe: a scientifically accurate illustration
I've been thinking about something the saxophonist Donald Harrison said in a clinic some months ago:

“Music is about vibe. Music is all about vibe.”

It was a useful comment for him to make in the context of critiquing a group of student musicians who had just given a very tepid performance of an often-played Jobim tune. Music may not actually be all about vibe, but for me the message was you have to think about vibe. Thinking about vibe means thinking like a producer, which means thinking about the total product, and how your music sounds to a general listener.

Being too much about vibe is also a current thing. I get most of my new music from Portland's excellent jazz station KMHD, and I hear a lot of stuff that doesn't make it for me, because it seems to be about nothing but a sort of feeling of non-specific hipness, with no real depth. It sounds like it was mostly created in post on a laptop, and I come away thinking “what is this for?”

I don't need any piece of music to justify itself with a purpose, but I should not be listening and thinking “this music has no purpose.” I don't know what this Decoding Society record is “for”, but it never occurred to me to think about it. It's just inescapably great and that's it. What is Song X for? It's just pure sonic art, no further justification needed.

Some music does evoke more specific feelings. Azymuth feels like cruising on La Grande Cornice in your Mercedes convertible, wearing some very crisp whites and being beautiful. Bill Frisell feels like living in a silent art film. Ligeti feels like living in the mind of a genius Swiss serial killer.

And there are other competing issues, which you could say music is “all about”:

Groove, for example. Groove is not vibe, but often what people think is groove is really vibe. Groove is not about signifying something funky sounding. Defining it will have to be a subject for another post, but serious preoccupation with groove supersedes and forgives everything else good or bad about a piece of music.

Pop craft is its own thing, and is not vibe. Pop songs may have vibe, but specifically crafting something for effect on the radio, to hook listeners to want to listen repeatedly, is something else.

Genre is all-important for genre fans, who want one formula, repeated forever. Whatever originally attracted them to that music, they want that to continue, and something is good if it fulfills that expectation. For more discriminating listeners, genre pieces need to include some fresh element to make them sound like unique, memorable works.

Vocalists and featured instrumentalists have to think about how they render a melody; composers have to think about the pure application of melody and harmony. Those are not vibe, and you can succeed in those things without thinking about vibe. There's probably more, but I have things to do. It's something to think about.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Groove o' the day: Milton Banana - Samba do Perdão

A moderate samba groove using the tom toms, from one of my favorite Brazilian drummers, Milton Banana. He plays this briefly at the beginning, middle, and end of Samba do Perdão, from his album O Trio. Briefly is the only way to do it; the track is only 1:45 long. The entire record is under 29 minutes.

Here I've transcribed the groove from the end of the tune:

Note that there's no hihat played with the foot— as is often the case with a lot of drummers.

During the body of the tune he uses both of these one-measure grooves— mostly the first one, with the second one as a variation. A few times he plays them both in sequence (minus the rim click on the & of 4) to make a two measure groove.

This tune is the first one in the video, and the transcription above starts at 1:32. Banana has a way of sounding like a conductor when he plays figures and fills— the attitude feels different from someone who's just playing the arrangement.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Equivalency of tempos

Object To Be Destroyed
by Man Ray
A rhythm issue I've been thinking about is the equivalence of tempos and their halves and doubles. I was wondering how small a range of tempos would cover the entire practical range of performance tempos. A mathematically minded individual could probably figure it out in a second, if he knew anything about music. I checked, and he doesn't, so I had to actually think it through myself.

The answer is 52-100, which includes sixteen standard metronome markings:

52 54 56 58 60 63 66 69 72 76 80 84 88 92 96 100

Let's walk through it:

Standard metronome tempo range: 40-208
Before digital metronomes, that's what they used to mark on all metronomes. It's a realistic practical tempo range for most music.

Tempo range in actual performance: 25-400
At least, there are examples of recorded music in approximately that range. Tempos from 200-280 are common in jazz, tempos from 280-400 are increasingly uncommon. Quarter note = 400 is an extreme tempo, and is very rare. Let's consider that the outer limit of what a very ambitious jazz drummer will ever be asked to perform. We can have a conversation another time about whether a 400 bpm pulse can even be considered a “beat” in any meaningful sense.

You can decide for yourself how to approach very slow tempos. Dig into Shirley Horn's recorded works to get an idea of the practical lower tempo limit in jazz.

Traditional standard bpm values for mechanical metronomes: 
40 42 44 46 48
50 52 54 56 58
60 63 66 69
72 76
80 84 88
92 96
100 104 108
112 116
120 126
132 138 144
152 160 168
176 184 192
200 208

A total of 39 markings. Note that if we halve the values from 40-76— 80 and above are doubles of lower values— they increase in single bpm increments from 20-30, then 1.5 beat increments from 30-36, then a two beat increment from 36-38.

That's the answer: 40-76
We can derive all of the values above by doubling the values from 40-76. I've extended that to cover our entire range up to 400 bpm, or 54 markings:

40 / 80 / 160 / 320
42 / 84 / 168 / 336
44 / 88 / 176 / 352
46 / 92 / 184 / 368
48 / 96 / 192 / 384
50 / 100 / 200 / 400
52 / 104 / 208
54 / 108 / 216
56 / 112 / 224
58 / 116 / 232
60 / 120 / 240
63 / 126 / 252
66 / 132 / 264
69 / 138 / 272
72 / 144 / 288
76 / 152 / 304

More practical answer: 52-100
Most of us don't play or listen to a lot of tunes in the 40 bpms— it's not real familiar terrain, musically. The 52-100 range is much more common in day to day usage. Double everything twice, and half-time the tempos from 80-100 to get the metronome range plus the faster jazz tempos.

For slow-click practicers
Working with a slow click, regardless of the actual tempo you are practicing, is an extremely effective way of developing your time, so here are the 40-76 tempos halved.

20-30 (1-bpm increments)
31.5 33 34.5 36 38

Most metronomes won't let you use decimal points, so you'll probably have to get these by using the 40-76 numbers, and setting the device to give you downbeats every two beats, and then silence the quarter note pulse. If you're really sick in the head, you could do the 10-19 gamut by setting it do give you downbeats every four beats, and silencing the quarter notes.

So, the real range of tempos is fairly small, if you think in terms of this matrix-type concept. Being aware of it may help you structure your practice, and improve your concept of time and rhythm overall.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Syncopation exercise - singles, 2-3 8th intervals

Let's start a little series here: some full page syncopation exercises, each designed for a special purpose. Good for fluency and ease of practice with certain practice methods, good for a particular challenge with others.

This one has single notes, quarter or dotted quarter (or equivalent) spacing— good for 2/2 or fast 4/4 8th note applications, or anything based on two and three note patterns. Excellent for playing with a bossa or samba feel. For triplet methods, the Ruff Bossa will be easy, the right hand accent/left hand fill way will be a challenge. Good for a floating feel with my Elvin-type method with broken triplets*. Not a lot of interest here for any long note/short note methods. Of course you can do anything with it.

* - I can't find the original link outlining my Elvinish broken triplet method, so a quick explanation:

A standard Reed method is to play the written melody rhythm on the bass drum; fill in the remaining triplet rhythm with the left hand on snare drum, add jazz cymbal rhythm and hihat on 2 and 4.

My way: Any time you would play more than two successive filler notes with the left hand, break it up by not playing any triplet partials on the downbeats. So your LH never plays more than two triplet-spaced notes in a row. You could also play only the middle partial with the LH when there's a bass drum on the &. I like to mix it up. 

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Very occasional quote of the day: let go lightly

“When I let go of what I am, 
I become what I might be.”
— Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“I used to call myself a free jazz drummer, now I just want to play tight arrangements.”
— Todd Bishop

“Hang on tightly, let go lightly.”
— The Croupier

This is an important idea for me— for developing and continuing to develop as an artist, but also practically for learning how to play. Ambitious students are aggressive about forming a concept of themselves, about getting ideas about how things are done, and about learning what they're turned on by, what kind of art they want to do.

The process is about finding things to be attached to, and then working really hard developing them. You get ideas like I'm an Elvin guy. I'm a free guy. I'm a “hard hitter.” Whatever. “This is my technique.” Eventually you have to let some other things in, or you become one-dimensional. The effect may be to just broaden your range, but you also may end up being into the exact opposite kind of work you thought was irrevocably “your thing.”