Thursday, February 27, 2020


I'm really not happy with the quality of the available beginner/younger student drum set materials. For the most part they're terribly designed. They're either extremely dull, or they demand too much, or they're just dumb— see Drumeo's materials, where they think being a beginner means your eyesight is failing, so they spread a single measure of a rock beat across a full page. My hemiola funk series is beating the hell out of everything else I have encountered and used, in terms of being engaging, and easy and fun to play, while teaching students basic drumming coordination... and learning a rhythmic conception that is actually quite sophisticated.

I wrote this for several younger students who are working on that series. These are some easy ways of playing a very common rock figure, that happens to the same as the familiar tresillo rhythm. These are meant for playing and filling that rhythm as an ensemble figure, rather than as a repeating groove. Here I've written as an “additive rhythm”— as 3+3+2/8, rather than as it is normally notated, as a syncopated rhythm.

The rhythm here is regular 8th notes and 16th notes— there are no triplets. Don't be confused by the beaming. With students I count this 123-123-12. I don't have them count the 16th notes, or count while they play.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Groove o' the day: Tony Allen / African Message

More Afrobeat: here's Tony Allen playing with Africa 70. The tune is African Message, from the album No Accommodation For Lagos. Tempo is 118. It's starts with solo drums playing this groove:

Here's a little variation he does near the beginning:

As the other instruments come in, it's clear the 1 is not where we thought it was— it's on the 3 of the examples above. This fill happens going into the B section at around 2:00:

He plays some hip stuff after 2:22— the second time the horn riff happens. The double bar is where the horn riff begins.

Actually there's a whole lot happening on this track that I need to write out, but another day...

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Practice loop: Fela Kuti / Buy Africa

Oh, here's the practice loop I'm using with that 4:3 Chaffee thing. It's sampled from Buy Africa, by Fela Kuti, from his 1971 album Fela's London Scene. Tempo is about 87 bpm. It's in 4/4, while the Chaffee thing is in 3/4, so it creates a running cross rhythm.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Chaffee jazz patterns in a 4:3 feel

Playing the jazz patterns from Gary Chaffee's time functioning volume as 16th notes in a 4:3 feel. I feel like kind of a horse's ass writing this— it's all already in  the book. But there are a lot of patterns, spread out over a dozen pages, and I only need part of them, and it's more of an annoyance figuring it out while I'm practicing than it is just writing the page up while having my morning coffee, and listening to that Buster Williams record.

I want the patterns that have no more than two snare or bass drum notes, and no more than one hihat note. And only one version of them— in the book the patterns are written in all inversions, which is redundant for this purpose. In the book the patterns are written in 3/8, which I've retained, but we'll play them as 16th notes. If you can't make the translation, you probably shouldn't be messing with this. On p. 2 of the pdf I've indicated the rhythm for each pattern when played on a 16th note grid.  

Play the patterns along with the cymbal rhythms on p. 2. It may be difficult to play the last two lines of cymbal rhythms without seeing them written— it may be better to think in terms of playing the cymbal in unison with the snare, bass, or hihat, or on the rests— or in unison with snare, bass or hihat, plus one rest. This is pretty tedious stuff by itself, so use one of my practice loops.

Get the pdf

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

EZ Hemiola Funk beats with RLB

Just an easy page of hemiola funk-type beats including the RLB pattern as a fill, that I wrote for my students, who have been having a lot of fun with this series.

Write in the stickings if necessary. I usually have my students count the rhythm before playing a pattern. On the fill portion, with the RLB pattern, start by playing just the snare drum and high tom, then move the right hand to other drums, then move both hands around the drums— either both on the same drum, or on different drums.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Billy Hart clinic

Had a very interesting time at a Billy Hart clinic yesterday at Portland State University— I was sick, and barely made it through the two hours, but I went.

If you came into the clinic knowing nothing you might underestimate the man. He played for about five minutes up front— more creative musing than any kind of demonstration or display— and then answered questions, usually indirectly, in a very broad way, often philosophical.

Which itself tells you something, given the technocratic thing we have going today— everybody expects penetrating analysis, and extended, very detailed technical answers to everything. Or some kind of packaged enlightenment. We really nursemaid people through the learning process.

You really got the impression that he has lived his whole life on the gig, and that the true medium for his intelligence is in playing music. Not drumming itself, not talking about drumming, or talking about music, or practicing, or teaching. Then again, he's 79 years old, and the ultimate veteran; you can understand that he might not be effusive about thinking hard for people and giving up everything to just anyone. But I felt like I was seeing a member of the very oldest school, which just lived through playing, on the gig.

He became well known playing modern music at the same time as some very technical drummers, but as an artist he seems to be non-analytical, closer in attitude to Paul Motian than Billy Cobham. He claimed not to have thought about certain technical things now usually taken for granted as being very important. Listening to him, the overwhelming technique school of drumming seems a little cheap and commercial in comparison.

Since there is no such thing as being a better drummer than Billy Hart— he has over 600 album performance credits, with the best people in the world— I think the big lesson here is that playing intelligence is its own thing, and different from all the things we do as musicians that are not actually playing music with humans. I felt like I was seeing a consummate player— distinct from all the other roles we have as professionals: sidemen, accompanists, soloists, featured artists.

From memory, a few quotes:

On Stan Getz: He was performing his whole life, and never really got a chance to grow up. So if he did things that were selfish— little kids do that, and nobody hates them for it. 
Q: Does he feel like a master?: No. 
Response from a bandleader when Hart requested charts and a rehearsal: You don't use charts on this band. Play the dance.  
On an anonymous phone call: They said, “Love is the highest form of intelligence in the universe.” I'm still trying to figure that one out.

There were other bits I can't recall clearly enough to make a decent paraphrase:

• Seemingly mystified by what motivates some drummers (“I guess they like hitting drums.”) 
• Saxophonists asking why he chose the least technical of three masterful takes of a track with Chris Potter.  
• I was amused that nobody in the room, which included some great players, could name the drummer on Hub-Tones when it came up. “It's on Blue Note!” said Hart— he finally remembered that it was Clifford Jarvis. 
• Said that focus on what is current or hip right now is really a corporate, consumer mentality.  
• Remarking that he must have looked very stunned when Miles came up and enthused about his playing, and told Hart he would call him when he needed a drummer— Miles finished by leaning in close and saying “OK?!”

Daily best music in the world: RIP Jon Christensen

Dexter Gordon to Jon Christensen: “You’re not from Harlem, and you’re 20 years old – play how you feel!”

My brother, John Bishop, said this on Facebook: “He was the sound, aesthetic, time feel, phrasing, that defined [ECM's] world. Any drummer making an ECM album after him had to have him on their minds, otherwise it's very noticeable in the outcome. Like that Sonny video where he's having to try to live up to Sonny, all those artist's coming to ECM later had to adapt to Christensen's thing, even if he wasn't on the record! That's one powerful legacy...”

Monday, February 17, 2020

Here is the deal with 6/8 time

I had an interesting interaction on a drumming forum recently— it's ongoing actually— there was an extremely long and frustrating conversation involving a whole lot of basic misunderstandings about rhythm and meter.

A user is studying for a college entrance exam, and asked for help answering this example question:

Correct the rhythmic groupings / beamings in the following two bar extract. 

Among the forum users' responses:

There's nothing wrong with the way it's written. [There is.]
It's fine, Portraits in Rhythm has tons of things written that way. [It does not.]
There DEFINITELY aren't enough notes to make a complete measure of 6/8. [There are.] 
Well, in West Side Story the rhythm varied between 3/4 and 6/8 so there's nothing wrong with it. [Exceptions do not invalidate the standard, and anyway most printed versions of Bernstein's America indicate 6/8-3/4]  
How can we know? The instructions don't tell you how to do it. [You're supposed to know.]  
A lot of confused replies about triplets [there are none], about how 6/8 is counted [not in 6], about accents [none], about where the snare drum backbeat goes [???], about note values changing depending on what you call “the beat” [they don't] 

Basically, nobody on the internet understands 6/8 time well enough to pass a college entrance exam, or if they do understand it, they don't know how to explain it clearly and concisely. As always, the most uninformed people are the most vocal in opining about it.

The deal with 6/8 time is: 
It is a compound meter, counted in 2. Compound duple is the descriptive name used in music theory.

Compound means a three note subdivision— a triplet feel, in drummer terms. The opposite of compound is simple, which refers to ordinary meters with a two note subdivision, e.g. 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, 2/2.

Duple means there are two beats per measure. Triple, quadruple, and quintuple meters have three, four, and five beats per measure, respectively.

The beat is the primary felt or conducted pulse in a piece of music. In compound meters like 6/8, that pulse is dotted quarter notes— which are three 8th notes long, which gives us the three-note subdivision.

In light of those facts, this is the correct answer the test writers above were looking for:

Of course there are exceptions— people like to talk their way out of being wrong by finding exceptions. Music in 6/8 played at a slow tempo may be conducted or counted in six. Or it may be played with a strong pull towards 3/4. The definition and notation above is still correct.

Why people are confused
This all gets sorted out quickly the first time you're forced to play The Liberty Bell in middle school band; you hear the music and you see it conducted, and even if the music looks crazy on the page, you figure out how it's supposed to go because the other kids were chicken and made you play snare drum on it*.

But many people are just trying to figure it out by themselves in the practice room, and they don't read in 6/8 often, if they read music at all. They think it is counted in six because a common hack explanation of time signatures confusingly includes the term beat: the top number is the number of beats per measure, the bottom number is what kind of note gets the beat. Obviously that is not the case with compound meters. Unfortunately, a lot of internet sources, including Wikipedia, use that explanation, and it won't go away any time soon.

There is no one-line explanation of time signatures that tells you both what they are, and how to count all of them correctly. What I tell my students is: time signatures tell you how many (top number) of what kind of note (bottom number) fit in one measure. That's it. I then usually explain how to count simple meters, and save explaining compound meters for later. It depends on how much I think the student can process at one time. Understanding it, and being fluent in reading it and playing it, is part of a process more involved than just giving a bumper sticker definition.

* - True story.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

NOW AVAILABLE: 2019 Book of the Blog

OK, the 2019 CRUISE SHIP DRUMMER! Book of the Blog is now available for purchase.

This handsome 131 page volume includes all of the downloadable materials, transcriptions, and practice methods posted on the site in 2019.

The major subjects include:
Hemiola Funk Series
Max Roach quasi-rubadub pages
• Various harmonic coordination-based methods
• Multiple ways of playing Three Camps
• Special syncopation exercises
• A number of EZ pages and methods suitable for players of all levels
• 17 quality, playable jazz transcriptions
• A lot more!

Order today!

See the complete table of contents after the break:

Monday, February 10, 2020

Try the “transcriptions” label instead!

Housekeeping item: Did you just click on the transcription label on one of my old posts? I stopped regularly using using that label several years ago— to see all of the transcriptions posted over the entire history of the site, click the transcriptions label instead.

Very occasional quotes of the day: more from Elvin

More quotes from Elvin Jones, compiled by Norman Grossman, passed along to Jon McCaslin by Adam Nussbaum, posted on Four On The Floor. Go and read them all, here are a couple of very important ones:

“All combinations should result in the projection of one feeling and one rhythm.” 

“Think of one single line no matter how many things you are playing and hearing.”

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Rubadub with Stone

Reversing a years-long boycott, I've been using the book Stick Control quite a bit for drum set applications lately. I guess it's unavoidable that sometimes in playing the drums, we think in terms of stickings. This is an easy drill for doing a rubadub-type move with the exercises on pp. 5-7.

In its basic form, rubadub, as described by Chris Smith, is a three-8th note pattern played in */4 meters. The sticking is LRR, with the L on the snare drum, the first R on a cymbal + bass drum, and the second right on a tom tom:

The sticking alone is:

After learning to play the basic lick in 4/4, you then improvise with it, mix it up, and move it around the drums in different ways. If you can't do that by just winging it, this Stone-based method will help in opening up some possibilities.

It's quite simple. Start by playing the patterns with this basic drumset orchestration— I've started calling this “natural” orchestration: 

R = right hand on cymbal + bass drum
L = left hand on snare drum

Play with a swing feel. 

Then, wherever there are two Rs in a row, play the first R on the cymbal/ BD, second R on a tom tom:

Do that with patterns 3-4, 5-8, 14-18, 24-26, 33, 35-36, 41, 44-46, 65, and 68. 

You could do the same move where there are more than two Rs in a row. Just hit the first one on the cym/BD, and the rest on the toms:

I suppose you could default playing the Rs on the toms, only moving to the cymbal when there's more than one R. So pattern 5, a paradiddle sticking, would be played:

Here's that same sticking with my regular orchestration:

With anything to do with rubadub I would be thinking about moving both hands around the drums, and playing ideas as part of a regular jazz texture. Since it is used as a way of playing setups and kicks, and filling in between them, I would be aware of the rhythm of the cymbal/bass drum notes— those are the kicks that the rest of the pattern is setting up. A subject for another post, probably.  

Friday, February 07, 2020

Listening to Keith Copeland

Let's listen some more. This is Charlie Rouse playing After the Morning, a tune in 3/4 by John Hicks. The great Keith Copeland, who left us too soon, is on drums. This is normal modern, mainstream jazz drumming to me— having obviously assimilated a lot of developments since Philly Joe Jones's day.

It was recorded in 1981, and the drum sound is quite dated now: there's a 20", non-tonal bass drum, and a wet, Steve Gaddish snare drum sound. Drum sounds today are very cute in comparison. And Copeland is playing with a somewhat Gadd like energy, very deep in the pocket. It's a sound and feel I associate with people who have also played a lot of R&B— with a lot of bottom. There is a lot of activity with the bass drum and snare drum, and they really drive the groove. A lot of what he plays you would get by doing normal jazz triplet methods with my book Syncopation in 3/4.  For the most part he's keeping a straight waltz rhythm happening with the cymbal and hihats. It's kind of an exceptional level of independence, given how expressive he is with the two drums. In my listening, I feel like most players don't bother with it.

The tune has strong harmonic motion, and he's largely playing in support of that. It's a good example of playing actively but not intrusively. He does interact with the soloists, but when his rhythms line up with them, he doesn't do the obvious college student thing of continuing it and making a big climax out of it. He lets the parts diverge, and finishes the phrase differently. And he doesn't obviously jump on the soloists' rhythms to begin with.

Courtesty of Daron in the comments, here's another great version of this tune, played by Hicks, Cecil McBee, and Elvin Jones.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Hemiola funk series: easy grooves in 4/4

A page of easy beats based on the hemiola funk thing, that I wrote for my students. I'm trying to stay close to the original basic licks, while changing them slightly to fit them into a normal rock or funk context. I have two major goals with this project: to understand how the 3:2 polyrhythm influences normal drumming voculary, and to develop a drumming method based on it. I also want my students to have a healthy undertanding of that polyrhythm— I see it as a sort of clave.

We initially learn the basic hemiola funk patterns repeating in 3/8 or 3/4, and it's easy to fall back into those meters without thinking, so putting the pattern in 4/4 requires some awareness to not get lost. Internalizing the combined rhythm for each groove helps with that— do that by counting it out loud before you play. 1e&a-2&-3e&-4& for number 9, for example.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Heavy funk drill

Going from Ndugu-actual to Ndugu-esque. This is a 70s style funk drill that dovetails nicely with some other things we've been doing lately— see the other links in that linked post. I think jazz drummers tend to plant our right hand on the ride cymbal— I do, at least. This batch of methods are (partly) about getting the hands moving between the drums and cymbal confidently while maintaining a strong groove. The move we're doing here with the flams reminds me of things I've heard Ndugu Leon Chancler do with George Duke, or Greg Errico with Betty Davis, for example.

We'll use Syncopation by Ted Reed, as always. This is marginally more complicated than the easiest things we do with that book. For the examples I'll use the rhythm from line 20, p. 35:

Play the melody rhythm from the book on the bass drum, and fill in the gaps with flams on the snare drum (or unisons, if playing the hands on two different drums). I play all the flams left handed, with pretty strong grace notes.

Add cymbal, with the right hand, on the long notes— anything in the original rhythm longer than an untied 8th note:

That's it! Move the flams around the drums. Where there is a run of flams, you can play them all on one drum, or split them up. You could play the flams as double stops on two different drums; this drill is kind of a specific effect, so I mostly keep both hands on the same drum.

You could warm up by leaving out the snare drum filler:

Or by putting the cymbal on all the bass drum notes:

Or by not doing the flams, or whatever else. Those are all fine easy practice methods in their own right. When I play this I'm all over the place. The idea is to create a texture, not necessarily to do the thing endlessly. I can't tell you if you'll be a better drummer if you rigorously do the method exactly right in its entirety, or if you just get the basic idea and spend your time developing a musical texture with it.

Here is the first line of the well-known p. 38 exercise, with the complete interpretation. If you're wondering how to handle the longer runs of 8th notes, see the end of measure 3 into measure 4:

I like the practice rhythms with no more than two 8ths worth of notes/space in a row best— lines 1-3, 6-7, 11-12, 20, 24, 27, 30, 32, 35-36, 45-48 from pp. 34-37. I prefer this full page exercise to the ones in Reed for this purpose. Try this with the Betty Davis practice loop. It's a lot of fun.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Groove o' the day: Ndugu Latin

Listening to Ndugu Leon Chancler is always a great lesson in how to play funk, and how to use a set with a lot of tom toms. How to use the tom toms period. I really, really love his playing. This is the opening groove from Yana Aminah, from George Duke's album Feel. This is the intro right after his little lead in; the double bar is where the vocals come in. It's a sort of 70s fusion Latin groove— obviously it's not a traditional clave-based thing.

There are three toms used on this portion of the tune, but you can easily do this with two. I would practice this by making a repeating groove out of each two bars. At the double bar he he catches a crash on 4, and comes back in on 2 in the first measure of the verse. We developed a similar thing in a Mozambique feel on this page, which will be in the new Book of the Blog, as soon as I wrap that up.

The rough rhythmic outline of what he plays for much of the tune:

Check it out:

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Transcription: Billy Higgins solo in 5

Billy Higgins drum solo in 5, on the tune 5/4 Thing by George Coleman, from the album Eastern Rebellion by Cedar Walton. The transcription begins at 5:44.

It's short, kind of a percussion interlude. A lot of Higgins's solos are unassuming, and you have to listen a couple of times to realize there's something very musical happening. You could think he's not really comfortable playing in 5, or hmm he's just playing stuff with his hands over a bass drum pulse. Why doesn't he have more stuff worked out. A lot of irrelevant stuff. He's actually a lot deeper than the superficial elements of what he's doing. I could try to build a case for that, but really you just listen to him, and keep listening, and it's all right there.

Stickings will be mostly alternating or natural. Generally his singles are not even— the right hand is a little louder than the left. There may be a right hand double or two in the that funny measure 15. That measure looks weird, but it's certainly coming from an organic place. Same with the bass drum in measure 16— it would be hard to play that on purpose at this tempo; I think there's a little slop happening that works out to be musically really cool. There are some tied rolls that are played normally, the untied buzzes are played with both hands in unison— or almost in unison.

Get the pdf

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Very occasional quote of the day: artist

“An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Three notes, one on cymbals - 01

This little assignment is related to several things we've done lately: my harmonic coordination improved method, and my rock drill; playing it in */4 meters with a swing feel gives you something similar to rubadub. It's all the same thing, more or less: facilitating moving around the drums in an even rhythm, using the whole instrument and all the limbs. Each thing just has a slightly different focus.

I suggest moving the non-cymbal notes around the drums somewhat systematically, playing each two drum notes in a row on the same drum, or splitting them between drums:

The stickings on the flams are meant to support conversion to alternating singles— so the flams before a RH cymbal hit will start with the right hand, for example.

You can also play the flams as straight unisons— called double stops— when playing each hand on different drums.

You can practice the patterns in a triplet feel as written, and also in 3/4, or 4/4 (or 2/2)— with straight 8ths or a swing feel:

When playing in 4/4, just play the first set of patterns— as you can see the converted versions of sets B and C occur naturally in the second and third measure.

This is the sort of thing I really need to play along with a sampled loop. I can't just run patterns dry.

Get the pdf

Monday, January 27, 2020


“I grew up happy and rich and I can play blues.” 
— Miles Davis 

“You're not Art Blakey, you're a white kid from Eugene.”  
— some guy

I worried about “authenticity” for maybe a couple of years in the late 80s. How could I be a real jazz musician being a white kid from Oregon? To be for real you had to be from New York, or some other city that sounds like a place. You had to move naturally, and have a cool sounding name, and be from “the streets”... somehow. Whatever that means. You had to have a pedigree, and at that time the Pacific Northwest really felt like no place, even though there was actually a lot of music happening. A couple of years later grunge happened, Bill Frisell moved to Seattle, the movie Drugstore Cowboy came out, and suddenly I felt like the region had an aesthetic. That's all authenticity meant to me— finding a feeling that I had some kind of cultural basis to be a creative musician.

And that was completely dumb. Most artists do not come from New York or wherever, and do not have any cultural pedigree. They come from mediocre places, and had bad teachers or no teachers, and no support, and most of them own it. Many of them appear to be quite ordinary humans like you and me.

In this video, Nathaniel Smith, better known as 80/20 drummer, is talking about something else entirely. Apparently being a jazz musician is a rigorous, savagely competitive enterprise of deep seriousness, not unlike undertaking advanced study of the works of Montesquieu at the Sorbonne. Like, how dare you. Also it's about pain and nausea, and people beating the crap out of you for not being good:

I left a flippant comment to the effect of lol it's not that hard, just learn some tunes and try to sound like you've heard a jazz record. I'm not real excited about the focus on the hostility and misery, the crucible of combat, and all the people eagerly waiting to destroy you for not knowing a tune. This thing is like watching Whiplash all over again. Like, “paying dues” doesn't mean you have been punished a lot so now you're a cat. It just means you've worked— played a lot of gigs, maybe very crappy ones.

We never get a really satisfactory answer to either of his opening questions: What is a real jazz drummer? and Does authenticity matter? Maybe it's a youtube thing, teasing questions you never answer. The upshot is that being a real jazz drummer means you are Nasheet Waits, and people have been really mean to you, and you are a world class scholar. I don't know. This shit wears me out.

“ all just laid on you like a slab of cement, and you wanted to get out and away, they were like heavy stupid parents insisting upon regulations and ways that would make even the dead cringe.” 
— Charles Bukowski

“Here, as you know, whatever a person may do, he is always under the sway of Monsieur Descartes’ intelligence. Everything instantly withers and grows dusty. What France really needs is a good kick in the ass from America.”  
— Salvador Dali 

I mean, the one thing this country had going for it was its unseriousness. The freedom to play around, figure out what you're interested in, and find your own voice. Make some mistakes. There is already a place where the ghosts of great men watch over your every move, like hawks with horsewhips in their talons, and pull down your pants and shame you for your feeble attempts at creativity, and it's called Europe.

Arguably Dali's kick in the ass has already happened— my point is that fetishizing genius, and competition, is not real helpful when you're just some guy exercising your basic human right to have a voice and make some art. Living up to your own idea of what you should be doing musically is hard enough, and motivating enough.

“...I mean, try to sound like you've heard a jazz record...” 
— A very accomplished jazz pianist, to himself, at a jam session, in a very dark mood at the bar after playing with a drummer who did not fulfill that modest standard. 

So yeah: learn some tunes and try to sound like you've heard a jazz record. It's also a community and professional thing, so connect with other musicians and play some gigs. Nobody starts out knowing everything. Some players are serious, eloquent scholars, but what is required is only that you commit and listen a lot and play a lot. Love the music.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Philly Joe solo lesson

In that last Philly Joe Jones transcription— his solo on Sub City, with Bud Powell— I noted a pattern of using his 8th note bass drum phrases to break up the mainly-snare drum passages. It's actually an easy way to modernize an old fashioned rudimental snare drum oriented approach to soloing. I'm more whole-instrument oriented, so I'm coming at it from the opposite direction, trying to learn to use my snare drum chops on the drum set without feeling like a pure caveman.

So let's devise a practice method from this. In all the examples I'm giving a rough hands part and bass drum part only. You should be moving your hands around the drums, varying accents and stickings to make something exciting and musical out of it.

Here are some of Philly Joe's 8th note lines which included the bass drum:

It would be easy to devise some practice phrases, alternating these patterns with improvised soloing. For example:

It's probably wise to practice that way, with everything very clear cut, always changing ideas on the 1. It's easy for people to follow. But I suggest being looser with it, using those types of phrases as a starting point, remembering that you are under no obligation to match them exactly.

For example, this is not a real exciting idea:

These are more dynamic ways of playing the same basic phrase:

So we're looking for ways to introduce some space, and to not always play to the 1. I think it's best to work that out in the course of actually playing the drums, but some people may need to write out some possibilities first. Beyond the scope of this little practice formula, it will help to think about having more than one way to phrase and accent— and start and finish— any basic solo idea. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Solo transcription: Philly Joe Jones - Sub City

Here's a drum solo played at a bright tempo with brushes by Philly Joe Jones. The tune is Sub City, by Bud Powell. The form is 32 bars long, and he's basically playing two choruses, but there are a couple of wonky things on the second chorus. The tempo is about quarter note = 245. And the solo starts at about 2:45 in the track.

I've included some sample stickings in the earlier part. A lot of them will be rudimental stickings, but in the fifth line you may want to alternate. 

Note that he never hits a cymbal during the solo. It's mostly played with the hands, with a HBHB (hand/bass) lick frequently used as a connective— as in measures 11, 13,16, for example. He does a few other things with the bass drum:

The other major activity includes the syncopated meter-within-meter lick in the second line and last line of the first page, and also the quarter note triplet lick on the second page.

The second chorus gets shorted four bars, and there's a rough patch three lines before the end— at the 6/4 bar. I think I resolved the discrepancy correctly as Philly Joe was perceiving it, because of the strong down beat on the measure after the 6/4 bar. And you can see that in the following measure, measure 53, he plays a lick that he also plays in measures 10 and 31. The most logical place to account for the missing four bars is on the first A of the second chorus— 33-36.

It also ends a little roughly, with Powell jumping in aggressively, without Jones setting it up— it sounds like Jones wasn't expecting it. For a moment he plays the cymbal accents backwards, on 1 and 3, when it should be on 2 and 4. He corrects it after a couple of measures. He never loses momentum during any of that.

Get the pdf

Very occasional quotes of the day: from Elvin

Jon McCaslin at Four On The Floor has posted a collection of quotes from Elvin Jones, collected by Adam Nussbaum. Here are two of my favorites; there are many more at FOTF:

“Thad told me this many years ago and it got to me when he said it. He probably doesn't even remember saying it to me. He just said: 
Whenever you play, imagine that it's the very last chance or opportunity you'll ever have. 
So just that thought is enough incentive to at least not be wishy-washy or do something insignificant. At least it will bring out whatever honesty is in you to be applied to your instrument at that time.  hat's the only philosophy I know - just to do the very best you can at all times.”

“When I start, I keep the structure and melody and content of the tune in my mind and work up abstractions or obbligatos on it. I count the choruses as I go along, and sometimes I'm able to decide in advance what the pattern of a whole chorus will be, but more often five or six patterns will flash simultaneously across my mind, which gives me a choice, especially if get hung up, and I've had some granddaddies of hang-ups. If you don't panic, you can switch to another pattern.  
I can see forms and shapes in my mind when I solo, just as a painter can see forms and shapes when he starts a painting. And I can see different colors.  My cymbals will be one color and my snare another color and my tom toms each a different color.  I mix these colors up, making constant movement. Drums suggest movement, a conscious, constant shifting of sounds and levels of sound. My drumming can shade from a whisper to a thunder. 
I'm not conscious of the length of my solos, which I've been told have run up to half an hour. When you develop a certain pattern, you stay with it until it's finished.  It's just like you start out in the evening to walk to Central Park and back. Well, there are a lot of directions you can take - one set of streets going up, then in a certain entrance and out another entrance and back on a different set of streets.  You come back and maybe take a hot bath and have some dinner and read and go to bed. You haven't been somewhere to lose yourself, but to go and come back and finish your walk.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Flam combinations in 6/8

Way too many wordy posts recently, with more coming, so let's do a simple page of flam exercises in 6/8— in a triplet feel. Like p. 34 in Stick Control, but more robust. Whenever I play that page I am... unfulfilled... I want more. Left handed flam accents on the drums are a thing I do.

I'll practice this adding some extra accents, on the opposite hand of the flam— the left hand in exercise 4, for example. I suggest also playing these with the a duple pulse, in 3/4, so the rhythm for each measure becomes 1&2&3&

Get the pdf

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Building rubadub - 01

For intermediate jazz students, here is a page for learning the basic pattern for Mel Lewis's rubadub concept (as helpfully explained by Chris Smith), about as thoroughly as possible, while also developing solid execution with swing rhythm generally. The only thing I've really left open to question here is the ability of the student to interpret swing 8th notes. We can't do everything in one page. Another page is coming for putting this into 4/4 time.

This is approximately what I would have a student do in a lesson if he was not immediately able to play the pattern, or was having problems with the rhythm. I prefer to do this verbally, but it helps some students to see it written out. It looks like a lot, but it's really only nine actual things.

As you can see, we are learning the pattern starting on each of its notes— first the partial pattern in 2, stopping on beat 2, then the partial pattern in 3, stopping on beat 3, then the full pattern in 3, stopping on beat 1. Each of those is written twice, with the right hand staying on the cymbal, and with the right hand moving to a tom tom. Practice each pattern played once with a long pause or a measure of rest afterwards, then play them repeating. I suggest learning it at three tempos: ~100-120, ~160-200, and at a bright tempo with straight 8ths.

That's a lot of ink dedicated to only one pattern, but it's an extraordinarily useful pattern, but one that can get inexperienced players in trouble. And again, we're using this as an excuse to polish the student's execution of swing rhythms overall. The page can be worked through quickly, and will isolate and correct anything problematic with the student's execution.

Get the pdf

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Dealing with it: bad time

We'll see if this becomes a regular feature: dealing with it. If anyone has thoughts, ideas, frustrations in real life playing situations, mention them in the comments, and maybe I can write something about it.

Today let's talk about people with bad time, or who play in a way that interferes with good ensemble time, which... what's the difference? Players who make everything you play sound bad, or at least it feels that way. Someone on a drumming forum suggested an astoundingly bad way of dealing with it:

I have found that playing with musicians who have bad time is far more difficult than playing with ones that have really good time. I wonder if there’s an app that has a setting for bad time programmed in so you can practice playing with players whose time is very poor. If there’s not one, I wonder how hard it would be to create one, or modify an existing one.

So, that's not how performance works. The world is not a playalong track. You are an actor in this thing we call reality— you are a co-creator of the musical time, together with the other musicians on stage. Just as what they play influences you— to want to die, or live— what you play should influence them. Understanding that is the first step towards dealing with it constructively.

First you have to know what is actually happening. Time issues I have encountered include:

Habitual rushing
Some players just rush, especially when soloing, and if you listen to them too closely, you'll rush along with them. This has caused me a lot of problems, because I place a high value on listening.

Dragging at phrase endingsOne set of players I know got way too sensitive about phrasing with each other, and turned music that was supposed to swing almost into rubato chamber music.

Rushing on easy stuff and dragging on hard stuff
Vocalists do this a lot.

Dragging generally on ensemble passages
Horns so focused on playing together with the other horns they lose the thread.

Inaccurate rests and figures
Self-explanatory. Everybody does it.

Badly timed countoffs, pickups, intros, and solo breaks
They're not really thinking about the tempo they're counting off. Or they're vocalizing it badly. Intros and breaks played by people with weak rhythm, setting up what comes after them poorly.

Deliberately “floaty” time
Horns or vocalists. Not necessarily wrong, but it doesn't help you with the time.

People trying to be hip with their “feel”
People who listen to too much hip electronic music and not enough actual groove music.

Unsupportive bullshit 
As people get more into chops they tend to forgot their actual job, and play too much of the wrong stuff. Their time may not even be bad, but what they play is such noncontributive musical clutter that it compounds other players' time issues, and gets in your way in dealing with it.

It's partly a problem of getting people to listen. For advice on that we have to go back to the very beginning of this blog, where I reposted an answer Joey Baron gave in a master class— from a transcript I found on usenet a long time ago. The question was how do you make the band listen? 

Um, drown them out? No, well, you can't make somebody listen. You can try to hint, you can do things like with the dynamics— seriously, you could drown them out— you could lay out, you could do something with the time, like take it into a different feel, you could jump up and down and make funny noises— I've kind of tried all of those and they all work. It just depends on the context, who you're playing with. But you can't make someone else do something, but you can try, and those are ways. If you're playing in a funk groove and it's a constant backbeat going on, and the soloist is going on and on and on and on and on and just you feel like, wait a minute it's like this is turning into like, they should get a rhythm machine or a sequencer, instead of... 
You can do things like: don't affect the intensity of the groove but just don't do a backbeat, like in hiphop stuff— or in the stuff that's all about mixing— a lot of times, they'll just mix out the backbeat with the rest of the track is going on. That's a big change, if you're not listening. I mean you'd have to be deaf not to notice that kind of stuff. In a more subtle situation, like if you're playing jazz or more softer type of music, you know just change the texture. If you've been playing on the ride cymbal for a while, play on a closed tight sound, change up the sound, do something to kind of wake people up or something?

You can also:

Learn to ignore them
If they're playing bad time, what kind of information are you hoping to get by listening to them? You have to have a concept of time independent from what you hear.

Independence is necessary even with good players. Not everyone improvises perfectly rhythmically accurate stuff 100% of the time. They (we) need to feel that the time is not going to go to hell just because they rushed one line. That push and pull creates energy. None of the ahead/behind the beat stuff people love talking about is possible without it.

Focus on the one other solid player
Often that's enough to make the gig tolerable, and maybe even worth listening to.

Make sure you're playing in a way the others can follow
Don't play unsupportive bullshit all the time. If you're way too into your patterns and ghost notes and linear funk grooves, you may be making the problem worse. In dealing with a bad time situation, I moved towards a more 70s way of playing funk, which is more chunky, with the full 8th or 16th note grid stated strongly. That's actually a better way of playing all the time. It's nice to play hip, fascinating shit, it's nicer to create an unmissable groove.

Develop a high level of awareness and confidence in your own time
How are you going to know what to do if you don't even know what's going on? Read my post on things that helped me improve my time awareness, and have more confidence in my time.

Be realistic
On the internet especially I have noticed drummers adopting some highly unrealistic ideas about what good time is, and adopting some extreme practice habits in service of that. Time squishiness is inherent to human beings playing music. Through a lot of playing experience and a lot of listening (to non-quantized, non-click track music) you learn what actual professional tolerances are.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Snare drummers vs. drum set players

This came up in the Neil Peart piece: the idea of snare drummers as opposed to drum set players. People who play the drums as a single four limb instrument vs. people who are essentially hands players, rudimental players.

In this video (embedding is disabled) Jeff Hamilton distinguishes between snare drummers and cymbal players— cymbalists, if you will. I would say whole drum set players, because there's a lot more to that approach than just playing a cymbal. But the cymbalist label is accurate to the extent that a lot of what you play follows from what you do with your right hand.

This extended quote from Elvin Jones, from his 1982 Modern Drummer interview by Rick Mattingly, became the foundation for my concept of the drum set:

“[The drum set] is one instrument, and I would hasten to say that I take that as the basis for my whole approach to the drums. It is a single musical instrument of several components. Naturally, you've got tom-toms scattered around, and the snare drum is in front of you, and the bass drum is down there, and you have cymbals at different levels. But all in all, just as a piano is one instrument, a drumset is one instrument. That is not to say that the cymbal isn't an instrument. But in order for it to be an instrument you have to use it as an instrument. They are individual instruments if you have them set up that way and you have a tom-tom player and a bass drum player and so on. Okay, then they are individual instruments. It just depends on how one chooses to apply it. So I think that's probably where people get confused. 
In a dance band, or a jazz band—small group, big band, combo— then this is a single instrument. You can't isolate the different parts of the set any more than you can isolate your left leg from the rest of your body. Your body is one, even though you have two legs, two arms, ten fingers, and all of that. But still, it's one body. All of those parts add up to one human being. It's the same with the instrument. People are never going to approach the drumset correctly if they don't start thinking of it as a single musical instrument. 
We live in a world where everything is categorized and locked up into little bitty compartments. But I have to insist that the drumset is one. This is the way it should be approached and studied and listened to, and all of the basic philosophies should be from that premise. If you learn it piecemeal, that's the way you're going to play it. You have to learn it in total.”

It was settled once and for all after I spent about ten years in the 00s-10s working out a lot of snare drum stuff, only to discover it made zero difference* in my actual playing. No matter how much snare stuff I got together, I couldn't sit down at the drum set and just play hands stuff. Or rather I did not, because it's not how I play. I didn't start hacking out snare drum stuff in my solos.

You can recognize the difference if you listen to someone and a lot of rudiments jump out at you, and if you see a lot of hand to hand motions. Banging out accents on the toms, with more worked out crossover licks and whatnot. And more sparse, traditional, and simplistic— or more worked out— use of the feet.

Drumset guys will be guided more by the right hand, and will have more interactive use of the feet, and be more sound oriented. They will sound more melodic (or melodic in a more sophisticated way), and textural, and less choppy, maybe with more worked out patterns between three or four limbs.

You might give a listen to these players, while thinking about these categories of approaches:

Snare drummers:
Buddy Rich
Louis Bellson
Ed Shaughnessy
Philly Joe Jones

Drum set players:
Mel Lewis
Roy Haynes
Paul Motian
Jon Christensen
John von Ohlen
Tony Williams (60s!)
Bob Moses

Obviously it's a complex thing, and often players won't fit neatly into one category. To me the whole instrument approach is more modern and more conducive to musicality, but there are obviously a lot of great drummers who did the other thing. And assessing players is really not the point— we're just looking for something to inform how we think about our approach to the instrument. We'll do some guided listening about it later.

* - Not zero difference; it did give me dynamic control. But for the actual content of what I played, it made no difference.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Neil Peart

Well, dang. Everyone knows by now Neil Peart has unexpectedly passed away. He was certainly the most celebrated drummer of the past ~ 45 years, maybe ever. A few are more famous, but I don't know if anyone inspired the same rabid following dedicated to knowing every single note of his recorded output. The only time I saw Rush live, in 1991, there was a not-insignificant percentage of the audience air drumming his fills along with him, and clearly knew them all exactly. That's kind of unique.

A historical curiosity about him is that the excitement was generated by things played on records. During the highest point of his career— say 1978-88, there was no YouTube, and none of the current drummer world apparatus. There were records, radio, tours, rock press, and MTV. With Rush it was mainly about the records. You put them on and listened to them a lot, and the music did something for you.

It's almost quaint. A lot of drumming fans seem to have completely moved on from mere music, and are just into worshiping prowess. There is no Spirit of the Radio or Tom Sawyer for any of the famous drum guys of the past 15 years. There was certainly an element of spectacle to Peart's thing, but compared to much of the current thing that is nothing but spectacle, he looks extremely dedicated to pure music.

He's also more effective than any those players. There are millions of idiots who can play the drums fast, relatively few who can play effectively. I never regarded Peart as very sophisticated strictly as a drummer— compared to his better non-rock contemporaries, he's pretty retrograde. But what he plays is extremely effective. Listening back to Tom Sawyer for the first time in many years, all of the things I thought were rather gratuitous actually make compositional sense, and bring a lot of energy to what is basically a stilted little composition.

You can see that he did play the drum set as a complete instrument— another way he's closer to my heart than many other drummy players: he was not a snare drummer. With those guys you can always feel the pull towards playing more crap on the snare drum. Peart does some of that in his solos, but he's clearly not a member of that tribe— he has too many other things he wants to show off. He actually has some interest in rhythm, and in the full instrument.

Also quaint is that he got people interested in essentially band instruments, concert percussion instruments— it was a big deal that he had some crotales up there, a glockenspiel, some cowbells. A lot of drummers of the 70s played huge drum sets with a lot of pointless extra percussion, but Peart actually featured the instruments in the songs.

I don't know if we're too cool for all of that now, or what. We've got Moeller, which is better than music. Certainly the current drum-pornographic thing doesn't leave much room to get excited about playing a glockenspiel. 

A few thoughts about his playing legacy, anyway. But the first thing I actually thought about when I heard about this was that I was glad he was able to rebuild a family after the tragedy he experienced at the end of the 90s, with the deaths of his daughter, and then partner. He seemed like a basically healthy amiable goofball, and he was appreciated.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Listening to Kenny Clarke

Let's do a little guided listening. I caught this on Portland's excellent jazz station, KMHD— If you don't have a good station locally, and you probably don't, you should be streaming KMHD live 24/7. The tune is Bags' Barney Blues, played by French saxophonist Barney Wilen, with Milt Jackson (on piano), Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke.

This recording should tell you some things about playing the ride cymbal. Like, the interpretation you use does not have to be consistent all the way through the tune. Clarke plays with a strong quarter note pulse throughout— not with the accent on 2 and 4 many associate with bebop. You can also hear that he varies how he plays the “skip” note— sometimes he plays it with a triplet feel, with all the notes at a roughly even volume, sometimes he plays a dotted-8th/16th feel, with a very soft skip note. His comping is mostly played with a triplet feel, and the cymbal rhythm agrees with that— he's not playing triplets with his left hand with the dotted-8th/16th rhythm with his right.

Whatever he was doing leading up to it, at phrase endings Clarke often plays the triplet feel very emphatically, while dragging a bit, clearly conducting the time. Listen to his beat 4s. He's really bringing up the rear timewise here— he's way on the back of the beat, while Wilen plays very much on the front of the beat. Wherever Clarke is trying to take it, he succeeds, and the tune ends a little slower than it started. In his smooth way, he's playing assertively, acting as conductor of this tune.

With his comping, you can hear a lot of what I once called “the Kenny note”, which is actually a regular punctuation in swing drumming: a snare drum punctuation on the & of 3 in the second or fourth measure. As pure independence, it's an easy place to start when you're inventing a vocabulary for comping on the snare drum. We also heard a lot of that from Max Roach recently. In general, most of his comping happens at the end of the measure, and end of the phrase.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

RLB intro page

This is based on a page I wrote in 2012— I was using that with a younger student, and marked it up so heavily that it was unreadable. So here's a clean version of what we were doing with it. We've got the RLB linear pattern played 1-3 times, in some rhythmic variations/inversions, to help get the coordination, and to learn to not just see the pattern one way. It also ties in somewhat with the hemiola funk pages, which I was using with this same student.

Play the right hand on the hihat or on a tom tom. Play the left hand on the snare drum or a tom tom. Then move them around. Play the patterns repeating, as indicated; also play them one time, fast, with a long pause after— mainly 2-16, and 20-22.

Get the pdf

Saturday, January 04, 2020

New gear rules

I'm getting a little punchy from working on this new book, so I just started writing rules about gear.

Consider the following to be LEGALLY BINDING. Failure to comply may result in a SUBSTANTIAL PENALTY:

• No rubber practice pads. Everybody has to use the pieces of crap that Remo pads have become.

• No more 10" tom toms, unless it's an 8 and 10" concert tom, like Ndugu Leon Chancler. Mounted someplace difficult to reach, so you have to really have a purpose in using them.

• No deep bass drums. I'm tired of looking at them. And they all have to be 18" or 20". Quit screwing around.

• No snare drums that sound like static. Do you talk in a squeaky voice? Listen to some 70s records.

• No more punchy tom toms. Life is not a YouTube video. Get a different sound. Listen to Billy Cobham.

• I'm not going to ban every drum head in the world except Remo Ambassadors, but I would be fine if somebody did.

• No more mentions of Gretsch drums made after the 90s. If it's part of a “line” and not just Gretsch drums you don't get to talk about them.

• No more mentioning most brands. You can talk about Gretsch (real only), Yamaha, Sonor, Ludwig, Pearl, Slingerland, maybe Premier. I kind of don't want to hear about Tama any more. Whatever defunct brands you want, Fibes, Corder, Rogers, whatever.

• But no wistfully mentioning defunct brands that were crap in the first place. Maxwin. Royce. CB700. No more mentioning student/middle lines by any company, defunct or otherwise.

• I'm a nice guy for including Ludwig.

• Bass drums are sounding too nice. Put on a CS Black Dot until further notice.


• No more cymbals with really long creative names, no ultra thin cymbals, no dry cymbals, no putting the word “POWER” on cymbals. No more luxuriant cymbals. Play luxuriant.

• I don't ever want to see another Moon Gel. Flick that disgusting thing in the trash.

• From now on no more than 5% of your talk about drumming and music can refer to gear. Get into playing.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Hemiola funk series: SS-BB / BB-SS

Another permutation on this basic hemiola funk format I've devised, doubling up on the BS, forwards and backwards... wait. I'm deliberately not really giving you a finished concept here— I just wrote this up to see how it played out. It seems like an obvious idea, but it actually doesn't convert into normal funk vocabulary as well as some of the other pages. I'm not hearing it.

If you've been working with my previous pages, there's no reason not to play through this at least one time. The whole point is that none of this is technically difficult, and just because something doesn't really work for me, doesn't you won't get anything out of it. This will be my next publishing project after I finish with the 2019 Book of the Blog, which should be available for purchase next week.