Saturday, February 29, 2020

My new axe

I got a cymbal to replace a similar model I sold to our man in Berlin, Michael Griener, last year: a 20" Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail Jazz Ride, 1893 grams. Has a special heavy patina, which dries the sound somewhat. In selling them I name them all individually to differentiate them— let's call this one Werner. I have another C&G 20", but I was looking something for a “left side” role. Usually I want something a little airier for that, but in this case the relative dryness contrasts nicely with my 22", which has more spread. This 20 also serves nicely as a main cymbal. I made sure I had a nice pitch differential between this cymbal and the others I regularly use— a 22" A-type Holy Grail, and a funky 17" Holy Grail thin crash.

By the way, in selecting this cymbal, I played a dozen Holy Grail 20s in rapid succession, all of them fantastic— the weights varied, but every one was absolutely solid. My final selection (the whole process took about 15 minutes), was based purely on pitch and weight. I love this cymbal, but every other cymbal I played was just as good. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Progressive Steps to Syncopation - an itemized critique

I spend so much time talking about how great Ted Reed's Progressive Steps to Syncopation (commonly known as “Syncopation”) is, and how you can do everything with it— and should— and how it's the only book you ever need to own. Along with my derivative book, Syncopation in 3/4.  So let's talk about what's wrong with it.

If this were YouTube this would be titled IS SYNCOPATION USELESS? or BISHOP EVISCERATES REED, with a picture of me looking surprised for no reason, holding up a copy of the book. But this is just a little editorial critique.

I'm going to refer to it by “lesson” numbers from the new edition. I'll try to just talk about what is there, and not about things I wish were included. 

First, read the introduction to the new volume so you can appreciate the quite insane amount of work that surrounded its creation. This wasn't written by some guy trying to make a name for himself musing about drum patterns— it was written by a man with a ridiculous student load, and no photocopiers or printers because they didn't exist, who was desperately fending off tendinitis from doing hours of repetitive writing every day.

So when I point out something I don't like, that's just speaking for my own purposes. Certainly everything included had an important purpose in Reed's teaching practice. 

To begin: 

Lessons 1-3: Quarter notes and rests— with running bass drum, SD/BD unisons, linear. People don't do enough with the quarter note sections of the book. The linear quarter notes section should be as well known as the first page of Stick Control. 

Lesson 4: 8th notes and quarter notes. People don't use this enough, either. I use it a lot for teaching rock beats, for a cut time funk bass drum work out, and for teaching kicks and setups.

OK, this is a really long post, and really of interest only to major geeks, so let's put a page break in it:

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