Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Unearned info

A long, wordy post with extended quotes from a forum questioner, who felt that the knowledge in drumming books may come too cheaply, and from drummer and author John Riley, who showed up out of the blue to give an answer. 

The user made these comments:

Is there too much information just handed to us drummers on a plate? When I read all the stories and interviews of all the greats (Tony, Elvin, Philly Joe), all I hear about is them putting on records of music they love, and assimilating their favourite drummers. Building technique with just Stick Control, Rudiments and Syncopation (Alan Dawson), and using a bloody good ear. 

... and mostly they played— a lot.

I get worried with so much great material about in book form, that people (including myself) are finding it all too easy to just pick up Art Of Bop Drumming and work through the comping in that, rather than do what all the greats did, just use their ears. [...] [E]very time I pick up a book (one of many!) I just think to myself deep down...This is too easy. This can't be right. Just reading through this book, repeating the patterns, manipulating them, trying to internalise what's already been given to me. John Riley's done all the hard work. 

I've talked about something like this in a previous post, Riley'n Me.

It just doesn't seem as...noble...if that's the right word? I can't help thinking that maybe there's a direct correlation with the amount of books and info that's handed to us today, and the fact that there will never be another golden era. 
[...] I just often wonder what will help me develop my own tasteful voice more efficiently. A lifetime worth of study for 10.99? It seems fishy. And I know it's easy to say do both. But you get like 8 lifetimes worth of studying in 8 different books and it's not easy to turn your back on that.

Now, the thing is: you don't actually get a lifetime worth of study if you don't learn what's in the book, and do the complete process suggested by it. And have a complete, dedicated life as a musician. Which most people do not. The books just move the baseline a little higher. Maybe the worst consequence is to make it easier for some people to fake expertise, and misguide their students. Drumming enthusiasts like creating gospels

John Riley's response is after the break.

Emphases are mine:

This is a very interesting, but somewhat perplexing, discussion. 
If you even knew that the drum set existed before there were recordings, not to mention books, DVDs and the internet, the only way to learn how to play the drum set was: you had to see someone doing it in person. Unless you happened [to live] along the Mississippi, and could hear Baby Dodds on a riverboat, your odds were pretty long. 
Of course, having access to information is helpful and we have more access than ever before; I am grateful for it. The result is that people everywhere are able to get good information, from reliable sources, so it's easier for more people to achieve a high level of competency then it was in the past. 
Achieving a high level of competency is different from making a musical statement or finding your own voice. Living life, understanding music as a whole - not just being dexterous on the kit - and getting a lot of guidance from and experience playing with people more advanced than you are the critical components that lead to wise musical decisions once the basic skills are solid. 
Recordings, books and DVDs offer us all kinds of information so that the process of acquiring skills and wisdom isn't so mysterious. Still one must have a clear direction in mind and prioritize so that they make the best use of their practice time. Getting good, on any instrument, is a long, lonely, solitary act. Becoming a musician is done with a group on the bandstand. 
It is a flawed, romantic, notion to think that all the old timers were artists; we know who the few artists were - memory of all the clones and simply good players has faded. It's also a flawed notion to think that there are no artists today, I would guess that the proportions are about the same as they've always been. The difference today is that we get distracted because of our access to so many players that are truly exceptional, really mind blowing, in one dimension of playing but not complete musicians. I imagine memory will forget them just like it always has. 
Are we being dumbed down by access to too much material? There are more virtuoso drummers today than ever. I wish the materials available today had been available when I was a kid - my understanding and growth would have been faster. Access to information can't be a bad thing. Perhaps it appears that we are being dumbed down simply because, for too many drummers, becoming a virtuoso has become the goal. The goal should be to become an exceptional musician who happens to express their musicality from behind a drum kit. One should focus on identifying the music they love. Then search out every source: listen to, read books by, watch DVDs and go see live the masters of that idiom - not just the drummers, but all the instrumentalists - to understand what the music calls for and to learn what to practice and how it should sound. Then get as much experience playing as possible. If you have the tools, the mindset and the inspiration, you will find your own voice - just like in the riverboat days.


Anonymous said...

There are many books, DVD’s and other ways to learn French but virtually no one does it. The one who does is generally thought of as exceptional. The same could be said of relationships, in which very few people can manage to do it right despite consuming a good amount of “unearned info”.

So while information is a necessary genesis, it is only that. Learning and even more so, application, carry the weight of effort.

I am very grateful for The Art of Bop Drumming but recently realized that I could spend two years on the Comp Example 4 pages and many more before I could properly “speak” it in the context of a live jazz performance. I did manage to do that, it could hardly be dismissed as “unearned info”.

Todd Bishop said...

Yeah, that's the whole thing-- actually using what's available.