Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Non-mistake mistakes

“Honor Your Mistake as a Hidden Intention.”
- Brian Eno, Oblique Strategies

“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”
- Miles Davis

“I deny the accident.” 
- Jackson Pollock, painter

“The way I work is totally accidental.”
- Francis Bacon, painter

This is a big thing in my teaching: you're playing along, working on a thing, and you play something you didn't mean to play— whatever pattern you're working on, that wasn't it. But what you did play sounded fine on its own. It was in time, you kept going, you didn't get lost, and anybody listening wouldn't know there was anything wrong. 

What actually happened was you got a free variation. You got some free drumming you didn't even have to practice. If you handle it the right way, and continue playing, and don't stop for the mistake. A lot of learning to play the drums is just learning to continue.  

Most students students will stop when that happens— they'll try to “go back” and get the prescribed pre-conceived pattern right. Obviously time doesn't work that way, and playing doesn't work that way— what you wanted to play, but didn't, is not a factor. What you did play is what is the music. 

A lot of making mistakes is just what is called improvising. Improvising, to an extent, comes from mistake-land, from the place of not knowing what you're doing. 

The hidden assumption is that there's something you're supposed to be doing— some “part” handed down by the Father God, who's going to know if you sinned against him by screwing it up. For being such an allegedly freedom-oriented society, there's an American authoritarianism that really beats people down from saying anything on their own. We're belligerently free, and at the same time, we are pure maggots unworthy to play anything of our own— unless we were “chosen” by being anointed with commercial success. Otherwise everything's got to be approved as either being a “part” to a song or something found in a book somewhere. It's a common mentality. 

For drummers, real mistakes are mostly not “wrong notes”, but process errors:

You stopped.
Always keep playing. You can't change what you did, you have to continue

The beat got turned around
and you kept it there for a long time. Maybe it was you, or maybe it was someone else, but the longer it stays turned around, the more everyone assumes it was your fault. You can try to hide it by playing more ambiguously— break up the cymbal rhythm, stop playing the hihat. Play 3/4 (not too forcefully) until you get reoriented. It's a good exercise to practice turning the beat around— while playing normal jazz time, forcefully count “1, 3” along with the hihat, until you hear the hihat on 1 and 3, and then correct it so the hihat is on the new, turned around 2 & 4.  Repeat until you can do it quickly. 

The time sped up— maybe you listened too closely to the guitarist. You can ease it back at the beginning of the next solo. If you memorized the sound of the count off, so you have some reference point for correcting it.  This is a pretty normal type of flexing you'll sometimes hear on records— different tempos for different soloists. 

If you played the arrangement wrong. OK, there's a “wrong note”— you were supposed to do something specific, and you did it wrong. Usually you can just play through. You can play time or background texture while other people are playing a figure, or play a fill where the rest of the group played a break. You have to engage it musically even as you're playing nothing but wrong stuff according to the arrangement. 

You got lost in the form on your own solo. Just take your best guess and keep going. Go back to playing time in the last 8 bars, wherever you put them, and give people an extra-clear cue for their entrance at the end of your solo. Most of the band is not listening, or can be fooled into thinking they were the ones who got lost.  

Hiccups in the time.
If you play without thinking, strictly off a physical or emotional flow, or strictly following your ears, at times there will be a hiccup in your flow, and the time evaporates. It just goes away, and you experience an odd unmetered break. You just have to jump back in as best you can. People want to play “without thinking”, but really what we want is effortless awareness. The better your awareness, the less things like this happen.  

There are other mistakes, along similar lines: playing sloppy in an unpleasing/ineffective way, playing inappropriate dynamics, errors of taste, playing grossly wrong for the style, dropping a stick. The point is, the answer is always continue. Keep playing.  

Friday, March 19, 2021

Reed tweak: filling the long gaps

Here's a tweak to an ordinary straight 8th note Syncopation practice method: right hand plays the melody rhythm, left hand fills in the remaining 8th notes. Usually with the RH on a cymbal, with the bass drum in unison, left hand on the snare drum, like so:  

We could call this the stick control interpretation, because the result is exactly what we'd get if you played the first pages of Stone with the Rs on the cym/bass drum, Ls on the snare drum, each played with the indicated hand. This is the major Reed method you use to get an ECM-type feel.

With that basic drill, the left hand fills in one, two, or three 8th notes in a row. With this tweak we're going to play a left handed paradiddle where the left would have played two notes, and a left handed double paradiddle where the left would have played three. Play the single lefts normally. Do this with pp. 30-32 and 34-45 of Reed (current edition). 

First play these warmups— they cover all the forms the paradiddle fills will occur when practicing the method out of Syncopation:

Here are the first six lines of the well known p. 38 (née 37) Syncopation Exercise 1, written out with this tweak. I don't feel like writing up a full-blown key, so you'll have to get out your book and compare the two. 

This is not unlike my recent uptempo method, in that we have to do some next-level reading— we have to do different things with spaces (or runs of 8ths) of different lengths. It seems daunting in the abstract, but it's reasonably easy when you just do it. 

Finally, try using your own four or six note stickings or patterns as well. Best if they start with the left hand, and release with the right, at first. I'll share some of mine soon.  

Get the pdf

Friday, March 12, 2021

What I'm practicing

I'm at the point where I've published so much stuff on the site, I'm a little embarrassed. I don't want people thinking I'm just fascinated with writing patterns. I do practice this stuff, and otherwise use it. For example, I'm not real happy with the existing literature/methods for young/novice drummers, so I write a lot for my students. The transcriptions are listening projects. I write some library pages because they don't exist, and they could be useful, to someone, someday, maybe. I'll write my own versions of existing materials, to make it easier to practice them the way I want.

And so on. Basically I write for a lot of purposes, and when you develop a regular morning writing habit, you tend to produce a lot of stuff. 

So, for a reality check, here is what I'm actually practicing, usually on different days, right now:    

All of the Three Camps for Drumset pages
People adapt this piece for all kinds of rudimental applications, why not make extended jazz texture drills out of them? I'm enjoying these a lot, and I hit them all every time I practice right now. 

Linear double paradiddle / paradiddle-diddle inversions page

This turned out to be a really solid page to have around. The complete patterns are good, and if you break them down further, playing every two beats of them, or even single beats, you've got all the major jazz ways of playing triplets with two voices. Play them along with a jazz cymbal rhythm on the SD/BD, SD/HH, HH/BD. Or play the snare part with both hands in unison, bottom part with BD, HH, or BD/HH in unison. Or play the bottom part with the RH/BD in unison, play the snare part on the snare with the LH. There's a lot you can do with the page to open up your Afro 6 feel for jazz settings. 

Reed methods

Filling in 8ths with the BD during a time feel, new uptempo method, bass drum and snare drum triplet fill ins— those last two are common methods that I don't think I've written about on the site. Play a medium jazz time feel, play the book part on the snare drum, fill out the triplets with the bass drum, or vice versa— book part on bass drum, fill out triplets on the snare drum. 

Mitchell Peters Rudimental Primer

I just got this excellent book. Think of it as Haskell Harr modernized, for concert snare drummers— Peters washed off some of the stink of tradition. Each rudiment gets two full pages of exercises and short solos in different meters— including some in 5/8 and 7/8. Which is appropriate— practicing rudiments just using the list format doesn't make it. Mainly using this to get my traditional grip back in shape. 

Haskell Harr
I'll play through most of Harr's book 2 every time I practice snare drum. It just puts my hands in a nice place of feeling able. 

Several of my students are playing out of Rudimental Swing Solos right now, so I need to keep it together. I'll be honest, practicing Wilcoxon doesn't bring me a lot of joy, and I don't know why. It's essential literature, a direct connection to Philly Joe Jones and a lot of other people. I practiced it a lot, for several years, and it made very little difference in my playing. I just don't play rudimental stuff on the snare drum very much. 

All pretty normal stuff that I've been doing, in different forms, for years, or decades. Which is a little strange— why wouldn't I be doing something new? I think at this point in my life and career, I know what I want to play, and what will be required of me, and I want to continue improving my basic thing, and filling in gaps in my abilities with that. And improve my methods, since I'm not an “efficient” practicer.

Monday, March 08, 2021

The three bloggers listen to Milestones

Yer Three Bloggers— myself, Ted Warren @ Trap'd, and Jon McCaslin @ Four On The Floor— decided to listen to Milestones by Miles Davis, and make whatever comments occur to us. It's one of his most famous albums, and was considered by Tony Williams to be the definitive jazz album of the universe. I listened to it a lot in college— I think I really didn't get it then— up through the 90s. It's been awhile since I've listened to it all the way through. 

Mind you, I feel like a jerk writing about this record. I don't want to give my opinions on it, I want to hear what other people have to say about it. If I was talking to one of those people, all of the comments below would be phrased in the form of questions. 

So: Milestones by Miles Davis, a sextet album released on Columbia Records in 1958, featuring: John Coltrane - Cannonball Adderly - Red Garland - Paul Chambers - Philly Joe Jones

Dr. Jackle (née Jekyll)
Barn burning show number, tempo ~ half note = 168. Lots of trading happening. Working on a Carnival boat gig in 1990 I remember my friend (not a big jazz musician) laughing over the rapid fire trading between Coltrane and Cannonball. It is good for jazz musicians, or anyone playing very active music, to know how their music sounds to ordinary people. A little foreshadowing of the burning tempos on Four & More, and Miles plays the drum solo cue we hear a lot of on the live records with Tony Williams. Red Garland acts as tour guide. Great high energy solo and breaks from Philly Joe.

Miles's solo here is like classical music, almost as much as the So What solo. 

Sid's Ahead
Strange energy here, like a bomb's about to go off, maybe, but we don't know when, or who set it. Tune is an odd little paraphrasis of Walkin'. Massive forward energy to this medium slow blues (~110bpm)— playing wise, groove wise, history of jazz wise. Coltrane sounds like he beamed in from another world. Note Philly Joe double timing the hihat sometimes, and playing a dotted-8th/16th rhythm on the cymbal, but he's not playing particularly 16th note-y on the snare drum. Rhythm section cruising, especially during Miles's solo where there's no piano, little comping. Joe is relentless. I imagine myself playing this and getting really antsy to make it “go somewhere.” 

Groove with this band is always a little mysterious to me— there's big air between Joe and Chambers. It's like a groove cloud at times. The rhythm section are all playing groove, but they're not all attacking the beat in the same place. Compare the feel to something else we heard recently, where everyone is chonk chonk chonk right on it.  

Great solos. So much intelligence on this record. We're used to hearing intelligence now, but this is something else. Makes a lot of other stuff just sound glib. 

Two Bass Hit
Another show arrangement, featuring the drums on the head. Joe generates massive energy through the head just with one hand on the snare drum. This record seems to be retiring the whole bebop era. It's a feeling. Somehow reminds of Mingus's band for pure cohesion— Red Garland and Joe together are tight as hell. After listening to a lot of him for my recent Philly Joe post... his playing on this record is a whole different level above— massive intensity, pure focus and confidence. 

Do you get the feeling that people need to arrange more? With the idea of hooking the audience's attention. It's easy to just play in jam session mode, but people want to hear things that are particular and hip. I'm not even sure how important the blowing is when the arrangement is this killing. 

Normally I don't want to hear a lot of snare drum, but Joe takes this out in a great way with it. The whole record is like that.  

Modal jazz was created with this tune of course. More classical music from Cannonball on his solo— could the solos ever not lead off that way? The rhythm section just grooves on this— I'd be interested to find out if and how that choice was related to the new kind of harmonic structure. Certainly the 60s group took a lot more freedom from that.       

Billy Boy 
Ahmad Jamal style trio show number. Extremely hip, and absolutely the literal holy text of the brushes, even though he just plays them on the head in and out. Very polished change from brushes to sticks going into Red's solo, and back to brushes on the head out. Joe plays both feet in unison(***) while changing from sticks back to brushes in the third and fourth measures of the head out. It's funny, you can still hear this in the music of much later, very different people like Michel Camilo in this. 

More great trading with Joe on this. What do you say about that? It's over there, on the record.  

Straight, No Chaser
I listened to this track a lot in college, and I don't think I ever realized how futuristic this record is. This was just bebop to me, and I missed some important fundamentals for that reason. The lessons here are not obvious to a kid. I probably should have listened to more ordinary records, and given them more credit for being good, too.  

Cannonball's hip harmony part on the head is what I'm saying about arranging. If jazz has hooks the way pop music does, it's in things like that— in not doing things— composing, playing and arranging— generically. There's a modern mentality that's very fixated on the concept of genre, but nothing good is generic. There's no other tune “like” Straight, No Chaser; if you search Netflix you'll find there's no other movie “like” Mean Streets, no matter what their search engine claims. Try to find another song like Happy Together. Great things are particular.  

And with that, I can now go learn a lot of things reading what Jon and Ted wrote. Stay tuned for the next Three Bloggers post, whatever that will be. If you have any requested topics about which you'd like to hear from all three of us, by all means leave them in the comments, or email us. 

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Backsticking drill for switching grips

I use matched grip virtually all the time in playing, but about every 5-7 years since ~1986, I make a serious effort at getting my traditional grip happening. When I have it conditioned, I can do just about everything I can do with matched grip— but for whatever reason, I don't use it much when actually playing. There's some subtle psychological block there.  

Lately I thought getting really good at switching grips might help with that. Traditional grip has your wrist in a vertical position, matched grip has it horizontal (“German” grip, anyway), and all you have to do is rotate your forearm a quarter turn, and the stick naturally flips into position. In one grip you'll be playing with the tip of the stick, in the other, the butt. I usually play with the stick reversed in my left hand anyway. If there's any confusion about the basic motion, this videos demonstrates it pretty well. 

So, a little drill for developing that transition:

R = right hand | T = left hand, traditional grip | M = left hand, matched grip








You do have to adjust the stick in your hand a little bit to be fully in one grip or the other, which is difficult to do with the last two stickings— they  might not be real useful for that reason. Try to do them slow enough to get the left hand fully into the correct grip. We're not just practicing drum corps-style backstickings here.  

Friday, March 05, 2021

Daily best music in the world: Al Harewood fast

Digging around for some Al Harewood— I mostly know him from the 60s Blue Note records he's on, but he was active into the 90s— I found this killing live track from George Benson, in 1973. This is one of those records you find in the $2 jazz clearance bin, that nobody thinks to buy. Everyone is great on this, Mickey Tucker, wow. 

The tempo is generally around 330— half note = 165. You can hear Harewood is mostly playing quarter notes on the cymbal. His solo is pretty raggedy, and who cares. He kills on this whole thing. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Reed interpretations: new uptempo method

All right, I found the way to use Reed at faster jazz tempos. My the way”, anyhow. I've mostly been winging my uptempo jazz comping until now— I never had materials I really liked for working on that.   

We're doing the first practice method everyone learns— playing the book part on the snare drum, along with jazz cymbal and hihat rhythms. To make a complete snare drum/bass drum texture, and to make it easier to execute at fast tempos, we'll use the bass drum to break up any runs of more than two 8th note-rate notes.  

I've written out the possible orchestrations of those multiple-8th runs, along with the first four lines of Syncopation Exercise 2. It looks like a lot of stuff, but with a little practice it's not difficult to do this on the fly. 

This gives us a realistic comping texture, with a nice flow of chatter on the snare drum— much of which can be ghosted— and the bass drum is realistically sparse. Those bass drum doubles give us a nice Tony Williams-like thing. It's good to use the alternative orchestrations liberally, to vary the texture.

This will sound good at all tempos— for students good initial goals would be quarter note = 238 (“Elvin's tempo”, so-called by me because of Passion Dance and Chasin' the Trane) and quarter note = 286 / half note = 143 (“Roy Haynes's tempo”, because of Matrix, Have You Met Miss Jones, and half the stuff on Pat Metheny's Question & Answer).  

Exercise 2 is by far the hardest full page exercise for this type of thing, so practice it last. The other seven usual pages are all manageably easy— e.g., Exercise 1 will have less than ten bass drum notes total. 

Get the pdf

Monday, March 01, 2021

Very occasional quote of the day: style

“My style is copying the style of the people I love and the way I combine it and that’s nothing more.”

- Ralph Peterson, interview with George Colligan