Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A player's analysis of drumming

For a long time I've been thinking about developing a system of analysis for drumming, like the harmonic analysis you do in college theory courses, deciding the function of every note in a composition. Doing something like that for drumming would require a different approach. I don't care about the theory aspect— this would be for clarity in thinking about our instrument, in teaching, listening, and playing.

Probably some doctoral student has already thought of this, but I'm not optimistic about the value of that for players. I've tried reading scholarly pieces on subjects in which I would normally be interested, and I couldn't do it— the academic language and format just wipes out whatever value they might have had for me.

In the broadest sense, this is about understanding “what is the drummer doing? What was the purpose of playing that? What's the function?”

We could start by thinking about the broad categories of playing: 

Composed parts 
The drummer is playing fixed, pre-composed “parts.” Often worked out in the studio with a producer, or by drummers who are just oriented that way. For example Dave Grohl playing on Nevermind, or Neil Peart playing his worked-out parts, or Terry Bozzio playing Frank Zappa's The Black Page. 

Reading performances
Big band drumming, studio drumming, show and theater drumming— professional situations where there are complex written arrangements. The drumming is largely functional within the arrangement, but the drummer has some freedom to interpret. 

Ad lib performances
The drummer shows up and plays. Perhaps this suggests that the drummer's musical personality may be featured, to some extent. Much of jazz drumming falls in this category. In rock, perhaps Mitch Mitchell or Keith Moon. 

Genre performances
A kind of ad lib performance, but the player mostly just states the genre. For example, Rockabilly, some Blues, Gypsy Jazz, some Latin styles.  

Tracked performances
Drumming performance is assembled in the studio in multiple passes, possibly some sequenced parts, possibly by more than one drummer. See: a lot of heavily-produced music since the 80s. 

Sampled performances
The drumming performance is digitally assembled by a producer— re-inventing a track a drummer recorded specifically for that record, or sampling the drumming from someone else's previously released record. 

We can also talk about broad categories of time feels:

Simple pulse
Think Motown, some Country, possibly Phil Rudd with AC/DC, or Ndugu Leon Chancler playing Billie Jean. 

Genre pattern
A stock pattern communicating a style— a jazz cymbal rhythm, a shuffle, a surf beat, DC Go Go, most Latin patterns.  

Composed pattern
A unique pattern created by the drummer for a particular piece of music, a la 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Changuito with Los Van Van.  

Quasi ad lib pattern
A partly or mostly non-repeating genre feel. A lot of modern jazz might fall in this category— Elvin Jones on McCoy Tyner's Passion Dance, Tony Williams on Walkin', from Four & More. 

Free groove
A mostly non-repeating time feel, not in a particular genre, for example an ECM-type feel— see Jon Christiansen playing with Keith Jarrett, or Bob Moses on Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life.  

“Spacy stuff” as we use to say in high school— percussion colors. Think Tony Williams on Fall, recorded by Miles Davis. 

Playing free texture not stating a particular tempo. Rashied Ali on Coltrane's Interstellar Space. 

We can also decide what the drummer is doing right now, on this part of this tune: 

Playing time
Playing a groove, of whatever description— genre, ad lib, composed, whatever.

Playing ensemble figures
Hitting drums and cymbals in unison with something the band is playing. 

Playing between ensemble figures, filling open spaces in the arrangement. 


Stopping and resting as part of an arrangement, or as an ad lib arrangement element.  

Laying out
Drummer doesn't play on this tune, or this section of the tune. 

Or co-soloing. Or otherwise creating free texture. Maybe an intro, or solo break, or featured solo or duo. 

Of course many of these categories will overlap— not many will be strictly one thing or another. And I don't know if this really constitutes analysis yet. But it's a starting place for a conversation. I'll look at a particular recording on these terms soon, and see what that gives us. 

And maybe on another day we can get into this on a more granular level, looking at individual notes— which ones state the main idea, which are filling out a texture, which are embellishments or extemporaneous— and see if that kind of thinking has any value. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Cliché control

A little writing experiment, like my old Funk Control pages, and my Philly Joe solo page. Here we have a lot of jazz soloing clichés, to practice in combination with each other. Similar to a page from John Riley's bebop drumming book— there are certainly some duplicate patterns, because I didn't make any effort for there not to be. You could easily use Riley's page together with this one. 

The idea is to play all of the patterns along with all of the other patterns, playing each measure once or twice, to make a two or four measure solo phrase. "Theoretically" you should play any two measure combination in both possible orders: A-B and B-A. That would be extremely time consuming, so it will be up to you to figure out a way to practice it that makes sense. Another possibility would be to play three measures of one thing, and one measure of the other. Use your judgement. 

Handle this loosely. It's not meant to be a technical workout, so feel free to simplify any part of it that's too difficult for you at whatever tempo you choose. To ease some transitions, you can put a quarter note on 4, or a quarter or 8th rest on 1. The patterns ending with a triplet or with 16th notes are going to want a release on 1, so you might add that the first time through transitioning to patterns starting with a rest. These are jazz patterns, but there's no need to religiously triplify all of the 8th notes. Think legato, not necessarily triplets. 

Move things around the drums, and vary the accents and stickings, however you see fit— Rs, Ls, both hands, flams, stick shots, whatever. Get fluent with the ideas, and connecting the ideas.

Get the pdf

Thursday, April 08, 2021


A small item for your consideration and experimentation.  

On a drumming forum, a user was complaining that practicing paradiddles didn't seem to improve his hand independence— he was working on some Chapin Advanced Techniques patterns, and was hoping the paradiddles would improve his facility with that. The answers given were all over the map, and largely based on misconceptions stemming from the use of the word independence. Aided, I think, by the notational convention of writing drum patterns as separate rhythms, as if they're played by multiple performers. 

My answer was, sure paradiddles are independent, you're doing two totally different rhythms with each hand; the right hand plays 1 &a e and the left hand plays e 2 &a. You may say psha those are just backward versions of each other... and I arrogantly retort: that means you're playing the same rhythm forward and backward at the same time! Sounds pretty independent to me. 

Like, look, independence:

Does it seem more independent if I write it like this?

In fact, independence = you playing one thing. 

Whatever people's theories about how independence works, we're dealing with one controller— you— playing one rhythm— that of all the parts combined— using sequences of  Rs, Ls, and both hands in unison. That's 100% of what hand independence is. What else is it?  

If paradiddles aren't independent-seeming enough, add some unisons— play the following patterns with your right hand on the hihat, left hand on the snare. B = both hands at the same time. 



Those are all at least as hard as the patterns in Chapin, and they sound independent, but done this way, they're easy to execute. So what's the difference? Mainly, they're non-mysterious, and there is no misguiding notation or language tricking you into thinking about it, and doing, it the hardest way possible.

I'm interested in other things right now, but this may be a productive way of practicing for someone: Go through the first pages of stick control and play each note of the patterns as Bs. People who have their flam rudiments together may find it easier to think of the both-hands notes as flams.  

I suggest starting with: 


RLRR will be very helpful with those Chapin exercises— try replacing two and three Rs with Bs, and you'll have most of those patterns covered.  

At the very least, a little bit of this kind of practice should be good conditioning for other systems of independence coordination, and for completely resetting your approach to this topic. 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

John and Nate's jazz drumming page

I wrote this for a couple of my younger students— it's a collection of simple jazz patterns that we went over verbally in a lesson. It's meant to be very loose introduction to a type of playing that is different from the rock/funk they've already done, in which I've included some things they can get quickly. 

In the lesson we run the patterns, and I tell them a few basic, important things, and I give them a listening assignment, including things like: 

Freddie the Freeloader - Miles Davis / Kind Of Blue
Blue Seven - Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus 
Moanin' - Art Blakey / Moanin' 
Stolen Moments - Oliver Nelson / Blues And The Abstract Truth

The next steps might be my recent easy jazz solo page, or any number of my EZ methods, as is appropriate. The idea is not to try to form these kids into jazz drummers via drum lessons— I don't believe that's possible, or desirable— it's to acquaint them with the music and the way it's played, so when they (hopefully) get into jazz band in school, they'll have some idea of what to do. Give them a chance to get interested in it. Then they can begin becoming jazz (or jazz-capable) drummers, if they choose, by playing music.   

Get the pdf

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Youtubed: practicing Syncopation

I'm feeling a little irked at the existence of YouTube drumming videos today, so let's do a search of a subject near and dear to me, practicing the book Progressive Steps to Syncopation, and see what the YouTube folk have to say about it, and I'll write my thoughts about them. I've been wondering about this; the Reed-associated methods are the professional system for becoming a reading, improvising professional drummer, yet very few people on the web talk about them. And the few that do, don't seem to grasp their full implications. 

I'll talk about the first videos that come up, in order. I'll list but not imbed any I just can't take. For example, the first one: an Expert Village thing entitled Syncopation for Drums : Drum Techniques— but every Expert Village video absolutely sucks going in. So I'm skipping that one. Or number 2: 15 Famous Syncopated Rock Grooves (That Inspire Creativity), a drum cover video in the guise of a lesson. I'm sorry, I cannot look at a clean young guy rocking out for the camera— all of these guys look that same to me. God love him, best of luck, I know he's going to get a million views, I just can't. 

So, the actual videos: 

Bruce Becker “Syncopation” Lesson Series 01: Left Hand Separation
Four minute video, obviously a great teacher, great drummer. Here one pattern is covered, briefly, with a whole lot of side comments. Hopefully he gets more in depth in the other videos.  

I don't dig using the word “separation.” It's not separation, it's coordination— the limbs are both plainly attached to the same human torso. If not, something is drastically wrong. Coordination is simply hands/feet playing opposite each other, and in unison with each other, to make a new, combined rhythm. Words matter, and words like separation and independence communicate a false concept of drumming coordination— the reality of which is we have a single controlling entity, the drummer, coordinating different body parts to create a drumming performance. 

I think a difficulty with prestige teachers like Becker, is that you get the impression that he has all the answers, and that they are the correct answers for everyone. So your study stops becoming a search, and starts becoming about how well are you doing what he says. But if you're into Mickey Roker, and a guy isn't reflecting any of that in his presentation, you may need to look elsewhere for those qualities. For me the exploration is more important than having this level of correct answer Becker gives. The answers you come up with yourself through seriously studying and performing music, will be at least correct enough for you to play well. 

It would be dumb to ignore information, and Becker has plenty. But it's one man's answer, which is not even directed at you personally— it's a video made for a general audience to demonstrate and share his general expertise, it's not a lesson plan for your development as a performer and artist.    

How to use Ted Reed’s Syncopation - Episode #1 jazz basics
Not a jazz drummer, but the verbal explanations are pretty solid. Strange cymbal technique, like a lot of these guys— they copied a video really hard, and took it to the next, wrong level. You get the feeling he did some studying and made the video, and luckily he basically studied the right stuff. Ends with some BS playing the ride cymbal with the left hand. No, no, no. But basically solid otherwise. It is not your imagination, on the demo starting at 2:30, he plays straight 8th and swing rhythms exactly the same— he swings them both. 

I play Ted Reed's "Syncopation" for 3 hours straight
Rock drummer plays Reed for 3 hours. Starts with a not great explanation of a complicated four limb triplet system. Weird mix, loud snare drum, everything else too quiet. I actually don't mind his cymbal technique. I could never do this— just flatly drill patterns for hours and hours. I need to practice like I'm playing something. It's not a question of  “optimal practice techniques”, that's just how I live. 

Syncopated Funk Groove I Drum Lesson
A Mike Johnston video, and I just. Can't. Do it. This is everything that is wrong with videos. Teaching a single hip(?) groove— the essence of hack teaching— that bull sh*t Drumeo manuscript, with one measure stretched across the whole screen, like that makes it easier to read. I don't need to you wish me an amazing day, I don't want to see your dog.

I'm not linking to this— I'm sure he's a lovely man— I mean obviously, listen to him, his loveliness unavoidable, even as you thought you signed on to learn something about the drums. But I can't. Search the video if you want to see it. 

Mel Brown Beat Syncopation Exercise
Here we go, the GREAT Mel Brown— Motown drummer, Diana Ross's drummer for many years, winner of a national Playboy Jazz award, student of Philly Joe Jones. And he taught my older brother. Catching his quintet at The Hobbit in Portland was one of the performance highlights of my college years. A GREAT drummer, band leader, and teacher.

He goes over all of the major basic jazz systems used with Reed, and one funk thing I've never done(!!!). Take the structure of this lesson seriously, everything about this is 100% correct and informative, right down to the short pants, and the cymbal that is pingier than you or I would like. If there's anything “wrong” with it, it's only because that thing doesn't matter.  

Using Ted Reed's "Syncopation" for Drumming Independence

Demonstrations of some basic methods on an electric set. They're not technically flawless, but so what. He does something close to my(""?) cut time funk thing. This is actually a reasonable video, even if it's not exactly dripping with jazz cred— real or fraudulent— so you're not going to take it over-seriously— it's just a demonstration of playing the notes and for that it's good. I like that he just demonstrates and doesn't talk.  

12 Ways to Use Reed's Syncopation - Part 1
Good teacher, nice clear way of explaining the premise. On topic the whole time. I don't need to hear about somebody's day, or listen to them butter me up with a lot of bro crap. Not exactly a real sophisticated jazz touch, but it seems more designed to demonstrate a feeling to her students. I prefer this to the hyper navel gazing technocratic style of the big video accounts. She shows you the thing, and a few things to try with it, and a few little special touches. And then you get to figure out where to go with it yourself. Teachers aren't supposed to be the last word on everything, they're supposed to show you how to something, and inspire you a little bit to go and do something with it. 

Syncopation: Expert Mode - Drum Lesson

Here we go. Why do people have to be so FULL OF IT. I understand that people put themselves under a lot of pressure to be on and to be appealing. By the time he gets to explaining the musical part I'm bored, I'm done, spent. Demonstrates some weird systems for practicing Reed, I don't have any use for any of them. This project, this playing of the drums, is not just about thinking up hard stuff. If we're going to do hard stuff, there's got to be a reason.  

Helpful Jazz Exercises for Drummers!

Good video, that is actually worth its 18 minute duration, and some further analysis to get the more advanced things he's talking about. The exercises he calls right hand lead and right foot lead are really important. A little bit of that macho L.A. touch on the drums with the hickory 5A sticks, that reminds me of Tom Brechtlein— that doesn't really fly as a default volume unless you're playing with fusion musicians. That's a minor quibble, it's an excellent video, and he's obviously a knowledgeable teacher and an excellent drummer.