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. 


Ed Pierce said...

Mel's the man. I took three lessons from him when I first moved to Portland in 1996, and this video is pretty close to what the first lesson was like. He also showed me a few pages from Jim Blackley's Syncopated Rolls book and had me try some of the ideas with one of his rhythms (Mel studied with Blackley around the early 70's when both of them were living in New York City).

I didn't watch any of these, but I'm sure the Steve Holmes one is good; all of the videos I've seen by him are informative, and his playing is great.

Jon McCaslin said...

Mel Brown studied with Jim Blackley??? Wow!!!

Ed Pierce said...

Hi Jon,

Yes, indeed. Mel also studied with Philly Joe Jones for a bit (I believe in the mid-1960's), and he told me he studied a bit with Jo Jones (I'm assuming sometime in the 1970's). The main thing I remember him telling me about Blackley (this was before I knew anything about Blackley, other than that I'd heard of his Syncopated Rolls book) is that Blackley was a Scottish pipe band drummer who had a lot of chops. I will say that in my opinion many of the ideas that Blackley talks about in his books can be seen in Mel's playing--Mel has a lot of chops, too, but one can always sense that there is a priority placed on clear musical lines in his playing.

Mel said that he went through all of Wilcoxon's Modern Rudimental Swing Solos book with Philly Joe when studying with him. You can also hear this influence in Mel's playing as well, among other things.