Saturday, May 29, 2021

Latest uptempo drill

I'll be honest, most of my uptempo things I improvise while practicing, and then work on them maybe a few times over a week or two. But taken together, they give you more than a one-dimensional idea of how to practice dealing with fast tempos. They're mostly basically inspired by John Riley's uptempo drill in his book Beyond Bop Drumming.  

This is another one I basically improvised while practicing the pages with the quarter note pages in Syncopation with an uptempo jazz feel. It's pretty straightforward— we're doing the unison pattern from Reed, then the equivalent linear pattern, then the unison pattern split, with the bass drum after the snare drum, then split with the snare drum coming early. All easy to do just looking at the book, except the last one. 

Do these along with quarter notes on the cymbal, or the regular uptempo cymbal rhythm, plus hihat on beats 2 and 4. There are a lot of patterns over two pages, so I try to move through them quickly, in maybe 10-15 minutes of practicing. 

By the way, I've added a new label, uptempo methods, grouping all of my fast tempo jazz practice materials together, distinct from fast tempo posts broadly.

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Friday, May 28, 2021

Transcription: Jimmy Cobb solo

This week I may finally be getting a handle on this Jimmy Cobb fellow, after 40 years of listening to him. It turns out his records with Wynton Kelly are the ones to listen to. Obvious, but when you're mostly monofocused on a paltry 300? 500? records, there are going to be gaps. 

This is an extended solo from Out Front, from Kelly's record Undiluted. It's a 32 bar tune, and Cobb solos for three choruses. Tempo is in Roy Haynes territory, 283 bpm. It's rather macho— he's on the spot for three choruses and he burns it out in a big way. We talk about “ideas” and “chops” and “musicality”, but there's also a basic jazz musician thing where you just bring it and that's it.  

Still, his phrases are nicely composed, and they're good basic vocabulary at more moderate tempos. You could practice them two or four measures at a time. 

Dynamics are dramatic— the ghosted notes (indicated with parentheses) are extremely soft. So soft I may be missing some things there. 

He keeps the hihat going on beats 2 and 4 for the first chorus, drops it out in the second chorus, and feathers the bass drum for most of the first two A sections of the third chorus. Like a lot of players of this period, this is played mostly with the hands on the drums, with the bass drum used mainly for accents, or as part of worked out licks. I'm not hearing evidence of a lot of rudiments happening— it's mostly accented singles. There are probably doubles happening where there's one or two beats of triplets. At the beginning of the third chorus there are some Flam Accent #2s, or something like it.  

I felt like many two measure phrases started after the down beat, often on the & of 1. 

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Syncopation exercise: page 38 inverted

A little writing experiment here: I've inverted the rhythm from the full page Exercise 1 from Progressive Steps to Syncopation, on p. 38 in current editions, famously on p. 37 from earlier editions. It's one of the best known pages in drumming literature, certainly to jazz musicians. It's often practiced filling in the gaps in the melody rhythm with 8th notes, so when you do that with this page, the filler hand/foot will be playing that very familiar rhythm of the original Reed p. 38. 

I was just curious how this would work out, practicing all my normal stuff. Maybe nothing of interest at all, but that's why we blog. At the very least it's another reading exercise with a lot more non-syncopated quarters than we see elsewhere in Reed. 

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Daily best music in the world / groove o' the day: Sookie Sookie

I heard this on Portland's jazz station KMHD yesterday— on Ben Turner's excellent afternoon show. You probably don't have a decent local jazz station, so you should be streaming KMHD online and becoming a monthly supporter. A much better use of that $10 monthly than that Hulu subscription or whatever.   

This is Sookie Sookie by Grant Green, with Idris Muhammad on drums— because he's everywhere— and it's everything I like in drumming. There's a lot here to be learned about the difference between human musical repetition and machine repetition. 

Here's approximately the groove Muhammad is playing on the solos: 

He may not be stating all of it all the time— some of that bass drum rhythm is being played by the bassist and/or percussionist. That's the overall vibe— with a strong 1 in the first three measures and building intensity in the fourth measure. He does some different things with the cymbal— listen for how he uses the bell later on in the track.   

It's very repetitive, clearly, and it's engaging because you feel that it's being created by a group of very engaged humans. There's a feeling of suspense that's totally absent when someone plays over a loop created on a device. Humans are sensitive to that, and mechanical repetition has totally different implications for them.  

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Page o' skiplets - UPDATED

UPDATE: Boy, I suck— it turns out this thing is riddled with typos in the 4/4 versions. I'll let you know when I've posted the corrected version...

You know, instead of saying “skiplets”— a very stupid word I made up for the repeating three-note pattern of the standard jazz cymbal rhythm— I could have just said spangalang. It's real jock-sounding and I hate it, but I could have named this system something pompous like Spangalang Theory. The Spangalang Method. Maybe I'll do that with the book.  

I've updated the original page o' skiplets somewhat— for use with a couple of students. I wrote out each skiplet coordination unit in it's normal orientation and environment, in a full measure of 4/4 time. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose, but there you are.

I also circled some notes, which could be played on the bass drum. So you can play the snare part 1) all on the snare drum, 2) all on the bass drum, 3) circled notes on bass drum, uncircled notes on the snare drum. Here's the explanation of this system.  

It is an excellent system for learning jazz coordination quickly and completely, or for correcting weak coordination— much more satisfactory than the traditional way where someone assigns you some pages from Chapin and you go in the practice room and bash them out, with inconsistent results. 

I don't think these pages are completely successful, though. A better way to teach and learn this system might be to use a conventional resource like Advanced Techniques, and draw a phrase mark over the relevant portion. It does need to be done with a teacher (me, because I don't know of anyone else who teaches this way) there are too many ways for a student to misunderstand it, if he or she doesn't already know the terrain a little bit.  

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Page o' coordination: Jimmy Cobb Afro

Page o' coordination based on Jimmy Cobb's playing on the tune Not A Tear, played by Wynton Kelly. The main groove Cobb plays on this tune is actually identical to the groove from Andrew Hill's MC, played by Idris Muhammad— which I misattributed to Freddie Waits. It's a good groove to have at your disposal for situations requiring an easy to follow version of this feel. Here we'll look at a variation Cobb frequently plays on that tune.  

That POC at the link above, plus today's POC, plus this warm up page, and perhaps this one, make a pretty fair introduction to this area of playing— for mastering the coordination, at least. Scroll through my Afro 6 labeled posts, you're bound to find others, and many serious challenges as well. 

My suggested method is to learn the whole page, then drill it using some set left hand moves around the drums.  

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Here's the recording— the Afro groove begins at around 2:00:

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Reed tweak: four beats per drum, cycling

Here's an easy way to modernize your melodic phrasing when playing an ordinary thing using Syncopation— everyone knows about playing the melody parts from the book on the snare drum and bass drum, along with a jazz cymbal rhythm, yes?  This tweak on that method is similar to a 2018 post “Maximizing syncopation rhythms”, except doing it this way is more efficient. 

Start by playing the melody on the snare drum in the first measure, and on the bass drum in the next measure. Then play it again, switching drums one note earlier, and so on, for each of the remaining notes in the measure. Here's an easy one to illustrate the formula:

The title of this post is a little misleading— we're cycling by the note, not the beat; so there will be the same number of inversions as there are notes in the measure. Here's the complete cycle with a more complex rhythm, from p. 34: 

It's quite easy once you get the hang of it. There's basically no reason not to do this all the time— use it as a regular variation when you practice that basic method. 

Mostly we're talking about playing the one line exercises starting on p. 34, but you could so something similar with the full page exercises by switching drums on, say, the second note of every measure, or the last note of every measure.

Here's the first line of the famous p. 37 (now p. 38) exercise done both of those ways:

...and so on, however far you want to take it— switch after the second note in the measure, or switch two notes from the end of the measure. Possibly you'll have learned everything there is to learn from this tweak well before you get to that. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Linear 8ths in 9/8 - 01

This is how it is, I get busy teaching, doing my taxes, preoccupied with other stuff, and not able to hit the drums for a week, and everything dries up. No ideas and I feel like a fraud. Then I sit down once and everything clicks, and it's hard not to stop to write things down. I'm just working on my stuff, I'm not trying to write more drum crap. 

This is similar to this recent page of double paradiddle / paradiddle-diddle inversions, voiced on the snare drum and bass drum. I use that page a lot in my own practicing, and wanted to extend the idea a little further. Here we're doing the same idea in 3 [9/8 = "triplet feel" in 3, yes?], mostly alternating, with one double. 1-9 have the double on the snare drum, 10-18 have the double on the bass drum. 

Use these however you like, I'm mostly doing them with a jazz waltz cymbal and hihat rhythm. You could also add cymbal in unison with the snare drum part, or in unison with the bass drum part. The real animals can add one of my quasi-Afro/Cuban cymbal rhythms in 9/8. Start with this one if you're going to try that.  

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Transcription: Jimmy Cobb fours

Jimmy Cobb trading fours with Wynton Kelly on Gone With The Wind, from Kelly's self-titled (plus an exclamation point) trio album from 1961. There's a lot of very standard vocabulary here, the type of which I've been working with several students lately. And there are some unusual things, like the five note patterns in 8th notes and triplets in the fifth and last lines. I don't see a lot of that in making these transcriptions.  

The trading begins at 2:37. Tempo is a bright quarter note = 247. I've been real interested in this tempo range lately— around 240 to 280. 


Note that on some lines I've included the pickups to his solo breaks— he sets up his solos pretty emphatically, starting with the third one.  The tempo is bright, and the denser spots get a little crushed— any place you see any 16th notes. If I were learning to play this page, I would figure out something to do with those; they're just little fast things that sound kind of funny and aren't really critical content.  

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Three bloggers: technique

“Technique we always think of as being a thing having to do with fastness, [but] technique is, in its highest sense, is the ability to handle musical materials.”

“You could get to a point where if you played any more notes it would be funny. So, I mean, how far can you go in that direction?”
- Bill Evans 

Another quasi-synchronized column by me, Jon McCaslin, and Ted WarrenThe Three Bloggers! The topic du jour is drumming technique. What is it, why is it, how to do it. I wrote an overview of my approach to technique back in 2018, so here I'll try to expand on that a bit, mainly from a teaching perspective. And I'm appallingly late posting this, and I'm not real satisfied with the content, but I blame the topic. It's not a real deep subject to me.   

The first purposes of technique are to get a sound on an instrument, and to enable playing normal repertoire— everything a professional plays in the course of working. Ordinary mastery. That kind of playing can be done with a range of idiosyncratic techniques, not all of them necessarily “correct” by conservatory standards. I think what's important is to use technique efficiently, and much of what this site is about is to designing and highlight practice systems that don't demand high levels of technique to master.     

So I'm not a technique-forward teacher, I'm a minimalist. I find that many or most students are able to hold the sticks more or less correctly by just looking at me, and grabbing the sticks, and hitting a drum. After getting an acceptable baseline there, we mostly work on learning what to play, and improve technique through learning musical materials, making adjustments and refinements, and acquiring new skills, as they become necessary.    

My dedicated technique instruction is primarily about developing an efficient wrist stroke, and a few basic things: grip, hand position, and the basic strokes— single strokes, double strokes, multiple-bounce strokes— and learning the level system for playing accents, flams, and dynamics generally. Fine control is a big focus, at the appropriate time. The major reason for it is to be able to handle the volume requirements of playing professionally— so you can still play well, and creatively, even when you need to play softer than you normally like. 

To that end I focus on simplifying the stroke, and eliminating some very common waste motions and habits— like lifting the stick unnecessarily before a stroke, or habitual downstroking. A side effect of the common bounce-oriented methods is that people don't know how to finish a stroke after hitting the instrument— their hands don't know how to do anything but let the stick bounce. So that's a thing I try to correct.   

For a more detailed description of all of this, see my technique post from 2018

At this point I'll talk about some popular misconceptions about technique, and teaching technique, as I see them: 

Right from the start
A popular idea among technique people is to focus on perfect technique right from the beginning— otherwise you're ingraining “bad habits”... suggesting that there are good habits. Maybe think about doing things on purpose, and not playing by habit at all.

At any stage of development technique shouldn't be grossly wrong, but it doesn't need to do more than to serve the player's immediate purposes— either the music they're playing right now and in the near future, or the next logical thing they're working on to continue their overall development. 

At any rate I don't believe in finished technique, or “set” technique— learning one thing perfectly as a student and then using that one thing to play all your stuff for the rest of your career. Personally, I've massively reworked my technique at least four times since I began playing, due to the nature of the music I was playing at the time. 

Fear of injury
People justify their obsession with technique by focusing on the possibility of injury— which I have never noticed to be as much of a problem as the online conversation about it suggests. In my experience most people don't practice or play long enough, or wrong enough, or intensely enough to hurt themselves. I think focusing on it with young students is demented.  

Consider it if you're blowing your face off in a punk band with your whole body tensed up, or if you're playing kevlar surfaces or hard practice pads 10 hours a day, or using hardwood sticks. Everybody else can relax. 

“Free stroke”

The free stroke— a technique where you basically fling the stick at the head with your wrist, and catch it when it bounces back to the raised position— is the founding move of the stick bounce-centric world, which is based on a doctrine of ricocheting the sticks off the playing surface, basically. 

It's impressive when it's displayed, but increasingly I don't see the point. Most percussion instruments are not optimally bouncy for that kind of kinetics-based technique. Playing a marimba with a rattan-handled yarn mallet, for example, or a concert bass drum, or a floor tom. What kind of tone would you get on the timpani if you were just flinging the mallets at them to make them bounce really high? Not good. Your touch on an instrument should not be based on how far you need the stick or mallet to ricochet of it.  

To be in that world, dynamics have to be basically irrelevant— it's a good technique if you're playing quite loud to extremely loud. But professionals and serious students have to play in a wide variety of settings, with a wide range of dynamics and volumes, and that kinetic style doesn't work for most of it. 

As I mentioned, people half-trained in this style also have the problem of not knowing how to play a complete stroke. You can watch them play at normal volumes, and after the hit their hand just flops like a dead trout thrown against the wall. 

With that, I'll have to end this. I imagine there's more to say, but I'm a week past deadline, gang. Be sure to check out what Jon and Ted have to say. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Very occasional quote of the day: ectopic pulse

Film editor Walter Murch talks about Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, conducted by George Solti, used in the famous “Charlie's Point” scene in Apocalypse Now. Late in post-production Decca denied the filmmakers the right to use Solti's recording of Valkyries in the movie, and Murch tells about trying to find another usable recording of the piece, and why none of them worked, and we learn some very interesting things about rhythm:

The greatest conductors and orchestras, and Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic were certainly in that group, are able to shape these minute adjustments to the rhythmic signature so closely that they are perceived as regular but in fact are not, thus enhancing the organic, living and breathing nature of the music itself. The problem with many of the versions of “Valkyries” that I rejected was that they were monotonously rhythmic: A metronomic signature had been decided upon and stuck to, regardless of circumstance. The result was a robotic stagger, a simulation of musical life rather than the real thing.

This is reflected in our intimate relationship with the rhythms of our own bodies, their heartbeat and breathing. We may think that most of the time our heartbeat is regular, but in fact it is not. It is constantly being micro (and sometimes macro) adjusted on a beat-to-beat basis, responding to neurological feedback between the heart, the brain, and the needs of the body for oxygenated blood. And the same applies to our rate of breathing, which is intimately related to our circulatory system.

The medical term for a healthy but slightly irregular rhythm is “ectopic,” and it is our largely unconscious awareness of this dynamic pulse which reminds us that we are alive. In cases of medical emergency, that closely monitored feedback between the heart and the needs of the body is often weakened or severed, and a machine-like regularity of heartbeat appears, signaling trouble or impending death.

Similarly, music that lacks this dynamic, quicksilver pulse is perceived, consciously or not, as lacking an essential spark of life.

Solti’s conducting of the “Valkyries” was instead a sublime example of what we might call ectopic music—a powerful embodiment of the living, pulsing heart and breath of Wagner’s composition.

It's worth stating again: you only get a metronomic, machine-like heartbeat when you're about to die

Read the whole article, it's fascinating. 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Three Camps for drum set: 16th notes - SSBB

More of Three Camps adapted for drum set, with a 16th note SSBB pattern, in a jazz feel. Let's call this an advanced page, because there's a little extra 16th note filler on the snare drum that many won't have worked out, and there are a few notes you have to follow. It's not easy to just read it. Follow the instructions, learn them, memorize them, throw the page away.   

We're getting fairly remote from the original piece, but who cares, the exercises are good. With this particular version the normal thing on the 'D' measures— the beginning of the third camp— didn't work so well, so I deviated from the logic of the original a little bit. 

Note that on “Basic, starting on 2” you have to continue the SSBB pattern on beat 1 of the last measure of the AABA and CCBC sections. On both of the “syncopated” versions, there are circled notes that you play only on the A* and C* measures, as indicated in the form written beneath each variation. 

To reduce visual clutter I haven't indicated a hihat part. Play it on beats 2 and 4, or play it on all of the &s for a double time feel.  

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