Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A needlessly difficult book

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for a few weeks. I wasn't going to post it, but I'm having a hard time finishing anything lately. So here we are: 

A book I've never seen before, Drumming In All Directions, by David Dieni, a drummer/percussionist from the Bay Area, was mentioned on a drumming forum, and I want to give a few opinionated comments on what I see in the online preview. I'm not bringing it up to try to sell you on not buying somebody's book— I want to use it to talk about what I want in practice materials, and why— and maybe give some things to think about for others who write.    

What's in the book is real stuff— I, and others, do some similar things using Reed, Dahlgren & Fine, and other books— I just don't dig this presentation. 

Just in terms of understanding what we're supposed to do, the book doesn't go easy on us explaining its methods. This example illustrates the book's system, and wow:

I already know what he's doing, and it's hard for me to figure it out from reading that. The concept is to play some composed two-voice practice phrases, using a few different coordination systems— actually unison stickings: 

Hands vs. Feet - RH/LH vs. RF/LF
Right Side vs. Left Side - RH/RF vs. LH/LF
Opposite side unisons - RH/LF vs. LH/RF 

It's quite similar to the harmonic coordination section of Dahlgren & Fine. He also uses some worked out tom moves, as I do, and many others. So far, so good— you could do the same thing with those stickings with Reed (filling in the gaps in the written rhythm) or Stone (substituting those stickings for the Rs and Ls).   

My major problem is that the practice phrases (called groove melodies in the book— really they're solo phrases) are just very remote from musical reality as I know it. For example, I never want to look at anything like this when I'm practicing the drums:

I don't understand the purpose of writing these exercises as 32nd notes— I don't consider this level of fluency with reading them to be an essential skill for a drummer. I don't believe I've ever read a 32nd note in the course of playing music professionally, and I read them pretty rarely when practicing drum set. If I were ever to play anything similar to that in real life, I would be thinking in terms of 16th notes double timed. Maybe even 8th notes quadruple timed.

Materials written for two voices, or written as a sticking, do have a purpose, but most of the time I want to practice, play, read, and think in terms of a single melody rhythm, and inferring the second voice— Reed style. These phrases have rests, which are hard to duplicate with standard Reed methods or Stone-type sticking patterns. But if that were considered very important, we could devise some methods to include rests, and then improvise some similar things. Which in the end is the entire point— learning to improvise.   

I'm also not fond of the drum-theoretical content. For example, there is a lengthy description of drumming coordination as a progression from “control of individual limbs” to “independence” to “interdependence”:

I don't recognize this from my own experience at all. Independence is not a step along the way to interdependence, it's simply a defunct theory of how drumming coordination works. At every step of development, there is only deliberate coordination of parts, or there is guessing at it. 

How you write these things is important, because so much of drumming involves people figuring things out for themselves— no matter how good of instruction and information they get, they still have to figure it out in the practice room. So when a major topic like coordination is badly framed, it misguides readers' thinking and gets them pursuing phantom abilities, and it's a massive time waster.    

In the end, it's not difficult to write a lot of hard stuff to play on the drums; it's more difficult to present it clearly, and communicate clearly, and to make it relevant to the real world of playing music. And to be economical with the demands you make on people's time practicing it. It's not that this is a terrible book (from what I see in the preview)— I think it's needlessly difficult for what it aims to achieve for users. 

1 comment:

keith haldane said...

Very well put. "pursuing phantom abilities" really sums it up! Can be applied to a lot of modern concepts about what constitutes worthwhile practice material.