Monday, October 25, 2021

Very occasional quote of the day: practicing vs. playing

Most important thing on this site: 

DL: How important is it to play, and how important is it to practice on your own?

SM: It's more important to play. I've always felt that playing is the most important thing. You learn something every time you play. It's the experience of playing that, over the years, makes you a good player. Under any conditions, whether it's Lawrence Welk, a wedding, or a bar-mitzvah, you learn something that can be used someplace down the line.

- Shelly Manne, Modern Drummer interview by Dave Levine, 1981

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Transcription: Tony Williams - Life Suite, Part 2

Some more from that self-titled Stanley Clarke album. I must have gotten the record in high school. Nobody ever told me to get it, I was just rooting through the stacks at the used record store and I saw that it had Tony Williams on it. These things are just around waiting for you to buy them and you luck onto them because you're looking. This is the drum solo from the tune Life Suite, Part 2. 

The solo is 60 bars long, over a 4 bar vamp played 15 times. He takes his time getting off the hihat, and comes back to it during the more soloistic parts, and then takes it out with four bars of hihat at the end. Tempo is a pretty burning 148. Getting up into the natural speed limit for 16th notes in a fusion setting, before they start sounding like massive hyperactivity. Egberto Gismonti's Baiao Malandro, which I transcribed early in the blog, is similar. The transcription begins at 0:40 in the track, or at 2:29 in the YouTube clip below. 



Snares off for the entire solo. There's some open hihat activity I didn't bother writing out— at the beginning especially. He's bouncing his left foot for a good portion of it, which creates some half-open sounds on the es and as. I also didn't write out a good amount of left foot activity throughout that doesn't really relate to the rest of what he's playing.  

Tony Williams isn't really a textural drummer, is he? Everything he plays here is very direct, with a lot of hihat and bass drum at the beginning, and a lot of cymbal with bass drum generally, along with some stuff with the hands on the snare and tom toms. Mainly alternating sticking. Briefly in measures 53-54 there's some modern textural stuff happening with the cymbal, snare, and bass drum. Tony-like(!) licks are happening in measures 30, 37-38 (same handed flam accents, there), and 55-56. Those crescendo-ing singles in m. 16 and 18 are also very Tony.   

Get the pdf

Again, the transcription begins at 2:29 in the video:  

Friday, October 22, 2021

Organizing practice loops

UPDATE: Download links are working now! 

My archive of sampled practice loops has gotten so big that it's become kind of unmanageable, so I've organized them into categories. Here are the first three new zips to download:  

Slow to medium tempo jazz in 4/4

Rock and funk

Latin - Caribbean and Brazilian


I'll be posting more in the coming few weeks. There are quite a few new things that are not included in the archive I joyfully posted back in January. A few of the jazz loops might be weird to play with— I made a lot of new ones, and haven't gotten around to playing with all of them yet.  

If you haven't used these yet, quit screwing around and set it up. It'll change your life and relationship with all the dull stuff I and others tell you to practice. Make a folder in your music directory labeled DRUM-PRACTICE or something, and unzip these there. I suggest adding the date to the folder name, because I'll likely be updating them. 

I really recommend using a player other than iTunes. I use MusicBee on my main desktop computer, and VLC Media Player on my pad. Even if you normally use iTunes, you can set up one of those freeware players to recognize only your practice folder, and use that app only for practicing. Or just buy one of those stone-age mp3 players and use that.   

I recommend using over-the-ear headphones, with earplugs underneath, so you don't blow out your ears competing with the drums. I usually have one can off my ear so I can hear the live drums, too. I don't recommend noise cancelling or isolating headphones— you want to hear the drums.  

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ornamentation overdose

This has been going on a long time.
Another entry in the ongoing real-world musical saga I call “Music didn't suddenly get good when a lot of people learned how to play fast.”

Let's reminisce about another point in history when people would slather creative works— visual, architectural, or musical... clothes, hairstyles, digestive tract— with as much ornamental decoration as possible, rendering the object's structure into a formless mass of exquisitely elaborate froth.

During the Rococo period in 18th c. France, the superprivileged degenerates patronizing the arts were demanding infinitely increasing visual and aural luxury. Direct statement of a creative idea was thought to be howlingly gauche, and art self-vaporized into a swirling sweet-smelling cess-cloud of ornament pirhouetting endlessly around ornament off into the stratosphere, until some people had enough and everyone was executed.

This phenomenon was exemplified in the hideous harpsichord music of the period:




I'll save us some time, I've got actual footage of a 18th c. harpsichordist trying to play a quarter note:




We had a similar thing happening about 20 years ago with some R&B-derived singers, who would dance around for 20 minutes on one syllable before getting to the next actual note in the song. I'd like to present a good example of a drummer committing this type of offense, but that would require me looking around and finding it, which I'm not going to do. You've heard them, you know they're out there. Perhaps drummers don't embellish so much as atomize, turning functionally single notes into long tones, or long tone clusters. 




We all do it at times. It's a big part of Metal drumming. Certainly the whole point of rudimental snare drumming is to embellish a simple march beat. 

So maybe it's not something to totally avoid in our creative playing, so much as to understand what the real center of our musical content is. Which is rhythm and melody*, and some other things that happen strictly in performance, like groove expression. And to understand when we're getting into a jive area that is going to get us all guillotined. 

* - OK, more than that— it's a topic for another day.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Subtractive method: batucada

This developing subtractive method is becoming really interesting. It makes it much easier to write and communicate more complex orchestrations than in the past— which is not an end in itself, it just makes it easier to adapt the system for specific styles, with specific constraints. 

I've been doing a batucada-type samba of samba thing with it. Part of the thing with this method is that we're converting a Stone-type sticking pattern to do things other than Right hand and Left hand. For this method we'll use A = accent on the snare drum, and B = add bass drum
    

AAAA-BBBB
AAAB-BBBB
AAAB-BBBA
AAAB-ABAB

 

Use either of these as the loose foundation: 



Those accents are default for this style; you don't have to reconcile them with the accents/bass drum in the practice systems. And you don't have to rigorously work out the buzzes/drags. It sounds best if it's not too worked out— let it be a little rough. 

As it says, accent the snare drum on any As in the book rhythm, add bass drum to any Bs. And don't do either of them on notes that aren't sounding in the book rhythm. If that instruction doesn't make sense to you, read the system summary post again.  

Here's how the first line of the p. 38 exercise in Syncopation would be played using the AAAA-BBBB system: 



Play the system accents as rim shots, or accented buzzes, or whatever you like. It's not about doing the system 100% perfectly, it's about using it to go for a sound. 

At slower tempos you could play the 8th notes half-swung— which takes it into more of a New Orleans street-beat type of feel— at faster tempos try the tripteenth-style samba feel, where all four 8th notes get squashed in to the same space as the first-through-last notes of a triplet. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Lopsy Lu revisited

Someone left a rather odd comment on my old Lopsy Lu transcription, of Tony Williams playing with Stanley Clarke, and I saw that my own notes from that 2015 post are also rather obscure, so I thought I'd write a new guided listening tour of the track. It's a short tune that's deceptively difficult to follow, especially given what's happening on the recording. It should be a popular tune with the current breed of chops-centric young electric bass players, so you could find yourself playing it sometime. For me it's in in a category with Vashkar— another short, strange tune.   

Listen while you read: 


All time signatures I reference here are compound meters, with an 8 on the bottom of the time signature, with dotted quarter notes as the counted and felt beat— that happens to be the rhythm played on the bass drum at the start. Compound meters are triplet-feel meters counted in the top number divided by three: 

6/8 = counted in 2 (not 6)
12/8 = counted in 4 (not 12)

So where I mention beats or counting, I'm referring to dotted quarter notes, not the number at the top of the time signature. Hit the link above and read that post if this is in any way confusing.  

The tune has an A-B, two part form. We'll call the singable part the A section, and the riff-like part the B section. The recording starts with the B section, immediately when the bass comes in at 0:04. The first A section starts at 0:23 and ends at 0:34. Get those in your ear, and be able to tell when you're hearing an A or B section. There are lots of aural gray areas in this tune, so you may not know every second, but you'll know when you hear the riff or the melody   

I wrote the original transcription in 12/8— meaning counted in 4— which it could be, but I find it a difficult meter to count and keep track of the form. It seems more natural to count most of the tune in 8. Try counting through about the first minute of the recording that way. The B section will have five measures of 8, the A section will have three measures of 8. 

In counting you'll notice the B section sits a little funny. I think it's easier if you the Bs 10-8-8-8-6, so the repeating bass figure falls at the end of each measure, which is natural to my ear. Basically that figure happens four times in every B section, with a little padding before and after. Try counting that right when the bass comes in after 0:03. 

The time signatures implied by counting this way are kind of ridiculous— 24/8, 30/8, 18/8. I would never write something out that way. I rarely count in 8, it just happens to work here. 

That's the structure of the tune. I posted a practice loop of the entire form if you want to play along. If you want to see how one other person transcribed it, you can get the Stanley Clarke collection from Bassline Publishing. 

Here's a map for counting through the entire track— I suggest you do it a couple of times, because why not. If you insist on counting it in 8 all the way through, replace each 10 and 6 with an 8. 


0:00 - drums only - 8   

0:03 - B section - 10-8-8-8-6

0:23 - A section - 8-8-8

0:35 - B - 10-8-8-8-6

0:54 - A - 8-8-8

1:05 - short B - 10-8-8-6

1:21 - A - 8-8-8

1:32 - B - 10-8-8-8-6 (Stanley doesn't play first riff)

1:51 - A - 8-8-8

2:03 - B/A - 10-8-8-6-8 (A section played on 8-8-6 portion, 8 beats padding a end)

2:22 - extended A - 8-8-8-8

Repeat extended A under solos until drum solo at 5:19

5:19 DRUM SOLO - A - 8-8-8

5:30 - B - 10 - ||: 8-8 :|| (3x) - 8-6

6:02 - HEAD OUT - A - 8-8-8

6:14 - B - vamp on B section riff and fade


People could argue for counting and writing it differently, I imagine, but what somebody wrote is not necessarily what it is. Downbeats = strong beats* is a basic organizing principle of music, and counting the B sections the way I do makes the accented endings of all of the major figures anticipations of a 1. And nobody on the recording is playing anything to suggest that the barlines are somewhere else. I'd be curious to see the sketch Stanley handed out at the recording, if any. 

* - Regardless of what is happening syncopation-wise in the arrangement or performance, whether performers are accenting strongly or not. Harmonic motion defines the 1s, the downbeats. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Groove o' the day: Jack Dejohnette - Fiesta

A bright samba groove played by Jack Dejohnette on Fiesta, from Stan Getz' My Foolish Heart album— a live record from the mid-70s. Tempo is about half note = 130. 

Here's the very beginning of the tune:
 


He plays basically this for most of the body of the tune, with minor variations in the cymbal rhythm, plus fills and left hand activity:


Listen to the whole thing: 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Very occasional quote of the day: a lot of technique

“I could be playing for a month and never run into anything that requires a lot of technique. It might require that I play very simply. If you've got a lot of chops and you get bugged because the music doesn't require great chops, it's difficult to be open minded about the music. You have to get beyond that wall you set up for yourself.”

- Steve Gadd, 1978 Modern Drummer interview with Aran Wald

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Subtractive patterns for jazz hihat

What this new subtractive method is good for: making it easy to create and communicate rather specific, specialized orchestration/voicing systems on the drum set. Like, for the hihat in jazz— I have never cared for the normal Dawson methods, and I never came up with anything else really satisfactory on my own.  

With this method you can pick the exact thing you want to work on with the hihat, and get plenty of practice doing it, and variations of it, with a pretty realistic jazz texture overall, with normal density on the snare drum. 

To summarize the method again: the patterns below represent one measure of 8th notes, with S = snare drum, H = hihat played with the foot. Reading the top line rhythm from pp. 10-11 and 30-45 in Syncopation, play only the notes of the patterns that correspond with the rhythms in the book. See the previous posts for a more thorough explanation. Add a regular jazz cymbal rhythm. 

Warm up with these:

SHSH-SHSH
SSSH-SSSH
SHSS-SHSSS
SSHH-SSHH


Then these— note that the hihat will be on beats 2 or 4 in each of them:

SSHS-SHSS
SSHS-SHSH
SSHS-SSSH
SSSH-SSHS
SHSS-SSHS


Then try these more complex patterns: 

SHSS-HSSH
SHSS-HHSS
SHSS-HHSH
SHSH-SSHH
SSHH-SHSH


I usually don't want to mess with doubles with the left foot. I never do two triplet-rate notes in a row on the hihat at anything faster than ballad tempo. But you can practice that using: 

SHHS-SHHS 
SSHS-SHHS
SHSH-HSSS  


You'll find this works exceedingly well with the dreaded Exercise 2 (p. 39 in current edition of Reed)— it's very dense and is generally a pain in the neck, but these systems break it up nicely, and give you ample opportunity to practice the actual ideas behind the patterns. The sparser pages in Reed fragment the patterns so much that there would likely be a lot of redundancy. Play Reed Exercise 4 using SHSS-SHSS and then with SHHS-SHHS and you'll see what I mean. All this means is that, lucky us, we don't need to do endless systems this way. 

The systems above are mostly easy to interpret, and could be written as simple rules instead of a Stone-type pattern. You could describe SSSH-SSSH as play the hihat on any & of 2/& of 4 in the book rhythm, play everything else on the snare drum. But that's long winded when we're already used to memorizing these Stone-type patterns. You'll figure out the verbal rule as you practice them, which will make it easier to do them.  

Friday, October 08, 2021

Chip Stern plays Papa Jo's drums

Papa Jo Jones
Photo by Rick Mattingly
Item from writer Chip Stern, best known to me for conducting a lot of great interviews in Modern Drummer magazine, including one with Papa Jo Jones. He has a lot of memories to share about his time hanging with Jo:  

OLD MAN RIVER: Papa Jo once granted me diplomatic immunity to check out his old Ludwig drum kit in the adjacent room at his crib on East 64th Street. His toms and snare pretty much paralleled the high melodic tuning I was familiar with from Max's drums, but the 14 x 20 Ludwig bass drum? WTF? Was like a gong. A thin calfskin timpani head (a notion he got directly from his idol, Chick Webb) with no muffling of any kind.

I went back into the room where Papa was chilling, scratching my head. “Man, that was nothing like I was expecting,” and Jo just laughed his ass off. “HA... that's why I don't have no problems. Nobody knows what I'm doing.”

At one point, I copped one of those KLH all in one stereos with a built in AM/FM tuner and a Dual turntable as a gift, so Jo could stage concerts for me and relate the back story as to what was actually happening on these recordings, many of which, obviously featured Jonathan David Samuel Jones. 
When sitting in his rocking chair, I observed how Jo was always pedaling with both his feet, heel to toe/toe to heel, and I began to realize that this was both his root timekeeper and how he controlled the resonance of his bass drum: toeing the beater right into the head, and holding it there, while stomping down with his heel on the back of the bass drum pedal. The vibration of the heel stomping down would translate to the bass drum, creating a soft subliminal pulse, and if every now and then, the toe came loose, and the beater popped on to the unmuted head, detonating a bomb, well, all in a day's work.

Visit Chip's site, and follow him on Facebook, where he's quite active, sharing a lot of great stuff. 

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Tempo and practicing

Yes, it is.
This always hung me up— the seemingly infinite tempo possibilities for any one thing you practice. It was a constantly lurking thing that I'm not doing this fast enough, and you would never feel like you completed something. I think it stole my focus from learning something really well at the tempo at which I was doing it then.   

Some guidelines, then, for thinking about tempo when practicing, for settling down and having a clear purpose about what you're doing: 

Relax about baby tempos 
You need to be able to play the slow tempos great, too, so why the rush to just play faster? Everyone wants to play things at “flow” speed, where your hands are moving in a continuous motion, but many times you just have to carefully place every single note. So practice sounding great while doing that. And having worked it out thoroughly, you'll sound better at tempos where the rate of notes has a more natural flow. 


Know the destined tempo

Tempo suggestions in drumming books may not always be totally realistic. See the absurd "half note = 120" in the hardest parts of Dahlgren & Fine. That's just an invitation by the book's author for you to feel inadequate forever. Go to your record collection and find some playing in the style of what you're practicing, and make that your goal. You mostly don't need  to do very complicated dense stuff extremely fast; sparse things that are dull at slow tempos may be designed to be played fast.    


Technical issues

Beware when you're playing a thing so fast you need to devise a special technique to do it. You may be doing the thing faster than intended. Or possibly your normal technique is needlessly complex and it's slowing you down. Check both things carefully.


Two tempos

Play the page at a moderately slow tempo, then a moderately fast tempo, and move on. A comfortable medium tempo where you can achieve some relaxation, and a faster tempo where you're pushing yourself a little bit. I like the tempos suggested in A Funky Primer: quarter note = 86, and qn = 120. I like qn = 64 if you need to add a level below that.   


Default

It's easy to just start playing without thinking about a tempo beforehand, but don't just play your default tempo all the time. Know what tempo you're playing, and choose your tempos on purpose. 


Out of time

Some very demanding things— eg, heavy independence practice— don't need to be in time, at first. Play them slow to begin with, then take all the extra time you need to get the next note in the pattern. Just try to keep the rhythm roughly proportional to what's on the page.   

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Accents in Reed

TOTAL nerd stuff here. I use the accent pages in Progressive Steps to Syncopation (pp. 47-49) with my students for convenience, but I find them be a pain. They're thorough, but poorly balanced— so if students (e.g. me) just start on line 1 and try to plow through it, they (e.g. me) are going to burn out about halfway through the first page, and never get to the interesting ones. To do this stuff year after year you have to manage your interest, and that of your students. You can't reasonably expect people to motivate themselves by brute force forever.  

I think I need to start marking this book up with a four-color pen. Bracket off each section in black, circle the good exercises in green, the critical ones in red, whatever. Get out my 50mm acrylic marker and black out everything I hate. Something. 

Here are how those pages are organized, with my suggestions on which ones to include in general practicing. Whether you like my line choices or not, when covering this topic students should be playing at least a few lines from each category:


Lead hand accents - 
Lines 1-10
Most of the first page of exercises, and quite dull. I may have students play four or five of these, for different reasons. Shave it down to lines 1, 2, 6, and 9.   

Two accents together - Lines 11-14 
Only four lines, no problem. Always do lines 11 and 14. 

Off hand accents - Lines 15-22
Inverse of the lead hand accents. Lines 16, 18, 21, 22. 

Mixed accents - Lines 23-28
These are the interesting ones, and the most useful for learning to play accents well. There aren't many of them, but we're just using this as preparation for playing accented 8ths as an interpretation, using the regular exercises earlier in the book.  

Single accent displaced - Lines 1-2, 15-16
That's an important set of exercises, too bad they're on two different pages. 


Here: I've pared down those pages by about 30%, and dragged things around into the order I would have wanted them, with the four single accent patterns grouped together at the end. Print these out and put them in your copy of Syncopation: 

 


By the way, I don't just use these pages for their intended purpose— playing alternating accented singles on the snare drum. I'll use them for getting into applications like my rock drill, or harmonic coordination method

I rarely use the other non-8th note accent pages. Never the dotted-8th/16th pages. The triplet pages are most useful, they're also an organizational mess. Perhaps I'll pick them apart on another occasion. 

If you like reading my complaining about this book, also check out my itemized critique of it from another occasion. 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Subtractive method overview

Here's a broad overview of this subtractive thing I've been working with. It's a new approach, but not unprecedented, and I think it's worth exploring. The idea starts with a Stone-type 8th note sticking pattern, and applying it to rhythms from Syncopation, leaving out any notes of the pattern that are not in the rhythm. 

It's simply the natural sticking concept applied to more complex patterns. Natural sticking, remember, means sticking a rhythm based on which hand would have played that note if you had been playing alternating singles.

The running 16ths represent the underlying pattern, the bottom part represents that sticking applied to a rhythm: 



We're just applying it to some other stickings, or voicing patterns. For example, if you did the above same rhythm with a paradiddle sticking, you'd get the following:  


The only other critical difference is that we're doing this on drum set, with a snare drum / bass drum pattern instead of a right hand / left hand pattern. I believe it's easier to do this on the drum set, using two different sounds, fulfilling a role in a particular style. Simply doing it on a practice pad with Rs and Ls is too abstract. We'll also be doing the entire system with 8th note patterns and 8th note-based rhythms, counted in 4/4 or 2/2.  

We've essentially done this already with my cut time funk drill— where the 3 is played on the snare drum, and everything else on the bass drum, implying an underlying pattern of:

BBBB SBBB

There's another funk interpretation (see step 2. in the link) where we play the first half of the measure on the bass drum, second half on the snare drum, which implies this pattern: 

BBBB SSSS

My rock method, with snare drum on 2 and 4, and everything else on the bass drum, basically implies this:

BBSB BBSB

To those we would add a cymbal rhythm played with the right hand. In fact those actual practice methods were a little different— if the snare notes were missing from the book rhythm, we would add them, or displace them to match the book rhythm exactly. But the basic principle is similar. 

And it's the same as John Riley's idea we called “that with interruptions”— his phrase— where he would play a SSBB 8th note pattern with a jazz cymbal rhythm, dropping out some notes of the pattern. It's the exact same thing, except now we're arriving at it by reading rhythms from a book, and voicing them according to whatever SB pattern we choose. 

This is a learnable system— personally I've been drilling the original pattern BSSB-SBBS in a funk style, and have had no problem applying it to all the pages listed below. I'm also working on it with the Mozambique bell pattern, which is much more difficult. I can do all the one line exercises, but the long exercises— even with just quarter note rhythms— are progressing much slower. I'll run some of the simpler jazz systems and report back.  

You could do this using all of the stickings from the beginning of Stone, or with my page of funk stickings, playing the Rs on the bass drum and Ls on the snare drum, in any number of styles. But the system is difficult enough that you should be selective about it. 

First patterns for jazz:

SBSB-SBSB
SSBB-SSBB
SSSB-SSSB
SSSS-BBBB
SBBS-SBBS


Funk patterns:
BSBB-SBSS
BSSB-SBBS
BBSB-SSBS
BSBS-SBSB
BSBB-SBBS
BSSB-SSBS

The BBBB-SSSS pattern above is probably the best place to start with the funk patterns; that gives the broad outline of all of the funk patterns, which are generally oriented around bass drum in the first part, and around snare drum in the second part.

Add any additional parts you want; jazz cymbal rhythm and hihat for the jazz patterns, quarter notes, 8th notes, or another rhythm for funk. If you want to tackle the Mozambique rhythm, I suggest starting with the rhythm for the first measure only, repeating, and then do the complete rhythm. 

Use those patterns to voice the top line rhythms for the following pages in Syncopation: 
4-5, 10-11, 30-32, 34-45. 

Warm up with the complete pattern, the complete bass drum part by itself, the complete snare drum part by itself, and then the pattern applied to some simple rhythms, as illustrated in the first post on this topic

We'll see where this goes. I'm very encouraged by what I've done so far with the BSSB-SBBS pattern, which has the practical effect of developing a lot of fluency with a tresillo bass drum rhythm— you end up playing a lot of the rhythm itself, and parts of it, and variations on it, with simple added parts on the snare drum. Some applied rhythms create some “hip” inverted/displaced beats; it's nice to arrive at that stuff not by sitting down and contriving something hip, but just by playing normal syncopated rhythms following a normal drumming pattern. More to come on this topic. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Practice loop: Port of Entry

Here's a fun practice loop sampled from Port of Entry, by Weather Report. A great track from Night Passage, one of my favorite records. Tempo is 77 or 154 bpm, depending on how you want to count it. 


If you're having any problem getting oriented, here's the basic rhythm of the bass vamp:

By the way, I'll be posting new additions to my practice loop archive soon. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 01, 2021

Paradiddle inversion with bass drum substitutions

Something I was playing around with yesterday, substituting bass drum for some notes of the extremely useful RLLR-LRRL paradiddle inversion. These are good for playing fast. 



The last three patterns don't follow the exact sticking pattern, but they fit in easily with it. Learn all the patterns, then drill them by alternating Ex. 1 with each of the remaining exercises— two beats of each exercise, or four beats. See my other page of velocity patterns in 3/4, too. 

Get the pdf