Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Back to Dahlgren & Fine

Basic unit of Dahlgren & Fine
UPDATE: I've been hitting this all week, covering most of the pages in question every day, tempo around quarter note = 126. It's very interesting— all kinds of unrelated stuff just starts flowing. Practicing all of these illogical disjointed unisons seems to smooth out a lot of hidden structural hang ups keeping that other stuff from flowing, or from coming out easily. It's pretty cool.  

I did something very cruel to a student recently— we did two entire lessons on the harmonic portion of Four-Way Coordination by Marvin Dahlgren & Elliot Fine. Perhaps you've heard of it. The book is famously a real pain in the A— I feel like I've complained pretty copiously about that fact in the last 8-10 years. 

I mostly stopped using the book— my own harmonic method covers the same territory, and is vastly superior; it has a clearer musical purpose, and it can (and should) be adapted for students of all levels. Scroll through these posts to learn more. Or, heck, call me for a lesson. 

But 4WC is a famous book, a lot of people own it, and they want to know how to deal with it, so let me give you my strategy for learning that brutal harmonic section on pp. 15-18. We'll talk about playing single measures repeating— eight note patterns. Doing just the four note patterns seems like a good way to start, but that's not necessarily easier. 

There are no instruments indicated on the staff, just RH, LH, RF, LF. I recommend: with the hands, hit a cymbal on notes that are in unison with the bass drum (right foot, presumably), and hit the snare drum on notes that are in unison with the hihat (left foot). Your hands will have to move between the snare and cymbals. That's a normal orchestration, with normal hand moves you want to be practicing. It's the whole point of doing this. Musical independence has to involve the parts of the actual instrument, used in their normal roles.  

The first two numbered systems on p. 15 are straightforward; the top staff has the right hand in unison with the bass drum, the bottom staff has the left hand in unison with the bass drum. Use them as a warm up. Starting on system 3 are the harder combinations, where either hand could be played in unison with either foot, on the cymbals or snare drum. 

First, look for all the measures that have four notes in a row with either the hands or the feet. On page 16, that would be these: 

Job 1: Play all of those on pp. 15-18. Hit cymbal when in unison with the bass drum, hit snare drum when in unison with the hihat played with the foot. 

Then look for patterns with four in row on the hands or feet when you repeat the measure. On p. 16, that includes most of the remaining patterns: 

This vastly simplifies our problem— just play a sticking pattern with the hands or feet, along with four notes played with one opposite limb. Very importantly, this gets us away from the idea of starting everything on the 1— to do it this easy way, start playing the pattern wherever in the measure the four in a row starts.  

Job 2:
Learn all the remaining measures with four notes in a row with that hands or the feet. You've now learned 80% of the material on these pages. 

Next, look for the patterns with a RLRL-LRLR in the hands or the feet— that we haven't already played in Job 1 or 2. There are two of those on p. 15: 

This will be more of a challenge. You could start by playing just the RLRL (with the opposite part), and then the LRLR— one time only, or repeating. Then play RLRL-L, and LRLR-R— one time only.

Job 3: Learn any remaining patterns including an RLRL-LRLR in the hands or feet. 

Some people may find it easier to do this portion based on the RRLR-LLRL sticking— in that case, look for all instances of that in the hands or feet, that you didn't do in Jobs 1 or 2. 

Once you've done this, you've essentially learned all of the full measure patterns on these pages. 


If you look closely and don't always start reading on the 1, you'll notice that all of the remaining patterns are based on that same RLRL/LRLR pattern— a paradiddle inversion. The highlighted spots below from p. 16 show the RLRL or LRLR in each of those measures— so you'll be playing the exact patterns you already learned, just not starting on the 1:

Note that there will be more than one option— on all of these remaining patterns, both the hands and feet are playing paradiddle inversions, each of which can be played as RLRL-LRLR, starting at different places in the measure. 

Job 4: Learn the few remaining patterns orienting off the RLRL-LRLR in the hands or feet, wherever that begins in the measure

The upshot: after the first two easy systems, there are 56 measures total, each played two different ways— hands reversed on the lower staff. A whopping 45 measures have that easy four in a row with the hands or the feet; the remaining 11 have the RLRL/LRLR in the hands or feet, or an inversion of that. Learn that one hard pattern, and learn to start it off the 1, and you've learned the system. 

All of the one measure patterns, anyway. You can do different combinations of the lettered 4-note patterns to make different one measure, 8-note patterns. We've been doing AC and BD. You could also do AB/CD, and AD/BC. Now you have a strategy for doing that. 

Make no mistake, this is a nightmare mission, but at least now we can make some kind of systematic assault. Figure it out, and you'll be one of the elite few— for all the tens of thousands of copies of this book sold— who has ever done anything meaningful at all with this part of this book. 

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