Saturday, September 24, 2022

Subtractive method: an alternative approach

I just saw this from brother writer Jon McCaslin, over at the excellent and much hipper-named Four On The Floor blog: a Syncopated Stick Control method, which he's using to bring some rhythm interest to practicing Stone. It's sort of a parallel thing to my “subtractive” method. 

Both things are similar to the natural sticking idea, in which you stick mixed 16th note rhythms with the RH on all the #s and &s, and the LH on all the es and as. As if you were playing alternating 16th notes (an RLRL pattern), and dropping out notes to make the rhythm. We're just doing it with sticking patterns other than RLRL. 

It's hard to explain just in writing, much easier— and very worth it— to actually do it. 

Jon is basically eliminating the first note of any doubles, and the third note of any multiples, on either hand, or both hands— and some other things. Read his post, he illustrates it well. 

It's good to have slightly different angles on the same thing— it takes us to a total understanding of the basic materials and ideas we use in learning and teaching the drums, and the different ways might be better for doing some specific things. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

This week's drill

Some things I've been playing through this week— promoting some previous posts, and rounding up some very useful practice systems. Basically I'll just play down p. 38 (formerly and famously p. 37) from Syncopation the following ways: 

1. Rhythm on BD/cym, fill in 8ths on SD, various stickings, as in my rock drill.
2. Rhythm on BD/fill in with LH, add &s on cymbal also as in my rock drill
3. Rhythm on SD/toms, fill in 8ths with BD - alternating sticking, LH flams on single notes, as in this linear Reed tweak.
4. Swing rhythm on BD/cym, fill in triplets on SD, alternating sticking, as in my jazz drill. Also roll the snare drum portion— same rhythm, all snare drum notes become double strokes.
5. As above, omit LH cymbal hits as in this triplet method
6. RLLR-LRRL paradiddle inversion
7. As above, omit LH cymbal hits as in that triplet method.
8. Rhythm on BD/cym with RH, fill in 16ths on snare with LH, with Dejohnette-like treatment of longer runs of SD 16ths.  

If you ever wonder how players learn to make a dense, Jack Dejohnette-like funk, rock, or solo texture on the drums, this is how it's done.

Here are each of those methods done to the first line of p. 38:

Get the pdf

I've been doing this mostly along with this loop. At this tempo it might take an hour to play the whole thing, with digressions. I also did it with a slower loop I made from this song by The Beta Band

Monday, September 19, 2022

Very occasional quote of the day: rich and famous

R. Crumb and son Jesse, in the movie Crumb:  

Jesse: You didn't go to art school and you're rich and famous.

R.: I'm not talking about rich and famous, I'm talking about learning how to draw. 

Actually the rest of that scene is good— a conversation on the problem of making something that's better than just technically excellent: 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Playing Airegin

The title is Nigeria spelled backwards, usually pronounced AIRa-jin. I took a minute in the shower this morning figuring out how to pronounce it actually like Nigeria backwards: ah-ee-REE-jine. JINE rhyming with JIVE. A little stage banter item in case you ever have to get on the mic.  

Let's keep talking about tunes. That's a good subject. Airegin by Sonny Rollins is well known, but doesn't get played a whole lot. When it does come there can be a little confusion about how to play it— usually   

There are two famous recorded versions, first from Miles Davis's album Bags' Groove, which is pretty straightforward. Most often people will play it like this. Kenny Clarke mostly swings all the way through. Tempo is 240. 


And from Miles's album Cookin', which is is faster, more involved, with some hip flourishes to the arrangement. Philly Joe Jones does a lot more filling, and playing arrangement elements. That's the confusion I'm talking about— I'm trying to play it this way, everybody else is playing it like it is on the other record. Tempo is 288— half note = 144. 

Quick note on those tempos: 240 and 288— those are very common fast tempos in my listening experience. A whole lot of famous recordings are real close to them. For whatever reason people gravitate to them. Good numbers to have on your practice room radar.   

The form is an unusual ABAC, with phrases 8-12-8-8 bars long. 

Usually there's a Latin vamp intro— played in a rather disjointed way on Bag's Groove. On Cookin' the bass plays a quasi-Flamenco vamp, and Joe plays a hand to hand 8th note rhythm on the hihat. Also on Cookin' they they play the Latin vamp in place of the second A, so the actual form is A-B-VAMP-C— 8-12-8-8. That happens on the solos as well as the head. 

The 8 measure A sections have a repeating four-bar theme, with two measures of the main theme, two measures of response. This is timed differently on the different versions— the 'response' line happens in the fourth measure on Bags' Groove, and in the third measure on Cookin'. The rhythm is also squarer on Bags' Groove, more syncopated on Cookin'. It's worth mentioning a Stan Getz version where he plays the Bags' Groove rhythm on the A sections, with a break for a drum fill on the third and seventh measures— the measure before the response line. 

Usually the drums punctuate that part of the tune— at least hit the 2 in the second measure of each four bars. Philly Joe plays the line exactly, like a big band figure, and fills on the 4th and 8th measures of the section. On the solos on Cookin' Red Garland and Joe often punctuate the last measure of the A section with several &s in a row. 

The 12 measure B section has a two measure sequence that is extended the last two times it's played: 2-2-4-4. On Cookin' Garland and Joe hit a figure in the 8th bar of the B section— 1&2&— on the head only. Joe usually fills the last two measures of the section, heading into the Latin second A. 

The 8 measure C section is a coda figure with a break in bar 7— break at the end of the head, play through on the solos. At the very end of the tune that figure is extended a couple of beats— see the New Real Book chart for that, or just listen to the record. 

The two major lead sheets people are likely to use are from the original Real Book and from the New Real Book. The Real Book chart is based on the Cookin' version, except it omits the whole Latin thing— they don't write out the intro, and they don't put it in the form of the tune. It also doesn't include the figure at the very end of the tune. That book is known for containing a lot of suspect chords, I haven't checked for that. 

The New Real Book chart is based on Bags' Groove— except on the record the first measure of the vamp is different. I'm not sure what's happening there. 

There's a zipfile of fake book pdfs circulating, which includes some other charts for it— an OK version in Library of Musicians' Jazz, and a real suck version in Jazz Fakebook (written in that crummy, unreadable “World's Greatest Fake Book” style). 

There we go, that's about all I know about the tune— have fun with it.  

Friday, September 16, 2022

Grooving with a feathered bass drum

A couple of weeks ago I made some comments about hearing some younger drummers, and someone asked me to elaborate on this part of it: 

[I was hearing people] feathering the bass drum in a way that doesn't add anything. It seems like more of an obligation than a purposeful thing— they're playing it because they were told it's supposed to be there. It sounds affected if there's not a real deep groove happening otherwise. Do it on purpose, to take the groove where you want it. The goal is to sound like someone who has done a ton of R&B gigs, even if you haven't.

We used to learn to play with very little information, now we're given a ton of very specific information that, we are told, is very important to follow. People are having to process a lot of competing directives they got from the internet and from books. Play the bass drum, but don't play it too loud, I want it lurking in the background like original sin, which is what you'll be committing if you don't do it, also play a lot of hip stuff on the snare drum, and be thinking about your technique, don't play with suboptimal technique now, etc etc

Project groove
However you want to read that, “Project: Groove” or project groove.

That's your main job: create groove with the other musicians, and impress it upon the audience. Whatever else happens, it's the main unifying thing for the band, and for everyone in the room. Everything else is secondary.

There was a good line from Billy Hart, about the first time he played with Jimmy Smith, who told him to “play the dance.” When you think in those terms, the role of the bass drum becomes obvious, because you're following a natural musical imperative, rather than just following an instruction on correct jazz musical behavior. 

A total thing
It's not supposed to be an isolated, add-on thing. You have to have a total integrated foundation where you use the bass drum that way all the time. With the original guys, they didn't start out playing the bass drum inaudibly— they played it for effect, and then dropped it out as the style changed. But playing time on the bass drum along with their hands was still their primary orientation. 

The feathering thing is a continuation of a ~125 year old tradition of “double drumming”, where you essentially play rudimental snare drum stuff, with an accompanying beat on the bass drum. That's the  foundation, and it was the major drumming orientation from the 1890s-1930s. So if this were something I were serious about, I would be doing all my snare drum practice that way— Wilcoxon and everything— so that kind of double drumming thing was my main orientation. 

I do something else   
I don't do that. As for most drummers alive today, the permanent four on the floor with the bass drum was never my primary orientation. Most of us have played a lot of rock and funk, and latin music, post bop, free jazz, and a whole lot of other stuff— which generally use the bass drum differently. For me the foot time keeper element was hihat, played Tony Williams style on all four beats, or on 8th notes. And if we're talking about being felt rather than heard, at times stomping a wood floor with the heel of your hihat foot generates some sound and feeling, too.     

If I'm using the bass drum on a swing beat, I'm doing it deliberately to take the groove where I want it. But I also may be playing more feathered bass drum than I'm aware of. Increasingly I've been practicing the bass drum in ways that sketch out a feathered part, rather than thumps it endlessly. 

Undire consequences
People like to present these drumming issues like they're going to make or break your career, but I've never had anyone take issue with this in a real life musical situation. My drum teacher at USC told me about playing with the actual Count Basie band and having the actual Freddie Green ask him why he wasn't playing the bass drum on a fast tune. There's a second hand case. Significantly, he was not fired from the job, and it didn't prevent him from getting hired in the first place. He had that gig for several years.  

This is a topic to take seriously, but ultimately you can't satisfy everyone broadcasting drumming advice. You make your own decisions about your drumming— hopefully through playing real music with people— and you live with them. There's room in this world for a lot of different ways of playing the drums. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Groove o' the day: Linha da Passe

Bright samba groove from one of my favorite Brazilian drummers, Milton Banana, who was most active in the 60s/70s. The tune is Linha da Passe, which you're most likely find on Banana's compilation album Sambas de Bossa. 

The format here is a little different— the first two measures of each line show how he begins the groove at the start of a section, and the last two measures with the repeat signs show the body of the groove. It's a tight arrangement with lots of stops, so how he begins the groove is important to work out. And the cymbal rhythm matches the melody rhythm on the piano, which hits the 1 at the beginning of the phrase, and the & of 4 for the rest of the phrase. 

Tempo is half note = 137.

First line is closed hihat and bass drum; second line is cymbal and bass drum, with hihat played with the foot on beats 2 and 4. He may be playing some rim clicks on the snare drum during the early parts of the tune, but they're not really audible— we can assume there are a few LH notes in unison with the cymbal. Or not. Third line is how he plays rim clicks later in the tune, fourth line has a rhythm he plays on the tom tom near the end— again, maybe he's moving his LH to the snare drum around beats 1-2

Get the pdf

Monday, September 12, 2022

The paradiddle inversion method, with triplets

Here's how to fit that late paradiddle inversion system into a triplet or 12/8 environment. For clarity, we'll base it off the accented triplets pages from Syncopation— pp. 53-58. Advanced students can then figure out how to do it while reading the regular syncopation rhythms.  

This is the key for practicing this system reading out of Syncopation. Or you can just practice this page and nothing else. 

The basic environment we're operating in is a right hand lead sticking— the accents are played with the right hand, the non-accents are played with the left. This is an extension of that. We're doubling the value of the filler notes, and using a LRRL sticking, and adding more RLs as necessary. It's still RH lead to the extent that all the cymbal hits will fall on the right hand.  

I'm doing these on drum set, with some or all of the accents on a cymbal, with the bass drum in unison. If you're going to play an accent on a drum, don't add bass drum. At the bottom of the page is a bonus item where you can substitute bass drum for the last left hand in a run of 16ths. 

Get the pdf

Saturday, September 10, 2022

The natural sticking / fill lesson

These are some steps I was running through with an adult beginner, to get oriented with some normal things you do on the drums, and to practice counting 16th notes. There are a number of directions you could go with it, depending on the student and goal.  

The examples will use these rhythms from Syncopation by Ted Reed, pp. 22-27. We counted each rhythm before playing them.  

First, we played the rhythms with the right hand on the hihat, left hand on the snare. We're using natural sticking, so the right is playing 1&2&3&4&, and the left hand plays any es and as: 

Then we played all the 16th notes on the snare drum— the right hand has to move to the snare a little bit. There was some confusion, that the right was already “playing 8th notes” on the hihat, we fixed that by looking at the rhythm in the book— the notes with two beams go on the snare, the notes with one beam go on the hihat: 

Then we added bass drum after the snare drum— the first cymbal note after any 16th notes: 

One possible next step is to add bass drum on 1, if it doesn't conflict with anything else we're doing: 

Then add the snare drum with the left hand on beat 2 and/or 4, if it doesn't conflict with what we're already doing:


At some point in the process we could play that cymbal note after the 16ths on a crash cymbal: 

Now we're at a pretty complete ordinary drumming texture. From here, someone could add some more bass drum— with some or all of the remaining cymbal-only notes; we could add a crash on 1, if it doesn't conflict; we could alternate a measure of groove with these patterns. You decide case by case how far to go pursuing this formula— what you're trying to accomplish for your playing, or your student's, and the limits of tolerance for thoroughness and boredom for all involved.  

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Groove o' the day: Airto Afro 6

An Afro 6* groove played by Airto, on the intro of Casa Forte, on Flora Purim's 1974 record Stories To Tell. It has some big shot LA musicians on it, including saxophonist Hadley Caliman, who was a Seattle fixture for years, and trombonist George Bohannon, who was a grad student at USC when I went there.  

It's a rather simplified groove, with the hands largely in unison. The percussion, also played by Airto, multitracked, fills out more of the rhythm. 

* - Right, I notated it in 12/8, but Afro 6 is the generic name I've chosen to use for this kind of groove. 

We like thinking in terms of stickings, and filling in spaces, and playing linear, but unisons are powerful. It's worth thinking about.

There are some open sounds with the hihat played with the foot, that I didn't indicate. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Reed interpretation: paradiddle inversion - key and warm-ups

Preparatory page for a Reed system using the highly useful RLLR-LRRL paradiddle inversion— we're doing a lot with it for a reason. It's easy to play fast, works great on the drums, and fits a number of styles well. 

This is very similar to a triplet method we did last year, with an alternating sticking, accents on the cymbals, but omitting any left hand cymbal notes. The concept is straightforward when you do it, but it's not real easy to describe in a blog post. 

It falls under your hands exactly the same as that triplet method, except we're doubling the middle note, and spreading it out into a 16th note rhythm. Reading out of Syncopation, the 8th note rhythms become dotted 8th-16ths. 

I'll save the full breakdown of the system later, just play this page... which will probably be enough for most people. Left hand column is the Syncopation-type rhythm we're interpreting, middle column is the applied sticking, right hand column is the sticking with the LH cymbal hits omitted: 

You can and should freely accent any of the single notes on the snare drum. And try leaving the right on the cymbal the whole time, see what that does. Try it in a samba feel with this Airto loop, or try with this faster John Zorn loop.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Transcription: Ndugu Leon Chancler - Man in the Green Shirt

Quick little transcription that includes one of the great opening drum fills ever— Ndugu Leon Chancler playing Man in the Green Shirt, from Weather Report's album Tale Spinnin'. I've just written out the opening, some of the main drum groove, and an ensemble section at about 1:30, and some of the half time groove he plays after it. 

The tempo is fast, about 154 bpm. To me that's about the natural tempo limit for 16th note funk/fusion vocabulary— above that it starts sounding silly. For another fusion burner in a similar tempo range see my transcription of Egberto Gismonti's Baiao Malandro, with Roberto Silva on drums.  

Ndugu has a couple of extra drums here— a concert tom and a second floor tom. Or a middle tom tuned very low. He's also using a China cymbal, and plays the bell of the ride quite a bit. That opening fill moves from drum to drum in a funny way, assuming the drums are arranged normally, and he's leading with his right hand. I'm not going to worry about how he did it, just note that with that kind of movement it doesn't sound quite like a normal bonehead Hawaii 5-0 fill. 

I was expecting him to vary the cymbal rhythm to accommodate the 16th notes he's playing on the snare and bass, but he plays straight 8th notes. Listen beyond the transcription, to how he uses the bell of the cymbal, he'll use it for accents, or go to it for a few bars to build intensity, or play it sort of randomly.  

Be sure to go read that GREAT recent Joe Zawinul interview for more about Ndugu playing with Weather Report.  

Get the pdf

Sunday, September 04, 2022


Thinking about the tune Thelonious, by Thelonious Monk. It's fun and unusual, based on a single note riff. I don't believe the form comes from another tune, it's just a little self-contained bebop invention.

It's a famous tune, but not played a whole lot. I guess because there's no chart for it in any of the major fake books. You can get it from Charley Gerard's book Thelonious Monk - Originals & Standards, or the Music Notes site appears to have a good chart for it. Maybe you'll meet somebody who's putting together a recital, or who is serious about learning their Monk repertoire. 

Form is AABA, 8-10-8-10. The 10 bar A sections aren't the same. Going into the bridge is a little gray area— the beginning of the B sounds like a tag on the A section, which is already tagged, so there are about 4 bars in there that feel kind of mysterious. Learning unusual tunes you have to figure out the mystery zones— how do you make sense of them for yourself, what do you play there to make it orderly, definitely how do you not lose your place in the form.  

The A sections have a little clave rhythm to them, that the rhythm section plays off of— with varying degrees of subtlety, if you listen to the different recordings:

There's a rhythm figure at the end of the form that often gets stated pretty strongly, including during the solos. Here's how it's written in Charley Gerard's book: 

It starts differently on the various recordings. On Genius of Modern Music there's an intro with the main riff played twice, with a drum break. On Underground Monk plays the first A solo, and the rhythm section comes in on the second A. On other records everyone starts together, or there's a full chorus of stride piano before the whole group plays the head normally; one version has piano and bass playing the last A up front, with drums and horns coming in on the punches at the end of that, and then the whole band plays the complete head. A lot of versions have unique composed intros.  

On the Genius of Modern Music compilation, Monk solos all the way through the form; on the record Underground, he solos over the AAB, and plays the melody on the last A, for several choruses. 

On the Bud Powell record A Portrait of Thelonious they're apparently playing it from memory, as a straight 32 bar AABA, with a different bridge. The A sections are just the normal first A. Pretty flaky, Bud.  

Tempos on Monk's recordings are 210 on Genius of Modern Music, and 185 on Underground. On the various other recordings tempos range from very slow rubato (Ran Blake), to 170 with a half time funk feel (Gary Versace), to 243 (Gary Bartz), to 295 (Erid Reed).  

Here's a practice loop I made from the first chorus of Monk's solo on Underground. It speeds up a little bit over the course of his solo, so it doesn't loop cleanly if I use more choruses: 

Thursday, September 01, 2022

First page of Bossa Nova

Working on this with a couple of students, I couldn't find a simple straightforward page of Bossa Nova rhythms, with all the parts written out. Seems like a basic thing that should exist somewhere. I had to print out a page from Joel Rothman and crudely circle the parts I wanted him to work on: 

Most serious musicians have pretty good handwriting, mine looks like a Cy Twombly painting: 

Anyhow, here we go— some bossa warmup patterns, and a few performance patterns: 

Play rim clicks on the snare drum with the left hand, play the right hand on any cymbal, or on the snare drum with a brush. Whenever you feel like it, add hihat played with your foot on beats 2 and 4. Tempo range for this is about quarter note = 120-180. 

Get my short book Playing Samba and Bossa Nova for a fuller treatment of playing this style in a combo setting.  

Get the pdf

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Those sub-pro cymbals

Let's talk about an aspect of that recent cheap cymbals post: mid-line cymbals— sub-pro, "intermediate", whatever, from the last 50-60 years. Real or almost-real cymbals, not complete dog food, where we may stand a chance of finding some bargains. Some of these could be playable for professionals, or would maybe good for a rehearsal set, or good for teachers to get to resell to students.  

Before getting too pumped up about it: Shop with caution,  hold out for bargains, hit them whenever you see them in person. Learn to recognize a cast, hammered cymbal, vs. a piece of dog food stamped out of sheet brass.

I'll say that again, hold out for bargains— if these cymbals are worthwhile, it's usually only because they're a good value— they're cheap and OK. When people get it in their heads that they're pretty good so they must be worth more money... the market goes to hell, prices go up, and they become a very bad value. See the Paiste 505s below. If you're not going to insist on bargain prices, you may as well just look for deals on Zildjians and Sabians. 

Alejian / Zilco / Kashian 
I talked about these recently— 50s-70s Alejian and Zilco cymbals were basically Zildjians that were judged to have the wrong sound for the company's regular product line, branded and sold by other companies. 

Alejian were manufactured in Massachusetts and sold by the Slingerland company. There are some older Alejians of unknown quality (to me), going back to the 1930s— those older ones appear to be mainly splash cymbals. 

Zilco were manufactured in Canada and sold by Ludwig. Some also carried a Rogers stamp— made at the Canadian plant, I assume it's the same basic thing. Some later Zilcos were made as a dedicated product line, eliminating the hammering step. I don't know what their quality is; I would be looking for Zilcos that clearly were hammered. 

Rogers SS is another another one, manufactured in Canada, sold by the Rogers drum company. Should be stamped Rogers by AZCO. 

Kashian cymbals were manufactured in Italy by Ufip, for Slingerland, and are apparently similarly decent cymbals— I've never seen or played one, and I don't know how they arrived at being Kashian products rather than the regular UFIP brands. I've never been thrilled by the few Italian cymbals I've played since the 80s, but they should be acceptable. They seem to sell a little cheaper than the Zildjian-sourced cymbals. 

Any of these could be decent cymbals, but I would want to play them or hear them before buying them— like any Zildjian, but more so. They're usually priced the same, or a little higher than ordinary used Zildjians of the same vintage. If the sound is there, these should be basically as good as normal pro quality Zildjians. If a cymbal has aged well, you may well get a more interesting, idiosyncratic cymbal than a normal Zildjian/Sabian. 

Zildjian seconds
You can also find Zildjian seconds, stamped with an S, that were sold at the Zildjian factory up to about 1981. I assume they were sold as seconds for having cosmetic flaws, or, again, for not having the right sound for Zildjian's regular product line. They're not real common, and have apparently acquired some caché, because the few I see online are priced higher than regular Zildjians the same age. 

These may also carry a stamp from Manny's Drum Shop in New York. A big capital MANNY'S. 

Ludwig Standard / Stambul 
Mid-line cymbals sold by Paiste with Ludwig's brand, and their own, in the 60s. Good enough that some people might consider them to be "poor man's 602s." They are not. I played a set of the hihats on some rehearsal drums, and they were fine for that. Sort of a weak, thin, tinny sound— I believe due to high nickel content in the alloy.

They're probably better than the Ajax brand cymbals here, but it's this kind of sound— don't get excited, this is the best this kind of cymbal will sound anywhere, ever: 

I might this kind of thing if I found them for $5-25 at a garage sale. Beyond that... just get some real cymbals. Every example I see on Reverb is overpriced by a factor of 100-300%— 22s going for $300-400. Forget it. Stambuls were produced for a longer time than Ludwig Standards, and manufacturing style and quality is said to vary over the years. 

These are not to be confused with Ludwig Paiste, which are substantially crappier, and are no good for any normal purpose. They're thin and crummy, so they would be good if you're looking for a toy cymbal effect— better than new cheap cymbals for that purpose. 

No way in h***, are you insane

Paiste 505

Paiste B8 line from the 70s-80s, the best sub-pro B8 bronze cymbals I am aware of, but that's not really good enough. I used one from about 1982-85, and I never felt like it sounded like a real ride cymbal, even to my young ears at the time. And they're wildly overpriced right now, selling(?) for at least 50-100% more than they deserve to cost. The cheapest used 2002s only cost ~$20 more, and are vastly better cymbals. 

That goes double for the crummy 404 line— that's one of those junk products people like to pretend are good. 

Sabian XS20
I hit one of these once and filed it away as “pretty good cheap cast cymbal.” They're often listed as XS, I'm unaware if that's a different line. Used, they're pretty well budget priced, and seem to be a good option for students. I would want to play more of them before giving them a full recommendation.   

Agop Xist
Almost real K-type cymbals at a budget price? I guess, maybe. They're cheaper than regular Agops, but not cheap enough to quite qualify as “budget.” And they don't quite make it as real “jazz” cymbals, in my opinion. I find the sound to be a little thin— as in weak, tinny. Good for schools, I suppose, or for people who need to own new things. 

The “dark dry” Xist line are priced like new A. Zildjians. I hit some once, and they were fun to play in the store. Not sure how I would use them in real life. 

Dream cymbals, made in China, were real exciting when they first appeared, because they were a dark, complex sound, and they were really cheap. A lot of them were also really weird and bad— hard to control, weirdly exotic, too trashy. But if you find a good one, they're fine. Buying them used now, they're not particularly cheaper than used A. Zildjians. I personally would never trust one I didn't play in person.  

I believe these are a Chinese brand, and they seem to produce a lot of different cymbals. The ones stamped "hand made" are the most intriguing— or the ones that are obviously traditionally cast cymbals; they're legit bargain-priced used, and sound enough like real cymbals for student drummers to use, and get a more or less real cymbal experience. Most cymbals kids ever get to play on are such junk that they're really a different instrument— I'm thinking of those cheap Sabians and Meinls. They can never make a real crash sound, for example— just this strident metallic clang. Even if the Staggs don't sound great, they are cymbals. 

Used prices are good, and Stagg may be the most attractive option here for school age students, taking care to get their better cast cymbals, and not their crappy sheet metal cymbals. 

Off-brand cast cymbals

I have seen other off-brands of decent, cheap, apparently cast cymbals, probably Chinese made, possibly Turkish made. Looking online right now, I see them with the names Groove Percussion, Agazarian, Pulse, Radian. Those should be very cheap used, and like the Staggs, they should be good for younger students to get the experience of playing real cymbals, even if they don't always sound great. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Comments on some younger drummers

Since COVID especially I haven't been playing as much as I should be, so I've been getting my lazy butt out to some jam sessions to try to stir up some work. Playing really is a different thing from preoccupation with drum crap, and not doing it enough I start feeling debased as a writer— literally having no basis for writing. Drum nerdery with no basis in music is meaningless.   

At the sessions— these are jazz jam sessions— I get to hear some younger drummers who are just working their stuff out, and I want to share some general comments on what I'm hearing. These are pretty serious drummers in their 20s, who can basically play, who know the tunes, and are able to play correct stuff stylistically.

They do tend to get stuck with other young players, or part time players, often playing dumb tunes, which doesn't make it easy to play your best. It's easy to play with expert players, it's a lot harder with people who are just figuring stuff out too. 


•  A lot of people could focus more on the ride cymbal— with having that be the lead voice, and on getting a good sound and groove with just that. 

•  Many could balance within the parts better generally— the snare drum and bass drum will be competing for attention with the cymbal. You can make accents with the drums, but the general texture should be led by the cymbal. 

•  The busier players are often a little raggedy— things are not completely lined up. Which is not the kind of advice I want to give, that you have to polish everything. That's the contemporary disease, in fact, being afraid to play anything that's not perfectly worked out. General fearfulness. But that will be a long term project for those drummers, getting things a little more polished. I think the effect would be minimized by playing less and listening more, which is good advice anyway. 

•  People sounding distanced from the tunes and from the other musicians. It sounds like people are thinking of what to play, thinking about the drums too much. There's sometimes a sense that people are playing things because they think they're supposed to play it. Back off and listen and wait for a musical impulse to play something based on what you're hearing. Or play the structure. Mainly listen. 

•  Heel up technique on the bass drum seems to be messing with some people a bit. It seems uncentered. There's a lot of extra physical activity going into each stroke, so accuracy is often not real good. There's a little bit of a dance to playing that way, and if the tempo doesn't support that, or the dynamics, or style, the technique falls apart.  

•  Feathering the bass drum in a way that doesn't add anything. It seems like more of an obligation than a purposeful thing— they're playing it because they were told it's supposed to be there. It sounds affected if there's not a real deep groove happening otherwise. Do it on purpose, to take the groove where you want it. The goal is to sound like someone who has done a ton of R&B gigs, even if you haven't.

•  In fact I sensed a little crisis of people not quite knowing why they're doing this— the whole thing, why are we here, playing. Maybe someone liked playing the drums, or they were looking for an identity, or looking to put forward a playing identity. In fact the thing is, we're playing in a night club band, maybe backing a singer, or another lead instrument; there's a club rhythm section craft that we're engaging in. Maybe we're playing for a listening and socializing audience tonight, but another night it could be for dancers. Even if there are barely any gigs, that's our arena. 

It may be thing of people being overschooled and underemployed that they seem to be unaware of the club/show aspect of it. At these sessions there's a great example of it in the host, drummer Ron Steen, who has been running these sessions for decades, and still probably plays 400 gigs a year just in town. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Wizard

More music in that 90s zone, from my personal archives. This really captures the spirit of my whole attitude towards playing the drums for that decade. Recorded in 2000, I think, when my group Flatland was recording our record Origin of Species. We played this tune twice in a studio in skinhead territory in southeast Portland. Using my 12/14/20 Gretsch set that was my only instrument for about 15 years. I like the performance, but the melody didn't come off the way I wanted, and it didn't really fit with the rest of the record, so we didn't release it.  

The tune is The Wizard by Albert Ayler. Here's the chart I transcribed for it:

And the recording. It's short. If it sounds like noise to you, listen to it a few times, there is direction, and order:  

That's a type of playing we don't talk about much on the site, because what can you really say about it? I think people need to do it some, whether or not they want to play that kind of music, because you can get to some things that you can't get from normal deliberate practicing and playing.   

Free playing now has gotten really preoccupied with sound— playing around with unusual timbres— but what this is about is pure energy, and listening. People hear this kind of thing as “emotional” or angry/angsty, or expressionistic, but it's really not. There is probably some kind of will to kick ass happening, but we're just playing music.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Daily best music in the world: early 90s zeitgeist

Here's a record I almost forgot about, that had a big impact on the way I play the drums. From 1988-90, David Sanborn was the leading guy getting new and eclectic music to a (reasonably) mass audience, through his syndicated TV show Night Music. His record Another Hand came out on the heels of that in 1991, doing some different stuff than his usual New York R&B thing, and featuring some people who were on the show, like Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, Mark Ribot, Charlie Haden, the group NRBQ. 

Here's Monica Jane, a Bill Frisell tune. Now it sounds like “Americana”, at the time it had a distinctly Pacific Northwest vibe. Frisell had moved to Seattle a couple of years earlier, and Nirvana was just hitting, and the northwest was having a big cultural moment in music. I had just moved to Portland from Los Angeles, and I was really feeling it, anyway.

Joey Baron is on drums here, doing something very fresh then, with a new sound, making a big statement with single notes.   

Monday, August 22, 2022

BIG Joe Zawinul interview

“If you have too much respect, it can get in the way…”

Oh my God, you have to go Dave Aldridge's blog right now and read his 1993 Modern Drummer interview with Joe Zawinul. He talks about drummers generally and Frankie Dunlop, Roy McCurdy, Louis Hayes, Eric Gravatt, Alphonse Mouzon, Alex Acuna, Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim, in particular, and many others. 

A couple of choice items— go read it, it's essential, and very long: 

Louis Hayes: “I felt a feeling, really good. It had such a groove, really, really easy to play. It was in a way, uncomplicated. When [Louis] went to the cymbal, whatever he did on the side, never took away that cymbal consciousness. This is that forward driving. He played 16th notes in such a short way, that not only didn’t it interrupt the pulse, it was the pulse.”

            “It was the most incredible cymbal beat. He always put those little hiccups in, and it never left the flow. Later on I will tell you about some drummers, they were very great, but whenever they played a transition, the groove, not the GROOVE, but the FEELING [and the] the SOUND of the groove stopped. When you have that simmering and the band is cooking in a simple way, you are accompanying a soloist, it’s very important to be uninterruptive yet very creative, and that takes a hell of an amount of concentration and invention.”

“I was never worried about who I was playing with, as long as the bass player and the drummer know how to play together, I’m alright, and the basic concept is some urgency. The urgency for me is, it means, the cymbal beat, which is way on top, and the distance to the beginning of the beat, to the BAP!  that backbeat is at the very last moment. That’s very difficult to describe in words – that distance has gotta be like a slingshot effect, between when he hits the cymbal, or any other instrument on the drums, that Boom! that beat, has gotta BAM! it cannot be Bot, it’d gotta be Boom!, have a little anticipation, not even early, it’s just the way you [smacks his hand on the table] slide into it, you know?”

Eric Gravatt: “[T]his was a master musician. He was a writer. But sometimes you get somebody so good he will do anything. He wanted to shape the music. In many ways it was good, and in some ways it was not. At times, where there was supposed to be a crescendo, just for the love of it he would decrescendo, and it kind of drove shit around. So after a while, we said, ‘Maybe, we know this man is great, maybe we try somebody else.’ It’s better sometimes you got somebody who is not that good, but he is totally in the flow of the music.” 

Busy drummers:
 “So when you asked me who took the music the furthest, it was always the guys who played the least. ’cause Wayne and me are highly rhythmic, and the we play off each other, it was always very rhythmic. So we were already percussion players, but then when you go into a transition, and I want to play some harmonic stuff, often I have to lift my hands up, because Omar [Hakim] was there all the time.”

End of interview quotes. I'll add a story Peter Erksine told me, about being in the studio listening to the live recording that would be released as the Weather Report album 8:30. Listening to the tune Black Market, where Wayne Shorter and Erskine play duo, Zawinul said “You're playing pretty good...”, when at 6:47 Erskine jumps on a dotted-quarter note rhythm Shorter is playing, “...until you did that.”

Go to Dave Aldridge's site now, read the whole interview. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Reed tweak: more paradiddle fill-ins

Adding to a similar thing we did early this year, here are some more possibilities for filling in an ordinary right hand lead Reed method— that's the one where you play the book rhythm on the cymbal, with bass drum in unison, and fill any gaps in the rhythm with the left hand, to make a combined rhythm of running 8th notes. 

Here we're filling in the longer gaps, where you play two or more 8th notes with the left hand, with 16th notes in a paradiddle inversion. This gives you a dense Dejohnette-like texture like you hear on Miles Davis's Live Evil, or on the CTI records Jack played on in the early 70s, and elsewhere. 

Here's how you would fill spaces with two, three, and four 8th notes worth of space: 

Notice the longer ones end with alternating singles— you could extend that as long as you need to for longer spaces you might find in another reading library— the Bellson book, or Chuck Kerrigan's excellent out of print book. Practicing out of Syncopation, most of the spaces are two or three eighths  long. 

To illustrate, here's how you would play a few excerpts from the famous p. 38 (formerly p. 37) exercise in Syncopation. The first two measures of line 3: 

The last two measures of line 7— I would play the first six beats of this as a stand-alone exercise, in fact: 

And the last two measures of line 6: 

There aren't any places where you use four 8th notes worth of filler in the full page exercises in Reed, but here's line 40 on p. 37 (current edition):

See also this Dejohnette-like method from last year, and the filler options from a couple of weeks ago. They use different basic methods, but they all serve the same basic musical end.  

Friday, August 19, 2022


Nothing serious here, just a serendipitous thing that came up in my listening today. In about 15 minutes of digging around my files, two tunes came up that sound a lot like the familiar John Coltrane tune, Mr. P.C.— a 12-bar blues, from the album Giant Steps: 

On Grant Green's record Gooden's Corner, from 1961, he plays a jazz arrangement of Shadrack, a pseudo-spiritual pop tune from the 1930s, previously recorded by Louis Armstrong and others. It has a 32 bar AABA form. 

Sonny Rollins recorded more or less the same arrangement of the tune in 1952. It seems pretty clear that Mr. P.C., written in 1959, was based on this, adding a blues turnaround to the A section melody.

Here's Louis Armstrong singing the tune with Benny Goodman in 1939— a kind of spiritual-like set piece. Louis Prima did something similar with it. Most the vocal arrangements of it feature these kind of vaudeville elements; the jazz version is pretty stripped down in comparison.  

I then happened upon Separation Blues by Hadley Caliman, from his 1977 record Celebration, with Elvin Jones on drums. This is a blues, and is clearly an homage, following the same basic rhythm format as Mr. P.C., with a more abstract melody. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sidebar: mind what you say

Teachers, speaking to students: I know everyone thinks we're not being heard, but a lot of them are more engaged than we think they are, and a lot of things we say to them, particularly the one-liners, are instantly converted into doctrine in their minds. They believe it and follow it, even if they're not showing you any outward signs of it. 

A few from my own life: 

“NEVER turn down paying work.”

“The difference between amateurs and pros is that pros play louder.”

“F*kin' learn the music yourself.”

“Each note is a little pearl.”

“Take your stick in your hand, and hit the drum.”

“You have to be a maniac!”

Everybody has those, and none of us ever told our teacher they meant anything to us. They stick with you and completely form your concept of being a drummer and musician, for years, sometimes forever. 

The people who said them probably don't even remember it. It's like the movie Talladega Nights, where the derelict father says to his kid, a future race car driver, “If you're not first, you're last.” The kid proceeds to live his whole life by that nonsense, only to find out: 

The attitude created some problems for the character. It motivated him, but it also turned him into a selfish egomaniac. In a way there's nothing you can do about it— young people latch onto those kinds of categorical lines specifically. It's a powerful thing when the teacher's priorities are in the right place. 

Most of my very occasional quotes of the day are examples of it— things said in an interview, that weren't necessarily thought out, but contain a lot of truth and guide your whole way of thinking about what you do. 

It's a problem when people do it defensively, in a reactionary way, trying to appear clever, and just create prejudices. 

Everybody used to have their clever line about Country music— “I buy a country record every few years to see if anything's changed” is one I remember from a good drummer in a clinic about 40 years ago. So everybody gets a superior attitude about Country... which they have to instantly unlearn when they find themselves doing some Country gigs. You can't be working with people playing their music and treat it like it's a joke.   

We saw it on mass media scale in my Stewart Copeland is an idiot post some weeks ago. Copeland has his jazz-is-all-bulls*t schtick he worked up for his media appearances, including a nonsensical line he stole from the movie 24 Hour Party People: “jazz is the last refuge of the untalented.” So now a lot of people who think he's cool will have their own stock line of BS they'll use the next time anybody puts on a jazz record, and they won't even listen to the music. 

And it's a big part of YouTube. Apart from the larger problem of an algorithm telling us what our priorities in drumming should be, we have a lot of not-entertaining people trying to be entertaining, and quipping a lot on drumming related topics. Leading to a lot of bad lines of this type reaching a lot of people. 

Like, from one well-known guy: “you could play your whole life and never play a flam.” That inspired a lot of online conversation. Which, hooray for him, he wins, he got some attention. But he also engraved a really stupid idea in a lot of minds. Previously it would have been a stupid thing he said once to one student, now there are ten thousand guys out there fully indoctrinated with the idea. 

One of the few people who does this in a mostly positive way, who is actually entertaining, is Dave King of the Rational Funk series— one of the least-watched YT drumming channels, natch. 

Anyhow, think about it, it happens every time you speak to your students, it's a powerful tool to wield carefully. As teachers we're the some of the very few artists these kids are ever in contact with. Our job is a little bit subversive, helping them be serious about art in some capacity, when all of society is giving them easy, ego-satisfying reasons not to be. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Reed interpretations: triplet feel R&B

This is a triplet-feel R&B groove practice method we did in a lesson with a student recently. It has a snare drum backbeat on 2 and 4, quarter notes on the cymbal, and some triplet filler on the snare drum. You can do this with pp. 10-11, 30-31, and 34-45 of Syncopation by Ted Reed. 

To make this kind of groove it would be simple enough to just play a swing version of our regular rock beat method, but where's the fun in that? This way has more notes.  

To illustrate it clearly we'll go through a few steps, but once it's learned it's easy to do the finished method on the fly while reading out of Syncopation.

To begin, let's use the humble line 1 from p. 4: 

Play the top line rhythm (coincidentally the same as the bottom line rhythm) on the bass drum, fill in with the left hand on the snare drum to make triplets, add quarter notes on the hihat (coincidentally the same as the pattern rhythm), like so: 

We want to have a snare drum backbeat, so let's move the notes on the 2 and 4 to the snare drum— accent them, and play the rest of the triplets softly: 

Now see p.11, line 11: 

Again, play the top line rhythm with a swing interpretation on the bass drum, fill in the middle of the swing 8th notes on the snare drum, to make triplets; add quarter notes on the hihat: 

Move the 2 and 4 to the snare drum, accented: 

Now do this rhythm  from page 30: 

Again: play top line rhythm on bass drum, swing interpretation; fill in with snare drum to make triplets, add quarter notes on the hihat: 

When there's bass drum sounding on the & only of beat 1 or 3, like that, you can drop out the first snare drum note on those beats, making a RLB pattern: 

So— open your book now— here is how you would play the second line of the famous p. 38 (née 37) exercise: 

And the same thing again with the RLB thing where appropriate: 

You could also do this method while playing a shuffle rhythm on the cymbal, or a jazz-type rhythm, if you choose. This type of thing is more useful in a jazz setting than you might expect. In that case, I might drop out more of the snare drum filler like so:  

In the end, there are no more variations for this than there are for standard rock beats— this is way easier than the large amount of materials in the book suggests.