Thursday, March 31, 2022

Cymbals are in!

SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I'll be posting lightly for the better part of this week, A) because I'm doing my taxes, B) because a huge new shipment of cymbals just came in, and I'll be making videos and writing descriptions of them. 

3/31 UPDATE: Videos are up NOW. 

New cymbals include: 
Two 22" Holy Grail Jazz Rides
18/20/22" Thin Turks - 4/4: the 18 is sold, the 20 is on hold
Two 20" Holy Grail Light Jazz Rides - 4/3: one of these is on hold
17/19" Holy Grail Crashes, and Janavar Crashes - 4/1: the Janvavars have been sold

Visit my Cymbalistic site to see what I have in stock, and don't be shy about reserving something that catches your ear. Things have a way of getting bought and disappearing these days... 

Here's one of the new Turks, a 20" Jazz Ride, “Seijun”: 

Very occasional quote of the day: practicing in time

“Through the years I had always practiced from slow to fast, but then I found out that that's the worst possible thing any drummer can do for his time. If you practice like that, you end up playing like that. 

After that clinic [Stan Kenton, with Peter Erskine teaching drums], I started practicing everything in time and in meter. I started playing along with the metronome and records and being really conscious about it[.]”

“To improve my time, I geared myself to think in that way. I really set out in search of wanting to play with good feel and I think that was probably the most important thing I did. I know a lot of players who don't play with good feel, but haphazardly think that you're either born with it or you're not.

You have to develop it, so I tried to do everything to do so. I talked to people about it and listened to a lot of records, like a lot of Aretha records with Bernard Purdie and a lot of old James Brown records, and studied in depth what notes were being played. I would try to write it down and then try to play it and get the same feeling they had gotten.

I guess I understood the importance. Most of the young people I know now, and those I have taught, don't realize the importance of working on their time and their feeling. They think it's more important to work on their flash and their chops, their technique and their reading. If they would only understand that it's time and feeling that is going to get them the work, they would devote themselves to do that.”

- Steve Smith, 1981 Modern Drummer interview with Robyn Flans

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Groove o' the day: Jack Dejohnette - Polar AC

Jack Dejohnette playing a straight 8th groove on Freddie Hubbard's Polar AC. This gets called an ECM feel today, but maybe we should start calling it a CTI feel. Change it up, direct people to some other records. 

I've transcribed the intro of the tune, right up until the trumpet comes in: 

The groove suggests a 2/2 or half time feel— a free texture somewhere between a samba and funk feel. The main point of interest is the mostly-linear snare drum and bass drum activity, with some overlapping. The accents are subtle— he plays the snare drum at a pretty even volume.  

Friday, March 25, 2022

Very occasional quote of the day: Blackwell and Ornette

“When we were awake, we were always playing. If we were not playing, Ornette would be sitting down writing a tune, or we'd be discussing music, or listening to music—different tunes. But that was it. As far as practicing by myself, maybe I'd practice on the pad while he was writing. But most of the time we were practicing together.”

- Ed Blackwell

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Singles speed builder

This is a page for developing fast singles, for my students— maybe you can use it too. Like anything else, your results may vary teaching it to yourself. You can contact me for lessons on this, or on anything on this site. 

The idea is to do each thing as fast as you can with good technique, one time, and adding single notes to that. The standard way of developing singles (see Master Studies, e.g.) is to work on ongoing speed— compounding the problem by including the endurance element. In real playing you usually don't play fast singles for a long time. So let's learn to play them like you play them, and you can develop the endurance later.  

Work on one measure at a time, playing them at your top speed. Your improvement is measured by whether you can do the next pattern at the same speed— not by increasing speed. This is not written to be played as a full page drill— you would have to change your metronome setting every measure to do each thing at top speed. 

Stickings for all the patterns are alternating, starting with the right hand. Also practice them starting with the left hand. Use the indicated stickings as guides for getting the internals in line, especially if you want to do this with a metronome. If so, set it at an 8th note rate, except on number 3, 11, and 14, for which you set it at an 8th note triplet rate. 

Get the pdf

Monday, March 21, 2022

More on that Latin system

Breaking down part of that short Latin method from the other day. I like it. It's easy, and gets us into some pretty fundamental things about rhythm, drumming, using the drum set. This is a page I'm handing out to my students.   

To review, the system is based on the cymbal/bell part, that we're getting from the book Syncopation, or from one of my rhythm pages. We're mostly limiting it to the cinquillo rhythm (and its inversions), which is built out of 3+3+2 eighth notes. 

This page has some warm-ups using just the 3+3 portion of the rhythm, in 3/4, in its inversions.  As before we fill in the the gaps in the rhythm with the left hand, and add bass drum to different parts of the original rhythm from the book— add it to the written quarter notes, the written 8th notes, and to the written notes sounding on an &. And add it on 1 sometimes, if it's not already there.

Just play the patterns as written on the page: 

I suggest playing the left hand as a rim click, then move it between the snare and the high tom, one note per drum. Play them along with one of my loops in 3/4, 6/8, 6/4, or 4/4. 

Get the pdf 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Cymbal sounds: Special Janavars

Talking about the Special Janavar cymbals I mentioned in my last cymbal post— it's a new series I'm selling through my Cymbalistic site, and I'm really excited about them. I want one of these for myself, but I'm in business, allegedly, and need to sell them.  

Cymbal & Gong's Janavar series is a new Turkish made B20* cymbal inspired by a 1960s European B8 line, that was revived in recent years. Both series are full bodied, lighter cymbals for pop music. The original '60s cymbals came out before the big 1970s cymbal industry move to heavier cymbals for pop and rock, and were discontinued as the heavier cymbals became the norm. 

* - B20 bronze is the type associated with Turkish and Turkish-style cymbals; B8 bronze is associated
with machine produced cymbals— many student lines, and several professional lines made by Paiste. 

The Special Janavars have a heavy patina with green highlights, that dries the sound significantly. They look and sound like they've been living in a night club for 40ish years. They handle beautifully— they're very responsive, with great definition. The regular Janavars are straightforward, bright and full, the Special ones are more focused, and not without complexity. They're good contrasting cymbals paired with a Holy Grail or other darker jazz cymbal. 

We've only made a few of them, but so far the sound ranges from a lovely “vintage A” sound: 

To a wilder, almost exotic sound. 

You can click over to the other post to check out video of the 22" model with rivets, which I think is lovely.

The match is not exact, but the less exotic ones remind me of Philly Joe Jones's cymbal on Milestones— a 50s “A. sound.” 

Or Jack Dejohnette's cymbal on Freddie Hubbard's straight life: 

You can hear Jack frequently accenting the cymbal, and it dies and gets out of the way quickly— it gives an exciting accent sound, but doesn't build up. The Special Janavars handle similarly.  

So far we are only doing the special thing with 20 and 22" Janavars. The normal Janavar line also includes 15 and 16" hihats, 18" crashes, and 24" rides. I'm most interested in special-ordering some off size cymbals for this treatment: 17" crashes, 19 and 21" rides.  

Thursday, March 17, 2022


“Oh! How ordinawy.”
A little bit of an business/economics side track here: 

In the USA the word ordinary is rarely a compliment. It's usually taken to mean unexceptional, uninteresting, not that good. It's not a word you apply to a product you want to sell in a crowded marketplace. We want everything to be extraordinary, extreme, incredibly good— incredibly something, incredibly anything.  

There's a British usage that is interesting: ordinary bitter is a popular style of beer, for example. In the movie Gosford Park there was a line: “We don't have bourbon sir, we have Scotch and ordinary whiskey.”  

The meaning in that case is not boring crap. It's more about what is suitable and economical for daily consumption. Meaning, it needs to be accessible, pleasing, inexpensive. It's worth thinking about the idea, to understand what we're doing commercially as musicians and creative artists— clarity about what we're making, what it's for.   

I don't know if the word is only used in the alcoholic beverages industry, but that's a convenient field for talking about it. Compare how Americans regard good beer, vs. Germany, the UK, or Czech Republic. American “craft brewers” are trying to figure out how to get more hops into the product; in the other countries people are drinking incredibly good, balanced, satisfying ordinary beer— the equivalent of Budweiser, except much better. Which is how it should be; it's a people's beverage with an important social component.   

That carries over into European food generally; what's good is usually simple, and made with fresh ingredients. Often it's accessible to everyone. When things are taken to a high level, as in gourmet French cooking, it's built around a deep culture and craft, and social culture of appreciation. Meanwhile Americans are dreaming of Chernobyl-Style Ghost Pepper Mule-Attack Fajitas. 

A little bit of that is fun and OK, but over the last ~10 years that impulse became first the brainless pursuit of eternally more of whatever ingredient drew us to the thing in the first place (see IPAs); and more recently into just doing the wrongest thing possible— getting attention by making the worst combination of ingredients we can think of. See: the Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper ice cream offered by Salt & Straw, the current hip place. Then you go to Italy and discover you could happily live the rest of your life eating just the chocolate chip (stracciatella) offered at any gelateria in the country. People who live there already know that because they've been eating it since they were children, and it has always been great. 

The extreme products thing relies on a consumer mentality of always seeking out the next extreme thing, at the expense of core life experience— which many Americans are lacking, because the ordinary available products are historically pretty crummy. 

We could talk about music that is intended for regular repeated listening, vs. music that is meant to be a very intense or challenging listening experience. Some jazz acts you hear at festivals use overwhelming energy and complexity to stand out in immediate comparison with a lot of other good music. That's how that music functions, the players are just doing what they do. It's not really meant to be listened to day to day— you couldn't, and don't— it's meant to be experienced live as a high performance act. 

Pursuing that kind of thing without having any concept of normal great music, and of normal ways of playing— most people don't play like that, they don't want to play with people trying to play like that, they don't want to listen to people trying to play like that... most of the time. The extreme high performance thing is a niche. 

It raises some questions: what is playing great? Beyond just overwhelming abilities with difficult music. Why can I listen to some overwhelming music every day— McCoy Tyner, Live Evil— and I never want to listen to other overwhelming music. Segment from Dave Holland's Triplicate, for example. There's some kind of spiritual depth to the former, that's missing from the latter, even with some of the same players. Why do I want to listen every day to some players who are never overwhelming? What do they have that the modern festival headliners don't? What's the difference between dense and exciting music that is listenable, vs. the other thing? 

As a line of product, what I'm doing with my visual art could be called ordinary— I make paintings that are meant to be hung in people's homes, and experienced daily, and enrich their lives over time. It's abstract modern art that still offends some people, but I'm using the same basic visual language of the past 100 years of art— not unlike what we do in music. Contrasted with industrial scale art that is meant to hang in museums, or corporate environments, or in public spaces, or that is meant to rewrite art history, or be collected by billionaires, or challenge people's idea of what art even is, or get over with people giving away grant money— that's something else. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A concise straight 8th / pseudo latin system

It's remarkable how long you can work with a book like Syncopation, and still come up with new things to do with it. Newish. This isn't actually new, it's a specific variation on existing things. 


OK, it's barely distinct from other things we do every day. 


I was doing this with a student, and it's nice because it's short. We'll do a Latin or straight-8th texture using Progressive Steps to Syncopation, pp. 34, lines 1-3. If you want to take it further, try it with my page of cinquillo inversions, or with similar rhythms on pp. 34-37 of Syncopation. 

For the examples we'll use line 2 from page 34. Play the book rhythm on the cymbal, with the left hand filling in the gaps in the rhythm— for a Latin feel play rim clicks:  

Options for the bass drum— try them all:

Add bass drum corresponding with the written quarter notes or tied notes: 

Or with written notes sounding on an &: 

Or with the written (non-tied) 8th notes: 

Add bass drum on 1 if it's not already present: 

You could make a two-measure phrase out of that, adding bass drum on the 1 every two measures: 

When the bass drum is already present on the 1, you could make a two measure phrase by eliminating it on the second measure: 

Move the left hand between the snare / tom tom: 

Then you can do each of the bass drum possibilities along with that. 

Then try improvising a similar texture. This should be useful in a number of settings— Latin, funk, jazz— depending on how you orchestrate it on the drums, and the kind of touch you use. You could get an Ed Blackwell type of texture with it. You can fill a lot of air with it if you learn to do it well, up to a tempo of about half note = 150. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Touch and grace

Combining two different posts I was working on, because they overlap, and are fairly inextricable: developing good touch on the drums, and developing some physical grace in playing. Sounding and looking like a musician and not an animal. As drummers it can be hard to get respect for our musicianship, and you can help people give it to you by telegraphing it visually. A few people will notice when you get a good sound and not a bangy sound. 

Play like a timpanist and follow through— play the end of the stroke as much as you do the attack. A lot of us emphasize the down part of the stroke, not so much the up part of it.

This is not the same thing as the popular stick-bounce thing— this is about a deliberate motion created by you, not by physics. Some teachers will talk about “drawing the sound out of the drum” or “playing off the drum”— phrases I hate, but maybe they're helpful. 

Get some timpani lessons from someone who doesn't downstroke and doesn't bounce the mallet. There are a lot of timpani technique videos I don't agree with, but here's a good example of the type of stroke I'm talking about: 

A good exercise— I got from Jeff Falcone, another student at USC, who got it from Ed Soph— is practice your jazz cymbal rhythm at around 40 bpm, using exactly that stroke. 

Don't hit

A lot of people whack the drum with a kind of aggressive muscular snap. Instead of that, think in terms of a quick hand motion— down and back up— hitting something doesn't enter into it. The surface isn't important. This doesn't mean you can never play loud or never downstroke or dig in, we just want to get away from always kinetically battering the drums.  

Relaxed grip

When I talk about technique, I advocate a pretty controlled grip— mainly because my usual grip, which is quite relaxed, is not good for everything. I work on a controlled grip so it's there when I need it, like if I have to play quieter than I would want, which is often. When I'm free to play the way I want, my grip looks a lot like Rakalam Bob Moses's grip:

It's the difference between an execution mindset and a playing mindset. Execution mindset means you're focused on correctly playing a part or playing a setting— that may not be real natural for you. Hence the more controlled grip. A playing mindset means you're focused on playing the way you play. 

Inner Leopold
To an extent you can telegraph what you're playing, promoting cohesion in the ensemble, almost like you're conducting with the sticks. Almost. You're still playing what you're playing. Sometimes you actually conduct, like on an ending, an improvised riff, a free/rubato section, maybe on a ballad. 

Easy, Baryshnikov

Just don't overdo it, or it starts looking contrived. It's a little bit of BSing. Like you've heard Mickey Roker play a cymbal beat, but now I, the musician am here to play it with proper respect and seriousness. Take a look at anybody great, they mostly don't seem to be doing that much. Usually their technique looks ordinary and economical. 

But you also can't be afraid of ever looking ridiculous. Being relentlessly ridiculous earns a certain kind of respect. People's initial response is is this guy kidding, and they soon learn the answer no, he's f*g not. Find your own balance.  

The first thing is always what you play. What you play. Thinking about your movements can be helpful in puts you in a certain frame of mind about it, but our product is auditory.

Don't confuse good touch with playing like a wuss
The musical goal of creating energy has not changed— we still want an exciting sound, high energy sound. I do, anyway. But separate musical intensity from physical intensity— or from hitting energy, hitting harder. Channel your physical energy into a more lithe kind of intensity.   

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Todd's jazz drill

A summary of something I've been doing lately. I hadn't practiced for about a week, so to get my act together, I drilled some standard jazz methods using that recent page of practice rhythms. I was playing along with a McCoy Tyner practice loop at ~ quarter note = 167. This Milt Jackson loop is at a more reasonable 125 bpm. I was playing one measure from the rhythm page, all eight ways, then moved on to the second measure.  

This forms a pretty comprehensive medium tempo jazz vocabulary. If you can improvise a texture with each of these things, you should have the “what to play” end of jazz drumming pretty well covered. You could play my cliché control pages to get a more bebop thing happening. Of course there's a lot more that goes into doing it well and being a musician. 

It's funny that this is such core stuff, and none of the common drum media ever talks about it. Contact me via the SKYPE link in the sidebar to get some lessons and learn about it. 

To summarize each of those things

1. Jazz rhythm with 8th notes
BD plays practice rhythm, LH fills in 8th notes on SD, RH plays jazz cymbal rhythm. Swing the 8th notes. I add some accents to the snare drum parts here. 

2. Rhythm on cymbal / fill on snare, 8th notes
Play practice rhythm on BD + cym, fill in 8ths on SD. RH on cym, LH on SD; also play with alternating sticking.

3. Jazz rhythm with triplets
BD plays practice rhythm, LH fills in triplets on SD, RH plays jazz cymbal rhythm. Avoid playing more than two LH notes in a row by putting a rest on the downbeat.   

4.  RH lead, triplets
Play practice rhythm on cym + BD, fill in triplets on SD. RH on cym, LH on SD. Avoid playing more than two LH notes in a row by bringing the RH to SD where necessary. 

Alan Dawson's “ruff bossa” system is another sticking you could do with this orchestration. I personally don't use it much. 

5.  Alternating triplets
Same orchestration as 4, alternating sticking. 

6. Triplet rolls
Same orchestration/sticking as 5, play doubles on SD notes. 

7. Paradiddle-diddles
Play practice rhythm on cym + BD, fill on SD with paradiddle-diddle sticking, 16th note rhythm. Where there is a quarter note spacing in the practice rhythm, play RRLL. Where there are two 8th notes in a row in the practice rhythm, play an 8th note on the BD/cym on the first note, then the regular 16th note interpretation on the second— see examples 5-6 at the bottom of the page. 

8. Fast tempo prep
Same as 7, leave RH on cymbal. 

Get the pdf

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Philly Joe's early career

“When I got to New York I joined a rhythm-and-blues band right away, with Joe Morris, Johnny Griffin, Elmo Hope, and Percy Heath. It was an 8-piece group. We barnstormed all over the country, from Key West, to Maine, to California. I stayed with them for 3 or 4 years, I guess. Joe Morris had a lot of hits at that time. Today, you speak about a band having a number-one hit on the charts. In those days, Joe Morris had 3 or 4 hits going at once. He was making good money because he worked all the time.

After I left his band, I was in the Highlanders with Tiny Grimes. We had kilts and all that. I was not in that band too long. Then I went to Bull Moose Jackson's band, which was another rhythm-and-blues band. Most of the bands in those days played rhythm-and-blues and I did a lot of playing with groups like that. I was on the road with Jackson's band for a good while, and then I was in Arnett Cobb's band for a little while after that.”

- Philly Joe Jones, 1982 MD interview with Rick Mattingly

Friday, March 11, 2022


UPDATE: All the videos are up! 

CYMBALISTIC: Just letting everyone know, the latest shipment from Turkey has been delayed YET AGAIN— so we won't be seeing a big new batch of cymbals until later in March.

But I did get some great new cymbals for sale: 

– 22″ Holy Grail Jazz Rides – 2 x A-type, 1 x K-type
– 20″ Holy Grail Jazz Ride – K-type
– 20 and 22″ Special Janavar Crash-Rides. Beautiful heavy patina with green highlights, three rivets installed on the 22.
– Plus, on deep discount: 24″ Cymbal Foundry Ride [SOLD], 18″ Janavar Crash, 16″ Holy Grail Hihats, 15″ Janavar hihats 

You'll probably need to move if you want any of these— there has been a lot of interest, and not much available stock, and the discounts are quite rare indeed. 

So shoot me an email (see the sidebar here, or use the contact form @ Cymbalistic) and ask for a hold on any of these you're interested in— no obligation.  

Visit CYMBALISTIC to check out what I have for sale right now, and to peruse videos of past cymbals sold, and learn more about these fantastic instruments. 

Here's that 22" Special Janovar— I think these are super-cool. They sound (and look) like they've been hanging around a nightclub since 1958: 

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Cliché control - 5 stroke singles

Another Cliché Control page for learning to solo in jazz, combining stock licks. This time centered around 5-stroke singles: RLRLR or RLRLB. We're squarely in Philly Joe / Art Blakey territory here— and a lot of other people.   

I never practiced anything like this— I've always been helpless to do anything but improvise my solos using stuff worked up through Reed. At times I could have used more of this squared off, pure idiomatic stuff at my disposal.  

Learn all the measures individually, repeating, then play all combinations of measures. A together with B through Z, B together with C through Z, and so on. 

Move the patterns around the drums however you like. Circled notes can be played normally, or as stick shots, or as flams, or with both hands in unison on two drums. Mostly they're meant to be led with the right hand, alternating sticking on the 5s— find some video of Mel Lewis soloing and you'll see what I'm talking about. Good for brighter tempos. In the presence of the 16th notes, many of the 8th notes will not be swung. Straight 8ths happen all the time in jazz, FYI, even in a swing context. Put on some Monk records. 

Get the pdf

Monday, March 07, 2022

Sidebar: open and closed

As long as I've been playing, with the people I've been around*, open and closed were understood to refer to, respectively, double-stroke, rudimental-style rolls, and multiple-bounce, orchestral style rolls. Double strokes = open, multiple-bounce = closed. That has been the modern meaning since at least the 1930s, when George L. Stone gave these definitions in the introduction to Stick Control:  

The “open roll” referred to through the book is the rudimental roll of two beats (no more) of each stick [...].

The “closed roll” [...] is the one commonly used in light orchestral playing. It has several rebounds to each stick movement...

Reading the recent collection of Stone's own published articles, Technique of Percussion, in his day there was debate about the meaning of the terms, and about roll interpretation. Evidently a good number of those older people didn't even recognize the multiple bounce stroke as a legit thing. It was controversial enough that Stone had to make a case for the multiple-bounce roll and drag— and eventually prevailed, with the definition above.  

In some older books open and closed seem to mean simply slow and fast. Rudimental drummers will demonstrate a rudiment “open to closed”, slow to fast. And Stone himself, in an early piece in Technique of Percussion refers to practicing double-stroke rolls “Open to Closed (slow to fast).” Recently we saw in Wilcoxon there are some double stroke rolls indicated as “closed” simply because they're played with a faster pulsation than another example marked as “open.” On YouTube I occasionally catch rudimental people using the terms that way today. 

I normally reserve the term roll for things that are meant to be heard as a long tone, but there's an antiquated definition that includes any fairly rapid hand-to-hand playing in a steady rhythm. So I use a third category, a rhythm form— which is an open-form roll rudiment played slowly enough to be heard as a rhythm, rather than as a long tone. You'll see that in Wilcoxon— things identified as a type of roll even when they're not meant to be played at long tone speed. 

There's enough lingering ambiguity about closed especially, that I'm getting away from using it. Usually I'll say multiple-bounce, sometimes buzz.    

Also see my All About Rolls post from a few years ago. 

* - I've been around a lot of other Charles Dowd students, and a lot of Tony Cirone students. Dowd was a also student of Cirone, and of Saul Goodman.  

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Groove o' the day: Afro 10/8

An interesting groove by Billy Kilson, on A Seeking Spirit, from Dave Holland's Prime Directive album, one of the big records of the late 90s. If you're not familiar, he had a very high powered band that did a lot with odd meters. 

There's a strong quarter note pulse throughout, so this could easily be counted in 5, but there's something interesting happening with the bass drum rhythm, and in the percussion part, which suggests a kind of 10/8 Afro phrasing: 

Compare with the usual form of that rhythm in 12/8:

That 10/8 bell rhythm essentially shaves two 8th notes off the end of the traditional rhythm:

There are some other interesting things happening as the track progresses, which pull it some other directions, so it's worth some further analysis— maybe I'll get into that later. 

Having done this, I'm not finding a free way to listen to it online, so you'll have to buy the record, or sign up for Amazon music, or YouTube music, or something. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Transcription: Roy Haynes 8s

Hot on the heels of that “too perfect” post, here's a great example of what I'm talking about in terms of playing with an edge: Roy Haynes trading 8s with Chick Corea on Rhythm-a-ning, from Chick's album Trio Music. I guess we could call this the high late phase of Roy's career— he's playing a big, live drum set, very aggressively and spontaneously. I don't know why everybody doesn't play this way— with this kind of energy. 

The tempo here is about quarter note = 290, give or take. Right in his wheel house for killing it— it's about the same tempo as some things on Pat Metheny's Question & Answer, and Matrix on Chick Corea's Now He Sings Now He Sobs. That's Roy's tempo. The transcription begins at 3:19, and then I've just written out the drum solo breaks. 

Like I said, big drum set: I think there are three tom toms, two crashes, a swish cymbal, plus two timpani. He's very economical in terms of orchestrating on the instrument— lots of diddles, some singles, lots of bass drum and cymbal in unison. Usually he only plays one thing at a time, no independent parts, ostinato parts, or vestiges of ostinatos, as we might see in other people's playing. None of this requires any particular chops. 

In the second 8, on measures 14-17, he may be playing those unaccented notes on the shaft of the hihat stand— there's a different sound there. 

It's a free download, but if you're not a regular contributor on Patreon or PayPal, think about sending a couple/few bucks: 

Venmo: @Todd-Bishop-16
PayPal: toddbishop [at] cruiseshipdrummer [dot] com

Get the pdf

Everyone should own this record, but here's a link for it on that exploiter site, Spotify. But go to a store and buy it new. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Too perfect

Perfect and boring
For a long time I thought robotic perfection was basically impossible to achieve for people not practicing massive hours... so you may as well just try your best to achieve it. Lately, as people have more practice time on their hands (no gigs hahahaha -tb), I'm seeing more cases of people actually getting there, and sounding good in a bad way... for my taste. 

The major resulting defects(?) are with some high level players, with whom everything played sounds ironed out, sanded off, and tensionless. I won't name any names, but there are examples of that with “technique” guys, with “musical” guys, and with lifelong practicer/improvers— I'm talking about very accomplished players, so that's a pretty egregious way of characterizing them— but that's kind of how they're known in internet drummer land. More concerning for more of us are the ordinary players fixated on the metronome to the point of sounding robotic. 

And it sucks— we spend our whole lives trying to master this instrument, and then you get there, and somebody says you're too good at it. I'm not criticizing— people have to do what they do. I'm just interested to the extent that it affects my playing, and the music I like. I'm talking about drumming as an art form here.

So, some thoughts on keeping an edge while pursuing mastery: 

Start from a position that your job as a drummer is to create emotional energy, and kick a little bit of ass. I had to work backwards from that— I started out always trying to kick ass, and had to learn how to sometimes just play stuff. 

Play right in the moment— don't know what you're going to play until you're playing it. That's not a comfortable place to live, for a lot of people, and it is contrary to what they learn about parts, preparation, correctness.  

I want there to be at least a feeling that there is the possibility of something going wrong. Like, oh my goodness, is he playing too loud? What is he doing? Is he screwing up right now? Can he even play? Those can be open questions at some point in a performance— see Billy Mintz, Paul Motian. The saxophonist John Gross playing a Strayhorn ballad. That creates some tension, which is resolved in the course of the remainder of the performance. Amazing guy comes in and is unambiguously amazing and wins everything is not a very interesting story arc. 

I mean, you see Joe Henderson play and there's never a question of his ability, but he didn't sound worked out and ironed out. He's not being perfectly mellifluous and hanging out a sign saying MUSICALITY HAPPENING NOW. Billy Higgins's humility as a player was so great, you underestimated how great he was. It took you awhile to figure out that you were hearing something great.

Use them dramatically. Roy Haynes and Brian Blade are two drummers who do that extremely well— you can't miss that lesson listening to them.  

Stop tuning your drums so pretty. There is such a thing as sounding too good. It's like a Master Series cymbal from Bosphorus; they are fantastically refined instruments, to the point of not sounding like anything. They're beautiful vapor. Any number of jazz drummers play these lovely round, warm tom toms and delightfully woody, tonal 18" bass drums, and it's a sonic snoozefest. Change it up, get some fiberglass drums, put some Black Dots on them, something. 

You also have to play the things in a way that gets an energetic sound— don't just go for optimal timbre, lay into them at times, vary the sound.  

Thinking in terms of a grid is good for baseline competency, but I believe not great for your general musicianship. Think in terms of interlocking rhythms instead— the rhythm (as you might read it in a book like Syncopation), and its opposite. This is another big topic, for a future post.  

Practice with a slow click— whole notes or double whole notes, at whatever actual tempo you're practicing. I believe this develops good musical time, without being painfully exact about it.

Have a deep concept of rhythm, that is grounded in real music. See African drumming, in which rhythm is a matrix, with a deep field of polyrhythmic possibilities coexisting simultaneously. 

Put on some McCoy Tyner, or some African drumming, and pursue that energy your whole life.  

Ultimately, we're drummers, we're not concert pianists. We're not Apollo articulating principles of geometry and perfection of form, drums are a communication from a hidden wild place. This is a dance hall instrument, an instrument of war— literally and metaphorically— and a religious instrument, that's what I want to do.