Saturday, January 28, 2023

Latest views and practices on time

Rounding up my current views and practices on the subject rhythm and time, in teaching and practicing: knowing rhythm, holding a tempo in playing. This is mostly about beginner to intermediate level students. A lot of returning students— people getting back into drumming after taking years off— need a lot of help with this. 

What people do
Often students will look at a page of drumming materials and just start playing, at whatever is their personal natural tempo for playing something. Often they won't be able to play slower, if asked, or they'll creep up to their natural speed, more or less gradually. Obviously that won't work in real life playing, and it will slow them down in learning new things in the practice room, so breaking people of that is a big issue for teachers. A lot of us have vestiges of that in our own playing.  

Set the tempo
Before starting, decide what the tempo is going to be. This is always done in real playing, and very often not done in practicing— when not using a metronome or playalong track. Think about it for a second or two before starting. 

I'll be loose about this at first, and then more strict as a student can get through the pattern— or if they are having problems playing a pattern at all.  

Rhythms are shapes

Or structures, if you prefer, the architecture of our playing. They're the ideas we have to work with. Students need to learn their proportions, and learn to structure them with their voices. 

Rubato for figuring it out
While keeping the same basic proportions, we can allow some freedom to take the time to identify the next note in a pattern, from the page, and play it correctly. Students can slow down or pause, but we want to keep the proportions of the rhythm, broadly. I don't let them rush through the easy parts and then slow way down when it gets hard. 

Usually I have students count the combined rhythm of all the parts— all limbs— before playing something. For these purposes I usually don't want them to count while playing, I want them to focus on making their hands move in the rhythm we just counted. I'm insistent about always counting rhythms articulately, and always proportionally, even when referencing them in conversation. 

I usually do not have students count a full grid— usually just as a remedial thing if they're having problems with some other aspect of it. 

Use ears
Forming sound ideas or memories, using your ears.

People are universally pretty good at using their voice to copy something they heard. I'll count a rhythm for a student, and have them count it back to me, and when they can do it, matching my tempo exactly, then they play it, one time. Often that will sort out any coordination problems they were having with a drum set pattern. 

Hands must follow the voice

Increasingly I think the voice-hands connection the foundation of drumming technique. The hands will take over and run away with the time if you let them. Students need to be able to speak the rhythm in question accurately, and make their hands state it.  

Slow click
For advanced students. Practicing with a metronome sounding on beat 1 only— or on beat 1 every other measure. For me this has become the major way of learning to conceptualize time the way professionals do. It forces you subdivide, and to make your hands state time all the time, while also allowing your playing to breathe.  

It's a persistent false idea that people have to just “feel” time, and some people have it, and some don't. What we don't have is people who know how to teach it. I've handled some pretty rough cases using the above approaches— with a lot of patience and attentive teaching on my part, they eventually get it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Groove o' the day: Billy Cobham - White Rabbit

Here's Flamenco beat played by Billy Cobham on a cover of the Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit, from George Benson's album of the same name. I've been listening to it on my drives to Eugene and back, the last couple of weeks. 

Here's the basic thing he plays, with a lot of variations, when the rhythm section comes in. I don't imagine he had a stock flamenco beat worked up before the recording session. He does add hihat played with the foot on beats 2 and 4. 


As it develops he makes a funk beat out of it:

Further on he moves that to the bell of the ride cymbal, generally accenting on the & of the beat, even as the actual rhythm varies:

Get the pdf

Monday, January 23, 2023

Reed interpretation: short rolls

An easy thing to do with Syncopation, adding short rolls. This will be a no-brainer any time you want to work on your rolls without a lot of extraneous stuff, using familiar materials. I wrote something like this in 2012, and it kind of sucked. This way is better. 

Do this with 5 stroke rolls (16th note pulsation), 7 stroke rolls (16th triplet pulsation), or 9 stroke rolls (32nd note pulsation)— at whatever tempos give you quality rolls in each of those rates.  

First, you can just play a roll on the first note of any two (or more) notes with an 8th note spacing: 

If you want, you can do some different things when there are more than two 8th note spaced notes in a row. Like when there are three notes, you can put the roll on the first note, or on the middle note: 

When there are four notes, you can put the roll on the first note, or on the second or third note (after one or two taps), or do two rolls: 

Same deal with longer runs of 8ths: first note, second note, third note, next to last note, or fit as many rolls as you can starting on the first, second, third notes:

You could put a jazz inflection on it by accenting the one or two taps at the beginning of the run, and the last note of the run:

Obviously there's no need to do this exhaustively— do it how you like. It would be good to play through all the options once just to know them, and test your reading by doing them with the full page exercises. Putting the roll at the very end of the longer runs of 8ths, say, while playing the full page Exercise 2 does force you to read ahead and plan ahead— that's a good exercise.  

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Reading round up

I've been using my pages of syncopation rhythms a lot in teaching lately— similar to what's in Ted Reed, but written for a specific purpose, either for a specific drum set application, or to do something not covered in Reed.  

These are all collected under the label reading, but let's get links for the most useful ones all on one page: 

One line exercises: 

Charleston inversions
Tresillo/cinquillo inversions
Tresillo combinations - two measures
Dotted quarter spacing - no more than two in a row w/8th note spacing
Quarter note triplets
Two notes per measure - quarter note or greater spacing - mostly use Charleston page instead
Three note rhythms - mostly use tresillo pages instead
3/4 rhythms - with note on first beat, with no more than two notes in a row

Full page exercises:

Downbeats or &s
Single notes - quarter or dotted-quarter spacing
One or two notes - quarter or dotted-quarter spacing
Two notes per measure - quarter note or greater spacing
P. 38 with ties
Exericise in 3/4 - quarter and dotted-quarter spacing 

Special pages:

Reed in 7/4
7/8 rhythms
Marking up Reed
P. 38 inverted
Reed rhythms in 16th notes - in 2/4
P. 38 (née 37) in 16th notes
Partido alto variations

I also recommend my book Syncopation in 3/4, and Syncopated Rhythms for the Contemporary Drummer by Chuck Kerrigan, if you can find it. Louis Bellson's Reading Text in 4/4 is recommended, with caveats.  

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Family matters

The following may not be of a lot interest to everyone, but that's what is all about. So stand by, we'll get back to drum stuff soon enough. 

I've been dealing with some family things lately, hence the erratic posting. Mainly, my mother, Jeanette Bishop, was hospitalized over the holidays, and then died last week at age 91. It was an emotional rollercoaster of hope and despair, but in the end it was not a terrible way for her to go— she was lucid until the final couple of days, and had a good attitude about it the entire time, whatever the outcome. All of the family made it in, and my wife Casey read out loud from her memoir— mainly selections about her family life in Coos County, Oregon in the 1930s-40s. 

In addition to raising four kids mostly by herself, she majored in music and theater at the University of Oregon, and worked as a music teacher in the 50s, then got her Masters, and worked as a grade school counselor and teacher in the 70s-80s, and finally as a real estate agent in the 90s. In her last years she dedicated a lot of time to writing. She was always extremely supportive of all of us in all of our pursuits, which were not those of normal 9-to-5 civilians. 

Right now we're looking for a spot to bury her ashes at the Masonic Cemetery in Eugene— a very rustic graveyard founded in 1859, close to where the family lived and went to school. Many of the town's founders are buried there. When I was a kid it was a spooky, overgrown mess— I wanted to shoot a vampire movie there. In recent years it has been

My sister Christy and I at Masonic
cleaned up and maintained, and is accepting new burials. It's on the national registry of historic places, and is about to become an accredited arboretum. 

I never put much stock in burials or memorials, but it is the kind of place you would want to be buried— an actual living park connected to the surrounding neighborhood, and visited regularly by humans, because it's pretty and atmospheric. When we visited there were people walking their dogs, and a couple of lone young people of a poetic temperament hanging out. There was a sign reminding joggers that this is a cemetery, not a training ground. So the place gets used. The antithesis of those horrible corporate places where no one would (or does) ever go except out of obligation. 

She was the last of my parents— my father, Melvin Bishop, passed away in 1971, just before I turned 4 years old. He was a jazz and art fan and a heavy reader, with a modernist and satirical sensibility. He was a career civil servant working in Seattle, Kaiserslautern, Germany, Washington D.C., and San Antonio, Texas. At the time of his death he had been promoted to head of all United States government personnel worldwide, and the family was preparing to relocate to Washington D.C. for that job.

We found out several years ago that he also worked for the CIA— a distant relative was told that when he was getting a security clearance: “Did you know you have a relative in the CIA?” My father worked in personnel for the Department of the Army most of his career, so we assume the CIA activity was in Germany, working as a case officer, and/or screening former Nazis or war criminals, or current communists. We've submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA to get more information. 

He traveled a lot and worked a lot, so I don't have a lot of memories of him. I did get one “iconic” memory out of it, when I was 3— during a family road trip, walking with him at sunset at a Hopi cliff dwelling site in New Mexico, trying to copy the way he walked. In fact that's the only time I can remember being alone with him. 

Our idealized Kennedy era middle class situation kind of fell apart when my dad died, and I had a quasi-feral 70s childhood, nevertheless surrounded by a lot of music, art, and general creativity. My mom was busy getting her Masters in counselling, and then working to support us. In kindergarten I didn't speak to anyone the whole year, except to a girl friend, who is now an accomplished sculptor. Everyone thought I was mute, but I was just committed to a concept. Then starting in the second grade I went to a hippie alternative school and became a little exhibitionist lunatic. 

I like the way it worked out. In our house there were a lot of interesting art, music, books, and design objects to discover, and I was largely left alone to make a lot of mistakes and pursue whatever I was interested in. 

Surviving are my sister Christy, a gifted interior designer; John, the most professionally accomplished drummer in the family, and record label owner; and Scott, the most unambitious genius in the world, who cared for my mom in her final years; and myself, and my daughter Jenny. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Marvin Dahlgren video channel

Everybody's going to want to check this out: Marv's Legacy, a new(ish?) YouTube video channel with Marvin Dahlgren talking about practicing his books— Four Way Coordination, Accent On Accents, Drum Set Control, etc.  

I've only just started viewing them, but this video seems to be a straightforward explanation of the methods presented in the book. I'm looking forward to getting deeper into the videos and seeing what insights he offers based on several decades worth of actually teaching the materials. So far he sticks pretty close to the text. 

It's nice to know what the authors were thinking. But there are other ways of doing things— obviously I also have my own ideas on how to use the book

Speaking of Dahlgren's legacy, I'm not sure of the status of a number of his books published by Really Good Music— a small firm run by the father of pianist Geoff Keezer, Ron Keezer, who passed away during COVID. They sold photocopy printouts of about ten books of his that I've never seen anywhere else. Last I checked the site was down. Sheetmusicplus is showing titles published by Really Good Music LLC, but none of the special Dahlgren titles yet. 

[h/t to stevil @ DFO]

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Chaffee linear system: alternative 4s/6s

Something I've been playing with— as you know, Gary Chaffee's linear system is based on 3-8 note patterns, starting with the right hand, alternating sticking, ending with one or two bass drum notes. 

I don't really like the 4, 6, and 8 note patterns— RLBB, RLRLBB, RLRLRLBB. They don't sit well for me, I've never gotten that good at them, they mostly don't come out in my playing. So let's replace them. This is fill and solo material, we can do whatever we want. 

These are two four note patterns I use all the time: 

And two similar 6 note patterns:

I also wrote some sample practice phrases:  

Plug these into the practice phrases in the Time Functioning volume of Chaffee's Patterns series. Or into any of the couple of the couple of dozen pages of practice phrases I've written.  

Get the pdf

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Unpacking a groove: Predator

I'm getting into some finer points of playing the hihat two handed with a younger student, and was tempted to show him a groove I transcribed a long time ago: Predator, played by Omar Hakim on Weather Report's album Domino Theory. 

It's a good piece of literature, with a lot happening— accents with either hand on the hihat, either hand moving to the snare, an open roll, an open sound— a lot for a 12 year old to process all at once, though individually within his technical grasp. So I wrote this page breaking down every part of it, working it out precisely. This is like a piano lesson, learning technique through a piece, rather than through technical exercises.   

In the lesson we'll play each numbered pattern one time, until the dynamics/articulations are what I want, and then play them repeating. With the 3/4 measures I just want to leave some space after playing the thing; if a student leaves an extra beat of rest, making it 4/4, it doesn't matter. 

Normally I might do this same process just looking at the original transcribed beat, and giving the student orders— e.g. “play the last two beats of the second bar”, “play beat 3 of the first bar plus the snare hit on 4.” Not all students are adept at filtering that way, right away, hence this page. In fact, this will be a good way to teach him to filter that way.  

Get the pdf

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Quintuplet jazz? - 02 - bass drum added

Continuing that suspect page of jazz rhythms in quintuplets, here are some more practice patterns with bass drum added: 

See that post view from the outside of a swing feel for some explanation of this lunacy. This, along with the 5/8 materials I posted last summer, may be more helpful in handling modern stuff with a quintuplet subdivision than it will be for playing jazz. Proceed with caution, most people need to work on things other than this.  

Get the pdf

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Transcription: Elvin Jones - Foolin' Myself - 04

UPDATE: Boy I suck. This is of course the third solo chorus, and the fourth total entry in this series. I'll fix that... sometime. 

Continuing that Elvin Jones transcription from late last year— Elvin Jones playing on Foolin' Myself, from Lee Konitz's album Motion. This page begins at 2:55 in the track. We're getting into some more involved stuff here. 

You can see he plays some denser 16th note stuff in the sixth line— that's the last four bars of the bridge. I've adjusted them slightly to make them practiceable licks. In the first three bars he's playing a three beat pattern: 

Play that in 6/4 to add hihat the way you'd play it in 4/4:  

In the last bar of that line he plays a six note pattern, twice, with one note different. You can practice it either way: 

Get the pdf

Monday, January 02, 2023

Charleston inversions

Kicking off 2023 with a library item— file this with the pages of tresillo/cinquillo inversions, and this page. The Charleston rhythm is a form of the tresillo rhythm that found its way into mainstream American popular music in the 20s, that we use a lot in jazz drumming today, mainly as a comping rhythm on the snare drum or bass drum. Here I've written out inversions of it, starting on each beat in the measure, and their &s.   

On the second page there are some short exercises combining all of the inversions— in effect they're meter-within-meter phrases, but the idea is just to be able to follow each version of the rhythm some different ways, to not always have to space it the same way.  

Get the pdf

This has come up a lot lately, when people talk about rhythm in jazz— the Charleston rhythm. It's funny how all at once everybody starts saying the same stuff.  Nobody ever told me about it, I just heard it on a Mingus record and it was obviously a thing to play. And I had to play it as an actual thing playing dance music.