Friday, September 29, 2023

Four on the floor

It is said that, on the drum set, there are snare drummers and cymbal players— I would also say there are bass drummers and hihat players. I've always been a hihat player— meaning, I'll often keep a steady rhythm with my left foot, and do most of my playing with the other limbs. “Bass drummers” will be more likely to do that with the bass drum, especially when soloing, and have most of their activity with the hands. For example: 

That happens in a lot of 60s and post-60s rock drumming: on In A Gadda Da Vita; and Ginger Baker did it, Keith Moon did it, Neil Peart did it on his first big famous solo on Working Man. As prevalent as it was, I've never heard John Bonham do it, which made him seem much more modern than the rest of them. I can't really recall Ringo Starr doing it either, though I wouldn't be surprised if he did. 

I never regarded four on the floor as as a real sophisticated way to play, but I do it at times, with some major points of reference for using it— apart from the obvious swing, shuffle, or disco groove:

The English Beat was big when I was in high school, and I spent the next few years listening to them a lot, and learning Everett Morton's ska beat: 

After Ronald Shannon Jackson's great interview in Modern Drummer, I ran out and bought this record, and listened to it a lot:  

In the interview said some things about the bass drum I never forgot, even as I wasn't using that drum as my main driver:

“See, the most important thing is that foot- the master drum. It's the control drum. It's the center. It's the heartbeat, the relaxed pulse, the more musical tonal center as opposed to the more direct speaking tone- that's what settles the music.

In any ethnic group that employs the drum, you're going to find the large drums, like this Trinidadian drum I have- the long drum; the deep drum. That bottom is where music comes from in most folk cultures. In drums themselves, there have always been master drums- especially in African tribal drumming where there's always that pulse, that center to any social or spiritual event. You can take out the speaking rhythms or the communication on top- that which is portraying the event itself; the master drummer can keep everything going. The pulse, the intention, is still there on the bottom, so you can play the same pulse and change the rhythms on top of it. You can do the same thing on the drumset, when you start with that pulse from the heart- BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Now everything on top is good; those rhythms are the enhancers- what we emotionally want to say. But if the heartbeat isn't there, things are unstable.”

For a good 10-12 years I was really into Ed Blackwell's drumming, and he would use the bass drum this way in his grooves. On Chairman Mao (by Old And New Dreams) in particular, he brings in the four on the floor in a powerful way after ~ 1:15— I think about that exact thing all the time: 

A more random item, in the 90s I got to catch the Delta Blues guitarist T Model Ford playing in Portland, and his drummer had a really strong bass drum groove:  

In rock and country acts I've been involved with lately, I'll sometimes play the bass drum under tom fills, to give them some more weight. I noticed John Guerin doing that on some of his recordings I've transcribed, and of course Keith Moon did it, and it's very effective. 

“Feathering” four on the floor on the bass drum is a big part of the online discussion of jazz drumming, with people trying to learn a vestigial way of playing the bass drum without doing the first stages of it, where you play a ton of gigs playing it for effect. For example, Philly Joe Jones, working hard as an R&B drummer early in his career, was definitely playing the bass drum to be heard then. As did all the drummers whose careers bridged the swing and bebop eras— Kenny Clarke for example. Then they used it more subtly as they were doing bop. That's a natural, logical progression.  

This ended up being more about my personal stuff than I intended, but there is a larger point here about how we're supposed to notice things— like, notice what you notice; every little particular momentary thing that strikes your ear becomes part of your musical personality. People look for generic rules about what you're supposed to do in a “style” of music, but it's the particulars that matter. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Rhythm fills - dotted quarter and half note space

Minor little item, that can be done by itself as an elementary thing, or that can be used along with Syncopation. I wrote it to work through some fill alternatives within a right hand lead Reed system

Each numbered line has the same basic idea filling the space between dotted quarter notes, and half notes. 

Stickings are whatever you want— alternating, natural, RH does cym/LH does snare, mixed diddles, whatever. For people doing the page as a standalone thing, it would be a worthwhile exercise to make the cymbal hits alternate— using whatever sticking you must to make it come out that way. 

Get the pdf

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Book review: Note Groupings and Combinations for Drumset

Giving a shout out to, and a few comments about, a new book by Jeff W. Johnson: Note Groupings And Combinations For Drumset. Johnson wrote another good book, The Level System— pretty much the definitive practice manual on that subject. 

I'll put up front that this book is really good. Essentially we have some things suggested in Gary Chaffee's books, totally reinvented as complete practical system, in a form suitable for normal modern music.  

It's not a simple concept to describe, and the title and description are a little obscure:

[This book] demystifies the concept of note groupings: a system of arranging notes that span over the beat (and over the barline). We'll start with an introduction to the groupings in their basic forms before using them in grooves and fills. Then, by combining note groupings together, we create even more rhythmic possibilities. The concepts in this book will increase your rhythmic vocabulary and creativity, all while remaining musical.   

Or you could say: 

We're gonna group some 16th notes in 3s 5s 6s and 7s, and then group some triplets in 2s 4s and 5s, and do some different stickings, and then do some other stuff with that. 

Grouping rhythms differently than their normal subdivisions, essentially. Here's the basic template— go to the book's site for more sample pages.  

There you see some 16th notes, in 4/4 time, accented every five notes. There are some suggested stickings, and suggested four measure phrases (I would also practice each measure individually, and each two measures.) This is repeated for a number of different groupings of 8th notes, 16th notes, and triplets in 4/4 time. 

That is covered in about a dozen pages. The remainder of the book presents options for rudimental stickings, and for drumset applications, and for applying them to a musical phrase. 

On the one hand the idea here involves cross rhythms in 4/4— “metric modulation” as it's often called. For players it's is a normal-advanced idea— perhaps not thrillingly novel to people fascinated with advancedness. Doing it over an entire phrase is a particular effect that is usually done sparingly. I think people using the book would be best off using it as part of learning where all the notes in the measure are, and breaking open the box created by the time signature, while using the exact patterns in a more fragmentary way as fills, or as part of an improvised texture. 

Johnson does his job and figures out a focused mission with it, which is a big deal*. I like books that are scaled to a normal drumming life; average semi-ambitious drummers could learn a little something in a short time with it, or hardcore maniacs can do their thing with it, and take it much further, and he suggests some ways of doing that. It's hard to get that balance without swamping the fundamental concept. 

* - ...I'm increasingly annoyed[!] with maximalist books that, if you followed the author's instructions, would dominate your whole life forever. Fresh rant on that subject coming soon... 

So, it's $15, buy it. It presents a nice clear concept that you can explore in a short time, and continue using as a basic practice template for many years. 

100 pages, wisely self-published by Johnson, and available through his site, or from Amazon

Monday, September 18, 2023

Warm ups for Alan Dawson's “Para Bossa” system

Alan Dawson's Para Bossa system, from John Ramsay's book, The Drummer's Complete Vocabulary, is a way of interpreting exercises in Ted Reed's Syncopation as 16th note paradiddles, and extended paradiddles, with a samba rhythm in the feet. I was going over it with a student yesterday, and we thought it would be helpful to write out some warmups. Mainly for lining it up with the feet. 

For each line, on the left is the rhythm written as it appears (or would appear) in Syncopation, on the right is the interpreted pattern for it: 

No, there's no 6/4, in Syncopation, but if you play these exercises you'll be covered for all the ways the similar rhythms do appear there. 

Play all the warm ups— starting with the left hand, as well— then practice the system reading from Synopation, pp. 30-45. First with hands only, then add samba rhythm with the feet. 

Get the pdf

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Transcription: Peter Erskine - Duo - 04

Here are the next 30 seconds / 32 bars of Duo, played by Peter Erksine and Bob Mintzer, from Mintzer's record Hymn. The whole track is about three and a half minutes long, so there will be three more of these before we're done. 

Here they're trading fours— every second line is Erskine's solo. It's interesting, normally you might think of Erskine as being a very deliberate player, and therefore working with a lot of set patterns? It would be an easy stereotype to make. Here I feel like we're seeing how patterns evolve in the hands of players like this. 

Let's look at those Erskine's fours line by line: 

Line 2: Hahahaha, he's doing “my” pattern! He plays a three-beat pattern three times— starting on beat 4 at the end of line 1. The second time the notes got shoved around a little bit, if you're going to learn it, just play the straight pattern: RLL-RLR-LBB. In the third measure he does another pattern, RRL-LBB. 

Line 4: Again he starts his solo before the 1. There's some overlapping snare drum and bass drum here— at the time I would have associated that with a “New Orleans” kind of thing. The tempo is fast so you don't really hear it, but it was a thing of the time that people were cultivating.

Line 6: Just linear rhythm here, showing you how a couple of small changes in rhythm and dynamics can have a big effect.   

Line 8: Some not real particular stuff. You could practice that move going into the second measure, connecting alternating singles with a SBSB pattern, via a double on the bass drum:  

||:  RLRL  :||  RLBB  ||:  RBRB  :|| 

It's a good idea to practice soloing with alternating singles, and developing some options for varying them and getting out of them, and connecting them to something else.  

On each one of those breaks you can hear how the end of his solo is very clear, always setting up the horn in the last two or four beats. 

Get the pdf 

Blogger won't let me embed the video directly, click through to hear the tune on YouTube

Thursday, September 14, 2023

CYMBALISTIC: Playing some cymbals

CYMBALISTIC: I've just been doing a lot of cymbal-related business for people lately, and these are a couple of quick-and-dirty videos I made for that.  

Playing some different combinations of 20 and 22" Extra Special Janavars, by Cymbal & Gong: 

Those cymbals are all in stock on my Cymbalistic site. Grab them now if you like any of them— they'll be going to Germany with me in early October, and many of them will be sold.  

And some quick little demonstrations of cymbals I played at Cymbal & Gong HQ— 20" Extra Special Janavars, 20" "A-type" Holy Grails, 22" "K-type" Holy Grails: 

Many of these are on hold for me @ C&G— I'll be going Monday to choose a few of them to get for my site, the rest will be going out to other dealers. So.... act now if you like them, or want to hear more!  

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Transcription: Peter Erskine - Duo - 03

And here's the next 30 seconds of Duo, played by Peter Erskine and Bob Mintzer, from Mintzer's record Hymn. This begins at 0:59 in the recordings. The last line is solo drums, next entry they'll be trading fours all the way. 

We're getting into some denser stuff here, with layered 8th notes between the cymbal, snare, and bass drum, it's worth looking at those parts. Note that he plays the 8ths a little straighter there, too. 

Get the pdf

Blogger is not letting me embed the video directly, click through to hear the track on YouTube

Monday, September 11, 2023

Reed interpretations: tom ruffs

Fun item inspired by watching some Bob Newhart Show reruns— I watched it a lot as a kid, and the drumming on the theme music made an impression well before I started playing. 

In the fourth season they did a funkier arrangement of the theme song, that had a cool fill at the end, with a ruff on the tom toms, ending on the bass drum. They used the toms differently then, and very effectively:

I say “they” used the toms differently, maybe it's just John Guerin, the drummer here. Any time I hear a lot of concert toms on some 70s movie or TV music,  he's my first guess. There's a real school of using the tom toms there. Somebody should write a paper. Thanks to David Crigger for sharing that credit.   

It was a hip item at the time, and one of the first licks I tried to figure out on the drums. Now it seems a little dated, and ripe for revival.  

Play the warm ups, then work it out with Reed, as a variation on the right hand lead system. You fit the ruffs into any quarter note (or longer) length space in the book rhythm— where there are two or more filler notes. On the three 8th note long spaces, play the first filler note normally, then the ruff on the last two— that's illustrated with warmups 4 and 5. Notice also the added flams there, which you can do after getting the system together. They sound cool. 

For more of this, see my transcription of Deep Purple's Lay Down, Stay Down, played by Ian Paice, from way back.

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Thursday, September 07, 2023

On the massive overabundance of things to practice

A nagging question with every single thing I post: Am I putting up too much, am I part of the problem— the problem being: there's way too much stuff to practice on the drums now, and it's leading people away from fundamental principles*, stealing their focus, making them neurotic. Promoting the wrong idea that playing the drums requires a lot of preparation and prior knowledge.

* - Which are: you should be playing a lot and listening a lot... and, in third place, also practicing lot. Why did I put this in the fine print? 

Maybe— for people who are going about it the wrong way, through media. The right way is to be involved in music with people. If you're playing music, and hearing people play, all of the excess junk media ideas fall away— not my ideas, which are obviously splendid, I mean all that other junk. It's hard to force that stuff into a real musical life. 
So, here are some justifications for the continued existence of this site, some general notes on why I continue writing, and how I think you should relate to my content, and other people's, and to the seeming tsunami of practice materials and media-created demands on your time:

Use your judgment
Who's life is it, again? Everything advertised in drumming media as “crucial” is not actually crucial. Work on what seems relevant to your actual, immediate playing life— your next few years, anyway. You do have to have a playing life, though. Talk to some people, set up a weekly session to play some tunes. 

Practical vs. background
A lot of drummers seem to think that if they just work on some abstract exercises, played in a “neutral” way— Stick Control, say— for a long time, it will translate into freedom to play anything. A lot of materials are oriented that way, and it doesn't work that way. There may be good reasons to do that sometimes, it's not the main thing. Practice mostly what you're going to play, in the way you're going to play it.  

It's a library
Libraries are there for reference, for the future. Maybe you'll use something in ten years, or twenty, maybe never. Maybe you got everything it truly has to offer in glancing at it one time, seeing one other possible way of doing something. 

It's a very long game
Again, some of these things you may not get to for 10 or 20 years, or ever. A lot happens over the course of a playing life— a lot of phases of attitudes about playing, practicing, and everything else to do with music. We're dealing with long term concepts here. 

My niche

I have a pretty specific doctrine: everything is about what you can play with people. Everything should be as easy, natural, and non-technical as possible, so you can focus on the music. And as similar to the real act of playing music as possible. If we do something technical, there's got to be a good reason for it, respecting the time and attention it demands from the user. I tell you when we're doing something non-essential, or non-essential for most people. 

Virtually all Reed systems are worth doing

They're the major proven method for the above thing. You can learn a complete drumming vocabulary, in a form that is relatable to actually playing music, just by learning my Reed systems, and the traditional systems, and nothing else.  

My stuff is normal
What I do is not new. Mostly I fill gaps in proven existing methods— or expand upon them, or occasionally improve on them. Often I'm rewriting an existing thing to make it easier to do what I want with it. See my Chaffee linear phrases. Chaffee's stuff has so much potential it was impossible for him to put it all in a few volumes. Or I'll rewrite / edit / reinvent things just so I don't have to turn pages and edit while I practice.  

There's not that much to do

There's a lot, but most of us got passably up to speed with it in a few years, practicing ordinary stuff. The fundamentals have not changed in the last 50 years. I played my first professional gig five years after I started playing. Hardcore maniacs will spend some years practicing 4+ hours every day. I certainly did that. But getting started does not take much in terms of vocabulary or technique. 

Even for maniacs, there are basically two major areas of drumming: jazz and funk. Those cover every type of music you're going to do. Latin drumming can be another big area, but it's usually up to the individual how deep they want to get into it. 

Massive redundancy
There's a lot of duplication in the hundreds of pages of practice materials I've posted, which is good. Doing the same thing a different way helps you understand it and use it creatively, and develop it for different drumming uses and musical contexts. The same thing different ways = understanding it.  

There are a lot of obsolete materials

Yes, there are a ton of drum books, but a lot of them duplicate each other, or they're formatted badly, or they're badly dated, or they're just not very good. A lot of them are just orphans, out of print or barely in print, and not easy to get, and no one uses them.  

Visit the piano music aisle sometime
If you think there's too much drum stuff to practice, go to a sheet music store and check out the piano section. It's insane. Czerny alone will dominate your entire existence if you let him. 

Printed materials are not the problem 
Videos are the problem. Anyone dealing primarily with printed materials is going to be working more effectively than people watching videos. Partly because you play written music— you watch videos. I don't think anyone just sits there and stares at drum books for hours at a time. 

Narrow your focus

You can't be looking at a page of materials and worrying about all the different ways you're not “mastering” it, or exhausted its potential. Not every page of materials deserves to have its potential exhausted. Maybe it only has a small lesson to teach you. 

Work it out in an hour, day, or week, maybe work at it and meet a reasonable short term goal with it, then reassess. Do something else, or continue working on it, if you find another short term goal you want to meet with it.  

I hope that clarifies some things. As a student in the 80s, this was always a big issue— seemingly so much to do, and being unsure how to prioritize, far to take any of it. It's a 500 times worse now, as drum media has become what it is. Good luck!  

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Round up of recent Reed tweaks

In the last few months we've done a number of tweaks to the basic right hand lead method used with the book Syncopation, and I thought it would be good to summarize them on one page. It's a good collection of stuff for rock and funk, and other straight 8th feels. The examples are all based on line 8 from p. 38 of Syncopation. 

The examples are: 

  1. Basic RH lead system. 
  2. Alternate sticking on runs of three or more notes, in either part. Click link for the exception on longer runs of notes. 
  3. Add LH flam on last note of filler on runs of two or more notes.
  4. Add LH flam (or double stop on two different drums) on every note of filler.
  5. Play all filler as alternating RH lead 16ths (see above link).
  6. On previous two: also alternate all runs of two or more cymbal notes; always begin with RH.
  7. Fill with paradiddle inversion on runs of two or more notes. 
  8. Play backbeat; SD accent on beat 3, replacing BD if necessary. Cym rhythm stays the same. 

Practical tempo range for this is up to around 200 bpm, or the cut time equivalent.

It's kind of hard to read crammed onto one page like this, but that's not how you do it. Learn the principle, and then practice it by reading out of Syncopation. 

You can develop these using pp. 6-7, 10-11, 30-33, 34-45. Depending on how simply you or your student needs to begin. A good practice drill would be to run all the systems with p. 38, or with any single long exercise from the above pages. You could also alternate one measure groove / one measure system— groove could be an ad lib beat, or a rock or funk beat based on the book rhythm, or the backbeat system above.  

There are some different possibilities for the filler substitutions as well. 

Get the pdf

Friday, September 01, 2023

Transcription: Peter Erskine - Duo - 02

Here's the second 30 seconds of Duo, played by Peter Erkine and Bob Mintzer, on Mintzer's record Hymn. This track comes in a tight little package, every 30 seconds exactly = two times through the form, and fits neatly on the page. 

Benchmark here: we have Erskine doing some familiar triplet stuff into the high 250s bpm— if you're working on that and wondering how fast you should go with it. 

And there's a hip little thing he does with the tom tom in the middle of the third line— you can cop that.

The hihat is irregular, and not always seemingly related to what the rest of what he's doing, but it's a clue to his phrasing and to the mechanics of what he's doing— there's a rhythm that repeats a few times, on beats 1, 3-4, 2-3. 

Note the frequent big accents on the snare drum on beat 3, sometimes 1. More coming next week!

Get the pdf

For some reason Blogger doesn't let me embed some videos directly, so click through to hear the tune on YouTube