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

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