Tuesday, October 31, 2023

How not to hit a drum

Hey, it's been awhile since I've watched a drumming video, and rendered the tidal wave of complaints and irritations that come with it, so here are some comments I wrote when someone made me watch the following video. You'll fully get the point for everything that follows by about the four minute mark.  

We'll take this item by item, as long as my patience holds out: 

1. Hypnotic is not a desirable quality. There's no love in that. It's a very low form of manipulation. The only place I've ever experienced music trying to be hypnotic was in playing a contemporary church gig, where the music was as banal as it was despicable. Maybe it was just a poorly chosen word, but part of our job as communicators is to have better words. 

2. The premise of changing the groove by adding a single ghost note is ridiculous. It's like me leaving the room, doing up one additional button, coming back in and saying don't recognize me, do you? Does this form please you? 

Guys, I'm thinking about trying a different groove on this song. [adds one ghost note] 

No. The whole video is one groove, with some minor variations, and some barely-significant embellishments.  

Don't move your hands like that when you're playing the drums. Play the notes you're playing, don't play the air. He's coming within a couple of mm from doing some accidental rim shots at times. It looks amateurish, and practicing always moving your hands in unison 8th notes impedes gets in the way of doing other things.  

A large part of why YouTube is BS is the overemphasis on technique, and techniques. Exhibit A: the finger technique on those ghost notes here is ridiculous. Nobody but youtubers and people who watch too much youtube do that. Take the stick and hit the drum. 

Stop that.

There is a point in every enthusiasm-driven movement— Heavy Metal music, hoppy beer, the mullet hairstyle, wide leg jeans, YouTube drumming videos— where it becomes insular, losing the thread of what was originally cool, good, or useful to people, and becoming entirely about taking some superficial aspect of it “further”, whereupon it loses all connection with non-enthusiast reality. That's what we're experiencing with the technique displayed here.

The whole premise is false. If we're going to talk about musical intentionality and control, it's got to be much wider reaching than this, mainly about handling musical events within a piece. Making variations on a groove. Developing a groove musically. Something. Having the will power to play a repeating drum groove for a long time is not a feat of control. It could actually be a feat of not knowing anything else to play, or of being afraid to play anything else.

This does come up as a psychological problem for ambitious drummers, who are disposed to try to make a piece of music better by playing more stuff. It can't be addressed by just playing along with a milquetoast looping track, you have to be playing a real job with a real piece of music you really want to make good. See Andy Newmark's Modern Drummer interview for somebody talking about that in a serious way.   

As with a lot of these videos, I think somebody had an idea for some “content”, and the educational reasoning for it came after the fact, purely to sell the video, which is why it's so unconvincing. 

Conclusion: a negative post, but some are amused by my ranting and raving. And there's some serious stuff in there. For YouTubers, any engagement whatsoever = success, and controversy = $$$, so the video maker should be completely fulfilled by this. Everybody wins. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Rhythm cycles

Here's a page to print out and staplegun to the wall by your drums: a summary of some major practice rhythms, and their inversions. Sometimes you don't need a readable page, you just need a quick reference to glance at. I should probably expand this and make a poster out of it. I'll certainly be updating it. 

Includes a couple of simple rhythms that don't have a name, and the Charleston rhythm, tresillo, cinquillo, three different rhythms in 3/4, played across the barline in 4/4. 

Play these as independent rhythms along with an ostinato, or in a Reed-style interpretation, or as ensemble rhythms/kicks— at the bottom are some practice phrases for that. Phrases 1 and 3 are good for a kick-type phrase, phrase 2 suggests a rhythm section figure, a la the tune Equinox. Plug in whichever practice rhythm you want in place of the example rhythm, of course. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Rock fills with Reed - 01

Bringing these recent right hand lead Reed tweaks into some basic day to day rock vocabulary. I'll illustrate these using the tom ruffs we looked at recently— try them with any of the other things we've done recently with filling in the larger spaces, or whatever else you can fit in there. My student Jack (age 12) is tearing these up right now. 

Here we'll play a two measure phrase, selected from the full page exercises in Syncopation, playing the rhythm as a rock beat in the first measure, then filling in any large spaces— of two or three 8th notes—in the rhythm in the second measure. We can treat some of the surrounding written notes as ensemble accents, and catch them on a crash cymbal, with the bass drum in unison. 

Many of the phrases are straightforward. Here's the book rhythm, and that rhythm interpreted as a rock beat, and then with the fill in the second measure, and then with some cymbal accents: 

Others may require some creativity to make them work out naturally— especially when the phrase starts with a rest in the book rhythm.  

Here are some two measure phrases from p. 38 of Syncopation that are good for this: 

You could play through the full page exercise this way, I find that the two measure phrase is better, more similar to actual rock playing, and gives us some space to think about how to orchestrate the fill and cymbal accents. There are several more examples in the pdf. We'll look at some more complex examples, and other possibilities, in part two. 

Get the pdf

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


“Hello. Good evening. Hope I'm Funny.”

-Richard Pryor, That N___'s Crazy

“So who’s that big dumb ass out there on the hill?”

“That’s Steve Carlton. He’s maybe the greatest left-hander in the history of the game. He’s got heat and also maybe the nastiest slider ever.”  

S**t, I'll stick him.

- Lenny Dykstra, Moneyball

I'll be honest, the following is how I feel about playing music at times— from Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut:

He had just been elected President, and it was necessary that he speak. He was scared stiff, thought a ghastly mistake had been made. All those prosperous, solid men out there would discover now that they had elected a ludicrous waif. They would hear his reedy voice, the one he’d had in the war. He swallowed, knew that all he had for a voice box was a little whistle cut from a willow switch. Worse—he had nothing to say. The crowd quieted down. Everybody was pink and beaming.

Billy opened his mouth, and out came a deep, resonant tone. His voice was a gorgeous instrument. It told jokes which brought down the house. It grew serious, told jokes again, and ended on a note of humility. The explanation of the miracle was this: Billy had taken a course in public speaking.

...not when I'm playing routine gigs, or playing with my own group, but when I'm feeling some kind of pressure to perform: if the music is harder than normal, or I feel that the other musicians are at a higher level than me, or there's someone in the room I badly want to impress. In advance I have no idea what I'm going to play, or if I can play at all— often I'm pretty sure I can't really play, and something is going to come up that will expose that, horrifically. Once we start playing, a completely different sound from what I expect comes out, and everything typically works fine. It's ridiculous, I'm a good musician, I just don't know it in advance. As much as I've played and practiced, I don't know where the notes come from.  

I also really feel this part of the book Moneyball, the baseball book by Michael Lewis. It's about a very successful relief pitcher, Chad Bradford:  

For his entire career hardly anyone has believed in him and now that they do, he can’t quite believe in himself. “It’s my greatest weakness,” he said. “I have zero self-confidence. The only way I can explain it is that I’m not the guy who throws ninety-five miles an hour. The guy who throws ninety-five can always see his talent. But I don’t have that. My stuff depends on deception. For it to work, there’s so much that has to go right.

That's an extremely high-pressure job for a person to have that mindset, and still be functional. 

Moneyball is largely about Oakland As general manager Billy Beane, who, as a major league draftee had been a phenomenally gifted prospect, which he failed to fulfil as a player because he was totally wrong for the game mentally and emotionally. Comparing himself with Lenny Dykstra, who was basically empty headed, reflexively self-confident: 

Billy sensed fundamental differences between himself and Lenny. Physically, Lenny didn’t belong in the same league with him. He was half Billy’s size, and had a fraction of Billy’s promise — which is why the Mets hadn’t drafted him until the thirteenth round. Mentally, Lenny was superior, which was odd considering Lenny wasn’t what you'd call a student of the game.

The point about Lenny, at least to Billy, was clear: Lenny didn’t let his mind screw him up. The physical gifts required to play pro ball were, in some ways, less extraordinary than the mental ones. Only a psychological freak could approach a 100-mph fastball aimed not all that far from his head with total confidence. “Lenny was so perfectly designed, emotionally, to play the game of baseball,” said Billy. “He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success. He had no concept of failure. And he had no idea of where he was. And I was the opposite.”

Of course Bradford above didn't have that level of confidence either, so there's a range of gifts and weaknesses people can have and still do a thing on a national stage. Though we're also talking about different levels of player there, as well— one a great team player, the other a baseball legend. But if you look at that first quote from Richard Pryor— basically the Charlie Parker of standup, saying that at the beginning of a record that is a comedy masterpiece— and he doesn't know how it's going to go. He could bomb. 

Bombing is an inevitable part of live in that business. Comedians expose themselves on stage in a very personal way, with no idea if they're going to connect with any particular audience, every time they go to work. Musicians don't usually have to face that prospect of failing obviously and totally, while still having to stand on stage alone and keep talking into the mic.    

There is a difference between playing confidently and feeling confident generally, when you're not playing. It's harder to be confident when you're not playing. You have to face these questions without being able to act on them: Would I be able to play X? Why can't/don't I play what X other player plays? What if I have to do X that I know I'm not very good at? What about X horrible playing demand that Y drummer told me he had put upon him, how would I handle that? 

Real burnout pros don't sweat any of this stuff, it's all too familiar. Playing more straightens it all out— creating a comfort zone. You learn that you can actually play, and you learn to fake what you can't play, which is the same as playing. You learn what to expect, and you learn what is reasonable for others to expect when they ask you to do something unexpected. And you're exposed to more players, and you figure out that most people have relative strengths and weaknesses, and don't do everything equally well. You see what those people's attitudes are about things they're not that good at.  

Still, it's a lifelong thing, apparently, for a lot of people— we'll talk more about it. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Solo ideas in 3/4

We'll be seeing more with this format— solo and fill ideas for a certain amount of space between cymbal/bass drum accents. It's the normal frame for fills, but I don't see fill studies written that way often.  

This page has some three beat ideas for soloing in 4/4— they aren't necessarily meant to be played in a 3/4 environment. See the 4/4 phrase at the bottom of the page to see how that works. It's a common thing. 

The ideas themselves are not difficult, the main practice concern will be to get fluent moving them around the drums, and speed, maybe. 

Note that 10 and 11 use a “Bishopdiddle” type sticking, with the diddle up front. Number 8 is sort of a special one— the sticking isn't easy; playing it a lot will be good conditioning. 

Get the pdf

Monday, October 23, 2023

Half time funk shuffle - 01

Here's a page for my students, working through the basics of a half time funk shuffle groove. It gets mentioned a lot more online than it comes up in real life, but it's a thing.

There are a number of ways to write it; I've put it in 6/8 and 12/8. In real life I might expect it to come up most often as a sixtuplet feel in 4/4.  

Pay careful attention to the dynamics on the snare drum; play the accent strongly and ghost the other notes. I also accent the downbeats of the cymbal rhythm, you can do that if you choose. 

Get the pdf

Sunday, October 22, 2023

CYMBALISTIC: Germany tour wrap up

CYMBALISTIC: Hey, I'm back home and recovering from a very successful Germany excursion, and about to resume regular posting!

I'm never sure how things are going to go, but I ended up selling almost all of the 14 cymbals I took— I left two behind (which are available to purchase in Germany) and brought home a little 14" China. As always it was a good scene hanging out with a bunch of great drummers. A high point was the drummer who bought two 22s and promptly moved to sell his workhorse Agop and an expensive boutique cymbal he just bought. 

And, as it has been going recently, there was the most buzz about the Extra Special Janavars, and Special Janavars*. 

* - Special Janavars just have a heavy patina; Extra Special Janavars have K-type lathing and hammering, and a heavy patina, often three rivets.  

Here's a little video I got mainly from the Berlin meet— the main event of the tour, there was nothing to show from Frankfurt, a few of us just gathered in my funky hotel room like we were trading Cold War secrets... 

If you visit my cymbal site Cymbalistic, you'll see the pickings are rather slim— I'll be getting more cymbals this week.  

If you're in Germany and want to get one of the cymbals I left behind— a 20" A-type Holy Grail and a 17" Special Janavar— contact me and I can let you know how to play them and purchase them. I also left a hard cymbal case, if anyone needs one. Everyone was acting like I will be coming back in April '24, so if you want to participate then, let me know!  

THANK YOU to Michael, Jakob, Guido, Hasan, Bernd, Conrad, Achim, Felix, Heinrich, and anyone I'm momentarily forgetting in my haze of jetlag! 

And actually, a double extra special thanks to Michael and Jakob, for putting me up, and driving me around, and putting the word out, and generally making this whole thing possible! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023


CYMBALISTIC: OK everyone, I'm heading to Germany today, with a case of wonderful Cymbal & Gong cymbals for your approval, enjoyment, and merriment. 

The deets: 

I will show cymbals in Frankfurt on Wednesday, Berlin on Friday, Munich* on Sunday. You'll need to contact me for exactly where and when. 

* - See details below! 

The best ways to reach me, Todd Bishop, in Germany are:
SMS: +1 503 380 9259
Email: todd6ishop[at]gmail.com

Cymbals I will bring:

•  20 and 22" Extra Special Janavars - which people have been loving!
•  17 and 22" Special Janavars - which people also love.
•  16, 19, 20, and 22" Holy Grails - Cymbal & Gong's flagship line, people love them!
•  14 and 16" Wide Chinas - fun little Chinese cymbals people will definitely love.

Go to Cymbalistic to hear them! The ones that say GET IT IN GERMANY are the ones I'm bringing. All cymbals are the same price in $/€, no extra fees.  

For Berlin meet you can also reach Michael Griener:
Phone: 0163/5913357

The meets:

Wednesday, Oct. 11th – 5-9pm

Wirtshaus zum Sch├╝tzenhof - Kelsterbach

Appointment only! A few people are coming to play cymbals at my hotel, and anyone who wants can join me at the wirsthaus for food and drinks. Text me at +1 503 380 9259 to let me know you're coming. 

=== BERLIN ===
Friday, Oct. 13th – noon-4pm

At Michael Griener's studio space, right next to the southern subway exit Bernauer Str. (U8). Contact me or Michael for the location. 

I will be in Berlin, staying in Moabit, from the 12th-14th, if you want to play the cymbals another time.

Text me @ +1 503 380 9259 or Michael at 0163/5913357 to meet. 

=== MUNICH ===

IMPORTANT: If you're in Munich and want a cymbal, you need to pre-purchase it, and I will meet you to give it to you. Go to Cymbalistic and see what cymbals I will bring to Germany, reserve the one you want, and contact me for payment info. Otherwise, all cymbals will remain in Berlin, or in the hands of other drummers! 

Sunday, Oct. 15th – afternoon-evening

1. HAUPTBAHNHOF - I can meet you at the train station in the afternoon to hand you your pre-purchased cymbal.

2. UNTERFAHRT - Einsteinstra├če 42, 81675 / unterfahrt.de - I'm going to the jam session-- No guarantee, but I might have a couple of cymbals. Either way, come hang out! Session begins at 20:30.

That's it, gang— visit me on Facebook for photos from the road. I will resume normal blogging on or after the 19th. 

Monday, October 09, 2023

CYMBALISTIC: playing some 22s

CYMBALISTIC: OK, I got a couple more cymbals before heading to Germany tomorrow. Demonstrating some 22" Holy Grails for our man in Berlin, Michael Griener. And my new little 14" China is in there, too. All made by Cymbal & Gong. Michael plays a lot of fast tempos.  

The one on the far right later in the video we've seen before, and is called “Ibrahim.” The middle cymbal is going to be called “Abdullah”, which is fortuitous as it happens to be Abdullah Ibrahim's birthday today, and the two cymbals are the exact same weight. The cymbal on the left will be called “Brian”, after a friend who gave me a similar cymbal years ago. 

Here are those first two cymbals— and some other ones— before they got their patinas. The middle cymbal above is played at 0:53 in the video below. The cymbal on the left above I think is played at 4:29 below: 

On Abdullah the patina is quite light, and it changed the sound only slightly— I assume it did, I can't actually tell. On Brian, it changed the sound substantially; the plain cymbal would have been very difficult for me to use— in the past somebody would probably have put some tape on it. The patina has a similar effect, but in a much nicer, more natural way, not just deadening the cymbal, but bringing out a different aspect of the cymbal's character. 

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Elvin isolated

Obviously I'm posting really lightly lately, getting ready to head to Germany next week, so: here are some recordings Elvin Jones plays on, with his drums isolated. Enjoy!

Here's Passion Dance, from McCoy Tyner's album The Real McCoy: 

And here he is playing what I was calling his “Afro waltz” on Out Of This World, from the album Coltrane, one of my favorites: 

There are a number of other of these, check them out. Don't screw around, make sure you own the records! 

[h/t to JDA at Drummerworld and DFO.]

Monday, October 02, 2023

CYMBALISTIC: Last new cymbals before Germany!

CYMBALISTIC: I've posted the videos for the last four Cymbal & Gong cymbals I got for my upcoming mini-tour... next week I'm bringing a case of cymbals to Germany for people to play and purchase. If you're anywhere near Frankfurt or Berlin you should come hang out. If you're in or new Munich, I can meet you there to deliver a cymbal you pre-order. Email me (see sidebar) for details. 

I can only bring about eleven cymbals, so let me know if you want me to bring a particular cymbal! 

And: a lot of my current cymbals will be sold on this trip, so if you're somewhere else and want one, order now!

The new cymbals are: 

•  22" Holy Grail Jazz Ride “Ibrahim”
- Tony-like 22! Or compare with Joe Chambers's cymbal on the late 60s Bobby Hutcherson albums. 

•  20" Holy Grail Ride “Carter”
- Slightly heavier A-type Holy Grail.

•  16" Holy Grail Thin Crash “King”
- Nice solid 16 that will hold down the left side spot well. 

•  14" Wide China “Chi”
- Funky little Ed Blackwell cymbal. The Cymbal & Gong Chinas are great

Go to Cymbalistic to check out the others, and to hear what else I have in stock. Contact me and stay tuned to this site and Cymbalistic for tour updates. 

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Transcription: Philly Joe trading

Here is Philly Joe Jones trading eights and fours with Bill Evans on Minority, from one of my favorite records, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. It's a good tune to learn. 

I've written just the drum breaks. Transcription begins at 2:51. The tempo is quarter note = 247. 

No tom toms at all here, just snare drum, bass drum, a cymbal, and hihats. A lot of stick shots. There are a few passages of straight 8th notes— at this tempo the 8ths don't swing a whole lot anyway. Note the rhythm in bars 3 and 5. Bar 5 is the “intended” rhythm, in bar 3 he spreads it out a little bit, so the notes are evenly spaced— I've notated it pretty accurately. 

It's basically non-technical— you could do a rudimental sticking on the triplets— and much of it is linear, between the snare drum and bass drum. The rhythms could have been pulled from the book Syncopation, and give a clue for how to look at the phrases in that book— a subject for another time. 

The melodic idea for each break is pretty clear— listen for that, and how he repeats it and changes it, and listen for what sounds like the ending— the last bar, or two bars. The structure is logical, but the structure didn't come first, it's the natural result of thinking musically when you're improvising, and of doing your job, where you set people up to come back in out of your solo. 

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