Monday, June 10, 2024

YouTube solo analyzed

Elaborating on a question I answered on a forum— someone was asking about the playing in the video below. Here is a little bit of analysis of it, and some suggestions about how you should proceed in learning to play like this.  

The drummer sent a transcription of part of this, written as 16th notes in 6/8 time, but it's plainly in 3/4 time. 

Here is the main groove, played after the short little intro fill. He's improvising, it's not played as a strictly repeating thing. 

And the same thing written in 6/8:

To be 6/8, it has to be stated somewhere— either in the drumming or in the context. Maybe he was getting it from the metronome, and playing off of it. If so, we don't hear it, all we have is his drumming, which, with the dotted 8th/16th BD rhythm at the beginning, and SD backbeat on 3, clearly states 3/4. Both those things are contrary to stating 6/8— they're suggestive of a cross rhythm. 

The form is an 8 measure phrase, with fills every two bars, and a long fill at the end of the phrase. Longer fills come more frequently towards the end of the video. The bass drum rhythm at the beginning of the measure is the major unifying thing throughout it. 

The solo activity is mostly alternating singles, with a lot of hand movement— with both hands— and embellishments. There is some right hand lead activity— or you could call them mixed diddle stickings. And a little bit of hands in unison. And a little bit of linear activity with the bass drum, a few single notes inserted in the ongoing 16th texture. There are a few spots where he plays with rhythm a little bit, and he plays across the barline on the longer fills, often leaving some space in the first measure of the new phrase. 

To copy this way of playing, you can't get caught up in the particulars. There are a number of general things (“skills”, I guess) you would have to be fluent improvising with: 

1. Learn the basic groove as above. I've written it as a linear pattern, which is what he plays there, but much of the time he just plays alternating 16ths there. Which fits with the linear pattern, which uses natural sticking.

2. Play alternating 16th notes in 3
, moving both hands around the drums, and cymbals. Open ended, practicing the movements. Play over the bass drum rhythm, or add bass drum later.

3. Add dynamics
— accents, crescendo/decrescendo. These should follow naturally from the hand movements. You would have to be reasonably fluent with making accents just on a practice pad, reading snare drum solos or exercises. 

4. Add embellishments
, broad fill ideas:

  • Short 32nd note singles— three notes or five notes
  • 16th triplets, one or two
  • Mixed 16th stickings— diddles, RH lead
  • Flammed 16ths— adding one flam to the ongoing alternating texture
  • Solo rhythm with both hands in unison on snare and cymbal

5. Starting and ending fills
— fills start loosely, part of the continuing alternating 16ths of the groove. Fills ending with a cymbal accent usually end on the 1, or on the a of 3. Or the & of 3, or on 3. There is one spot where he ends with two crashes, on the a of 3 and & of 1.   

6. Add space
— usually that comes after the big phrase ending cymbal accent on 1, or near the 1. The groove returns in the middle of the measure, after a short rest. 

7. Figure out the funny rhythmic things
he does early in the solo: 

  • At 0:28 he plays two cym/SD accents with bass drum in between. Clue: the first note falls on the a of the beat, the second two fall on the last two partials of an 8th note triplet. 
  • At 0:30 he plays something between the snare and high tom. You could get there by fooling around with an 8th note quintuplet, plus some very wide flams. Starting off a downbeat and ending before a downbeat.
  • Everything else falls on a 16th grid, except for the obvious 16th note triplets. 

He gets his left hand onto the cymbals enough that it gives the illusion of switching leads, or playing “open handed” or whatever. But the whole thing leads with the right. Just hitting a cymbal with your left hand doesn't change that. 

This is the level you have to deal with things to improvise— broad fluency with basic things. You can't get too hung up in specifics. A transcription would clarify a few things, but the incidental details would obscure what's important. Which is: this is fundamentally pretty simple. 

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Transcription: Charli Persip blues

Charli Persip playing a medium blues with Oliver Nelson: J&B, from Nelson's 1961 record Main Stem. Persip is really enjoyable to listen to, and has a little bit of Roy Haynes's edgy, modern thing happening. Good example of someone playing pretty modern in groove environment— he heard Idris Muhammad doing that before. If you swing and play good time you can get away with some stuff, you don't always have to slam pure context groove. 

The transcription covers his playing behind all the solos, starting at 1:25. Tempo is 106.  

Comping with the snare drum is fairly sparse; it seems like there's a little more activity there than is audible on the recording. He feathers the bass drum throughout, fairly audibly. He does a Roy Haynes-like thing of unisons in the hand vs. bass drum, like you see in measure 12. Hihat is consistently on 2/4 all the way, except he hits some accents on it, and sometimes drops it out when he's doing something complicated.

In the third chorus there's a double time 2 feel happening. Swing the 16ths there. Otherwise the 16ths are played evenly. 

He's using a small (18"?) bright, rather tinny ride cymbal— light with short decay. Not anybody's dream cymbal, but it sounds fine. You could get the same sound out of one of those old Ludwig/Paiste or Ludwig Standard cymbals.  

Get the pdf

Friday, June 07, 2024

Pulse memory

From one of the better YouTube channels, for bassists, here's a video on the subject of time, in which the guy works through practicing with a slow click— which I highly recommend, practicing with the click on the 1 only, or on the 1 every two measures. Or every four measures, at fast tempos. 

The basic idea there is sound, I don't agree with the word choices: “groove automation”, the idea of feeling the time. “Pulse memory.” It don't work that way, in my opinion. I think they attached some buzzwords to a partially formed concept, to promote the video. 

Partially formed concepts are not bad, they're most of how the fine points of music are taught. Somebody gives you a clue about how things work, and you're left alone to figure it out through your practicing and playing. Some people do that correctly and use the clues effectively, others struggle with them because they were misled by the choice of words. They drew a wrong implication from it, and wasted a lot of time trying to develop something that doesn't work. Probably most of us have done it, one one topic or another. 

Like saying groove automation makes it sound like a background process— a subroutine, while we're using techy language— as if the goal is to not think about it. The same way people talk about an “internal clock”— suggesting a mechanism that gives you perfect time without you knowing anything about it. The goal is the opposite of that, time/groove awareness

“Pulse memory” is also misleading— the hardest thing to memorize is a naked pulse, as you get it from a metronome. It's one dimensional. Maybe someone can do it well enough to have functionally good time, but it's more natural to use memorized sound— the actual sound of a recorded piece of music, or of someone counting off a tune, or of a rhythm, counted or played. Those are complex structures, we have a better, more precise memory for them. 

And feeling time; time feelings are easily influenced by your other physical and emotional feelings. Feeling is extremely unreliable. Instead, we want to be able to conceptualize time. That's what using the the slow click is all about: you're forced to subdivide, which is a conceptualizing process.  

I've written more about all of this here. Like I said, this is basically a good video. If somebody just started working with a slow click all the time, they'd get their time together to a satisfactory level. 

Monday, June 03, 2024

Messing with the EAD 10

I got a Yamaha EAD 10 recently— a popular interface/recording device for making drum cover videos. It's suddenly clear why there has been such a proliferation of those videos— there's infrastructure for it now. You can really do it with just the EAD 10, a phone and phone app, and a drum set.  

It's pretty cool, getting a reasonably decent recorded sound from the drums with just a little unit that clips on to the bass drum hoop. It has a lot of audio effects and triggering capability, which aren't of much interest to me. I'll do a more detailed post on it soon.   

I may as well share some videos I've made while figuring out the device, and my set up— like this one, playing along with a loop sampled from the intro of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man, from Headhunters:

The first part is drums and loop, at 4:50 you hear it again with the drums soloed. 

Here's another one of me playing with a longer sampled section of Tunji, from the John Coltrane album Coltrane. Drums are soloed after 5:18.  

I'm not trying to make good music or a good accompaniment to the recording, I'm practicing being at ease playing my stuff while being really self conscious about how my timing is going to sound with the recording. I had a lot to say about that, but it's not forming itself well into writing right now, so that'll have to wait for another post... 

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Beats to fills - key 01

Here is a page of fill possibilities within this “beats to fills” framework, outlined at that link. Here the fill portions are two and four 8th notes long. I'll do a few more pages as necessary, to show what to do with one 8th/three 8th/other lengths of fills.

Briefly, it involves marking a written out rock beat so:

BD/cym notes = as written, played as crashes
other notes = fill, played a number of ways we'll outline here  
See the above link for illustrations and details. 

I've long felt that one measure beat patterns— the conventional thing— is a very limiting way to learn. The approach here helps people read interpretively and creatively, and to not see a written out groove as an unchangeable, set thing. It's more like professional reading. And it's a really good framework for learning to play fills along with common ensemble accent figures.

Fill number 1 should be practiced several ways, just as an exercise: 

• RH on cym / LH on snare
• RH only
• LH only 
• both hands in unison
• alternating

Fill 2-8 are all connected, based on fairly small changes to fill 2. Fill 9 uses six stroke rolls, which combines the stickings from 7-8.

Fills 10-14 are various forms of alternating singles. 

Fills 15-19 are miscellaneous unique fills, with tom ruffs, paradiddle inversions, and a linear pattern. 

People should spend a good amount of time with each of these, trying out different moves around the drums, in addition to working on timing and sound.

Also play them in context as a two measure phrase, one measure written groove / one measure fill. 

Get the pdf

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Transcription: Billy Higgins - Blackjack

Billy Higgins playing on a funky vamp with some kicks in it, on Blackjack, from Donald Byrd's album of the same name. It sticks with the rhythm figure all the way through, and Higgins plays a lot of different stuff over it, rather than a repeating groove, so we get to see how he handles that. 

The transcription starts at 1:50, with the trumpet solo, ends at the piano solo. Tempo is 174, but the vamp suggests a half time feel. 

Here's the rhythm figure he's playing off of, usually filling to set up the syncopated accents starting at the beginning of the second measure, or on beats 4, 3, or 2 of the first measure:

It can make you kind of tense vamping relentlessly like this, if you don't vibe your way into some kind of groove with it. Which is not easy to find all the time. 

Saturday, May 25, 2024

EZ fast rock - 02

The first EZ fast rock page was a hit with my students, so here's another like it, more in a fill/variation direction. Combining patterns to make two-measure phrases, most of these will be the second measure.

They're “EZ” in the sense that they're mostly single notes— rarely more than one 8th note-spaced note at a time on any limb— and very little complex coordination. It's a lot of vocabulary they can learn fast, with very little in the way of technical barriers. Towards the bottom of the page we ease into some slightly more demanding stuff. 


Get the first page— and the pages in 3/4 and in 5/4, for that matter— learn this page, then combine patterns in two measure phrases. Or four measure phrases— three bars of one thing, one bar of another. 

Get the pdf [Sorry, uploading is acting funny right now-- you'll have to print it from the jpeg above]

Friday, May 24, 2024

All American Drummer Solo No. 128

Here's a raggedy little video I made of Solo No. 128 from Wilcoxon's All American Drummer— in response to an online question. Never played it before, I worked it up in about 15 minutes. Tempo is 74 bpm. 

And here is the solo written out: 

As always, the notation is a little screwy and imprecise. They really didn't know how to write some basic things back then. Or maybe it's the engravers' fault. When you encounter something weird and impossible looking, smooth it out and make it normal. Play the 7 stroke rolls in the first line with a 16th note pulsation— roll is 32nd doubles on the e&a of the beat, for example. 

Play the 11 stroke rolls in the second line with a quintuplet pulsation. It's a little irregular the way I play it, but it sounds cool. 

The 10 stroke rolls in lines 3-4 and 6-8 are straight out of Three Camps— as are the fast 5 stroke rolls next to them in lines 6-8— play them with a sixtuplet pulsation.  

It's another poorly-balanced Wilcoxon solo. Those 10s impose a definite speed limit, but if you can't do them fast the rest of the solo is so slow it falls apart. There's maybe a 10 bpm range where the thing is playable without sounding stupid [or not!]. Have fun! 

Monday, May 20, 2024

One note / two notes

A little rhythm project, building rhythms based on sequences of one and two notes, spaced in a natural way for one hand— bell rhythms, essentially. It's a good approach for teaching people who are new to Latin rhythms, and not very skilled at reading complex rhythms. And good for anyone to grasp those kinds of rhythms more directly, without the interloping notation and counting.

Let's notate some simple combinations without time signatures, as single long notes, and short/long doubles.

⦿ = short note / 8th note, ⦾ = long note / quarter note

1-1:  ⦾  ⦾

2-2:  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾

1-2:  ⦾  ⦿⦾  

1-1-2:  ⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾

1-2-2:  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾ 

1-1-2-2:  ⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾

If you count those out, you'll notice we found a natural entry to some odd meters; though a lot of people will round those rhythms out to fit in more conventional meters. The 1-2-2 group makes the familiar cinquillo rhythm.

The same rhythms notated normally: 

Longer combinations create a number of odd meters; I'm most interested in the rhythms that resolve to 4/4 or 12/8, like:

1-2-1-2-2:  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾

If you displace that so the second beat is the 1, you get the African “long” bell rhythm, with one of the doubles crossing the barline on the repeat, ending on the 1:


The same thing happens with a similar pattern metered in 4: 

1-2-1-2-2-2: ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾

If you displace that so the last note falls on 1, you get a Mozambique rhythm, again with one of the doubles bridging the barline on the repeat: 

And inverting the cinquillo rhythm— the 1-2-2 pattern— so each of the doubles end on 1, we get a couple easily recognizable Latin rhythms, or roots of Latin rhythms: 

So, some Afro/Latin bell rhythms are composed out of single notes and doubles, with the metered beginning of the pattern often falling on the second note of a double— a clue about how we should be feeling those rhythms. The idea of a “1” seems to clearly be an import from a European metering conception.

The 1 is important to us now, to the way music is understood, played, written, and arranged— it's just deceptive. It's the beginning of the the rhythm visually; musically the rhythm may start more naturally from the pickups, before the 1:

Or we could treat the 1 as the end of the rhythm, and the natural beginning is after the 1, which happens to be the same form as the original 1-2-1-2-2-2 rhythm above:  

So there's a little ambiguity there, having the start of the pattern being felt as a syncopation, different from the metered 1. Good to remember when learning these types of rhythms on the drums— don't always start on the 1.  

And just as a rhythm study we can sense its evolution as a multicultural thing— a complex intersection of natural and formalized rhythm; simple sequences of singles and doubles comfortably played with one hand, combined with a walking or dancing pulse, resolved into a European-style metered structure. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

Daily best music in the world: Tootie with McCoy

Here's a nice performance on brushes by Tootie Heath, on Five Spot After Dark, from McCoy Tyner's album Today And Tomorrow. I don't know how it passed under my radar that he died just last month.

I've had the record for years, but never gave it the close listen it deserves— I always reach for the high energy records from McCoy. I should know more about Tootie Heath than I do, too— he was close to some people at USC when I was there. He did a clinic— from which I honestly did not draw a lot— and my combo leader played with him regularly. Their regular gig was someplace too classy for me to go to. For whatever reason, I haven't listened closely to much he played on, and I have him filed as another second generation hard bop guy— which is not fair or good, you have to actually listen to people. 

He plays real clean here, hanging all his comping/fill ideas off the straight time feel. It's not a “texture” performance, everything he does is a statement. It's a nice catalog of things you can do that way. He's playing the context, but you could cop what he's doing as generic vocabulary. 

Pay attention to his sound and touch as well— nice definition, he lays into his accents, the cymbals sound strong. He's real alert, supports the tune and form well, and interacts with McCoy nicely. Very chipper. 

Speaking of Mickey Mousing, we hear a little bit of that after his first solo chorus, after 3:25. McCoy grabs a rhythm from the end of Tootie's solo, and then Tootie jumps back on it hard while McCoy is playing it. Normally that's not now thought to be good comping practice. Then again, you can't always avoid it in the moment. Stuff happens, and before you know it, you did it. 

Oh, and his main 20" cymbal reminds me of my own main 20— a rather stiff, dry Holy Grail

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Concert piano clickbait

Here's an interesting YouTube account, giving concert piano the full clickbait treatment. It's kind of fascinating, applying all the usual BS traffic-baiting moves to this area of music, that is nothing if not highly serious— or self-serious, if you prefer.  

That aspect is extremely off-putting, but the subjects and people are real, I think it's worth getting into them. If nothing else, it's an area of music where people are having to work really hard doing hard stuff— we can learn about how they go about that.  

In this video they speak to several pianists about the late Glenn Gould. The most interesting character to me is Seymour Bernstein, who is not a fan. 

I can understand his criticisms, the way he puts them, and demonstrates them there, and in the videos that follow. When I was younger I would have objected to him as some kind of conservative— the kind of language he uses, and his orientation towards creating beauty. But I think with this music, he's right, my ears agree with his criticism, and with what he does with this music. With the caveat that I am a classical music and Glenn Gould tourist.  

Sidebar: I don't think creating that kind of beauty is our primary job as drummers. Concert musicians, in their handling of their repertoire, are working within this area of aesthetics: 

It's not a perfect analogy, because the painter is doing original work, concert pianists are rendering existing compositions. With varying degrees of poetry and intensity, every mark is in service of pure, deliberate rendering. The beauty is in the way the painted marks serve a representational image. Later in the 19th century, and through the 20th century, we mostly like people to leave some raw paint on the canvas, and to make some rougher marks. 

As drummers, and night club musicians, we're in a different area of aesthetics, a whole different kind of energy.

And just so we're clear, the painter there, Willem de Kooning, was extremely technically gifted, and did very meticulously detailed work when he was young. This is not about ability. 

Returning to the videos: as in other areas, controversy generates interest, so there are some more “Bernstein reacts” videos about Gould, in re: a piece by Brahms: 

And a piece by Mozart: 

Enjoy that, hopefully we resume more regular posting, with video, within the next week or two. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

RIP David Sanborn

So long to the saxophonist David Sanborn.

He was one of the great lovers of all kinds of music— you can watch his show Night Music on YouTube, it was on in 1988-90, and he brought on some very arty groups, that did not get a lot of mainstream exposure otherwise. It was a very fertile time in music, and the show helped enormously with that. He made the record above soon after that, featuring Bill Frisell, Joey Baron, NRBQ, and others— it was a real departure from his previous R&B stuff, which was more commercial.  

I've also been enjoying his playing on Bobby Hutcherson's final album Enjoy The View, with Joey de Francesco and Billy Hart. RIP. 

HOT TOPIC: beat displacement

Make them all go
SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I'm about to finish my out of town project that has been consuming a lot of my time, so hopefully we'll resume regular posting soon. 

...aaaand I just got a Yamaha EAD 10, so we should be seeing some videos of me playing some of this stuff. 

In the short term, I will continue to be desperate for things to post, so here's an item that is partly BS I wrote for my own amusement, hope you enjoy it:  

BEAT DISPLACMENT is the newest hot item in drumming! Actually it has been a thing for a few decades, but it's now hip to be preoccupied with playing disruptively and inspiring amazement at the fluency with which you make people disoriented and unhappy.

Actually “displacement” was used very effectively by James Brown's drummers several decades ago, on songs like Cold Sweat, on which the drummer plays a couple of beats backwards during an otherwise normal two measure groove. It's a momentary, hip little rhythmic hiccup. We also get it with the partido alto rhythm, which has several downbeats in a row, followed by several offbeats. It's a normal part of rhythm in groove music, and somebody gave it a name.  

Today* hip individuals seek a more sustained thing, in which you pull the rug out by displacing the full groove, holding it for awhile, letting listeners flounder around for their bearings, then pulling the rug out again when we displace it back to the now-forgotten original tempo! It's rugs all the way down. Building community through rhythmic agreement is cringe. 

* - OK, that's an over 30 year old recording at the link there. That's a great record, I think maybe Mr. Baron was being a little too hip at that particular moment.
Yes, the rewards of sticking it to those losers who didn't practice the exact same rhythmic tricks you did are rich, let's talk about it.  

Principles to consider

Seriously, playing in a way that gets people lost is not now good. Purely as a device, losing people for a moment before resolving together on the 1 is crassly satisfying for some listeners and players, but it is hack musicianship. You're like a comedian doing crowd work. You can use rhythm in a sophisticated way without just running stock gags. 

First: with displacements and with polyrhythm, or polymetric ideas, not everybody is supposed to be doing the displaced rhythm. Somebody's got to be playing the original meter, the power of it is in the tension of the two things are happening together. You shouldn't match the other players playing the cross rhythm, and they shouldn't join you.  

As rhythm section craft, and groove craft, you should play so people can hear the foundation tempo. 

Example: here is a two measure phrase with a basic funk groove, displaced by one 8th note in the second measure, accented in the original 4/4 all the way through:

If you accent the downbeats of the displaced groove, you're doing this, in effect: 

Several of you are thinking that's cool, that's what I want to do! No, you don't.  

Look: the prize you win for losing everyone and crashing the band is you suck. Don't do that. Practicing drum materials about this kind of thing, do it so the original beat, and downbeat, is clear to you, and to the other players. The foundation groove is still the important thing, the integrity of the displacement is not important. 

Of course if you're in a band dedicated to playing rhythm tricks on the audience, and all the musicians are in on what you're trying to do to them, you can do whatever you all can contrive and execute. Or more often, if you're playing with people who know you well, and are willing and able to deal with your unpleasant musical habits.  

Principally this has been an opportunity for me to comment snidely on a suspect area of drumming. But there are things to be learned about rhythm by playing around with it. Creating community through rhythmic agreement is the real goal, and we're looking ways to do more with that. 

Oh, here are a couple of pages of a basic funk groove, progressively displaced. Play it through a couple of times, and move on. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: mesmerized

“The fault with most drummers is they get carried away, mesmerized by the sound of the instrument.” 

- Larry Ridley, Jr. Modern Drummer, July, 1981

Saturday, May 11, 2024

What it is: reading music

The world is teeming with resources.

I was just involved in an extended, very contentious online discussion on the topic of reading music— Is it good to be able to read? Is it better to learn, or to refuse to learn? Is refusing to learn to read good musicianship too? Why not? Questions of controversy. 

The problem: people who can't read music don't know what reading music is, how and why it is done, or what it's for, and form their own wrong ideas about those things, and then tell other people about it as if they know something.  

A second order problem is that the same people often do not understand the nature of playing— on the drum set— which is to create a drumming accompaniment as you play it, with no preparation, on a piece of music you don't know, and have never heard before. That's the essence of playing, and reading is an extension of that natural thing. The chart is a guide for that— of varying specificity, depending on the situation, arranger, and employer.

Doing that kind of reading gives you clarity on what your job is as a drummer: playing time, figures, setups, fills, breaks, and percussion parts/effects (I'll clarify that last distinction, drums vs. percussion another time), supporting phrases and form, following a roadmap.    

Many drummers never have to do that kind of reading, and never do that kind of playing. They either play mostly familiar styles, forms and songs (or tunes), or their entire experience playing the drums is to learn “parts” from a recording, which they memorize and perform verbatim. When playing original music, they'll work up their own parts in rehearsal, which they then perform verbatim. What good is learning to read for them? 

It's communication
In terms of learning and practicing the drums, notation is a very fast, and clear, and permanent form of communication to you, from people trying to help you pay better. It makes it easier for you to take in new drumming information, and for you to give information to others. And to form your own drumming ideas. It's more permanent than a live demonstration, and faster than watching a video, or watching someone demonstrate it. It's not reliant on any individual's memory, perception, or perceptiveness.

It's musical structure

Learning how to read notation requires understanding a whole lot of musical fundamentals— the entire system is nothing but symbols for things it's important to know. What is a time signature, measure, beat, what are the rhythm values relative to each other? What are dynamics, tempo markings and alterations, articulations? What is a repeat, first and second ending, DS, DC, coda? 

What are the note names, what are sharps and flats, what is a key signature, and therefore a key? What do the chord symbols mean, and what is the structure of the chords to which they refer? What is harmonic rhythm?

What can't be notated
Thinking about areas of music that can't be notated, we can get an idea of how non-reading people have to do things. Swing for example. “Feel.” Whatever else. These are mysterious things, subjects of endless subjective debate— they're largely left up to the individual players, and their communities, to figure out. If somebody is not insightful in the right way, or is not exposed to the right stuff, and the right people, they're likely to figure it out wrong.  

Non-readers are like that about everything— what's a beat, what's a 16th note, what's a time signature. It's all mysterious, debatable, guessed at, figured out by vibe. 

How to start
There are different levels of it— knowing enough so you can use drum books in the practice room vs. knowing how to read professional drum charts, vs. how far you want to go beyond that so you can play another instrument and/or compose.  

Where it all begins is in learning to play basic stuff on a snare drum— playing through a beginning-level snare drum book. Most drummers would benefit by simply playing through the snare drum portion of book 1 of Rubank, and a basic drumset book. Funky Primer. Becoming expert at it is a long process, but the basics can be learned in a few lessons. Interpretive reading as is done with the book Syncopation can be done at virtually all levels of learning. Any and all reading situations are good— playing in school or community band or orchestra is extremely helpful, even if much of the time you are counting rests. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Reed tweak: linear fill in another setting

A similar item to another recent thing, with a Reed system I use pretty often, but don't talk about much— with the hands plaing the book rhythm, and the bass drum filling in the spaces. Hands lead / bass drum fills. I play this system with a (mostly) alternating sticking, you can also play the melody part with both hands in unison, or as flams, if both are on the same drum.   

The tweak is to do a linear 16th note fill on the longer spaces in the melody rhythm— on the runs of two or more 8ths on the bass drum. Where there would normally be two 8ths on the bass drum, play BRLB (B = bass drum); where there would be three 8ths on the bass, play BRLRLB. 

For each lettered example below, I give the basic way of playing it in this system, and how to play it with the linear fill: 

Move your hands around the drums, of course. I never worked out a perfectly satisfactory sticking system for this method. I do it mostly alternating, with a bias for leading the multiples with the right hand. Always stick the 16th note fill the same way. 

Work it up with the one line exercises in Syncopation pp. 30-31 and 34-37, then try the full page exercises starting on p. 38. Go for speed with this, you can do it fast. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Subtractive method: key to BSSB-SBBS

If you're not doing anything with this system, you should give it a try. It's a way of orchestrating rhythms from Syncopation (or rhythms from wherever) between the snare drum and bass drum, based on an underlying 8th note pattern. 

This particular pattern— BSSB-SBBS— supports several areas of playing really well: clave based music, Baiao, New Orleans kind of funk/street beat, funk in general. I've posted about it a bunch of times

So this here is a key for it— all the basic parts of it, which you can use as warm ups for applying the system while reading from Syncopation. Or you can use this page as a complete set of practice patterns by itself. 

Get the pdf

Monday, May 06, 2024

Best books: Working Space

Here's an old favorite, by the painter Frank Stella, who died this week: Working Space— you can read it online at that link. It's pretty dense, but there's a lot to learn about art in it. You may have to blow past some of the more intense verbiage, as I did. He worries the concept of “pictoriality”, which I never fully grasped. 

Here's Stella in the documentary film Painters Painting— he's verbose, but what he's talking about is mostly simple— what he's doing, and what's in his pictures, which is not a whole lot. He was considered to be a minimalist early in his career, less so later on. 

It turns out that it's not that easy to make a simple picture, if you have some ideas about how it's supposed to go— like if you want people to get the picture instantly, and without alluding to any kind of three dimensional space. Hence everything he has to say about it there.

Where people get into trouble with work like his— and with that level of conversation about it— is they think the artist is demanding that they take it as some kind of profoundly meaningful thing. Which they do not feel, so they become hostile. But the pictures really just are what they are, they're pretty quick experiences, you see the thing, maybe notice the logic of its design, and that's it. If that's hard to accept, maybe you think about art a little bit, about why that's not enough for you, and about what you want from it. 

Stella seems to be coming from the same kind of place as the critic Clement Greenberg, who was real worried about pictures being abstract enough, and flat-looking enough— he wanted no illusion of space. History demanded it, in his mind. You can get a little bit of what he's about in the essay “American-type Painting” here. He also liked to assign things status as “major” and “minor” art, which is BS, purely him asserting own status as a New York art world “power broker” or whatever. He was kind of full of it. 

It would be easy to dismiss Stella as part of the same category, but as someone who builds things, he's more grounded in reality. It's worth spending some time with him, even if you don't have a lot of affinity for his work. Which I don't. It's a little too cool for me, and I want something I can look at for awhile. But he gives you a lot to think about. 

Friday, May 03, 2024

Something strange

This person is making a lot of videos composing accompaniment for drum solo videos by some well known players, “adding music”, as he says. The first few minutes explain this was done, then there's an extended drum solo by Simon Phillips, with his added accompaniment:

That's highly strange and ethically suspect on a number of levels: 

1. The solo was music in the first place, calling it a drum solo “with music” puts me in a bad mood about it from the get go. 

2. Did he get permission to do it? From the people who own the videos, or the drummers involved? Did they consent to having their playing used this way? There's no indication of that. Why not call them up and ask permission, and then put a big thank you in the video description? 

3. Are they getting paid for it? Well... very likely they are. At least the entity that was getting paid for the original video probably is. YouTube is good about detecting copyright violations and paying the infringed party. So if you make a cat video with Coltrane's Interstellar Space on the soundtrack, or if I sample somebody's recording to make a practice loop, the rights holder there will probably get paid, you and I would not get paid.   

4. Copyright is weirdly inverted. He's mimicking something uncopyrighted (the musical content of the drum solo) to make something copyrighted. Basically the melodic content was created by the drummer, and he seized ownership of it by assigning pitches to it.

5. He's involuntarily reassigning these players' performances to be accompaniment for his music, but those drummers would not necessarily make the same choices interpreting that piece if it had been written first— as in normal playing situations. Making choices in how we play an arrangement is a major aspect of a drummer's voice, and of how you judge someone's performance. While it is clear that the drum solo came first, by creating this context around it he's putting words in the drummer's mouth: here is how you will handle this situation

7. Usually you don't steal somebody's performance in its entirety. Even making a fair use legal argument, that's not fair use. 

8. Mickey Mousing is a term from film scoring, where the music exactly mimics the action on screen, and it is considered to be very bad writing. Here the added orchestration is flashy but primitive, Mickey Mousing the drum solo exactly in unison with it— drummer hits a high note / orchestra plays a high note with him, drummer plays a low note, orchestra plays a low note. There's no interaction. It does open up a bit on the groove portions of the solo, but it's 95% simple mimicry. 

Here, here's a quick lesson in doing things other than that in creating an accompaniment, and in altering a melodic line generally. 

9. If he wants to create a derivative work that is largely a note-for-note copy of someone else's improvised performance, he can do that, but his piece should be able to stand on its own. There's nothing here anyone would want to listen to without the original drumming performance. 

My complaints in rapid fire. Maybe none of it really matters. For people trying to make it in social media, whatever gets me attention = good. I expect that's the position of the person who made the videos, and maybe even for some of the drummers involved, if they were informed of it. Music has been so devalued in the last 25 years that, for many people, its major (or only) purpose may be as a device for grabbing social media attention. 

There are artistic/critical theories supporting this kind of thing— e.g. “appropriation”, sampling in hip hop— but which do not make it legal or ethical, when done non-consensually. Other artists' performances are not your found objects. You have to clear it, there has to be consent.  

Whether or not you personally agree with any part of this, there are legal issues you have to be aware of, and answer for when engaging in this kind of work, if you're doing music professionally, or want to be doing it professionally. It's going to matter to some people, possibly to the point of making your work unpresentable publicly. 

Monday, April 29, 2024

Groove o' the day: two by Elvin Jones

I have a couple of larger transcriptions going right now, from a couple of Elvin Jones live albums, but don't have time to complete them, so here are the major grooves from them. 

The first one is an Afro 6/8, on Tin Tin Deo on the album Very R.A.R.E.: 

He is using three tom toms there, but it barely matters. 

Note on the word feel, here: you see it's written in 4/4 as 8th note triplets— because the tune is in 4/4, if you were looking at a lead sheet. The 6/8 or 12/8 groove is being played as a feel within the 4/4 time, with the beat in the same place, which makes the 6/8 rhythm into triplets. Calling it 6/8 or whatever refers to the normal meter of the groove, not the meter of this setting. 

The other is on A Love Supreme, from Elvin Jones Jazz Machine Live in Japan— a Latin groove with a Mozambique rhythm on the cymbal bell— very timely as we've been working on an “Elvinized” Mozambique lately. Here's the groove as he plays it with one note on the tom tom, and with two: 

Again, he's playing this in 16th notes as a double time feel— the feet are stating the underlying 4/4, and they're in half time compared to what we would normally expect with this groove. 

Here's the groove written out as a two measure, 8th note based rhythm, which is how I would normally write it. Obviously the feet are in half time there, with the bass drum on 1 and the hihat on 3: 

He plays the repeating rhythm without a lot of major variations or fills, but he does a lot with it dynamically. At times he'll lean into these accents in the bell part: 

The groove comes in after the opening rubato section— it takes a few bars before it develops into the grooves we see here: 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Reed tweak: filling in 16ths - 02

Boy, if you're not doing all my Reed stuff, you're really missing out. These things square away a ton of stuff that people generally have to put together piecemeal— I had to do that. Figure it out, contact me for a lesson if you need to. 

This is a preliminary item to part 1, but I didn't feel like posting this first. A very simple tweak to the basic RH lead system, filling in the bass drum after each snare drum note. Basically every snare drum note becomes two 16ths, split between the snare and bass. There's an option of filling in a 16th before each snare note as well. 

Take it as a bass drum endurance drill. It should be easy to get it up to a pretty bright tempo— with both systems the bass drum should just flutter. If you're leaning into it with a funk kind of touch, you're dead. 

You can take this a step further and play the snare drum notes with an alternating sticking— each group of two or more snare hits after a cymbal hit— starting with the left hand (or two lefts, if doing the optional filler in patterns 6/9. There's room to develop that more if the reading materials have more space in them— like in Chuck Kerrigan's excellent Syncopated Rhythms book

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Leading with SD/cym accent

I don't know what to call this category of thing— I was listening to some Jack Dejohnette, where he would play something on the snare drum, beginning with a unison accent on the snare and a cymbal. And with no air between the SD/cym accent and the snare drum stuff. Shades of Tony Williams in there too. It's sort of a unique move, that I've never worked on specifically. So these are some things to play around with to develop it. 

The “B” sticking of course means Both hands in unison. The only stickings that matter are at the front of the measure, pencil in whatever you like at the end of the measure. 

Get the pdf

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Updated rock loops

Here is a link for my updated collection of rock loops, which I put together for one of my students. These should be easy for most people to play along with— no weird rhythms or figures. I left some of the weirder ones out from my original collection. And there are several new ones. Enjoy!  

Monday, April 22, 2024

On Effortless Mastery

Service announcement: the next couple of months will continue to be very busy for me, so I'll be posting irregularly for awhile longer. Quality of language will be unpolished, wisdom coarsely hewn, logic poorly articulated, as I dash these things off in order to post some damn thing. Maybe the site will get a lot better, who knows. This is a great time to write me with questions. 

When Effortless Mastery, by the pianist Kenny Werner, was published in the late 1990s, it was one of the first books to talk seriously about the inner game of being a jazz student and musician, getting into some lurking personal issues a lot of us have, or have had, in that pursuit. I got an advance copy at the time of its release, and digested it off and on for a number of years after that. More recently Werner released a follow up book, Becoming The Instrument

The title, Effortless Mastery, does not mean “becoming a master quickly without working at it.” It means “becoming effortless in the mastery you beat your brains out obtaining.” In BTI he clarifies:

Here’s what I didn’t say in my first book: It takes a lot of effort to become effortless!

I wish I had because many misinterpreted that book to mean that one did not have to practice to acquire virtuosity.

Dealing with the creative neuroses and inhibitions you develop while practicing eight hours a day trying to be great. The first 75 pages address the subject of fear related to the creative and learning processes— playing, listening, composing, practicing, and teaching. That part is quite useful. The remainder of the book gets into some pretty airy stuff, with a lot of affirmations, breathing exercises and long meditations on repetitive themes like “I am great, I am a master.” 

And he writes at length advocating an approach to technique involving total release— maybe a legit thing to study at the hands of the master who taught it to him, but a technical experiment for people self-teaching it via a book. Putting in the amount of time he suggests would be a pretty speculative venture. 

Becoming The Instrument goes a lot further into a quasi-religious/self-help zone. You can tell when a musician bought one of the books, because they suddenly become God guy for awhile, taking on a forced kind of mystical air. We've all done silly stuff in the course of figuring things out. In processing it I think it's good to keep Zen master Shunryu Suzuki's advice close at hand: 

Do not be too interested in Zen. 

It gets quite heavy, and you get a sense of the intended audience, in the negative, as if he's addressing a kind of spiritual void, or void of purpose. Maybe he sees a lot a type of younger player, that is talented and driven, but is without a real visceral emotional center, without real meaning, with no great reason for doing any of this, beyond a desire for recognition. He fills that void with a kind of religion of playing, or of a particular state of being when playing. From here that resembles an extreme level of self-absorption— which is fine, but I don't believe it's a substitute for substance. And it doesn't provide it. I don't come away from it feeling I know more about what's real about myself.    

The book was very welcome when it was published, but there was a limit to how far I can go with it. I don't get much from affirming my greatness and mastery, the words aren't real motivating to me. I gained more confidence from real instances of me playing good than I was by the meditations. You learn detachment through playing more— burning out playing way too many gigs would be preferred. You hear yourself recorded enough times— on occasions when you hated what you were doing— and realize, after you forgot what you were trying to do, that you sound fine. Good even. You can play the drums, and your judgments about your playing are not your playing. I'll have to get into my ideas of what musical substance is, and where it comes from, another time. 

Both books are worth having in your permanent library. I included links above where you can preview the books quasi-legally, but you should buy them. Don't screw around, buy hard copies of everything. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Reed tweak: filling in 16ths

Another in this endless series of tweaks to a basic RH lead system, commonly associated with the book Progressive Steps to Syncopation, by Ted Reed. Perhaps you've heard of it. 

Let's be clear, I am not screwing around daydreaming about new drum patterns here— this is about taking things we've worked out as isolated licks or patterns, and getting them into our playing by working them into an ongoing texture... which is provided by the Reed system. Learning any pattern or lick in isolation, the hard part is always how do I get this into my playing naturally. This is it, baby.  

Or it's one of the its. Today's thing extends and connects with a paradiddle inversion tweak we did a couple of years ago. And it's slightly different— here we're busying up the cymbal rhythm— or the bass drum rhythm— by filling in some more 16ths.


In playing the normal RH lead system reading from Syncopation, generally there will be one, two or three notes of left hand filler. Parts A, B, and C above show possible ways of handling them. At the bottom of the page there is a three bar excerpt from Syncopation Exercise 1 on p. 38, written out the way it would be played with the first cymbal option. 

The one thing this page doesn't address is when there are two or more BD/cym notes in a row— in the example you just play them as 8th notes, but you could fill in between them with the left hand to make them 16th notes. That would give you an unbroken 16th note texture. 

I associate all of this type of stuff with Jack Dejohnette, Jon Christiansen, Bob Moses, but it's all over current drumming. 

Get the pdf

Friday, April 19, 2024

Just throwing it out there...

A quick observation, during this period of light posting:  

A pattern I've noticed when I see people selling off their boutique cymbals: they rarely include any Cymbal & Gong. Every other hip brand of boutique item, but no Cymbal & Gong. It's not because they're not out there. There are a lot of them in circulation. 

It's because most people who buy them use them forever. A few of them I've sold have ended up getting traded to another drummer, who loved them and they used them forever, but they're not just getting them and dumping them. In the case of one drummer on this last Germany trip, Cymbal & Gong was what he was dumping the other cymbals to get.  

This year has been a little slow, so I haven't been acquiring a lot of new stock, but these cymbals I have hanging around are great. People have to get excited to make a purchase, but how's this for exciting: I'm holding your career cymbal, that you're going to be happy taking to every gig, recording session, and rehearsal you do for the 10 years at least. I was excited at that prospect when I started buying them for myself. 

End of random sales pitch. More erratic posting of drum stuff coming...

Monday, April 15, 2024

Tresillo unit - 02

Here's an addendum to a set of stuff I posted back in January— the “tresillo unit.” That was basically a set of variations on a New Breed system. This is a loosely organized collection of things to further develop one of them, that was suggestive of a samba groove.

With these heavily constructed kinds of grooves, every small move and variation you learn becomes kind of a big deal. Changes in dynamics, articulations, and orchestration become a big deal. You can get by with them doing relatively little in terms of actually varying the parts.  

Pattern 1-2 are the plain system, with the right hand moving between the cymbal and the floor tom, and that system with a left hand part to use for the complete stock groove. 

Patterns 3-6 give some accents you can play with the left hand. 

Patterns 7-8 have the left hand doing a partido alto-type rhythm. 

With the following you can work through some of the reading in New Breed, playing the book rhythm with the left hand:  

9-12 show some right hand variations.

13-18 show some bass drum variations. 

Play the hihat where you like for a samba; I play it on the off beats. 

Get the pdf

Daily best music in the world: Louis Hayes with Cannonball

Here's an item from jazz writer Mark Stryker, which caught Peter Erksine's attention on Twitter. Cannonball Adderley playing a fast tempo with Louis Hayes on drums, on an Adderley record I've never owned, Nippon Soul.

Stryker says: “This duo with Louis Hayes is prime Cannonball, and one of the best examples of Louis' distinctive cymbal beat and how he's the link between Philly Joe and Tony Williams at this tempo.” 

You can hear what he's talking about, even if it doesn't work exactly that way— it's burning:

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: form

“It is easy to forget that the man who writes a good love sonnet needs not only to be enamored of a woman, but also to be enamored of the Sonnet.” 

-C. S. Lewis

Friday, April 12, 2024

Reed tweak: BRL linear fill

Fun little item here, modifying the straight 8th right hand lead system commonly applied to the book Syncopation.

Where there are two or more 8ths of left hand filler, we'll play 16ths, starting with a BRL pattern (B = bass drum). On two 8ths of filler, play BRLB; on three 8ths of filler play BRLBRL. 

I've put all the fills on floor tom and snare drum to help make the sticking clear, but use any drums you want of course. Practice the warm ups, then do it within the right hand lead system while reading from Syncopation pp. 30-32 and 34-45.