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.