Sunday, June 30, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: productivity

If people saw the way I lived, they'd realize that I spend a huge amount of time just relaxing and goofing off, watching baseball on television, going to movies, taking walks, playing jazz, and practicing my clarinet. I don't work around the clock at all.

How productive is my output? A film every year at most, probably even a little longer than that, and occasional magazine pieces and that's really it. It's not all that much work. If you work only three to five hours a day, you become quite productive. It's the steadiness of it that counts. Getting to the typewriter every day is what makes for productivity.

- Woody Allen, interview with Robert F. Moss, Saturday Review, 1980

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Transcription: Chester Thompson - Gibraltar

Here's Chester Thompson playing on the tune Gibraltar, an extended groove number on the Weather Report album Black Market. The first thing I ever transcribed was Chester Thompson playing with Genesis, and I associate him with the kind of vibe there— very clean, professional, and deliberate. Here he sounds looser. 

This starts at 1:19, where the groove comes in— I bailed out just as he gets into a rather difficult to notate hihat groove— he's playing the hats while moving his foot a lot, resulting in a lot of irregular open sounds. Listen to the whole thing, it's pretty smoking by the end— and harder to separate the drums from the percussion to transcribe it. 

His backbeats and accents on the snare drum are played very strong, as rim shots. His left foot is pretty consistently playing 8th notes, though they're not always sounding real clearly— I didn't notate them. 

Get the pdf

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

How to stop - 01

Kind of a mundane item here— a multi-parter, believe it or not— mainly for teachers, about handling ordinary materials in a more real-life musical way, including how to stop in the conversation. Younger students and novices who haven't done much real playing will often end a practice pattern weakly, petering out.   

How to do it isn't spelled out in drumming materials, which are often written as repeating single measure patterns. They're incomplete statements by themselves— the last note of the measure is usually not the true end of the idea. 

Ending this rock beat this way, for example, makes no musical sense: 

Breaking from a groove with that hanging hihat note is not going to happen in real music— except maybe as an arrangement device simulating a digital edit. The pattern is completed on the 1— the 1 is the beginning of the pattern, and also the end:  

A beat pattern with a bass drum or snare drum on the & of 4 is more complete on its last note— played as an accent the last time: 

You could practice breaking a number of places in the pattern, in fact: 

Or put on another ending altogether, regardless of what's happening in the written beat: 

Usually this gets worked out in the course of doing some real playing, but there's no reason not to include it in regular practicing in preparation for that. I introduce this after students are comfortable playing basic beats, and are ready to begin thinking about orchestration and fills. 

Monday, June 24, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: Grady Tate on reading

“I never dealt with drum music as such, because ninety-five percent of it had nothing to do with what's happening in the band. So many people have destroyed their careers by reading exactly what's written for them.

My thing in recording is to look at the music, listen to what's being done instrumentally, and see what elements of that drum music fit with what's going down with the other instruments.”

- Grady Tate, Modern Drummer interview, June 2001

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Open handed redux

This but just me looking like an A-hole
This is a long one. This is what happens every time the subject of “open handed” drumming is raised online— a kind of church revival of drumming wrongness forms. 

It's why I have a blog, so I can correct rafts of grossly wrong things said about drumming, without having to fight every single person I see. Remember the “Crazy 88s” fight in Kill Bill? It'd be like that, except the end result is that I just look like kind of an A-hole. 

So here we have a forum question from someone experiencing problems playing open-handed— they're playing left handed on a right handed drum set— greatly edited for length:

Been playing off and on for four years— open-handed, which felt natural. I hit random hard brick walls with my playing and thought it was due to the following:

Left hand = weaker/slower/less endurance. Fingers don't have finesse. 

My body wants to lead with the right and I'd struggle with getting back to the groove unless I lead with my left. [Unclear to me what this means. -tb]

I felt I should be further along, so I got a teacher this year, who let me continue playing open. Then I was struggling with some parts to songs I'm learning, and he suggested trying playing crossed. [That's what open-handed people call playing right handed on a right handed set. -tb] and I have been. 

I suck at it. It feels like I'm starting over. I feel clumsy, sticks are clashing, dropping sticks, etc. My teacher advised me to take it SLOW and basically build myself back up. It has been humbling.

I'm getting bummed out. Feels like I ran 7 miles down the wrong path. Part of me is like, "if you keep strengthening that left hand and working on left hand leads you can do it" and the other part is like "if you just learn to play cross you'll probably blow past those barriers that were originally giving you issues in the first place".

Clearly, he's struggling with some fundamentals— his cymbal hand, which should be his most practiced hand by now, is weak. That his teacher, who wasn't against him playing open-handed, suggested that he switch to playing normal right handed drums, suggests to me that his playing is in such a rough state that making such a big change doesn't matter— he was going to have to rebuild the student's playing from scratch anyway. That was the situation when I made the same recommendation to a couple of students.     

He unknowingly created a difficult situation for himself, playing open handed and trying to copy things played by people who weren't playing that way. He'll have to make up a lot of one-off solutions to play things that were part of a natural flow for the person he's copying. We've replaced a naturalistic approach with a contrived one.  

On the forum where the question was posted, people were quick to give a lot of beliefs framed as definitive answers. Most of them should have been phrased as questions, like is my thinking about this right? Here I'm going to treat them as questions. I have seen all the major points below again and again, suggesting they're sources of confusion for a lot people. 

Let's put all of that below a page break— it really does go on awhile...

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Syncopation Ex. 1 - modified for speed

Another one of my cut and paste jobs, this time inflicted on Syncopation Exercise 1, from Reed. P. 37 or 38, depending on the edition. I've modified it so there are no more than two 8th note spaced notes or rests at a time. I've written some other things with that limitation. It's good for speed, with many practice systems— right hand lead especially. 

Enjoy. There is no pdf, you'll have to print it from the image above. 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Andy Newmark's set up

Pilfered from a Modern Drummer interview in 1984, here is Andy Newmark talking about his drumming set up. He's a session drummer, and was real active in the 70s and 80s especially. I excerpted some more of this interview in 2011, and it is highly worth reading.

Everyone won't agree with every single one of the following decisions, but we get a real clear picture of his thinking about it:

 A four-piece drumset tends to make me play more groove conscious. Ninety-five percent of the time, I'm playing only hihat, snare and bass drum. So by not having too many other options around me, it keeps my approach more groove oriented.

I always had a problem having a second mounted tom-tom, because it never allowed me to place my ride cymbal exactly where I wanted it. I had to put my cymbal up higher and further to the right of the drum, and that's not where I like to play my ride cymbal. So by not having that tom-tom there, I actually get to have my ride cymbal in the most comfortable place for me to play it.

I also don't feel the need to play fills with lots of drums. I don't put down those who do it, but a couple of extra tom-toms tuned to various notes just don't do that much for me. I think it sounds great when other people do it, but I don't like the sound so much that I want to crowd my drumset with more toms. 

I like what happens to me when I play a real basic drumkit, because it alters my approach, as it would any drummer. You have to work within limitations, and when you put governors around yourself, trying to extract the most out of a little is a big challenge. Pop music is the same three or four chords over and over again, and the challenge is to find a new way to play those three or four chords and get something new out of it. It's the same idea with getting the most out of a little drumset as opposed to having lots of drums.

An aside: I don't see a smaller set up as a limitation to begin with. Playing pop, rock, R&B, whatever, having many gradations of tom tom and cymbal sounds is not a tremendous musical advantage; having the major categories of sound— high tom, low tom, crash, ride— within easy reach is

Also, I might add, in the studio, engineers get off on a small drumkit immensely, because it's a much more easily controlled sound. There's less spill into other microphones. It's a tighter drum sound and much easier to work with.

I play a Yamaha kit. I have a 24" bass drum for a big sound—I have a very, very heavy foot. A big part of my sound is the bass drum. I have an 12" tom-tom mounted on the bass drum, and I have a 16" floor tom. I also have a 13" tom-tom, which I sometimes will use in place of the 8 x 12, depending on what I'm doing.

Generally I lean towards the 12 , because I get a high note from it. If I'm only going to have two drums, I like a big difference in pitch, so I've got high and real low.

I have the Recording series, and I also have the same kit in the Tour series. I have a Yamaha snare drum, which is 5 1/2 x 14. I've never been able to play snare drums deeper than the regular depth of 5 1/2".

When I play live, I tune the snare drum real tight, and 99% of the time, every time I hit it, it's a rimshot, because it gives me a lot more volume and cuts through anything. With a deeper drum, I seem to lose that real sharp crack that I can get out of a 5 1/2" drum, which is a very fast response and very piercing. With a deeper drum, I tend to get a mushier sound.

I tune my snare drum tight for a high-pitched crack. It's not tuned to any kind of note. In fact, if you hit the drum softly, it won't sound very good, but if you hit it at the volume I hit it at, it works on stage. In the studio, I tune it way down and usually put a little piece of tape or a little Kleenex or something on the side just to take some of the ring out.

With the toms, I tune both sides identically, so that if I hit the top of the drum or the bottom, it's the exact same pitch. There would be no right or wrong side to hit—they're tuned the same. I tune the floor tom to the lowest possible note before the sound starts to distort and buzz from being too loose. With the mounted tom-tom, I look for the note that will ring the longest. I like the toms to resonate for the full life of the drum. So I find the note that will ring the longest on the high tom.

That's usually not its lowest note and certainly not its highest note. It's the place where the note seems to go on for the longest amount of time. I don't put any muffling on the tom-toms. I like them to be very natural and have their own decay.

The bass drum is not tuned to anything. The head is very flat. There's no pitch at all because I have a blanket inside. So I tune it down as low as I can before the head actually starts to wrinkle, and then I'll go up half a turn on each lug to take it out of that area.

I guess you can say, in the toms I look for a note that has a life to it and a ring and a decay. The bass drum and the snare drum are noteless—it's a "thump" and a "crack." I want a thump that hits me in my gut. Hopefully, people fall over if they walk in front of the bass drum when I hit it—their knees crack or demolecularize.

The cymbals are Zildjians. I use one 20" ride cymbal. I have a K., and I also have an A.—I switch back and forth. I use two crash cymbals: one over the little tom and one over the floor tom. Those two cymbals could be any combination of 16", 17", and 18", depending on the music I'm playing.

The hi-hat cymbals are the smallest that Zildjian makes—they're 13" New Beats. All of my cymbals are high pitched. The crashes are all bright, very high ended and die away very quickly—a quick explosion and it's gone. The hi-hats are small so that I get a very high-pitched "tick." The ride cymbal is also high pitched. I like to get a "ping" that is distinct so that each beat is distinguished. I find that with a lot of cymbals, if I start riding on them, they just turn into a big wash. Something else I should add is that I don't use the ride cymbal a lot because there's so much more definition in the hi-hat as far as keeping a rhythm section locked into something. The hi-hat is much more deliberate. If I do play the ride cymbal, I very rarely play in the middle or on the edge. I always play on the bell, because the bell cuts through.

For sticks I use Regal 5A wooden tip because I think that wood is more natural than nylon. When I'm playing the snare drum, I play with the back end of the stick, because it makes it fatter and bigger. I feel I'm getting more of the meat of the stick into the drum, and if you ever watch me play, you'll see that I'm often flipping the sticks; it's become a completely involuntary action now. I use the proper end of the stick on the hi-hat, but when I go to the cymbal, I usually use the back end of the stick because I get more volume out of the bell using the back end. So if you see me play, you often see the stick being flipped around depending on whether I'm coming back to the hi-hat or going up to the cymbal. 

When I play matched grip, I tend to use the back end of the stick also. If I'm playing my left hand in a legitimate [traditional] grip, then I use the proper end of the stick on the drum.

There's a mentality that's woven through all that I've talked about, and that is that there's nothing in the middle in my drumset. It's either super low or super high—super bottom or super top. Everything cuts through the band. The bass drum and the floor tom are like volcanoes. The high tom is high, like a timbale. It cuts. The snare drum is a high-pitched crack, and all my cymbals are high, quick explosions. The hi-hat has definition, just by the nature of it. And when I play the ride cymbal, it's on the bell because the bell has much more punch to it. So there is an attitude here that shows through the whole drumkit, and that is that every note on the kit is designed to have an impact. There's no middle-of-the-road in the drumset.

Another aside: Note that even within that philosophy of very high and very low sounds, we are still using normal-size drums— 12 and 16" toms, 24" bass drum. 16-18"crash, 20" ride, 13" hihats. A lot of players now would be inclined to take that further, into extreme ranges, where we begin losing the normal tonal functionality of the sounds.  

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