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.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Genre rant

A small complaint on genre in music, that has been hanging around my drafts folder a long time. Whenever I'm slow to write any new stuff, and am desperate for content, I dump one of these on you. 

So, genre: I hate it. I'm not given to hyperbole, but the word and concept are death.  

Genre = stereotype
It's a terrible way to think about music. Normal people are happy and comfortable thinking in terms of stereotypes, and will judge an entire field of music based on half-hearing a few examples of it, but musicians need to deal with specifics. 

True genre music is niche music, subculture music— Surf, Chanson, Gypsy Jazz, electric Blues, Rockabilly, etc. They have their charms, and some legitimate works of art, but continued exposure to them leads to a feeling of sameness. What attracts people seems to be a vibe, rather than any memorable or unique musical moments. 

Example: listen to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones— it's a lot of fun, and a great song. But getting deeper into the rest of the album it's on, boredom sets in. It's all a variation on a formula— and there's not enough substance to the formula to sustain interest over a 29 minute album. Every song can't be Blitzkrieg Bop. They're not good enough writers. 

Here, listen to this one, all of it: 

That mild boredom you're experiencing? That's genre. 

You get something similar checking out some surf music on the strength of the Dick Dale track Misirilou, as used in the movie Pulp Fiction, or checking out 1960s French pop after hearing Francoise Hardy's nice little song Le Temps de l'Amour. In junior high school some friends had some Ted Nugent records— they liked hearing power chords on the guitar, and you could get the records practically free through Columbia House. We got bored with that fast, and we were 14 years old. Genre. Bad writing.   

Maybe the highest expressions of genre is in world music, in the music of local cultures. You'll find areas of music where everything by one artist basically sounds the same. It may be great music, but they're doing one narrow thing. Carlos Embale in Rumba, and Luis Gonzaga in Baiao are examples of that. As an outsider it can be hard to listen to a lot of that just via recordings, without the live social aspect. 

In Barton Fink a writer struggles dealing with genre— he's a theater writer who moved to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter, and has been assigned the job of writing a “rasslin' picture”, which he has no idea how to do. He can't write formula, and nobody around him can comprehend that:

You could watch Akira or Ghost In The Shell, and think, hey, I could get into this anime business. Then you try to watch literally anything else in that world, and it's absolutely the worst, most insipid, repetitive, formulaic, boring crap product in the world. You have just moved from the world of specifics, which is the world of art, into the world of genre. 

Now go onto whatever streaming service you use and search for any real movie: Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove, Repo Man, Down By Law, The Limey, Robocop, The Long Goodbye (yes, all Gen X guy-favored movies). Since they probably don't have the movie you want, they'll suggest some things “like” it, and notice how bloody wrong they all are. You have just witnessed the impossibility of algorithming art, of genre-ifying it.

What's not genre
Think for a moment: how many songs are there that are anything like Happy Together, Time After Time, Tax Man, When Doves Cry, Tears Of A Clown, Chain Of Fools, Pinball Wizard, Mexican Radio, Shock The Monkey, Sympathy For The Devil, I Wish, Sweet Jane, Don't Worry, Be Happy? Compare that Ramones records with Q: Are We Not Men? by Devo. They all go in the “rock” bins or the “R&B” bins, but they're unique works.  

The strength of American and British pop music is that within a basic framework, there's an attempt to be unique. Maybe they hit on a universal aesthetic as well, but mainly the music is not simply genre. The mission of pop craft is to hammer out a track that is instantly catchy and compelling, that demands repeated listening, that is also unique enough to stand out from everything else bombarding people's ears. 

The same is true of American Songbook tunes— the ones that are still played have something unique about them. The not-good ones are the same stock ii-V-I thing, and seem thin and not real satisfying when you play them. I can't think of any titles because I never thought about them ever again. Sonny Rollins is kind of perverse about playing bad tunes, so you could look in his catalog. 

Jazz is not genre

Jazz is the subject of a lot of genre thinking, but it is not genre— it's a field, a community, a lineage. When someone says I don't like jazz, or I like jazz, the correct response is, which jazz, what artist, what record? That's the only meaningful conversation to have about it. 

Duke Ellington is not genre, Miles Davis is not genre, Weather Report is not genre. There's only one Kind of Blue, Out Of The Afternoon, Out Of The Cool. You'd think, OK, most records are just 3-5 dudes playing tunes, then why is there only one Lester Young Trio, Milestones, Nefertiti, Real McCoy, Three Quartets, Trio Jeepy, Time On My Hands, Live At The Pershing?  

There are a few people who have recorded so many records you start to feel some of that genre type of boredom through over exposure, and maybe they didn't have a real special plan for any one record. I'm not naming names. Maybe they were on a European label that was excited about them, and they were touring a lot, and put out way too much. Can't say. I'm thinking David Murray. 

More regular blog stuff coming— I'm very busy with unrelated things, but I've also got some exciting new stuff brewing. Stick around. 

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Straight 8ths in funk Afro 12/8

Something I'm working out, that needed to be written out to do it: straight 8ths on the bass drum within a funk-style Afro 12/8 groove. I work a lot with this whole area of groove. This is worth working through even if you don't have an application for it, it makes you put a fine point on your accuracy with your bass drum. 

Play the accent like a backbeat and ghost the rest of the snare drum notes. At first omit the circled notes on the cymbal with patterns 3-4 and bass drum with patterns 5-16, if it helps you get them. 

Get the pdf

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Solo transcription: Billy Higgins - Third World

Here's a drum solo by Billy Higgins, from the tune Third World on Freddie Hubbard's album Bolivia. 

I've never played this tune and didn't count out the form. It starts with 8 bars of an ensemble figure with drum fills, which also occurs at the end of every solo chorus. The transcription begins with that section at the end of the piano solo, then Higgins's actual solo begins at bar 9. And you hear Higgins play the figure in the last 8 bars of his solo, then the band comes in with it on the head out. 

Snares off. 8th notes are swung, or half-swung. The bass drum is feathered through a good part of this; also there are some random hits I didn't notate. The hihat really isn't used at all, maybe one or two random notes I didn't notate. Look for places to add doubles when moving around the drums— like in measure 11, the first two triplet partials are played with the same hand. 

At measure 41 there's a little rhumba part that is difficult to notate There are a variety of sounds happening, and changes in pitch— which I didn't indicate. The regular Xs are rim clicks, the alternate Xs are played on the rim (possibly with the R instead of the L indicated), and the house top accents are rim shots. 

The sticking I've given should help you do something with it. Your left hand should be in rim click position with your palm resting on the drum, muffling it, and the right hand playing the head near the edge of the drum. I think the pitch changes result from moving the left hand across the drum— not from putting pressure on the head and changing its tension, but from changes in harmonics, from changing the position of his hand muffling the head. Experiment.  

Get the pdf

The solo starts at 5:18 in the track, or at - in the video of the full album below:

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: Joe gives advice

“When I was playing the Vanguard with Freddie Hubbard, I went back to the kitchen and Philly Joe was there. He said, 'You're playing good. You gotta kick Freddie's ass, make his lips burn.' All the while Freddie was telling me I was playing too loud.”

-Lenny White, Modern Drummer interview by Aran Wald, 1977

Monday, April 01, 2024

Beats to fills

Here's a connecter idea, using some rock beats written normally, a la Funky Primer, but playing them as cymbal accents with fills, as in this rock fill drill— hitting accents on the cymbal/bass drum, and filling in 8th notes on the snare and toms. 

That latter thing has been a regular part of my teaching for several years, usually starting with the 8th note accent pages in Syncopation. Those pages are a little dull though. This way will be better because a) the rhythms are more interesting, and b) it will give students some ideas about where to take an ordinary written-out rock beat. 

It's quite simple. For example, with beat number 4 from p. 13 of Funky Primer: 

You hit the bass drum/cymbal notes as crashes, supported with the bass drum, and hit the rest of the 8th notes on... some drums. Snare or toms, TBD later: 

With beat number 8: 

You would play: 

As exercises, you'd play those fill measures some different ways: 
  1. Right hand only 
  2. Left hand only
  3. Both hands in unison- two cymbals, two drums (or flams on one drum)
  4. Right hand on cymbal / left hand on drums
  5. Right hand on cymbal / both hands on drums
And the drum part could be played:
  1. On the snare drum.
  2. Moving around the drums in a set pattern you make up. 
  3. Moving around the drums freely.. 

Here's how you could play those in a two measure phrase— one measure of the written beat, one measure accents/fills:

Students get way too hung up on what cymbal or drum they should hit— in the second measure you can take the snare line to mean any drum, and the cymbal part to mean any cymbal. Keep it simple until you can play it, then get creative. You can follow sticking systems 1-5 above at first, then wing it. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Guy's cowbell beats

A page for a student, age 12, who bought a cowbell, and didn't know what to do with it. Basically two kinds of beats— basic rock beats, and a kind of Latin-rock beat with a cinquillo rhythm on the bell. We covered a number of these verbally in the lesson— several of them were his idea— this develops them further. 

Get the pdf, then get the vibe by listening to some Def Leppard: 

And Deep Purple:  

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Embellished filler with RH lead triplets - 01

I'm pretty sure I've written something like this before, but navigating my voluminous archives is no easier for me than it is for you. This is a sketch of some ideas in an upcoming[??? -tb] book release I'm working on. It's part of a larger system, but for now you can work on them as individual patterns:

RH on cymbal / LH on snare unless otherwise indicated. The repetitive format here is for practice purposes, in real music you would mostly do these one time only as part of a larger swing or 12/8 texture. Move them around the drums however you like.  

Try them with this loop or this loop. For example of the type of playing I have in mind, see Jack Dejohnette playing on a couple of slow tunes on John Scofield's album Time On My Hands. 

Get the pdf

Friday, March 22, 2024

Mozambique inversions

Library item that occurred to me while writing that last post. That Mozambique bell rhythm seems significant beyond just using it to play a Latin beat, hence this page, running it through its inversions. Half of them. You want to be psycho about it you can get the remainder of them by playing the second measure first.  

On line 1 you can easily see how the rhythm is constructed: a single note plus a double, then a single plus three doubles, like: 

⦾  ⦿⦿  ⦾  ⦿⦿  ⦿⦿  ⦿⦿

The actual Mozambique rhythm, which is on line 3, is an inversion of that. As is another common rhythm associated with Guaguanco, on line 6:

I have of course shared endless other ways of applying these type so rhythms to the drum set.  

Also see this roundup page with a lot more of this type of thing— up to January '23, at least— especially the tresillo/cinquillo inversion pages, and partido alto inversion pages.  

Get the pdf

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Elvinized Mozambique

An item I was working out with a student— making an Elvin Jones-like Latin groove/texture out of a Mozambique rhythm, for medium tempos, with swing 8th notes. It's an entry, just the first, most obvious things I could think of for taking the groove that direction. 

Swing the 8ths on everything here. At the top of the page is a Mozambique bell rhythm written Syncopation-style, then some basic left hand variations, which you can move around the drums however you like.

Then there is the bell rhythm written out as RH lead triplets— RH plays the complete cymbal part, LH plays the complete snare part. Which you can play as a fill at the end of the groove— note the circled bass drum notes on patterns 6-9, play them with those notes, and without them. As illustrated, you can end the fill with a cymbal/BD accent on 1, or on the end of beat 4.  

With item 10, as it says, play the hand parts with one, some, or all of the written bass drum notes. Try some combinations. We'll explore that more fully in another installment. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Building a hybrid Reed interpretation

A short item— that's all I have time for lately: some hybrid Syncopation-based systems are brewing, where we do one basic thing, and alter it one step further, creating some connections between ideas, and opening things up, so it's not pure formula. It also creates some problems in devising a consistent system, and with interpreting it on the fly, when reading the full page exercises. 

Here we'll use a bebop-type system based on 5-stroke rolls ending in a stick shot— similar to this one. Everywhere you see an 8th note followed by a quarter note, play a 5-stroke roll (starting with the RH) ending with a stick shot (R stick hitting L stick, which is pressed into the drum head). Play the remaining notes as taps, mostly alternating sticking— starting with the LH, after the stick shots.

So the first two lines of page 38 in Syncopation would be played like this: 

That leaves a lot of open single notes, which we can fill in in a different way— like with the stupidly-named paradiddle inversion stickings we did recently: RLLR/LRRL/RLLRLR/LRRLRL. Pick the appropriate-length pattern for the space you're filling. Add more alternating singles at the end of the pattern if you run into some longer spaces between notes. 

Here's how you could handle some single line exercises from p. 34 in Reed: 

Note that the 16ths can connect directly with the roll, but you don't go directly into the 16ths from the stick shot. Also, we have to plan ahead for what hand to start the 16ths with, so you end on the right hand, to make the roll. 

This is probably strictly a system for practicing one measure licks, using pp. 34-37 in Reed. If you try playing one of the full page exercises, you'll notice that a) it's pretty hard to interpret on the fly, and b) it's hard to know which hand to start the 16ths with. You would have to figure out which hand to start with, and mark it on the page. 

Listen to some Roy Haynes soloing, and have fun. 

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: no such thing as better

“We have only to fight as well as the men who stayed and fought at Shiloh. It is not necessary that we should fight better. There can be no such thing as better.”

- Ernest Hemingway, Men At War

That book was compiled and edited by Hemingway during WWII, and was widely read by people serving the US military then. I found the quote in my father's copy, a 1952 paperback edition, which I believe he was reading when he was in the Korean war. It was directed at people who were actually having to do that stuff. 

In drummer terms, you could say we have only to play as well as Art Blakey on Somethin' Else, or Jack Dejohnette on Live Evil. Harvey Mason on Breezin', Billy Higgins on Rejoicing, you pick.  

You're thinking oh, really, is that all?, but it is done all the time. Like the thing Hemingway is talking about, in situations less famous than the one he mentions. The rest of us get to play as good as them sometimes. We may not get as many equivalent playing opportunities, and there are other things that go into making a player, a playing career, and historical profile, but we can handle our available situations as well as they would. 

We don't get to play better than them. You're not going to outplay Blakey by doing harder stuff, by having faster singles, or by executing better. Your favorite awesome drummer isn't going to outplay him. There may be other reasons for working on those things, but to be a better artist than him is not one of them.  

Monday, March 04, 2024

Daily best music in the world: four by Steve Gadd

Taking a moment to dispel a totally absurd impression of Steve Gadd that has somehow formed in recent years: that he is some kind of conservative “groove” player, which...

...no. He's extremely influential on the way drums are played now, and the epitome of what a modern player should be, actually— a great jazz drummer, and pop, funk, and fusion drummer, with an incredibly deep groove sense, and musical taste and creativity through the full range of expression possible on the drums. An incredible reader in the sense of handling arrangements creatively and excitingly, and sounding like pure foundation while doing that. 

I don't like getting into superlatives. Just understand, he's the s***. As big a deal as anyone else you can name. It's our job to listen a lot, and figure out why. 

Night Sprite, from Chick Corea's album Leprechaun, is the reason half the drum sets sold today include a 10" tom tom— it inspired a whole generation of fusion players to use them. Or Gadd generally did, and this is the track of his that features it most spectacularly. 

It's also an essay on why the RLLR-LRRL paradiddle inversion is awesome. 

...I don't mention those mundane things because they're the main things that are great about the record. I mention them because they're the only things you can say. The music itself is the explanation of how great it is, there's nothing you can say about it that isn't banal technical point. 

Three Quartets is another huge Chick Corea record— basically a jazz record, but they've brought in some fusion elements, and we've become unused to hearing this deep, fat, fusion-like drum sound in a straight jazz setting. Note that we hear lots of cymbal/bass drum unisons throughout this— all the right hand lead stuff we do leads into this kind of thing. All of that Reed stuff.

There's a lot with both hands in unison as well, on the snare drum and cymbal. And he does some exciting things with the cymbals alone, unsupported by the snare or bass— how he begins the piano solo, for example, after 1:10:

Slamming here, with an extended drum/percussion feature, playing live with saxophonist Tom Scott. It's easy to think of all of modern studio funk/fusion playing— that universal anonymous style— as basically people doing Steve Gadd, but through all of this listening we can hear different things happening, that the generations of influencees did not pick up on. The unisons between the snare drum and bass drum, for example.  

Another mundane technical note, this track has been famous with me for a long time for having the pataflafla-ed 6 stroke rolls— pataflaflas with doubles in the middle. At about 6:35. 

Silly Putty, the first thing in the video below, is not so well known now, but it's one of those era-defining tracks, like Herbie Hancock's Chameleon, or Palm Grease. There was a thing of inventing creative linear funk grooves on the drums at that time. I don't know if Gadd started it, but he certainly led it— you're aware of his famous 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover groove. 

Cool instrumentation there, a quartet (guitar, keyboards) doing the playing, plus nine horns hitting the arranged stuff. Note to self, hire the extra guys. If you listen to that record all the way through, that's Lenny White on the third tune, the rest of it is Gadd. 

Those are all pretty showy recordings, he is of course on a thousand other records. Maybe literally. You can look up more stuff from the 70s/early 80s especially. Do. 

Friday, March 01, 2024

Stewart Copeland interview

New interview with Rick Beato talking to Stewart Copeland, that is quite entertaining— he's an entertaining guy talking about things he knows about, like his own career. Here he mostly talks about how making all the Police records went down, and it's fairly illuminating. 

As much as these things ever are— most people can't tell you anything about what you liked about something they did. Usually making something involves a different set of concerns from just enjoying it, even enjoying as someone who makes music, and knows about music. Not everything is intentional, or under one person's conscious control. The illuminating part is finding out what he thinks he did.

It sounds like a large part of the story of The Police was in the conflict between Sting, having fully formed pop songs in mind, including the drumming, vs. Copeland fighting to have the percussion featured as a distinct voice.  

It's not surprising that in recording the first records he only got a few passes on each track. It's somewhat surprising how unformed the songs were at that point in the process— or how little information he had about them. I think that accounts for a good part of the unusual playing decisions on the records— there are things people might not play if they knew everything that was going on.  

It's also not surprising that he approached them like a player, playing each take differently, and not as a songwriter or producer, who would be more concerned with crafting a perfect “part”... which would take you to a product more like Nirvana's Nevermind, with every note of the drumming performance worked out in advance. A drummer working everything out for percussive effect might lead you to something more like a Rush record. Whatever those Rush records are, they're a clear picture of what Neil Peart would do on purpose on that piece of music. On the Police records it seems that every percussion effect is not something Copeland created himself deliberately— or did deliberately while he was playing it. As he says, they did a lot of editing and overdubbing. 

We're in kind of a funny position, as people who like the drumming on those records— it's our job to do things like that as informed playing decisions, even as the original guy actually may not have.    

Anyway, interesting interview, it is worth listening to the full hour of it, despite Copeland's flippancy, at times.  

Monday, February 26, 2024

15th anniversary at Revival Drum Shop

I had a nice time hanging out at Portland's Revival Drum Shop last night— an excellent, unique drum shop featuring mostly vintage gear, with a lot of interesting new percussion instruments, and new and vintage cymbals. They helped Cymbal & Gong get going early on, and still have their proprietary Revival line of cymbals with them. It's a great store and I send all my students there. 

It's owned by José Medeles of the band The Breeders, and it has become a real Portland institution. Last night they had a running party with friends of the shop playing, including: Dave King (Bad Plus, Rational Funk), Dave Elitch[!!!] (Mars Volta, Miley Cyrus), Spit Stix (Fear), Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits), Janet Weiss (Sleater Kinney) and others. I had to leave before the great Mel Brown played— naturally, he was playing a regular gig somewhere, and had to go last.   

Dave King, if you know of his Rational Funk series of videos, was completely hilarious, and of course played brilliantly. 

Dave Elitch played great, hitting some real LA style backbeats that had me plugging one ear, because I was ~ five feet away. His recent mini-to-do involving a rash comment on the value of rudiments was mentioned, and he got a thank you from the audience for being relieved of the task of having to learn to play them. 

Spit Stix (aka Tim Leitch) did a mini-clinic on the 3:2 polyrhythm and on orchestrating rudiments on the drums— which he has worked out in a really effective way. He said the polyrhythm was really the primary beat he plays off of, which is a really central concept for me. As a drumming concept it's a big deal, it's the central thing in most jazz drumming since Elvin Jones. 

Stephen Hodges played a brief solo, then played duo with José, which was really lovely, getting into some quite amazing sounds within an atmospheric swamp groove, including Hodges dragging chains on the drums— missed getting video of that part, I was too transfixed— and José playing I think a 26" Wuhan cymbal.

I got a little video: 

It was cool and interesting to see how much of the old rock & roll thing is still happening with people, like it hasn't gone anywhere. You could have gone to a clinic with the guy from Paul Revere & The Raiders and he would have been playing much of the same stuff, and it's great. It's a thing. 

Everyone was winging it, with several admitting (or claiming) to feeling nervous about it, and it was loose, rough, and good. You can't help but notice that not everyone's real job is to be amazing playing a solo in a clinic. Like watching Stephen Hodges you think well I could basically do that, that must mean I'm a happening guy, except: he's the guy on Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombone, and Mule Variations. He's the person who got in a position to be asked to make those records, and then made them what they are. That's a whole different thing. That's a whole different kind of artistic life than just getting ready to sound amazing in a drum shop. 

Or, I can listen to Dave King play his stuff solo, and it's on a very high level, but it's on a continuum with what a lot of other good drummers do, including myself. So just taking it in terms of playing solo, you could get a little cocky, like hey I'm not that different from him, I'm a happening guy! Except his job is to be headlining jazz festivals, and blowing the audience away after they've been listening to other world class acts for three days. To be good at that you have to be really comfortable doing hard music, and have a couple of gears above normal good players for generating intensity within music. So no. That's not the only way to do music, but no. 

And it's funny— even at his level, he's worrying about the parts that felt off to him, afterwards he was thanking the audience for listening to “the bad along with the good”— “the bad” being virtually undetectable to anyone listening. 

Ultimately you come away from the event feeling like there's room for everything— that obvious, explosive kind of talent, along with more traditionally simple and direct heavy playing, and some more mysterious creativity, reaching into a deeper living history with Mel Brown. A very cool scene. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ruffs, drags, and general correctness in snare drumming

The correct way to play ruffs (or drags if you prefer) on the snare drum is an extremely attractive topic for repeated, endless debate. Evidently. I've seen it again and again, people going nuts for the topic. 

The major burning issues seem to be: 

a) What they should be called— ruff or drag.   
b) How to play the embellishment— double stroke, multiple bounce, or...?

Around here we call them ruffs, and my concept of correctness playing them came from a kind of Charles Dowd / Tony Cirone / Fred Sanford axis. Mainly, most of my teachers and corps instructors, and many professional acquaintances, were students of one or all of them. Dowd and Sanford both studied with Cirone. Dowd and Cirone both studied with Saul Goodman— primarily known as a timpanist, but played and taught all orchestral percussion instruments. He's as important a figure as anyone in modern percussion. All four of those individuals taught many thousands of professionals over many decades, so there's a sizable community of players for whom this is part of their frame of reference, at least. 

Summarizing my views, and what I teach, this is from Cirone's book Orchestral Techniques Of The Standard Percussion Instruments

Except: in drum corps, we played them multiple bounce, not double stroke, with the buzz very tight against the main note. I believe that way of playing them in that setting was likely Fred Sanford and Bob Kalkoffen's innovation. More traditionally they were played with a double stroke. 

Also in corps: in practice, the term drag didn't refer to a specific rudimental pattern, but to a single metered open double played as part of an ongoing rhythm, which might be referred to as a drag passage, like: 

A real traditional rudimental geek could analyze each of those phrases as a series of named rudiments,  and I'm glad I never learned that way. For me this was always just a continuing rhythm with some of the strokes doubled. In fact there are some passages from traditional rudimental solos that could be interpreted that way, with the drag strokes metered. This line from Charley Wilcoxon's Roughing The Single Drag:  

Could be played: 


Continuing with the common ruff (or drag) here's another excellent description from Percussion For Musicians by Robert McCormick, edited by Cirone: 

So McCormick and Cirone are talking about interpreting that notation, and performing it on the snare drum in orchestra, wind ensemble, and other concert snare drum settings, and that is my baseline standard for how to do things. There are other reputable professionals who say they should be played with a double stroke— they are amply represented on YouTube— all you have to do is think the word ruff and you'll be presented with a lot of videos telling about that. I think they are offering incomplete information if they don't mention anything about the performance context. 

Friend/friend of the site and excellent drummer Ed Pierce (and author Alain Rieder) has pointed out that there is a Porcaro/Igoe/Henry Adler/Al Lepak lineage of players who refer to any three note single stroke pattern as a ruff. Ralph Humphrey as well. That's different from what we've been talking about— you would not read a snare drum part, or etude, with the above ruff notation and automatically play them as single strokes. In fact I don't know how that interpretation would be applied to written music, other than to assign a rudimental name to a written rhythm (calling a 1e& 2e& rhythm ruffs, for example). With this usage we're just giving that name to a simple rhythm structure, a cluster of three notes. 

There is an exception: you do play ruffs as alternating singles when you encounter that notation for most other percussion instruments— timpani, for example. 

This all may beg the question: what even is the purpose of doing it one way or another? Why does doing it “correctly” according to a certain school of thought matter? Who decides what's correct to begin with? 

I don't believe there's any real technical or hand-conditioning benefit to doing it one way of the other— it's purely a question of convention, taste, and musical effect and expression. 

If you're involved in concert snare drumming, you'll be working with conductors, band directors, other percussionists, professors and other teachers, and miscellaneous judges— via competitions, juries, auditions— each of whom may have opinions or demands about how you should play, which may be difficult to ignore completely.   

In rudimental drumming it is decided by the individual organization— marching bands, drum and bugle corps, other drum lines, will each have their individual style standards that players need to follow. Much of the rehearsal process is about learning those standards, you don't necessarily need to have them prepared in advance. 

As individual players, we're generally free to do whatever we want—  hopefully guided by some kind of sound idea, and a good musical ear. Generally it's best to to have a baseline of ability that fits with what the rest of the drumming world is doing, doing things the way other good players do them, until you're experienced enough to form a different idea about it. Someone doing something in a grossly unconventional way in a formal performance setting is most often taken as evidence the player doesn't know what he or she is doing. 

Postscript: In the comments there's a good question about diddles as distinct from drags. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Groove o' the day: Elvin waltz by Kenny Washington

Here's Kenny Washington playing an Elvin Jones-type of waltz groove on Simple Waltz, on Clark Terry's 1991 record Live at the Village Gate. It's kind of an obscure item now, I bought the record then to check out some Kenny Washington. I used to play along with it a lot. 

It's actually really Elvin like, though Washington has a different way of playing time from him— and sound, and touch. See my groove o' the day and transcription of John Coltrane's Your Lady. There's also a page o' coordination based on it. 

On the intro he plays the ties, when the band comes in he plays the straight cymbal rhythm as written, no ties. 

CYMBALISTIC: Oh, what the heck...

UPDATE: Bumping this to the top of the blog. 

CYMBALISTIC: Oh, what the heck, business has been a little slow lately, so let's goose this thing a little bit, and do a special on cymbals

I'll give the FIRST THREE PEOPLE who want to buy a wonderful Cymbal & Gong cymbal in the month of February an extra special deal— we're a tiny, tiny business, and normally the specials we can afford to offer are in the nature of free shipping, or 10-15% off, but we'll do something better than that. Contact me for details. 

The cymbals have all been individually selected by me as ones I would want to own and use— there are no dogs. And as I've ranted about endlessly before, the cymbals themselves are consistently the best available for a traditional sound— a 50s/60s sound. The other jazz professionals who play them know this, and go nuts for them. 

Right now I have a number of Extra Special Janavars, with regular patina— making them big and lush— and heavy patina— making them more dry and funky. These have been a very hot item. I took several to Germany in October and they all sold before the real meet even started. 

I also have a few great A-type Holy Grails— Cymbal & Gong's best selling cymbal. The 20s are a little stouter, and are great light-mediums. The 22 is thin with a heavy patina, for a big, rather rough Tony Williams type of sound.

And there are a few random items, on which I'll be inclined to make you an extra special deal: 

18" Turk “Rin” - Great cymbal, it's just been in stock awhile. Lovely, rather delicate Turk for combo playing.

16" Holy Grail “Bobby” - 16" cymbals used to be a left side mainstay, and this is a very worthy, versatile cymbal for that. Give it a shot. I just got a 16 very similar to this, and love it. 

14" China “Chi” -  Really cool effect cymbal. C&G's Chinas are excellent, with the real Chinese sound, but not obnoxious, and not too loud.


OK, visit CYMBALISTIC to pick, out your cymbal(s), and then contact me through the form on that site.  

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Max Roach / Stan Levey duo transcription: Milano Blues

Here's a composed drum duo played by Max Roach and Stan Levey, on their album Drummin' The Blues. They trade off on some parts, and play in unison on others. I believe the whole thing is pre-written— by Roach, from the sound of it— maybe the trading portions are improvised. 

Begins at 3:03 in the track, tempo is 127 bpm. 

They didn't just breeze in and do the session, they took some trouble to tune their drums the same, and select cymbals that sounded similar, and their execution is very tight— no flamming between players on the unison parts.

If you're able to loop the first four bars, you can hear that bars 1-2 are one player, bars 3-4 are the other, mainly from the pitch of the cymbal. As best I can tell, they're trading twos— soloing two measures each— in the first 8 bars, then playing together. This would be a good recital or jury piece for somebody. If I were going to perform it, I'd look into some creative ways of splitting it up between players, fill it out with some actual improvised trading. 

Get the pdf

Duo begins at 7:51 in the video below: 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: getting fired

“There’s been times when I was fired from gigs because, lets say I had the ability to get my foot in the door, but wasn’t living up to the expectations that people had. In that process I’d go through a lot of reassessment and then address my weak points and make them strong points. That’s a situation that happens to a lot of musicians. 

Psychologically you can’t let that get you down. You have to use those situations as learning opportunities, not to develop attitudes about people, but to develop a perspective of your strengths and weaknesses. At those times I did a lot of deep analysis of my playing and tried to be as objective as possible. I’ve tried to address my weaknesses and really work hard to develop them into strengths. 

Over the years I’ve been let go for not having good time, not being able to play with a click track, not being a real asset as a guy on the road that has a good attitude, you know any number of things which I’ve learned from and developed my playing and developed my personality to be easy to work with and professional as a musician on tour and in the studio.”

- Steve Smith in The Psychology of Drumming by Chris Peacock

You can download a pdf of the book on Scribd— though I don't know if it was posted with the consent of the author. I believe Peacock is the author of the Drum Ninja site, so maybe you can get it through him, or at least make a donation for pirating his book. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Practical comping lesson with Rothman

Joel Rothman's books don't get a ton of attention in the jazz drums-learning world, but they're good. I like the comping materials in his book Basic Drumming (duplicated in his book Drumming And All That Jazz). They cover the practical basics, bridging into more modern*, filled in, Elvin Jones-like textural playing.

* - Yes, Elvin Jones died 20 years ago[!!!] at age 76, but his playing is still modern; everybody who plays gets into him in a serious way, and he did drumming as art, not simply accompaniment (I think he would have disputed that). Modern doesn't just mean contemporary.

The other usual books tend to deal more in pure rhythm/independence/reading problems, and I've never found them to be totally satisfactory for getting to a realistic comping texture with new jazz students. Rothmans' stuff is friendlier to my teaching purposes that way. 

They're notated as just a snare drum and cymbal rhythm, written as triplets, with the swing interpretation baked in. It's assumed we'll add the hihat on beats 2 and 4, and maybe feathering the bass drum if you swing that way

You'll notice that the first two beats of each pattern are the same— hopefully that teaches you the first idea really well, and teaches you some places to go with it. 

One thing I do— not necessarily first, but first now— is add some bass drum. I'll circle some notes or rests in the student's book, and have them add bass drum there. For example: 

Most of the snare drum part should be played softly, with usually one or two accents per measure. I'll also pencil in some accents to give an idea of how to shape the measure: 

The problem here, as with almost all comping materials, is we're dealing with one-measure ideas repeating on the 1. We're too 1 oriented, too single-measure oriented.

There are some ways of making a musical phrase out of this, more like how drummers realistically play, with some space. For the examples below, we'll use pattern 4 above, with the added bass drum, and hihat on beats 2 and 4: 

First, obviously, play 1 measure of jazz time, one measure of the exercise: 

That's a good way to learn the patterns in the first place, as part of a continuity, not just as an isolated measure. If a student is able to read the patterns correctly the first time, that's how we'll do it. 

We can also get off the 1, and play the pattern across the barline, a couple of different ways. 

First, just play the pattern as written, except starting on beat 3 of the last measure of the phrase: 

Or play beats 3-4 of the pattern on beats 3-4 at the end of the phrase, and beats 1-2 at the beginning of the new phrase: 

If that seems weird, it's not, it's what you were playing on the repeat of the one measure pattern: 

Here's what a four measure practice phrase would look like, playing that way: 

Obviously there are other possibilities. It's not necessary to take it too far faking a drumming performance from book materials, we're just giving people a sketch of how you might actually play. The next step turning book patterns into music is to play music— with people or with recordings.  

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Ndugu Leon Chancler with George Duke

Here's a cool video of Ndugu Leon Chancler in the studio with George Duke, playing Dukey Stick, which ended up on his record Don't Let Go. They start playing after about 1:45. The way Ndugu counts it in is hilarious: 

That's Napoleon Murphy Brock, best known from Zappa's band, doing background vocals here, and Sheila E. (Escovedo at the time) on percussion. The guitarist (“Goin' surfin baby!”) is Charles Johnson who much later became a well known blogger, writing the Little Green Footballs blog— which was very pro Iraq war during the Bush years, and has since become much more politically liberal. 

Monday, February 05, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: religion

“This is my religion. I take long breaks now when I don't perform and I am not myself when I am not performing.”

- Roy Haynes

h/t Sheet Music Library 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Antonio Sanchez on drumming in movies

From Anzonio Sanchez's twitter feed, here's a video of him commenting on some drumming performances in movies, including School of Rock, Sound of Metal, Whiplash, and some other things. 

Most of the examples don't have much in them for actual drummers, but he's very businesslike about it. It's funny to bring in one of the top drummers on the planet to point out, OK, there's no bass drum there, here's how you hold the sticks

This is all just an excuse to share that screen shot, which I thought was hilarious. It is funny when they get to the movie Whiplash


Sunday, January 28, 2024

Tresillo unit

For a couple of weeks I've been working with an area of stuff covering several different styles— grooves with a tresillo rhythm, or part of it, in the bass drum. I've been polishing it for a recording session today. 

That bass drum rhythm occurs most famously in New Orleans drumming, Songo and other Caribbean styles, and Baiao. All different things from different countries, but with jazz groups things have a way of getting mashed up. The chart we're recording is marked “samba”, but the bass line is based on this type of rhythm, and nothing else about the piece is particularly samba-like.   

We have there: 

Systems for New Breed
I've been doing a few ostinato variations with the reading in The New Breed— which I've decided I like a lot. The reading portion of that book is different enough from Syncopation to be worth doing— more space, fewer runs of multiple notes, and of course 16th notes are the main subdivision. 

The ostinatos are played by the right hand on a cymbal, bass drum, and hihat played with the foot. On a couple of them the right hand moves to the floor tom. 

Subtractive method
Practicing from the book Syncopation, I've been running a subtractive thing I detailed before (the item at that link would actually be good to include in this unit)— voicing the melody rhythm in the book corresponding with a BSSB-SBBS pattern

Songo variations
A couple of different songo grooves, with fills, making variations on the fly. 

Street beat / alternating singles
Played on either the snare drum or hihat, varying the accents/articulations, with a move to the floor tom.  

Get the pdf

And here's one loop I've been using, sampled from Eddie Palmieri— Azucar, from the album Azucar Pa' Ti:

And another loop, a little faster, a baiao groove from Airto— Papo Furado, from the album Seeds On The Ground: