Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Reed tweak: adding flams to a basic method

This is a small tweak on a common funk practice method for Ted Reed's Syncopation, adding flams to the method in which the right hand plays the book rhythm on a cymbal, and the left hand fills in. To me it's a 70s funk flavored thing, and brings this method a little closer to my Heavy Funk Drill, and my harmonic coordination-type methods.

For the examples we'll use line 7 of the well-known full page exercise on p. 38 in the new editions. As always with Reed, we're interpreting the top line rhythm, ignoring the bottom line rhythm.




The basic funk method we're using is: play the melody rhythm on the cymbal with your right hand, with bass drum in unison, fill in the 8th notes on the snare drum with the left hand. Which gives us this:




So, today's tweak: where there is more than one left hand note in a row, add a flam on the last one:




In the p. 38 exercise there is that situation where there is a quarter note followed by a quarter rest— that happens in the first, sixth, seventh, and eighth lines. When that happens you could alternatively put the flam on the middle left hand note— that will be on the 4 or on the 2. Another musical possibility.




I do the flams left-handed— that means the right hand plays the grace note, and falls first. Usually the grace note is only a little softer than the main note; I don't try to make them correct concert snare drum flams. The left handed flams convert easily to RH-lead 16th notes, with a small adjustment to the timing.

Exercise 4 on p. 41 of Reed is a good one for this method. Also use these linked reading exercises of mine. And my book Syncopation in 3/4, for that matter.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Todd's methods: accents to funk

This is an item for teachers, I suppose. It's good to have more than one way of teaching things. There's no reason for a student to have to struggle with something just because your preferred way of teaching is difficult for him or her right now. Find a way to teach it that they can do in the lesson, so they can take it home and practice the content.

I don't like teaching rock and funk beats in the standard Funky Primer-type format of one measure, fully written out grooves. I prefer using an interpreted method, using the regular parts of Syncopation. Some students have a hard time picking that up, so I have another way of doing it, using the accented 8th notes in Syncopation— pp. 47-49.

It's quite simple: play 8th notes on a cymbal with your right hand, add bass drum on the written accents:




I don't accent the cymbal on the written accents. And we are of course ignoring the quarter note bass drum part written in the book.

Then: add snare drum on 2 and 4 for rock:




 Then add snare on 3 for a funk feel in 2/2:




Tempo for rock should be quarter note = 60-150; for funk, half note = 50-96.

Often when teaching rock and funk, I'll avoid unisons between the snare drum and bass drum. With this method, you can go ahead and do them. It seems well-suited to working on that. But you could eliminate the bass drum whenever the snare drum is being playing if you want.

When teaching this, I'll work the students through the most normal-sounding patterns, and let them work out the rest of them on their own. For rock, that might be lines 1, 10, 11, 14, 24, 28. For funk, lines 1, 3, 8, 24, 25, 27, 28.

Students should be able to play exercises 1-28 straight through without stopping, plus the 28 bar exercise on p. 49.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Painting is a psychological game

I'm a painter as well as a musician— I work in what's generally called an abstract expressionist style. I'm not making pictures of things, I'm painting until I have something that looks like a painting.

It has become a sort of psychological game for me— I can't just lash away and come up with something keepable. I don't know how I was ever able to do that, and produce 15-20 new paintings every 12-18 months and show them. Maybe it was because I was on a deadline, or maybe my standards were just lower. Now I'm more deliberate in my process, and have become very slow at actually finishing works. I've got a studio full of probably 50-60 things in progress, and about 10-12 small things I consider finished.

Working is a continuous process of playing around, managing desperation, fear of losing something good, and using whatever acquired skill I have to improve a thing and finish it. Ideally it would be nice to have the same kind of acceptance of loss that I have with music; most of what I do on the drums is not preserved in any way. Why can't painting be the same? Do it, and if it goes away, fine.

So these are some things I think about to trick myself while working:

Is it finished now? 
Maybe it's not what you wanted, but is it something? Is it already a painting and you don't know it? Almost always the answer is no.


Unfinished painting = piece of crap
It has no value. You can't approach it like you're it's “almost finished” or “pretty good if I just...” Quit hanging onto it. There's nothing there worth preserving.


Work while the paint is wet
Oil paint dries slowly, so you have to either keep working on it, or put it away for a couple of weeks or more. Working with a wet painting is a chaotic battle against encroaching muck— paint degrades in appearance very quickly when you start mixing it up on a canvas. And working over a dry painting just kind of sucks. You're fighting the old image, and it's hard to get the new paint to blend with the old paint. Learn to be comfortable with the chaotic wet thing and to finish paintings that way.


Paint over your favorite part first
Advice from Picasso. You can't preserve your favorite thing. Other things will happen.


You can only clean it up so much 
You can improve it a little bit with some careful polishing, but at some point it stiffens up and dies. The best paintings finish open.


Take the time to get the color right
Don't just put any old crap on the canvas just because it's on your palette, and you just loaded up a brush.


Take the time to make the right mark
You can't just blindly lash at the thing. Fit the mark to what's there. Don't leave a lot of trash between the new mark and the thing it fits with.


Waste some paint
Being stingy with paint is bad. What are you saving it for? Run up your paint bill.


Mess it up 
I've taken to dragging a scraper across the canvas as I work— the whole thing or some part of it— to keep it open, and to get rid of extraneous detail. To make it not look so deliberate and nice.


Scrape it down
After awhile the canvas accumulates so much paint that your new marks just get subsumed in the muck. Maybe you used too much of a really strong color and it's permeating the canvas. Wipe the whole thing down with mineral spirits and start over.


When in doubt look more
De Kooning did ten minutes of looking for every one minute of painting. There's no timer on this thing.


When really in doubt turn the thing around and do something else
Your eye stiffens up after awhile of looking at the same damn picture. Put it away until you forget what you were trying to do with it, why you liked it, and what you were trying to preserve.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Practice loop: Oregon - Fall

New practice loop, sampled from the tune Fall, by the band Oregon. The bassist here, Glen Moore, is one of my favorite musicians in the world— look into his records with the vocalist Nancy King if you haven't. It's in 4/4, and the tempo is 160 bpm. If you're having any problem getting oriented, the loop starts on beat 1, and the accents after that are on the & of 4.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Transcription: Connie Kay - Cosmic Ray

A melodic drum solo with mallets by Connie Kay, on Cosmic Ray, from the Milt Jackson / Ray Charles album Soul Brothers. Kay is kind of a mysterious player to me, so I'm always on the lookout for anything he does where the drums are featured. The tune is a blues, but the solo is 52 bars long; in effect he plays four choruses, with a four bar tag.

It's extremely clean— everything is exactly in its place. There's very little activity with the feet, except at the beginning as he switches from sticks to mallets, and at the top of the second chorus— bar 13. It's not real exciting, but I don't know if Kay sees exciting drumming as his job. He's more about swinging the band, making the arrangement, and being an ensemble player. You feel like he was asked to play an intro and solo on the tom toms with mallets, and he's giving them that.




The tempo is a bright 234, and he doesn't really swing the 8th notes. There are five tom tom sounds here: snare drum with the snares off, the drum set high and low toms, plus a doumbek, and a large African drum. The doumbek/African drum can easily be played on the regular drum set toms; the pitches are very similar, only the timbre is different.

It sounds like Kay is playing his famous 17" A. Zildjian Medium-Heavy ride on this tune, though he doesn't really hit it during the solo.

Get the pdf

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Listening to Ray Bryant

“I used to be a free jazz drummer, now I just want to play tight arrangements.”
— me a few years ago

That's not 100% true, but I've learned a lot of respect for the craft of arranging. Slow Train by Ray Bryant is essentially a trio record made to sound like a larger ensemble with some good arranging, and the addition of a miniature brass section with Art Farmer and Snooky Young on trumpet and flugelhorn. And the right mix— the horns are mixed 60s pop style, in the background, in one channel.

It's not the type of record musicians get excited about today, but it's extremely solid. I don't know what's up with people, if they're too hip to write things that will go over with a general audience, or if they think there's no market for it, or what. The strength here is in the tunes, the arrangements, the groove, Bryant's voice, and the great rhythm section. No extended solos, not a lot of improvisation— there is not a lot of development that isn't written into the arrangements themselves. Freddie Waits and Richard Davis aren't playing anonymously, or uncreatively— they're just playing in support of the arrangement. Davis has the big solo on the record, on Satin Doll.



Programming-wise, there's an extended dance number (Slow Train), one jazz standard (Satin Doll), five pop arrangements— one gospel (Amen), one soul (Prodigal Son), one quasi-bossa (Fox Stalker), and two Francophone-composer tunes (If You Go Away, Apple Tree). Everything but Slow Train and Satin Doll are under five minutes long.

Throughout the record you hear Waits being strategic about using a shuffle feel, or a backbeat, or a snare drum accent on 4. Except on Slow Train, of course— it's not intended to develop. I personally always want to have a concept when I play a shuffle. The arrangement has to support it, and help you get away from it. Or there's a strong leader whose playing just demands it. I don't like doing a jam session-style endless shuffle, just because somebody said he let's play a shuffle. It's a mediocre groove for that kind of playing, and it just ends up being restrictive.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Mel Lewis intro - One for Pat

I'm just taunting myself now— I've got this book of intros sitting around, almost completed, and I keep finding new things that should probably go in it, but I don't have the nerve to open it up and add them it because it will mean reworking the whole thing. That's probably what's going to have to happen.

Whatever. Here's a little intro by Mel Lewis, on the tune One for Pat, from Got 'Cha, Lewis's first record as leader, released in 1956. I never saw or heard the record before, I just saw it listed in Chris Smith's book on Lewis, The View From The Back Of The Band— it's out in paperback now, so there's no excuse for not buying it.

The tempo is around quarter note = 250, and it's a funny little thing— as Paul Motian said about Max Roach, “not-so-correct”: 




The main attraction is the rubadub passage from the middle of the second measure to the middle of the last measure. Just move your right hand to the tom tom in the third measure; left hand stays on teh snare drum. The hihat is played open all the way through.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Counting the grid

It's a *mechanical* tool, from way back.
I had a conversation with a student about counting subdivisions when you practice— “the grid.” It's a common thing to do, that I don't recommend— not all the time. It's an execution aid for playing rhythms accurately, that I find to not be great for general musicianship. My students who learned it from someone else have been prone to reading errors— they often don't seem to know what rhythm they're playing.

General principle: open your copy of Syncopation, turn to page 34— each of those repeating one measure rhythms is a piece of language, a clave. Particular rhythms like that are our point of reference for everything we do on the drums.

The grid is not a rhythm, it's a pulse. It's shapeless. If you tell your brain to think of everything as 1&2&3&4&, you're not really learning rhythm, any more than reciting the alphabet teaches you words. Thinking primarily in terms of grid, and being shaky on your basic fluency with rhythm, you're giving up creative awareness and control.

Some thoughts and guidelines:


Count the rhythm 
Be able to count the rhythms in Syncopation exactly, without saying any syllables that are not sounding in the written part. Count them in 4/4, and also in 2/2, using the syllables 1e&a 2e&a. If counting e&as with Syncopation is weird, do it with the 16th note exercises in Louis Bellson's reading book, or the reading exercises in The New Breed.


Set ups and anticipations 
Implied additions to syncopated rhythms, with special meaning for drummers, that help the other musicians play their part, and help maintain accuracy. On ensemble rhythms starting with an 8th rest, drummers will typically set up the rhythm by playing a note on the rest— that's an absolute nutshell description for playing big band style kicks. On anticipations— long notes on an &, or the equivalent with a rest (again, an extreme nutshell definition)— we want to know where the following downbeat is, for accuracy.

Two single measure examples, with the set up added, and with the downbeat after the anticipation:



Note that the second example would be problematic if you played it as a repeating rhythm, as in the one line exercises in Syncopation: on the repetitions there would be no room to add the set up on 1.


Locking parts
Grid orientation is more useful if you think in terms of interlocking parts. There is still a primary rhythm, but we are also aware of the rhythm of its gaps; together they form an interlocking grid. It's a useful way of thinking in funk and rock drumming; in jazz it sets up a rubadub type of feel.




Count before you play
Generally, I'm just not a proponent of always counting while you're playing. In music listening— even to yourself— is as important as anything else, and it's not easy to listen while you're talking.


Count beats, measures
This is a normal skill, that appears similar to counting a grid, but that actually serves a different function— counting quarter notes— 1234— while you play. Or counting 1234 2234 3234 4234. The purpose of this is just to stay oriented in 4/4, or within a larger phrase. Counting a grid is an aid for playing grid notes accurately. It's a different purpose.


“Think like a horn”
A standard piece of advice for playing the drums more musically, less like a drummer. Horn players don't typically count a grid. It's not conducive to lyrical phrasing. When counting the Syncopation rhythms, I suggest that you sing them with a horn like phrasing, with the correct note lengths— drummers will tend to sing the rhythms with all staccato sounds.

For another approach, see Dave di Censo's Rhythm And Drumming Demystified. He has developed what appears to be a very effective method for grid playing. See also my related post from last year, Time and Whatnot.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

CYMBALISTIC: New cymbals are in!

Just acquired some new Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail series cymbals for sale: there are two 18" crashes, two 20" jazz rides, a 22" jazz ride, and two sets of 15" hihats. All excellent jazz cymbals.

Here's the 22, “Hassan”, a classic of its type— this will compare favorably with any 22" Turkish K you're likely to find:



In  case you haven't visited my cymbal site, Cymbalistic: I personally select the individual cymbals I'm going to sell, and give them names for easy identification. Cymbal & Gong produces small quantities of cymbals, made in Turkey, to traditional specifications. Almost all of them are multi-purpose cymbals in the Mel Lewis tradition— everything's a ride, everything's a crash. They are the true 50s sound.

I did some videos of some nice pairs of cymbals too:



Go to Cymbalistic to check them out. The pairs are just on my YouTube channel right now.