Monday, May 20, 2024

One note / two notes

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

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

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

1-1:  ⦾  ⦾

2-2:  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾

1-2:  ⦾  ⦿⦾  

1-1-2:  ⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾

1-2-2:  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾ 

1-1-2-2:  ⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾

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

The same rhythms notated normally: 

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

1-2-1-2-2:  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾

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


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

1-2-1-2-2-2: ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾  ⦿⦾

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 17, 2024

Daily best music in the world: Tootie with McCoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Concert piano clickbait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a piece by Mozart: 

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

Monday, May 13, 2024

RIP David Sanborn

So long to the saxophonist David Sanborn.

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

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

HOT TOPIC: beat displacement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principles to consider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: mesmerized

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

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

Saturday, May 11, 2024

What it is: reading music

The world is teeming with resources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's musical structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Reed tweak: linear fill in another setting

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Subtractive method: key to BSSB-SBBS

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

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

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

Get the pdf