Friday, May 7, 2021
Monday, May 3, 2021
Hi and welcome to part 3 of the series where Four on The Floor, Cruise Ship drummer and I all write about a given subject. This time we're talking about technique, specifically on how it relates to the drums.
What is technique? Well, one definition of technique I found states that it's a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.
I bring up this definition because often technique is equated with "velocity". I suppose speed is one tiny aspect of technique, but there's so much more to it than that. I'm now going to take us through all the things that, for me, define technique.
1. Time feel
I have never had a " you got it, or you don't" philosophy. To play good time at various tempos and styles, is challenging, and must be practiced! Sure, everyone has tempos and feels they gravitate towards, but to truly fill in the gaps, we have to work on this tempos that are challenging to us. Case in point, I am naturally a very ahead of the beat player, so to learn to lay back better, I had to practice playing behind the metronome, and play along with great back of the beat drumming, and to learn to place the feel where the drummer on the recording was. Like most aspects of music, time feel is something we work towards, and is a HUGELY important technique. I'm also including playing rubato in this! That's another technique that's frequently ignored.
This is ignored a ton by people. Playing the same things at different volume levels while maintaining time and groove is challenging, to say the least. Proud of your blisteringly fast single stroke roll? Let's hear it at ppp. If you can't do it, your technique is not what you thought it is.
Closely related to dynamics. Simply put, what do people hear when we play, and is it what we intended them to hear. Where are we striking the instruments? If I'm hitting rims constantly, it may be I have some sort of "concept", but it's more likely I have to refine my technique. This is part of the reason I don't put much stock in "pad practice", because it doesn't deal with sound at all, unless you're going to play a practice pad on the gig!
Another thing that gets better the more we pay attention to it. If we constantly try and find different avenues, sounds, and textures it tends to perpetuate itself! Don't be satisfied with doing the same things?having the same set up/checking out the same music all the time. That's bad technique, as far as I'm concerned!
I think because velocity can be easily measured ( they don't give out those pseudo wrestling belts for being able to play a really slow, sensuous Bossa!) it's often focused on at the expense of all the above considerations.
5. General Concept of the drums
There are a lot of different ways to approach playing this instrument. Over the course of my career, I realized I wanted to be working with the drums. I view my instrument as someone I am singing or dancing with. To be honest, I hear a lot of ham-fisted and stiff drumming out there. I think when one's first goal is to be impressive and fast, the drummer becomes more like someone colonizing and controlling the drums rather than someone engaged in a dialogue. The latter is what inspires me. Just a few of the drummers doing this ( and I'm bringing this group up because I've heard these players most recently ) would be people like Joe LaBarbara, Allison Miller, and a delightful young drummer I was just hipped to, J.D. Beck.
As people who read this blog know, I rarely "out" anyone, even when I don't like what they're doing. I will, however make an exception for the renowned ( for her racism rather than her drumming) individual Hillary Jones, who exemplifies the "colonial" style drumming of which I speak. This shows up as much in her drumming as her words.
I guess what I'm getting at the end here is, how are each of us going to approach technique, and I think deciding what's most important whether it be fast single strokes, grooving like Levon Helm, or Instagram-ready stick twirling is something we all have to figure out.
Okay, now go work on your technique.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Monday, April 26, 2021
This is inspired by a recent Cruise Ship Drummer post. I'm always interested to hear what people are practicing. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoy practicing, even after playing for 45 years!
Maybe before I talk about what I'm practicing, I'll also talk about the why and how. :)
Obviously, people at different stages of their development practice different things. I used to practice sight reading music, every day, but it's been a long time since I've done that. At this point, my reading ( at least with non-pitched instruments) is either good enough to get through whatever's thrown at me, or if it's super challenging, I either get the music in advance or I practice super challenging in the short term to "ramp up". I'd say at this point, only about 1 in 6 gigs (when we were working) requires any reading beyond looking at a lead sheet and interpreting it.
- I tend not to practice pure technique. At this point, I want everything I look at to have some sort of application. If I am practicing single strokes, for example, I will practice moving round the drums, or playing something with my feet underneath. One thing I have been working on is "push/pull" things with my hands (either off the rim, the so-called "one hand roll", or just in the middle of the drum or cymbal.) I currently put them into beats at various tempos, and I do seem to be getting better control of them with either hand.
-Speaking of the feet, I seem to have spent a lot of the pandemic working on foot ostinatos. A lot of the typical ones I've spent some time on, like left foot clave/salsa bass drums, but also have made up some of my own involving 3 and 5 beat patterns that go over the bar, or even odd groupings within the bar.
-Whenever I hear a feel on a recording that I like or seems unusual/challenging for me, I try and play along with it. I still think this is a huge challenge! If you can stay with the recording for it's whole length without ego-ing out on your own playing and losing where you are, you've probably really learned something!
-Working a lot on beats/ideas that utilize articulations such as buzzes or deadstrokes to create variety.
-I try to improvise short "pieces" often at the beginning of my practice.
-Trading, soloing and playing over vamps. Practicing playing rubato.
-I also try and review my last day's practice by either expanding on it or simply seeing if I can still play it a day later! This really helps with thematic thinking. In fact, at this stage, I'm just thinking about the whole time I've been playing as a 45 year long practice session, with some breaks! :)
-Also continuing to work on other instruments. One of the cool things about that I tend to work on really different things with each axe. If I'm practicing harmonica, I play 12Bar 3 chord blues. On piano it's mainly Great American Songbook and Jazz standards, learning to play the melodies and how to improvise on the chord changes. On ukulele, it's Pop songs I sing along to. Although I've mentioned this before, it bears repeating that these other instrumental perspectives have helped my drumming immensely!
So, this is what I'm doing. People will practice different things depending on their needs. Assess yours, either on your own or with a teacher, and then get cracking!
Thursday, April 22, 2021
Just a quick announcement that Cornerstone Records has digitally re-released the Mike Murley album Time and Tide. The album is sort of transitional and the handful tunes I'm on are only my 3rd recording, I think.
You can download it here.
…and from that album here's Jim Vivian's tune "Parabola"
Man, it's quite something to listen to something I recorded ALMOST 30 YEARS AGO! Jim, Murl, Dave, and I have all grown as musicians (and people) since then, yet at the same time there's an essence, a kernel of truth, that's been there the whole time. To observe this sort of growth in oneself and others is one of the great pleasures of being involved in music this long. I highly recommend it! :)
Monday, April 19, 2021
Friday, April 16, 2021
What's the first thing we hear when a drummer (or any musician) plays for us? We experience their sound, of course! Yet many teachers, myself included, do't talk about sound on the drum set very much. Why? Well, in a pedological environment, sound can be a tricky and subjective thing to evaluate. I also feel many people think that because sound production on a drum or cymbal is a relatively simple thing, (after, all, don't you just hit the thing?) that there's not much one can say about it. But say about it I will! Let's look at ways we as drummers can improve our sound.
This may seem pretty basic, but many drummers don't listen to the sounds they're making. That's why I don't recommend practice pads when an actual drum set is available and practical. It doesn't matter what fancy and impressive things are achieved on a pad because we don't play pads in performance! Also, only play the sounds you mean. Many "accidental" sounds on drum set can include:
- cymbals and/or drums hitting each other after we have played them.
-playing on an odd part of a cymbal or drum out of physical habit, rather than musical need or concept. This can include playing near the edge of the cymbal when riding it, playing toward the outer rim rather than the centre of a drum, hitting rims often, missing intended rimshots frequently, etc. Let me stress that ANY sound of a drum or cymbal is fair game and will be appropriate at times, it's just they have to be intentional!
Now, this will mean different things to different people. I would recommend listening to drums and cymbals of players you like and try to determine things you would want in your sound.. Does the player you like have theirs snares tight or loose? Do they tune high or low? What relationship between the top and bottom heads creates the sound you like? Do they even have bottom heads on their toms and bass drum? Are the drums muffled or ringy? Do you like the toms to dip in pitch? Cymbals bright or dark? Thin or thick? Do you like your drums sound with brushes but not with sticks and mallets? Some of these things will also depend on the type of music you're playing and the sonic environment the style tends to have. In all cases, don't be afraid to experiment with tuning, muffling, and cymbal choice, and if one plays a lot of different styles, they may need for more instruments to be purchased or compromises made. The more you listen and experiment, the more you will develop your personal appetites of what the drums should sound like.
3. Listen Part 2 (in context)
This is also style dependent. How loud of soft should you play with the band you're with? How does your sound mix with the rest of the ensemble? How does your sound change when you go from playing with a distorted guitar to a muted trumpet, for example?
In conclusion, developing own's sound is easily as important as anything else we practice on the instrument. We ignore it at our peril!
Now go develop your sound! :)