Thursday, April 2, 2020

Brush nuance exercises

Hey all,
Hope you're hanging in and staying safe. I saw a recent post by Dan Weiss on Instagram where he was doing finger control stuff with brushes and it reminded me of the different types of effects we can get with brushes on the snare drum while keeping our brushes on the snare head the whole time. The video below demonstrates 3 different techniques for this and the sounds they create. The first one is using very small fast movements to create accents. The sound is quite thin and staccato, even though we are still getting the sustain from the brushes continuing to sweep the drumhead. The next one is using the amount of brush surface to create the accent. This results in a lush, big sweeping sound, and generally a  legato feeling. The final way I demonstrated is to use the fingers to strike the drumhead with the part where the brush handle meets the wires, all the while continuing to sweep. This is the only stroke mentioned here where we actually get the whole drum to respond, rather than just the head. I demonstrate the 3 techniques with just quarter notes, and then the ride rhythm.

Now, if you'll forgive me, I'm going to go all FOUR ON THE FLOOR  on you and tell you what I've been listening to lately.

Sam Rivers "A New Conception" ( Steve Ellington on drums)
Sonny Stitt "Pow" ( Roy Brooks on Drums )
Mahler 3 ( Many percussionists on drums )
Bobby Timmons "Chun-King" ( Tootie Heath on Drums )
Miles Davis "On The Corner' " and "Big Fun" ( DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Billy Cobham, Al Foster, Don Alias on drums )
Ray Bryant "Sound Ray"  ( Harold White on drums. A new discovery! )

As before, keep practicing and say positive, healthy and safe!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Time to take stock

          One of the ways we can make the best of the social isolation we're dealing with is to look at aspects of our playing that we don't have time to   usually think about, let alone address, when we're playing and living normally. I have decided to "take stock" of what I'm doing as drummer. What could be changed, improved etc.Perhaps you will use this as inspiration to take stock of your own music, so let's all take a look at some of the things we've been taking for granted.

1. Sound 
This is a great time to record yourself and think about how you feel about what you hear. Or you could just try tuning your drums a different way and see how that affects how you play. Tune your drums high? Take them down and see how it sounds/feels. Like to play your snare drum low with loose snares? Crank it up for a change. For me, I've been playing on a ride cymbal in the place I've been practicing that's quite dry. Think DeJohnette/Earth cymbal unlathed sort of vibe. I decided to get over my "tape on a cymbal equals moustache on Mona Lisa" attitude and put a couple of pieces of duct tape on my 22" old K. I'm digging the results ( Lots of stick sound, way easier to control etc.) Time will tell if this drier ride sound becomes a permanent part of my set up but regardless I'm sure it will be healthy for me to shake things up a bit.

2. Types of Techniques/Ideas
This can be a great time to dig into things you normally don't do on gigs or practice much. For example, I've never done much with double paradiddles ( RLRLRR LRLRLL ) but I recently discovered some great exercises on thatdrumblog . Mr. Adam Osmianski's excesses are great because they intersperse different accents and diddles with the regular sticking, and  they are all 1 bar examples so they are very handy for variations of voicing on the drum set, as well as not being too much to keep track of, and therefore are easily memorized etc.

Although I haven't done a lot of this so far while isolated, this can be a great time to try out different set ups, and types of drums and cymbals. The drums I'm playing on in my rehearsal space feature 10" and 14" toms. I'm not convinced I would ever use a 10' tom in my set up without a 12" as well ( I find the 10' not versatile or gutsy enough) , it's been fun to have something different to play on and hear.

4. Listening
Because a lot of us have a bit looser schedule, it's a great time to listen to things we don't normally check out, or don't have time to in depth. In fact, I have dishes to do after I finish writing this, so I'm going to listen to some sort of classical piece I haven't heard before. Longer pieces of music are especially handy to check out right now, and I've enjoyed listening to the almost 17 minute Bob Dylan song, as well as some of Mile Davis' electric period music that i haven't heard much of.

You know, before we know it, we'll all be back to our busy lives, let's use this time to expand ourselves as musicians, and ultimately  humans. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Playing beautifully

One of the positive things I'm trying to take away from my forced isolation is the chance to not only practice more, but practice differently. I decided yesterday to try and play and work on whatever i was doing until it sounded beautiful to me. What were the factors in that? Well many, but some of the things I was looking for was time/groovyness, pleasing and consistent sound, good balance between the different voices of the drum set, being able to play it at different tempos and volume levels and not sound strained etc. I certainly practiced longer on smaller amounts of material. I realize using a term like beautiful might seem vague as you could say it's in the ear of the beholder, but I think that's good. We all need to decide what we think is beautiful and would to hear, and then go after that.

Also inspiring to me has been watching other talented players post stuff that sounded beautiful to me. I'm thinking about people like Ferenc Nemeth, and Toronto's own Chris Wallace, as well as non-drummers Trevor Giancola and Mike Murley.

Here's a few tunes from Peter Hum's Quintet at The Rex, shortly before our tour was postponed by COVID19. Hopefully we'll be able to resume in the not too distant future, because, this is a group that I believe plays beautifully together.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

New 5 beat over BD patterns exercises

Hi all,
Depending on your viewpoint, you could see all my posts lately as an altruistic ray of hope for my online drumming friends, or just a way fro me to keep my sanity during quarantine, or both! BTW, my online hang is still going on at 3PM everyday. ( See my previous post for details.)

Anyway, here's a five beat idea I've been playing for a long time. RLRRF, with a double stop on the last R w/ the LH playing the open H.H. and then closing it on the 5th beat.  Then add either a Samba or Salsa style BD pattern.Confusing? Wait until you see it written out! :)
 Okay,  here's  a few videos with first the dotted quarter/8th note pattern and then the tumbao type pattern. Then the next 2 have us playing the foot part with the H.H. open, giving it much more of a  70s Tony Williams /Punk Rock vibe.

My apologies about the shaky  camera and the "Belly Cam"! :) 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Let's De-Isolate!

Hey all,
I'm not afraid to admit I'm finding the lack of work, no money, and social isolation in general very challenging. In an effort to share stories of hope, practice ideas, and just general drum related hangage, I'm hosting an online meeting at 3PM EST all this week. Please come by if you feel like it. The link is

Would love to virtually see you! :)

Also, here's a great doc about Stan Levey and the Lighthouse scene in the 50s. ( Thanks to Adam Nussbaum for sending this out. )

I also have a new set of exercises that I'm going to film tomorrow, so stay tuned! :)

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Case of the Busker Bandits

Heard  a DJ on a Toronto-based classic Rock station talking about a recent incident on the subway there. Apparently, there was a pair of buskers in the subway and it turned out they were playing to tracks, and there was a subsequent uproar. I find this ironic to say the least. Firstly, isn't the whole situation with busking a "pay what you want to" one? So, if the "act" amused you somehow, what do you care if they were playing or miming? I don't think the Toronto Transit Commission offers a "Truly Live or your Money Back" plan! Also, I imagine the same people that were complaining about the canned buskers performance wouldn't think twice about paying upwards of $100 to see some of the latest Pop phenoms playing to pre-recorded backing vocals, instrumental backing, or complete miming!

Which brings to mind another point. The DJ, who I believe has worked in radio for a long time, claimed that  they wouldn't be able to tell a live performance from a mimed one! This is a major effect from the erosion of Music education in the last 20 years or so! This is yet another example of how people don't even understand what live music sounds like anymore!
Here's some ways to tell if the performance is the real deal of memorex/Milli Vanilli.

1. If it sounds EXACTLY like the recording, it probably is the recording!
Human beings are magical creatures, but they do not possess machine-like consistency. All vocals will have little shifts in inflection and tone colour. For something someone sings to be heard, they need to be very near the microphone. Same goes for instruments. Some notes will pop out more than others. Tempos and keys can be different. I still remember seeing Genesis and they played " I Can't Dance" a tone down ( probably to help Phil Collins' voice) but with it being in A rather than B, it sounded much tougher and bluesier, probably due to the open strings on the guitar and bass.

2. It's really difficult to move around a lot onstage and maintain instrumental/vocal precision. 
Do you really think that band doing something that looks like a gymnastics routine is able to make the gig sound exactly like the recording, including never sounding out of breath, despite doing double duty on vocals and aerobics?

I've mentioned this before, but I think we need to view live performance as a time to take the recording to possibly a new place, or at least a fresh one. Isn't it cool that the performance we're witnessing, even if it's material the artist has played many times, is unique? So, let's all go dig some live music and appreciate it for what it is! :)

Thursday, March 19, 2020

More Social Isolation Brushes and short solo

Hey everyone. I think I'm probably trying to justify all my time in quarantine by posting so often but here's another new brush thing. I'm going to call it either Tilt-a-Whirl or Cement Mixer. As I demonstrate, it works at a lot of tempos. In fact, it might become my new fast tempo go to pattern. I also play it in 3 and reverse the direction of the circles.

Now here's a short solo mainly using low volume sounds. I call it "Ghost Town" after my view of downtown Guelph the other day.

Hang in there. This will be over eventually.