Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The instrument and our physical relationship with it

Oh, it's all right. I'm sure that we can handle this situation maturely, just like the responsible adults that we are. Isn't that right, Mr... Poopy Pants?

RIP Leslie Nielsen.

Okay, on with our regularly scheduled blog.
When I first started playing, I was trying to get out what I heard any way I could, and didn't think much about how I was using (or usually fighting) my body to create the sounds at the drumset. As I got older, I became a lot more aware of how many aspects of my physical approach to the drums hindered the progress I was making, and could even lead to injury if I did not deal with these issues. I still see these issues all the time with younger players.

Let's look at few....

Posture: it's just like all our Mothers tell us DON'T SLOUCH! Seriously, not sitting straight up at the instrument can easily lead to lower back problems. Elvin mentioned that earlier in his career he tended to sit lower and crouch. if you check any post 60s Elvin however, you can see he's raised he seat height and is sitting straight up. Here's Elvin from earlier:

....And here he is after he adjusted his posture.

Notice how is neck is craned and his spine is curved in the first example. In the second video his whole torso is basically straight and his neck isn't nearly as far forward. Now, of course the playing is incredible in both videos. Sometimes to play at a high level our whole careers we have to reassess how we approach the physical act of playing. If someone at Elvin's level can do it, the rest of us have no excuses.

I think the main way to avoid playing related injuries is to be as relaxed as possible, both physically and mentally while playing the drums. Physical relaxation involves loose muscles and body movement (at least in the practice room) only used to create sound. In other words, don't move your left foot unless you really want to play the hi-hat. we all need to get out of the habit of moving unless we're getting a musical result.
Mental relaxation would include barring any negative self talk while we're performing. Believe me, I know from personal experience that beating oneself up while trying to create music just causes tension and worse performance. Always be kind and gentle with yourself when performing. That is non-negotiable!

I'd like to conclude one more video. This is of Vinnie Colaiuta. I find it interesting that he's always mentioned in terms of his monstrous technique but one of things I love about him is how at home he looks where he's playing. it looks like the drum throne is the comfiest place in the world. If we all practice diligently while staying relaxed we can also feel like we've come home when we're playing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

New Rudiment and Just the Pasics!

Sorry, the Rudiment of the Week is becoming the Rudiment of the Week and a half, but here goes!
Ah, yes. I randomly chose this one at a clinic last week. A couple of things before we begin. The amount of strokes in the roll mainly denotes it's duration, so don't get too hung up on that. If you have a decent double stroke roll then it's just a matter of stopping it and starting it.
Okay here goes:

Couple of things I should mention. First, I'm sorry about the 32nd notes. Believe me, just looking at them myself gives me vertigo! Just remember all of that stuff is just 16ths doubled.

Now, the other thing I wanted to mention is that I will be submitting soon to present some clinics at the Percussive Arts Society's annual convention (PASIC) next year in Indianapolis. If you like what you're seeing here, please feel free to mention to them that you would like me at next year's convention. Email them here. Thanks for your help and I'm sorry about the delays between posts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Hey folks,
Anyone who has studied with me has received some exercises on crossovers. I'm of the opinion that they're very useful. Yes, I'm aware of the whole Gary Chester "territorial rights" thing (right and left hands stay on their respective side of the drum set) but using single strokes rather than stickings affords us more power and volume. Furthermore, when we're improvising we may have a tonal pattern in our head but not be able to pull the appropriate sticking out in the moment.

Here's a couple of newer exercises. My apologies to my master class at Mohawk as you will be seeing these again on Thursday.
Please play the following examples with only single strokes and practice them starting on either hand. If the example doesn't have anything written for the feet, by all means add the foot pattern of your choice.
One last thing, the first person to correctly identify the tune the large tom is suggesting in example 5 will receive a free Ted's Warren Commission CD. (Hint, it's a Monk tune.)
....And for those of you that think this is strictly showbiz and doesn't have artistic value, let's groove on Papa Jo Jones!

In fact let's groove on him playing brushes as well.

There's an expression that goes " For every 4 beats a drummer plays, 3 of them come from Papa Jo".
I think this is a way too conservative estimate!

The rudiment of the week is coming up next. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What makes a musician good?

Hey everyone,
After a lively debate about the Beatles on Facebook recently, I started thinking about my opinions about what qualities make for a good musician and how it's changed over the years. Inevitably when the Fabs come up, people say things to me like, "It's too bad they had Ringo", or "He wasn't a very good drummer. was he?". When I first started playing I was 10 years old and was very impressed by technical flash. For anyone who thinks that way, yes he's not a good drummer. Over years of playing and listening, however, I have come to realize that for me it's not that simple. Nowadays my assessment of a musician's abilities has more to do with many things. Does the musician make me feel anything emotionally? Do they have imagination? Do they have a distinct sound and ideas?

So as far as I'm concerned, Ringo isn't a good drummer.
He's a great one.

Exhibit 1
exhibit 2

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wear your (hi) hat proudly!

Happy Monday everyone. I just came back from Fort MacMurray where I was doing some adjudicating and I thought I would address a common set up issue with the hi-hat that I see quite frequently. Young players tend to set their hi-hat cymbals too close together, sometimes to the point where they're almost touching. There are a few problems with this. The first issue is that it doesn't give us any dynamic range with the left foot. I often tell people to imagine wanting to play a huge loud backbeat with the snare drum but only being allowed to lift the stick 1" off the drum. That's the same thing we're doing when we don't give the hats any play.
Also, if we set up that way we don't develop and strength or flexibility with the hi-hats. If your hi-hat cymbals are less than 1" apart, please open them to at least twice that width. It will feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but be patient and experiment with it as your foot adjusts.
Being able to play your hi-hat loud and clear is an important way of controlling the time in certain situations, as well as a nice colour. Don't ever let your physical set up limit your ability to make effective music.

Now go listen to some Art Blakey!!!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rudiment of the week! Part 2.

Hey everyone,
A couple of things, sorry to have been so long between posts. I had a crazy week of work and just couldn't find the time. Also, I realize I have titled this post rudiment of the week but any of these you could literally work on for years and still find new stuff to do with it. Don't feel you have to rush through practicing things. like I used to do. You'll get a lot more out of the work by really examining the rudiment and trying to assimilate it into your playing.

Okay, on to the Rudiment.

I randomly picked this one.

Ah, triple strokes. I first started working on this one in first year university, many moons ago. It's excellent for the chops. As with the first rudiment, work on it slowly as is before attempting to put it into different rhythmic groups or voice it on the drumset.

In the following examples I have started moving the sticking around the drums (all examples.) I have all four limbs playing the rudiment ( Ex. 2, 5 and 8). In Ex. 3 we are "breaking" the triple strokes between 2 drums. In Ex. 4 we are "breaking" between 3 drums. In Ex. 5 and 6 we are playing the rudiment as triple stops verses single stops or buzzes. In Ex. 7 we have moved the rhythmic grid to 8th notes to create more of an over the barline feel. Finally in Ex. 8 we have taken the over the barline feel even further by moving the rhythmic grid to quintuplets.

Obviously these are but a few examples of where we can take this rudiment. Please use your imagination and have fun making up your own variations.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

....And now, a word from my sponsors.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention two of the great companies I work with, Zildjian and Vic Firth. They have been wonderful about supplying gear, sponsoring clinics I do, etc. In both cases I was using the products for many years before I endorsed them, so it's easy to talk about both companies because I ardently believe in what they do. I'm not currently working with a drum or drumhead company, but have been talking with some interested parties and hope to have something worked out soon. You'll hear about it here first!

I would also like to link you to an excellent Adam Nussbaum video on Jon McCaslin's Four On the Floor. it's great for many reasons, but two that particularly stand out for me are his great use of space, and the idea that the tune is separate from the feel it's played in. At one point he starts playing a bossa/str. 8th type of feel but he's still definitely playing "Doxy".

One more thing before I go. The other day when I posted about some of the early music I listened to, it got me thinking of iconic drum parts, and drum part composition in general.
I sometimes think Jazz drummers feel that they always have keep changing textures, feels, etc. all the time. On the contrary, many great performances in music are founded on drum parts that don't change much. I thought I'd list a few of my favorites, along with the drummer that played them.

Milestones- Philly Joe Jones
Cathy's Clown-Buddy Harman
Sister Cheryl- Tony Williams
When the Levee Breaks- John Bonham
Inflation Blues- Jack DeJohnette
In My Life- Ringo Starr
Sugar Pie Honeybunch- Benny Benjamin

Definitely check these recordings out if you haven't heard them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rudiment of the week!

Hey everyone,
There has been a lot of talk back and forth about rudiments lately with my fellow bloggers. In honour of that, I have decided every week I will take one of the 40 international drum rudiments and try to see what I can do with it. Everyone can follow along at home, or try one of your own.

This week I picked the double drag tap.
It looks like this:

I picked this for a couple of reasons. One, I hardly ever use drag or ruff ideas and two, I feel that mine could use a lot of work.
I worked on it for about an hour today. First I played it as is, being careful to play it marching style (ruffs as 2 distinct notes) and classical style (ruffs as short buzzes).
Then I tried playing light four on the bass drum and high-hat on 2 and 4, sung a standard tune (Softly as in a Morning Sunrise if I recall correctly) and played the drag as:
-continuous 8th notes, creating a 3 8th note figure.
-quarter note triplets, so the above example would take 1 bar to complete.
Next I moved the accented note to the toms and played the rest on the snare.
Then I put the accented note on the bass drum, rest of drag on the snare.
Then accented note on hi-hat, rest on snare.
Accented note on open hi-hat/bass drum double stop, rest on snare.
Right hand on floor tom, left hand on snare or small tom, ruffs on bass drum.
Same as one before it but ruffs on Hi-Hat with foot. (I had to play the rudiment as quarter notes and at a medium tempo I could still barely manage it.)
Accented notes on bass drum and cymbal, rest of drag anywhere I felt like.
Finally, i started to try to play the ruffs between bass drum and hi-hat but ran out of time. Again, this will be a lot easier to explain once I can film it. Stay tuned!

Music I'm digging!

Hey folks,
I thought let you in on the sounds that are turning my crank these days.

The first is an Art Pepper recording Brent Rowan hipped me to.

The recording is from '57 and it also features:
Russ Freeman, piano
Carl Perkins, piano
Ben Tucker, bass
Chuck Flores, drums
I'm ashamed top admit I hadn't heard any of this wonderful rhythm section before. Great swinging stuff!

The next one is George Adams' s "Sound Suggestions" from '79. Although there are many, many great recordings of Jack DeJohnette, this album is definitely in my top 5 or so!

It also features Kenny Wheeler, Richie Bierach, Dave Holland, and another tenor sax player (besides Adams) named Heinz Sauer. This personnel create a great America meets Euro sound.
Check out this bluesy track with Adams singing. I can't believe this is on an ECM album. (Producer) Manfred Eicher must have been on a bathroom break when it was recorded!

I'd like to post a few things by Friendly Travelers. This is a duo with Brian Blade on drums and Wolfgang Muthspiel. Boston guitar guru Mick Goodrick once described Muthspiel is the most talented guitarist he'd ever encountered. As for Brian Blade, what can I say? He has such a beautiful touch, sound and time feel, and that's just the beginning. Some years back, I lent him some drums and got to hang out with him and watch him perform on a TV show. He's a truly kind and gentle soul as well as being a monster musician.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jazz - Winnipeg Free Press

Jazz - Winnipeg Free Press

Hey folks, a nice review of Michelle Gregoire's latest release. As a bandleader myself I'm aware of how difficult it is to get recordings reviewed, so it's nice to see someone who gets Michelle's music and have it published in a major newspaper.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Another brush pattern and Videos with Doug Riley

Hi everyone,
First here's a new brush pattern. It's called Double Underhanded.In it, you're playing doubles (two legato strokes per hand). On the downbeats we're heading towards ourselves and holding our hands the normal way, with the knuckles facing up. On the upbeats we'll head away from ourselves with our hand upside down so we can see our fingernails.

Here's 4 clips of my band, Ted's Warren Commission playing with the late great Doug Riley. It's hard to describe what a positive force Doug contributed to any project he was involved in, and I'm very thankful some of his work with us was documented.


Roots of Inspiration

Hi folks,
I wanted to talk about the subject of what music inspires us to make music of our own. I have never said to anyone they should only listen to Jazz, or any other music exclusively. I think it's important, especially when we are first starting, to listen and enjoy any music that turns us on. I also run into young players sometimes that are trying to deny and suppress the music they first listened to. I don't think that's a good idea. If the first music you got into was Nirvana, then by all means let it be a part of your aesthetic. I'm always a little surprised and amused when someone tells me I play Rock well. I was born in 1965, did they think I grew only listening to Count Basie or something?

So, with that in mind I thought I'd post two early influences for me.

The first one is Devo's cover of the Stones "Satisfaction:. Devo's drummer, Alan Myers, was one of the first people to imitate drum machine patterns on an acoustic drum kit. The drum part demonstrated here is almost a deconstruction of Charlie Watts original pattern, just as the whole version is a deconstruction of the Stones' classic. Simple? Yes. Appropriate? Without a doubt. Iconic? ABSOLUTELY!

Another band I loved when I was first starting to play was the Cars. I always loved David Robinson's low tuning and stripped down approach. This tune. "Touch and Go" would be fairly unremarkable except for the fact that Robinson plays in 5 during the verses while everyone else is in 4. Again, interesting but serving the music.

Enjoy! More brush patterns to follow soon.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rudiments! Don't leave home without them!

Hi folks,
I was checking out Vancouver drummer Jesse Cahill's excellent blog and I was very impressed with his thought provoking post on rudiments, In Defence of Rudimental Drumming . I'm going to share some of my ideas on the subject and although it may seem that my opinions on the subject differ from Jesse's, rest assured I also feel that most drummers do not fully exploit the language found in rudiments.

Now as far as I see it, there aren't many BASIC ways to strike a drum.
-Single Strokes
-Double Strokes
-Dead Strokes (pushing the stick into the drumhead)

I really see the listed rudiments (when I started there was 26, up from 13, and now I think are 40) as licks based on any combination of these basic ways to make sound with two sticks and a drum. What's a paradiddle? A single and a double, followed by a single and a double starting with the opposite hand. What's a ruff? A double and a stroke or ( the classical way) a buzz and a stroke.

I'm not saying you shouldn't work on the standard rudiments. In fact we should all be able to play the crap out of them (like Jesse) and then work onwards to create our own hybrid rudiments.
For example, you could play paradiddles but buzz the first note of each set of 4.
I think part of the idea with applying rudiments to the drumset is:
a) personalizing the language.
b) Taking some of the symmetry out of them to create patterns that better fit with modern music.
I know originally this stuff came from marching music, and it's also designed to build hand strength but once we learn some of these patterns it's good to either put them in another rhythmic grid ( 8th patterns to triplets or vice versa) or to either add or subtract a note to make them not divisible by 4 or 8. This will make them more applicable to the open phrasing used in a lot of jazz, fusion, progressive rock, etc.
c) Voicing them on the drum set in whatever way appeals to us.
d) Fully exploring dead strokes and buzzes. It's interesting that, because most of the rudimental literature comes from marching players, these two important and valid drum textures don't get their due.

I'm going to get into greater detail around this stuff in future posts but one great way of using some of this language is to take any exercise from "Stick Control" and do the normal stickings but play them in an odd grouping, like quintuplets or septuplets. Make sure you do this with a metronome. So if you're playing 1 quintuplet for every 2 quarter notes and you're playing doubles the first measure would be this (remember in this case there will 10 strokes, or two sets of quintuplets).
RR LL RR LL RR then the sticking will reverse...
LL RR LL RR LL. To really hear the off kilter effect this creates, put each hand on a different drum. The reason this (and any other normal sticking) starts to sound so weird is that even though the notes don't go over the barline (two sets of quintuplets per bar) the sticking does go unresolved..

Phew! Anyway, I hope that's clear. This will definitely be another exercise I will return to when I have video capability.
In the meantime, practice those 13....or 26..... or 40..........