Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The price of tea in China....

Hello music world!
The title of this post is an expression I got from my Mother. When you are having a conversation with someone and they ask you "What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" they mean, "What does what you said have to do with what we talking about?" I find this is often an appropriate expression in the drumming world, where it's often easy to get sucked into thinking and practicing things that might not be so important and ignoring things that are. I will also admit that some of the things I post here are rather esoteric. Wacky stuff on the drums is great, but it can never take place of certain "immutable principles" that I think we all have to have together before we work on anything else. Let's look at them, shall we?

1. A good sound on the instrument (this would include pleasing tuning, dynamic control throughout the drums and cymbals, consistent attack etc.)

2. Good feel and even time in whatever style we're playing.

3. Knowledge and mastery of whatever music we're playing. This includes knowledge of melodies, lyrics, basslines, chordal harmony, and most of all the FORM of a piece.

There's probably more of these so this is just a short, starting list. An example of me ignoring some of these immutable principles would be if I play some super clever thing I learned at a drum clinic but lose the form of the 32 bar tune I'm playing it on. That's not of much use, is it?

A good way to think about what to practice and how long to spend on it is to place anything you're working on in 1 of 3 sets of goals: immediate, maintenance , and long term.
I'll discuss then briefly now.

Immediate goals:
This would include anything that you have a short time to get together and is required of you for a gig, ensemble, or a lesson, in that order.
So if you got hired to play on a Patsy Cline tribute on a Tuesday and the gig's on a Friday, you'd better learn the tunes (and make cheat charts possibly too) before you do anything else. If you get together a brilliant Brazilian beat together but mess up on the gig, that's not a very good use of your time!

Maintenance and improvement goals:
This would roughly include any sort of work that will be of benefit to you in the near future but there isn't necessarily a deadline on. This is a bigger list and changes from individual to individual, but might include such things as rudiments and their applications, listening to and playing with records of various styles, learning tunes, different world grooves and styles, funk, brushes, reading, etc. A lot of this stuff might not be as glamorous as learning a tune from a Punk band that you love but no one else has ever heard of but you'll probably never play it in public so again, your practice time could be better spent.
Try to gear this list to your weak areas and things that you would be asked to do on a gig. A friend of mine told me a very funny story about a rather egotistical fusion drummer he knew who could play all sorts of drum stuff but sat in with a band playing the tune "Cute" and played time through all the drum breaks! Prioritize folks.

Long term goals:
This would include anything you want to do. It might include lifting your favorite prog rock song's drum part note for note, one handed rolls, double bass drum, etc. With this stuff, realize there will be a lot of times you play with people where you won't be able to use it and NEVER try to fit it in just because you've worked on it a lot and want to justify that. You are justifying that at the expense of the music, and that's way too high a price to pay! When I started working on odd groupings I'd say a good 2 years went by before I approached anything like playing any of that stuff in public. I also sometimes spent months ignoring it while I worked on things I had to know sooner. If you're going to play drums your whole life (and I certainly hope that you do) some things can wait a while.

I think in general, it's good to realize that all the crazy drum stuff will only mean something if you can play the gig. Gigs, for most of us mere mortals, means playing musically and appropriately with good sound and feel. There's a handful of people who travel the world playing solo at drum festivals but they're not going anywhere anytime soon!
A really good local example of a player who can make your mouth drop open but who never fails to play for the music is Paul DeLong. He has the musicality ( as well as good old career sustaining common sense) to pick and choose the spots where his virtuosity will have the most impact. I know he's sick of hearing how much I enjoy this performance of his, but here he is on Kim Mitchell's "All we are" playing the CRAP out of a 1/2 time 3/4 shuffle type groove, complete with cool bass drum placement, and great back end of the beat fills.

Thanks, and go practice something practical!

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