Monday, March 11, 2019

What's in your back pocket?

Recently, I got to play a bunch of great music with trumpet master Jason Logue's new 9 piece band. ( BTW Jason's arrangements are KILLER and we plan to be recording and playing more gigs soon. )
Before the gig,  Jason sent us the arrangements beforehand and after checking them out myself, I decided it would be fun to have some of my students take a crack at playing them. Here's the first page of one of the charts.

Sorry, it's somewhat cut off. I will include a full pdf as well. Now Jason writes very good charts that are very clear and don't need a lot of explanation. What was interesting is that some of the students couldn't get the first part of the chart. Not because they couldn't read, not because the chart was unclear, but because they didn't have a 12/8 beat that they could play without thinking about it.   
Granted 12/8 rhythms can be tricky, so that's even more reason to have one that's "in your back pocket' ready to go!
This got me thinking of how I often teach these rhythms. I usually get the student started on the general vibe of the beat and then give  them 12-16 variations to work on. The problem is, when the tune is being counted off with a band you don't know, a chart you don't know, you're feeling nervous , the sound is weird, etc., you don't have time to think about what you're going to do. You just need ONE thing that's reasonably appropriate and ready to go. If you don't, the attention you need to put on the 10, 000 other musical issues you're dealing will be used for trying to put a groove together you're not comfortable with. So, from henceforth ( Hear ye! Hear ye! ) I will give the student the 12-16 exercises, but I will ask them to pick one that they like the most, and they will have to have it memorized, be able to play it at at least 3 tempos and 3 dynamic markings ( Thanks Joe LaBarbera! ) and even be able to carry on a conversation with me, while still being able to play the beat steadily.
12/8 is certainly one rhythm we should be able to do this with, but what are some others? Let's make a short list.

Back Pocket Beats
Rock (8ths-based)
Funk (16ths-based )
Bossa Nova
Jazz Waltz
Ballad Brush Pattern
Medium Brush Pattern
Darn it! I forgot 2 beat swing, but definitely 2 beat swing!

Play all at at least  3 different tempos and dynamics

Now, there's certainly a lot more beats it would be good to be able to do this with, but this is a good start. Remember, you just have to have just ONE of these beats together at first, but by together, I mean you have to know it inside and out, so there's no situation you can't play it smoothly and effectively in. The source material can be from books, or learning beats by ear from recordings, but you've got to have them be as second nature as breathing. :)

And to conclude, you couldn't do much better for a rock beat or two than from the great Jeff Porcaro, shown here playing, as always with great time, commitment, and taste.

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