Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Monday, October 18, 2021
Since I am currently looking for and accepting new students, I thought I would share what I feel are the most important reasons for taking private drum lessons.
1. We are all self-taught, and none of us are self-taught.
It's easy to get into the romance of being "self-taught" and worrying that a teacher will destroy our individualism. Nothing could be further from the truth. A good teacher will direct you towards concepts and ideas you wouldn't have dreamed of, yet at the same time, it's still the student who is doing the work and deciding how to apply these discoveries. All the teacher is doing is saving you from wasting valuable time. Speaking of which……
2. A good teacher will help you avoid bad technical habits.
A instructor worth their salt will help you play in the most natural and relaxed way you can. If you start playing the drums this way, you won't have anything to "undo" later on.
3. A teacher can help you get the most out of your practice time.
Working with your teacher, you can prioritize what you work on in each practice session, and for how long.
4. There are many styles and types of teachers to choose from.
There are so many people out there playing and teaching the drums, that you are bound to find the one that focuses on what you want to learn. Be prepared to shop around and don't hesitate to ask questions of a potential instructor. Even personality and communication style can be a factor, so don't just go with the first ad you see, or who charges the least.
In closing, Tony Williams studied with Alan Dawson. But so did Vinnie Colaiuta, Cifford Jarvis, and Gerry Hemingway. None of these great player sound like Dawson, or each other! So, find a great teacher and get cracking!
Friday, October 15, 2021
I frequently work with a fantastic world class pianist. As he is also very interested in the drums and has been practicing them, we share a lot of common ground, although my relationship with both instruments would be the inverse of his. One day he invited me to hear his Jack DeJohnette "lick' and then proceeded to splash the hi-hat cymbal once with his left foot! :) Not a particularly difficult physical move, but very evocative of a lot of Jack's playing.
This reminded me of my own struggles to lift ideas from recordings and play them on piano. At this point, I really have no hope of playing solos from many of the pianists I love ( Chick Corea, Red Garland, Bill Evans, Hampton Hawes, etc.) because I just don't have much technical ability. So, I tend to lift horn player's solos. These solos are often too difficult as well, but I often find a short idea or 2 that I can use. I have frequently found vocabulary from altoist Jackie McLean and Trumpeter Blue Mitchell, for example. Are these streams of fast double time 8th notes? Nope, not by a long shot. What I can gather usually, is short melodic and rhythmic fragments, and then apply them to as many chords/tunes as I can. These little melodic gems have helped my soloing immensely, and frequently help me from getting "stuck" in a tune.
What does this have to do with playing drums? Plenty, I think. Both of the examples I've mentioned here help prove that when learning another artist's vocabulary, you don't have to learn the most difficult stuff (at first) or tons of material. First learning about Jazz and learning a Tony Williams solo? Learn what's manageable, to start. Yes, it's great to learn whole solos to learn about motivic development etc., but just get started with anything. I guarantee it will help you.
Now go splash that hi-hat, and thank Jack while you're at it!
Monday, October 11, 2021
Have you ever dreamed about playing drums? Are you transfixed at concerts by the musician in the back creating rhythm with two pieces of wood? Do your ears perk up to the sound patterns of rain, your washing machine or windshield wipers? If so, you are a drummer in hiding and it's time to stop dreaming and start drumming.
With over 35 years' experience as a professional musician and private teacher, I can help you enliven your passion for music and drums. I offer personalized lessons for teens and adults at all levels and aim to bring out your unique expression.
In-person private lessons are held at Royal City Studios in Guelph — a professional, clean and COVID-safe environment. Online sessions are also available. If you're serious about being playful, send me an email to book a free consult to find out more: email@example.com
Saturday, October 9, 2021
This weekend I am reflecting on many things I am thankful for. Family, friends and all the great musicians who have inspired me!
Here's a quick thing I was fooling around with the other day. It's just the first half of a paradiddle (RLRR) but the L is a dead stroke which sets up the last 2 Rs to be stick shots. I then add one bass drum stroke to make in a 5 beat thing. I play it here while singing "A Train" although it's hard to hear, and switch the idea to triplets in the bridge. Also note, that even though the switch back to 8th notes in the last A isn't super smooth, I kept my place in the tune, which is definitely more important…….
Have a great holiday everyone……...
Friday, October 8, 2021
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Check out this recent post from great writer Ted Giola on how to deal with critics and their opinions…..
10 Rules for Musicians (and Everybody Else) on How to Deal with Criticism
Even I felt awkward about this.
An interviewer recently asked Rickie Lee Jones to respond to something I wrote about her. I’m grateful that the journalist quoted some of the more positive things I’d said in a very long essay on Jones’s music and career—there were other passages not quite so flattering, which were quietly ignored. Even so, I found the whole situation a little unsettling.
After all, I’m writing for readers, and not to interrogate musicians. In fact, I came to the sad conclusion long ago that my vocation as a music writer makes it almost impossible—except in rare instances—to have genuine friendships with the artists I write about. So if Paul McCartney phones and asks me to join him for dinner, I simply must refuse.
Just joking there. I’m actually having dinner with Paul tomorrow.
In all seriousness, there are trade-offs in any vocation. I wish I didn’t have to be so professional in my dealing with many musicians, but the implicit covenant between a music writer and the reader imposes legitimate constraints. A writer’s responsibility to the reader comes first, overriding all other agendas—at least that’s how I see it. And that’s that.
But I have to say I loved Rickie Lee Jones’s response to the interviewer—which was, more or less, that she didn’t give a rat’s ass what Ted Gioia thinks.
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See, she grasps that her vocation also has its demands. And the last thing any musician should do is construct songs in order to please critics. Her responsibility is to her art, just as mine is to speak honestly and forthrightly to my reader. The only genuine, heartfelt advice I’d give to talented musicians is to have the courage of their convictions, and pursue their projects at the highest level they can achieve. Only they know how to do that, and what demands it imposes.
But this raises a much larger question—which is how musicians should deal with criticism. I’m claiming this is a bigger subject, because it’s relevant for everyone, whether you’re a rock star or a factory worker on the assembly line. Everybody gets criticized in this world. (And if you’re active on social media, get ready for a triple dose of it.) None of us can change that, but we can adjust how we respond to criticism.
I consider it a great advantage (although sometimes a painful one) that I have been criticized in public regularly over the years. Unlike many music writers, I have focused most of my energy on writing books, not articles. When you write books, you must deal with the reviews. And after you’ve written as many books as I have, you have learned to deal with every kind of review—harsh, kind, glowing, cruel, fastidious, dishonest, erudite, reductionist, and every other flavor.
The Art Critic by Georges Croegaert,1848–1923 (Wikimedia Commons)
I’ve had the unadulterated joy of reading a few reviewers who seemed to understand what I wrote even better than I did—they explain my viewpoint so much better than I did myself, that I wish I had hired them to write parts of the book. On the other extreme, I’ve dealt with reviewers who attribute all sorts of ridiculous viewpoints to me, filling their reviews with supposed paraphrases of my work that have no resemblance to what I wrote. The mismatch is so great that even I walk away from the review saying to myself: “This Gioia dude is a total idiot—how can that damned fool hold such nonsensical opinions?”
But the simple fact that I’ve been reviewed hundreds of times has had a sobering impact on my own reviewing. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of these journalistic exercises. This unwanted education has made me a better critic, or at least a less clumsy and heavy-handed one.
Having experienced the process on both sides, let me offer some suggestions on how musicians (and others) ought to deal with criticism. Here are ten rules I try to live by in my own experiences with harsh feedback.
(1) Never let a total stranger control or define your sense of who you are, and what your mission in life is. Of course, there are some people whose criticisms I must take to heart—starting with my wife, and close family members. But it’s not a large number of people. And it certainly doesn’t include the reviewer at the Poughkeepsie Times.
(2) That said, you can’t just ignore criticism. I applaud writers who claim never to read reviews, but I don’t suggest you emulate them. And for the simple reason that critics impact your life, and you often need to deal with the fallout. That’s true if your boss takes you to task. (“Ted, you’re not making enough widgets on the widget assembly line—I’m taking away your overtime hours.”) And it’s also true if a hit piece on you runs in the New York Times. So you pay attention to the criticism, not because it defines you (it doesn’t), but because as a professional you responsibly deal with the consequences of your actions, whether deserved or not.
(3) Absolutely try to learn from every bit of criticism, if at all possible—although you shouldn’t assume the critic understands what you do better than you do yourself. In general, people are overly polite in our day-to-day lives, and will avoid telling us unpleasant truths. So it’s a great favor to us when they speak bluntly and honestly. Receiving tough feedback is never fun, but it can be one of the most productive experiences in your life. However. . . .
(4) Much of what passes for criticism can be safely ignored because—and I hate to say this—it isn’t honest criticism. So it’s impossible to get much useful feedback from it. It pains me to make that admission. As a critic, I like to think highly of my tribe. But so much of what is published nowadays is grandstanding, posturing, click-chasing, score-settling, spin, hot takes, and the exact opposite of the frank, honest guidance we want and deserve from critics. This is sad for many reasons, but one of them is that it limits our ability to learn and genuinely benefit from criticism.
(5) It’s almost never a good idea to respond to a critic. Don’t do this unless it is absolutely unavoidable. If the original criticism is valid, you learn from it and move on. But if the criticism is dishonest or angry or openly hostile, follow-up exchanges won’t be any better.
I can only recall two times in my entire life when I wrote a response to a negative review. And it might have been better to let even those two instances pass by unnoticed. I do believe it’s acceptable to clarify specific factual errors in someone’s account of your work. But just debating opinions—which, after all, are the reviewer’s stock in trade—is almost pointless. Let people who disagree with you have their chance to speak their mind, and live with it.
(6) If your creative work is taking you in new and bold directions, don't let critics see it until it’s ready for their feedback. I’ve learned this the hard way. I won’t even whisper about the books and essays I’m writing nowadays until they are almost completely finished. I’ve had promising projects destroyed because I let outsiders critique them too soon. You can’t judge a vacation by the plane trip to the destination, and no critic can fairly assess your work if it’s still in embryonic (or even post-embryonic) condition. So protect yourself by keeping the engine room of your creativity well guarded.
(7) Don’t let your emotions rule you when dealing with criticism. I saw this at work in my early years. The boss would walk in the door and scream in people’s faces. Some of my colleagues would fume for days after these incidents, but I saw that as letting the boss live rent-free inside your head. Just on principle, you shouldn’t let anybody do that, whether a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a teacher in school, or even a columnist at the Altoona Daily News.
(8) Even unfair criticism can make you stronger. The world is far gentler today than it once was, but back in the day, I encountered sports coaches, bosses, teachers, and other people in positions of authority whose criticism was as subtle as a hand grenade in a foxhole. They often crossed the line, and I absolutely don’t condone their techniques. They espoused a theory of criticsm that would get you fired in the current day, and legitimately so. But here’s the good news: almost nothing phases me at this stage in my life. I couldn’t have gotten to that rare place without having lived through those over-the-top experiences. Like the boy named Sue, you can benefit from even the most unfair labels and critiques.
(9) And consider this: If criticism is getting more intense, it’s often a sign that you’re having an impact and some success. During the first decade of my work as a musician and writer, no one ever criticized what I did—and for the simple fact that nobody paid the slightest attention to it. But when I started selling books in larger quantities, the intensity of criticism increased in direct proportion to my royalty checks.
I didn’t experience my first genuine hatchet job until the age of 40—what a shock that was! But it’s no coincidence that this hostile rant came in response to the breakout book that would give me access to a large global audience. I now grasp that this is a fairly common rite of passage. And, as far as I can tell, it’s the same in every sphere of life. If you shoot hoops at the gym, no one cares, but if you play in the NBA Finals, a million people criticize your every move. And it’s just as true in everyday work environments—the more responsibility you take on, the more you will be scrutinized and found wanting. So at least comfort yourself with the realization that tough and even unwarranted criticism is typically a sign that you’ve made some genuine progress.
And, finally. . .
(10) The only way to avoid criticism completely is to say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. If you go down that path, the critics will disappear. But don’t ever give them that much power over you.
Monday, September 27, 2021
Sometimes it's good to be reminded of what practice is, and why it's different from performance. This happened when I checked out a recent Four On the Floor post. The great John Riley was featured, and as I watched and listened to him play through some very challenging material, I was struck by a few things. Firstly, I realized how well he knew the material as he went from one challenging coordination pattern to another without changing the ride beat & groove at all, and playing each example flawlessly. Secondly, actions speak louder than words so let's check out a relatively recent performance of Mr. Riley playing with a quartet.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Sunday, September 19, 2021
′′ My jump isn't high enough, my spins aren't perfect, I can't put my leg behind my ear Please don't do that. Sometimes there is such an obsession with technique that it can kill your best impulses. Remember that communicating with an art form means being vulnerable, being imperfect. And most of the time it's much more interesting. Believe me ".
Friday, September 17, 2021
Monday, September 6, 2021
Lately, my wife and I have been enjoying Marc Lesser's teaching on mindfulness. Check out how he relates his experiences with high school wrestling with a greater understanding of concentration….
I was captain of my high school wrestling team during my senior year of Colonia High School in north-central New Jersey. One of the teams we regularly faced was J. P. Stevens High School from Edison. They were consistently one of the top-rated teams in the state and often sent wrestlers to the state championship. During the warm-up period, my team behaved like most high school wrestling teams. We ran briskly onto the mats, did some exercises, and made a lot of noise. The main objective of our warm-up was to demonstrate our prowess to the opposing team.
In contrast, the J. P. Stevens team walked out slowly and quietly onto the wrestling mat. They were poised, focused, and concentrated, preparing themselves for the task ahead by settling and quieting their minds. They seemed disinterested in our team. Their uniforms were black, and their heads were nearly shaved. They didn’t talk or smile. I knew right away that this was the team I wanted to be on. I think of this as an early sign of my desire to be a Zen student (and at times a Zen monk.)
One of the things that intrigued me in high school wrestling was the power, passion, and complexity of concentration. I noticed that my desire to win and my fear of losing often interfered with my performance, my concentration, and my enjoyment. I knew that something very important was going on, and I also felt that something very vital was missing. By my senior year I was a fairly good wrestler, having faced some of the better competition in the state. Competing with the best in the state was, as my coach proclaimed, a good way to develop. Our coach used to ask, “Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a big fish in a large pond?” This was his way of explaining that although we were a new and inexperienced team, it was useful to wrestle against the best teams in the state, even if it meant being utterly demolished and embarrassed.
In watching other wrestlers, I noticed that the good ones were usually strong and athletic and really wanted to win. The best wrestlers, those who became state champions, seemed different. They weren’t always the strongest or quickest or the most athletic looking. They certainly cared about winning, but they did not seem caught up in winning and losing. Rather, they appeared focused on what they were doing. They seemed to move and act from a deeper place than the good wrestlers. They often seemed a little odd and appeared not to care what others thought of them. I knew that there was something to learn from these wrestlers and that the lessons to be learned would translate far beyond the wrestling mat.
Lots for us musicians to chew on as well. Why are we doing this? If it's just to be the fastest/loudest/most impressive we're not going to be doing this as deeply as someone who is just fascinated by every part of making music………...
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
This coming September, I will have been playing the drums for 45 years, and man are my arms tired!
Seriously, it amazes me after all this time, experience, listening, and frankly hard work, there is still so much to learn.
Case in point. I have been using a hybrid "push/pull" technique to play streams of notes, especially in my right hand, but I've never been super satisfied with the results, and it tends to feel very inconsistent. I stumbled across Rick Dior demonstrating Peavey drums. As he aptly showed in that video, he is a great drummer with very good technique. So, when I saw he had some videos involving push/pull, I had to check it out. NOTE: This is not his first video on the subject, so if you're just starting to develop this, I would advise you to watch his beginning video first.
So, there's lots of great info here. I have decided to work the concepts he's talking about here to clean up my technique. I'm vowing to work on it at least a half hour a day, but also to make sure to play along with recordings, jam etc. as well so I don't get obsessed with this one technical idea. ( I have done this in the past, and the results weren't pretty.) When this post is published, I'll have been working on this for about a month, so I'll let you know of my progress. Oh, I also wanted to mention that I like his demonstration because he also mentions how to apply this technique, because without application, what's the point?
So, it's not really a trick I'm working on, but a technique that hopefully will open new paths to creativity. Stay tuned……
UPDATE # 1
It's only been 3 or 4 days, but it's starting to feel a LOT better, particularly in the left hand. I'm also trying to be equally comfortable with the technique in French and german grips, so I've got my work cut out for me!
Another set of factors when learning something new within a skill set one has are proactive and retroactive interference ( thank you university 1st year Psychology! ). The proactive interference (my new learning being affected by my old learning ) is that I use so much rebound, I now have to control it in a different way to make this technique work, and it makes it challenging for sure. The retroactive interference I have to manage is that the old way I use rebound works very well for things, particularly playing a fast Jazz ride rhythm, so I don't want this new technique to affect what I already am happy with. Okay, back to the shed………
UPDATE # 2
It's subtle, but I think this technique is starting to influence my sound. Because rebound is part of this technique, I find that in general I am playing more up off the drums rather than down into them and getting off the drum head slightly quicker. Not that I'm comparing myself to them at all, but the sound and feeling is more bright and ringy like Buddy Rich or Louis Bellson and I'm digging it a lot!!!
AARRRRGGGHHH!!!! UPDATE #3
A couple of weeks later. It's coming along slowly. But then Guelph fine drummer Sam Cino posts this!!!!!!!
Mr. Montagner has really mastered this, and without using his fingers!!!! Also, he shows a lot of other great techniques. I think as far as a lot of this extreme technique stuff goes, I'm most attracted to the Brazilian take on it because it always seems to be about representing the music. Okay, back to the drawing board…...
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
There are no coincidences. Just before Charlie Watts' death, I had been trying to capture Phil Rudd's feel on "It's a Long Way to the Top" and failing miserably. I was also cooking up a typically brainy/complicated bunch of exercises. Then I found out about Watts' death, and it's made me really think about simplicity and directness in music, two things Charlie Watts was brilliant at.
Firstly, anyone who thinks that anyone could do what he did doesn't know much about drumming, or music, for that matter. Anyone could probably technically manage the notes, but very few can make it feel that beautiful and swinging. And playing without artifice and flash ( an increasingly rare commodity ) takes patience, skill, lack of ego, and a lot of guts!
I didn't denigrate Charlie's playing when I was younger, but I also didn't appreciate it or understand it either. I have no doubt the Stones wouldn't have lasted nearly as long without his steering their ship. Even his lack of interest in most of the Rock Star trappings kept him on course to play beautifully and consistently from the early 60s to his last gigs with the band in 2019.
I met Mr. Watts once at the Montreal Jazz Festival. He noticed my cymbal bag and I grabbed his hand and shook it, saying " Hey Charlie Watts. I'm a drummer too. I've got a gig tonight!", and then rode up to my hotel room in a later elevator because I felt so foolish about what I'd said. No matter. Even if I had been the coolest I had ever been in my life, I still wouldn't be half as cool as Charlie Watts was every day of his.
Thanks so much for the music Charlie, and safe journey.
UPDATE: I have seen a lot of posts lately making a big deal over whether Charlie was a "Jazz Drummer" or a "Rock Drummer". I really think what he did was way beyond any sort of style. Check out this article in The Guardian , especially the part where Max Weinberg talks about bringing Joe Morello and Mel Lewis to see the Stones. Both Morello and Lewis realized Charlie was great at playing the drums appropriately and kicking the band, in other words, BEYOND STYLE!!!!
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Monday, August 23, 2021
Saturday, August 21, 2021
Thursday, August 19, 2021
This past weekend I had 2 gigs booked (which turned into 3) They were all out of town. (Including a last minute replacement job in Toronto, which is still almost an hour from my place.)
Now, there are some issues with these performances that in the past I would have complained about , including:
-the sound. First gig on Friday night was on a very boomy room, so it was challenging to not have the drums over balance everything. Ironically, the second gig was outside so the sound disappeared. :)
-the driving. Within 2 days I probably spent at least 8 hours in the car.
-the shlep. I needed to bring my drums into 2 of the gigs and the load in on the first one was quite challenging….( The last minute replacement gig had house drums, but I had to bring my drums inside because I had no time to drop them off between gigs.) Speaking of which……….
-I got to the replacement gig w/ only about 30 minutes before we started. By my standards, that's cutting it pretty close.
-I got caught in a traffic jam at midnight on the way home because of construction.
But you know what? I have felt was GRATEFUL! Let me count the ways….
- I got to play with a bunch of great musicians (including vocalists) that are great at what they do, listen carefully, and are lovely souls to hang out with.
-The gigs paid between good, and very good. No complaints there either.
-The audiences were very warm and appreciative.
-The staff and organizers of all the gigs treated us with kindness and respect.
-my new (for me) Premier snare drum sounds and feels killer!
-I got to play drums with real live musicians again!
So, what I'm trying to say is, from now on, I'm going to take nothing for granted. Any day above ground is a good day. Any day above ground and playing drums is an excellent day! :) Let's all be grateful!
UPDATE: TODAY'S THE DAY! COME CHECK OUT SWITCHEROO TOO ( Dave Restivo- Drums, Rob McBride-Bass, Ted Warren-Piano) on a livestream from Silence in Guelph. 8PM-EST Donations made via e-transfer or PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Monday, August 16, 2021
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Monday, August 2, 2021
Monday, July 26, 2021
Friday, July 23, 2021
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
From the Granelli family's FB page…..
We are so sad to report that Jerry Granelli passed away at his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia around 9am Atlantic time this morning. This December, just before his 80th birthday, as some of you might know, Jerry suffered a near fatal case of internal bleeding. He was rushed to the hospital where he spent the next two months in ICU. After finally being stabilized, there were still more time spent in hospital as he slowly recovered while dealing with a number of other long term health issues exacerbated by his initial issue. He recovered enough to finally return home. He has been getting better, going out for longer and longer walks, going to the Y, making friends with a crew of scooter & walker users.
Jerry was a true force of nature, he will be greatly missed by his three children, five grand children and all of the countless people he touched through his music and spirit.
This past Sunday he put on a Workshop: Art In Everyday Life - The Creative Process, as part of the Creative Music Workshop program at this year’s Halifax Jazz Festival. It was attended by people, in person, as well as being simulcast- here it is: https://youtu.be/dGJqZOVI4tM.
“One reason why people like improvised music is that it’s a direct reflection of life, not something we thought up. It scares you…makes you think you’re going to die for a moment…do you have the courage to play? Can I move out of my desires and wants, and into compositional choices?”
Jerry was already making plans for a number of new recordings, to produce a play about his life and of course he was looking forward to performing Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas this coming December in Halifax. Next year the plan was another cross Canada tour as well as a tour in Europe. His career spanned 60+ years and Jerry has had the opportunity to perform with the likes of Charlie Haden, Mose Allison, Sonny Stitt, Sly Stone, Ornette Coleman and Vince Guaraldi. Jerry has recorded over 30 albums, his last a tribute to mentors Mose Allison and Vince Guaraldi. His compositions have been recognized by institutions such as the ECMAs, the Junos, The Grammy Awards, the National Library of Congress Sound Archives, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jerry has spent his life dedicated to the art of improvisation, helping young musicians see the connection between life and the art they create and the ordinary magic of living a spontaneous life. A long time practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism Jerry has been an important proponent for people in all walks of life of meditation practice and living one's life awakened and fearlessly.
A large network of both music and Dharma students will miss his fierce spirit and compassion.
His life and work live on through them.
The only thing I would add to this statement is that Granelli, like Paul Motian and Guy Nadon, was a drummer who pretty much lived the evolution of Jazz in his own playing. He started out playing fairly straight ahead piano trio, but went on to play very open form music. No matter the style, he always played with taste and imagination. I saw him playing about 5 years ago, and he performed with the fire and energy of a person in his 20s. He will be missed, but not forgotten…….
Monday, July 19, 2021
This was inspired by a recent post by Joe Farnsworth on Facebook. I can't post it here but I would highly recommend checking it out. He says he's demonstrating some ideas that Art Taylor was shown by Kenny Clarke. He then proceeds to play A LOT of brushes. :) A fair amount of it went by so quickly I just grabbed a couple of things. ( There was certainly lots more to learn but I had a limited amount of time to watch it.)
So, the following 3 videos deal with what i got from it. Some of it might not even be correct. Mr. Farnsworth plays a different grip than me, has more together on the brushes than me and is much better dressed than me, for a start! Okay, here they are:
Thursday, July 15, 2021
Monday, July 12, 2021
Here's some great footage of Al Jackson Jr. playing with Booker T & the MGs.
A few observations:
Check out the big dynamic range!
Even when he's chocking the cymbal on his left side, he switches hands and brings his RH to the snare to keep the backbeat going.
Even though it's a shuffle feel, he keeps his timekeeping to quarter notes and occasionally goes to triplets in his fills. Very elemental, in the best way!
Also he's bending the pitch on the small tom near the end of the tune. he was a colourist while still taking care you the groove! Enjoy!
Friday, July 9, 2021
In an interesting example of serendipity, I was listening to an interview with Colin Moulding ( ex-XTC ) where he mentioned the quote below as inspiration for his newest single and the same day Dan Weiss featured the quote on his IG page. Great minds think alike. Anyway, here it is…..
To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- E.E. Cummings
There you go. Lots to chew on there……………..
Monday, July 5, 2021
Peter Erskine's Infinity Drummers List is the gift that keeps on giving. recently, he posted this great track from The Yellowjackets featuring the incredible Will Kennedy on drums…….
Cool groove, huh? And here's Mr. Kennedy explaining the main beat he played…..
Also worth mentioning is how Peter Erskine described the performance on the recording. please note how Will keeps things bubbling and interesting without ever losing focus or the groove. He is a master at improvising within the "fusion" rhythm section arena ... exciting without blowing his cool.
Of course Mr. Erskine is absolutely right, and that got me thinking about how we as drummers have balance different amounts of keeping the form, groove, and interaction with the soloist depending of the style/situation we're in.
Let's take a look at a very different example. Here's Rashied Ali playing with John Coltrane on Trane's tune "Ogunde"
Now, there's definitely a "Head" in the sense that there's a melody that's played at the beginning and end, but the band plays rubato throughout so they're not necessarily thinking of a groove, more like keeping the momentum going while filling up the sonic space. And as far as the blowing goes, they're playing off the spirit of the melody, but otherwise it's definitely open….If you don't generally play styles like this, it's good to play along with open form music to figure out ways to support the soloist and create variety without necessarily playing in a strict tempo.
Now, here's an example that plays against type. Although Tony Williams was very at home in Avant Garde musical situations, he also knew when a tune needed a relentless groove as a "hook". I won't tell you what the tune is, but if you've heard it more than once, you will recognize it from the first couple of bars….
Also note that Tony doesn't really deviate much from that groove the whole performance through. Certainly he follows the dynamics inherent in the tune and the soloist's needs, but for a drummer who could play lots of crazy things, HE DOESN'T. Why? Because that doesn't suit this tune…….
I think what we can conclude is that we as drummers are constantly navigating how attention we're putting on the form/arrangement, the groove, and the soloist and/or vocalist. There is no "one size fits all". it totally is situation dependent. As always, use your ears, both when enjoying other's performances as well as when you're in the driver's seat!
Thursday, July 1, 2021
It's no secret that the first people who lived in the land we now call Canada (and still do. See diagram showing percentages of population by province/territory)) have been treated horribly by the Europeans that "settled" this nation.
It is time for the descendants of the settlers to listen, learn, and make reparations. We have to do so much better………
UPDATE: Please join me in this course (you can take it for free online) from the University of Alberta). I started it a few days ago and I've already learned so much!
Monday, June 28, 2021
Extreme listening is probably a misnomer, but I wanted to talk about focused listening today. Simply put, it can be as basic as listening with no distractions. I like to practice listening (to recordings) at home as intensely as I would on gig, and try to give it the same sense of responsibility. Try to learn everything you can each time through the recording. As an example, I randomly pulled up this recording from my library.
Wow! Fantastic. Louis Hayes is someone I really have slept on, and I'm going to address that! But here are some brief notes I made on one pass through the recording. I can't say I'd never heard it before, but I don't think I'd listened to it in such an active way before. Okay, here goes…
Notes on Phineas Newborn Jr. “Juicy Lucy”
Trio, Pno, bass, drums,
4 bar piano intro
2 feel on the As in head, 4 to the bar on bridge
higher dynamic on bridge in head
4 feel for solos
Piano solos first
plays 8ves, busy stuff too
four on snare and piano comping in second chorus of piano solo for first 2 As
bass solo 2nd, dynamic in piano and drums significantly lower 2As
“Shout”in B section
Last A back to the head
2 bars tagged 3xs
4 choruses in total
So, not bad. As you can see, the first listens are about a lot of the macro issues of the recording. These include things like form, how many solos, instrumentation, overall dynamics etc. But this is just the beginning. In subsequent listenings you can get to things like dynamic curve and interaction between soloist and drums, and specific drum things you want to lift, is the tune a contrafact of another tune, listening to each player individually all the way through, etc. This is where the real deep learning takes place and of course, can be a great alternative to physical practice as it's easily as, if not more important.
Happy EXTREME listening, but don't be chicken about it! :)
Friday, June 25, 2021
So, why create content when you can just steal someone else's hard work? :)
Seriously, before you read any further you need to go to this recent 4 on the Floor post.
Now, check that out and get that together, which is a tall order in itself! As I was doing that myself , I came up with some variations on Mr. McCaslin's thought-provoking and challenging material. Let me be clear, this is not about "one-uppersonship", but rather a demonstration of how the creative process is often a collective one, where ideas are shared and discussed, even if it is only in an online fashion.
Okay, so once you've got Jon's exercises reasonably well in hand you can…..
1) Make all LF notes splashed hi-hat.
2) " "" " alternating splashed and closed hi-hat.
3) Make all non-cymbal or bass drum notes either buzzes or dead strokes.
4) Make all bass drum notes muted (sticking the beat into the bass drum head).
5) "" "" "" alternated muted and open notes.
6) Divide the triplet ideas between RH and LH. Snare plays dotted quarters. BD plays quarter notes.
7) "" "" "" Snare and bass drum alternate dotted quarter notes, either start w/ snare or bass drum.
8) " "" """ Snare and bass drum play dotted quarters in unison.
9) "" "" Snare and bass drum play dotted quarters in doubles.
10) Same as 9) but sn & bd play the pattern in paradiddles.
11) As originally written but left hand moves to another drum or cymbal every stroke
12) As any above but sing any blues head while doing it. You will notice that the dotted quarters work out over a blues evenly, so it's also a way of checking if you're playing it accurately.
13) Oops! Lucky 13! I almost forgot. Practice as is but experiment with different ride rhythm articulations. i.e. Accent on 2& 4, accent on the skip beat, more of a dotted 8th/16th feel etc.
Obviously, these are just a small sample of the mischief one can get into with these.
Also, I realize these coordination exercises can be very challenging, but just stick with them, and as Jon rightly mentioned, play slow and steady. I often compare coordination on the drum set as like a series of rooms with doors at either end. One struggles to get a door open, you then get comfortable with it, and then the next door appears!
Rinse and repeat for the rest of your life!
Much thanks to Jon for these great exercises. Remember, when another musician gives you a challenge, it really is a gift! :)
* I haven't had any alcohol or sugar in a year and a half, so please enjoy whatever refreshes you! I highly recommend one of the naturally flavoured soda waters currently available!
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Monday, June 21, 2021
If there has been theme to my drumming practice the now year and a half of weirdness we're experiencing, it could be foot ostinatos. I have used this time to work on left foot clave, over the bar line foot patterns etc…..but I was recently reminded of a great clinic Ian Froman did and that inspired this latest group of exercises.
In a nutshell, Ian has a concept of opening up and making one's time feel more modern through subtractive processes. In other words, he talks about leaving notes out of the ride rhythm, and interrupting the constant 2 & 4 on the hi-hat. This is what the first two exercises are demonstrating. I then added in the bass drum, and the rest is various combinations of the 2 feet.
Friday, June 18, 2021
As we're nearing the year and a half mark of no to minimal work for music-makers, I'm reminded of the cliche acting line, "What's my motivation?". This is apropos for all musicians as this time as we have to balance, even more than usual, the void between art and commerce. I recently compared re-heading and putting new snares on, accessing all my cymbals etc., to the owner of a bus company who has all their fleet in the garage for maintenance, but is unsure if the the wheels will ever roll again. I got some very heartfelt and kind responses to this, but most people thought that meant I was giving up music. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I am harbouring doubts about whether I ever will make even a meager living from playing the drums anymore. Perhaps because I have never made much money from playing, I am quite prepared to find another way to pay my bills, and in fact this process has started already. If some sort of" live music boom" ends up happening when things open up and more people are vaccinated, nobody would be happier than me, but I'm not counting on it. Perhaps I'm fortunate, but I studied music for at least 10 years before I became a "professional" at it. During my early years of study, I developed a love of learning about music for it's own sake, and that has helped me immensely during this time. I'm currently working on soloing on "Giant Steps" on piano. Is anybody clamouring for me to do this? Definitely not. But I'm having a great time and learning lots.
Don't get me wrong. I miss so many things. The camaraderie with the band, waitstaff, and audience, the team effort of making music, hearing a band and peers develop, recording, etc. But there's more to it for me. I'm on a path, and will continue on it for as long as I'm able.
So, ask yourself, "What's Your Motivation", and decide. It's your choice and your choice only……..
Thursday, June 17, 2021
I get that drum, cymbal, and stick companies are trying to sell product. They are in business after all.
However, the sound, feel, and concept of what happens to those objects comes from YOU!!!!!!!!!
Case in point, the first time I saw Elvin Jones play, he was playing borrowed cymbals he'd never seen before, and it sounded like it always it. It didn't matter!
And speaking of Elvin, here's his trio with Joe Farrell and Jimmy Garrison playing "Keiko's Birthday March" on the BBC. Enjoy!
Monday, June 14, 2021
I'm not going to lie to you. Recently ( this was written in mid-May) life has been challenging. I have had a very slow recovery from a knee injury, there are no gigs of course, and I haven't been able to play a full drum set in over a month due to the current lockdown. What's keeping me sane? LISTENING! And to that end, I have decided to listen to ( and eventually play along with) every tune on Peter Erskine's Infinity Drum Playlist. Here it is on youtube….
And here's the Playlist spreadsheet with Mr. Erskine's illuminating notes on each track…..
Phew! 300 and some recordings, with new ones being added every day! I am about 80 or so in, and again I'm not going to lie to you, I was amazed and how many recordings (drummers) I didn't know! Rather than beating myself up for this, I instead am enjoying all this great music I was previously unaware of.
It's also interesting to observe my reactions to the different tunes, styles, and drummers. There's a lot of "Wow, I slept on that" exclamations to a lot of the small group pieces, a great appreciation of a lot of the fusion and big band recordings, and some tunes that really GET to me emotionally (The James Brown, and Michael McDonald tunes, in particular). There's also occasionally things that I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to listen to, which makes the playlist even more handy as there's something to learn from every tune on the list. It's also cool to see how the tunes reflect Erskine's own experience and demographic (he'd be about 10 years older than me, I suspect) through the inclusion of the Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson big band stuff, for example.
So, thank you Peter Erskine. Not only for so many of your own great drum performances, but for sharing these recordings with us and will keep me engaged, sane, and learning until we can play again! :)
Friday, June 11, 2021
It must be all the time off, but I find myself extra rant-y these days. Today is no exception. I continue to be bombarded with warm-ups, chop builders, practice pad etudes, etc. I think it's important to stress that all this-physical-functioning-at-the-instrument is just a MINOR part of what we do!
We absolutely need to
-be able to read music
-know forms and melodies of many tunes
-be able to interpret and memorize new compositions quickly
-listen deeply, not only to the other musicians around you, but yourself as well
-have a sound that you desire, and not just play any old way (see above)
-be able to shape a band's sound and vibe with our playing
-groove, in every sense ( this includes rubato music)
There are so many people out there that constantly play at one dynamic, or one style, or always play the same stuff behind a soloist. Do yourself a favour. learn a standard tune ( if it's a great American Songbook tune, learn the lyrics as well ) and CREATIVELY apply it to something you want to do on the drumset. Making exercises out of drum books is okay, but it really is then just taking you a step further away from the music.
Thanks, and happy musicality!
Monday, June 7, 2021
I hear a lot of musicians complaining about the tunes they are required to play. Yes, I agree some tunes seem "hipper" than others, yet when we blame a lacklustre performance on the material we are playing, we abdicate a lot of our personal responsibility and power. Bill Evans described tunes as "vehicles". In other words, we can inject whatever we are playing with as much life (or death) as we want.
I've probably mentioned this before, but the first time I saw Ray Brown's trio play, they opened with "You Are My Sunshine" with Ray playing the melody. It's probably not the most amazing composition ever, but it sure sounded great when they played it! Sure, they could have played some more obscure original tune, but they started with "Sunshine". Everyone knows that tune, and it got the audience on board IMMEDIATELY.
Even if you're playing tunes that don't include improvisation, do what actors in the theatre do and create "the illusion of the first time". You want to make your performance always sound fresh .
As well as Ray Brown, Sonny Rollins always has played music familiar to all and added the hipness himself! Here's a concert he did in Montreal where he opened with the Dolly Parton hit " Here You Come Again". Sonny sounds great of course, and check out DeJohnette's serious badass shuffle!
In conclusion, if you find yourself disliking a certain tune, find a way to rearrange it, or change what you're playing, or change your attitude to what you're already playing etc. Accept your boredom/frustration with a tune as a challenge, and as a creative person you will find an innovative solution! I look forward to hearing it!
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Wow ! Check this out. Noted Bassist/Educator/Author Ronan Guifoyle interviews Pat Labarbera about his work with Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones!
It's a fantastic interview and even offers some insight into possible tensions between Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.
Thursday, June 3, 2021
When I was 14 years old, I had been playing the drums for 4 years. I hadn't really played with a band, other than concert bands. What did I appreciate in drummers I saw and heard? Flash, speed, volume, and spectacle. That was about it. As time went on I learned about what it takes to be a team member and make a band sound great. I listened to music and tried to learn why the drummers (and other musicians as well) made the musical choices they did. I tried my very best to serve the music the best I knew how, and still strive for this everyday.
Why, do you ask, do I bring up the idea of a 14 year old boy's aesthetic?
BECAUSE THE MUSIC WORLD SEEMS TO BE DOMINATED BY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Everywhere I turn, social media is filled with stick-twirling, no dynamics playing, self attention seeking, frankly….IDIOTS!
And the worst part is, most (but not all, mind you) of the industry, from publications, to instrument companies, etc. is ENCOURAGING AND CELEBRATING THIS!!!!!!!!!!!
I mean, if I was just starting out, I would probably feel if I didn't have blistering hand/foot chops and some sort of gimmick, that I wouldn't have a place in the music world. As well, I probably would have ignored all the things that have kept me working as a musician. Things like reading, brushes, blending in an ensemble and dynamics, various feels, and listening, to name a few.
I sometimes feel worried about where the drums are headed these days. I believe the pioneers of this instrument didn't give their whole lives to developing the modern drum set so self-centred kids could do circus tricks in the pursuit of "likes". There has GOT to be more to it than this……..
Okay, rant over. Throw away your practice pad and learn how to make a band sound and feel great…...
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Monday, May 24, 2021
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Monday, May 17, 2021
As I have said recently, the net is such a strange place. I started one evening trying to figure out who the drummer was with Woody Herman when I saw the band play in Regina in the early 80s. I didn't find out for sure, but I came across the name Dave Ratajczak on a Thundering Herd record released around the same time. This research into Mr. Ratajczak's work lead me to a short film he starred in, entitled The Drummer . ( Sorry, I can't seem to embed it, but just click on the link. ) Dave Ratajczak, as well as being a great drummer, has real presence on the screen. So many elements of the movie ring true, especially the weird social experience of playing a wedding where you haven't met any of the band before and are assumed to be the leader because you got to the gig first and that you and the rest of the group live together like the Beatles in the HELP movie! Also worth noting is the sexism directed towards the female vocalist as well as the economic realities of trying to survive as a musician in a big urban centre. Most films about musicians I find incredibly phoney and inaccurate, but Bill Block (director) did an amazing job! I would encourage all musicians to see it.
Friday, May 14, 2021
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Monday, May 10, 2021
Instagram/Tik Tok Fame
Super obscure world music beats
The latest hip drummer
Playing on vamps
Odd time signatures
A particular grip
Playing like a drum machine
Latest IG Hero/Heroine
Sunny Murray/Allison Miller
Classical snare studies
A loose, comfortable grip
2 feel on the high-hat
Playing on form of a tune
Open solos that tell a story
Long running music venues
Stick Control/Accents & Rebounds
Knowing melodies/forms of tunes
Playing gear you think sounds best
Presence and Respect from musical peers
Papa Jo Jones
Keep in mind, these are just my opinions. Go develop your own.
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!