Monday, June 28, 2021

Extreme Listening

 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

AABA tune, 

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

4 (On The Floor ) Way Coordination Variations (To go with summer libations!* )

 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

And now a word from our sponsor, ME!

 Just a quick note to let everyone now I am continuing to offer lessons, both online, and in person with the correct social distancing. You can contact me through here, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (drumjoywithted) 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Ostinato Bravado ( Mmmmm…I'm craving Gelato!)

 Hey all,

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. 

I feel we sometimes overly complicate things with foot ostinatos. They don't have to be super busy or complicated. In fact, one of the cool things about a repeated foot pattern is it allows us to leave space with our hands, but the actual ostinato can sometimes have space in it as well. These can be used as grooves or solos. I view them as like a good soup base or pizza crust. Once you get started , you can add anything you wish! :) 

Friday, June 18, 2021

What's My Motivation?

 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

Yes, it is another rant but it's short!

 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

Thank you, yet again, Peter Erskine

 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

The music is where the music is

 Hi folks,

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

Interview with Pat Labarbera: A Tale of Two Drummers

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

The 14-Year-Old Aesthetic

 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?


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…...