Monday, November 29, 2021

The greatest gift you can give the music is your commitment!

 Hey all,

I recently was comped a couple of tickets to a concert by a drummer friend of mine. Obviously, for the last year and a half I haven't played much much, but I also haven't seen any either! The headliner was a well known Canadian singer/songwriter with an excellent band, and the opening act was a country singer playing duo, and that was outstanding as well. The concert was well paced, both artists communicated with the audience well, and you could really feel the gratitude the artists felt for this chance to perform for an appreciative audience.


There was one member of the headliner's band, and I won't mention their name, I'll just say their instrument rhymes with case! This individual didn't move to the music, acknowledge the rest of the band or audience in any way, or give off anything but a really negative, standoffish vibe. This person certainly played their instrument well, but they didn't really even dress the part of the gig, and a t-shirt and jeans would have fit the bill for that nicely! You couldn't even see their face because they had a big floppy hat on and looked at their shoes the whole time, AND THEY WEREN'T EVEN INTERESTING LOOKING SHOES!!! :) 

This weirded out a musician friend that came to see the show with me, but even more so both of our wives, who had less professional bias clouding what they saw. This person was giving the impression that they were doing a favour playing for us! This is doubly galling considering, even though we were comped, the tickets weren't cheap, people have been starved for live music lately, and it was a vocal, appreciative audience!

I don't want to give anyone the impression that it wasn't a great night of music and the band (especially my drummer friend) didn't play wonderfully. But the energy you send out to the audience means a lot! I can think off the top of my head at least a dozen musicians on the same instrument that would sound just as good, be VERY happy to be there, and match the energy of the rest of the group, which was positive and exciting!

I think sometimes musicians lose sight of the fact that people come to see us as well as listen to us, and it's our privilege that they do so.

Really, there's only one way to play, and that's with everything we have! :) 

And speaking of which, here's Billy Joel and his band circa 1997, this could easily have been included on my songwriting post from last week, but I held it back because I wanted to use drummer Liberty Devitto as an example of someone who sounds (and looks) like someone who's whole existence is channeled into every note he plays! Talk about commitment! 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Beatles: Get Back and the creative process…...

Unless you're living under a rock someplace, you're aware that Peter Jackson's new movie using archival footage of the Beatles is out on Disneyplus today….
Here's the preview….

Now, anyone that has even the slightest acquaintance with me knows I am a massive Beatles fan, so anything associated with them will fascinate me. I have, however, been reading about people grousing that it's too long, too detailed etc..
I get it, " A Hard Day's Night", it's not. What it is,  however, is an honest look at a band writing and rehearsing new material, and figuring out how they're going to perform it. Yes, they play through material a bunch of times. That's actually how it works when bands do this! Yes, they sometimes quarrel, are dismissive of each other, and ignore each other. Again, that's actually fairly typical in any creative group dynamic. They jam on and on looking for ideas. This is a very common method of songwriting!

I'm only halfway through the first episode, but I've already learned so much! it's like getting songwriting classes with the Beatles! 

So, in short, if you are a casual Beatles fan looking for lots of dazzle-dazzle and pizzazz, this may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you can appreciate some major insights into the working method of one of history's greatest musical units, I highly recommend it! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

We are all songwriters

Musicians have a tendency to put themselves into boxes sometimes. I'm a drummer, I'm a singer, I'm an arranger, etc. when we really do all these things. Case in point, most musicians I know want to do memorable, compelling (dare I say "catchy") things that engage the audience, take us on a journey, and tell us a story. In fact, great songwriters do this all the time! So, let's check out Rick Beato's interfere with Sting and his guitarist and writing partner, Dominic Miller. Unlike other interviews where I've seen Mr. Sumner being cagey ( Soul Cagey?) about his writing process, Mr. Beato's well thought out questions help us gain a lot of insight. Enjoy! 

However you feel about Sting and his music, there's a lot of great information here we can apply to our own writing/playing process.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Zen Guitar

 Thanks to my always inspiring colleague Max Sent for this. He hipped me to a great book entitled "Zen Guitar" by Philip Toshio Sudo. Don't let the title fool you. It could just as easily be called "Zen Drums", or "Zen Auto Mechanics" or "Zen Muffin Baking" for that matter! It's hard to describe, but it's basically about becoming the best YOU at whatever activity you decide.

Here's a few quotes:

“So many different formulas can work that there’s no real formula. What’s important is to learn from whomever or whatever you can, at your own rate, in your own way. How or when you learn doesn’t matter, so long as the learning occurs.”

“There are musicians who, in the name of artistic freedom, espouse violence, racial hatred, and sexism, then disavow the ripple effects of their actions. Many more exploit the media to gain fame, yet refuse to accept that they serve as role models for young people. This is not the Way of Zen Guitar.”

Anyone who has studied martial arts, even casually, will recognize some of the concepts in the book, yet, similarly to playing guitar, one does not have to have studied Kung Fu to benefit from the wisdom presented here. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve in any area of their life. :) 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Performance vs. Practice

 I have a suspicion I have dealt with this subject before, but review is always good! 

It's important not to practice when you're playing. That would include things like:

- Shoehorning an idea or lick into someplace not because the music told you, but because your ego wants to justify the work you've done.

-Obsessing about micro issues like the placement of one's gear, rather than the sound and feel of the ensemble as a whole and making adjustments to the room you're playing in.

-Thinking about tunes and parts of tunes rather than concentrating on how these parts fit into the architecture of the set/evening of music.

Equally important is to not play when you're practicing. Elements of this would include:

- Playing things in the practice room you can already play.

-Play along to recordings in a non concentrating and inauthentic way. ( Practicing your double bass drum chops while playing along to The Stones, for example!) 

-Not being focused, and not really hearing what you're playing. (E.g. Balance of instruments. Quality of sound on cymbals and drums etc.) 

In conclusion, playing and practicing are 2 very important  but completely different disciplines. If you confuse them, you will fail to get the benefit of either of them.

Happy Playing/Practicing! 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Rhythmic currency

 Recently, a heard a young band playing this beautiful Kenny Wheeler tune… (ED Note: The link is now broken but do yourself a favour and look up, or better yet buy, a recording of the Kenny Wheeler tune, "Kind Folk".)

One of my favourites! The band played it very well, although there was one thing I found very strange. The feel of this piece is very 9/8, although it also could be thought of as triplets in 3/4. The rhythm section I heard, however,  was tending to play this feel as a Jazz Waltz, especially during the blowing. Now, this isn't necessarily wrong, but it is sort of discounting all the great sort of feel/atmosphere info contained in the tune. ( Check out the intro/bass line. The 9/8 starts from the first note). Also, with this tune, playing more off the triplets in the bar can fill in some of the gaping holes that are created if we're just playing off the quarter notes. Again, obviously one can play a tune anyway one wants, but if we ignore the song's information without some sort of concept behind it, we lose all the things that make the composition unique…….

Let's look at another example…..

 It's a Bossa Nova, and if we listen to it, the currency of 8th notes is everywhere! The guitar is comping off of all the 8th notes in the bar while the drummer usually plays all of them! This results in a nice smooth, sensuous feel. Yet I often hear drummers playing quarter note or very broken up 8th note grooves at this tempo. For a player with any amount of experience, playing all the 8th notes in the bar isn't much of a technical challenge. So why break up the 8ths without a good reason to do so? I think we sometimes feel that breaking up the rhythm is the "hip" thing to do, but often the hippest thing to do is to really commit to the rhythmic currency of the tune, whether it's 8th note, 16th, swing, or shuffle. Let the music help you have a strong concept for a tune that helps you make it unique, and as always, have fun! 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Fast and Light, that's the way to do it, see?

This title is a variation on the classic line from this Flintstones episode……

Upon further consideration, this would probably better to use in a post on ballads, but no matter, the 'Stones can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned! 

Also concerning me lately is developing a lighter touch, especially while playing quick tempos. I'm focusing on not lifting my sticks higher than needed etc. Also working on balancing my flat ride with my other cymbals, which I have always found challenging…..

Here's an attempt from yesterday. I'm thinking of the tune Cherokee.

I've always found it rather ironic that a comfortable feeling volume at the drums is usually too loud for most acoustic instruments and environments. Just one of our crosses to bear, but it does get better with practice. Try it and you'll see! :)