Monday, August 31, 2009

Drum Video of the Week: Weckl, Gadd, and Vinnie

Three masters...this is really a great video. I picked my jaw up after it was over. Simply amazing. Notice these three things:

1) Everyone of them uses a different setup and utilizes it in their own way.

2) Everyone of them uses different types of heads and different ranges of tuning.

3) If you ever wanted to get an up close and personal lesson from the masters on traditional grip, here ya go.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Practicing Rudiments

There's no getting around it...I hate practicing my rudiments. I know, I know, I'm a disgrace to the drumming community. I've just never been real enthused about sitting at a practice pad for hours on end going from slow to fast to slow over, and over, and over, and over...

That's a bad problem to have...the basic rudiments are kinda've like our alphabet. They help with chops, technique, flow, groove, technicality...they were designed as some of the most common stickings that drummers used. We NEED to know them.

I went through a whole semester in college where I focused heavily on my practice pad and working the rudiments...and hated it. It was boring to me. Some love it, I didn't.

So what to do? Well, I turned to the reason I started playing the

1) Grab your practice pad and pick out the rudiment you're currently working on or the one that needs the most work.

2) Pick 3-5 of your favorite songs (You'll need to be mindful of the tempos...)

3) Press play on your iPod or cd player or Zune or whatever and go to town. Start by playing the rudiment in 8th notes on the verse. When you get to the chorus, play it in sixteenths, when it goes to the bridge, play it in sextuplets, and so forth. Try playing the verses super soft and the chorus super loud...try a slow crescendo through the bridge from soft to loud...use your imagination!

The end goal is to play the rudiment within the time signature of the song in as many subdivisions and dynamic ranges as possible. Traditionally when you work on your rudiments, you go from slow to fast to slow...doing this allows you to play the rudiment at any speed. It's boring though, and I hate boring practice.

Using actual songs to work the rudiments works on a few different areas: You work the sticking of the rudiment and get it down cold, playing it in the different subdivisions of the beat within the song allows you to work on several speeds as well as train your mind to move seemlessly within the parameters of the tune, playing to music helps your musical senses, and most of never even know you're practicing! We all got into music to play music we love (at least I hope that's why you got into it), so why not find ways to do just that no matter what you're practicing?

After you've got the rudiment down pat and can go in and out of the different subdivisions, take it one step further...sing the song. It doesn't have to be a Grammy winning vocal performance, just work on saying the lyrics in time. Why? Well, I believe in 6 way coordination in drumming...2 hands, 2 feet, your mouth, and your mind (which has to keep constant track of the other 5). Singing allows you to begin to put the rudiment on autopilot so you can focus on the musical issues at hand instead of the technical side of it.

When you've accomplished all of the above on the practice pad, move it all to the kit. Come up with a cool application of the rudiment on the kit and play to the song again, repeating all of the steps above. The possibilities are endless!

Yes, you should still practice rudiments the traditional way...but break out of the status quo way of thinking about your practice and get creative! Creativity never hurt anyone, unless they didn't utilize it...then it can be crippling.

Poll Results and Things to Come

I've been running a poll for the past couple of weeks asking you guy's what topics you'd like to see written about. The choices were...Gig Etiquette, Practice Tips, Dealing With Life on the Road, or Stories of Real Life Experiences and what I've learned.

I wanna go ahead and say a HUGE "Thank You" to everyone that took the time to vote...that's the only reason this site works and is interesting, because of your interest and again, thanks!

And the winner is (If you haven't seen the poll results already...)...Practice Tips! It seems alot of you guys have some questions regarding practicing, how to practice, making your practice time more efficient, etc. So in the next little while I'll be writing on said topic.

In close second place was some of my real life experiences (I've got a TON of them! I've played in all kinds of strange situations and scenarios and I've learned something from all of them.) I'll be working on posts about those stories as well.

If you have anything specific about practicing you'd like to ask and get a response on, please don't hesitate to contact me here, by email, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

And as an added teaser...we'll be having some killer guest posts. The first will be from the deep south...Darrian Douglas is an in demand jazzer in the South Mississippi/New Orleans area, playing with jazz legends such as Ellis Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Marlon Jordan, Delfayo Marsalis, Neal Cane, Will Thompson...the list could go on but you get the point. Be checking back, you don't want to miss what he's got to say!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Video of the Week

Ok. I've held onto this video for long enough. It's time to unleash this to the world. Just a quick disclaimer...If you're looking to learn something, you're in the wrong place today. If you're looking to spew coke through your nose because of your uncontrollable laughter, you may be in the right place. Let the video play all the way through and keep your eyes on the drummer...I swear I'm doing this at the next wedding gig I have to play...THIS IS WHY I PLAY THE DRUMS!!!

And this week, as an added bonus, you'll get the Korean Drummer vs. Nirvana...two videos for the price of one. Let it play until the :20 second mark...You can't make this stuff up, sheer GENIUS!!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Traditional Grip vs. Matched Grip : The Battle Continues!!!

I spent a whole summer in college thinking about this very topic...which as I look back seems sad. Apparently I had no life...nonetheless, a whole summer of flip flopping, asking fellow skinbashers, finding out how my drumming idols gripped their was a fierce war...much blood was shed, many tears were cried, countless sleepless nights spent worried that if I picked the wrong grip certain death would ensue...

Maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but I lived in a small town in south Mississippi...I had to create my own drama.

All joking aside, there does seem to be a steep divide between proponents of Traditional grip and the supporters of Matched grip. Is one better? Does one provide more finesse? Is one easier? If I'm not going to play marching snare or jazz, is there a reason to learn traditional? Will Simon Cowell ever get a better haircut?(Sorry, that one slipped in...but really, it's time Simon.)

The reason I was pondering this question was strictly for practical reasons. I found that my right hand was vastly out playing my left. Reason: I was constantly switching between traditional and matched grip in my left hand, depending on the gig. If I was playing a jazz standard or a ballad, it was traditional grip. If it was a pop, rock, or funk tune, I played matched. If I was studying my rudiments, traditional. If I was playing orchestral percussion, matched...and so on and so forth. It was driving me mad. I had better finesse with traditional but a stronger backbeat with matched. I could play certain things with traditional grip that I couldn't play with matched grip, and vice versa.

If I had been playing one type of gig consistently, no worries. I would have picked the most useful grip and gone with that. Problem was, I was playing with anywhere from 9 to 12 different groups. Big Band, Orchestra, Rock, Latin, Early Jazz, Indie Rock, Gospel, Funk, Reggae...

So I picked them apart and here's what I came up with...


Traditional grip originally came about the same way most other innovations do, through necessity. Drums were originally slung around the right shoulder while marching, making it impossible to hit the drum consistently without modifying the grip...and so the hand was turned over and traditional grip began.

The two areas that employ this method the most are rudimental (marching) snare and jazz. That's not to say that there aren't any rock or pop drummers that use this grip...Glenn Kotche, Stewart Copeland, Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Vinnie Colaiuta to name a few.

I think that it's a carryover in the rudimental world. It's just been passed down as a sort of tradition (no pun intended). Drums are no longer slung over the shoulder...they're carried on both shoulders, so it's definitely not a necessity issue. No other percussive instrument is played with this grip, they're all played with matched or a variation thereof.

The motion in the left hand is not a real natural movement for the hand (i.e. you wouldn't pick up a stick and naturally grip and swing it that way). When learning the basics of the grip, it's definitely harder for a beginner to grasp the fundamentals of getting the fingers to move in that's kind of cumbersome to be honest. Playing hard hitting backbeats requires more practice (it can be done, I'm just saying it takes longer). That being said, after it's learned it's every bit as useful and effective as matched.

In the jazz world I believe it's partially a carryover and partially a finesse thing. If you'll allow me to get a little philosophical on you, I believe the grip itself creates a "cradling" type effect (at least it does in my mind). That's the main reason I would use it for ballads, I could play softer and with more finesse (feeling) easier than I could with matched grip. And on a side note, I actually think it looks cooler and way more sophisticated to play traditional...but that's not what this is about...


There are three different "grips" within the matched grip category...German, French, or a compromise of the two called American grip (I lean heavily towards American grip). Matched grip is how my 21 month old son picks up the's just natural. I actually put the stick in his left hand this morning in the traditional grip position...he hit the drum a couple of times, made a face, and turned the stick around. Although alot of the true "jazzers" use traditional grip, it seems the new school of jazz drummers are embracing matched just as much as traditional (Check out progressive drummers Bill Stewart, David King, and Ari Hoenig for instance).

Matched is by far the most popular within the pop and rock categories...Travis Barker (he seems to lean towards German matched grip), Carter Beauford (seems to prefer French matched grip), and Will Champion (mostly American grip) just to name a few. This particular grip is also the most transferrable to other percussive instruments, as I mentioned earlier...Concert snare, bass drum, quads, timbales, xylophone, etc.

The one drawback I came across was the finesse factor. I found if I was playing a jazz gig or a groove that required alot of ghosting on the snare, I was more comfortable with traditional. My comping in jazz with matched grip was awful.


As you may have guessed, all of this deliberation helped me come to my decision at the end of the summer...and matched grip won.

I knew that I would eventually be playing mostly pop gigs and it just seemed more practical. I also thought that if I could become better at finessing my left hand through working on my snare "chatter" in jazz and working on my ghosting in pop grooves, it would deepen my feel and groove.

And it did.

I no longer have to worry about keeping my left hand up to speed between traditional and matched, I just focus on playing everything with a matched grip. I prefer the neutral, or American, form of matched grip. German is a little stiff for me and French puts your wrists at a disadvantage when hitting the drums hard (I learned this the hard way and had to spend a few hundred dollars for a Doc to straighten my wrists out...more on that later).

I've also found it works better with the students I teach. If they're not in marching band, there's really no reason for them to put the time and effort into learning the grip....except for passing on the history of the I always give them the choice. Seems we can start focusing on learning the drums quicker and not spend quite so much time on learning an unnatural feeling grip.

At least that's what I think...and that's what matters in my world...

What type of grip you use is completely up to you, your style of playing, and your goals. I don't care which one you choose as they're both equally useful. I do, however, encourage you to concentrate on one or the other. I know the ins and outs of traditional grip and can play it just fine, as well as teach others the fundamentals, but I no longer use it (occasionally with brush work, but I'm trying to re-learn my patterns with matched).

And writing this assured me that I am in fact in need of more friends to fill up my free time...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

IPhone Metronome Applications

How did people live without the iPhone? I'll go ahead and make a confession...I don't have one (*shock**astonishment**nausea*)...the main reason being, I hate AT&T's customer service. 'Nuff said.

Although I don't have one, seems like everyone else does. With all of the applications floating around, it's hard to find the ones that are actually useful and not just fluff. If I did have an iPhone however, the first thing I would use off of it would be a metronome. I've always thought it would be great to have a small metronome or click that you could take with you wherever you go and pull it out when needed. There's quite a few of them, but here's three I ran across that function in three different ways. If you have one that you use already, or you just know of one that interfaces better, please shoot me a comment or a line as I want to know. Click on the highlighted names and you'll be redirected to a site where you can use or download the application.

1) Metronome 2.11 - This one will either display and play the tempo that you set it at or allow you to tap your own tempo out (that will give you a general idea of the tempo at best...really hard to keep your tapping exactly right.). At the top of the screen you can turn the metronome off, allowing you to tap your own tempo, or on, allowing it to play the programmed BPM.

2) Flash Metronome- This one comes from Diatche Software and it's simply a blinking light. That's it. No sound...which can be beneficial considering the problem with many of the metronome app's is a volume issue. The screen displays a ring with a light flitting around can also set the whole screen to flash ala strobe effect with each beat. Very simple app. You can set it anywhere between 30-200 BPM, which should cover your needs.

3) Metronome and Tuner- This one only works when you're you don't actually have to download the app, you just go to the site when you need it. Probably the most basic of all the metronome's I'm mentioning...but as an added benefit it has a tuner beside it. So if you like tuning your drums to certain pitches or if you're a multi-instrumentalist, it could come in handy.

Again, this isn't a comprehensive list in the least's mainly meant to let you know that there are several out there to choose from, and if it's available why not use it? Ah, Technology...What would we do without it?

Post Update:

So after I posted this a few of ya'll that actually have iPhones clued me in on Tempo. After looking into, this is by far the most useful and my fav of all the above. Check this blog out to get a comprehensive review of the product....and it's only 99 cents!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Video of the Week...

Jojo Mayer...Need I say more?

If you haven't checked out his instructional DVD "Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer" , then you're missin' out. His technique is flawless, his grooves relentless, and his knowledge on the history of drum n bass is quite extensive. Probably the best out there for this type of music (although Johnny Rabb is great too).

In this short clip you'll get a brief lesson on the history of the grooves and then a breakdown on the basics of how to do it. It's quite useful and alot of popular bands incorporate these types of beats (i.e. Mute Math, Bloc Party, and even John Scofield).


Thursday, August 13, 2009

R.I.P. Les Paul...So What Does That Have To Do With Drumming?

Unless you've been under a rock for the past century, the name Les Paul rings a loud bell in your head. He passed today. Seeing as this is a place for drummers, you may be wondering why I would take the time to write about a guitarist. He's not a drummer, never wanted to be a drummer...

The reason I'm gonna write about him is because we need more Les Paul's...let me explain...

No doubt, you know Les Paul from his signature guitar...the Les Paul. I'd venture to say that for 85% of you, that's all you know of him. I'm gonna tell you the stuff you probably don't know, but should...because it pertains to every person, not just in the music business, but in any field.

He began his music career at the age of 13 playing country music and dropped out of school by the age of 17 to go on the road. He later began to delve into the jazz genre, where he had a good bit of success. He suffered a terrible car accident that shattered his right arm and elbow. Doctors told him there was no way to rebuild his arm so he would have movement and that whatever postition they set it in would be the position it would be in for the rest of his life. So Les had them set his arm at an angle so he would always be able to cradle a guitar. The guy was stubborn to say the least...

And what about his playing style...this is copied from Wikipedia..."His innovative talents extended into his unique playing style, including licks, trills, chording sequences, fretting techniques and timing which set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired most of the guitarists of the present day."

If his career was only about his playing, this would be a much shorter piece. Les became frustrated with the guitars that were available, so he set about to make his own...and so the Gibson Les Paul was born.

He maintained a radio show that later turned into a television show.

He recorded countless albums on his own. During the process of making his music, he began to make waves in the recording world because of his innovations. He's known as the "Father of Modern Music" because of these innovations. His many recording innovations include overdubbing, delay effects such as "sound on sound" and tape delay, phasing effects, and multitrack recording. In other words, any modern album you ever play is influenced by Les Paul in some way.

Oh, and while he revolutionized the recording industry, he was churning out the hits. These revolutionary recordings were made with his wife, Mary Ford, who sang. The couple's hits included "How High the Moon", "Bye Bye Blues", "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise", and "Vaya Con Dios". These songs featured Mary harmonizing with herself, giving the vocals a very novel sound.

Oh, and did I mention he won two Grammy's...along with numerous other awards and achievements.

So again, what does it have to do with drummers?

Les didn't just make a living playing music, he made a living by revolutionizing his field. Anytime he saw an opportunity to invent something that would help the music, design a different way to record a song so it would serve his purposes, or play, whether live or recorded, he did it. He wasn't content to just play, he had to make himself a movement. He was a force to be reckoned with.

Too many times we become focused on being a "working" musician. We stress over practice, how many gigs we're maintaining, are we making enough money to be considered a "full time" musician, what artist we play with...or whatever. There are millions of ways to make a living and to make money in the field of music and drumming that have nothing to do with playing your instrument. We just get tunnel has to happen one way...but what if it doesn't? Where does that leave you? Broke, working a dead end job, eating ramen noodles and talking about how you would've "made it" if you would have known so-and-so, or if you would have only landed such-and-such gig, or whatever other miserable excuses you can make up to appease your mind.

The simple truth of the matter is this....there has never been a better time in history to be in the music just have to find the right niche. There's money to be made, work to be done, innovations to happen...and guess what? Whether you choose to participate or not, the money will be made by someone, the work will be done by someone, and the innovations will pass you by. Do you think that if Les Paul had never perfected the electric guitar it wouldn't have been invented? You're crazy, he just did it first.

Here's the question I want you to remember...

Do you want to be a musician or do you want to be a force of nature?

Les Paul was a force of's not too late for you...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What's Your Excuse...

Ever feel like not practicing? Like your limited in your abilities? Like you'll never get ahead in music?

About 9 years ago I met Dan Caro at a Guitar Center Drum Off in Metarie, LA, right outside of New Orleans. I was trying to work on my soloing abilities...I was more nervous soloing in front of 2 people at that time than I was soloing in front of 2,000, so I took this as a chance to make myself get in front of small groups of people and solo. Overall, I'm not a huge fan of solo competitions, but if you use them to serve your purpose, so be it...I'm off topic though...back to Dan...

I would never have dreamed Dan played the drums by looking at him, he has no hands to speak of...but play he does...not only does he play, he's a very talented musician with a great feel. I remember to this day being impressed with his touch, groove, and unique style. He's also one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet...beaming with optimism and always ready to flash a smile. He won the crowd over that night, as he continues to do.

Dan was born in Metarie, LA and while in the family garage at the age of 2, a pilot light of a hot water heater ignited gas fumes. Over 70% of his body was burned and he lost his right hand and most of his left. He went through numerous reconstructive surgeries, one of the last which gave him a moveable thumb on his left hand.

He started playing drums at the age of 12, using a doubled over wrist band with a rubber band wrapped around it on his right hand and gripping the stick with his thumb in his left. His drive and determination have enabled him to play with many great musicians, including Ashish Khan, Michael Ray, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Karl Denson, Marshall Allen and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. A musician and a professional speaker, he's a role model for us all.

So what's your excuse...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Video of the week...

I stumbled across this video on you's the purdie shuffle mixed with some Afro-Peruvian stuff, and sprinkled with a touch of drum-n-bass to level it out...really great example of how you can take a simple idea like the Purdie shuffle, turn it into a concept, and make it into something completely your own. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Keeping a Practice Log...

The other day I posted on keeping a gig log book...a simple list of mistakes you made during performances to refer to when you sit down and practice. Just as much as you need to keep a running list of items you need to work on, you need to keep a similar list of items you've MASTERED. Something that you can look back on and track your progress...or lack thereof.

All to often when I'm talking to students or other musicans I'm playing with, they complain about not making progress in their playing despite regular practice sessions. They just don't feel like they're getting any better. That's an easy fix with just pull out the past lesson plans and emphasize where they started when they began lessons with you and where they are now. We shouldn't have to rely on teachers to do this FOR us's easy to do for yourself.

Again, it doesn't have to be anything fancy, another spiral notebook will do (or you can get a 3 subject notebook and keep them altogether.) You can also keep a running file on your iphone or computer, just be sure to save a backup.

Here's a list of what should be in it:

1) The date

2) How long you plan on practicing

3) Items you plan on practicing with a timeframe in minutes beside it to let you know when to move on to the next item. Also include a BPM goal to work towards.

4) How long you actually got to practice

5) Notes on practice session.

Pretty's what one might look like...


Planned Practice Time: 2 hours

Things to Work on:

Ratamacue: 20 minutes: goal BPM: 110
"New Breed" system 3, pp.14-17: 40 minutes: goal BPM: 120
Up tempo swing: 20 minutes: goal BPM: 190
Using Ratamacue around the drumkit: 30 minutes: goal BPM: 110
Jamming: 10 minutes: goal BPM: None

Actual Practice Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Ratamacue: Work on LH lead. Got it up to 100bpm
"New Breed" system 3: finished pp.14-15, 16-17 need more work: pp.14-15:120bpm, pp.16-17: 106bpm
Up tempo swing: Work on endurance and comping with LH, 176bpm
Using Ratamacue around drumkit: Work on fluidity between cymbals and snare, toms to snare sounds good, 102bpm.
Jammed 25 minutes and came up with new groove using the Ratamacue.

You can get as detailed as you want with this...the more you are detailed the better! As you conquer certain things, make a note of it in your practice log...that way when you go back and look you'll see the improvement.

Alot of times we just FEEL like we're not improving. If you look at it on paper though, you'll see that you're making sufficient progress...or maybe you'll see that you're not. At least then you'll know and knowing is half the battle (Yo Joe!...Sorry, regressed into childhood for a second...).

This takes mere minutes to do and it's what separates the dedicated from the others, so please take the time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Just Because...

Just because you feel like your playing sucks doesn't mean it does.

Just because you had a bad gig doesn't mean you have to have a bad week.

Just because your students don't "get it" doesn't mean you're any less of a teacher.

Just because you can't play something another one of your peers can doesn't mean they're a better player.

Just because you can play something some of your peers can't doesn't mean you're a better player.

Just because you had a bad practice session doesn't mean you didn't get anything out of it.

Just because you lose a gig doesn't mean you should quit.
Just because you can't play it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to.

Just because someone tells you you should quit doesn't mean you should.

Just because you can play something doesn't mean you should.

Just because you know you're right and the bandleader is wrong doesn't mean you should tell them.

Just because a bandleader is right doesn't mean you should take abuse from them.

Just because one of your friends achieves a level of success with their playing that you haven't doesn't mean you shouldn't be happy for them.

And just because you have a bad attitude doesn't mean you can't change it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Keeping a Gig Log

I keep a gig log, and up until recent years it's been pretty extensive. Why? Because I want to get better, that's why.

A gig log is simple to start, easy to maintain, and one of the most beneficial things I've ever done.

It doesn't have to be fancy either, just a spiral notebook will do...

While in college I maintained a pretty strict practice routine (i.e. Everyday!) and tried to "log" as many hours as I could. Some days that was 1...some it was 9 or 10...the average was 3-5 hours. This was on top of schoolwork and gig practice. This isn't bragging by the way, it's just what I did.

When you get into a long practice routine, it's easy to get distracted by...well, by pretty much anything. The answer? ORGANISATION!!! An unorganised practice time is almost as good as not practicing at all. The problem is, how to organise it. I won't get into all the details of that today, just one aspect...

The Gig Log

The problem I ran into when I played gigs were the mistakes...pretty obvious answer. It wasn't actually the mistakes themselves, but the process of rectifying those mistakes and using them as a learning opportunity instead of an opportunity to beat up on myself.

The only bad mistake is the one you don't learn from

I would play the gig, pack up, think about all of the mistakes I made on the way home, go to sleep, wake up, grab a cup-o-joe, sit down to practice...and I had forgotten 99% of the areas I needed to work on. One day I had a stroke of genius...I incorporated an ancient technique known as handwriting and decided to log all of the mistakes I was making. Pretty ingenius, right? I'm just sad I wasted so much time before I thought about the most obvious answer.

I used a simple spiral notebook and kept it in my practice room. As I was playing a gig I would mentally note the mistakes I was making and as soon as I got home from the gig, I would write them down. I eventually took it as far as bringing the log book to gigs with me and jotting quick notes on my breaks about what went wrong during the last set. It takes all of 5 minutes to do this. It doesn't have to be a super detailed definition of what went wrong, how angry the bass player was, what feelings you felt at that particular moment, how the bandleader yelled at you afterwards, how you ran to the bathroom crying and threw up in the toilet from the disgrace of messing up the intro fill to "Brick House"...

A couple of words will suffice.

Example: Groove for "Rosanna", Doubles around the kit, jazz waltz ride pattern, etc.

The next day I would wake up, grab a cup-o-joe (This is an addiction in my life...I'll never give it up!), and read through my notes from the evening before. I would then take 2-3 minutes to prioritise my practice time, starting with the most pressing issue (the one I would use the soonest, the one I sucked the worst at, or the one that would take the longest) I would list them in order of importance, decide how much total practice time I had, and then decide how long I would spend on each item. Once the time limit for that item was up, I moved on to the next one. If I had extra time at the end of my practice session, I would go back to the item that I didn't spend enough time on and work some more. Whatever was not mastered that day was revisited the next day.

This is one of the simplest things I've ever done, and absolutely one of the most beneficial. I was identifying my weak gig areas, which are different than your weak practice areas, and I was methodically working through them.

The great part of this was that the next time I played with that group, I had noticeably improved. It wasn't an improvement that focused around a showy fill or some other self was measured improvement in a practical area that would serve the music for the better. Mission accomplished.

So instead of beating yourself up as you try to drift off to sleep after yet another miserable failure, go to your practice room, grab a pen and jot the problems down...and then rest easy that tomorrow is another day, the band will forgive you, and you have a plan for how that mistake will never happen again.

Just Play...

I ran across this article today and thought it hit the nail on the head. It's from the blog "Musician's Wages" and you can find the article at . Check it out and while you're there, check out the rest of the articles...some great stuff for working drummers and musicians to read up on.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Idea of a Concept

Do you ever get the feeling like your whole musical vocabulary consists of exercises you learned from some instructional book? Maybe you didn't learn from books. Maybe you learned by emulating different grooves from your favorite bands or learning a bunch of killer licks from some old Frank Zappa records. But after the newness of it all wears off, do you ever find yourself saying,"When will I sound like me instead of like a hodge-podge of regurgitated knowledge?"

Don't get me wrong, book knowledge and the study of your musical heroes is essential. Most all of the musical greats have admitted to an incubation period of emulating their predecessors, everyone from Jeff "Tain" Watts to John Coltrane has done this. But they all have one thing in common...they came to a place where they decided it was time to sound like themselves. So breathe a deep sigh of relief if you've felt this way're in the company of the greats!

I think all musicians (and yes, drummers are musicians contrary to the jokes) come to a crossroads where they can either continue on down the well beaten path, or they can make a left turn and start on a search for their own voice. The only question is where to start.

I came to this place myself and I didn't know where to begin, but I knew I wouldn't be satisfied until I sounded like ME. There were several ways I began to blindly go about it, but there was one I discovered that really helped me succeed at beginning to hear myself in my playing. It was the art of turning an idea into a concept.

First we'll need a working definition of both an idea and a concept. Wikipedia defines an idea as: "A specific thought that arises in the mind of a person as a result of thinking." A drum groove or a particular fill would be examples of ideas in drummer speak.

On the other hand, their definition of a concept is: "A general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurences." A concept is simply an expanded idea, it's that simple!

You might ask how this grammar lesson involves drumming, and rightly so since this is a drummer's blog, but we had to get some basic understanding of those two words before we could apply them to our situation. Now we're through with grammar...Let's get down to business and try to apply it to the drums...

We'll start off with a simple rudiment, the paradiddle-diddle (RLRRLL or LRLLRR). The rudiment itself wil be our idea. The first thing to do is master the idea of the paradiddle-diddle and that means practicing it on the snare or practice pad from slow to fast and back to slow (which assures that you'll be comfortable with it in a wide variety of tempos). Do this until the sticking becomes second nature to you. After you've done this it's time to turn the idea of the paradiddle-diddle into the concept of the paradiddle-diddle.

Moving to the drumkit...Split the rudiment up between two different voices on your kit (i.e. right hand on the floor tom, left hand on the snare; right hand on the ride cymbal, left hand on the top tom, etc.). Continue this until you've used every combination of two voices on the kit, and I mean ALL of them...the rims, bells of cymbals, sides of the drums...Go crazy with it! It could take a while to do this.

Now let's try three voices. Play the two singles on the snare and play the right hand doubles on the top tom and the left hand doubles on the floor tom. Again, do this until you've used every combination of three voices on the kit that you can think of. Don't forget to practice leading with both hands, and you can alternate subdivisions too...triplets, sixteenths, etc.

Now that we're getting into the swing with this concept, let's make a groove out of it. Try putting the right hand on the hi-hat and the left hand on the snare. Using sixteenth notes, play the rudiment through twice and add a paradiddle on the end of it to make a bar of four-four (RLRRLL-LRLLRR-RLRR or vice versa). Now decide where you can accent the snare to make some sort of backbeat. Havin' fun yet? Here comes the real challenge...add the bass drum.

There are several ways to do this. You can use the bass drum exercises in Gary Chester's "New Breed" book, you could read through "Syncopation" exercises, or you can simply start placing the bass drum in random spots. The whole purpose of this is to be able to play anything you want with your bass drum underneath this groove. Now switch the right hand to the ride cymbal and read the rhythms with your left foot on the hi-hat. If this gets easy, try some fills but base them on the paradiddle-diddle (we're being very specific and staying within this concept for now). Just use the two and three voice exercises you were doing earlier, then go right back into the groove.

Now try a samba pattern underneath the sticking and put accents in different places within the sticking, and if that gets easy, try a baion pattern.

Try playing the rudiment between your feet, or between your right foot and left play it in 3/4 time...invert the sticking (LLRLRR or RRLRLL) and start all over again...try it in 11/8 the idea yet?!?!?!

We just took a very two dimensional idea, expanded it, and developed a concept by using our imagination and coming up with endless possibilities for this one rudiment. That's the way you develop any concept, by coming up with as many variations on a particular idea as you can and then methodically working through them until you no longer have just one idea to work with but a concept that you're completely fluid with in any situation and on any part of the drumkit.

The key to doing this is the imagination part. With technology and TV the way it is nowadays, we can go for long periods of time and never use one iota of imagination. Heck, we can even watch people live their lives on any number of reality TV shows! It takes alot of extra thought and practice to do what we just did, but the payoff is astronomical. You won't like every combination and idea that you try within a concept (that's not the point), but you'll come up with some very unique ones and you'll improve your facility on the kit at the same time.

When I started implementing this into my practice, things got crazy. I would hurry and try to learn the lessons my private instructors had given me, then I would break down individual components of the lesson and develop concepts around them. Maybe I was working with the "Syncopation" exercises but I also wanted to work on my brush patterns in 3/4 time. I would write the "Syncopation" exercises out in 3/4, pick a brush pattern, and then play the exercises with my right foot, left foot, both feet, etc. It got to where I was a little overwhelmed at times because when I got a new exercise out of a book or learned a new fill from a recording a whole new world of possibilities would be opened up. I had trained my mind to develop concepts instead of just settling for individual ideas and exercises from books.

I really believe that the authors of instructional books never meant for the students to only play the exercises written, they were simply trying to spark the imagination and help the stuent see a few of the many different possibilities.

I saw a change in my teachers too. They loved the fact that I was not only learning the assigned lesson but I was also putting in the extra time ad practice by trying to do it my own way, and I really appreciated the fact that they were giving me the freedom to try new things.

The main point I want to get across is, please don't limit yourself. Your ideas are valuable. Just because you haven't written a book or performed with some name artist doesn't mean your ideas are of any less value. You will find that if you're truly trying to find your own voice and you're playing for the music, musicians want and NEED what you have to offer.

I am nowhere near finished finding my voice (some days I feel like I haven't even started to find it!), but I'm constantly searching and trying new things. So the next time you pick up a book or hear a new lick, unlock your imagination and see what happens!