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I’ve already posted a couple times this week about this record I’m doing right now. It’s a jazz record (if you didn’t figure that out already from the pictures in the previous post). I don’t play nearly as much jazz these days as I used to – and I am feeling that. In college I played jazz almost exclusively, but that was six years ago. I still love listening to it (which I do frequently), but playing it… well, let’s just say my chops aren’t quite what they were.

The biggest problem I’m noticing is the influence of all the rock playing I’ve done since college. Over the past few years I’ve taken all the effort that I was pouring into studying jazz and shifted it to rock/pop, and it’s made a big difference in that part of my playing for sure. BUT, the recent rock emphasis makes it hard for me to shift gears back into jazz mode, especially for an intensive, week-long studio session. The point here is that this “gear shift” I just mentioned, however difficult, is CRITICAL to playing jazz well.

The rock approach to the drumset stands in total opposition to the jazz approach. In fact, they are mortal enemies. This means that you cannot allow ANY rock instincts to influence your playing when you sit down to a jazz gig. I can’t stand listening to a rock drummer trying to play jazz when it’s obvious that he’s trying to do so while still operating in the rock mindset. Jazz drummers trying to play rock is equally annoying. So… I’ve tried to develop a multiple personality “disorder” of sorts, in an effort to successfully exist as both a rock musician AND a jazz musician. This mainly revolves around my mentality while I’m playing rock or jazz, but there are a few concrete/tangible things that I’ve done to aid the dual existence:

1) I use different sticks for jazz than I do when playing rock. They are different in all respects: size, shape, weight… everything. This makes it a little easier to get into the right frame of mind, because even when I simply pick up the sticks the feel of them puts my muscle memory into the correct mode.

2) Kick pedal – same issue as the sticks. I’ve got an old soft-beater pedal with a leather strap drive for jazz, and a newer DW pedal with a firm beater and a chain drive for rock.

3) Tuning is obviously a big part of your sound no matter what style you’re playing, but I always try to take a REALLY different approach for jazz tuning and rock tuning in order to inspire myself in the right direction sonically. This would of course also apply to cymbals.

These are just a few small things that I’ve found helpful for me. Again, the main point here is not for you to go out and buy a totally new rig if you want to learn to play jazz, but rather for you to keep in mind that in order to play jazz correctly, you MUST leave your rock mindset out of the picture entirely, and vice-versa.

There’s nothing wrong with double-kick. I had a double pedal in high school and I practiced it a ton and it sounded cool. However, I sold it many years ago and I have not missed it. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1) My left foot is very busy on the hihat. For me to sacrifice the hihat stuff and instead use that limb on the kick drum, when my right foot is already committed to the kick, seems more costly than it is helpful.

2) The double pedal really only has one sound: lots of kick hits… really fast. Think about it. Most of us can play lots of kick hits at a slow or medium tempo, and many of us can play two (or maybe three) consecutive kick hits at a fast tempo. So… the only thing you can do with a double pedal that you can’t do with a single pedal is lots of kick hits at a fast tempo. That sound, while cool in the context of certain styles of music, is rarely appropriate outside of those styles – and those are styles that I rarely play.

3) Spending time practicing double pedal is not nearly as beneficial as spending time practicing other things (like rudiments, independence exercises, grooving with a click, or improvising). Once you have a double pedal, it’s hard to resist the urge to practice it a ton and build up your chops. I have seen many drummers who could shred on a double pedal but could barely do anything else. This is obviously problematic given that 99% of drumming, in any style, has nothing to do with double-kick chops.

4) The size and weight of my set-up is important to me. Seriously, I drag my drums all over town and load them in/out of venues/studios numerous times each week. I don’t want to bog down my hardware case with a piece of gear I don’t really need… and a double-pedal is not something that I really NEED.

5) I am constantly inspired by guys who rip it up with only a single pedal. For example, check out Lester Estelle or Mike Clemmons.

Mike Portnoy… maybe compensating for something? #yeahIsaidit

When I was young I had a cymbal set-up with hats, 2 rides, 4 crashes, 2 splashes, a bell dome, and 2 chinas. I thought I was the bomb… and I had a ton of fun experimenting with all those different sounds. Now, however, I run hats with a ride and 1 crash… sometimes 2 if the situation requires it. I think the main difference is that over the last ten years I’ve been able to refine my understanding of the role of a cymbal.

The biggest issue is knowing when to NOT play. For instance, listen to “One Headlight” from the Wallflower’s first record Bringing Down The Horse. Notice anything? Matt Chamberlain doesn’t hit ANY crashes… or ride for that matter. It’s hats and hats only for the entire track… and the cool thing is that most people (even drummers) don’t notice the lack of crashes until someone else points it out. Just listening to that tune is a great lesson on knowing the role of a crash.

I started exploring this idea in high school when I would intentionally take parts of my kit away and try to play with the limited set-up that remained. Maybe just kick/snare/hats… or just kick/toms/ride… or whatever. I enjoyed the creativity that came from forcing myself to play a stripped-down kit… and I began to discover how many different sounds could be pulled from only one cymbal or drum.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not trying to say that having a lot of cymbals is automatically bad. The only real problem with it is temptation. Honestly, how often does a bell dome REALLY fit in a song? Answer: not very often… maybe once in your band’s entire show. But for most drummers, simply having the bell dome set up on the kit makes you want to hit it. You’re trucking along on the tune and you notice the bell dome sitting there and you think “oh… I haven’t hit that in a while…” and then you force the issue and play it in a spot where it doesn’t belong.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with a bell dome. You just have to know when to show some restraint and NOT hit it. An example of this would be Jack DeJohnette in the Keith Jarrett Trio. His set-up is almost unforgivably excessive for a jazz context, but you would never know it from just listening. He’s not hitting anything that doesn’t need to be hit, and the discipline and musicality he shows in having all those cymbals and not hitting them is incredible. He just uses what he needs and it rules.

SUMMARY: Put as many cymbals in your set-up as you want… but prioritize knowing when to NOT play them.

I love iTunes. Not the store… I’m talking about the program. The main reason is because of this little trick I started doing right away when I got my computer…

When you transfer a disc into the iTunes library, the software grabs all the data on that disc from the internet so you have it all in the program. Blah blah, we all know about this. This data includes a pre-assigned “genre” for each record, and early on in the process of transferring my 2,000+ records onto my computer (that took a LONG time) I realized that I could rename that “genre” section to whatever I wanted it to be. I discovered this because I thought some of the automatic genre assignments were stupid… like calling a Flaming Lips records “Alternative and Punk.” I clicked on the genre field for the first track on the Soft Bulletin and it highlighted, so I erased “Alternative and Punk” in disgust. Then it hit me: maybe I should just put the name of the drummer on the track as the “genre.” So I typed “Steven Drozd”… and hit enter. It worked. I went up to the genre index and scrolled through it… “Country,” “Jazz,” “Rock/Pop”… “Steven Drozd.” Nice.

Now, I am kind of a geek about music trivia, such as knowing which drummers play on which records and so forth, so you can see why this idea was appealing to me. It definitely took a little extra time to not only upload all of my records, but also open up the liner notes, read who the drummer is, and notate that in the genre section for every track that I put into itunes. But it was worth it. Now I have this music library that I can cross-index by drummer. It totally rules. When I want to look up which records I have that Elvin Jones played on, I just go to the genre index and scroll down to Elvin. Awesome.

If you don’t get excited about that like I do then I think that means you’re just not as much of a geek as I am. If this idea does pump you up though, then you need to take the time to do it for your own iTunes library. You will love it.

Not really a hockey fan, just a fan of looking cool.

Not really a hockey fan, just a fan of looking cool.

I’ve mentioned Dave King before on this blog and I will do it again. I studied with him for a few years during college. He is the single biggest influence on my playing, and my perspective on music as a whole. If you read this blog and you aren’t familiar with him, then here are some links to check out all the different bands he’s in…

1) The avant-garde jazz trio Happy Apple. You can hear some of their latest tracks here, and you can listen to this interesting NPR report on the band.

2) The art/pop-electro/rock band Halloween Alaska. Check out their myspace and watch this documentary of their second record.

3) The world-renowned progressive jazz trio The Bad Plus. Listen to them here, and watch them here.

4) The indie-rock band Love-Cars. Check them out here.

5) The raucous collision of sounds called The Gang Font. This is a band King started with Greg Norton (the bassist from Husker Du). You can watch this interview and performance from their first show.

In addition to all these bands, King has also recorded and performed with Jeff Beck, The Jayhawks, Iffy, FKG, Craig Taborn, Tim Berne, 12RODS, Haley Bonar, Mason Jennings, Bill Carrothers, and many others. You can check out his Zildjian artist profile here, and there’s a Modern Drummer Magazine article on him here.

UPDATE: Some of Dave’s recent endeavors as a bandleader include a trio record called I’ve Been Ringing You, a Dave King Trucking Company record called Good Old Light, and an interesting solo album called Indelicate. Furthermore, if you want get a glimpse of Dave’s comedy side, scroll through his blog posts (explicit content). Also worth watching are the handful of YouTube interviews with him like this and this… and there’s even a full-length MOVIE on him.

Alright.  Lesson 2 in the Risen Drums Video Lesson Series is up and running.  Check it out, and then post any questions that you might have here – I will do my best to answer them.

Meanwhile… here’s a little follow up on the lesson.  While the heel/toe adds a cool sound to your grooves, I should stress that the technique is not supposed to be your default way of playing the hats.  Any technique, no matter how cool it is, will be ruined if you use it too often.  Everything in moderation.  I probably use the heel/toe about 30% of the time… and that of course means I’m doing something else on the hats for the other 70% – maybe toe/heel (the reverse of heel/toe, which I explained on the video), or maybe heel hits only, or perhaps some sort of hybrid pattern.

I had a discussion about this with one of my students yesterday and I thought it was worth mentioning on the blog.

In striving for your best performance, consider two separate terms:  a) mistake,  b) screw-up

A mistake is something you play that doesn’t turn out quite like you intended.  Perhaps you land the fill at the wrong time, or you play two kick hits in a groove when you meant to play only one.  Whatever the case, the main characteristic of a mistake (as I am defining it) is that the end result – what you actually played – doesn’t necessarily sound bad.  Maybe it was technically wrong, but no one would notice a problem… and so you’re probably the only person in the room who knows that it happened.  This kind of thing, what I’m calling a mistake, happens all the time, to all of us.  It’s not a good thing – we should work to avoid this – but we should all recognize that mistakes are, on a certain level, inevitable.

The second term is a screw-up.  This is different from a mistake only in that it’s obvious to everyone.  It’s something you didn’t intend, and the audience knows it.  Whether it’s a hit at the wrong time, or a dropped beat, or a flubbed fill, whatever… it’s something that everybody within earshot hears, and they all know that it shouldn’t have happened.

There are a few lessons I want to point out regarding these terms:

1)  Good drummers know the difference between mistakes and screw-ups.  Good drummers know which parts of the song MUST be played a certain way and they also know where there is some margin for variation.  Strive to know enough about the song and the core elements of your parts that you can tell the difference too.  Don’t get down on yourself for a mistake… no one is perfect.  A screw-up however, is something that you need to pay attention to.

2)  A mistake can quickly become a screw-up if you’re not careful.  Playing something that you didn’t intend might not sound bad to the audience, but the surprise/distraction of playing it might knock you off balance enough to cause you to play something else you didn’t intend… something that DOES sound bad to the audience.  Be on the lookout for mistakes so that you can quickly recover.

3)  While a mistake is going to happen now and then, even to the pros, a screw-up really never NEEDS to happen.  A mistake is the result of a slight mental error, but a screw-up is a huge mental error (and mostly a careless one). Again, no one is perfect, but the kind of error that produces a note wrong enough that everyone notices… I believe it can always be avoided. For example, a slight stumble while walking up some stairs is something that we’ve all experienced, but I think it is reasonable that someone could go their entire life without actually falling all the way down the stairs and getting scraped and bruised. The important distinction is whether you’re paying enough attention each and every time you’re on the stairs. Are you diligent to clear you mind of distractions when you approach a staircase? Are you alert for things like ice, an untied shoelace, or an object on the stairs that you might trip on? You get the idea.

I think this 3rd lesson is the most important. It will do wonders for your reputation as a player if you successfully eliminate screw-ups. If mistakes are errors that only you know about, and screwing up becomes something that you never do, then the word on the street will soon be that you don’t make any errors at all. Also, realizing that screw-ups are avoidable is the key to actually avoiding them. Consider an NBA player and a surgeon. The NBA player misses shots all the time… but then again he expects that he will. A surgeon on the other hand will go an entire career without ever botching a surgery. I believe the difference is that surgeons are taught from day one that an error in surgery is a costly error… and it cannot be tolerated. Therefore, the ball player hits the court with the expectation that he probably won’t make every shot he takes that game, but the surgeon arrives at the hospital with the determination that he WILL NOT allow any errors in his surgeries for the day. I believe these two mentalities have enormous impact on the results.

SUMMARY:  Know the difference between mistakes and screw-ups, and make a conscious effort to eliminate the latter.

I just found this great article about Miles’ music in the 60’s. I mentioned that band and it’s influence on me a few weeks ago in a post about Tony Williams. This article goes a little deeper into the historical significance of Miles’ 60’s era, and specifically Tony’s presence in the music. It’s a good read if nothing else.

I’ve posted quite a few listening recommendations so far, and I’ll continue to do that. The reason is simple: listening to music is a very important part of growth as a musician.

It has been my observation (and experience) that the majority of a musician’s education comes not from lessons/books/videos, but from LISTENING. This makes sense, given that music is an art form. Art has always evolved through artists – not teachers and books, but the artists themselves – as they experience each other’s work and therefore inspire one another to push the envelope with new ideas and new directions.

How often do you listen to music? How many different kinds of music do you listen to? How CLOSELY do you pay attention to the music you listen to? Listening is like your gas tank as a musician. Of course practicing is VERY important, but I like to think of practicing as an oil change, or brake maintenance, or transmission work, or even a wash. But the day to day FUEL comes from listening. Ok, sorry I stuck with that analogy for so long.

That’s it. There’s not much else that needs to be said about this. Some of the aspects of your playing that will grow immensely as you increase your listening are: musical instincts, feel, creativity, musical personality, versatility, tone awareness, and contemporary relevance.

In addition to the great records I’ve listed so far in previous “Recent Listening” posts, I also have a more broad encyclopedia of general recommendations from my own library, past and present… the Albums Every Drummer Should Know list.


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