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Episode 4 of the Risen Drums Video Lesson Series is up and running…
Also, there’s a FREE Bill Mike Band show tonight at Stevens Square Park in Minneapolis. It’s part of the “Music & Movies In The Park” summer festival, and the Coen Brothers’ film “Hudsucker Proxy” will be showing on the big outdoor screen after the show. We play at 7:30pm or something.
I’m going to start a new series of posts… one album each week that I think totally rules. I’ve posted a few times with lists of what I was listening to that particular week, but now I’m going to focus more on specifics.
First up… “Speak” by the Dogs Of Peace. This was recommended to me through my “top ten unknown albums” club. So awesome. It’s a bunch of Nashville studio musicians just throwing down on some killer alternative rock. Gordon Kennedy (who wrote Clapton’s smash hit “Change the World”) on guitars and vocals, Jimmie Lee Sloas (renowned Nashville producer and bassist) on bass/vocals/keys, and John Hammond on drums. The sound is something like STP meets the Posies, with a definite “songwriter” feel to the lyric and structure (not to mention some great vocal harmonies).
From a drummer’s perspective, John Hammond’s feel on this recording is so great. He has a rocking quality that definitely keeps the band from sounding too pop, but his ideas and approach are great lessons on how to play “inside the lines” and “by the book” and yet not make things sterile or plastic-sounding. The fill at the beginning of track 7? C’mon. The Porcaro shuffle in 6/8 on that same track? Seriously.
My brush technique is definitely the weakest aspect of my playing. I have been attempting to address this lately, and just now I found some good brush help on youtube. Sheesh… what did people do before youtube? Check it out…
It is important to acknowledge the difference between sitting behind the drumset and sitting in the audience. Often the evaluation of what you’re playing and how it sounds will vary significantly between your perspective as the performer and the perspective of the listener. Consider these scenarios:
1) The groove you’re playing is a new groove to you. It’s one that you just learned and you’re excited to find an opportunity to use it. The song you’re playing feels like the right tempo for the groove, so you play it and it’s tons of fun. BUT… the cool new groove doesn’t really fit the vibe of the song, and a more standard groove would have been a much better choice. You, however, are not able to realize this because you’re the person playing the groove and you’re biased.
2) The song you’re playing is slow, maybe 72bpm quarter note. The intensity builds as you move through the end of the verse and approach the chorus, and you start getting excited for what you know is coming next. As a result, you start speeding up… and you don’t know it. The tempo increase feels natural to you in the moment of excitement, and you’re unaware of this because you’re the person playing the groove and you’re biased.
3) Same scenario as #2, but this time you’re doing a great job of controlling your excitement and keeping a steady tempo. Nice. Now comes the fill that transitions into the awesome chorus that you’re so excited about, and you dive into the fill with a descending 16th pattern that seems appropriate. However, at 72 bpm, the 16ths feel very slow and exposed, so you switch to 32nd notes to fill up the space that you think needs to be filled up. But the 16ths actually felt great in the moment, and the new 32nd pattern – as opposed to filling up space – instead feels busy and convoluted. You are the only person in the room that doesn’t know this, because you’re the person playing the pattern and you’re biased.
This perspective thing is a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way, as I’ve found myself in situations where I am afforded the bias-breaking luxury of listening back to a recording of myself. A musical moment that felt great to me when I played it ends up feeling not so great as I listen. When we are stripped of the warped perspective that we have as performers, the reality of how things actually sound becomes so much clearer. As a result of hearing playbacks of myself, I’ve learned to create somewhat of a dual-existence while I play… or at least I try to do this. The one side of me is playing musically as a performer in the moment, and the other side of me is trying as hard as possible to step out of the performer perspective and listen critically as an audience member. I think it’s helped a ton.
So… John Bonham… drummer for Zeppelin… everybody knows and loves him. He’s the father of rock drumming as we know it, and his drum tone is one of the most sought-after sounds in studio work of every genre (his intro on “When The Levy Breaks” from Led Zeppelin 4 is one of the most heavily sampled grooves of all time).
Bonham was known for his lengthy solos, which often included 3-limb triplet patterns that have since come to be known by many as “Bonham triplets.” These patterns sound pretty cool, but aren’t necessarily very useful outside of a soloing context (in my opinion). I’ve found them more helpful as an exercise/rudiment than as a staple ingredient in my playing.
I was talking about these patterns with a student today so I thought I would post them and encourage everybody to spend some time getting comfortable with these. They’re very good exercises on many levels.
Main pattern: R-L-B, R-L-B, R-L-B, R-L-B
(note: These patterns are all triplet-based, and should be counted as “1-lah-lee, 2-lah-lee, 3-lah-lee, 4-lah-lee.” I’m inserting commas between each full triplet… aka every three notes. The “R” is right hand and should be played on the floor tom, the “L” is left hand and should be played on the rack tom, and the “B” is bass/kick. The patterns should be played smoothly with no pauses or accents).
Alternate pattern #1: L-R-B, L-R-B, L-R-B, L-R-B
Alternate pattern #2: B-R-L, B-R-L, B-R-L, B-R-L (you can also switch L and R on this)
Alternate pattern #3: L-B-R, L-B-R, L-B-R, L-B-R (you can switch L and R on this one too)
Alternate pattern #4: R-L-B, L-R-B, R-L-B, L-R-B (this one alternates as you go)
Man… Brian Blade is definitely one of my favorite drummers right now. He has so much control, his ideas are so musical, and his groove is so comfortable. Love it.
Brian Blade is on my mind today because I’ve been listening to Danial Lanois’ “Shine” quite a bit. Blade just destroys that record. His feel, his comfort and vocabulary… unbelievable. The album is a singer-songwriter style, and so Blade is of course playing appropriately within that realm. BUT, he is also a widely respected jazz player. THAT is the main point of this post.
I’ve had more than a few musicians whom I respect tell me that my best bet is to pigeon-hole my efforts on the drums into one genre/sound, and just try to make that as killing as I can. I understand the logic: don’t waste time trying to improve your weaknesses, just focus on making your strengths even stronger and soon you will be the only fish in the pond that anyone wants to work with, when it comes to those strengths. This idea is big in the business world, and it makes sense to a degree… but I’m not sure it applies to Art.
I studied jazz music extensively in college, and I’ve also spent a lot of time in pop/rock settings. In fact, I’ve done quite a bit of gospel lately, and some alt-country, and even some electronica/drum-n-bass. Therefore, I’m obviously in danger of spreading myself too thin according to the “ignore-your-weakness-promote-your-strength” mantra, but I don’t see it that way. I feel like I have learned concepts in studying jazz that I can apply to rock… things that make my rock playing different from another rock drummer who has never studied jazz. Conversely, I can bring rock elements into my jazz that sound hopefully make my jazz playing unique. Of course, I have to have a solid understanding of the difference between rock and jazz, but having a presence in both worlds is a challenge that I enjoy taking on.
Actually, I believe learning about and participating in many different styles/genres is an essential element to feeding creativity in your playing. I guess I just disagree with the advice I’ve been given. Maybe I’ll recant in a few years when I am wiser, but for now, I encourage every musician who reads this blog to surround yourself with as many different-sounding records as you can find, and soak them all in.
I was basically self-taught for my first 8 years of playing drums. I learned everything about the drumset through trial and error on my own (aside from a few months of initial lessons on how to play basic grooves and fills). I think that period of exploration/discovery was an important link in the chain for me in my development as a musician, but ultimately I didn’t make any real progress on my instrument until I found a teacher to guide me in some serious STUDY of the drumset.
Yesterday, when I was considering what makes a “good” teacher, I came up with this idea: The most important job of a teacher is to show the student what “good” is. Therefore, a good teacher will spend the majority of the time articulating what the bull’s eye is, not just giving the student tips on how to hit the target. This is true in my experiences as a student, especially when I think about the teachers that really impacted me. The best lessons I’ve ever had are the ones where I realize that the target I’ve been aiming for is perhaps not the best target. As the teacher helps me bring the real bull’s eye into focus, I am then able to make slight adjustments in my efforts, and I immediately see more progress as a result of a more accurate aim.
Just something to consider I guess… that a good teacher should not just show you how to get good, but also what the true definition of “good” really is.
There are two tasks in playing the drums (or any instrument for that matter):
1) overcoming the physical difficulty of performing a given groove/fill etc, and…
2) making that performance sound good.
Of course, there are many additional areas of focus for a musician, but these two specific tasks are the subject of today’s post. It is important to understand the difference between these two tasks, and then to make sure that you are putting effort into both.
The first one is obvious to anyone who has ever sat behind a drumset. Playing even the most basic groove requires a good amount of timing and dexterity, and it’s quite a challenge if you’ve never done it before. Because of this, most beginners tend to throw their entire focus into the 1st task: overcoming the physical difficulties of learning new drum grooves. Once a given groove is “learned,” then the beginner feels ready to tackle a different groove. The problem is that, to most beginners, “learned” simply means “do-able.” The beginner will only practice a groove enough to make it merely “do-able,” and then move on to something else. The extra practice that is required to take that groove from the “do-able” status to the more important “sounds good” status is ignored. As a result, most beginners are able to play many different grooves, but can’t really play any of them in a way that sounds good.
I can understand why the 2nd task often gets the short end of the stick. The practice that goes into the 2nd task is difficult. It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s subtle and nuanced… and most of the time it doesn’t give the immediate satisfaction of “learning” a new groove. However, in my 8 years of playing drums for a living, I have realized that the 2nd task is really the more important issue. Most professional musicians are able to play whatever the gig would require them to play… but not all musicians sound good doing it. The gig never goes to the guy who knows the most – it’s the guy who sounds the best that gets the calls.
Working on this 2nd task has been my main focus for the last 3 years or so, and it has reshaped the way I practice, the way I listen to other drummers, and the way I teach my students. I think it has been a good thing.
SUMMARY: Work on learning new grooves/fills/rudiments/whatever, but don’t just “learn” how to play them – make them sound good too.
The third episode in the Risen Drums Video Lesson Series is up and running. Go watch it and check back here if you have any questions. The lesson has some specific grooves in it… here they are…
THE BASIC 4/4 GROOVE
8th SYNCOPATION EXAMPLE
16th SYNCOPATION EXAMPLE