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I imagine the odds are quite slim that my blog’s readers might also be planning on tuning in to tonight’s Miss America Pageant. However, if you are a Miss America fan, then be sure and check out Brooke Kilgarriff (Miss MN 2009) as she belts out Queen’s “Somebody to Love” for the talent portion of the show. I played all the drums on the backing track, and I’m feeling pretty good about the likelihood that my playing will utterly captivate the audience, causing them to completely forget all of those beautiful women wearing evening gowns and bikinis. I’m totally convinced this will happen, actually.
PS. Joking aside, there’s a fair amount of buzz that Brooke is a strong contender to take the whole contest. Go Brooke!
Ok, first off, I want to say that the longer I study music, the more convinced I am that thinking correctly about what you’re doing is an essential element to doing it well. That might be obvious in other vocations, but it seems like typical music education stresses doing and not thinking. Both are necessary, but thinking is probably more necessary than is often acknowledged.
I wrote a post a few months ago about the various stages of the artistic pursuit, which is a broad topic for sure, but definitely aims at the thinking side of things. Today’s post revolves around the more specific world of an instrumentalist, but is also aimed at the thinkers. I’ve heard the following analysis elsewhere, but only recently, and it really blew my mind…
One can basically boil down the levels of technical accomplishment on an instrument into these four stages:
1. “Incompetent & Unaware”
You suck. But, you suck so bad that you don’t even realize it. The elements/components/characteristics of quality musicianship are so far out of your reach that you don’t even know they exist, and are therefore unaware that you lack them. Normally, a teacher is needed to get you out of this stage.
2. “Incompetent & Aware”
You still suck, but your knowledge of what that means has grown enormously. You disappoint yourself because you can’t do what you want to do, but at least what you want to do is clear to you. I suppose this is just another way to phrase the whole “knowing is half the battle” cliche.
3. “Competent & Aware ”
For this one I prefer the phrase “with effort” instead of the word “aware.” The idea is that you have some skills on the instrument now, but, the skills are very taxing to you physically and mentally. You can play, and you can even play pretty well, but you have to give it your all in order to make it happen. You get tired quickly, and your mind is not free to think deeply about what you’re doing – the execution alone requires all your attention. That’s why “effort” is a better word… because we’re not talking about some Zen sense of awareness – we’re talking about very specific and intentional mental and physical effort.
4. “Competent & Unaware”
Again, I’d like to substitute the term “effortless” in place of “unaware.” In this 4th and final stage of development, you realize that your skills are simply tools in a toolbox. It requires no more effort/focus to play your instrument well than it does to lift a wrench and use it to tighten a bolt. For example, I often try to think of my drums the way I think of my speech – that’s the goal anyway. When I talk, I don’t dwell on the way my mouth needs to move in order to pronounce the words that I’m speaking. Instead, I just think about what I want to say. My mouth is just a tool, not an end in itself. The reason I prefer again to avoid the word “unaware” is to avoid the conclusion that good players don’t think about what they’re doing. This is a common misunderstanding it seems – the idea that the goal is to not have to think. While I’m unaware of the specific movements my mouth makes while I speak, I am definitely still using my brain in specific and intentional decisions on what I’m saying. Good musicians do the same thing. Listening carefully to and analyzing what other musicians are playing, making decisions about what to play, and being intentional about executing what you play with precision – these are all very worthwhile tasks for your mind while playing music. You’re not supposed to just zone out.
The benefit of using these categories to identify where you’re at on your journey as an instrumentalist is being able to see what needs to happen next. For me, it was that 4th category. Once I arrived at the third category (which is where most 10-or-more-year-experience musicians are), I thought I had reached the final stage of being a musician. I then just spent time trying to broaden my horizons, instead of further ingraining what I already could do. Crossing from the 3rd to the 4th category is probably the biggest jump in ability and musicianship on the whole journey, and it seems to me to be the biggest difference between “the men and the boys” of the music world. Striving to “speak with my instrument” as effortlessly as I speak with my mouth has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that the drumset offers, and I imagine I’ll be on this part of the journey for the rest of my life.
Just passed 100,000 on the hit counter for this site. Much thanks to everybody who bothers to read what I write. Also, many thanks to the spammers that visit the site each day, who, in all likelihood, are responsible for at least half of my blog’s traffic.
In other news…
Some recent gear purchases have left the Goold’s a little in the red. Thusly, here’s a list of the stuff I’m not using right now and hoping to sell. Truth be told, I don’t want to sell any of this gear, but if I have to, I’d prefer to NOT sell it to random craigslist guy. So hopefully someone who reads my blog will need something that I’ve got. I am personally vouching for all this gear… I’ve used it all many times and it sounds incredible.
Disclaimer: this video is really lame and really rad at the same time. Lame, because the narrator and the crew (and Mangini for that matter) are total tools. Rad, because I’m totally blown away by how the drums actually move while you’re playing them.
Scroll ahead to 4:15 to skip most of the lame parts…
Apparently Prince just wrote/recorded a fight song for the Minnesota Vikings, in lieu of this weekend’s NFC championship game. I just listened to it, and… um, I don’t know what to say.
The track is streaming at the Twin Cities FOX9 website if you want to hear it for yourself. (To hear the full track, use the player to the right, not the video.)
Obviously I’ll be dressing up as Neil Peart.
Some good thoughts on the importance of disciplined practice, from an acquaintance of mine up in Canada.
But now, in an attempt redeem myself, I’ve finally edited the last installment of the Studio Interview Series: a chat with Aussie drummer Paul Mabury. Paul currently lives in Nashville and does quite a bit of session work there, but cut his teeth at Hillsong in Australia. He’s a great player and has tons of insight for the studio side of things.
And, as I conclude the SIS, I’m happy to announce a new series of interviews featuring more extensive discussions with some of the cool/influential/innovative drummers that the Twin Cities has to offer. Look for the Twin Cities Interview Series to kick off next week, but for now, enjoy Paul Mabury’s perspective…
(Me) How long have you been playing drums, and how much of that has included studio work? (PM) I am 35 years old now and I started drumming as a 13 year old. I didn’t get serious about it though until I went to the West Australian Academy of Music to study Jazz under Frank Gibson Jr. This was an amazing time of rich musical development. I quickly started getting out and playing shows in the club scene and was soon playing every night of the week. This lead to me playing on records in my early 20’s… and it hasn’t stopped, thank the Lord.
How has your career played out as far as “hired gun” vs “band member”? Do you think there is more chance for a drummer to find work in one situation over the other? I think the ultimate is to be in a band… isn’t it the reason why we wanted to play in the first place? Music needs to be shared! I have found that my session work has come from my work in bands. Just find people that make you sound good. I have been playing a ton here in Nashville with a bass player named David Labruyere (or “dela” and most people will know his work from Shawn Mullins, John Mayer). The truth is we try to get a lot of work together because we make each other sound good… yeah, it’s a selfish relationship… ha.
What’s your take on being a diverse player vs a highly specialized player? Oh, I appreciate the specialized player. But I say, “play it all man!” You will have more of a chance to get a gig if you have more than one feather in your cap.
How much practice time do you give to “chops” kinds of things vs other skills? Not much… there’s just no time… I have to little boys now and when I start to play they always hear it and sneak down stairs to come and play with me. I spend most of my time (when I do get to practice) playing a groove at a difficult tempo for as long I can handle it. It isn’t too enjoyable but I get better as a player. I think practice should sound good. We should be working on our weaknesses so that one day others will enjoy them as our strengths!
What are your thoughts on being an analytical player vs just playing by feel? I would like to be more analytical but I am just not! Music should make you feel something… I admit, great things happen when “Art & Science” meet, but I would prefer to make something great happen and then have others analyze it. A great example of this happened when I was at music school studying Jazz. We had some of the greatest musicians/lecturers in the country standing behind their instruments waiting to play while students were throwing back debates on what “improvising” was! Just when I couldn’t handle it anymore Frank (my lecturer) said, “Lets just play something.” Another lecturer said, “what?” and Frank replied, “lets just play… improvise!” They went on to show us improvisation… they did it, and think that’s how we learn.
The truth is, if you have to ask the question, “what is improvising?” then you’re probably going about it all wrong. Music is a language – it’s a way we communicate – and it’s powerful. It’s important that we learn to understand what we are doing when we play music but it’s more important that we actually do it!
Who are some of your favorite studio players, and what are some examples of why you like them? Steve Gadd… for obvious reasons! (he is one of the most “musical” drummers of all time.) Check him out on most of the contemporary music ever recorded… ha! “Chuck E’s In Love” by Rickie Lee Jones would be my favorite though. That fill into the chorus out kills me, I ran the needle over the record to learn it but no one can play it like him! He makes lazy feel so good.
Mike Clark, his tone… the way he strikes the drum is wonderful and he plays so tight. You MUST check him out on “Thrust” – Herbie Hancock.
Andy Newmark, for a lot of the same reasons I like Mike Clark. He is incredible on Sly & The Family Stone between 1973-75. His most amazing work in my opinion is on the groundbreaking record, “Fresh.” Own it! He’s playing to drum machines and he is a beast!
Man there are so many, Jon Bonham, Charlie Watts, Ringo, Mitch Mitchell… oh and I love Steve Jordan. All these guys groove. Tony Williams for his innovation, Max Roach… this guy played melodies! Bill Stewart… he is a very “hip” drummer… he implies 2&4 better than anyone! I can find great things and stuff to learn about most players I hear. Here is a great quote, “music is not about being competitive, it is about being creative and not letting the instrument get in the way of the music.” -Frank Gibson Jr.
I should shut up… I could go on and on… the truth is in the records.
What do you think of Pro Tools and the way the digital revolution has influenced recording? I love it. As a producer, I am having a ball with pro tools. I think of it like a sampler. I love taking 2 or 4 bars of what I played and then mixing up drums and brushes and sticks and then playing to what I just recorded… layers of goodness. Man, I recently played on Dave Barnes’ new record and Ed Cash was producing it. I asked him if I could take the sessions home each night to add tambourine, shaker and loops and the like… he said, “don’t edit anything… I like it just the way it is!” That was a refreshing experience… thanks Ed.
How do you go about choosing snares for a track? Does that normally take a lot of time or is it immediately clear which drum to use? Picking a snare for a track usually happens very quickly. I am usually on sessions where the producer (if it isn’t me) wants that “dry crack” with little ring, if any. I love older snares that have in-built muffles so I can use them to get the desired sound. I mostly tune snares low. If it’s a really live sound that is desired I will tune up accordingly to a pitch that compliments the track and for this sound it will usually be a Black Beauty. For the dry pop sounding songs I use mostly an old Ludwig Superphonic School Studio Standard. I think mine is a 1975? I got it for $100 on ebay and so far I’ve used it on every session I rock up to… funny. This is the Superphonic being recorded at dela’s… (with a book on it). If the track is needing something a little left of center then I will start pulling out some snare drums with a more unique character. Like my 80’s Yamaha 8″x14″. This snare has a lot of body with a long note. But hey, I still put a muffle in it and if I drop the snare tuning right down and put my wallet on the top head I can get that old school funk thing going. Here is a good example me playing this snare on a Dave Barnes track at the Smoakstack. Oh and one last thing: if you’re ever having trouble making a snare sound right then once you have it tuned evenly all the way around (with the bottom head tight) loosen the 2 lugs closest to you… all the way, this seems to always work for me. I do it time and time again saying, “how about now?” and the engineer has always replied, “yeah, yeah… that’s it!” (or words to that effect!)
Tell me about your cymbals… why do you choose them and how often do you mix it up? I use all Zildjians… dark cymbals. I love the K’s and the Constantinople’s. I use big cymbals mostly in that you always loose a few inches of sound in the studio. So it’s 22″ 20″ and I usually match 16″ crash cymbals for Hi Hats. I have been using an A Custom Projection Crash on the bottom and a K Dark Crash on the top. I will very rarely use 14″ Hi Hats. I never have many cymbals set up… no need. Here is what I am using at the moment, and here is the typical rig. It’s a bit like a Bonham set up.
If you could have any piece of gear besides what you already have and use, what would it be? Gretsch round badge drum kit… one day you will be mine!
I’ve got two shows happening this week that I’m really pumped about.
1. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) Caitlyn Smith will be hosting her farewell show as she prepares to leave for Tennessee. Cait has a writing deal with a Nashville publishing group, and you will know why when you hear her songs. The show is at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis, starts at 9pm, and is FREE.
2. This coming Saturday is the album release show for my friend Brett Tyler and his new record Bittersweet. The fantastic Noah Levy played drums on the album, so I’m pumped to fill his shoes for the release night. Sitting in at the show will be Mark Edwards, Joel Hanson, and Caitlyn Smith (see above), who all contributed to Brett’s record in some way. The show is at the Turf Club in St. Paul, with Farewell Milwaukee and Romantica on the bill as well. 9pm or something.
UPDATE (1/16): These shows were this past week, as in they already happened. I realized that I didn’t list any dates so I don’t want things to be confusing. The shows were both totally packed and tons of fun. Thanks to everybody who came out.
Dave Stanoch is a working freelance player in the Twin Cities much like myself, but Dave is 3 or 4 rungs past me on the ladder as far as gigs go. I just got done reading an article of his from Drummer Cafe where he chronicles a show gig he did when Regis Philbin came to MN this past Fall. He provides a great look into the reality of being a freelance drummer and what kind of skills are necessary to make it.