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This week’s lesson in killing pocket is courtesy of the great Jim Keltner. This Jay Leno performance from 2006 features producer T Bone Burnett playing some of his own stuff. Upright bass, John Mayer on guitar, double drumset action… it doesn’t get much cooler than this.
Anybody know who that other drummer is? I feel like it might be a “she” but I can’t tell for sure… (Update: this 2nd drummer in question is Carla Azar)
The great Matt Chamberlain, delivering this week’s lesson in killing pocket…
This is the first single from Eric Clapton’s new record, and apparently it’s the only track that Chamberlain plays on, but the rest of them are split between the likes of Abe Laboriel, Steve Gadd, and Jim freaking Keltner. So… it’s, um, not going to suck.
To top it off, Clapton heads out on tour soon with none other than Steve Jordan. He knows how to pick his drummers.
Today’s lesson in super killing pocket is brought to you by a young Steve Jordan and his shuffle groove…
Note the quarters only on the ride, and the ILL snare tone.
The “Amen Break” is the watershed groove that birthed hip-hop beats, jungle/rave beats, and many other current forms of sampling. Here’s a 20-minute lecture on this important moment in drum history and it’s subsequent manipulations…
I don’t totally agree with his commentary on the UK usage of samplers as a “high brow” and “absurd” art form, as that UK stuff is super interesting/inspiring to me, and my main influence in the solo stuff I’m working on.
HT: Travis Faust
PS. Some colorful language from NWA (surprise), so heads up there.
Does everybody know how killing this band is? Jeff Porcaro has so much groove. The whole band… they are unreal. Rhythm sections like this are just so few and far between.
PS. Also few and far between… the perc player with no shirt and rainbow suspenders.
I’ve spent the last few hours learning some Tower Of Power tunes for a corporate party cover band gig. Man… TOP rules so hard. Like, the REAL DEAL soul/funk/r&b. Love it. David Garibaldi has the ghost note thing happening like no other. I can’t say that Garibaldi’s playing has ever had much influence on me, but I’ve really enjoyed digging into this music to learn his parts. Check out this video of them playing their big single “What is Hip,” straight from 1973. Be sure and watch the tenor player in the white suit…
AND… as a bonus… here’s a video of the great Dennis Chambers sitting in for Garibaldi on a recent TOP date. I guess Garibaldi was unavailable or something, so Chambers is just subbing. Chambers is another drummer that I can’t say I’ve listened to a whole lot, but he shreds some pretty wicked chops in this tune…
For those who don’t know, the “less is more” principle revolves around the idea that if you do something too often, you cheapen it. This, in my experience with music, is true. And helpful. However, a common follow-up to this principle is that musicians shouldn’t play very many notes in general… that your playing should always be simple and spacious. In this logic, “busy” playing of any kind is discouraged – in the name of “less is more.” That conclusion is one that I disagree with.
To be sure, there are many environments where a drummer should be careful to not overplay. Most times a simple fill (and not a complex chops fest) is all you need – or a skeletal groove instead of a heavily syncopated one. However, I’ve noticed that POCKET is rarely considered in determining whether someone is playing too many notes, and in my experience that’s one of the most important factors. A busy fill where every note lands dead center in the pocket is normally not a problem for anyone, while a less crowded fill that rushes/drags is accused of being too busy.
SUMMARY: The “less is more” principle is a helpful reminder that you have to choose your moments, but it doesn’t need to be a unilateral prohibition on busy playing. Before you simplify the fill/groove that you’re playing, try landing your notes more in the pocket and see if that doesn’t make the difference in your sound.
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.
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.
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.