Sunday, July 26, 2015

Transcription - The Amen Break

If you listen to or create jungle, drum 'n' bass, breakbeat, hip-hop music, etc., you owe G.C. Coleman a beer.

Well, you would if he were still with us.  Mr. Coleman bestowed upon us "The Amen Break".  Whether you realize it or not, you know this break.  The song from which it comes, "Amen, Brother", was originally recorded on the B-side of a pretty successful record called "Color Him Father" in 1969 by a band called the Winstons.  However, the four bar break in the middle of the tune turned out to be more successful than the song itself as it became the backbone of jungle and drum 'n' bass music, and one of the most sampled breaks of all time.  It's been sped up, slowed down, pitch changed, chopped up, EQ'd and anything else you can think of probably a thousand times over.

You can read more about the background and influence of the break on Wikipedia.  The BBC also did a piece on it recently.  Both worth checking out.  But we're here for the notes.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you're asked to play a drum 'n' bass, or even a hip-hop groove, this break is probably a really safe place to start:

You didn't think I'd leave you without some practice loops, did you?  First is the original:

If you need some time to get in under your hands, here is a slower version.  I left the analog locked for that fat breakbeat sound.

Once you've got a really good grasp on things, try it at a DnB tempo.  Again, analog locked for authenticity.

And lastly but not leastly, here is the whole tune, in its entirety:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Right Hand Samba Speed

I recently received an e-mail from a former student with whom I worked on a lot of Brazilian music.  He was asking about some of the break-neck speeds that many Brazilian drummers get out of their right hands.  It turned out to be a rather lengthy response, so I thought I'd share it with you all.

There are a few different approaches to that kind of right hand speed:

I once interviewed Cuca Teixeira, who is Maria Rita's drummer, and asked him a similar question.  He said that many Brazilians, simply from years of doing it, and the style of music they grew up playing, have really fast wrists.  Some finger is surely used as well, but in general, many of these guys just have really fast hands.  I realize that's not much of an explanation, but that is to say that I think this approach just takes a LOT of time to develop.

Check out how firm Cuca's hand is in this video:

This one isn't nearly as fast, but you can get a better look at his hands:

This is what I use the most.  French grip (ish), with all of the speed coming from the fingers.  Technically, as you may know, French grip is a three point fulcrum where the thumb sits in between the index and middle finger.  I once heard a symphony timpanist say that if you lost your ring and pinky fingers you could still be a great timpanist.  So it's not really French grip in that I'm using all of my fingers.  Also, rather than a typical fulcrum where the thumb and index finger are directly across from each other, my thumb actually sits a little bit in front of my index finger so that I can use all four fingers to move the stick.  This is just my personal approach.

Edu Ribeiro, who is probably the fastest guy out there, uses this technique, although he seems to use more of a standard fulcrum - thumb and index finger directly across from each other.

Here is a video of him talking about this technique (starting around 6:30):

There are a lot of great videos of Edu playing with this technique on YouTube.  Search his name with "bateria", as there are other Edu Ribeiros out there, and also check out some live videos of Trio Corrente:

You've probably heard of this before.  There are a million videos on YouTube about it.  Jojo Mayer gives a nice breakdown of it on his Secret Weapons DVD, and Gordy Knudtson has some good videos about it as well.  In short, you play a stroke with your wrist/hand and allow the stick to rebound with your fingers relaxed.  Then, as you are lifting your hand in preparation for the next stroke you close your fingers, creating another stroke.

If you are going to use this technique in a samba setting I suggest inverting the strokes.  Play the downbeats with the fingers, and upbeats with the wrist.  Because the wrist strokes tend to be stronger it will fit the samba style more, and you will feel the emphasis on "e, a, e, a" more naturally.

I just recently discovered a video of a Brazilian drummer talking about this technique.  He also talks about a three note grouping idea which seems pretty cool.  If you use the "Moeller pumping motion", as it's often called, you can achieve a string of rapid 16th notes, albeit with an accent on the first of every three notes.  It actually fits the samba feel quite nicely.

*This Other Thing
I have no idea what this is called, but I've seen more than one Brazilian player use it.  The fingers remain pretty stationary, while the stick is moved laterally, catching the cymbal in each direction.  I've seen players use a sweeping kind of motion, while others do it with more of a twisting motion.

Here is a video of Cesar Machado (no relation to Edison) using this technique:

Marcio Bahia, who previously played with Hermeto Pascoal, and currently works with Hamilton de Holanda uses this technique quite a bit with brushes.  Bahia is left-handed, so if you're a righty and trying this idea you may want to flip the hands.  Start around 7:10.

I asked Marcio about this technique once and he said:
"It's a very good tool to increase speed playing 16ths on hhat on medium/up, or fast tempos...I really don't know [where] or [who] came first playing like this.  We've learned just watching street smarted drummers doing, [which] I love it!  And works so cool!  Just relax your wrist and bounce it from side to side with sticks on a loose grip, not [tightening] them."

Friday, July 03, 2015

Solo Transcription - Larry Bunker, "Israel"

As promised awhile back, here is a transcription from the great (and often overlooked) Larry Bunker trading with Chuck Israels and Bill Evans on the British television show Jazz 625.

I'd have to say that Larry Bunker is my favorite drummer with Bill Evans, which I realize is a bold statement, given that he's keeping the company of Paul Motian, Philly Joe, Jack DeJohnette, Marty Morrell and Joe LaBarbera, amongst others.  To my ears Bunker contributes to the most cohesive ensemble sound of any Bill Evans trio.  Don't get me wrong, Philly Joe, Paul Motian and Jack D are some of my favorite drummers, but I can't help but hear Philly Joe, Paul Motian and Jack D more as their individual selves with Bill Evans.  They have such strong musical personalities that they really stand out, intentionally or not.  To be fair, the fact that I don't get that vibe from Larry Bunker could be due, in part, to the fact that he is not as widely known as the other drummers I mentioned.  Either way, Bunker tucks himself right into the ensemble, not standing out too far, but certainly not disappearing to the background to be overshadowed by Evans.  

Apparently Humphrey Lyttelton, the host of Jazz 625, agrees with me:

"Larry Bunker also studies piano and vibes which is, perhaps, why he contributes such subtle musicianship to a trio in which every instrument is of equal importance"

Check out the full show here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Weekly Wisdom / Dig This - Yogi Horton

This is a post I wrote quite awhile back which somehow made it's way into the drafts folder instead of onto the blog:

A drummer friend of mine in Austin, Stephen Bidwell, recently posted this video of the great R&B drummer, Yogi Horton to his facebook page.  I had first come across a very small snippet of it a few years ago where Yogi is talking about gigging, and provides us with some advice that should be pretty obvious, but is a great reminder, especially for younger players who are just beginning to cut their teeth as professional musicians.

“There’s a couple of don’ts that I like to tell anybody that’s trying to come in to playing music...

...if you’re going to get a date and you think you’re going to be late when you take it, DON’T TAKE IT...

Never do a gig that you don’t think that you’ll be good at...Never come in the joint and sound like you’re TRYING to do something, always just be DOING IT...

...if you’re tired, never go to work...

...always try to take care of your body...”

But now, the full video has made its way to YouTube for all to enjoy.  I would watch it soon in case it gets pulled down though.  This was one of the first instructional videos ever made by DCI Music Videos, which really shows.  Coming from the early days of home video recording the quality of the sound and picture is pretty poor, the set rather crude, and there was obviously no planning or script.  BUT, the content is killer.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dig This - Rational Funk with Dave King

Clearly I’m not paying enough attention, because it was only a couple weeks ago that I first discovered Rational Funk with Dave King.

King is one of my favorite modern drummers, so I was naturally quite excited when I saw he had a series of instructional videos.  However, hilarity quickly ensued and I realized that this was not your typical drum video.  It’s more of a parody of the myriad of drum videos out there today.  But amidst all the levity there's some great drumming, and through some clever sarcasm, King drops in quite a bit of valuable wisdom.  The whole series is definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

7-stroke roll notation in Wilcoxon

Recently, on the Drummerworld Forum, someone asked a question about the notation of 7-stroke rolls in the Wilcoxon books.  I field this question quite often from my students as well.

Many of the youngsters today are not familiar with the notation style of Wilcoxon.  Most of the rolls, like the 5-stroke and 9-stroke are pretty much self-explanatory.  However, when the 7-stroke comes in it’s a bit different.  The thing to remember is that there is not one set way or rhythm in which to play a 7-stroke roll.  The name simply describes how many strokes are in that roll.

Take Solo No. 26, for example, from The All-American Drummer.  In the first two measures we see a 7-stroke roll on the “&” of beat 2.  In this instance, the skeleton of the roll would actually be played as a 16th note triplet.  In line 3 we again see a 7-stroke roll notated on the “&s” of 1 and 2, but here they have a ruff in front of them.  When you see this, the ruff, which falls on the 16th note before the 8th note, is treated as part of the 7-stroke roll.  Is it 2 of the 7 strokes.  This changes the rhythmic makeup of the roll.  It now becomes what is called a “tap seven”, which is a single stroke on the downbeat, followed by double strokes on “e, &, a”.  Here is each type of 7-stroke roll with its modern notation equivalent.

Stylistically, the triplet-based 7-stroke that starts on the “&” is played behind the beat, almost out of time.  There is a small breath before it is played, and the rhythm itself it stretched.  There are quite a few examples of this interpretation here:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Groove Transcription - Kenny Washington, "America"

If you're anything like me, you have a "go-to" groove.  A tune is called with a certain feel, and if you're not feeling particularly creative that night you have a bag of grooves you can reach into to pull something out.  But occasionally these can put us in a rut where we feel stuck always playing the same exact thing.  When this happens to me I find that even the smallest changes can spark new inspiration.  So generally I'll head straight to the record shelf and find something to transcribe.

Recently I was looking for a little something different to do with an Afro-Cuban 12/8 or Bembe feel.  What I ended up pulling out was Bill Charlap's album Somewhere with Kenny Washington on drums.  Kenny's groove on "America" is only a couple of notes different than my own "go-to", but those few notes made quite a bit of difference, and I got some great ideas for fills and minor variations.

Rather than transcribe the whole tune to leave you to sift through it, I've written this out like a worksheet.  At the top is the basic groove (Kenny's "go-to", if you will) and below are some variations and fills that he plays throughout the tune.  There are also a couple of practice loops there for you as well.  One with bass and one without.

E-mail me for a PDF

I know I always say this, but if you haven't checked out this album, or the Bill Charlap trio period you need to get on it.  These three are the epitome of the classic jazz piano trio.  They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Staircase of Independence

This is an exercise I typically give to my students who are fairly early on in their jazz drumming journey.  But lately I've also been giving it to more experienced students as a bit of a brush up.  What I've found is that every single one of them finds at least a few of the bars difficult.  The reason for this, I'm guessing, is that fact that most of us work out of books like Syncopation and The Art of Bop Drumming, which presents pre-composed musical ideas based on common jazz vocabulary.  However, many students don't take the time to learn to place notes in every crack and crevice.

I once got into a bit of a debate with a reader of this blog, who, after seeing another exercise I had posted told me that "Life is too short to waste time on such 'exercises'".  That made me stop and think for a minute.  Could he be right?  After all, we're trying to make music.  Everyone seems to be obsessed with technical aptitude nowadays; sometimes to the point of detriment to the music.  Why bother with hours of patterns and exercises?  We should be expressing ourselves!  But my doubt was very short lived once I remembered my own advice that I give to all of my students, which is to remember that music truly is a language and all of these exercises that we work on are part of our vocabulary.  The larger our vocabulary, the more effectively we can articulate what it is that we would like to convey.  It’s no different than speech, really.  As toddlers we could point and bang things and shout to get what we wanted, but as we get older and develop a fuller vocabulary we can be more specific and convey our feelings with eloquence and style.  By working exercises like this we further our ability to take the ideas that we think and feel and release them through our limbs.

OK, on to the notes.  You can apply this to any number of styles, but as I said, I generally use this with students who are learning to play jazz.  Swing time in the right hand, read the exercise with the left hand, right foot and left foot.

I’ve notated it so that makes sense to read it both across and down.  By reading across you shift horizontally, one note at a time.  By reading down you start in the same place every time but add two notes, then three.