Tuesday, October 15, 2019

New blog on the block

Kyle Andrews, a great young drummer from West Virginia, now has his own blog over at kyleandrewsdrums.com.  Kyle studied at West Virginia Wesleyan College with my good friend James Moore and went on to do a Masters at Indiana University.  He is now freelancing in Philadelphia, and no doubt tearing it up as he is a very fine drummer.  Kyle has some great knowledge to drop, so do swing by and check out the new blog.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Articulation Control with Paradiddles

At the moment I have a couple of students working on Wilcoxon’s “Paradiddle Johnnie” from “Modern Rudimental Swing Solos”.  Both of them are playing really well, but are finding it difficult to control their stick heights/volume so that there is only two distinct levels of sound - accent and unaccented.

In passages such as this one, in “Paradiddle Johnnie”…

…the students are unintentionally producing a third sound by giving additional weight, or emphasis to unaccented notes that fall on a downbeat.  What comes out is a sound that is softer than an accent, but louder that a tap stroke.

So, to help remedy this, I whipped up a simple paradiddle exercise that isolates those phrases, and other ones similar to it.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Weekly Wisdom

As I mentioned the other day, I recently got to catch up with my old college friend, Mike Dawson.  Being the managing editor at Modern Drummer, Mike is a pretty well connected guy, and therefore has a lot of great stories about different drummers.  Last week he told me a great story about one of our mutually favorite drummers, Steve Jordan.  Mike was interviewing Steve and was hoping for a long, deep answer when he asked, "How do you know if what you're playing is really grooving?"  Mike told me that Steve leaned his head forward, looked over the top of his sunglasses, and said,

"Man, if you have to ask that question, it's not really groovin'"

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Freedom Through Discipline

Last night I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend of mine from WVU, Mike Dawson.  You may know Mike from his Instagram page and/or YouTube channel that is chock full of excellent content, or from the podcast he hosts with Mike Johnston called the “Mike and Mike Podcast”.

Mike was in London for the first time, giving a masterclass on creative practice skills.  In it he touched on an idea that some of our teachers at WVU showed us, and something I have mentioned here on the blog before: forcibly limiting yourself in various ways in order to foster creativity.  I always explain to my students that these exercises help develop the control to play exactly what we want to play, when we want to play it, rather than letting parts of ourselves go on autopilot, or work by muscle memory.  Mike described this in three simple words: Freedom Through Discipline.  By disciplining ourselves to only play certain things, or not play certain things, we are developing the control to be completely free with our creativity and improvisation.  Mike employs this idea in his own way, so I’ll leave you to check out his work yourselves, and rather than attempting to give you a recap of last night I’d like to share with you one of my own ways of putting this concept into practice.

Mike does a lot of playing with ambient loops that often don’t imply any specific time or feel.  Rather, it’s up him to see where his creativity takes him with each sound.  So today I gave this idea a try.  I pulled up a random template in Ableton and composed a beat over it.  At the time I just played, and I didn’t write anything down, but for the sake of this post I jotted it out when I was finished.

Since the loop had a decidedly acid house sort of feel I decided to imagine my playing as a drum machine.  The 4-bar groove repeats exactly the same, ad nauseam.  I could “mute” one or more channels, or fade channels in and out; the channels being the voices of the kit.  Therefore, the only rules I imposed on myself were this:
1. When playing the groove, I MUST play the groove, and only the groove, note for note; no extra notes or different voices, and no leaving out notes unintentionally.
2. To improvise I can only change the volume of each voice, or take one or more voices out completely

This sounds a lot easier than it turned out to be.  For one, I thought of the bass drum line as a short AABA form, so it was important to stick only to those two rhythms.  To not add extra notes just because I felt like it, or because I lost my focus was surprisingly difficult for the first couple minutes.  Taking out the snare had its share of difficulties as well.  While it seemed easy enough at first I noticed that my left hand and right foot weren’t alway perfectly aligned.  This was another thing that Mike touched on in the masterclass; use this disciplined practice time to highlight problems in your playing and iron them out.

Lastly I tried full mutes of the entire groove, attempting to stop on a dime in a specific spot in the phrase, and coming back in in a particular spot.  To come back in, say, on the & of beat 2, with full confidence, in perfect time, and without adding or leaving out any notes is much harder than it sounds.

I encourage you to find your own loops, and write your own parts, but if you’d like to start by trying mine, the notation and loop are below.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Brasilian "Comping" Rhythms - Telecoteco

If you’ve listened to, or played, much Brazilian music, you’ve certainly come across these rhythms regardless of whether or not you knew their names.  I’ve written about partido alto and Bossa Nova in earlier posts, so today let’s look mainly at telecoteco, which serves the same role, and is essentially a substitute for, or variation of, partido alto.

The telecoteco rhythm shares a similarity with Cuban clave in that it has two “sides”.  The rhythm is two bars of 2/4 long, and can be played starting on either bar.  There is an “up side”, starting on the second 16th note, and a “down side”, which starts on the downbeat.  As in Cuban clave, the melodic line of the song is directly connected to the direction of the telecoteco rhythm, and should not cross it as this creates some pretty unpleasant rhythmic tension.  One place in which telecoteco differs from clave though is that improvisation within the constructs of telecoteco is perfectly acceptable, whereas in clave it absolutely is not, but more on that in the next post.  For now, here are the most common variations of the rhythm:

E-mail me for a PDF of this sheet

There are a few different approaches to telecoteco.  In the more traditional styles of samba, such as batucada or pagode, the direction of the telecoteco does not change during the song under any circumstances.  Getting on the wrong side of the rhythm (playing cruzado) will draw the ire of other players around and you can expect a fair amount of eye-rolling and ridicule.  On the other hand in the more jazz influenced styles of samba in the 1960s and 70s where you’re more likely to see drum set and piano it seemed to be more acceptable to freely switch between the up and down side, the telecoteco being more of a vibe than a rule.  I also feel like the more traditional styles of samba tend to play more on the “up” side of the telecoteco, whereas jazz-oriented (and gringo) interpretations tend to start on the “down” side.

In an enredo, or batucada ensemble you’re most likely to hear telecoteco being played on a tamborim.  In terms of moving this to the set, the obvious approach is to play these rhythms on a rim click, or maybe snare drum or tom.  Head back to the Jazz Samba Builder and try some combinations of right hand and foot ostinatos while adding these telecoteco variations in your left hand.

But, don’t forget the concept we talked about back in May based on Kiko Freitas' style of playing, wherein we move the ostinato part to the left hand, and improvise or “comp” with the right hand.  Check out that post here, and try some of the same foot patterns with telecoteco in your right hand.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Transcription - Carter McLean Bovid Drum Heads Demo

Here's a little transcription I did just for the sake of transcribing something on my day off yesterday.

If you nerd out on enough drumming videos on YouTube you may have come across Carter McLean.  Besides playing with Charlie Hunter and the Lion King on Broadway, Carter puts out some great YouTube content.  His videos are very popular amongst his viewers, but he doesn't have nearly as many subscribers as his playing warrants.

Carter's videos are simple and to the point.  There's no superfluous nonsense, such as unneccessary theme music, and titles like "Are YOU making THIS drumming mistake that will RUIN YOUR LIFE?!", or "Do these THREE things to get the gig with Beyoncé."  Most of them are just videos of him playing along to recordings or demoing new gear (of which he seems to find a lot of cool niche stuff).

I stumbled across this video yesterday of Carter trying out some Bovid heads, which appear to be hand constructed animal skins heads, made in the same fashion as hand drum or frame drum heads.  The video is supposed to be about the heads, but Carter plays some really nice stuff.  So, on a lazy Saturday afternoon I figured I'd jot a bit of it down.  I often like to transcribe things like this that have no immediate context to a piece of music.  I feel like it opens up the possibilities for personal application a bit more.

Anyway, here's a few bars of Carter playing, starting around 4:08 in the video below.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

João Gilberto (1931 - 2019)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know what a huge loss this is.

Alongside other greats such as Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Oscar Casto Neves, and Luiz Bonfá, João Gilberto essential created an entirely new genre of music in Bossa Nova.  As this nice article from NPR says:
Gilberto deserves to be remembered...as a kind of patron saint of understatement, whose early recordings transformed the boisterous celebration of samba parades into music of arresting intimacy.
Despite being a guitarist, Gilberto's relaxed rhythmic drive is something for which all of us drummers should strive.  His phrasing was second to none; meticulous and impeccably placed with the coolest sense of nonchalance one can imagine. It is for precisely these reasons why in the past I have recommended playing along to Gilberto’s records in YBTD posts.

Though it's a sad day for all lovers of Brazilian music, we are in the fortunate position in this day and age of having hundreds of records that we can still listen to, from which we can continued to learn and draw inspiration.

Obrigado, maestro, por tudo que você nos deu.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Developing a Kiko Freitas-style left hand samba ostinato

I've been working a lot with the Kiko Freitas idea that I posted last week, wherein Kiko plays the underlying samba rhythm...

...in his left hand, and teleco teco...

...in his right hand.

Put together it looks like this....

Of course, to work up this particular pattern up one needs only to take it in small chunks and piece it together.  But if we think of this as a concept, rather than just one groove, we can make so much more out of it.

In this idea, our left hand plays an ostinato, essentially doing the job that our right hand generally does; it becomes a ride pattern.  So, if we can make this left hand pattern second nature to the point where we can improvise (i.e. comp) with our right hand, we'll have opened up a whole world of possibilities.

The best way to attack this is the same way you learned to comp with your left hand while playing a swing pattern on the ride cymbal; practice playing the right hand on each division of the beat, then in groupings of twos, then threes, and finally, add stylistic figures such as partido alto and teleco teco.

If you spend some time with this sheet it shouldn't be too long before you feel comfortable enough to start improvising with the right hand on the ride cymbal or a tamborim.  In an upcoming post we'll talk about how to improvise with these rhythms in a stylistically accurate fashion.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Kiko Freitas-style samba

It's been about 12 years since a Brazilian friend of mine first introduced me to the drumming of Kiko Freitas.  Recently I finally got to see him play live with Brazilian legend João Bosco.  Kiko was one of the first Brazilian drummers I was exposed to when started really digging in to this music.  He’s one of those drummers who sounds exactly like their records when playing live which was hugely satisfying.

I’ve written about Kiko’s playing before on this blog, and mentioned him in a couple of my Modern Drummer articles from a few years back.  In the MD article I mentioned a signature groove of his whereby he plays this rhythm on every beat in his left hand.

This underlying rhythm is one of the driving forces behind samba.  In his right hand he then plays 8th notes, so we're left with this:

By sticking it in this way we get a steady stream of really swinging 16th notes, but our right hand is free to do a little bit more.  The most basic approach would be to move between the ride and snare, like so:

It’s also quite nice to go to the floor tom to emulate a surdo.

These grooves are particularly useful when playing a fast samba where most of us mortals can’t play that crazy-fast right hand thing that guys like Kiko and Edu Ribeiro can do.

I really enjoyed seeing Kiko put this groove to use with João Bosco in London a couple weeks back.  And at the concert he took this idea to another level.  He still had the 1ea rhythm in his left hand, but he then proceeded to play a telecoteco pattern on his ride cymbal, which was absolutely killer.

I was able to find a video of Kiko playing this groove on YouTube.  This particular pattern start around 1:49.

As with any groove there's a lot more to it than is notated.  You'll have to listen and play along to properly imitate the inflection and swing.

Try any or all of the ideas above with some of these rhythms in your feet.

And also remember that there’s always the “Jazz Samba Builder” that you can pull some ideas from as well.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Shuffles according to Keith Carlock

Not much to say about this one.  Pretty much does what it says on the box.  In a video for OnlineLessons.tv Keith breaks down a few different types of shuffles.  His drums sound great, his playing sounds great, the tempos are awesome; all the makings of some great practice loops.  So, here they are, along with a sheet that has each one notated along with a few extra variations.





And here is the accompanying sheet.  Drop me an e-mail for a PDF.

Monday, March 25, 2019

7-stroke roll permutations

I recently had a friend working on rolls, and in asking me some questions about them I realized that he was only playing them exactly as they are written in the 40 PAS rudiments.  To my mind, the numbered rolls are simply an indicator of how many strokes are to be played within a certain amount of space, and should not be limited to the way they are notated on the chart hanging in every percussion studio in the world.  So I whipped up this handy dandy sheet of a few simple permutations of the 7-stroke roll.

Also included are the various styles of notation, which we’ve already covered before.  For less experienced players, I find this more modern style of notation to be a little be clearer in showing how many strokes are intended and where the composer would like those notes to be placed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dig This - Philly Joe videos

There is surprisingly little footage of Philly Joe out there.  But seemingly out of nowhere, this live video of a late Bill Evans trio with Philly Joe and Marc Johnson just popped up yesterday:

And then sure enough, in the "Up next" section, I see this interview with Jones from a Jazz Oral History project at Howard University.  I haven't even watched it yet, but I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Very basic (but useful!) Syncopation concepts

I've been noticing lately that a number of my students - particularly some of the stronger players - have some deeply ingrained habits when it comes to stickings.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but those habits certainly can (and do) cause repetition of musical ideas, and often prevent them from expressing their ideas.

Because they are more advanced players it's easy to keep throwing advanced concepts at them as they are fun for me to teach and they enjoy learning them.  But sometimes it's important for both the student and myself to take a step back to revisit the "easy" stuff.

This is obviously not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination; as a matter of fact it's probably much the oldest one in the book.  There is now about 18 million different ways of using Ted Reed's Syncopation, but for once we're going to do what it says on the box; we're going to play the music as it's written!  But we're going to stick it a few different ways, and you might find that some feel more comfortable than others.  Or, in my case, you'll find that students who can play some really difficult music still struggle with some of these basic stickings.

Head over to your old friend, page 37, and start by playing the whole page, as written, with alternating sticking; by which we mean you change hands with each stroke no matter where in the bar it falls.

Next, play the same page with natural sticking, meaning play each stroke where it would naturally fall if your hands were playing constant 8th notes.  In the case of this rhythm it means all of the downbeats will be on one hand, and all upbeats on the other, like so...

And speaking of constant 8th notes, if you or a student are struggling with natural sticking, or even if you're not, trying filling in all of the 8th notes and treat the written rhythm like accents.

Scoff if you will, but this is something we should all revisit from time to time, and I definitely recommend getting your students to do it