Monday, July 25, 2022

Tips for Effective Practice

The all-knowing YouTube algorithm recently bestowed upon me one of the now ubiquitous TedEd videos.  I'm by no means a loyal follower of the TedEd series, but I did end up watching this one and it has some great advice that we can all apply to our drumming.

The full video is below, which starts with some of the science behind how and why these tips work, but here is a break down of the main points and how it applies to us as drummers.

Minimize distractions

This one is tough for me sometimes.  My place in London isn’t huge, so most of my physical materials are back in the States and I use a lot of PDFs.  Also, I like playing along to records and loops, all of which requires the computer and or phone.  But it really is important to try to steer clear of our devices.  It takes awhile to get into “the zone”, and each text, call, or post pulls you out of said zone, and it takes awhile to get back in.

Start out slowly

For me, this is the most important one, and the hardest to get some of my students to do.  Most of them just love to go “yeah, I got it, see?” and proceed to just blast through it.  It makes me feel like the boring old teacher to bug them about it, but it really is the best way forward.  Pushing tempos is great, but once something is under your hands, to me that is just the beginning.  It’s at that point where you slow it way down, break down every aspect of the motion, and THEN….

Gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions

Even when I can get students to slow down they’ll often make huge jumps in tempo.  In most cases tempo bumps should be no more than 10 bpm at a time, ideally less.  There is somewhat of a historical precedent for speeding up while playing, namely the “rundown”, wherein you start a rudiment as slow as possible, gradually speed up until you reach your maximum speed, and then work your way down.  But in general, especially when working on timekeeping or grooves it’s best to play for awhile at one tempo, stop, change the metronome, and start again at the new tempo.

Frequent repetitions with breaks

Little and often is always preferable to cramming.  I tell students that practicing even just 10 minutes a day for a total of 70 minutes is better than practicing for two hours the day before a lesson.  If you can do 10/15 in the morning and 10/15 in the afternoon, then even better.  Ideally, of course, we’d all spend a lot more time practicing that that, but you’d be surprised how much you’ll improve with two 15-minute practice sessions every day.

Divide your time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration

This is a new one for me that I’m going to try out.  I tend to do fairly long practice sessions.  A good hour or so on the pad, and then another few hours on the set.  But perhaps I’ll try picking three or four areas of concentration and breaking things up a bit.

Practice in your brain in vivid detail

I’m a firm believer in this one.  They used to have us do this in my drum corps days.  Every night before bed they’d ask us to lay still for 11 minutes, close our eyes and go through the show in our heads, taking every step, playing every note, etc.  And I now use this quite often when work on new ideas, particularly on the set.  I picture the sticking, the motion, and the sound slowed down in my minds eye/ear.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Jo Jones - "The Drums"

Here’s a fantastic piece of history that I wish more drummers or any musician from bygone eras would have thought to do.  In 1973, Papa Jo Jones released a record simply titled “The Drums” in which he talks about the history of the instrument with demonstrations and solo pieces.

After an intro discussing the elements of the drum kit and the basic rudiments he gets to the material that I found the most fascinating in which he discusses various drummers and their contribution to the music, and demonstrates their playing style of the kit.  Some of these you’ve probably heard of like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa, and Chick Webb; others potentially not, as he mentions some obscure names, like Manzie Campbell who, according to Jones “was without a doubt THE world’s greatest drummer”.

What really stood out to me was that he referred to certain drummers by the way in which they preferred to play time.  Apparently “Josh”, to whom Jones never gives a last name “never played nothing but just a snare drum”.  Jones thought Alvin Burroughs was a “tom tom man” like Gene Krupa, but it turned out he was a “cymbal man”.  Walter Johnson, on the other hand, played with one stick and one brush.  Jones refers to the hihat or “sock cymbal” as his signature sound.  Interestingly, as ubiquitous as it is nowadays Jones says that at one point he “was the only bum out here with a sock cymbal”.  From today’s perspective where, despite the fact that different drummers have their own style of swing, the time comes primarily from the ride cymbal, it is fascinating to hear how different drums played time in so many different ways.

Coming as he did from an era where he would’ve spent a great deal of time performing with and for dancers, Jones proceeds to talk about some of the great dancers of the era and their style, and goes on to demonstrate their sound on the kit.  This section reminded me of this performance from right around the same time of Jones with George Benson, and tap dancer Jimmy Slyde:

Throughout “The Drums”, Jones drops nuggets of simple, but incredibly true wisdom such as:

“The most difficult thing after you learn how to play is not to play for people, [but] to play with people”

“Always start basic and you’ll never go wrong”

The record is chock full of great information and enjoyable performances and is definitely worth repeated listens.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Frevo practice loop

Here's another practice loop, this time for frevo.  It's a snippet of the SpokFrevo Orquestra, who are the premier modern frevo group out of Recife, and likely the world.  If you want you frevo to swing properly, these are the guys to check out.

You can, and should, play what you hear on the recording, but also be sure to re-visit the post on frevo for some different orchestration ideas to try.  E-mail me for a PDF.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Groove Transcription - Otis "Candy" Finch, "Let 'em Roll"

Check out this very cool shuffle played by Otis Finch.  It comes from the title track of a Big John Patton record called Let 'em Roll, which, in addition to Otis and Big John features half of the Street of Dreams band with Grant Green and Bobby Hutcherson.

If you remember from the Keith Carlock shuffle videos, he explains that the most important notes to make a shuffle feel right  are the & of 1, 2, and the & of 2.  Here Otis plays those three notes on the hi-hat, snare, and bass drum respectively and moves the constant swinging 8th notes that are often on the snare up to the ride cymbal.

It's a very cool groove, and makes a great shuffle play-along track even if you don't feel like playing Otis' exact orchestration.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Telecoteco-ish phrases from Syncopation

A couple of my students have been working on Allison Miller's Latin bell patterns with Syncopation idea that I posted last year, where we play some sort of constant latin groove with both feet and the left hand and then read "Syncopation Set 2", or page 38 with the right hand.  Be sure to revisit the original post if you're not sure what I'm talking about.

This got me to thinking about how I could apply this to samba and Bossa Nova drumming.  If you remember from some of the posts on samba rhythms, particularly Partido Alto or Telecoteco, the underlying rhythms in samba generally have an "up" side and a "down" side.  The phrase then goes UP, DOWN, DOWN, UP or DOWN, UP, UP, DOWN.  It suddenly struck me that if we take each bar in Syncopation and play beats 1, 2, 3, 4 and then follow it with beats 3, 4, 1, 2 we end up with a similar "up" and "down" pattern.  For example, in "Syncopation Set 2" number one looks like this:

If we play that bar as written, and then immediately follow it with beats 3, 4, 1, 2 we get this:

Now that's looking a lot like a phrase we would expect to see in samba, especially if you think of it as 16th notes in 2/4:

You can now use that rhythm the same way you would any other telecoteco rhythm.  Put it in your left hand behind a hi-hat/ride cymbal ostinato, or put it in your right hand behind a samba groove.  As always, you can reach for the "Jazz Samba Builder", or some of the Kiko Freitas samba ideas.  If a note appears in parenthesis try playing it the first time only and leaving it out each subsequent time it goes by.  It will feel even more like a true samba phrase.

Because some of the examples in Syncopation are already reversed farther down the page we would end up with a lot of repetition.  So I've gone through the four pages of "Syncopation Set 2" and written each example out as 16th notes in 2/4.  Try it out in any of the ways mentioned above.  Send me an e-mail for a PDF.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Oscar Bolão (1954-2022)

Unfortunately, it appears that another one of the greats has left us.  Oscar Bolão, was a fantastic drummer and percussionist who stood out even more so as an educator and historian in Brazilian music.  His book, Batuque é Um Privilégio, is an incredibly rich resource in Brazilian rhythms and music.

I never had the privilege of meeting Oscar, but he always came across as a kind and generous person, and he was always one that I had hoped to have a lesson with one day.

Do check out the book if you have even a passing interest in Brazilian music and I'll work on getting a transcription going soon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Dotted Rhythm Coordination

This sheet can be used at any tempo, really, but what I had in mind when I came up with it was the "Uptempo Studies" from John Riley's Beyond Bop Drumming.  Whereas the examples in BBD are all on the beat and designed to clean up unisons, I thought it would be nice to augment that with syncopated rhythms often heard by drummers like Philly Joe, and Jimmy Cobb.

What makes this awkward for some is not necessarily the tempo.  It's the fact that the coordination changes when we reach a certain tempo.  The same way a roll has a "check pattern" or "skeleton", so does our ride cymbal pattern.  When we play a double stroke roll, for example, we hear 32nd notes, but our arms move at the rate of 16th notes.  So, on the ride cymbal at slow and medium tempos our arm is playing on all four beats while our hand and/or fingers control the skip note.  Using the first example on the sheet, that makes the coordination like this:

But when we get to faster tempos we tend to throw the stick on beats 2 and 4, and get the skip note on beats 1 and 3 with rebound and fingers.  That changes the coordination to this:

Not necessarily harder, just different.

So, if you're finding this exercise difficult, try reading it as written while just playing the ride cymbal on beats 2 and 4 along with the hi-hat.  Then add the other notes as you feel comfortable.  Drop me an e-mail if you'd like a PDF.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Afro-Cuban basics

Here's another back to basics sheet; a survival kit for playing Afro-Cuban music, or generic "Latin Jazz".  

It's a simple modular approach with three patterns for the right hand, three for the left hand, and three for the right foot.  If you can play each of these patterns with each of the others you'll be able to get through a lot of material on your average gig.

This is also a nice way to construct a simple arrangement.  When it comes time to head to a different part of a tune just change one element.  I feel that less experienced players often try to do too much.  The groove is the most important thing here, so keep it simple.  For example, let's say you're playing cascara together with clave, and the first bombo pattern.  When that next section comes up try keeping your right hand and right foot the same, but switching to one of the conga grooves with the left hand.  Often times one change like that does more than we realize and can really lift the tune without have to do much else.