Thursday, June 25, 2020

Tony Williams-Style Flam Drags

Calling these "Tony Williams-Style Flam Drags" is potentially a bit unfair.  After all, Tony isn't the first or only person to play flam drags on the kit.  Actually, the ideas below seems to be quite in vogue at the moment. But Tony probably is one of the earlier players to split them around the kit in this fashion.  I have some students digging deep into Tony at the moment, and I've also been working on some transcriptions for a scholarly article being written at the University of Oregon, and have seen these flam drags pop up quite a few times.

Your basic flam drag, if you aren't already familiar, is a three-note phrase.  A flam, followed by a double stroke, and then a tap with alternating sticking, which we can group as triplets, or 8th/16th notes.

Another common way to play flam drags is to keep the rhythm the same, but change the sticking to that of a Swiss Army Triple.  RRL or LLR.  Even though the rhythm is exactly the same, the sticking gives it a different character.  This one, in particular, sits very nicely on the kit and is a lot of fun to play.

And if we change the sticking one more time, as well as the accent pattern, we get another interesting phrase that I've heard Tony do quite a bit.  This one is also quite common in the drum corp scene, and I believe they gave it one of those goofy names, but I don't recall what it is off the top of my head.

As always, these are just the stock versions of this rudiment and it's sticking variations.  Get creative and spend some time voicing it around the kit and in different parts of the bar.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Pandeiro transcription - Paulinho Félix, "Procura-se Um Amor"

As you might have guessed from my recent posting I've been playing a lot of pandeiro lately, specifically nylon pandeiro, which is a beast in it's own right compared to playing hide pandeiro.

This time around we're looking at the playing of Paulinho Félix.  In this tune Paulinho employs a lot of material pioneered by pandeiro legend Bira Presidente, who we'll look at in the next post.  However, he's taken Bira's language and expanded/modernized it which, again, we'll chat about soon.

If you followed along with the last pandeiro post, you should notice a lot of similarities in the shape of the tune: constant 16th notes in the verses, broken partido alto style playing in the choruses, hemiola used to create tension, and the almost obligatory triplet phrase.

Thiago Viégas, however, kept things a little bit tamer for the sake of demonstration where as Félix gets a little busier.  There's some fun stuff in here and the tempo is a little brighter, so it should be a little bit more of a workout if you're playing along at home.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Mel Lewis Latin Groove

Here is a latin groove I've heard Mel Lewis play a few times.  This is very much a jazz-latin groove as it doesn't really stick to deep rooted practices of any particular rhythmic tradition.  And that's OK.  I love to nerd out on said rules and find one what makes various types of music tick, but that doesn't mean grooves like the one below are any less valid.  If anything, it's more true to the jazz tradition.  Jazz has always been a music of fusions; melding elements from various cultures to create something new.

Here Mel is playing your standard ride cymbal and hi-hat pattern with straight 8th notes.  The rim and tom voicings remind of an agogo pattern that you'd hear in old Brazilian recordings of singers like Carmen Miranda.  Whatever it is, or isn't, it's a cool and versatile groove worth checking out.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Piano comping on the kit

We're often told to listen to other instruments as we can learn a lot from them.  But not many people ever say what it is we can learn from those instruments.  Well, one thing that we drummers can take from harmonic instruments like piano or guitar is comping ideas.  After all, they're acCOMPanying the soloist just as we are, so why should their rhythmic ideas be seen as any less valid than that of a drummer?  Simply put, they shouldn't, because they aren't.

Here I've transcribed Bill Charlap comping behind trumpeter Brian Lynch on the album Brian Lynch Meets Bill Charlap.  Joe Farnsworth is on drums, so there's plenty of other great material on the record for us to check out at some point, but for now we'll stick with Bill.  I've simply written out the rhythmic ideas of his comping, and what we're left with is a sheet that looks very much like a page out of The Art of Bop Drumming, but in a less exercise-y, more musical form.

We can use this sheet in many of the same ways as AoB, or Syncopation.  Here are a few.  Play a stock ride cymbal pattern, and hi-hats on 2 and 4 unless otherwise noted.

  1. Play it with your left hand.  If you're new to this type of playing or independence maybe start with just two or four bars at a time.  Imagine, or write in, repeats.
  2. Play the whole thing with your left hand, right foot, and left foot individually
  3. Alternate notes between two or three different voices
  4. Play downbeats on the bass drum, and upbeats on the snare drum
  5. Any time you see two or more consecutive 8th notes play them all on the snare until you reach the last note which you then play on the bass drum
  6. Play any 8th notes on the snare, and anything longer on the bass drum, or bass drum doubled in the right hand, regardless of where you are in the ride pattern
  7. Improvise.  Play all the notes where they are rhythmically, but interpret the chart however you see fit.
These are, of course, just a few of the countless ways to approach this sheet, or any others like it.  Todd Bishop, over at Cruise Ship Drummer! has about a million and one different approaches to using this type of material, Robert Breithaupt has a nice list, and there are countless other sites and books offering different approaches

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Transcription - Grupo Balacobaco, "Fotos Antiguas"

As promised, some pandeiro material.  I transcribed this one from a video on the Aprendendo Percussão YouTube channel.  Thiago Víega does a playalong with a recording by the pagode group Grupo Balacobaco to show typical ways of playing in this style of samba.

Notice that during the verses he is playing constant 16th notes with a muted sound on beat one and an open sound on beat two, similar to how a hide pandeiro would be played.  Then, in the chorus, he moves to the more broken partido alto style of playing.  While this isn't a rule, it is a very common structure to follow in this style of music.

A few other things worthy of note:

* In the verse section you'll see the "1, e, a" rhythm played with an open bass tone fairly often, which mimics the third surdo.

* The chorus always starts with an entrada.  Throughout the chourus the first bar of the rhythmic cycle has sounds on the second and four 16th note, but at the top of the phrase he starts with 8th notes.  See this post for a deeper explanation.

* The "fills" in the chorus section are almost always heavily syncopated, playing on "e, a" or "e, &, a".  This creates a lot of tension, and also flows nicely back into the partido alto.

Here is the transcription, followed by a video of Thiago playing it, as well as the track itself.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pandeiro notation

When I first started learning how to play pandeiro I had a couple of DVDs and books that, despite having great content, employed some unnecessarily complicated notation.  I continued to use this style in my own transcribing/writing until recently when I saw some videos by Junior and Thiago Viégas of the Aprendendo Percussão channel on YouTube.  They use a simpler notation style that is much easier to read.  Most of their channel is in Portuguese, so I thought I'd give you a little breakdown as I have a few pandeiro transcriptions in the works that I'm going to start posting here.

There are four basic sounds, each of which can be played two ways; with the fingertips or top part of the hand, and the thumb or heel of the hand.

The jingle sound is notated with a headless stem.  This was the biggest improvement on the old style of notation.  The jingles get played a lot as they often act as a ride cymbal.  Having no notehead allows us to see clearly where the jingles are being played, and therefore how the drum is moving, but also makes the other notes stand out more clearly.  This one looks pretty strange isolated like this, but it will make more sense when you see it in context.

Jingle with fingertips

Jingle with heel

The bass sound is depicted with a standard notehead.  To mute it the notehead is placed in parentheses.

Open bass with fingertips

Open bass with thumb

Muted bass with fingertips

Muted bass with thumb

The slap sound is most often played with an open-handed slap, leading with the fingertips.  It can also be played leading with the heel but it's more difficult to get clean, sharp slap, so you won't see it that often.

Slap leading with fingers

Slap leading with heel

Here are the various sounds in context.  First, the simplest way to play samba on the pandeiro, and the pattern that most people learn first:

The pattern starts with the lower part of the hand and never stops alternating, so the drum just continues back and forth.  We can keep this same motion, but add a slap before the open bass sound, emulating a ripique:

One more without having to change directions; add an open bass with the fingertips just before the muted bass sound on beat one:

Now, the first direction change.  Technically, in terms of the different tones, this one is the same as the previous example.  But here we play the pickup note with the thumb.  This is a more traditional way to play, and is also more common on nylon pandeiro.  The version above is a more modern way of playing, popularized by players like Marcos Suzano.

Finally, here's a two-bar phrase that incorporates some third surdo language.

In the transcription I am going to post in a few days you'll see a different style of playing with a lot more syncopation that does not require the drum to be in constant motion.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Jimmy Cobb (1929 - 2020)

I'm sure a lot of people will be sharing their Jimmy Cobb stories in the coming days, but for what it's worth, here is mine.

Blue Train was the first jazz record I ever owned, but it was Kind of Blue that I first spent a long time with, analyzing, picking apart, transcribing, and, most importantly, playing along to.  It was the first time I realized that I didn't always have to play "the jazz ride cymbal pattern", and the first time I started to appreciate how to be supportive of the other members of the band.

At one point in college I lived on the third floor of an apartment block.  Being quite close quarters I couldn't really play full volume.  So, in the corner I crammed a tiny makeshift kit out of an old marching bass drum that I borrowed from the school of music and then stuffed with pillows; a crappy snare drum that was labelled as a Ludwig (though I have my doubts) which I filled with rolled up towels; and a cracked 18' ride cymbal covered in duct tape.

I sat behind that kit and played "So What" and "Freddie Freeloader" on loop again, and again, and again.  I would play it with nothing but quarter notes on the ride; I would copy Jimmy's comping; I would try to sing the solos while playing time; I tried to emulate that wicked buzz roll in "So What".

Just a few years ago I was lucky enough to see Jimmy play at Ronnie Scott's here in London.  I always feel bad trying to chat to musicians who have just finished a gig, especially the likes of greats such as Jimmy Cobb as everybody and their mother wants a picture, an autograph, a handshake, etc.  So I never did say anything to him, but I kind of wish I had.  He probably hears it all the time, but it would have been great to tell him how much I learned from him, and how much time I spent/spend with his music.

Thanks, Jimmy.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

You Be the Drummer - Milton Banana, "Cidade Vazia"

If you listen to a lot of music from the 1960s, when stereo was the new hip thing, you may notice that there is some seriously hard panning, presumably because the technology was still relatively new.  Sometimes things are panned to the point where certain instruments are only heard out of one speaker.

This can be really beneficial when transcribing, as it's possible to cut out half of the instruments and isolate more of what you want to hear.  A little bit of fiddling with the EQ can make this even more effective.  I've done this quite a lot in my own transcribing, but for some stupid reason it never occurred to me to do this in reverse.

The idea struck me the other day as I was transcribing "Cidade Vazia", and in playing around with it I figured out how to take this concept a step further in order to make play along tracks.

In this recording, the piano and bass are panned hard left, with almost no drums on that side.  So I dropped the track into GarageBand and panned the channel hard left.  I then copied the file to a new track and, using a built-in GarageBand plugin, flipped the signal so that piano and bass were in the right channel, and then panned that track hard right.  What I was left with was a version of the song with the drums almost completely gone.  I then dug into the EQ, bringing the bass up a bit amongst a few other things, which further pronounced the effect.

So, I now have the original Milton Banana recording of "Cidade Vazia" with almost no drums in it, essentially creating the best play along track you could ask for, and I share it with you today.  Check out the transcription in the previous post and enjoy!