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

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Applying the Rudiments - 5-Stroke Roll

I find one of the biggest disconnects with younger/less experienced players is between rudiments and actual music.  So often they're told, "You need to learn your rudiments!", but not why they should learn the rudiments, or how to actively apply them to music making.

So, let's start with a pretty basic applications in a straight ahead sort of style, first by playing the 5-stroke roll as it's often notated in books:

Next, trade fours with yourself, preferably with a metronome, or better yet, a record.  Four bars of time, and four bars of 5-stroke roll as written above.  For now keep your feet going while you "solo", like so:

There are infinite possibilities here when it comes to orchestration, but if this concept is new to you or your student let's just start by keeping all the double strokes on the snare and moving the single strokes to the toms; right hand to the floor tom, left hand to the mounted tom:

One of the things with rudiments that I don't think is immediately obvious to students is the idea of permutation.  Keep in mind that a 5-stroke roll is just that - five strokes; two double strokes and a single stroke.  There's nothing to say that it has to be played exactly as written above.  We can start it anywhere in the bar to create new rhythmic ideas.  With that in mind, try starting with the single stroke, and also starting on the upbeats.  For the sake of clarity I've left out the bass drum and hi-hat notation, but I'd still recommend keeping them in for now.

Let's play the single strokes as an eighth note rather than a quarter note for a longer phrase.  This will create a hemiola that will naturally resolve after three bars.  Try playing these in both four and eight bar phrases.  For four bar phrases you'll play measures 1, 2 and 3, and then measure 1 again.

And lastly (for now) turn the whole thing into triplets:

The examples here are just the tip of the iceberg as the possibilities really are endless.  Of course I recommend you put in your Wilcoxon time, and if you really want to go deeper into this stuff check out Joe Morello's book Rudimental Jazz.

Here's the whole sheet laid out.  Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like a PDF copy.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Mel Lewis' "Rub-a-Dub"

Full disclosure: this is a re-blog of a re-blog, so I'm taking no credit here.  I was over at Cruise Ship Drummer! as I often am, where Todd was developing some ideas based on a post by Chris Smith about Mel Lewis' "Rub-a-Dub" lick.

As a pretty big fan of Mel's playing I'm ashamed to say that I had never heard the name "Rub-a-Dub".  I immediately recognized the sound and concept when I heard it, but I didn't realize that Mel had given it a little onomatopoeic name.  It's a pretty simple concept, and a clever way of seamlessly making ensemble hits be it in a big band setting or over a solo vamp.  When done right, it sits in this beautiful space where it's busier than general time keeping, but isn't full-on Buddy Rich.  It's the best of both worlds, and depending on how you play it you can lean more heavily to one side that the other.

The other beauty of it is that although it is born from a pretty specific style, the idea is extremely applicable to other ways of playing.  Straighten out the 8th notes, and you're well on your way to a very cool ECM sort of sound for starters.  Anyway....

The basic sticking looks like so:

LRR = Rub a Dub

Voiced on the kit, keep the left hand on the snare and the right on the ride cymbal (at least to start).  This is what allows it to feel simultaneously like time playing and soloing.

The first of each right hand is also played on the bass drum.  This is where most of the hits should fall.

From there, you can start moving the left hand, or the second right around the kit.

Chris gives a far better explanation of it than I have, and he plays some great examples, so be sure to check out his video, as well as Todd's posts taking it a few steps further.  Chris wrote out the ideas on his blog, but I knocked them into Sibelius so I could print it out for some of my students who will really benefit from it.  I am, of course, happy to send anyone a copy if interested.  Just drop me an e-mail.

Definitely check out the rest of Chris' "The Drum Hang".  It's a brand new blog - only seven posts so far - but he's putting out content pretty consistently and it's all great stuff.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Product Review - Backbeater by Makers4Good

I recently received an e-mail from the very nice people at a company called Makers4Good, asking if I would demo their new product.  In the past I’ve turned down product review requests for items I really don’t feel I would use or my students could benefit from.  This device, however, sounded pretty interesting, so I thought I’d take it for a spin.

The product is called Backbeater, and the idea is actually very simple.  A basic piezo trigger is connected to a metronome app that they developed.  The trigger is used to access the tap function on the metronome.  That’s about it.  Pretty clever in it’s simplicity.

In the box you get the trigger, and a splitter allowing you to connect the trigger to your phone or tablet while also having your headphones connected.  This is available on their website for $69.95.  The app is downloaded separately for free.

To connect the trigger you simply loosen one of your snare drum tension rods, slide it under, and retighten.  While this does work, I found it a little surprising that the attachment mechanism wasn’t on the device itself like many other triggers, allowing you to quickly attach and detach it.  It’s not a huge deal, but it would be nice to not have to mess with your snare tuning to connect it.  It would be extra cool if the attachment mechanism were a more generic type of clip, which could then be attached to something other than a snare drum.  If it could attach to a hi-hat, for example, it would be great for other styles of music, like jazz.

Once the device is connected you’re pretty much ready to go straight away, though you may need to take a few minutes to get it dialed in to your style of playing, and set your options as you’d like.

There is a sensitivity setting which allows you to play ghost notes without having the app pick them up.  As I spend a lot of time playing jazz I was kind of hoping that I’d be able to play with brushes and have the trigger pick up the back beats only.  Unfortunately, with even the most sensitive setting it only picked up the strokes with an unmusical snap played very close to the trigger.  So it appears that this is a sticks only device.

At first I had some problems with false readings from my leg bumping the wire.  It was only then that I realized that the cable could be rotated, allowing more freedom in terms of where the device is placed.

In the app, along with sensitivity, you can set your desired “window”, as they call it.  The window they are referring to is the window of time over which your strokes are measured.  So, a window of 2 measures every two beats, meaning it’s telling you exactly where you’re playing; very accurate, but completely unforgiving.  A window of 4, on the other hand, takes the last four beats you played and displays the average tempo.  This, therefore, is not accurate down to the exact BPM, but is a little bit forgiving, which could be useful for younger players.

The “beat” setting allows you to set how many beats per bar you wish to measure.  For example, at a beat setting of 2 you can set your tempo to 120, but only measure beats two and four.  The app will still read 120 rather than 60.  Another feature that is nice for younger players.

The app also allows you to create a setlist of preset tempos and name them, which could come in handy in live settings if you play to a click.

All in all I think this is a cool product with the potential to be even better the more they continue to work on it.  Professionals can certainly make good use of it for fine tuning their tempos; for example I found that I often fluctuated by a few BPM when switching between swing and “latin”.  But I feel it would be most effective for less experienced players with the aid of a teacher.  If you are interested in Backbeater, you can find more information, and purchase it at

Thank you to Makers4Good for letting me check out their device.  Great work, team!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Guest blog post on Brazilian music

The folks at the Omnibus Theatre, in Clapham, London have asked me to put together a list of Brazilian records ahead of our show on Sunday. Check it out if you're looking for some "new" music.

Monday, June 25, 2018

How to shift/displace the metronome

YouTube and other drumming blogs are awash with posts recommending that we try to displace the metronome - i.e. make the click feel as though it is on a part of the beat other than the downbeat - as a way of strengthening our awareness of musical time.  I’m totally for this idea, but the one thing usually left out of these posts is exactly how one goes about doing that.

To feel the metronome on the downbeat is quite natural.  Most people, musician or otherwise, can feel a beat and tap their foot along with it.  Even feeling the metronome on the upbeats isn’t too terribly difficult for most.  I’ve been able to have pretty young students feel the metronome as “&” simply by having them click their sticks or clap their hands on what they initially feel as the upbeat and then start counting “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR” out loud on those beats.  But from there things get significantly more difficult.  Even when I was already a somewhat decent player, probably in music college sometime, I tried this idea by attempting to feel the metronome as “e”, and found it difficult at first.  I had to teach myself how to feel the metronome there.

If you’re simply struggling to get started but can then keep your ear tuned in on the metronome as “e”, the easiest approach is to simply listen to a few clicks of the metronome to find the tempo, turn the metronome off, start counting “one, e, &, a….” at that tempo and then hit start on the “e”.  Chances are your ears will grab it right away.

But if this concept is completely new to you it may be significantly more difficult to get going.  If you find yourself in this boat, give this a try:

1. Turn your metronome on at a reasonably slow tempo, maybe in the 60 bpm range, and simply feel it wherever you naturally feel it, which will probably be the downbeat.  In these examples the arrow will represent the metronome clicks.

2.  Start playing steady 16th notes with no articulation.  Start with your weaker hand which is more likely to play on the “e” under normal circumstances.

3.  Next, start counting out loud starting on “e”:  “e, &, a, 1, e, &, a, 1”.  Even if your mind's ear is still feeling it is “1, e, &, a” that’s OK.  Just keep pressing on with “e, &, a, 1”

4.  Now, play accents with the metronome click while still counting “e, &, a 1” out loud.  Again, this should be your weak hand.

5.  Then, accent the note where you are saying “One”.

6.  This is where the mental switch happens for many people.  So, hopefully by this point you are now feeling it like this:

...which is identical to the previous example, but hopefully your mind’s ear has flipped it over so that the metronome now feels like “e” instead of you just saying it.

7.  If this concept is new to you it might be difficult to continue playing accents on “1” with the metronome on “e”.  If this is the case play it for one bar and then switch to accents on “e” for a bar which is a little bit easier to stick with.

This, of course, is only the beginning; a way to get started.  Some other suggestions to try with the metronome on "e", or any other less common placement of the metronome:

*play the accents on each of the various 16th notes with the metronome still on "e".
*different 16th note stickings (i.e. the first page of Stick Control), and various accent patterns (i.e. Accents and Rebounds)
*different rhythms utilizing quarter, 8th, 16th, 32nd notes
*reading snare solos
*playing drum set grooves

If you'd like all of the examples above on a single sheet, please e-mail me for a PDF.

Friday, June 08, 2018

A rare Friday Weekly Wisdom for/from Anthony Bourdain

Celebrity culture is such a funny thing.  It's strange that people who we've never met can have such an impact on our lives.  But they can, and they do.  I've written before about musicians we've lost who have had an impact on me.  Anthony Bourdain, though not a musician (that I know of), has had a similar impact on me.

I discovered Bourdain sometime around 2008 when I really started traveling a lot, and he quickly became my go to guy.  His show got me excited for trips, gave me ideas for where I was going, and the inspiration to visit other places.  I remember reading some of his books, both fiction and non-fiction, and watching episodes of his shows while on said travels, and I've had some truly wonderful meals and memorable days out based on his recommendations.  Pretty much any time I go somewhere new I tend to Google "Anthony Bourdain (insert city here)"

One Bourdain quote sticks out to me clear as day.  I remember watching the episode and hearing this epilogue as the credits rolled and relating to it so much.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” 

Anthony Bourdain was one of those guys I had always hoped to sit down and have a beer with.  I hope that whatever it was that he was struggling with isn't weighing on him any longer and that his family are holding up.

If you ever have the opportunity to travel anywhere (through music or otherwise) I hope you jump at the chance.  And if you're looking for something to do, or somewhere to eat, simply search for the place you're in and follow it with Anthony Bourdain.

Friday, May 25, 2018

TDB featured on

Rachael Sprague at Tutorful, has put together a nice collection of drumming reference material ranging from YouTube channels, books, apps, forums and *ding* blogs.  It appears that there are people out there who enjoy what I do here at That Drum Blog, and Rachael was kind enough to include the blog in her editorial.

Do follow the link and check out the article.  There's a lot of great stuff, some of which I wasn't yet familiar with and am looking forward to checking out.

Many thanks to Rachael for her efforts and for including my little slice of the internet, and to all of you who read the blog.