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!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Transcription - Milton Banana, "Cidade Vazia"

Following on from the telecoteco stuff we've been talking about lately, here's a different take on it, by Milton Banana.  Banana was one of the earliest and most prominent drummers of "Samba no Prato" (Samba on the cymbals).  Prior to that, samba on the drumset was much more focused on the drums themselves, and sounded more like a batucada ensemble.  They often played in a style called "Samba Cruzado".  I've got a post coming up on that very soon.

Edison Machado is credited with being the first drummer to play "Samba no Prato", but Banana was right there with him, playing on many of the great Bossa Nova records and a lot of samba jazz, particularly with his own trio, which released quite a few albums over the years.

Drummers of the samba-jazz, or hard bossa, genre like Machado and Banana, as well as Rubinho Barsotti, Paulo Braga, José Roberto Sarsano, and many others, seem to be more relaxed about staying true to the direction of the telecoteco. I've heard differing theories on this, the two most prominent and plausible being:

1. These drummers were inspired by American jazz and American jazz drummers, and actively chose to take a more laissez-faire approach to the direction of the rhythmic cycle in order to have fewer constraints on their playing/improvising.  In this case, the telecoteco parts are more of a "vibe" than a true rhythmic cycle and serve a similar role as that of the left hand of an American-style jazz drummers; comping, essentially

2.  The concept of rhythmic direction that we see in telecoteco is a characteristic of the music that comes from African traditions.  The majority of the drummers from this period and genre were white.  It has been argued that they were simply ignorant to correct interpretation of the rhythm and were merely emulating it to the best of their abilities.

I'm not sure which one is true, or which one I would prefer to be true.  Players today, like Marcio Bahia, Edu Ribeiro, Kiko Freitas, Celso Almeida, etc. tend to stay true to the rhythmic direction, but this does not clarify why the older guys didn't.  It could be that these contemporary players have a renewed interest in traditional approaches, or it could be that they learned the traditions that the previous generation were unaware of.

You'll hear in this recording that Banana isn't necessarily flipping the rhythmic direction, but he's also not adhering strictly to the traditional "rules" of it.

Let me be clear that I'm not saying what Banana is doing is right or wrong.  I'm simply observing as I find this stuff terribly fascinating.  Banana is one of my absolute favorite drummers and one of the most beloved and respected ever to come out of Brazil.  But hardcore samba purists take the direction of the rhythmic cycle very seriously, and flipping it or not playing by the rules is sacrilege.

Aaaanyway, here's the transcription.  E-mail if you'd like a PDF, and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


It’s been a little while since I posted anything about rhythms from the northeast of Brazil.  The most common rhythm from this part of the country that often gets a cursory mention in method books is baião, from Pernambuco.  I’ve done a few posts on this already and have a few more in the pipeline, but today I want to chat about a very different style called frevo.

The first time I traveled to Brazil I went to the cities of Recife and Olinda, in the state of Pernambuco, which sits in the eastern most part of South America.  Not really knowing anything about Brazilian music or culture at the time I was fully expecting to hear samba and bossa nova everywhere.  Granted, we did hear some samba, as it’s pretty popular all over the country despite coming from Rio de Janeiro in the south.  But I quickly learned that there are numerous pockets of music and culture across Brazil, and Pernambuco and the northeast is a particular hotspot.  A northeastern style that is commonly applied to the drumset you may have come across before is baião.  Throughout the trip we were lucky enough to have wonderful guides from the local university who took us to hear a lot of incredible music, including baião.  One sound that really grabbed my attention, however, was frevo.  Like baião, frevo comes from Pernambuco, specifically the city of Recife, but that’s about where the similarities end.  

Whereas a typical forró ensemble that would play baião would be comprised of accordion, triangle, and zabumba, a frevo group utilizes pandeiro, surdo, and caixa in the percussion as well as a full brass and saxophone section.  This music is often played in parades, though it’s common to see frevo groups performing on a stage, or even at soccer games, similar to how you might see marching bands in the stands at a football game in the States.

Here’s what a typical frevo na rua (street frevo) would look like.  I’ll have to dig out my pictures, but I’m pretty sure I was on this very street.  You get a fairly nice shot of the percussion section just after the seven minute mark.

So, let’s take a look at the elements of a typical frevo….

Frevo’s most identifiable feature is the snare drum, or caixa.  It plays a powerful syncopated rhythm, embellished with a roll at the end of the phrase.  Supporting that is a pandeiro, which plays a persistent galloping rhythm.  And the foundation is a surdo that generally plays on beat two, though it is sometimes heard on every beat.

Although each part of the percussion section is typically played by separate musicians, it is also common to play frevo rhythms on a drumset.  A simple and effective orchestration to start with is to play the caixa part on the snare, and put the surdo part on the bass drum.

A great group to check out for this style is the Spokfrevo Orquestra.  They are the premier frevo group in Recife, and likely the world.  They play classic frevos, in addition to their own compositions, but with a lineup resembling that of a big band.  That's not terribly far from the lineup of your average frevo group anyway, but they also include the use of a drum set, wear suits, and perform in concert halls.  They also add individual solos like we would see in a traditional big band.  So, essentially they are a really tight big band, playing burnin’ frevo rhythms, with solos of hip bebop language.  It’s very cool stuff.

As you can see, the percussion section and drummer in Spok are essentially playing the traditional orchestration and making hits.  But, frevo has been incorporated into Brazilian jazz for quite a few years now, so not only is one drummer often left to play everything on his own, but in a smaller ensemble it’s generally necessary for we, the drummers, to cool it a bit. The simplest way to achieve this would be to just reach for the brushes instead of sticks.

However, whether played with sticks or brushes, the orchestration above leaves out the galloping rhythm of the pandeiro.  Try playing that on the ride cymbal or hi-hat, while playing the accent pattern of the caixa on the snare drum.  The roll is generally a pretty tight buzz roll anyway, so you can just play a long buzz with your left hand.

A quiter version along the same lines would be to play a rim click instead of the snare.  You can mimic the long sound of the buzz roll by splashing your hihats with your left foot.

And finally, we can get a little more creative with our voicings, and test our left foot independence by playing the pandeiro rhythm on the snare drum (probably best with brushes), and move the caixa accent pattern to our left foot, again splashing the hihat for the roll.

In any of these examples you could play the bass drum just on beat two, or on every beat.  Similarly, you can play the hi-hat on all the downbeats, all the upbeats, or not at all.  Here's the full sheet.  Get creative and see what other arrangements you can come up with.  Drop me a line if you'd like a PDF.