Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Four-stroke ruffs

Carrying on with some Philly Joe-ish ideas, here is a simple sheet on the four-stroke ruff, a rudiment you'll hear plenty of if you're checking him out.

The four-stroke ruff is more a sound than a sticking, because just about any sticking you can come up with is valid.  The most common sticking, and easiest place to start is with single strokes.  It's also common to see this labelled as the "Single Stroke Four".

The least common, but still worth trying out is double-strokes:

Two paradiddle inversions are common as well, particularly in classical repertoire:

No matter how balanced one's hands may be, each of these stickings gives the four-stroke ruff and different sound and feel.  That final one was a favorite of Philly Joe's.

To practice these, try starting with metered triplets and 8th notes like so:

By playing them in that order, one hand stays on the beat throughout the entirety of the passage.

But remember that a ruff is technically comprised of three unmetered grace notes rather than triplets.  They should be played very close to the primary note.  Experiment with different degrees of openness and closed-ness, playing them somewhat wide so as to hear each note individually and also crushed down to create one fast sound.

Drop me a line for a PDF of this all on one sheet.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Philly Joe Jones three-beat triplet phrase

If you dig in to Philly Joe, you'll hear this signature phrase come up a lot.  It's simply three triplets, often played more than once so it rolls over the bar, with an accent on the first note of the first triplet each time.

You could, of course, simply play this as single strokes with no problem.  But it is generally accepted that Philly Joe played it R L L, followed by a paradiddle-diddle, like so:

To my knowledge, Philly Joe played it primarily (maybe even exclusively) off the right hand as notated above.  But we never miss a chance to create an exercise and work on something in both directions.  So, to get familiar with it try releasing with a quarter note and then starting with the left, back and forth:

Once it feels comfortable play it multiple times in a row on each hand until it resolves, and then again, flip it to the other side.

If you're practicing this on the kit, with the hi-hat on 2 and 4, it would be worth shifting the whole by a beat as well to experiment with different placements.

Another thing that Philly Joe would do with this lick is launch into with another single stroke triplet, preceded by an accent eighth note.  Again, try this leading both left and right.

And, again, shift that by a beat for more options.

As always, drop my an e-mail if you would like a copy of all of this on a neatly organized PDF

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Transcription - Squarepusher, "Iambic 9 Poetry"

The same teacher that introduced me to Andy Kravtiz in the previous post also introduced me to Squarepusher around the same.  This stuff blew my mind.  I had friends who were really into acid house, techno, and happy hardcore, but that sound always seemed cheesy and boring to me.  As electronic music went, though, I could fully appreciate what Squarepusher was doing and enjoyed other artists in the drum 'n' bass/IDM/big beat scenes.

The first album I picked up was Feed Me Weird Things, the opening track "Squarepusher Theme" being a personal favorite of mine then and now.

I transcribed some of it 10 or 15 years ago, but it was a real slog, and when the laptop which stored the not backed up transcription was stolen I didn't have the heart or patience to start it again.

But recently I was checking out a later Squarepusher release called Ultravisitor and decided to write out some of the playing from the tune "Iambic 9 Poetry".  Squarepusher, real name Tom Jenkinson, is not only a DJ/producer but also an excellent bassist, with most of his bass lines being played live.

Jenkinson also plays drums and I believe is the one playing them on "Iambic 9 Poetry".  With Squarepusher's material it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between what is played live and what is programmed.  It's even more difficult on this tune and all of Ultravisitor as he used clips from live performances in the creation of this studio album.  The drums on this particular tune sound pretty live to me until about the halfway point where it sounds like the might be some programming or effects going on.

Either way, it's a cool groove on a cool tune, so here is what I'm pretty sure is Tom Jenkinson playing drums on "Iambic 9 Poetry".  The first line repeats pretty much the same from 0:55 to about 2:10 where the second line starts and continues until in becomes basically untranscribable around 3:22.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Solo transcription - Andy Kravitz, "St. Teresa"

This is one of the first solos that taught me about subtlety.

In high school, my private teacher at the time suggested I check out Joan Osborne's album Relish.  I was skeptical because as a hard rock loving teenager I thought "One of Us", the hit single from that album, was stupid.  But, as he had yet to lead me astray, I nonetheless used my allowance money to pick up a copy of the album which I found was indeed very good.

One of the main reasons he suggested the album was because one or two tunes feature Omar Hakim, and the rest of the album has drummer/producer Andy Kravitz behind the kit.  Kravitz has worked with a wide array of artists that you'll especially remember from the 90s like Juliana Hatfield, Cypress Hill, Spearhead, and Urge Overkill, as well as with bigger names like Billy Joel and The Rolling Stones. 

Another one of the singles from Relish, "St. Teresa" has an understated solo at the end.  I still remember thinking how crazy it was that he wasn't playing all that many notes but it was still really cool.  The bass drum and rim click were coming in unexpected places to great effect.

This popped into my head the other day, so I put it on and realized I still remembered the solo note for note, so I figured I'd quickly jot it down and share it with you.  Solo starts around 4:30.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Transcription - Dotô, "Incompatibilidade de Gênios"

Continuing on with the repique de anel that I mentioned in the last post, here is a transcription of one of the most famous recordings of the instrument.  It's played by the creator himself, Dotô, with João Bosco on his classic, "Incompatibilidade de Gênios".  Here you'll see most of the standard material that we talked about last time put into context.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Repique de Anel

While in Brazil I picked up a repique de anel, an instrument that for whatever reason doesn't seem to get played as much as it used to, which is a real shame, because it's a lot of fun and a great sound, particularly in samba.  I had been wanting one for awhile anyway, and then ended up spending some time talking about it in my lesson with Kiko Freitas.

It was invented by a man named "Dotô" or "Doutor to Repique".  As best as I can tell he took a regular samba repique, tuned it down, and played it with his hands, the idea being that he could create a full samba sound with this instrument alone.  The only picture I've been able to find of him is a grainy shot from a video of him playing with Clara Nunes.

With one hand on the underside of the drum he uses a dead stroke to play the heartbeat rhythm that is most commonly played on the bass drum in samba drumset playing.  He also uses open sounds for fills and variations in conjunction with the other hand (more on that in a moment).  With his other hand he taps the side of the shell much like one would on a tantan or repique de mão.  However, Dotô gets a more metallic sound by putting "rings" on his fingers.  "Anel" is Portuguese for "ring", so the instrument name literally translates to "repique of the rings", but from what I've seen it appears to be more like thimbles on his finger tips.  Nowadays players often tape coins to the side of the drum so that one doesn't have to remember their rings.  Here he plays a telecoteco-ish pattern with some extra notes added, presumably to fill out the bar.  With the same hand as the rings Dotô uses his thumb to play variations and fills on the top head.

What you end up with is a groove that looks like this:

And with the fills played on the top and bottom head

I've got some transcriptions coming soon and there are some wonderful ways we can apply this to the drumset, but in the meantime, here are the only videos I've been able to find of Dotô to give you an idea of the sound.

Monday, August 29, 2022


Apologies for the light posting lately.  Since Covid "ended" this year has been delightfully busy, culminating in a 17 day trip to Brazil these last couple week for gigs, lessons, and general hanging out.

In those 17 days I managed to study with three of my favorite drummers....

Kiko Freitas

Edu Ribeiro

Celso de Almeida

....and meet quite a few more at the 21 gigs we went to.  I heard and was able to chat to a number of other musicians whose work I've listened to for many years but have never had the chance to meet or see live, and discovered some serious young musicians who should definitely be known outside of Brazil.  I also had a chance to sit in on some choro, samba, jazz, and even at Vila Isabel escola de samba with Andre Siqueira whose playing I've transcribed for the blog before.

There is, of course, always more to learn, but the trip also confirmed and reinforced much of my understanding of certain Brazil styles, especially samba and forró.  I've had a few pieces in the works the last couple months that I'll soon be publishing with renewed confidence.

I don't want to gush too much here on the blog as this is meant to be an educational resource, so if you'd like to see more pictures and videos from the trip head over to my Instagram page and see "Brazil trip '22" in my stories.

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.