Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Weight Room: Advanced Slow-Fast

At a certain point you'll work one of the Slow-Fast exercises up to an obscene speed. What do you do at this point?

It's simple: turn the click down to half of its tempo, and instead of 8ths and 16ths, play 16ths and 32nds.

It looks like this.

Or think of it like cut time. You're still playing slow fast, but the click is now on the half note.

It looks like this.
So now, with the click at a manageable tempo, you can keep working faster and faster. Just remember to keep it under control, relaxed and clean.

Sorry to use the P word, but, uh, happy practicing!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gear Up: Cymbals - Drum Set

Last week I had the opportunity to set up a brand new Yamaha Stage Custom Birch kit, fresh out of the box, equipped with a Zildjian A Custom box set of cymbals - 20" ride, 16" and 18" crashes, and 14" hats. The kit was AWESOME (but that's for another post), and the cymbals were a nice change of scenery for me. Most of my cymbals are Zildjian Ks and K Customs, which are very different from A Customs. I almost hated touching everything for fear of leaving fingerprints.

So, that brings us to the questions of the day.

How many cymbals should you have in a basic drum kit?
At very least, you should have hi-hats, a ride and a crash. Beyond that, use your imagination and watch other drummers for ideas. For me, I use hats, ride and two crashes - one left and one right - and a splash right over my first rack tom. I'm also a big fan of stacking a splash upside down on top of a ride or crash. There are other cool ideas all over the place, just experiment and see what you like and works for your playing and style of music..

What sizes should you use?
This is open to debate. I'm a weirdo, cymbal-wise, so I use 13" hats, a 22" ride, and my crashes are 15" and 17". The splash is 7". I'm not a really high volume player, so these particular cymbals get me what I need in terms of control and response.

Standard sizes (if there are standards anymore) are 14" hats, 20" ride and 16" or 18" crash. Again, try a lot of cymbal sizes, and find what works for you.

Which brand is best? Uh......yeah.....about that. This is like the Coke/Pepsi debate or the Chevy/Ford debate, but much, much worse. Given that I've played cymbals I've liked from more than a dozen different companies, I'd sooner tell you which presidential candidate I'm voting for this year. I'd probably take less heat for that than for declaring cymbal supremacy for one or the other.

In my personal cymbal bag I have a pile of Zildjian Ks, K Customs, A Customs and As. I also have some Sabian and Meinl pieces. In addition, I have a serious hankering for some Bosphorus, Hammerax, Paiste and Soultone. There are many more cymbal makers, too many to mention here.

Again, listen for what you like, and play what makes you happy.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to play one of the practice kits at Brigham Young University (BYU), and it was equipped with a set of Paiste Signatures. Like I said above, I'm mostly a Zildjian guy, but I was blown away. They were the smoothest, silkiest, easiest playing plates I'd ever met. The experience taught me never to walk away from something just because of the brand name. Put stick to metal, and let your ears make the call. 

One more resource you may want to check out is MyCymbal.com. They allow you to hear the exact cymbal you're purchasing before you buy, usually played by somebody awesome, like Peter Erskine or Jeff Hamilton.

Good luck choosing some great cymbals. And don't be afraid to try something new.

Happy drumming!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Feature: Standing in the Shadows of Motown

If I hadn't already made this clear in an earlier post, I'm a huge fan of documentaries, especially music documentaries.

One of my favorites is, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," telling the story of the session musicians who brought the classic Motown sound to life, the Funk Brothers.

From IMDB:

 "The film is an extremely moving account made exponentially more so by the deeply felt faithful renditions of some classic hits performed by contemporary young artists during the film. Never was the term 'unsung' more appropriate than it is for the Funk Brothers."

When I saw this film, it was newly (although not widely) released, but was mostly playing in art houses and the like. And, honestly, I had no idea what I was walking into, having gone with a friend. But in the two hours it took to watch the film, I had my eyes opened and my ears attuned to something I had been missing. 

I think everybody's heard of Motown - Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder and many more - but until you see this film you won't have a real understanding of what it took to create that sound, genre and era of modern popular music.

This film is worth your time. I've purchased it and given it away many times, I own the soundtrack, and I've made a whole lotta people sit down and watch it. Even if it's not your style, or you don't like any of the artists, enjoy it for the history lesson and education that it is. 


Thursday, January 26, 2012

A little marimba help, here!*

Okay, all my percussionist friends, here's the question.

What marimba mallets do you use and recommend? I'm trying to put together a list of mallets I can recommend for beginning and advanced marimba students.

Please leave a comment below telling which brands and models you use, and why you like them.

Thanks for the help!

*Milestone! This is the hundredth post on this blog. Thanks for helping me keep it going strong!

Bag of Tricks: Rock and Funk Grooves

Not gonna lie, I'm a little short on time today, so I'm going to recycle some old material in a new format. I think I've posted all of these grooves at one time or another, but here they are in a single sheet.

This is a handout that I give my private students comprised of grooves I've learned along the way as I've studied with teachers, from books, etc. So nothing too original, but lots of fun and useful to learn.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beyond the Kit: The Percussion Section

Last weekend was All-State Band in Utah, and I was lucky (!) to be able to sit in on some of the percussion activities, including a great sectional/coaching section with Eric Nix. Not only did I learn a lot from Eric, I was completely impressed by the students in the section. They were great!

The experience reminded me of the importance of being a team player, because that's what a band or section is - a team. There were a couple of pieces that required more players than they had, so they all juggled parts and chipped in to make sure that all of the notes got covered. The pianist even covered a bell part to make things a little smoother.

In a percussion section, just like on a sports team, every person has to be willing and able to not only play any part that is needed, but also be willing to let others shine and play to their individual strengths. It doesn't hurt if you're friendly, humble and reliable, too.

Among other things, a good section percussionist should:

  • Have a base level of skill on snare drum, keyboards, timpani, bass drum, cymbals and all auxiliary instruments
  • Be able to sight read fairly well
  • Come to all rehearsals with parts prepared
  • Come to all rehearsals with needed mallets, sticks, and "toys"
  • Own - and religiously use - a pencil (or multiple pencils, whatever it takes)
  • Be punctual - ready for downbeat at least five minutes before rehearsal starts (15 minutes is even better)
  • Always help with load in and out, and any other "heavy lifting"
  • Be flexible and practical - percussion sections have to just "make it work"
And if I could offer one more piece of advice, it would be to get a reputation as somebody that's always got a good attitude and is willing to help out and not be a "diva." Many a gig has gone to the guy or girl who's easy to work with, even though he or she may not be the best player.

Happy drumming!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Weight Room: Posture for drummers?

"Sit up straight!"

How many times did you hear that growing up? I know I heard it a lot. Well, like it or not, it's just as true today as it was back then: good posture matters. 

Here's a (hopefully) easy-to-understand concept for keeping your posture both right and relaxed.

Imagine that your spine is a coat stand. It is straight up and down, solid and grounded. Try to imagine that your head is being gently pulled straight up toward the ceiling, with the crown of your head at the highest point. Sit squarely on your rear, centered on your seat/throne. You should be able to life lift both legs slightly off the floor without falling over or leaning too far back.

Next, your shoulders are a coat hanger hanging on the coat stand. Again, gravity pulls the shoulders/hanger down, but they are free to move and swing around on the hook on the coat stand.

Finally, your arms are a shirt hanging on the hanger. Gravity is still working, no?

Your arms are free to move about, but no extra stress is put on the muscles of the back or shoulders. The main muscles that hold your arms in proper playing position are the biceps.

Focus on being as relaxed as possible, and using the most efficient muscles to get your arms and hands into playing position. You may find yourself adjusting your drumset to conform to your newfound posture and relaxed-ness.

Happy, uh...posturing?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gear Up: Drumsticks

There are roughly a bazillion different models of drumsticks available in 2012. (That's a guess, but I think it's pretty close.) Given the variety of tip, shoulder, shank and shaft lengths, tapers and shapes, just about anything you can imagine is available for you to hit, smack and strike your percussion instruments.

If you use wood sticks (as opposed to aluminum, graphite, plastic or resin) there are basically three choices: hickory, maple or oak. I've used all three, and there are strong arguments for each choice. Luckily, you don't have to choose. I don't know any serious drummers who only have one pair of sticks that they use, me included.

That being said, I have found myself very partial to one particular model: Pro-Mark's Shira Kashi Oak 5A with wood tips have been my implement of choice since Christmas, when I received a pair as a gift (from my wife, who is a die-hard fan of the Vic Firth 5A - hickory, also wood tip).

The oak is more durable and has a nice, weighty-but-not-too-heavy feel. Especially for pop and rock stuff, I feel like I don't have to work very hard to get solid backbeats and nice, thick tone around the kit. They're plenty fast and very consistent.

As with drums, cymbals, heads, pedals and everything else, good equipment makes for better drumming and happier drummers!

And as with music, I recommend that you not limit yourself by only using one kind of anything. Experiment, try new things, and make conscious decisions about what you like, and why you like it.

Happy drumming!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

NAMM Show 101

It's January, and you know what that means - it's NAMM Show time!

So, what the heck is the NAMM Show? Do you hear people talking about it, read about it on music websites, or know people who have gone?

First, you need to know what NAMM is. From Wikipedia, "The acronym NAMM originally stood for the National Association of Music Merchants, but has evolved from a national entity representing the interests of music products retailers to an international association including commercial, reseller members, affiliates and manufacturers."

For a few years, while going to college, I worked at a great music store. The owner took all of his top people to the NAMM Show every year. I had no idea what to expect until I got my turn to go in 2004 and 2005, and it completely changed how I view the business side of the music world.

Simply put, the NAMM Show is an event that allows companies that manufacture and sell music gear and other products (wholesalers) to showcase their offerings to resellers or other companies that offer these products to the public (retailers). Why would they need to do that, you ask? Let me give you an example.

The last time I was at the show, there were over 300 different brands (wow!) of drums. As the drum purchaser (or buyer) for the company, I had to decide on which two or three brands we would carry in our store, and, as you can imagine, every one of those companies tried to convince me that their product was the best and easiest to sell.

So how does a retailer decide what to offer their customers? Well, a lot of factors go into this sort of choice. Among other things, they might consider:

  • What is already popular? In other words, is this something people want? Spending less marketing dollars can mean more profit. And offering a product that people already know about and want can make the store more popular and lead to sales of other products and accessories.
  • What's going to become popular? Especially in the music biz, being first usually means making the most money. Innovative products can be a risk, but purchasers get very good at seeing something great and snapping it up. Again, how fast and easy it is to sell a product is a major consideration.
  • How fast can the manufacturer ship? Doesn't matter how great or cheap something is if it takes six months to get there.
  • What is the profit margin? Some of the coolest products on the market will never get really popular, because stores have a hard time justifying making little or no profit when they sell them. And as much as the public (you and me, pal) want stuff at the lowest possible prices, retailers have got to make money, or they'll go away.
  • What is the quality and durability of the product, and how good is the warranty? Because if you're not happy after you buy it, you're probably not going to be happy with the store, either.
How do the wholesalers convince retailers to buy? It's a very detailed, well thought out and - usually - expensive process. 

The basic tactic is to display products in a booth setting, sort of like shops in a mall, but much smaller and much more compact. There are thousands of booths, and hundreds of thousands of individual products. And each seller goes to great lengths to make their booth seem hip, cool, trendy, flashy or classy, and to demonstrate why their product is so great. 

Another tactic is product demonstrations by somebody famous. For example, you might see (like I did) Will Calhoun at the Sonor Drums booth showing off the new line of snare drums, or Russ Miller giving a lesson example at Yamaha Drums. 

In addition, many companies will host concerts, parties, jams and contests to woo buyers. One such concert I attended was Yamaha's Groove Night 2004. It was an unbelievable show, and I walked out thinking, "Man, I can't believe how many of my favorite players use Yamaha." Score one for the marketing team, because that year we bought over $40,000 in Yamaha products for our store. 

Oh, and another thing? It's called "swag," and I came home with a ton of it both times I went. Swag is free stuff covered with logos of brands and products, and sellers pass it out by the truckload, especially to important buyers. Some common swag items are shirts, hats, stickers, drum keys, heads, lanyards, and in some cases, jackets and real product samples like microphones and cymbals. It's awesome!

Finally, this post would be incomplete with mentioning maybe the best thing about the show - the people you get to meet. Not only your favorite musical celebrities, amazing players and other famous types, but the people who know the most about gear and how to get the best out of it.

In 2005, we made a point of finding the best sounding drums at the show and asking the highest ranking person we could find to tell us how they got such great sound. In addition to discussions about shell materials, hoops, heads and sticks, we got a ton of advice about how to tune heads and treat drums to get world class tone and sound. Again, awesome!

In short, the NAMM Show is the place to see what's new - and everything else - in the music products world. If you ever get the chance to go, don't pass it up.

Happy shopping!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Feature: Steve Jordan

Another favorite drummer who is much, much more than that. Steve Jordan is an artist. He is a producer, musical director, composer, drummer....you get the picture. For a fairly complete look at his career and musical works, visit the Drummerworld site.

One of the things I admire most about Steve is that he's multi-faceted, and approaches music from a variety of angles. He never thinks about music - or performs, writes, etc. - from only one aspect. He seems to always consider what his contribution will do in terms of affecting the whole. He's thoughtful about his choice of sounds, grooves, fills and overall style to make sure that the music achieves the desired affect.

In short, he's a musician. He listens. Communicates with his band mates. Plays well with others. Again, you get the idea.

Two of my favorite Steve Jordan moments are his appearance in the documentary film, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," and his work with John Mayer and Pino Palladino. I just can't get over the "Try" album. It's one that I can listen to for many reasons and for many hours.

And as I've said about some other players, you won't do any harm to yourself by learning some of his techniques and tricks.

Happy drumming!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bag of Tricks: (Another) Carter Beauford of DMB

Carter, to me, is infinitely creative. His style is very distinctive, and is a critical component of the Dave Matthews Band sound.

This lick, from the Busted Stuff version of "Grey Street," is not too hard, and very fun to play. It brings instant intensity to your playing.

It happens right at the beginning of the track.

Happy drumming!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beyond the Kit: Percussion Ensemble

The percussion ensemble, also known as percussion orchestra, is rapidly becoming a major player in the modern chamber music arena. The ensemble can be made up of anything you can hit, er....strike. Any struck instrument is technically considered percussion, so it's fair game. From traditional instruments to trash cans, boat propellors, car doors, flower pots, whatever.

A standard ensemble line up would include marimbas (4), vibraphones (2), xylophone, bells or glockenspiel, battery percussion (bass drum, snare drum and cymbals), timpani, chimes and a variety of auxiliary percussion such as triangles, shakers, tambourines and more.

The first percussion ensemble experience most of us get is in junior high or middle school, and - I'm not gonna lie - it's usually pretty bad. It's probably one of what we call "drummy drummy" ensembles where a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds bang on snare drums, bass drum, wood block and cymbals. Most of those pieces aren't very musical, and they aren't very fun.

Fortunately, percussion ensemble literature has exploded in recent years. Probably the greatest advancement in percussion's public perception (also known ppp, or piannississimo) is the realization that percussion isn't just banging and crashing. It's also capable of breathtakingly beautiful melody and harmony, sensitive dynamic expression and exquisite mystery, just to name a few.

Check out some of my favorite places to pick up percussion music. (Did I miss some? Let me know!)

Drop 6 Percussion


Bachovich Music Publications


KT Percussion

And, just for fun:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Weight Room: Your diddles need work, right?

The double stroke, or diddle, is one of the basic strokes you need to master to be able to play most basic rudimental music, and a staple of drum kit technique. You can totally be successful, musical, and groovy without solid diddles, but trust me, you'll have more fun and be more free to express yourself if you can master them.

Here is a simple exercise to get your diddles smooth and even*. In this case we're striving for very open, clear sounding strokes. Each note should sound the same.

Then, switch hands.

When you're feeling pretty comfortable playing this with a click or a track, add in a foot pattern of your choice, and play the exercise over it. Do it a lot. I find that if you can do the exercise comfortably and with no mistakes for 40 seconds or more, you probably are ready to move a little faster.

The next step is to work this thing up to lightning speed, staying relaxed and using good technique. You'll find that there will be a certain tempo plateau that will force you to use a bounce stroke for the second note. Once that stroke feels comfortable, you'll be able to get fast very quickly.

This exercise can also apply to your feet, whether on double kick or using a single kick and hat. A double stroke in your feet is also a fantastic tool to have at your, uh, toe-tips.

Happy drumming!

*One exercise alone will not produce good diddles. Continue to practice exercises to develop your basic stroke with proper technique, and find ways to apply diddles in your playing. If you do it consistently and over time, you'll find diddles popping up in your playing quite naturally. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gear Up: Microphones Part 2

Last week, I mentioned a few suggestions on some microphones to get started with for drums.

This week, where in the world do you place them? What will get the best and most consistent sound?

First, don't reinvent the wheel. Whenever you work with a good sound tech, watch what they do, and ask them questions (nicely, at appropriate times, and respectfully, of course) about why they do it the way they do. Listen and learn. There are also myriad websites that have very clear, complete information.

I'm definitely not a sound engineer, but there are a few really simple concepts that I have used for years that have produced good, consistent results. Again, there are a lot of factors at play here, including your drums/heads, tuning, the size and shape of the room, how loud you play, other sound sources on the stage, etc*.

One semi-funny story: Back in the day, I played with a band called Hillside Nine. We got a gig playing at a high school for a huge senior party. Lots of fun. After sound check the engineer asked if there was anything else we needed, and I jokingly said, "Just make us sound amazing, okay?" He replied without missing a beat, "Ah, okay. I'll turn the 'Talent' knob all the way up, and the 'Suck' switch completely off. Will that work?"

Oh, if only it were that simple! Anyway, on to the good stuff.

Snare and Toms
Line up the end of the microphone (the end where it captures the sound - it usually has a screen) with the hoop/rim of the drum, at least an inch above the hoop - mine are about 2-3" up - and angle the mic at the dead center of the drum. The microphone will end up at about a 30ish degree angle up from the plane of the drum head. Try it out. You'll like it!

Kick Drum
My drum's resonant (front) head is ported. That means it has a five inch hole cut in the head, at about the 4 o'clock position. I have had good results putting the mic through the port, with the end of the mic (again, the screen/capture side) about three inches inside the drum, pointed at the dead center of the batter head. If your kick drum doesn't have a front head (or if you've removed it for recording), move the mic to about the halfway point of the shell, right in the middle, and point it at the center of the resonant head.

I like to use two identical mics to capture the cymbals and full kit sound. One mic sits over my left hand area, pointed at the place where my left side crash overlaps my hi-hat. The right side hangs over my ride cymbal where it hangs over my floor tom. Both are just above head level, out of range of an errant stick stroke.

Especially if you're using mics a lot, and even more especially in a recording setting, it's worth experimenting with different placements - angles, heights, alignments and how far over the drum it sits.

Happy drumming!

*Okay, one MAJOR tip: the best mics, sound engineer and placement won't make your drums sound good if they don't already. Before you go to the gig, make sure that your instrument is in good working order - heads in good shape, and well tuned. This will have the BIGGEST impact on how good you sound. That, and the P word: PRACTICE!!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Gig Log: Lokalgrown at Zermatt

On Thursday, January 12th, Lokalgrown had the privilege of performing for Miro Industries, Inc. at the amazing Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah.

The audience was comprised of company associates from all over the country, and they were very ready to be entertained. It was a very fun show, complete with wigs, mohawks, dancing, sing alongs, and even a guest drummer.....what?

Yep. The new idea to get an audience member involved in the show was for me to walk out mid-set on my "15 minute union break." With me gone, the band had to ask if anybody in the house played drums. It took less than 30 seconds to get a volunteer up, and he actually killed it! The band played Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" with the guest drummer, and even tried to get him to play a drum solo. It was...epic!

Overall, and from top to bottom, it was a great show. And I'd be remiss if I didn't give a huge shout out to our de facto crew for the evening, Jared and Jeremy. Thanks for all the hard work, men!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thank you, blogosphere!

To the audience: I just need to give a sincere shout-out to all who read and contribute to this blog. It took from the first post in October 2010 until December 2011 (yep, about 14 months) to get to 1,000 total site visits. Our next 1,000 (for a total of just over 2,000) took until yesterday.

That means we were able to double our total site visits in under a month. Wow!!

Truly, from every key on my keyboard and every note in my repertoire, thank you. 

As a small token of appreciation, I'm giving away some free stuff. You can enter to win by liking the Facebook page and becoming a member of the blogsite. There's a button that says, "Join this site" up to your left as you read this.

As always, happy drumming!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Feature: Tony Williams

Just start here.

Are you back? Good. Not much more I can tell you about Tony Williams except that he's one of the great players of all time, and has had as much influence on modern drumming as any other player, and more than the vast majority.

I saw Tony Williams play a clinic in Salt Lake City shortly before he died. It was one of the experiences that helped to shape my view of what drumming is, and what's possible. He was very classy, a fiery performer, and very willing to pass on what he knew.

Thanks, Tony, for giving us your gift. We still miss you!

Happy drumming!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bag of Tricks: Keane, "Somewhere Only We Know"

A very cool, simple fill. At the 2:24 mark in the video, you can watch it played it so there's no question about how it's done. The drummer is Richard Hughes, who also sings.

I've loved this album since I first heard it in 2003, especially this tune. It's the kind of music you can listen to loud on a long drive by yourself. Or with a close friend that doesn't require a lot of conversation, just the occasional glance and nod that says, "Yep. Good tune, man. Love this tune."

Truth be told, though, I was introduced to Keane by a friend who shares my love of the pseudo-simplicity of pop music. It's easy to "get it," which is what makes it so popular. So I've spent more time analyzing and appreciating than just listening. But still, good tune, man. Love this tune.

Happy drumming.....man.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beyond the Kit: Wind Chimes

Seriously, you need wind chimes. You may not think you do, but you do.

Wind chimes - often called bar chimes - are a lesser-used effect, but common enough that you ought to own a set. They aren't terribly expensive, and usually come with a good bag for traveling (and keeping them quiet!).

These chimes are generally played by sweeping a metal scraper (or a triangle beater) across the bars, or using your fingers, to cause the bars to contact each other and create sound.

There's a great sound sample on the Sabian website.

Some of my favorite drummers in the business have wind chimes as part of their kit. At very least, they are one of the accessories good percussionists have available on studio sessions and gigs.

Bar chimes can be made from a variety of different metals, in different weights and lengths, and come in many different configurations. Most of the cymbal companies make them, and there are three or four other outfits that have excellent models, too.

My favorite (I'm not endorsed or anything, so I hope my opinion is fairly objective) is Treeworks. They have some unique ideas that I really love, such as the EchoTree. Check it out at the link above.

If nothing else, become acquainted with wind chimes and learn how to get a good sound. Your music-making will thank you for it.

Happy chiming!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Weight Room: Transcription

One of my favorite expressions about musicians is this, "The good ones borrow, but the great ones steal."

Are you stealing? You should be! Now, I'm not talking about actually physically taking things that aren't yours. I'm talking about learning to play like your favorite artists - to use their licks, fills and grooves.

Why would you want to do this? Don't you want to be an individual, to be unique? Absolutely! But just like babies learn to speak by imitating, so we learn to "speak" music in part by imitating the best "speakers" in the business. You'll never be an exact copy of anybody, but as you learn how others play and think, so to speak, you will diversify and expand your ability to express yourself on the instrument.

In short, theft pays. Uh....you know what I mean.

The word is transcription. To transcribe something, in this case, means to write it down, exactly as it was played. For example, if you listen to a song that you like and write down the words as you hear them, you have transcribed the lyrics.

In fact, all of my Thursday posts of late, called, "Bag of Tricks," are short transcriptions of a section of the drum part of the selected song.

So, how do you get started? I suggest following this process.

  • Choose the section you want to transcribe. Keep it short at first, no more than a couple of measures.
  • Mark where the section starts and stops. For example, it you're using a media player like iTunes, you can easily see what time you are looking at so you can go back to the exact spot each time.
  • Listen to it enough times that you can sing it pretty accurately (okay, at least give it the bah-da-be-dah run through).
  • As you start writing it down, focus on one "voice" at a time. What's the kick drum doing? Got it? Move on to the snare drum, or hi-hat, etc. writing down each part as you go. 
  • Once you think you've got the whole down, try playing along with it in the air or on your legs. You'll quickly get a feel for whether you're on or not.
  • Use pencil (so you can erase your mistakes), and use standard notation.
  • Once you know you've got it dialed, get it down permanently. I suggest using a notation software like Noteflight where you can store your work and share it. 
You may find that after you've gotten into the transcription habit, you'll actually start seeing drum parts in your head as you hear them. It's a little weird to think about, but it will move your learning and playing forward in a big way. 

Start with something easy, and keep working at it. It will get easier and more rewarding the more you do it. 

Happy 'scribing!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gear Up: Microphones Part 1

Although it's a joke in the professional music world, it's incredibly true: Don't ever tick off the sound engineer. If there's one person you should be bringing donuts and Diet Coke for, it's your sound engineer. No matter how great your equipment is, how well tuned your drums are, and how much you've practiced, there are some external factors that can make or break your sound. Not only the engineer, but the equipment being used.

Make no mistake, in most live settings larger than your living room, some sound reinforcement is necessary - even for drums - to get your best sound. Keep in mind that the job of the sound equipment isn't only to make things louder, but to give the audience true, high quality sound.

Let's talk about one of the most important factors: microphones.

This subject is debated by drummers, engineers, techs and manufacturers pretty heavily. Which mics do you use? Where do you place them? How close should they be? Today we'll take a look at the first of those questions.

Which mics should you use?

The first thing is to use the right type of mic for the application. For example, don't use a vocal mic on your drums! This seems basic, but just like some people think all drums are the same, a lot of drummers think that all microphones are the same. But in today's world, there are very specific microphones for each type of drum, and for overhead applications.

This seems like a pretty simple thing, but if you're buying mics, just ask the salesperson (or look on the box, for heaven's sake!) what the mic was designed for, and what its best uses are. Even better, go online and spend some quality time with Google doing some research.

Basically, you want three or four different microphones for a basic drum set up. Here's a list and some common models used for each*.

Snare Drum:
  • Shure SM57 (or Beta 57)
  • Audix D1
  • Sennheiser e604
  • AKG C418
Kick Drum:
  • Shure Beta 52A
  • Audix D6
  • Sennheiser e602-II
  • AKG D112 
Toms: (many engineers use a kick drum mic on any toms 14" or larger)

  • Shure SM57 or Beta 98
  • Audix D2
  • Sennheiser e604 or e608
  • AKG D40
  • Shure KSM 
  • Audix ADX51
  • Sennheiser e614
  • AKG C430

All of that said, probably the easiest thing to do, especially if you're just getting into playing with mics, is to purchase a "drum pack" from one of the companies on my list. I've been through three of these packs, one from Audix, another from a company who shall remain nameless, and a Shure kit, which I still have. Although I really do like the Shures, I'm not one of those guys who will only use one brand. I've found that I can get good sounds with almost any mics if the drums are tuned well, the placement is good, and the engineer knows what they are doing.

So, step one: get good mics. The rest? We'll cover that later.

Happy drumming, and good sound to you always!
* I know that I'm probably leaving out some great mics, so let me know what they are in the comments below!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Gig Log: Lokalgrown in Boise, ID

As I've said many times, I'm very grateful to be a musician. In addition, I'm lucky to play with some very good musicians who have given me the opportunity to play at some very cool places and at awesome events.

Such was the case on December 17th, 2011. I played with Lokalgrown at Utah State University's pre-game party before the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho. My Aggies actually made it to a bowl game! Although the football team lost the game in a heartbreaker, the party was a total success.

The party was held in Taco Bell Arena, where Boise State University's basketball team plays. Not only is it a pretty great venue, the staff there was perfect - accommodating, knowledgeable and friendly. They made it an absolute pleasure.

The bass player for this gig was my longtime friend and colleague Matt Redd. Not only is he a skilled musician, he's a heck of a great guy. We've been friends since college - we actually played together in the USU Jazz Orchestra.

Anyway, right before the downbeat, Matt started to get sick. His eyes went red, he was sneezing, congested and basically miserable. He didn't know it until he made it to the doctor the next day, but he had a cornea (yes, THAT cornea - in his eye!) infection, and the symptoms hit him in a matter of a few minutes.

Even though he was miserable and feeling pretty bad, he played the entire gig like a champ - and nailed it, at that. He also went and sat through the entire game and the five-hour drive back to Salt Lake City with nary a complaint. Amazing.

Matt Redd - Gig Hero of 2011

All in all, it was another great gig/roadie with the LKG boys.

*The game was played on the infamous "Smurf Turf" at Boise State University. BSU's campus is absolutely beautiful, and even though it was a cold day, it was a lot of fun to be there for the FIPB.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Gig Log: LKG @ HCT 4 NYE

Couldn't resist the title of this one. Too many acronyms came immediately to mind to be dismissed. Translated into English, the title should read, "Lokalgrown at Hale Centre Theatre for New Year's Eve."

Such a fun gig. We've played the HCT New Year's party - as the pre-show for the opening of the new season's comedy - for most of the last eight years or so. The HCT crowd is always energetic, loud and kind. Truly it's one of the gigs we look forward to every year. It never gets old.

Here's the kit almost fully set. The remaining crash is on my seat. Notice the Pro-Mark cymbal rattler. I don't use it very often, but it seemed like a good idea. Turned out to be a great sound for the room.

I'm also a HUGE fan of the rug! Didn't think it would make things look so classy, but it totally did. The only problem is that the pedals and kick drum "walked" all night long. On a regular drum rug things don't move around that much. I had to keep pulling the kick back toward me.

The Hale has a very unique set up. It's theatre-in-the-round, so the audience is seated all the way around the main stage. There are three sort of mini-stages situated at the top of the seating around the theatre, and we set up on one of these. Here's the view from where I sat.

Quinn's keyboard is right in front of me, then the stage. Pretty cool place to play from.

(Right) Here's the view from a part of the audience.

(Below) The other shot may seem random, but let me 'splain.

At the end of this gig we had exactly seven minutes to get all of our equipment - instruments, sound system, etc. - out of the performance area and into the hallway. Then we had to pack everything up and move it out in almost total silence. Not so easy, friends. Not so easy. So, I took a picture of my entire rig after we had packed up.

My whole load in/out is two bags of drums (kick/snare in one, toms in the other), cymbal bag, hardware bag, bag of tricks (shakers, tambourines, etc.) and my rug, which I didn't use on this gig.

This is the number one reason I use the Yamaha Manu Katche (Junior Kit): it packs up and loads out with not a lot of effort. I drive a relatively small station wagon, and the bass player (Matt Redd) and I were able to carpool to this gig with both of our equipment in the back with room to spare.


Anyway, it was another very fun, successful Lokalgrown gig. Thanks for taking a look!

Happy drumming in the new year!

One funny story from the gig that night. 

We usually do a little audience interaction in the form of a "Name That Tune" game. We use TV theme shows (The Office, Andy Griffith Show, Friends, Glee, Cheers, etc.) 

For this gig we decided to use all songs from musicals. It was hysterical! For the first time we actually stumped all three competitors with one song.

It was, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables.

What makes it funny is that we had expected the audience to "get it" quickly and sing along. Instead, we got crickets. 

Awesome. Well played, gentlemen!

Friday Feature: Emmanuelle Caplette

My favorite link on the drummerworld.com website is this one. If you click on the roulette wheel, it will pull up a random drummer from among the hundreds on the site. I've done this numerous times and been well-rewarded each time. (Sure, a roulette wheel represents gambling, but it's not really a gamble if you know you're going to get something good.)

A couple of years ago, this was the drummer that the ol' wheel pulled up for me.

Needless to say, I was completely sold. And I've tried to keep tabs on her playing ever since.

Emmanuelle Caplette's playing is versatile, fluid and musical, to say the least. She carries herself with both grace and power, and has a unique flair.

Here's another one I love.....you know what? No. I was going to embed another video, but I think it's time to just turn it over to you and let you choose.

Here's Emmanuelle's YouTube channel.  Enjoy. And, as usual, click on her name above and visit her website.

Don't forget to come back and let me know what you think in the comments section.

Happy watching and learning!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bag of Tricks: Ben Wysocki (The Fray) Song Ending

It's always a challenge to figure out how to end a recording (or live performance, for that matter) in a classy, interesting and clean way.

Because it fits all of the above descriptors, I have always loved this simple, clever lick from Ben Wysocki on the title track of The Fray's album, "How To Save A Life." Along with many other very cool, very musical ideas, Wysocki drops this one without hesitation.

This measure starts at about the 4:19 mark, and is the final measure of the piece.

Happy drumming!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beyond the Kit: Shaker

It may seem really simple, but playing shaker well is an art. Just like you need to have great hi-hat technique with super-solid time and feel, solid shaker  technique is a critical tool in your arsenal.

While shakers come in an increasing variety of shapes and sizes, the basic form is a tube, capped at both ends, with beads, pellets or other small objects inside. The shaker makes sound as the contents come in contact with the tube. My favorite is the LP Soft Shake, filled with sand.

Here's a basic shaker technique: hold the shaker like a can of soda turned on its side, palm up. Hold the shaker up at eye or top-of-head level. Move the shaker forward and back in time - usually forward on the beat, and backward on the offbeat. Be sure to keep the shaker level - don't let it go up or down, just forward and backward. You can control the articulation and dynamic by how fast and hard you move the shaker.

Give it a go. You'll like it. When you get pretty comfortable with the basic eighth note pattern, try playing a basic rock beat with a shaker in hand. Play kick and snare as normal, but use the shaker instead of playing hat or ride with a stick. It's a cool groove/technique that can be used for ballads, bossas, or soft sections.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Weight Room: Playing with the click

As a young man I had the opportunity to play percussion (xylo, BD and the like) in an orchestra with a top studio drum set artist in the SLC metro area. He's a guy I've seen on liner notes my whole life, and he's very well known for being the studio drummer you want on your project.

During the course of rehearsals, studio sessions and performances, I asked him if it was hard to always be creative in the studio. I'm paraphrasing, but the answer was something like this, "You don't have to be creative. You have to play with the click, and sound like a drummer."

It seemed like a strange answer. You don't have to be creative? Just play with a click? Obviously there's more to being successful than just keeping good time, but it's an absolutely critical skill - besides, I think he was just being modest.

Seriously, though - nobody cares about your "chops" if you can't play in time. Call it what you will - the pocket, groove, solid - whatever. If you can't do it, you won't find a place as a drummer.

So, how do you start? Let me suggest three steps to get you started.

1. This seems obvious, but get a metronome. A good one. I recommend one with a tap function, and a wide range of tempos (tempi?). A set of isolation headphones is a good idea, too. Then use it enough to get to know what it can and can't do. Read the instruction manual (seriously, do it!).

2. Play very easy stuff while getting used to playing with the click. Start with an exercise that you can play in your sleep without thinking about it - so you can think about playing with the click! Focus on "landing" with the click on each beat and making your subdivisions very even. It shouldn't take long for you to get comfortable and progress to more complex exercises, grooves, etc. But be aware of the click always. Treat it like another musician, and focus on staying together.

3. Test yourself without the click. I have a metronome with a "mute" button. It doesn't stop keeping time, it just stops making noise. Try playing a measure with the click, then one without (Benny Greb has a fantastic example of this on his "Language of Drumming" DVD - check it out!) to make sure you're keeping good time. Another way to do this is to reduce the number of beats you're hearing per measure. For example, if you're playing in 4/4 at 100 beats per minute (BPM), turn the click down to 50, and play the same exercise at the same tempo. Instead of getting all four beats, you'll just get 1 and 3 (or 2 and 4).

Many of my students hate playing with the metronome. But I view it as one of my "real" friends. You know, the kind that can look you in the eye and tell you that you're fat - and you're still friends.

If you learn to be comfortable keeping great time (and feel) along with the metronome, you're well on your way to being a great drummer - one that other musicians will love playing with.

Happy grooving!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Gear Up: Drum Dial

I'm having a serious conundrum. To Drum Dial or not to Drum Dial?

The Drum Dial is a relatively simple tool (similar to a durometer) that measures the tension of a drumhead. You use it by placing it on the drumhead next to each tension rod, relatively close to the hoop.

In theory, when you get the tension exactly the same around the entire head, it's in tune. Of course, you have to take into account the type of drum, its depth, the type of heads, and the relationship of the heads to each other (resonant to batter).

Drum tuning purists (yep, there really are such people - including me, to a degree) argue that tools like the Drum Dial are "cheating," for lack of a better term. They say that you should be able to tune your drums yourself, by ear. And if you can't, well, then you don't deserve to sound good. And I know plenty of skilled drummers who have never learned to tune their own drums. They play great, but sound awful.

I mean, hey, if Peter Erskine* uses it, it can't be all bad, right?

My DW Kit
About six months ago I put all new batter heads on my DW drum kit. As an experiment, I used the Drum Dial on all of the heads, both sides. Also, I used the recommended tensions from the Drum Dial web site.  I was pretty happy with the results in my studio, but I needed to get out on a gig with them, so I took them to the very next show I had.

I got an interesting reaction from the bass player on the gig (Ryan Tilby). While we were sound checking, he turned to me and said, "Wow. That sounds exactly like a backline kit."**

Truth be told, the heads required quite a bit of fine tuning after using the Drum Dial. Just having the dial read the same number at each lug wasn't enough to get the head to sound "clear" (without waves or beats) and open. That part had to be done by ear. But the dial did drastically speed up the process of getting the drumheads to the fine tuning phase.

To me, I think that's the answer. The tools we have are still only tools, so the actual work of getting your drums to sound the way you want them to is still up to you. It's like fixing cars. Sure, we have power tools, hydraulic equipment and sophisticated computers, but the work is still in the hands of the mechanic.

The Drum Dial, and tools like it, are just a part of your arsenal to achieve great sounding drums.

That being said, I'd love to have a spreadsheet of every drummer in the world that showed which drum they're using, what heads, and at what tension. Then I could sound like anybody I want. Does that seem like giving up too many trade secrets?

What do you think?

As always, happy drumming!

*If you don't know who Peter Erskine is or aren't familiar with his work, click his name above. He has been a huge, positive influence on many a drummer, including me.

**A backline kit refers to a rented drum set that is tuned in a very standard, generic way. The drums will sound good, but usually not distinctive. It is left up to the drummer or tech to individualize the sounds to the specific style or venue. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

No New Year's Resolutions!!

I'm serious! Don't make ANY New Year's Resolutions! They're hazardous to your health, and I mean that sincerely.

When I say resolutions, I mean those useless generalizations like, "Lose weight," or "Read more books." Musicians say things like, "Practice more," or "Get better."

Two words for you: USE. LESS. That's like wandering around a maze and feeling good about yourself because you're still walking. Nice. Or not!

Allow me to suggest something better: set specific goals. Specific goals are aims that are measurable and achievable, and that point at your larger overall goals.

For example, say you really do want to "get better." (Don't we all?) Start by defining this goal. What does it mean to get better? Are you faster, louder, softer, more creative or keep better time? Write down a handful (5-6) of items that describe each of your goals.

Finally, write the answer to this question for each of your goals: How will I know when I've achieved this goal? The answer to that question will guide you to make actual, real improvements this year.

Okay, two things I've heard this year (via Twitter) that I absolutely have to pass on:

Instead of resolution, try re-solution: apply a new solution to an old problem."

1 Jan
RT from Nike: "Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.""

Drummer's Weight Room: Tap Timing Exercise

This blogpost has been moved to my website. Click here to read:  http://keithdrums.com/drummers-weight-room-tap-timing/