Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Feature: Terry Bozzio

I've seen Terry Bozzio (pronounced Bo-zee-oh) perform live twice (thanks Backbeats!), both times as a soloist. The first time, I was a Freshman in college, and I went because the other percussion guys were going. I really didn't have any idea who he was or why he was significant in music and drumming. The second time - needless to say - I attended his performance/clinic as a devoted fan.

If you've seen Bozzio play, you know that he's a totally unique musician with a totally unique approach and a totally unique drum kit. In fact, his tech crew lovingly refers to his setup as the "HMS (His Majesty's Ship) Bozzio."

All of his drums and cymbals are chosen for his specific needs and for their specific tone quality and pitch. The wide selection of drums and cymbals, combined with his meticulous tuning, allow him to play melodically and harmonically - and it's a beautiful thing.

For more amazing pics, check out the Terry Bozzio page on Drummerworld or his own website here.

Two things you'll notice about Terry Bozzio are:
  1. His use of ostinato.
  2. The various hair styles and lengths with which he rocks at different points in his career. And he always looks like a rock star.
If you don't have time to watch this next video in its entirety, Terry comes on stage at about the 1:10 mark, and starts playing at 2:30. It's worth listening to the introduction and listening to Terry talk. He's a down-to-earth, intelligent and funny guy. 

Lots of fun. He puts an entirely new spin on the term "drum solo." 

As always, I hope this is simply a jumping off place for you. Terry Bozzio is worth checking out and emulating in many ways. 

Happy drumming!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bag of Tricks: Simple Jazz Fill

Here's a simple idea to get you going. This fill isn't exactly subtle, but if you really lay back on it, it's pretty swingin'.

Try to keep the unaccented snare drum notes down (soft) as much as possible. You can then use the accents to develop the "melody" of the movement around the kit, and you don't have to play loudly. Remember that, in terms of dynamics, the more you can whisper, the more a normal voice will sound like shouting. It's all about contrast.

And, finally, the sticking. I like to play the first triplet alternating, starting with the right hand (so R L R), then play L L R the rest of the way.

Happy drumming!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Guest Blogger: Emily Sorensen - Is your teacher ripping you off?

Guest Blogger: Emily Sorensen*, formerly of Play Music Educational Studios

Are you getting your money’s worth?
Taking music lessons is a big time and money commitment and you should know that you are getting the most for your money. Regardless what you are paying for lessons, at some point during your lesson experience (if it hasn’t happened already) you are going to ask yourself if what you’re paying for lessons is worth what you’re getting out of it. Sometimes $15 can be too much to pay and $25 can be a real bargain for a 30 minute lessons. 
Here are a few questions to think about when deciding if you’re getting your money’s worth from your lessons.
  • How much education does your teacher have on the instrument they’re teaching you? 
Most everybody has taken some kind of lesson or was in a band class in school, but didn’t bother to take any further education after high school.  No, not everybody who is talented at playing an instrument has taken lessons or majored or minored in the subject in college.  But as we become adults and start looking for ways to increase our income we often fall back on any skill we think might help. So make sure that you’re comfortable with your teacher’s education. The more they’ve studied their instrument, especially if it’s private lessons, the more likely it is that they will be able to help you become better at playing your instrument.
  • What playing experience does your teacher have?
This is a twofold question; experience teaching and playing are important to consider. 
How long has your teacher been teaching lessons? Experience in teaching is important because teachers who have been teaching longer generally have had many students and have learned many ways to help students figure out how to play.  And the longer your teacher has been teaching the more they will have ideas and a “tool box” full of ideas to help you learn the concepts.  Is it okay to take from a beginning teacher? Sure, all teachers were beginners once too, but make sure you are comfortable with their playing and teaching experience. New teachers will gain that experience over time, so don’t let this sway you completely one way or the other on your value of your teacher’s ability to help you.  A good teacher will have a realistic view of their own abilities and will never try to convince you they are more or better than they really are.
Does your teacher still play? Experience in playing is important because teachers who don’t play will be rusty in their skills. Many skills will “come back” as they begin teaching and playing and many of the basic skills will improve as they are teaching or have taught over the years, but it is important that teachers are playing and keeping up on their skills. Continuing to practice on their own is an important key to if they are still playing, but most musicians are driven to continue to play. Even if it’s in community or church groups your teacher is more likely to be able to help you improve your own skills if they are still staying active and relevant on the “gig” scene. 
  • Does your teacher come with high recommendation?
How did you find your teacher? Did a band/orchestra/choir teacher recommend your teacher to you? A great way to find a teacher is to talk to your music teacher at school and to check with your friends. A personal reference from someone you know and trust is usually a reliable way to find a teacher. However, let that be a first step in choosing your teacher. Everyone has different learning styles and teachers are not one-size-fits-all. 
If you have found a teacher through an advertisement service make sure to check any website or blogs listed and when you call or email feel free to ask for references or comments from their current or past students. Just remember if you made a “cold” contact with this teacher the information they send back with their references will always be their “best side.” But that doesn’t invalidate the information, just a reminder to take all recommendations from someone you don’t know with a grain of salt. Ask about some of their methods of teaching; do they lecture and pass off music, does the teacher play along during the lesson, are lessons a kinetic (hands on) experience encouraging you to challenge, stretch and try new things? 
Many teachers offer a free first lesson. This is a great opportunity to “try out” your teacher. When you go to the store to purchase a piece of clothing it is unwise to just grab the item, pay for it and leave unless you are absolutely sure it’s the right fit for you. If you don’t like it in the store you won’t wear it once you get it home. So it is with lessons and teachers. If you don’t feel comfortable with their teaching style during that first lesson, it most likely isn’t going to get much easier the longer you take; that’s not always the case but most of the time you have a really good feel for the fit after that first lesson.
  • Does your teacher focus on technique and mastering the basics or jump right to “showboating” and moving you through the method book as fast as possible?
Your teacher should be talented. But the time you are paying for is to help you learn and improve. When you are struggling to grasp a technique or skill does your teacher break it down and help you to run through it over and over and over until you can do it, or is your teacher quick to jump in and “show you how to do it?” Seeing an example can help, but sometimes struggling through the process with your teacher as a guide and mentor is a more effective method for mastering the technique.
Does your teacher make sure you have mastered one technique before moving to the next technique? One of the hardest parts of being a private music teacher is to make sure your students have mastered a skill before moving on to the next one. Sometimes it seems you are doing the same thing over and over in a lesson and all you want to do is move on, but music is a skill that is comprehensive. If you haven’t mastered a skill before moving on to the next one, it will be much more difficult to learn the next skill. A good music teacher will make sure you are actually learning the skill before teaching you more and harder skills. This sometimes involves slowing down and focusing on skills that are weaker and many times it means reviewing each week even after you have moved to the next skill. You might even have “pop review” session in a lesson sometime to make sure you’ve got it down. But rest assured this is all to make sure you are learning and mastering the skills necessary to make long term progress.
  • Are you making progress?
Are you any better than when you started taking lessons? Are you constantly learning new things and being challenged? If you are not getting any better then don’t continue to take lessons. But taking lessons isn’t a magic, I’m amazing at music, get better quick pill. You have to do what your teacher asks you to do and YOU have to practice. If you are practicing at least 5 days a week for a minimum of 20 minutes per practice session, doing what your teacher asks you to do and THEN you’re not getting any better, find a new teacher. If you’re doing your part and you can’t make any progress (which sometimes can seem imperceptible) then you’re definitely not getting your money’s worth and you need to find a new teacher or take a break.
  • Are lessons enjoyable?
At the end of the day if you are not motivated to improve and you don’t enjoy going to lessons maybe you’re really not getting your money’s worth. If you would rather do almost anything other than go to your lesson and you look for ways to miss or cancel your lesson - you should probably find another teacher. Good rapport between student and teacher and parent and teacher is important. While sometimes you may not like a lesson or are having a difficult time learning a concept and lessons can be hard, you should always enjoy yourself. Learning is supposed to be fun, why should learning a musical instrument be any different? Progress and having a good time go hand in hand. If we can’t enjoy what we’re doing/learning, then we aren’t motivated to be better and we avoid the things that will help us to improve. Bottom line, if you can’t enjoy learning the instrument and the lessons, nothing else really matters in deciding if you’re getting your money’s worth.
Music lessons are a great investment and should be viewed as an investment. But make sure your investment is working for you and you are getting the most benefit for your money. Getting your money’s worth from music lessons is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Good luck, and may you find the teacher worth the investment of your time and money! 

*Yep, Emily is my wife and best friend. She's also an experienced musician and was the administrator at our music teaching studio where she worked with about 20 teachers and over 100 students. She dealt with all of the day-to-day operations, including interfacing with parents and students. In short, she knows her stuff.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Weight Room: More Diddle Work

Here's another simple exercise that can bring great results.

First, try to play this exercise at a comfortable tempo, then gradually increase it until you start to get a little uncomfortable.

Now - same sticking, different interpretation. Once you get this one back up to your discomfort level, try switching between the two interpretations without stopping or changing tempo.

Apply this one to your improvisation - tons of fun!

Happy drumming!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gear Up: Remote Hats

I'm writing this post mostly to convince myself that this needs to be my next gear purchase.

About a hundred years ago (maybe a little longer), bass drum and hi-hat pedals were the height of drum set technology innovation. They sort of still are - but with some very cool improvements.

In the old days of drumming, the position and playability of your drums and cymbals was limited to straight line access. Even with traditional double bass drum pedals, you have a straight metal linkage. If anything gets in the way, it simply won't work.

Luckily for us, companies like Gibraltar, DW and Yamaha have been allowing for remote location of drums and cymbals for a good long while now. This means that you can basically mount the hi-hat anywhere you want, and put the pedal wherever it's convenient for you.

You want to play open handed without switching hands? No problem. You want hi-hats on both sides of the kit, but pedals right next to each other? You got it.

For me, these are the reasons to get excited about remote hats and other innovations. You can put the instrument(s) where they make sense for you, your playing and your music. And, of course, when you change the kit, you'll undoubtedly change your approach and open up more possibilities for being expressive and creative on the kit.

Awesome. Remotely awesome, in fact.

Happy drumming!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Feature: John Bonham of Led Zeppelin

The band Led Zeppelin changed the course of rock and roll forever, and legendary drummer John Bonham played an enormous role.

According to Drummerworld, "John Bonham is the most influential Rock Drummer of all time." That's a very bold statement, but I can't argue it. Not only did Led Zeppelin change the course of rock music, millions of drummers around the world were influenced by the sometimes bombastic, and always passionate, playing of Bonham.

My first exposure to Led Zeppelin was fairly pedestrian. I wasn't a very experienced listener or musician, so I didn't know that what I was hearing was extraordinary. It was only years later, after much more listening and playing - and trying to imitate what I heard - that I realized how unique and powerful the playing of John Bonham really was and is.

Today there are many great players who have achieved skill and notoriety approaching the level of John Bonham. And I'm willing to bet that most of them would list him among their influences.

"Moby Dick" was one of the songs that caught my attention when I first started listening to Zeppelin. Of course, I convinced my own band to cover the song, and I gave my very best Bonham impersonation (sans timpani, unfortunately). 

It's interesting as you listen to this clip to hear the sound and tone choices that he makes. Even more interesting are his melodic, rhythmic and compositional choices. This is a drum solo for musicians. Of course there are a bazillion notes, lightning fast chops, and the like. 

But honestly, doesn't this sound more like a jazz drummer than a hard rocker? It's amazing to me.

At any rate, if you're not familiar with John Bonham and/or Led Zeppelin (you're living under the proverbial rock, of course), you owe it to yourself to check him/them out. Even if you don't like the music, be a student of their ingenuity, virtuosity and innovation. The effort will reward you generously.

Happy drumming!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bag of Tricks: Hemiola (3 : 2)

This is a very fun trick to have in your bag. You can use it all over the place.

A hemiola is simply a figure where three equal notes are played over two equal notes. It's also a handy way to give the feeling of speeding up or slowing down without actually changing the tempo. Hemiola is fairly common in some African traditional music.

We'll think of it in two ways.

Counting in triple meter - 3/4.

And counting in duple meter - in this case, 6/8, but counted as if it were triplets in 2/4 (one-and-ah, two-and-ah, OR one-la-li, two-la-li).

Practice this on two different voices. Even playing your bare hands on your thighs will work. Practice playing it slowly enough times that you start to hear the two hands as separate, distinct voices. It's also fun to remove one voice or the other, switch back and forth, emphasize one or the other, and so on. If you can think of both parts as separate, interdependent voices, you're there.

Really, that's all there is to it. Practice it at various tempi and with various feels, over foot patterns, break it up around various orchestrations or voicings, etc. Once you've got it mastered, listen for appropriate places to use it to enhance your ability to be expressive and musical.

Happy drumming!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Beyond the Kit: Indoor Winter Drumline

Guest Blogger: John Mapes via Eric Nix. Thanks, gentlemen!

Why should music programs include winter drumline?

We wouldn't ask football players to train for four months playing soccer to then introduce them to the game of football for the remainder of the year... Would you expect your color guard program to be very good every year if they took eight months off in-between marching seasons? The indoor percussion activity was started on this philosophy with these principles in mind.

To run a successful, effective marching percussion program, you need/desire at least 20-30 percussionists in the fall. What do those 20-30 students do from December through June? You only need so many percussionist for wind ensemble, and percussion ensemble is great, but it is still hard to build the excitement that marching percussion inherently has to the masses. 

The two seasons fall hand in hand for the percussion side of things. It is very difficult to have a great fall marching percussion program without some sort of year round training. For wind players, the skill sets from the field to the chair are very similar and work together to give those students what they need  year round. For marching percussion it simply is different. Obviously there still needs to be some wind ensemble percussion training and experience happening in the class room, but what about after school?

Ignore the hard-hat-wearing construction shows and the "Zombies from outer-space" shows you may have seen. There are some incredible displays of musicianship that are possible in this activity, and it is our job as educators to make sure that is the goal. It is our responsibility to produce an experience that is founded in legitimate musical concepts to demonstrate to the rest of the community that this activity is valid. 

Every time I do a percussion circuit clinic someone always asks how they can promote growth in their circuit. The answer is simple - put out better products that entice other groups and band directors to want to participate! Maybe the electronic techno remix show with the volume level of "as loud as possible" or the artsy show where the deep meaning is so deep that even you don't know what the show is about aren't the best choices to promote local growth. (Was the the tribute to Britney Spears really the right choice?)

The argument I often hear is, "What about preparing students for college?" For myself, I never played much concert percussion in high school, but simply took what I learned from the marching activity and applied it when I went through the college percussion process. The importance of consistency, tempo control, simultaneous responsibility, team work, time management and - of course - the love for drumming are enough to prepare our students to achieve whatever they want. 

Most of my students will not continue in music for many reasons and I have no problem with that. Real life is scary and music is not the easiest path to pursue. I just want my students to get the best opportunity and experience they can have while they are involved in music.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Weight Room: Flam Accent/Tap Groove

This one's pretty simple, but an awesome exercise to get your hands moving and your flams to smooth out.

It looks like this:

It is played as four flam accents followed by two flam taps.

Once you've got it smoothed out, here are some cool ways to apply it to the kit:

  • Play it over jazz feet - light quarters on all four beats, crisp hat on two and four.
  • Hi-hat on two and four, with bass drum notes on the flams.
  • Hat two and four, kick notes on the 16th before or after the flams.
  • Play the 16ths shuffled, hat on two and four - and try out some of the kick patterns mentioned previously. 
  • Put the iPod on shuffle, and play it along with whatever comes up. 
Above all, make it groove. The more musical it can be, the more you're doing it right!

As always, happy drumming!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gear Up: Drumheads - Toms

Aaaaaaaalright! It's finally time for the last (for now) installment of our discussion on heads. We'll keep it super simple, short, and to the point.

For the batter head, you basically have a few choices.

  • Single or double ply?
  • Clear or coated?
  • Pinstripes, oil-filled or other 'affects?'
And for the resonant side, the same choices basically apply. In general, you want a thinner, clearer head on the bottom than on the top.

Here are some great places to start surfing for new heads:

I currently own and play heads from all four of these companies. There are reasons to like and dislike all of them! There are some other makers, as well, but these are the most common. 

Your choices must be determined by two things: how you want to sound and where you're going to play. If you're playing jazz in a club, you're going to make very different choices than if you're making a heavy metal recording in the studio.

Just remember that the thicker the head, the more plies, the more - whatever - that's on/in/attached to the head, the shorter, punchier and more focused the sound. 

Also, how should the heads be tuned? You have some choices here, as well. 
  • Tune both heads to the same pitch. Many jazz and bebop players take this route.
  • Tune the batter lower than the resonant side. Good for rock, pop, country, etc.
  • Tune the resonant side lower than the batter. Gives the lowest, "chunkiest" fundamental sound.
I tune all of my toms with the pitch of the resonant head a minor third* (a step and a half) higher than the batter head. This gives a decent amount of resonance, and a stable pitch center. They sound great live or under a mic. 

And I know I've written this many times, but remember that your drums will sound very different under a mic or out in the audience than you hear them from the driver's seat. Make sure to get a good, accurate soundcheck by listening to the playback or walking around the venue while someone else bangs the ol' skins. 

Don't be afraid to try new things, and whenever you hear something you like - find out what they're using and how they're getting the sounds. 

Good luck and happy drumming!

*Think of the first two notes of the melody of Brahms' "Lullabye" and you've got a minor third. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Feature: Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez

This video was my first introduction to Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. You'll want to watch the whole thing.....multiple times.

The very first time I saw this I had no idea who any of these musicians were. I was completely floored (still am!) by their virtuosity, musicianship and flat out heart. I had to know more. I started looking for everything I could find related to any of these three, and became fascinated with their musical careers and backgrounds.

Luckily for me, Michel Camilo visits Salt Lake City on a fairly frequent basis, so I've had the opportunity to hear and see him several times, once with Anthony Jackson and Horacio Hernandez. We also have one of the best drum shops in the world, and they brought in Horacio to do a live clinic several years ago. 

At the clinic, he came out on stage and, without a word, began playing. His opening solo/performance was over 45 minutes long. And nobody got bored. Nobody even breathed! His playing was (and still is) so exciting, engaging, unique and - above all - musical, that I think the whole room was disappointed when he got done playing.

Hernandez is a great example to me of how one pursues a goal - at all costs! He gave up his home country for a chance to make music at the highest levels and become the best version of himself. He has also given countless hours to practice, study, listening and experimenting to become one of - if not the - leaders in the afro-cuban drumming world.

Hopefully you'll take the time to do some studying and listening, and let "El Negro" influence your musical world. 

Happy drumming!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bag of Tricks: 12/8 Funk Groove

Another fun groove from the great Jay Lawrence. This might be a repost, but I came back to it this week and have been having a lot of fun with it. Lots of variations and orchestrations are possible, so experiment with it and make it unique.

Happy drumming!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Beyond the Kit: Should you fire your doctor?

There is a certain discussion that I have with some of my students from time to time. I have jokingly called it, "Lecture 38A," because it's one of the little speeches that I've given many, many times and I have it memorized, including the usual responses from the student.

It starts something like, "Hey, have you ever thought about firing me?" The usual response is, "Huh?"

In a nutshell, here's the analogy I use:

Imagine that you go to a doctor to solve a problem. The doctor gives you an outline of the treatments and therapies you need, and a time frame. You should expect to see an improvement within, say, a month. Well, the month goes by and you don't see any change.

Why don't you see any change? There are at least two possible reasons:

  1. You aren't following the recommendations of the doctor. You're not taking the medication, following the diet, doing the exercises - whatever it is.
  2. Or, the doctor is wrong. They could be wrong about their diagnosis, the effectiveness of the treatment or something else. 
So what do you do about it? 
  1. Do what the doc tells you to do! If you're not following his instructions, can you really blame him for your lack of improvement?
  2. If you are following what the doctor tells you to do, and you're still not seeing any results, you either consult with the doctor about another course of action, or you get a second opinion. At some point, you may consider going to another doctor completely. 
In short, if it's not working, something needs to change. So, to my students, if you're not getting what you wanted/needed/expected, fire me! I'm okay with it, I really am! Because if you're not making progress, you're wasting your time, my time, and your parents' money. Not to mention the fact that we're both frustrated.

But make sure you're doing what I ask of you first. If you want to lose twenty pounds and the doc tells you to eat a certain way and exercise a certain way - do it! You can't sit on the couch and eat ice cream and then complain that this particular doctor "isn't working out."

You can't just show up for a lesson every week and expect to get good, no matter who the teacher is. 

Fact of the matter is - a teacher is just a coach. LeBron James can't blame his coach when he loses unless he did everything the coach wanted him to do. 

Look, if it's my fault you're not getting better, I can take that. But if it's your fault you need to own it, accept it, and decide if you really want what you say you want enough to do what it takes to get it.

I'm paraphrasing here, but I saw a tweet earlier this year from Nike that read something like:

Decide what you want. Then decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities, and then go to work. 

I have that written on my bathroom mirror where I can look at it every day. Because, ultimately, my success is up to me.

And your success is up to you.

Happy drumming!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Weight Room: Breaking down the Flam Tap

The rudiments are a great tool. They can also be a great challenge. I find that when I plateau or "hit the wall" with a certain rudiment, I need to break the figure down to its basic elements and figure out what's holding me back.

For example, last summer I hurt my knee really bad. It felt awful and didn't bend right, and I was absolutely certain I was going to have surgery. But when I visited the doctor, he gave me a thorough checkout and put me through a bunch of tests before declaring that the problem had nothing to do with my knee, but started with my hips and my hamstrings. What? If that was the case, then why did my knee hurt so badly?

Turns out that weak hip flexors and hamstrings, in conjunction with stiffness or inflexibility, manifests itself as knee pain. So I spent about eight weeks in physical therapy working and stretching my hips and hammies, and my knee pain magically went away.

In music, this idea plays itself out in many ways, but we'll look at just one specific rudiment to demonstrate the concept of breaking it down to its key elements.

So, the Flam Tap. It looks like this. (It goes without saying, but the grace notes are played by the hand not playing the main note.)

As you can see, this is a double stroke exercise, right right? (Bad drummer joke, couldn't help myself...) Actually, it's a triple stroke exercise. You see, the right hand will play a main note, a tap and then a grace note before the left hand plays a stroke, and so on.

So, if you want to make your Flam Taps faster, make your triple stroke faster, like so:

Play the first two measures all with the right hand, then repeat with all left hand. I like to do the exercise a total of four times - right, left, right, left (Coldplay, anyone?) - then end with a right hand downbeat in the last bar. 

As always, start slowly and gradually increase the tempo. Stay relaxed, especially as the tempo climbs. Remember that tension is the enemy of speed and control.

There are a lot of ways to approach this exercise, so I'll give you a few ideas.
  • Keep all notes the same height and dynamic
  • Accent the first note and play the last two the same
  • Play the first two notes down, and accent the last note
  • Play all three as a diminuendo
  • Play all three as a crescendo
After you work on this for a while (a week or so), you should notice an increase in your Flam Tap speed and control.

Happy drumming!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gear Up: Hardware Maintenance 101 (Repost)

Originally posted on December 6, 2011.

I have always been proud of how I take care of my gear. I have some hardware that is more than a decade old and is still in good working order. In fact, I have a handful of Yamaha cymbal boom stands that I purchased in 1999, and I'm always looking to see if anybody else has stands that old that are still working. Mine are a little dinged up and have some scratches from living in my hardware bag, but all the moving parts, screws, etc. are all just fine.

Last week I mentioned that I played in the percussion section for AFCO's Christmas Concerts. There was also a drum set player, an amazing player by the name of Bobby James.  As I usually do, I took a look at his drums, hardware and cymbals. I was amazed (shocked, actually) to see him pull out Yamaha cymbal stands that were the model before the ones that I'm so proud of. These stands are easily 15+ years old, and they look and function like new.

It's my view that somewhere along the way, one learns to appreciate the equipment almost as much as the music. It's like a racer with cars or a jockey with horses, or a million other examples. If you want to do it well, your equipment must function at its best.

So, let's get down to it. There's probably one issue above all the rest when it comes to taking care of percussion gear: stripped out bolts, nuts, screws and ball joints (as in tom mounts). To fix this one issue is so easy!! Just follow these two simple rules:

  1. ALWAYS loosen it before you move it. The place I see this abused the most is with tom-toms and cymbals. Students, if they don't like the angle or position of something, will just force it to go where they want it. This weakens the bolts, nuts, etc. that hold it in place, so they have to be screwed even tighter next time to hold the instrument in place. Over time, this forcing and over-tightening will ruin the equipment so that it has to be repaired or replaced. Not fun, and usually not cheap. 
  2. NEVER over-tighten it. For most things - cymbal stands, tom mounts, etc. - the difference between loose and tight is somewhere around a quarter of a turn. Try this one at home: Take a cymbal stand, snare stand or another piece of hardware (make sure it doesn't have anything on it like a cymbal or a drum), and loosen one of the joints just barely enough to move it freely. Then, slowly tighten it just barely to the point that it won't move easily. You want it just tight enough to do the job and no tighter. Especially if your gear is fairly new, you'll notice that there's not much room to turn the screw from "loose enough to move" to "tight enough to hold."
Really and truly, that's about it. Follow those two rules, and your gear will last a long time and serve you well.

Happy drumming!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Special Feature: Play Drums Like A Girl

I've been hesitant to address this topic, but there's just too much good stuff going on right now on this topic to ignore.

Before I dive into it, I do want to make one thing crystal clear: in my mind there are no limiting factors to being a great drummer in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, political leanings or soda preference.

The biggest indicator? How hard, long and smart you work.

Okay, now that we've got that handled, on to the good stuff.

There's been a huge push in the music industry over the last decade or so to try to convince girls/women that playing music is for them, too. While it's true that the vast majority of high-profile drummers are male, there are some amazing female players out there, and it seems like there are more all the time.

As a starting point, check out Drummerworld's list dedicated to "The Ladies." Earlier this year on the blog, I featured one of my favorite women of groove, Emmanuelle Caplette. And today, I ran across this website, the "Hit Like A Girl" contest.

From my personal experience, I've played with and taught many a girl drummer who could outplay any boy in the neighborhood with ease.

One quick story about a former student of mine. As a Sophomore in high school (15 years old), she was playing the timpani part on Jager's "Espirit de Corps." If you've ever played that piece, you know how important that part is. The day before our district band festival, she got her wisdom teeth pulled out. On the day of the performance, she told her mom not to give her any pain medication because she wanted her head to be clear so that she could play her best.

Be honest. Would you have even showed up after you had your wisdom teeth out? I probably wouldn't have. And don't even think about going without paid pain meds.

That night her example put a new sense of toughness and self-respect into our band, and we qualified for the state-level festival for the first time in school history. This girl set a new standard for toughness and dedication to her craft. Percussion - and her self respect - were of critical import to her. Awesome!

Anyway, girls rock. Go play the drums, or anything else you want to. Just let us boys play along, too!

Happy drumming!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Feature: Peter Erskine

Okay, time for a jazz artist who has changed the course of drumming history and contributed a great deal to the art.

Start here.

Then go here.

Then watch this.

There. You're welcome. Don't say I never gave ya nuthin'.

As an added bonus, check out this little jewel I stumbled across.

Happy drumming!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bag of Tricks: Carter Beauford on DMB's "Satellite"

Earlier in the week we talked about flams.

This is one of my favorite tracks that utilizes a ton of simple, single flam fills and back beats, as well as flams on the toms as part of fills.

Check out the video for "Satellite."

Starting at the 2:16 mark, Carter Beauford starts using just a single flam as part of a fill. It's not a complex idea or figure (for the purposes of this post, it's not even worth notating!), yet it fits the song and feel perfectly.

Honestly, Carter has as much in the chops department as any other drummer in the rock-pop arena, yet he chooses his notes and fills based on what the music demands. This tune is also a very good example of a concept known as duality, where Carter mixes the very simple (single flam, quarter note fills) with the complex, such as the switching between time feels and using broken patterns and accents in fills to obscure the pulse.

I know a lot of drummers who don't like the way Carter plays, and I can honor that. But you've got to at least respect the man for what he does with the music. Whatever else he is, he's not a plain, "anyone with two sticks and a pulse could have played this track" type of musician. You can hear that it's him whenever you hear a track.

So, again, play around with flams (pun intended). Hopefully they'll become a tool that you're comfortable with and that will expand your vocabulary and ability to express yourself on your instrument and through the music.

As always, happy drumming!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beyond the Kit: Be Immature! Okay, not really, but...

I had a bit of a revelation while teaching lessons tonight (also while listening to Coldplay, but that's a different story!).

Two experiences converged in my mind.

  1. Over the years I've had the blessing of teaching hundreds of kids, mostly pre-teens and young teenagers. And having had lots of time to watch and listen to their reactions in certain situations, I've become pretty good at sensing frustration. I've heard, "I can't do this," and "I don't like this," a million times - almost every time I ask them to do something new, challenging or confusing.
  2. For the past few years I've been a father (best job ever!). My wife and I have two kids - one very active 3 1/2 year old, and an equally active nine-month-old. Watching them learn and helping them to gain skills has been maybe the most rewarding thing I've ever done. Truly amazing.
So, here's what I learned:

Little kids - babies, toddlers and young children - absolutely do not care if something is hard or easy. Those terms don't exist yet.They also don't care how many tries it takes to get something done. Honestly, (especially for you parents) when your kid wants something and is determined to get it, they will not quit until they are satisfied in one way or another. 

Think about learning to walk. How many times does a child fall, stumble, bumble - they essentially fail - while learning to crawl and then walk? And some of those tumbles really hurt! Yet they continue to get up and try and keep working at it. Why? Because they have a goal, an end vision in mind. 

Imagine if that little nine-monther thought to himself, "Y'know, I've tried to walk around now for the past six months, ain't happenin'. I don't like walking anyway. I'm not good at it. So...I'm done. I'll just crawl. Crawling's good, right?" 

Nope. Won't happen. Again, because little kids don't care if it's hard, and they don't care how long it takes. They care about walking or running, or throwing the ball or whatever it is. I see my younger child watching his big sis, and all he's thinking about as she's careening around the house is, "I'm going to do that. As soon as possible!"

But something happens to us as we grow up. We begin to get sensitive to what others think of us, and what is expected of us. Many of us develop an expectation that we will be good at everything we try or experience success right at first. 

So when it takes some time and/or effort to develop a skill, we usually try one of two tactics. First, there's the, "I don't like it," line of defense. This is essentially an attempt to excuse ourselves from having to work at something because it's unpleasant. It's like saying, "Oh, I don't look good in orange." If I don't like it, then it's not good for me so I shouldn't do it.

The other tactic is, "I'm just not good at this." This one is a little more offensive to me because it carries a sense of finality. Kids wield this one like the hangman's noose. We try to use it in the sense that a 5'2" man would when asked why he doesn't play basketball. (Ever hear of Spud Webb?) It gives them an excuse to not even try. I hate that. I will allow my students to say, "I'm not good at that yet, but I will be."

I've been a father long enough to know that when my daughter tells me she doesn't like something, she really means, "I don't know how to do it, and that scares me." When she gains a little bit of ability and confidence, it magically becomes her favorite thing to do. 

So it is with most of us, and especially musicians. We don't "like" things we aren't good at. Conversely, we tend to like the things we are good at. If you're not good at playing jazz, you won't like playing jazz. But as you gain some jazz chops, you'll suddenly find yourself looking for opportunities to play.

That being said, there are some things you won't like, and some things you won't be good at. But don't throw excuses around. You've got to give things a fair shake and develop a skill. At least give it your very best effort over a reasonable period of time. 

Well, you get the point. You wanna like basketball? Get good at it. You wanna enjoy talking about Shakespeare? Read it!

Alright, I'm done for today. Feel free to join the conversation below.

Happy drumming!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Weight Room: Flams

The Flam is one of the most basic rudiments.

And I'm going to give you one of the most basic pieces of advice you'll ever get about playing it.

The way to good, clean flams is simply to keep the strokes separate (unless you're trying to play flat flams). And what I mean by 'separate' is to keep the main stroke high and the grace note low. There are numerous opinions on how much lower/softer the grace note should be from the main note, but a general rule of thumb is to keep as much separation as the music will allow.

Take two objects of similar weight, size and shape. Imagine two basketballs. If you drop them from a given height, they'll hit the ground at the about the same time and with about the same force. But if you drop one from a lower height, it will hit the ground slightly earlier and with slightly less force. As you increase the difference in height, you increase the difference in the arrival time and force.

So, logically, your sticks are two objects of similar weight, size and shape. If you "drop" them from the same height, they hit at the same time with the same volume (force). This is a flat flam (which we'll talk about another time). If you want to create a normal, concert/rudimental snare drum flam, you start the grace note stick very low, and the main note much higher (depending on the dynamic level, accents, etc.). Then, just let gravity take over and play the notes.

Especially when it comes to concert and rudimental snare drumming, don't underestimate the power of good ol' physics. Gravity pulls down, and sticks/heads bounce up. Your fingers and hands are just there to help and control (and, of course, do cool visual stuff, twirls and stick flips). So don't think that you have to do all the work. As one of my old instructors puts it, "Let the sticks do the work."

I hope this helps your flams. As always, stay relaxed, use your ears, and rely on good technique. Those things will get you everywhere you want to go.

Happy drumming!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gear Up: Music Stand (Repost)

This has been on my mind of late, so here it is again. Originally posted October 29, 2011.

Too often we don't think about things we need to be successful that aren't a drum, cymbal or stick.

One of the most important? A good music stand.

There are many good choices, but this one is my favorite:

Well worth the money in terms of stability, durability and ease of use. I can't stress enough how important your music stand is to your success.

Despite its all-metal construction, this stand is relatively light-weight and has few parts. Less parts means less parts that can break or fail. Also, the stand is sturdy enough to hold some percussion goodies - like a triangle clipped to the desk, or sticks and mallets on a towel with the desk set flat.

Get a good music stand, put it where you practice, and use it every day.

Happy drumming!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Feature: Carter Beauford

It's time for this post. It's been time for a long time.

Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band is one of the reasons I play drums.

(Start here, then go listen to some tunes. It may be helpful to start with the band's first major release, 1994's "Under the Table and Dreaming." )

I started playing drums in the sixth grade in the middle school band. By the seventh grade, I had a drum set in the basement and was jamming with a friend (a once-in-a-lifetime guitar talent, it turns out). By the ninth grade, everything I heard on the radio just made me mad. I'd constantly think to myself - or complain aloud to anyone who would listen - "I can do anything any of these guys do! Why am I not famous and making loads of cash as a drummer?" (Reason number one is probably that I was fifteen years old, but I wasn't really thinking of that.) Anyway, long story short is that I wasn't hearing anything that I thought was creative or sophisticated, and I was pretty frustrated with what I thought was the height of modern pop-rock drumming.

The summer after my junior year I had to borrow a car from my boss (cool boss, no?) to run an errand. Her car was a late model Acura with a killer sound system, and the disc that was playing was the aforementioned "Under the Table" album. I had heard of DMB but never actually listened to them, so I didn't even know who I was listening to. When I got back I was actually a little disappointed when I found out (skeptical kid!), but it was too late. I was hooked. I had never heard a drummer do things like Carter did/does with the backbeat, fills, set-ups and pulse*. It was like going from black and white to color.

Fast forward about six years and I owned everything then available from DMB and played in a band that had a fiddle player. And since then I've done more studying and listening and loved every minute of it. Carter B is the man, and his playing has only gotten better and more musical.

After you've had a chance to just get immersed in the music, it's worth checking out Carter's instructional video, "Under the Table and Drumming." There's not a ton of nuts and bolts instruction, but a lot of, "This is what I was doing on this part," and a few great conceptual things.

There are a million videos I could choose from to give you a sample of Carter's playing, but I've always believed that's all about the music - the song as a whole - and that the drummer has to contribute to that. So this track is my all-time favorite DMB tune, and one of Carter's grooviest and most musical performances.

One caveat: this video conforms to the radio edit of this track. Do yourself the favor of tracking down the album version and giving it a thorough listen. It's almost double in length to this version. No offense to Dave, but the best music happens after the singing stops. See if you can count the number of instruments being used during this track.

Alright, enough talk (er...type). Let's get to the tune.

As always, happy drumming!

*It doesn't hurt that Carter plays an unusually large and complex drum kit. You can check out his current configuration of gear here. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bag of Tricks: KT Tunstall - "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"

I'm fascinated by how musical and powerful a simple lick can be. Here's one from another favorite modern pop tune. (Did I mention that I love any kind of hi-hat fill?) This may be the simplest fill I've ever posted, and it's still one of my favorites.

It occurs at about the 2:30 mark.

One thing I love about this music video is that KT plays all of the percussion instruments - bass drum, snare drum, tambourine, chair, hand claps, etc. Tons of energy and a lot of fun.

Happy drumming!

Why musicians should watch the big game (Seriously!)

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