Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Endorsement Change Haters

Ahhh, the haters are out in force again. Aerosmith's Joey Kramer has moved from his longtime Ludwig endorsement to Pearl drums. And people are posting to drum forums their displeasure in this (one forum has 48 posts as of this writing). I can only laugh! How does one drummer changing his brand of drums affects the rest of the drum community? The same thing happened a few months back when Vinnie Colaiuta decided to part ways with Ludwig drums after a short time.

I fail to see where any artist has signed a life long 
endorsement contract. People change. Companies change.

I also fail to see why this is such a big deal. Are all you Ludwig players now feeling sad or betrayed? Are you Pearl players feeling vindicated? They're just drums. I can't believe the amount of condescending and hateful comments from drummers across the web in both of these situations. We are ALL free to choose and play what we want. 

Play what you want. Change your mind, and play something different…

~ MB

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Remain A Fan


a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, esp. for an extreme religious or political cause.

Remember when you were younger and got excited when your musical/artistic heroes released a new recording/book/film, or you went to their concert/show? Remember the excitement you felt? Even after years of working and creating your own works, it's still important to remain connected to others, and to have that fan excitement.

It's so easy to get caught up in working on a daily basis, and to become blasé about everything, especially if you reach a certain level of fame and/or success. I have to say, that even after over 40 years of making music, art, and writing, I still get excited by the people I admire and follow. I'm very fortunate that in writing for MODERN DRUMMER and other magazines, I've been able to interview almost all of my musical heroes. And I have to tell you, that each time I talked to them, it was very exciting! As much as I portrayed the professional writer on the outside, I was so much the fan on the inside. Even though many of these people have become friends, I still remain a fan because I am so inspired by what they do.

Being inspired, that's important. I don't think an artist can isolate themselves from the world and truly create memorable works. When we're young, we all copy our heroes as a way of getting a solid footing in what we do. Then, we bring more of ourselves into the mix and gradually find our own voice. But we can't let that become a solitary, isolated voice.

I'm not advocating always copying your heroes, but you need to keep in touch with what is happening out there. What directions are things moving in? What new discoveries are there? Even if we don't copy what's around us, it can inspire us to dig deeper and find our own version, our own take on things. This is where being a fan is important, because it keeps us connected to the world around us.

Are you still a fan?

~ MB

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Deconstructing Your Metronome

If you're like me, you are not a fan of the tic-tic-tic sound of a metronome. You probably don't like the robotic, mechanical feel either. I'm not against working with a metronome, and have put in plenty of hours working with one. But I've also come up with some great alternatives that often work better for me.

My trusty, well used, 20 year old metronome

One is to use a drum machine or computer program, and have it play some sort of funky drum beat. I much prefer playing my Pratt or Wilcoxen rudimental solos to a funk beat than a metronome. Besides being more interesting, I can also get a bit funky with my rudiments. This is also great for practicing hand drums, shakers, and even drum set. Program some sort of percussion part, with congas, shakers, and bell, to play along to. 

Another thing to do, is play along with recordings, but not play along with the song. What, you say? Find a song/recording at the tempo you want, and then just play along to it with your snare, percussion, or drum set. Don't worry about trying to copy anything that's on the recording. In fact, try to ignore any sort of drumming on the recording. Just listen to the music and tempo and then play along. Play your rudiments to James Brown, or Michael Jackson. Practice your congas to old '60s pop tunes, or hard rock. Play your drum set to anything: play a half time or double time beat to a song that isn't either. Also, find recordings without any drums or percussion, then create a drum pert, or play along to it.

Another advantage of playing to recordings is that you get phrasing and song form to work with. You can get creative—play paradiddles on the verse and ratamacues on the chorus. Try and be creative, moving beyond the standard rote style of drum practice. Another nice thing is that you can change the music often, so that practice never becomes a boring routine.

This goes for click tracks too. I prefer to use a programmed drum set or percussion part to the traditional click-click-click in my headphones.

How have you worked with metronome alternatives?

~ MB

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who Do You Want To Be?

As a writer, one of the best pieces of advice I've ever read was, "Write the kind of book you want to read." That statement is freedom in itself. Notice, it doesn't say anything about, "Write the kind of book you think others will buy." No. Not at all.

"Write the kind of book you want to read."

This goes for music too: Play the type of music you want to hear. It sounds so simple, yet is often so difficult to do. Why? Because we're always worrying about acceptance. About making money. About becoming popular/famous. But by doing things you think you should do, based on guessing the market, will you ultimately be happy?

So I finally abandoned that type of thinking and went my own way. It has been an adventure, an adventure of discovery. I have found so much I wouldn't have if I had just tried to create something that would sell. And I keep discovering more.

This is the real secret of life — to be 
completely engaged with what you are 
doing in the here and now. And instead 
of calling it work, realize it is play.” 
- Alan Watts

Be who you really are…

~ MB 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

The Art of Improvising - Part 2

In the 1st part, I wrote about how improvising is all about listening. That's certainly the main thrust, but to go along with listening would be responsibility. You need to be responsible for each note/sound you make. Even if you are listening, you can't just carelessly toss out notes and think you are improvising. As my friend, Swiss drummer Fredy Studer, once told me, 
There's a right way and a wrong way to improvise. He emphasized that you needed a strong foundation from which to draw on. While improvisation may sometimes look like people are just playing anything, there is a lot of hard work and thought behind what is being played.

In an feature on improvisation that I wrote in 1996 for Modern Drummer magazine, I asked Fredy what sort of things he worked on. He sent me a whole sheet of coordination exercises, designed to help a drummer be flexible and able to execute whatever comes to mind. So as much free playing that Fredy does, it's all grounded in a lot of well thought out practice.

“A long time ago,” says Fredy, “I developed the idea of 12-way coordination.”

Diagram by Fredy Studer.

“It means that any basic (neutral-not stylistic) exercise, like a single stroke roll, can be practiced with these 12 variations”

  1. Left foot/right foot                              
  2. Right foot/left foot
  3. Left hand/right hand                         
  4. Right hand/left hand
  5. Left foot/left hand                              
  6. Left hand/left foot
  7. Right foot/right hand                        
  8. Right hand/right foot
  9. Left foot/right hand                           
  10. Right hand/left foot
  11. Right foot/left hand                         
  12. Left hand/right foot
“Because most drummers have a stronger side and more developed hands, you always start with the foot on your weaker side. It’s also good to concentrate on relaxation, equal breathing, a straight back and loose shoulders. Practice with different dynamics and at different tempos.

“This is one special exercise with the system for good balance.”

Fredy's hand written exercise

“Do the other eight variations of the system and then you’re pretty balanced.”

I also interviewed British drummer Paul Lytton for the same feature. He's well known for his free improvising, mainly in the long standing trio he has with saxophonist Evan Parker, and bassist Barry Guy. I asked him about what he works on, The thing is I like practicing and not everybody does. I use fairly standard stuff like the Morello book, George Lawrence Stone, Jim Chapin and Charles Wilcoxen.” Standard stuff indeed, and this is from one of the most well known improvising percussionists. Paul stated the he often works on ideas from the Stick Control book and he sent me some examples.

I guess the Stone book [Stick Control], with a bit of imagination, has just about all one could need.

Examples based on Paul's ideas with Stick Control.

I try to use my imagination. But I feel it's important to try and keep a balance and not get muscle bound. Practice for me is necessary, not manditory. Sometimes I can't practice, so I leave it. [But] practice doesn't always seem to make perfect. Music is first for me, and I try to make practicing serve the music and hopefully not the other way around.

“I [also] find visualization useful. One book I read was The Inner game Of Tennis. It had some important advice for me about attitude. In fact, it prompted me to research sports literature, where I found a lot about the so called right attitude. I also got a lot out of karate books, and from watching my son train, regarding how to get a sound out of a drum. Just seeing how they use their limbs—throwing a punch and then snapping back—rather like the Moeller technique, where the snap back is necessary to pull the sound out of the drum.

I remember being somewhat surprised by both of their responses back then, but it made a lot of sense. By having a strong, grounded technique, you are able to have a wide sense of freedom, unhindered by a struggle with technique to get your ideas out. A strong foundation allows you a jumping point into improvisation and backs up what you do. And with technique out of the way, you are free to think about what you are doing: your note/sound choices, your rhythm choices, your energy choices, etc. And in making those choices unencumbered, you are are also able to be responsible for them. 

~ MB

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Art of Interpretation

Music is a living and breathing entity. Remember this.

It's not enough to perform the notes on the page perfectly, or to recreate the recording/arrangement in detail. You need to make the music come alive. Otherwise, we could just have computers play everything. You need to put your soul into a piece of music and find a way to get beyond the notes, because the notes aren't static. The notes live. The notes breathe. And they want to be found, not just glossed over in a matter of fact way. They want to be explored and to yield up their nuances. 

Perfection is a hollow dream, it is a ghost that really doesn't exist. Yes, we want to play the music as best as we can, but not at the sacrifice of the soul of the music. If everyone sought the same perfection and achieved it, then everyone would sound like everyone else, and there would be little point in having different musicians, bands, or orchestras, because they would all sound the same. But life isn't like that, and it offers us a rich variety. Some musicians will play the note slightly ahead, or behind, or exactly on the beat. Some will offer more or less attack, or a slightly different timbre on each note. Each performance can be perfect in its own way, yet very different.

So when you play a piece of music, don't just play the notes, but put your own personality in them, make them an extension of yourself. Be more than just a technician. Be a musician.

How do you make your music live and breathe?

~ MB

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rack It Up: How To Build A Gong Rack

I get a lot of questions about my Gong racks (I received 3 different E-mails in the past few weeks), so I decided to tell you all about them. I have all sorts of Gong stands & racks I've collected over the years, but what I use mostly are the racks I've put together with Gibraltar parts. Back in 2001-2002, as my set up was expanding, I needed something that was:

  1. Easy to set up, tear down, and carry.
  2. Flexible so I could change it to fit my needs.
  3. Expandable so I could build on it as my set up grew.

I have 3 different Paiste stands, but they can't be adapted for different set ups. Back then, I had been using a Gibraltar rack for my drum set for 5 or 6 years, and I loved it. I could change my drum set up as needed and change the rack with it. It matched the 3 criteria up above. So it was natural to look at using Gibraltar stuff for my Gongs.

Now Gibraltar has a Gong stand, but only 1 type. It's well designed and you can build on/adapt it. But I started out with extra drum rack parts I had, and then purchased 2 percussion workstation racks on close out. These were perfect for the legs/sides and only needed me to add the right crossbars to hold the Gongs.

Gibraltar Percussion Workstation

A bonus was having the percussion tables that I would could use for small Gongs & percussion. Later, I picked up a 3rd one of these. So I only needed to get some 36" and 24" tubes to hold the Gongs. This all worked out great and has allowed me to build whatever I need. I now have 7 different racks for Gongs that I can mix up to create larger set ups. Another nice thing about the Gibraltar stuff is that it's fairly light weight compared to other stands. I have a 34" Paiste steel square stand, but I only use that in my studio, because it's a beast to carry. That square steel tubing is very heavy.

Gibraltar stuff is also easy to find, both at music stores and on Ebay. I've picked up various used drum racks for the parts I want, and then resold the parts I didn't need. All the tubing is 1.5", so it's also compatible with other manufacturer's racks, like TAMA, DW/Pacific, and even the lighter weight Roland or Yamaha electronic drum rack aluminum tubing. One important thing to me it to always use metal clamps & fittings. The plastic ones don't always hold, or last. I just feel much more secure with metal clamps. That said, all of this is extremely sturdy. I've never had anything break or fall over. If these racks will stand up to a heavy metal drummer pounding away, they'll easily take a few Gongs, even the real big ones.

Here is a photo of my main Gong Rack with a parts list. The only thing I've left off are the hooks for the Gongs. I use a standard Gibraltar memory lock with an 's' hook. You can check out how I make them here

I have 2 exact racks like this. One is for my Gong Meditation Sessions, and I keep that packed and ready in a case. The other I keep set up in my studio and use for solo concerts, with some added extension racks to hold a wide array of Gongs & Bells. I also have a rack for the bell plates, a rack for the Kulintang, and a double percussion table for small Gongs, Singing Bowls, and percussion. I also have a hybrid Gibraltar/Paiste percussion rack where I've added Gibraltar legs to the Paiste stand for more height and stability. 

Here's a photo of my full concert set up:

The 6 racks are from L-R: 

  1. Double percussion table
  2. Sound Plates (hard to see at this angle)
  3. 3-large Gong racks connected together.
  4. Paiste percussion rack with added legs.

To show you how easy it all goes together, I've made a video of me setting up the complete rack & Gongs at a recent gig. Even with the adjustments I make for the different Gongs I used, I'm still set up in under 15 minutes. The whole set up packs into 5 cases:

  1. 1 stand case that also holds the mallets. 
  2. 3 Gong cases. 
  3. 1 case for the Singing Bowls & Bells.

I hope this answers your questions. As always, YMMV. Please do let me know if you have anymore questions.

~ MB