Monday, April 21, 2014

The Glamorous Life

Today is Friday. I got up early, loaded my instruments into my van, then drove to a local place I arranged to use, set everything up, and then waited for the television people to come for 10am. You see, a few weeks ago I presented a Gong Meditation session that a local news anchor happened to attend. He was suitably impressed by the experience and passed his enthusiasm onto someone who does a local afternoon show at the station. He said that what I do might make an interesting story. So after a few phone calls with the person from the show, we arranged to get together and shoot something that hopefully could be used.

So it's early and I am the Gongman. We talk, I play, he interviews me. He's knocked out by the Gongs and their vibrations (everyone is the first time they experience them). His enthusiasm for this shoot grows by the minute. So does mine. Once we get things going, it's actually fun. There's so much to explore. I feel like we've only touched the surface, and in a rather hurried way. But this is good. This is spreading the word.

So now the waiting starts. Waiting to find out when this will air and how much (we spent an hour together) will actually be seen and heard. I think we got a lot of good stuff to use. Hopefully the folks back at the station will too. So I wait…

Hopefully the finished piece will be available on the web. I'll let you know and post a link if it is.

~ MB

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