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Showing posts from 2014

How Can I Find A Teacher I Trust?

Here we are at the end of 2014, looking ahead to a fresh new year. I'd like to thank everyone who has visited my blogs and supported my writing this past year. At this time many people make resolutions, or plans for the coming new year. From questions I receive, many people are looking to study their instruments more and advance their skills. So at this time spanning the changing year, I will post a few blogs about finding a teacher, and also about self study.

The big question: How can I Find a teacher, especially one I trust?
The following ideas can apply to finding a teacher for anything—music instruction, Yoga, meditation, arts, crafts, writing, cooking, etc.

Yes, there are plenty of stories of pushy, driven teachers pushing and driving their students to excel, but those tend to be more stories than anything. If you like to get yelled at and abused, well, maybe that will work for you. Each of us is different, so no teacher can work for every type of learner. I'm not saying you…

Finding Your Own Sound (Look Inside, Not Outside)

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In further response to my last blog post, let's look at some specific drummer examples:

A lot of drummers rave about Elvin Jones', or Tony Williams', cymbals sound. The amazing thing is, neither of them played just one set of cymbals their whole career long. In fact, there is plenty of documentation of the myriad of cymbals each drummer used. The same with drums. Each drummer had more than one drum set, and even changed drum brands multiple times during their careers. They also went through various types and brands of drum heads, yet they always sounded like Elvin and Tony. Even when they played rental kits of drums and cymbals they had never played before, they still sounded like Elvin and Tony. Buddy Rich played Rogers, Slingerland, Ludwig—even Trixon—yet he always sounded like Buddy. Think about this!

My friend, Devin Drobka. He makes beautiful music no matter what he plays on…
I could make a list pages long of drummers in all styles of music, who sound like themselves, no…

Letting Go And Forgetting

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Practice, practice, practice. Practice has a purpose, but sometimes we forget it. Why should/do we spend hours and hours going through books, playing rudiments and exercises, and woodshedding things? The reason is 2-fold:

We want to internalize everything so that it becomes a reflex, it becomes natural to do without having to think about doing it.We want our motions to become muscle memories so that we don't have to think about doing something, we just do it, because our muscles know what to do.


So we practice, practice, practice, spending hours and hours working on the same things until we get them down. But when we perform, it has to be different than a practice. When we perform we have to forget everything we practiced. Forget and just play. The last thing we want is to sound like we are going through exercises. So we have to get out of our way, let go, and just play, letting all the hard work we have internalized flow through us. That's why it's called playing music, not…

The Importance Of A Strong Foundation

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Recently my son Aiden and I attended a musical performance. We both came to the conclusion that the performers seemed to lack any sort of technique, and that they often did things to look good more than sound good, or fit into things musically. This got me thinking about the importance of having a strong musical and technical foundation if you are serious about being a musician.

In my career as a writer, I've interviewed a lot of great musicians, and most of them stressed the importance of knowing your fundamentals, because that gives you a strong foundation on which to create your music. Even the people who play free jazz, or free improv said the same thing. My friend, Swiss drummer Fredy Studer, who is well known as an improvising drummer, said something to the affect of, “There's a right way and a wrong way to improvise. You have to know what you are doing before you can play free.” So many drummers stressed working out of books like Stick Control (George Lawrence Stone) and…

A Look At improvisation

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Improvisation. The word has a lot of connotations and implications. For most people, it means making things up in the moment. But is that really what happens? I do a lot of work in what is popularly called free music, or free improvisation. 

“The term “free improvisation,” to me, means nothing. When we play, we are not free. It is impossible to be free. Because the moment you start a sound, a musical gesture, a movement, the memory starts and I try to give a sense of organization, texture, form, repetition, variation. Even if it’s just noise, you have to organize. I am an improviser who composes. That’s why, for me, improvisation is a chamber music.”
Bassist/composer Joëlle Léandre (from this wonderful Interview)

I agree with what Joëlle says: “It is impossible to be free.” I find that in my own work, when I'm improvising, I always impose rules and structure on what I'm playing. As a trained musician, I have years of music and ideas in my head. When I improvise, I draw upon those…

Stop The Hating

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This post is in response to some recent Facebook postings I read that were unnecessary in the hate they directed towards particular drummers. With the rise of the internet, there has also been an unfortunate rise in people saying hateful things about other musicians. 



There are drummers and other musicians whose music and/or playing style I don't particularly like. But I realize that many other people do like them. For me to say things like, "They suck," or, "They don't deserve their success," really says more about me than anything. That's not constructive in anyway. Better to say something like, "I really don't care for what they do," or, "It's just not my type of music." 

It's a big world out there, and not everyone will like the same thing (thankfully). There's room for everybody and their idea of making music (or dance, film, writing, photography, painting, etc.). There's especially room for people to do their …

Do The Practice

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In the best selling book, Outliers: The Story Of Success, Malcolm Gladwell has written about the popular theory of The 10,000 Hour Rule. The idea is that for success, you need to put in around 10,000 hours of practicing a specific task. This idea has both its champions and detractors. In many ways, it's a very general, simplification of how to be successful. But putting in 10,000 hours is only a part of story. It certainly helps to have some sort of natural talent in the area you are pursuing. I could put in 10,000 hours of drumming practice (and probably have over the years), but I will never be on the same level as someone like Vinnie Colaiuta. I know Vinnie worked hard, practicing all the time in his younger days, but he also just has a natural gift for playing drums and playing seemingly impossible rhythms.

 Similarly, as much as I love ice hockey, even with 10,000 hours of working on it I could never be a professional hockey player. I could make a list of all my other interest…

The Benefit of Self Recording

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Things have come a long way since I started playing music. One thing that has been consistent, has been my recording of most gigs that I have played. Back in the '70s, I would drag along a well worn cassette recorder to record gigs. I wasn't looking to capture anything that I would ever release to the public, but I wanted to be able to hear what was going on in my bands and the the music we played. 

I later moved up to a very heavy, very unwieldly reel-to-reel recorder, the Roberts 770X. I still have it and boxes of 7" reel tapes from back in the day. Later I moved into a Sony Walkman recorder that traveled with me everywhere (I did a lot of magazine interviews with that). Eventually, I moved up to a small Yamaha digital recorder, and now a ZOOM digital.

The mighty 770X - 48 pounds of recording machinery…

And today it's inexpensive to buy a small, quality digital recorder that you can use to record both rehearsal/practice sessions, and live performances. By recording th…

The Lasting Affect of King Crimson

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It was 30 years ago that I wrote a Style & Analysis column on Bill Bruford for Modern Drummer magazine. In the column, I transcribed various sections of his drumming with YES, UK, and King Crimson. The response to that one column was huge. This lead me to talking to Bill after a Moraz/Bruford concert here in Milwaukee, and proposing to do a whole book of charts from Bill's various bands he had played in. In his quiet English demeanor, he said, “Do you really think there's a need for it?” I assured him there was, even showing him some of the letters I had received about the column. He said he would “think on it.” The next night, before his show in Chicago, he called me on the phone and very enthusiastically said, “Let's do it!” He then started rattling off a list of songs that he thought I should transcribe. 

This became a 4-year project of transcribing, then sending things to him via post (this is before e-mail) for him to check out and make any corrections. As can be i…

Out of the Safety Zone

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Drummers generally have it safe. We are usually stuck in the back, with a wall of instruments around us, like a barrier between us and the rest of the musicians and the audience. We are safe in our cocoons. We are also usually supporting the other musicians and the music, so what we play underpins things, rather than being the focus. In some ways it's easier to be in the back. You don't have to worry about leading, or being the center of things. If you play drum set, you also are able to sit back and just groove (which is still a lot of work, but not being the center of things).

In the groove, in the pocket. I have nothing against that. In fact, I'm always in awe of players who have a deep groove. But again, this is a supportive role. It's easy to find a groove and just sit there. A good groove can go on forever. Drums & percussion have a long history of supporting everything with a groove.

But what if you do something different and step out front, out of your safet…

Finding Your Own Sound With Any Instrument

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Syncronicity was at work this week. A week ago I was talking with fellow drummer, Ari Moosavi about drummers having their own sound. Ari is a great drummer with a distinctive sound. His cymbals are some old, cheap Japanese ones. The sound is very dry, very distinctive. The cool thing about them is that they don't sound like a million other drummer's cymbals. And Ari can make some beautiful music with them. So if anything, they are very Ari sounding.

I've had this discussion with various other drummers over the years, and recently again on Facebook. Sometimes it's come to the point of arguing about which is more important to getting a drummer's sound: the gear, or the drummer. My personal feeling is that, all things equal, 90% of your sound comes from you. It comes from how you hit/strike/touch the instruments. It comes from the amount of pressure/force you play with. It comes from where you strike things. And it even comes from the notes/rhythms you choose.

I learned…

Be the person you’d hire if it were your gig or session.

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Be the person you’d hire if it were your gig or session. That sounds simple, but it's not always that simple. The big assumption here is that you've got your act together and are professional in every sense. Now put yourself in the place of the bandleader. The usual things you would look for in hiring someone would be things like: they get to the gig on time, they can play well, they can play the music style/s called for, they are easy to work with, they don't have any drug or alcohol problems, and possibly that they can read music.  If it's an audition you are going to and there are songs to know, KNOW THEM! Don't just show up thinking you can fake your way through it. Auditions are tedious and draining. The last thing a band or band leader wants to put up with, is time wasters who really shouldn't be auditioning. Be courteous, be professional, and most importantly, be prepared.


From there, it's all about context. Put yourself in the position of the bandleade…

8 Simple Things To Hinder Your career

Ah, being a musician is the life. You work hard at it, and the rewards can be many. But a simple misstep can throw it all away in an instant. Here is a short list of things NOT to do:


Don't break your word. A promise is a promise. I learned the hard way. I once begged off a gig I was committed to because I had received a "better offer." Well, things didn't work out quite the way I had hoped. The gig I left apparently didn't go so well without me and I lost a friend because of it. The "better" gig I took turned out to be rather lame and wasn't better at all. Lesson learned…Don't act like a star/diva/jerk/dick head. No matter what term you use, nobody likes to work with someone who thinks they are bigger and better than those around them. This goes for band mates, managers, promoters, and even fans. Treat all people you meet with decency—that will go a long way and be remembered.Don't think you are too big/good enough you don't need to work…

8 Simple Things To Boost Your career

Sometimes being a musician is a singular, insulated type of life. You can spend all of your time practicing and working on your music, yet miss out on things that can help your career. Here is a short list of things to do:


Go out and listen to live music! I know we can all be busy, but it's important to see and hear other musicians. It can be inspirational, giving us new ideas. It can be educational and teach us new things.Listen to music, especially types of music you aren't familiar with. If all you listen to is heavy metal, or be-bop, then you have a very narrow world view. Listen to other types of music, especially styles you may not like. As with going to hear live music, this can inspire us and give us new ideas to work with.Work on things out of your reach. If all you ever practice are things you know, you will never grow. As drummers, it's easy to just play the same old great feeling grooves. Find something you can't play and work on it.PLAY LIVE AS MUCH AS YOU …

Signal to Noise

If you have something in your heart to do, you should do it. - Terry Bozzio
I remember talking to Terry Bozzio years ago when I was considering going the solo percussion route. I was tired of dealing with bands, and also had this idea for something so different, so radical from anything I had done before. He was extremely encouraging. Buoyed by the support of Terry, and many other percussion friends, I did just that and haven't looked back.
And so it is, we are often bombarded by others telling us what to do: "You should get a real job," or, "You can make more money in a cover/tribute band." Now mind you, I'm not saying don't get a real job (whatever that is), or don't play in a cover band, as these might be your aspirations. Each of us is different. Each of us has different ideas about music and our own personal musical goals. What I am saying is that while other people will be quick to tell you what you should do, you need to listen to yourself. Wha…

The Nature of Improvisation

Creativity - Part 4

Improvisation is always a roll of the dice. On one hand, you can have all the best ideas but be paired up with the wrong partners. On the other hand, you can be with ideal people and have no ideas. But if you're aware, and in the moment, there is a chance for a spark to arise and things to take off.

"I learned at a very young age that music teaches you about life. When you're in the midst of improvisation, there is no yesterday and no tomorrow — there is just the moment that you are in. In that beautiful moment, you experience your true insignificance to the rest of the universe. It is then, and only then, that you can experience your true significance." Charlie Haden

Another aspect is how you approach improvisation. You can play it safe and fall back on a set of well worn cliches (and we all have our cliches we like to play), or you can take things out and walk the edge, putting yourself in danger. One of my favorite quotes is from the great Germanic…

The Nature of Creativity

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Creativity - Part 3

The essence of music tells us that we are the true instruments. It does not matter what
equipment we have. It can be rooms full of expensive percussion, or a simple hand drum.
The music comes from inside ourselves and will find a way to express itself on whatever
instruments we have at our disposal. Many of us get stuck on the idea that “If only I had
that new drum/ cymbal/ drum kit, then I could really playl” If you follow this line of
thinking, then you could always be saying that, as there are continually new products to
entice us. This becomes an endless loop of wanting/getting/wanting again. 

It’s important to
realise that wherever we are now, we have enough equipment to do something, to create
something from our hearts. Yes, our vision may include something we don’t have, but it is
important to go on anyway. We may find that we don’t need what we thought we needed, or that the
process of creating and working will lead us to what we need. Often what we see as
limitations, …

Start Here

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Creativity - Part 2

Even with many and various suggestions, the question still is, "Where do I start?"


Start here —> •  Right where you are.
Really. That's it. Just look at where you are and plunge in. Don't worry if it's right or wrong, good or bad, just do it. For me, starting is always the most difficult part. But it's sort of like uncorking a bottle. It might take some effort to get the cork out, but once the bottle is open, things can flow easily. "But I don't know…" Yes, there will always be "buts," and indecision, and panic, and a sense of fear that you might make a big mistake. This is monkey mind sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear. "You're a fake." "You have no talent." "Who are you trying to fool." "People will hate it." These are all just monkey mind getting in our way of starting.


Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical;…