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Showing posts from 2016

Learn to Take the Bad With the Good

I'm sure we've all had those moments, the moments when we've played 8 beats, or even a whole song/composition, that sounds amazing, wonderful, beautiful. And that moment is transformative, because it feels so good. And we sit back later, going, “Oh, that was great!” But then we look at the rest of our playing and start feeling terrible, because we see those moments as some sort of black hole that we seem to exist in: “If only I could play great all of the time…”


Playing great is, well, great.
Playing great is, well, great. But it's not everything. Yes, we should all strive to play the best we can, to make the best sounds, keep the best time, and just be the best we are capable of—but that can cause us to lose sight of the music. After all, we are here for the music. We are here to create something that comes together and becomes music. And sometimes music, and our performance of it, is less than great. But that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile. 

Just the fact that…

The Art of Listening VS Hearing

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When you are practicing or performing, are you just hearing the notes? Is your mind just taking stock of the events happening: “I hit the snare. I hit the cymbal.” This is all well and good, but it says nothing about the quality of the notes being played. Is your whole performance a veritable shopping list of all the notes you played? If it is, that's what it probably sounds like: a list.

This especially happens if you are playing off of sheet music. You start the piece and your brain mentally catalogs all the notes played. When you finish, you can say, “There, I played all the notes!” But is that enough?


You hear, but are you listening?
It's one thing to make a sound—anyone can do that on percussion! It's a completely different thing to make a quality sound, and even more so to string multiple sounds together in a way that makes music.


The Infinite Monkey TheoremThe infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite am…

I'm Not Your Time Keeper

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Today's post reaches a sort of milestone: this is 'Percussion Deconstruction™' #250! When I started writing this blog back in March, 2011, I never imagined I'd still be here nearly 6 years later having written so much. I want to thank readers both old and new, especially anyone who has been here since my first few posts, for reading all my words over these years. Here's to the next 250!

I'm Not Your Time Keeper

Contrary to popular opinion, the drummer is NOT the time keeper of the band. Everyone is. That's right, everyone keeps the time. For all musicians to rely on someone else to provide the time is a very foolish idea. Yet I'm surprised at all the times when someone else in a band I was in, relied on me to be their guide, providing some sort of time measurement (as in the metronome beat), and also some sort of guide as to where they were within the song (as in the song structure of verse/chorus/bridge). 


How can people play music without a sense of time

The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

I could easily just post this video and leave it at that. (You may have to scroll down a bit. Look for the video with Linda Perry):

https://www.facebook.com/soundbreaking/videos/1139787552765325/
Here's the transcript of what singer/guitarist/producer Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) says about what happened while producing a recording session:
“One day I had (Cheap Trick guitarist) Rick Neilson in here, and he picked up this guitar that had just, that same day, that same set up, I couldn’t get a guitar tone from, because of the player. Right? I was just like, “what is wrong?” And I’d go play it and I’m like, “it sounds awesome…(she hesitates, like ‘it’s awesome but lacks something') I don’t get it. I don’t understand. And then the guy I’m recording in the band, just like, “I don’t understand,” and then we’re done, and then Rick Neilson came over and I had the same set up. He picked it up, and I’m just like putting record on, and he’s playing this guitar, and it was like, “What did yo…

Moving Beyond Technique

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As drummers, if we've studied at all, we've most likely worked with such classic books as, Stick Control, Accents & Rebounds, Syncopation, and other timeless books. Even after years of both practicing and performing, we may still be working out of those same books. Great books never really end, we just keep working at playing them better.




But playing better should only be one part of our approach. I'm the first to admit that I'm a perfectionist. I will work on things over and over (and over) until they are, at least in my mind, as close to perfect as possible. But along the way, I learned that it's important not to get hung up on perfection. I'm not saying don't strive for it, but just don't get so hung up on it that it becomes a block to moving forward with your music.

For some of us, it's easy to keep going, keep perfecting, chasing that imaginary goal of absolute perfection. But the price to that can often be losing the humanity of your playing…

Further Thoughts on Recording

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The question was asked, “What's the best way to get prepared for recording in the studio?” The easiest answer is, “Learn how to record things yourself!”

Seriously. We live in a wonderful age. If you own an Apple product, you probably have Garage Band included with it for free. Not bad. For under $500, you can add a recording interface, like the ZOOM U44, pick up 2 decent mics, and whatever cords you need. Then you can go on the internet and find all sorts of articles and videos on how to record.

Garage Band - free with Apple products
ZOOM U44 - under $200

RODE M5 mics - under $200

No matter what OS you use, there are many free or inexpensive recording programs to get you started. Often you can get a free lite version of some recording software included with a recording interface.

The next step is to record yourself, record your band, record your friends. Try different mic set ups, different rooms, different mic distances, etc. Just like learning to play your instrument, you need to prac…

The Art of Trusting Your Work

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For me, I can’t separate art from life, because my art is my life. And I always find it interesting when my inner monologue has a discussion about something I’m doing. One side is conservative and says, “You might not want to go that far, because people won’t get it, or understand it.” The other side says, “Go for it! This is who you really are.” And so it goes.
I sometimes get the feeling that outsiders think I’m not doing anything, because they don’t see any outward action going on. But what they fail to realize is that so much is happening inside, in my head. A lot of times when I’m working on something, I plant the seed and then step back a bit to let it germinate and start to grow. Then I care and nurture it. And this may take hours/days/weeks/months, even years—sometimes things need space more than anything else. But I’m always working, because my brain rarely stops. 



The result of this is that when something happens and comes together, it really comes together, often in larger an…

Making Career Decisions

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Life as an artist in any capacity is really a life of decisions. There are the every moment decisions: what step/color/sound do I take next? My recent blog series on concept/gesture/texture took a close look at those types of decisions that I take every day as a percussionist. But there are also a series of bigger decisions that affect the direction, or arc, of our life long career: what direction do I go in? Which group do I join? How much time do I devote to this? What is my ultimate goal/s?




Career type decisions are often deciding to be a jazz musician, or a classical musician, or a pop/rock musician. What direction do I go in? Or you can decide to be all of them. For many of us, life is a filter and things change throughout our careers. When were are young, energetic, and hungry for experience, we often take every gig imaginable, in all styles, and in every type of venue. In fact, this is advisable, as experience is the best teacher, and by trying new and different things, we may s…

The Art of Recording Without Stress & Fear

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This question was recently asked on a Facebook Percussion group: What stresses you out most about recording in the studio? Click tracks, perfect editing, etc.

My answer, without meaning to be snarky, was, Paying for it…

And I meant it. Recording time in a quality studio with a good engineer is expensive. What stresses me out the most is having things go wrong, or not being prepared, and having to pay for any time wasted. When the session starts, the dollar clock is running.



Making The Most Of Being In The Studio

I always approach recording just like playing a live show and more. The 3 most important rules are:

1 - Be prepared.
2 - Be Prepared.
3 - Be prepared.

I can't emphasize this enough. Before you get into the studio, rehearse your material and rehearse it some more. There's nothing worse than wasting time trying to figure out something you should have known before you set foot in the studio. Rehearse your material and make sure you know it.

Next, know what you want to get out of y…

This Idea of "Texture" - 3

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If you approach drumming seriously, then  everything you put together to make your  sound brings you to your own, unique world.  — Robyn Schulkowsky
Texture. This is where percussionists can shine. 
texture  /teksCHər/nounnoun: texture; plural noun: textures1.1. the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or a substance."skin texture and tone"
Musically, texture is the quality of the sound you make. Think of sound as a surface (as in the definition above), is the sound you are making smooth, rough, rippled, watery, gaseous, solid, etc.? The fact that percussion can be just about anything, means that we not only have unlimited sound, we have unlimited textures
Texture as Instrument
We have a lot of instrument choices out there. Percussion is made from:
Wood Metal Plastic Stone Skin Bone Styrofoam Rubber Water Etc.
These instruments can be:
Large Small Thick Thin Long Short Etc.
The playing surface can be:
Smooth Rippled Grainy Bumpy Bent Flexible Hollow Etc.
Now take all the above and throw them in a bl…

This Idea of "Gesture" - 2

This is a companion piece to last week's blog on concept. Percussion/drums are very visual instruments, so gesture is a natural part of performance. There is a lot of movement, both from the arms and, from the whole body itself. Not to mention the movement of the mallets/sticks we play with. Unless you are playing a particular theatrical piece of music, that might have gestures written out, gesture itself is usually given little thought.


ges·ture
ˈjesCHər/ noun noun: gesture; plural noun: gestures 1. a movement of part of the body, especially a hand or the head, to express an idea or meaning. "Alex made a gesture of apology"
Think of the rock or metal drummer behind their kit, with arms raised and flying away. Or watch a marching band/drum corps, with each movement heavily choreographed for visual effect. This is what most people notice, what most drummers think about, the visual aspect. But what part does gesture play on the sound?

On my first solo percussion album, Stars Show …

This Idea of "Concept" - 1

Concept. Do you have a concept. or do you even know what it means? Merriam-Webster defines concept this way:


1
conceptplay  noun con·cept  \ˈkän-ˌsept\
1:  something conceived in the mind :thoughtnotion 2:  an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances
In a general arching definition, a concept is an over reaching idea that covers what you think and do about something. As a drummer/percussionist/musician, let's look at what the great Vinnie Calaiuta said about concept in an interview:

(Concept) That’s my new word. It’s the word that everyone is going to be sick of hearing me use. What does it mean to me? It is the highest understanding of how you experience music. And it is accomplished by total immersion. In a way, it's beyond a cognitive understanding. It is an inner understanding of total immersion. Developing a concept is a long process. It starts by being able to understand what music represents to you as a whole; then, understanding what that music …