Posts

Showing posts from 2017

The Challenge of Writing For Percussion - Part 2

Image
Picking up from Part 1, we'll look at some examples of modern pieces for percussion. Again, it must be noted, that once you get beyond the standard snare, timpani, mallets, drum set scoring; writing for percussion can pretty much be a free for all. The main problem is that percussion can not only be just about any and everything that can make a sound, it can also be any number of those things. This can be from 1 drum up to a whole percussion section, played solo, as in Stockhausen's famous, Zyklus. 

I could write a major dissertation on percussion notation because it's so broad and varied. But for our purposes, I'll keep it more general. Be aware that there are exceptions to every example I will present, as composers have a way of doing their own thing when it comes to percussion notation.

How do you notate all this crazy stuff?

The main thing is try to make your notations and intentions as clear as possible. Once we get beyond pitched percussion, we can dispense with cle…

The Challenge of Music Notation For Percussion - Part 1

Image
This week's blog comes out of a recent experience I had presenting a performer-composer forum at Cal Arts, in Valencia, CA.  The thing that made this such a different experience for me was that only a couple of students attending were percussionists. The majority were composers and other instrumentalists. Right away, by not having an audience full of drummers, you enter a different dimension.

I'm not knocking on drummers, but an audience full of drummers tends to ask a lot of gear type questions: “What type of snare batter head do you use,” or, “Is that a heavy or medium ride cymbal?” A lot of questions like that. Non-drummers really don't care about your gear. They are more interested in what you do and how it possibly applies to what they do. 

This is true of composers,especially if they don't play percussion at all. They want to know how to notate all the weird and wonderful instruments we play, and all the strange sounds we make. So this week we will look at notating…

A Word About Picking Out Cymbals

Image
As drummers, we spend a lot of time playing and practicing by ourselves, and we are used to hearing our cymbals in that context. Or perhaps we try out cymbals at a music store (hardly the best environment for hearing them). The problem is that cymbals aren't designed as solo instruments, so hearing them alone often gives us a false idea of how they will work in a band situation.

So you play a cymbal by itself and find that “it rings too much,” or, “it's too bright.” But that says nothing of how it will blend with the music. Cymbals need overtones and a bit of brightness to both blend and be heard, standing out among the other instruments. 

Dark & Dry (I actually have one of these for special situations)
Going To The Dark Side

Today's trend is toward darker, dryer cymbals. I must admit that they can sound great when played by themselves, but I've heard numerous drummers live who's cymbals just disappeared in the mix. That dark, dry sound got swallowed up by all the …

The Importance Of Connecting With Non-Drummers

Image
As drummers, we can often be an insular bunch. We tend to hang out with other drummers, sharing stories, sharing licks, sharing ideas. While this is good to a point, we often end up sharing the same stories, licks, and ideas over and over. 
Drummers are a tight group. We speak the same language, we share an unspoken brotherhood. Attend a typical drum clinic, and you will find a room full of fanatics, ready to applaud at every beat played. Attend 10 or more drum clinics, and you will also tend to hear the same questions asked over and over:
What type of head do you use on your snare?Can you explain the beat you played on X?How can I play faster double bass/snare rudiments/jazz ride?What's it like to work with X?etc, etc, etc.
And that can be a problem. If our world consists of only drums & drummers, we're not exposed to other opinions, ideas, or thoughts that reside outside of the drumming box.


Workshop at Cal Arts
A recent example for me was as a visiting artist to Cal Arts, in…

How To Work With A Click/Metronome

Image
The time to get acquainted with using a click track is not in the recording studio. For many drummers, that's their 1st time having to play along to a click. It's a recipe for disaster, and for an inexperienced drummer, it will be a futile waste of time (and money).

I've met way too many drummers who do not practice to a metronome, let alone even own one! This is not good. Whether you play rock, pop, country, classical, hip hop, marching, etc., you need to be able to play in time. Working with a metronome, drum machine, or click track can help you develop a solid sense of time. For the unsure, or uninitiated, let's take a look at how to play along to a click.

Ear to Brain to Arm and Foot

The most important thing to realize is that most drummers try to follow the click. This just doesn't work, because by the time you hear the click, and react to it, you are already behind.


From my experience teaching, I find that most students wait for the click. They wait to hear it be…

Velcro™ And Paper Clips Are Your Friends

Image
Just a thought that came up this week, as I'm busy recording a new album for release in early 2017. Over the years I've used a lot of Velcro™/hook & eye fastener tape. I think it's one of the greatest inventions. 


Most of you are probably familiar with using it on the bottoms of your foot pedals so they grab on to carpeting under your drums. A lot of my snares and toms have a strip of Velcro™ on the outside of the top rim, or even on the top drum head itself. This allows me to attach various noise makers, like tambourine jingles, small bells, or bit's & pieces of mostly metal stuff to my drum head to act as an additional noisemaker when I play. 

Tambourine jingles attached with Velcro™
I also have strips of Velcro™ across some bass drum heads so I can attach various sound makers. It's easy to attach and remove them in an instant. This is such a great thing for experimental/improv percussionists (and even regular drummers wanting to add sounds to their snare dr…

A Conversation About 'Pitch Pairing' Drum Sticks

Image
Drum sticks. Not a lot has changed over the years. They are still basically a lathed piece of wood with a taper and a tip on one end. Not really controversial in any way. But sticks are very essential to drummers, as they are direct extensions of our hands. The right stick can make all the difference in a performance.

This leads me up to a recent Facebook question and discussion about pairing and pitch matching sticks. I remember as a youth buying a new pair of sticks in a sealed plastic bag. Basically, what you bought was what you got. There was nothing done at the factory other than taking 2 sticks of the same size/designation, and putting them in the bag. I noticed back then that sometimes one stick would be heavier than the other. Or that one would be slightly warped. That was just the way things were, so you learned to live with it and got on to drumming.


Today's drumsticks: nice and neat
Today, sticks are usually in a cardboard sleeve, so you can take them out, inspect them, an…

A Bit of a History Lesson

Image
OK, I'm going to show my age here, but for those of you who always seem to complain about finding the right gear (I read a lot of drum forums), I just say, “Shut up already!” Really. If you are in your 20s or 30s (even 40s), you probably have no idea about how good you have it today when it comes to the availability and quality of new instruments. 
Looking Back In TimeBack when I 1st started playing drums 50(!) years ago, your drum & percussion selection was limited. Unless you lived in NYC, LA, or Chicago (where the major TV, radio, and recording studios were), there was no such thing as a drum store with a big selection of gear to look at and buy. It was mostly mom & pop music stores, with maybe 5 drum sets, a few snare kits, a few cymbals, and some accessories (like wood blocks, tambourines,  & cow bells) in stock. If they did a lot of school business, they might also have a xylophone, timpani, and other related small percussion. That was it! 

And the selection was us…

It's Still Always About The Groove

Image
In my life/career, I've played so many different types of music: pop. rock, hard rock, prog rock, country, latin, fusion, dixieland, swing, jazz, classical, and on and on. One thing they all have had in common is the groove. 


It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)(Composition by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills)
Yeah, jazz (and related musics) have swing - ding-ding-a-ding-ding-a-ding on the ride cymbal. But swing is just another name for groove. Other styles might call it something else. The music changes, the label changes, the swing/groove goes on. Even classical music has it. Mozart and Beethoven knew, they made their music groove in its own way.

Nowadays, I work mostly in improvised music. I hesitate to call it jazz, although many people do, because it lacks that distinguishing swing rhythm. Sometimes it's played along to some sort of rhythm, other times it's what people call free improvisation. The thing is, when I'm playing, I'm always…

Less Really Is More

Image
As musicians, we are always working on our craft (we should be), always practicing, always improving. That's important. The minute you stop, you start to degrade. You lose your edge, your facility. And as music evolves and changes, so should you. The way you played 10 or 20 years ago is not necessarily the way you should be playing today. Look at artists like Bowie and Prince, they played much of the same music over their long careers, but the music often changed to stay fresh, stay relevant. 



But let's look at technique. It's great to practice playing faster, better, in weird time signatures, etc. But how relevant is that in the real world, to the gig/s you play right now? Hey, I'm all for practicing everything, but the problem a lot of musicians have is building up all this technique, and an arsenal of licks to go along with it, and then thinking they can use it any and everywhere!

One thing I constantly tell my students is:

The song will tell you what to play.
Really, i…