Showing posts from 2018

Refine Your Movement

So many percussionists just seem to play with little regard for how they move and stand while they are playing. This is one reason studying with a good teacher, no matter what level we are at, can help us immensely. A teacher can look at us from outside, a place we cannot see ourselves from. 

Think of your favorite athlete. No matter how many championships and awards they may have won, they still work with coaches and trainers. That's because other people can see the things they do and help correct movement and posture problems. Drummers are no different, and I would say it's just as important for drummers because our role is so physical.

It's important to practice in front of a mirror if possible, so you can see yourself moving in real time. It's also important to record video of yourself to look at and analyze later. 

Another important thing for percussionists is to be involved in some sort of movement activity. Martial arts, Tai Chi, Yoga are all great for helping you …

Refine What You Do

It's so easy to grow complacent, so easy to find that groove you can ride in with little effort and maximum effect. It's so easy to become comfortable in where you are, and thus lazy in your future efforts.

We often see this in our practicing, where we continually go over the same well worn material. Just get in that groove and ride it to infinity. I know. It happens to me. That's why we need to be aware of what we are doing at all times. We can't just be on autopilot. We have to make conscious choices.

If all you ever practice is what you know, and how you know it, that's all you'll ever know.
Be conscious and choose to move forward. I often practice some of my favorite music. One reason is because I like it and it gives me immense pleasure to play it. But another reason—and this is a conscious choice—is that I'm always looking to refine what I'm playing, not just playing it on autopilot. I'm also looking for something new that I can bring to it. This…

No One Cares About What You Do

Let's get this out in the open—no one really cares about what you do. 

No one cares about all the time and hard work you've put into your art.

No one cares about the devotion you have to your art.

It may sound harsh, but it's true. 

Music has changed over the years. It used to be that listening to it was a ritual. You took the album out of the cover and sleeve, you put it on the turntable and cued up the music. Then you reveled in it. Often you spent hours gazing at the cover art and reading the liner notes. You knew who all the musicians were, and who wrote the songs.

Now, with streaming, all that is lost. People just call up the music they want to hear, and that's it. There are no liner notes, or musician credits, on Spotify or iTunes. So you could play drums on the biggest record of the year, and no one would even know it. And most people wouldn't care.

It's a strange world out there today. When we lost touch with actual physical product, we lost touch with being …

The Fallacy of Gear Worship

First off, I must admit that I'm a total percussion nerd. I love all the different instruments. I love playing them, but I also love working on them. I get great satisfaction in taking drums apart and putting them back together again. And with this in mind, I have to say that I like to have the best quality and best sounding gear I can.

But as much as I love all the instruments I've collected over the years, I try not to get too attached to them for making the music I do. Like most percussionists, I bring my own instruments whenever it's possible. This is always preferred, but with the difficult logistics of traveling with hundreds of pounds of often very large pieces of gear in cases, it's not always possible to bring your own instruments. This is especially true when flying. Unless you are independently wealthy, the cost of flying percussion instruments is prohibitive. That's why I don't get too attached to the need to have my own instruments whenever I play.


The Artist's Way - The Book That Saved My Artistic Career

My artistic career had come to a crossroads in the mid-1990s when I felt both a lack of direction and motivation. Then, in 1997, I came across a book called, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. In the midst of the 90's self-help craze, this was a book all about artistic self-help. The book is a 12-week course on recovering, and jump starting, your artistic ability/career. Each chapter covers a different aspect, giving you affirmations, practical advice, and exercises to do during the week. It doesn't teach you how to be creative, but how to access and nurture your innate creativity.

My well worn copy of The Artist's Way
One exercise Cameron recommends is morning pages. Each morning when you get up, sit down and write out 3 pages—long hand is preferred to typing—of whatever comes to mind. It's a sort of stream-of-consciousness brain dump diary. I was faithful to this at first, filling up a whole filing cabinet of notebooks, but eventually felt that it was a lot of eff…

Towards Greater Consistency

I'm often surprised at how a musician will sound one way one day, then sound very different the next. It's not just the actual sound, but the performance, and little details of the performance. Many artists aren't consistent in what they do.

So much of this goes back to preparation. You need to be prepared for every gig/performance/recital. This would seem like a given, but it seems that it's not. This is not to say that we want every performance to be a clone of the previous one, but that there needs to be a consistency, a sense of connection for all performances, especially in a series or a tour.

Playing night after night naturally has its ups and downs. Some nights are amazing, others, just average. But as a performer, we need to try our best to present a consistent performance across a range of dates.

Here are some tips:

1) Work out everything you need ahead of time! Often people keep putting things off, thinking they will get them done before the performance date, the…

Towards Greater Clarity Of Sound

While I think percussion can be some of the most beautiful sounds in the world, others may feel that a lot of it is noise. This difference in perception often has a lot to do with both the clarity of the sounds being made, and the message being transmitted by these sounds.

As a percussionist, I have always striven to create a good sound. This is important to me. Even when I'm creating more of a noise type sound, I still want it to have a certain quality to it. I don't like leaving things up to chance, or just making an indiscriminate racket. To me, everything starts with a good sound. 

I also strive to have a sense of purpose in what I play. Paradoxically, in improvising, I never randomly strike things. There is always thought behind what I am doing. Even in the moment, at an instinctive level, I'm always asking myself questions about what I'm doing:

What sound fits with the previous sounds I've made (or that others have made in a group situation)?What rhythms fit wit…

Have Drummer's Lost Control Of Their Sound?

This is a companion piece to last week's, What Ever Happened To Individuality? post.

Music today has become so homogenized. So much of it sounds the same because the same small group of producers/songwriters are making all the hit tracks. There often seems to be very little individuality left. This is especially true for the musicians playing on all these songs, but specifically drummers. Rather than controlling their own sounds/feel, drummers are increasingly at the mercy of producers. 

Since the advent of digital recording, and software like Pro Tools and Logic, it's possible to completely change a recorded drum track. Individual drum and cymbal notes can be moved in time and retuned. Recorded drums can be easily replaced by samples of other drums. It's to the point where you could do a session, and when the recording comes out, you've been completely replaced and reshaped by the producer. Your actual performance was really nothing more than raw data that was used to s…

What Ever Happened To Individuality?

There was a time when most drum set drummers you heard had their own, identifiable sound. And by sound I mean both the actual sound of their drums and cymbals, and the sound of their playing style. It was easy to hear a new recording and identify the drummer by their sound
Jazz drummers certainly had their own sound. You could tell Tony Williams' ride cymbal from Buddy Rich's, or Gene Krupa's toms from Max Roach's. Rock drummers had their own identities too. Bill Buford's snare drum was always identifiable, as was Phil Collins' concert toms. Mick Fleetwood always had that very muffled drum sound, and no matter what brand of drums Neil Peart decided to play, he always sounded like Neil Peart.
Trending Today
Today, things are much more homogenous. And not just at the major pro level, but at the local level too. There just seems to be a general inclination towards sameness. This is due to multiple trends.
One trend is that young drum students don't seem to have …

The Thing About Endorsements…

Too many drummers think endorsements are some sort of ‘trophy’ signifying they 'made it.' Well, not quite. I have some endorsements for gear I play, but I don't for others. I 'made it' to a certain point before the endorsements, but the endorsements haven't made me any better as a player, or more famous. That’s all up to me.

Drummers need to know that an endorsement is a ‘two way’ relationship: you need to give back to the company you endorse. I do this various ways:

1) I talk about the gear I use because I really love it and it works for me.
2) I try to feature endorsed gear in promotional photos and mention it in interviews.
3) I always try to play my own gear, unless it’s a situation where I must play rental gear of a different brand.
4) Did I mention that I talk about the gear I use because I really love it?

#1 & 4 are really key. The endorsements that I have are for gear that I had already been playing for years! And I had been promoting on my own because I …

“What Kind Of Music Do You Play?”

People often ask me how I classify my solo percussion music, or even the music I play in ad hoc groups. I tend to think of it as contemporary classical music. This usually elicits startled looks. “But you improvise a lot. Isn't that jazz?” My response is, “Jazz is based on swing, the ding-ding-a-ding cymbal pattern. I don't swing. My music is based more on hierarchies of energy that I push forward, and different levels of meter & pulse.”


Swing. That brings up ideas of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa. The ride cymbal and hi-hats are king. I don't use either. Swing is great. I often play it when I'm using a traditional drum set. But for my own music, I don't.

Gene Krupa, the king of swing
European Echoes
My own style comes more out of the European improvisers, who unlike their American counterparts, didn't use jazz & swing as a basis for their music. People like Jamie Muir, Frank Perry, Eddie Prévost, Le Quan …

Living In A Golden Age

OK, I'm back…

I'll try not to sound like the old man here, but younger drummers often don't realize how good they have it when it comes to studying and learning drums. Back in my day (yeah, I'm that old), when I was a young aspiring drummer, I had school band, private drum lessons, and once in a while was able to see a live band. That was it. That's all I had to learn drums from.

Today, the choices are much broader and more accessible. Besides school band and private lessons, there are:

Drum videos/DVDs/downloads
Cable/satellite TV
Hundreds of books
Bazzilions of recordings
And that window to the world, the internet

As both a teacher, and an ongoing student (I will always be a student), I take advantage of all the above. It's amazing how much information is out there. If I want to see a video of X drummer, I can probably find one, or more. How do you do that Moeller Stroke? There's all sorts of videos on the web shot at every possible angle. Fantastic!

But t…

In Praise of Anniversaries!

On March 10, 2011, I tentatively put out the 1st blog post of Percussion Deconstruction™. I had no real plan except to talk about something I knew and loved deeply: percussion. I wanted to tackle the subjects the often were ignored, or fell through the cracks in other writing about percussion. I've always been a sort of rebel/misfit in my musical and artistic life, so the blog carries on with those same ideas. 

The 1st post was entitled, The Death of the Drum Set. Upon rereading it, I still feel much the same way. While there are some true innovators out there, too much of what I hear is just the same old drumming recycled over and over. Trust me, I'm not anti drum set. I'm just bored with so many people taking the easy road and copying their heroes, instead of finding their own creative path.
If you were to take a look at my iTunes music playlist, you would see heavy doses of both '60s pop music, and '70s hard rock. While I love listening to both, I don't aspire…