Musical Time – The Drummer From Semisonic Writes About Feel

Al JacksonHere’s a series of blog posts I discovered courtesy of The Steve Goold Blog by drummer Jacob Slichter of Semisonic talking about developing one’s sense of time and all that encompasses. This is a topic that can seem quite esoteric and can be challenging to communicate to students about, especially with those who don’t listen to a lot of music (sadly, a common deficit with the kids of today). Mr Slichter explains the subject brilliantly with some really good examples of music with and without drums to illustrate his ideas. There are also some really great posts about song structure. The blog seems quite new, I’m looking forward to reading future offerings.

Hearing Musical Time – Jacob Slichter

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Jacob Slichter’s Portable Philosophy Blog is here – jacob-slichter.squarespace.com

Steve Goold’s Blog is is here – stevegoold.wordpress.com. Well worth a follow.

Here’s the Semisonic song I’m familiar with. I remember when it came out I thought it sounded quite authentically 70’s. Nice.

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Whiplash – A Bloody Awful Film About Drumming

Sigourney WeaverSo I hate-watched Whiplash, the movie that’s got folks salivating with anticipation due to some glowing reviews and enthusiastic press reports. I say hate-watched because I knew I’d hate the movie due to a bunch of stuff some sensible people wrote about it, like George Colligan did on his Jazz Truth Blog and from the trailer.

Why watch it if I knew I’d hate it? Because being a drummer and drum teacher means everyone I talk to assumes I’m interested and I felt I should be in a position to dampen their enthusiasm with some authority. My dad said I’m a miserable git but I take my occupation seriously and don’t enjoy the media taking the piss.

I am now officially qualified to tell you, Whiplash (should have been called Full Metal Drum Kit) is a bloody awful movie. As a representation of drumming it’s bloody awful and as a representation of music education it’s really bloody awful. Here we have the story of a very insecure drummer, Andrew, who, for reasons unknown, has an almost serial-killer like fixation on Buddy Rich. He is being abused by his teacher Fletcher, a bargain-bucket R Lee Ermey impersonator who thinks that the way to cultivate great musicianship is to bully his students into playing cheesy 70’s style big band music.

Andrew is someone who’s mother abandoned him and who’s father is obviously an insensitive dolt who never gave him the warmth and encouragement every child needs leaving him with a horrendous inferiority complex. He manages to get in to the top conservatory in the US and for some reason is picked to play in the top band in the school. He and his bandmates are forced to submit themselves to the relentless abuse and humiliation meted out by the sadistic Fletcher, a barely mediocre bar-room pianist with a deluded sense of his own importance (the people in the school’s HR department must need their heads looking at).

Andrew accepts the abuse hurled at him by Fletcher who takes on the symbolic role of the father who he can never do enough to please and whose approval he desperately needs in order to feel worthy of his place on Earth. These two pathetic individuals play out their melodrama climaxing in a scene in which the son stands up to the father’s abuse and finally he gets the hint of a smile and a likely fleeting moment of grudging respect.

The scenes showing Andrew drumming or practicing are gut-wrenching. Apparently drummers are meant to do their art by tensing every muscle in their bodies and flailing about until their hands bleed. The music is insipid throughout. It all sounded like something that would be on the Dirty Harry soundtrack and who would want to play like Buddy Rich anyway, let alone listen to that cheesy stuff?

Inadequate sadist Fletcher attempts to justify himself by saying that if people aren’t arseholes to each other, no one would be motivated to be really great at anything. I think that those really great people are driven by something within and don’t depend on external stimulus. The idea that Charlie Parker might have not felt driven to develop his playing had he not been laughed off the stage when he was 16 is ridiculous.

Whiplash is a truly horrific film. The message it gives about learning music, the creative process and how to excel is extremely ugly. I can’t help but wonder what kind of society wants people to think that the depressing interaction between the film’s main characters represents the road to excellence and high achievement. Anyone who knows anything about music will probably find it to be, at best, an uncomfortable experience. I’m glad I saw it just so I can go on a rant about how awful it is.

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Shameless Plug for A Couple of Cruise Ship Drummer Books

Cruise Ship Drummer Book Of The Blog 2014Just a quickie to let you know that the Samba and Bossa book (wot I reviewed in my last post) by the Cruise Ship Drummer is now available in dead tree format. Also the Book of The Blog 2014 is out. It’s a compendium of last year’s posts including stuff on jazz and Afro-Cuban drumming, snare drum exercises and transcriptions of drum parts in a variety of styles.

I highly recommend checking out the blog for tons of free drumming material and supporting it by buying books or booking some lessons (I did a few Skype lessons and it’s cool).

Follow this link for more info – http://www.cruiseshipdrummer.com/2015/01/2014-book-of-blog-now-available.html.

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New Cruise Ship Drummer Book – Playing Samba and Bossa Nova: A field Manual for Drummers

bossa-and-samba_coverTodd Bishop over at the Cruise Ship Drummer blog never ceases to amaze me with his prolific output. His recent publication is a Kindle book called – Playing Samba and Bossa Nova: a field manual for drummers. It costs in the neighbourhood of £4 and is a very well put together guide to playing Samba and Bossa for any drummer who wants to add these styles to their skill set in a practical manner. The guide is concise, it contains no esoterica and is aimed at helping you develop the vocabulary to perform these Brazilian styles in a modern jazz combo type setting on a regular drum kit.

Playing Samba and Bossa Nova: a field manual for drummers contains not only drum kit exercises but some very useful information for gaining an understanding of how to play this music including a good long list of songs and records that will get your ears up to speed on the music.

Todd’s created a very tight and easy to use book that packs a massive amount of information that can take any drummer from not knowing how to play Samba and Bossa to knowing how to play Samba and Bossa at a level you could use in a pro playing situation.

I highly recommend this to anyone who’d like an easy to understand and comprehensive guide to playing these styles and will be adding this to the list of books I recommend to students.

I would quite like the option of a real book for those who don’t have access to a tablet or can’t bring them to their lessons. I suppose most people do have the means to read this, though.

Get your copy now

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Advice For Beginning Drummers from The Cruise Ship Drummer

travelogue_new-coverI really loved this post from Todd Bishop of the Cruise Ship Drummer blog. Go have a read, he very succinctly summarises a bunch of stuff that’s essential to be aware of.

Go read here – http://www.cruiseshipdrummer.com/2014/12/advice-for-novices.html

Meanwhile, I’ve had another Skype lesson with Todd and found it very enjoyable and am planning to do an actual kit lesson with him soon to see what it’s like. Oh, and to get some pointers on my jazz playing.

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Drumming DVDs About Musicianship Not Chops

Since I just wrote a review of Jojo’s DVD about feet, I thought I should do a bit about some DVDs I know which are all about the music and don’t waste much time on technique. These are videos that any drummer would hugely enjoy and benefit from. You should get them all.

Levon Helm – Classic Rock, Country & Blues Drumming

Levon Helm - Classic Rock, Country & Blues DrummingOne of my absolutely favourite videos is by one of my absolutely favourite drummers, Levon Helm. Levon Helm – Classic Rock, Country & Blues Drumming is a wonderful collection of anecdotes about Levon’s history, collected wisdom about playing, grooving and singing and performances with some great musicians including Rick Danko and Garth Hudson from The Band. Learning with Levon is about the history of rock n roll as well as when to go bash and when to go bosh. If you can get a copy of this wonderful DVD (there’s one on Amazon at the moment for a mere £389!) you will want to be using the terms “sock cymbal”, “tenor toms” and “tubs” by the time the end credits roll.

Here’s the great man talking about his approach to singing and drumming, “I don’t think about it too much”.

Steve Jordan – The Groove Is Here

Steve Jordan - The Groove Is HereNext is Steve Jordan’s The Groove Is Here which you can buy for less than a tenner. In this video Steve takes us through a wide variety of grooves in the rock, pop and soul idioms. He’s accompanied by Bernie Worrel’s keyboarding among others and plays through some of his favourite grooves from his illustrious career as a session drummer. There is some great insight into the purpose of the drummer. He also talks at length about the art of playing with other musicians, playing in the pocket and for the song. There is a short interview with Levon too. Steve Jordan knows!

Here’s a clip, Bernie Worrel and Danny Kortchmar on guitar.

James Gadson – Funk/R&B Drumming

James Gadson - Funk-R&BNext is one I’ve not had for long, James Gadson’s Funk/R&B Drumming. It’s an absolutely amazing DVD in which Gadson walks us through the major styles of American funk, blues, soul, R&B all the way to disco and 80’s soul. The video progresses through the styles via the geography of the music. There’s a great house band and each style is explained and related to its nearest relatives and then demonstrated through some pretty decent soundalike tracks. James Gadson’s presentation is untainted by media savvy, he’s naturally good at presenting the material and his drumming is just a beautiful thing to watch and listen to.

One of my favourite features is James Gadson’s vocalising which is demonstrated in such a way as any drummer watching it who doesn’t sing or at least hum or doodoodahdah when they’re playing will have a go next time they sit at the kit. He also sings a couple of songs in their entirety and has a sweet soul voice.

Here’s a clip demonstrating the beats of Detroit including some explanation.

New Orleans Drumming

New Orleans DrummingNew Orleans Drumming is an omnibus edition of videos with New Orleans drummers Herlin Riley, Johnny Vidacovic, Earl Palmer and Herman Roscoe Ernest the 3rd. This was recorded in Allen Toussaint’s studio and it covers the drumming and music of New Orleans from Herlin Riley’s lessons about the origins of New Orleans jazz and how it evolved into modern jazz to Roscoe’s modern funk playing. Every section is packed full of groovyness.

Herlin’s bit is high art, softly said, nuanced and he expresses a deep love of the music that’s palpable throughout and makes me feel a sense of responsibility to these alien roots of everything I love about music. It ends with him playing When The Saints Go Marching In with his mum.

Johnny Vidacovic shows us how to really use the snare drum, how to use a clave, how to apply the New Orleans vibe to a variety of different styles, singing and playing, the jazz and about some of the grooves he played with Dr John and Professor Longhair. Oh, and how to be painfully funky.

Earl Palmer talks about how to invent rock n roll, bringing the backbeat to the front. He demonstrates some of his famous grooves, plays Tipitina with Allen Toussaint, he talks about the shuffle and the magic created by doing it to a mad pianist who was playing straight 8ths. There’s the 12/8 too.

Herman Ernest talks about his career as a session drummer and playing with the Nevilles. The influence of Zigaboo Modeliste is in there, coming up with the groove to Lady Marmalade and how traditional New Orleans music has influenced modern funk drumming.

The video’s ringmaster is Dan Thress, a man without whom a huge proportion of the world’s drumming related books and videos would not exist.

Here’s Herman Ernest talking about Lady Marmalade:

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Drum Intro For Tony Allen’s Go Back From His Latest Album

Tony Allen And Singer
Damon Albarn is a pretty lucky guy since his rock star status allows him to play with musicians of the calibre of Tony Allen. Having said that, he’s quite good at songwriting and Go Back from the album Film Of Life is really good.

On the album version of the song is this intro which I just realised is absent from the radio version of the song which is available on Youtube. I guess it’s a good reason to get the record.

A nice example of his drumming. Pay attention to the very dynamic hi hat. There’s so much nuance in the hi hat playing, a lot of colour derived from the interplay between right hand and left foot. Some of the open hats I notated are on the border between open and just a bit splooshy.

Tony Allen - Go Back Intro

Get the PDF: Tony Allen – Go Back Intro

(I hope the inclusion of the audio clip doesn’t upset any so-called rights owners as it’s being used for educational purposes and I think everyone should buy this music if they like it).

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I Saw Tony Allen Play In London

Drummer Tony Allen
So last Thursday I got to see Tony Allen at a venue in London called the Village Underground. I was very excited to see him play since I have a bit of a drum infatuation with his incredibly funky and unique drumming. The set comprised the songs on his new album Film Of Life and I felt very glad to go and see the great musician’s left foot in action in real life, so to speak.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get into the set. The band was brilliant but the sound was really bad, the balance was all wrong. I got the feeling the sound guys thought they were doing a dance music gig, the synths and bass were far too loud. There seemed to be too much gating and compression on the drums losing a lot of the nuance of Tony Allen’s drumming. To add to the frustration, the stage was permanently in a fog as if the venue’s dry ice had reached its use-by date and they decided to use it all up rather than let it go to waste.

I highly recommend Film Of Life, Allen’s current album and am looking forward to another opportunity to see him live again, hopefully under better circumstances.

The support band was absolutely brilliant. Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa is a Moroccan singer backed by some Senegalese musicians. They had brilliant groove and I was enthralled by their polyrhythmic music.

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Jojo Mayer’s Secret Weapons 2 Is All About Feet And Pedals

Jojo Mayer's Secret Weapons Part 2 It promised to be “The most comprehensive guide to foot technique for drummers ever available” and it is. Well, I imagine it is because I haven’t actually seen the other available guides to feet but this DVD is so amazingly comprehensive, I can’t see how there can be any competitors. Not to mention that people with Jojo Mayer’s insanely focussed intensity and commitment are very very rare so the probability of someone else producing anything remotely as comprehensive in this field must be pretty low. Not that it’s a competition, anyway.

So Jojo Mayer: Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer Pt. 2: A Guide to Foot Technique comprises three DVDs and contains over four and a half hours of stuff. The first DVD is all about playing the bass pedal, the second DVD is about the history and the mechanical aspects of how a bass pedal works and the third DVD is about the hi hat and coordinating the feet. There isn’t much directed at double bass because, obviously, your other foot would be doing the same stuff. It’s also not about playing music but learning about the physics of the instrument and gear we use.

I have to say I enjoyed every minute of it. Jojo’s commitment to breaking down the movements required to percuss with our feet is incredible and I am fascinated by the detail he goes into. As a teacher, I’m also interested in expanding my understanding of what’s possible, if only to broaden my perspective. At the same time, I think that only a small amount of what’s presented here is something that most drummers really need. Jojo Mayer’s chops are something to behold  and we all need  technique to push at the boundaries created by us being monkeys stuck on a rock floating in space. We don’t all need that level of facility, though. Watch this with that in mind.

Secret Weapons 2, is fantastically illuminating, entertaining, insightful (in a mad way) and alarming. I would say for most people, there is about fifteen minutes of practical information about the main subjects (bass pedal, hi hat and coordinating the two) and the rest is for the more trainspottery contingent or drummers for whom technique is a goal in itself. I am very very glad I got this. I’ll be taking a lot from the bits I found most applicable.

The DVD is interspersed with a bunch of great musical performances spanning a wide variety of styles. I particularly enjoyed the bit where he jams with a tap dancer, reflecting the close relationship between the art of the drum kit and tap. Another highlight was a rockabilly type song that required poor Jojo to play something simple (which he does, unlike many other “chops guys”). There is also a lot of attention given to Jojo’s pedal and for people with gear lust (guilty, sort of) there will be a temptation to try one of these groovy looking things.

This DVD is utterly brilliant as a catalogue of everything that’s been discovered and implemented by an amazingly dedicated and intense human being. The content flows together wonderfully, Jojo presents everything really clearly and I will definitely be incorporating some stuff from here into my teaching. The philosophy of loose springiness, least-resistance/get-out-the-the-stick’s-bloody-way that’s come from studying with Chapin and Freddie Gruber, is right up my street. But you don’t need all this information.

If you’d like to learn what an obsessive perfectionist has discovered about playing percussion with his feet, I strongly recommend this DVD. But beware, Jojo’s package might be as much a cause of information overload and choice paralysis as a vehicle for improving your drumming.  There isn’t anything about playing music on this DVD, it’s strictly about how the body interacts with our instrument. I know some people are hostile to separating the music from the technique in this way but I find it pretty useful to compartmentalise the different things we need to learn as long as we figure out how to make the parts serve the whole in due course.

Meanwhile, I think a perfect instructional vehicle would be Jojo Mayer’s edited version of his two Secret Weapons DVDs called – Well Known Tools Modern Drummers Need To Know About The Mechanics Of Using Your Hands And Your Feet To Play A Drum Kit. It will be less than 60 minutes long and I’d recommend it to all my students.

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I’m Looking Forward To Seeing Tony Allen Next Week

Tony AllenNext Thursday I’ll be going to see Tony Allen playing in London, at the Village Underground in Shoreditch. I guess he’ll be playing a bunch of stuff from his new album, Film Of Life, which sounds great. I’m really looking forward to seeing him play since I’ve spent a chunk of the last year or so trying to do what he does. I love his loose and energetic playing and his amazing touch. Something I am finding particularly challenging is to develop the coordination between the left foot and the rest of my limbs and keeping everything fluid.

I am planning to do more posts about Tony Allen’s drumming when I can make the time. Meanwhile enjoy a couple of tracks from his latest:

Boat Journey – Beastly Bass!

Ire Omo – Hip Shaker

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