Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vintage Drums

This blog started like with a focus on snare drums, many of which were vintage. I have always had a strong affinity for vintage instruments. This is evidenced by some of my earlier posts, such as my 13 January 2010 piece titled Vintage Drum Resources, and two follow-on posts titled Researching Vintage Drums - a resource and the companion, Evaluating, Cleaning and Restoring Vintage Drums.

Since it's quickly nearing three years since I posted those pieces, I thought I would rekindle interest in vintage drums and [briefly] return to this blog's roots with a set of videos hosted my Jim Messina of Vintage Drums Talk and his interviews with Mike Curotto, a highly respected collector and educator. Both Jim and Mike are significant figures in the vintage drum collection world, making this series of videos all the more valuable. Mr. Curotto's book, Vintage Snare Drums - The Curotto Collection: Volume 1: Rare American-Made 1900s to 1940s, is a highly regarded reference.

Here are the interviews in two parts (embedding has been disabled for these videos): Part One and the second half of the series, Part Two.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

For drum history buffs

I am cross-posting this from my Music for Drummers blog because it is a topic that would interest readers here as well as there:

Good news for drummers who are also historians: Daniel Glass has completed The Century Project and it's available for sale (click the link.) Here is a short summary of what the project is based on an early pitch for the video:

Also released and currently being previewed in major cities is Jeff Kauffman's wonderful bio of Chick Webb. I posted this piece about the movie two years ago. I finally had the privilege and pleasure of watching it last week and it is everything Jeff promised - and more! More information is at the film's web site. Here is the trailer:

If history is an interest I recommend some of my previous posts, including Digging into our history, as well as Oral Histories: Louis Bellson, Chico Hamilton & Roy Haynes and a collection of video recommendations in this post. Of course, searching for some of the greats and pioneers by name at Music for Drummers will yield some solid results too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Instructional material recap

This blog started out to be a catalog of my snare drum collection. Slowly my interest turned from gear to music and technique, spawning my pet project, Music for Drummers, as well as a different direction in this blog. While I still write about gear here, I prefer to write about technique and I think the trend towards that aspect adds a lot more value than promoting GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome.) Of course, value is a relative term. This is a hobby for me - no, a labor of love - and some folks will find the content valuable and others probably will not.

What has happened is my posts are becoming increasingly more difficult to track, so periodically I aggregate related topics in a single post. In fact, I am starting off with one from the past to anchor this blog entry: Get a Grip. That entry pulled together a lot of related material, as did My Favorite Instructional Videos: Grooves and Woodshedding! to name a few.

Today's recap will attempt to play catch-up again by citing recent instructional and technique entries, as well as introducing some new material that is related to recent posts.

First up is a DVD and book/CD combination by Ed Soph. Ed's vidios are scattered throughout this blog:

His DVD and book/CD material is an excellent set of tools to obtain basic jazz chops. I will cover them backwards since that is how I used them back in 2004.

The DVD, Musical Time, is an excellent starting point for getting jazz chops.

While this DVD may seem too basic for experienced drummers who have some jazz chops, it is perfect for those who have spent their career playing something else and want to add some jazz chops to their vocabulary. Granted, those experienced, non-jazz drummers may find some aspects boring (like adjusting bass drum pedals), but the beginners who get this DVD will find all of the information and instruction useful.

In truth, this DVD was published to augment Ed's book/CD combination, Musical Time (Book & CD):

Reading and working through the book/CD first is the ideal situation. However, when I started playing drums again after a 37 year break (1967-2004) this is one of the videos that I used, and I purchased it before I knew of the book/CD. I found it to be immensely helpful, and when I eventually did purchase the book/CD it was icing on the cake. So, while I went about it backwards this was exactly the instruction I wanted and it made a major difference in my getting back up to speed after a 37 year break.

Ed Soph's style is straightforward and at times you get a sense that he's gruff and obstinate. However, he has a knack for imparting a lot of knowledge efficiently and effectively, wasting no time. He gets to the essentials - the foundational stuff - and leads you through mastering it. Bottom line: is this for you?

  • If you have jazz chops and know how to swing, then perhaps your money would be better spent elsewhere.
  • However, if you are a beginning drummer who wants to play jazz this is a great video (with his book/CD, of course), because it quickly imparts the basics as well as pointing out bad habits and how to avoid them.
  • If you are an experienced drummer who has been playing rock, country, or anything but jazz and want to add that to your vocabulary, this is a very good starting place. Be patient when Ed is giving tips to beginners and throw yourself into the lessons.
Next is a DVD set that augments the one I mentioned in New book/DVD: The Complete Guide to Playing Brushes. The author, Florian Alexandru-Zorn, recently released The Brush Secret: How to Apply Your Own Voice to the Brushes:

Other instructional and technique posts I have written include two featuring Peter Erskine and one featuring Derrick Pope. Erskine's videos are in Comping and off-beat grooves versus mindlessly hitting on 2 and 4 and a great presentation titled The Role of Rhythm in Popular Music. Derrick Pope's videos are must-watch for any serious drummer and are in Moeller Technique (and other tips by Derrick Pope).

While I haven't gotten around to reviewing Pat Petrillo's Learn To Read Rhythms Better, I intend to in the near future. I want to introduce this DVD ahead of time in case you want to check it out. If ever you wanted to learn how to read music, this is the video to get.

As a parting shot I want to reemphasize two things:

  1. It's not the gear, it's the drummer - see this post for my reasons.
  2. Do not get lost in a quest for technique to the exclusion of larger world of music itself - we are, after all, musicians.
At some point I'll aggregate all of the brush-related topics here. In the meantime, use the search function.

Some quick jazz brush lessons

Sometimes I think I should have named this blog Brush Addict because of the large number of brush-related posts. This one, though, is inspired by and related to some recent posts here (see my last post), as well as in my other blog. See Recommended Papa Jo Jones albums Part 1 and the follow on Part 2.

This post is a quick set of brush lessons by one of my favorite instructors, Ed Soph. If you perform a search here for Soph you will be treated to a number of posts containing his quick tips and other topics. Here are the lessons in seven parts:

If brush playing, including actual brush reviews, head selection and related topics, interests you do a search here using brush as a keyword, Also, in my Music for Drummers blog using the same keyword in a search will yield many musical examples.

Monday, October 1, 2012

New book/DVD: The Complete Guide to Playing Brushes

Scattered throughout this blog are posts about playing brushes, plus the following reviews of what I consider to be some outstanding instructional videos on mastering brushes:I have just discovered a new instructional package: The Complete Guide to Playing Brushes: Brush Skills for Playing Jazz and Pop Music (Book & DVD)

What distinguishes this book/DVD set from the videos I cited above are two things:

  1. It is not jazz-centric
  2. The instructor, Florian Alexandru-Zorn, uses match grip when demonstrating exercises and techniques
Let me back up and state up front that I am a jazz drummer and I use traditional grip exclusively. I think it's folks like myself who sometimes are the barriers to pop drummers learning how to play with brushes. This set removes those barriers in my opinion.

For one thing the instructor and material clearly demonstrate how to employ brushes in pop music, which can extend to I-IV-V rock some call blues, as well as country, Americana and roots music. And, of course, rock (especially some forms of alternative rock). For that reason this package should make a lot of sense to non-jazz drummers. From personal experience I can say that every other package on the market falls far short in that respect, and is a barrier to non-jazz drummers even considering learning how to play with brushes.

Another barrier this package breaks is proving that playing brushes using match grip is perfectly fine. Most drummers play match grip, yet most brush instructional videos are demonstrated with traditional grip. If nothing else that is a psychological barrier to many drummers who play strictly match grip.

Here are a few clips from the package, plus the instructor, Florian Alexandru-Zorn, in action at a workshop:

One performance clip shows how Florian applies his lessons in a real musical setting. Granted this is a jazz number, but Caraven has been covered by rock groups like the Ventures.

In addition, here is a preview of the book that comes with the package: Table of Contents and sample lesson. Dig around this blog as well as my other one, Music for Drummers for reviews of brush models and heads, examples of solid brush playing and related subjects.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

SKB Deluxe Stick Bag

In my 22 May 2012 post titled Stick bags - function and vanity I discussed the difference between vanity stick bags and practical ones. On the practical end of the spectrum I just came across what may be the best stick bag on the market when you consider price, capacity and construction: SKB Deluxe Drum Stick Bag (model 1SKB-SB300)

If you read Stick bags - function and vanity then you know what I mean by vanity bags (the Reunion Blues, Anthology Gear Wear and a handful of others I own.)

This SKB Deluxe Drum Stick Bag on the other hand can hold more sticks, brushes and mallets and other implements than any of the above bags and is built to last almost as long as any of the leather models. What makes it practical is when you factor in cost, construction and capacity this is the best value on the market [that I have come across] that meets all three of those factors.

While the 600 denier nylon construction is not as sexy as leather used in the vanity bags I mentioned, it is built to last. Probably the first thing to go on this bag would be the zippers and I am betting those will have a long, useful life.

It's the capacity that sets this bag apart from anything on the market except the DW Peter Erskine Stand-Alone Stick Bag. I will be perfectly honest: most drum kit players will probably not need the capacity, while percussionists who play a variety of instruments from traditional drum kits to mallets will find this bag to be more than adequate.

I especially like the shoulder straps and the form factor of the bag, including the front, zippered pouch and inside mesh pockets. You can not only store your sticks, mallets and brushes, but can also store a variety of tools (keys, wrenches, hex wrenches and small spare parts like felts, etc.)

As a comparison, this bag is half the price of the Peter Erskine one I mentioned (at the time of this post) with comparable capacity. It is significantly less expensive than the Reunion Blues Extra Large Stick & Mallet Bag which does not come close to the same capacity, and a fraction of the three hundred dollar price tag of the Anthology Gear Wear bag I wrote about in this post. Granted, there is probably not a more beautiful bag on the market than the Anthology Gear Wear, and especially in the Black Whiskey leather finish, but there is probably no bag as expensive. I love mine and it is pure vanity. For practical folks who want a bag that will last for at least a decade though, this SKB model is the one I recommend. Not that there is anything wrong with vanity. Cool is a valuable factor ... it can get expensive though.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It don't mean a thing ...

As you browse through posts there are many that are related to technique. Since this and my other blog, Music for Drummers, are mainly aimed at jazz drummers and drumming, you may find the lack of posts regarding achieving a swing feel odd.

The reason I have not attempted to post anything related to achieving that feel is I do not think it can be taught. It can, however, be developed by listening to music that has that feel. Before proceeding, consider this ambiguous definition of swing to understand where I am coming from.

As I said a swing feel can be developed. The best way is to spend a lot of time listening to music that has the feel, then practicing to it.

Musicians from my generation typically have no problem because many of us grew up listing to big band and swing music that our parents inevitably played (and in my case played to death.) I am not saying that we all liked it at the time - I personally hated it when I was young - but it was ubiquitous. It also found its way into our DNA. Moreover, drummers who went on to be the pulse of early R&B, rock and even country came from those swing bands, so other popular music from my generation's youth swung. Listen to Mitch Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Watts with the Rolling Stones or John Bonham with Led Zeppelin to hear examples of early rock drummers who had a natural swing to their playing.

Here are some of my listening recommendations to help you develop a swing feel if you do not already have one:

First is Th'is Jazz -The Best of Jazz

For the price you get a few minutes shy of six hours of music. The selections are not B-side stuff, and span more than a few sub genres of jazz, including swing, bebop, and cool/West Coast styles. I was familiar with most of the music on the album, but discovered a few gems I had not heard before. I also enjoyed some of the seminal work of Miles Davis (such as So What from Kind of Blue), Monk, Lester Young and Bud Powell. The sound quality is very good, adding to the value. If you love jazz you will love this album ... if you are exploring jazz for the first time, this is an inexpensive way to obtain a large collection of some of the best music ever performed to explore and savor. And every track swings. Here are some clips from the album.

Second up is BeBop Jazz Essentials

First, let's address the misleading title: less than half of the music contained in this album is bebop, and some is so far from falling into the bebop genre that I had to scratch my head. A prime example is the very first song, which is performed by Benny Goodman's band. Benny was the antithesis of bebop. Of the songs that do fall into the bebop genre, only a small handful can be considered "essential". So, either the title is marketing hype of evidence of ignorance on the part of the person or team compiling the tracks for the album. However, every track swings and that is the listening objective.

If you don't normally listen to jazz, this album contains some great music spanning swing, bebop, hard bop and straight ahead jazz. Personally there is not a single dud on the album and it has brought me a lot of pleasure and many hours of enjoyment.

If you are looking for examples of essential bebop (or even total bebop) look elsewhere. If you want to enjoy a little over five hours of great jazz spanning a few sub genres, this album is a bargain and does contain some classic cuts in each sub genre.

In addition to providing five hours of musical examples of swing, this album also has some great examples of comping, and, of course, bebop drumming. Here are some clips from this album:

Additonal listening and play-along tracks are provided this page. Although the focus is brush playing, most of the tracks can also be played with sticks, and all will help you develop an innate swing feel.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lewis Nash Master Class

This master class is from the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. It features a drummer who I very much admire, Lewis Nash.

He packs an amazing amount of tips, attitude and philosophy into this class. I will end this post with Lewis performing a great Ellington/Juan Tizol tune accompanying saxophonist Steve Wilson.

First up is a lesson in vocalizing what you are playing. This first piece may come across as corny to drummers not versed in jazz, but ignore it at your own peril.

The second segment is all about tasteful and balanced playing. In other words, when to use power in your accompanying and when to hold it in check to support the music.

Segment three is probably the most important of the master class (in my opinion) because too many drummers just fail to understand how to properly pull it off. Many drummers believe that our job is to merely keep time, chugging along locked into the bassist and pretty much ignoring what the rest of the musicians are doing. In fact, we are responsible for at least supporting the melody and understanding the harmonic structure of what is being played as well. Here are Mr. Nash's approach and ideas, which are worth their weight in gold:

In my intro I mentioned that Lewis packed attitude and philosophy into this series of lessons. This segment focuses on the attitude (among other topics):

In this final segment Lewis steps up to probably the biggest stumbling block most drummers - and especially the less experienced - encounter: ballads. Note: Two sources of my previous posts that are good supplements to this segment are this one, and Another Study in Tempos: Stirring the soup.

I'll conclude with a duet between Lewis and Steve Wilson performing Caravan. There are a few noteworthy things happening in this clip. Foremost is Lewis' choice of grooves and mastery of dynamics. Caravan is typically played much louder on toms, but the groove is fit to the music and the room. If you learn nothing else from this post, learn the way he tastefully supports the music by playing to the situation and not blindly playing cliches that many drummers employ on this song.

Second, you do not necessarily need a bassist or any other instrument as long as at least one instrument in the ensemble can play the melody. And surprisingly Wilson does. What I mean by surprisingly is in the hands of most saxophonists a soprano sax sounds like cats fucking. One of the reasons is the instrument is actually not in tune with itself, which is not a good quality for an instrument that is going to be the sole source of the melody in a performance. But Wilson pulls it off, leading me to conclude that he must have been channeling Sidney Bechet, the only other musician who mastered that evil instrument.

One final note: most of my recent efforts have gone into adding content to my Music for Drummers blog, and that trend will continue.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Technique Related: Importance of Piano

I have yet to get to part 2 of Dynamics and Sound Levels, but have time this week to finally write and post that.

In the mean time I am going to cross-post a recent entry from my Music for Drummers blog that is germane to technique (a topic that fits within the theme of this blog).

One of the grand instruments of music is the piano. So much so that in some music schools anyone entering a percussion program must prove their proficiency on a piano before getting accepted. You may be interested to know that the likes of Art Blakey was a pianist before he was a drummer, and a multitude of drummers, such as Ed Thigpen were and are outstanding pianists. The truth be known, one hundred years ago pianos were essential in many households and were the center of family and neighborhood entertainment before being nudged out by radio. Moreover, musicians such as Charles Mingus and Bix Beiderbecke - virtuosos on their own instruments - were sufficiently talented on piano to record records and albums as pianists. A side note of interest is Dizzy Gillespie, another virtuoso pianist as well as trumpter, was also very proficient as a drummer. So proficient in fact that he gave Art Blakey drum lessons that dramatically improved Blakey's playing and transition from pianist to drummer.

The bottom line is even if you never become proficient as a pianist (or even touch one), studying some of the greats is an effective way to improve your skills as a drummer. One only need listen to many of the pianists in Jazz Piano History to appreciate the complex rhythms the greats managed while still paying attention to melody and harmony. We drummers have it easy in comparison.

On the other hand, as musicians we need to understand not only rhythm, which is a given, but also melody and harmony.

I am not implying that you must learn music theory because many solid drummers have managed to become successful without the theoretical training. I am saying that you, as a musician, should be aware of what is happening musically when you are supporting the music and your fellow musicians. Hence the following, simplified introduction to some of the things of which you should be aware.

Melody, in the most simplistic terms, is rhythm plus pitch. We drummers can actually contribute to the melody since we play rhythms and our instrument has various pitches. Pitches within a certain range are notes. Consider Drum Workshop drums, which have the musical pitch written on the inside of each shell; i.e., C#.

Those pitches are limited and somewhat fixed for each instrument, depending on your touch. Despite some inherent limitations, they will allow us to integrate with the other musicians and take some responsibility for the melody. This is partially addressed in this post. Studying drummers is not as effective as studying pianists if you want to bring your musicianship to the next level.

Harmony, in simplistic terms, is the relationship between and among simultaneous notes. Watch a guitarist or pianist hold down strings (or keys) in a pattern to form chords. There are musical rules that govern how chords are interrelated. Those rules also govern how they progress to the next chord, and how that chord fits into a musical structure. For our purposes, think of chords as either consonant or dissonant. A consonant chord fits into the structure (for lack of a better way of describing it) while a dissonant chord does not seem to fit.

Placed in the context of drumming, a pattern on a tom tuned to a certain pitch that complements a chordal structure played by a pianist or guitarist would be consonant. An unexpected cymbal crash placed at the same point would be dissonant. It may or may not be inappropriate, depending on why it was used. It it was used to mark a transition to another phrase it would support the music.

Do you need to know all of this to be a good drummer? Not necessarily, but you need to be aware of it if you want to be a part of the music instead of just playing time - something a backing track or rhythm box can do. Back to my original contention: studying piano or critically listening to pianists will significantly improve your skills as a drummer, and more importantly, will aid in your becoming a musician who plays drums (there is a distinction.)

As I said, the piano is a fundamental musical instrument, and is part of the foundation of ragtime, which was a key ingredient of jazz and the music it spawned, including rock. In fact, the first four tracks on the first disc in Jazz Piano History are Scott Joplin piano rolls from 1899. The media is grouped into five sets of four discs, each focused on milestones in the evolution and maturation of jazz, the role piano played, and the masters of each era or milestone.

Here is what the set contains:

Disc 1 is devoted to ragtime, with examples ranging from the Scott Joplin piano rolls to Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, with other pianists both obscure and a few cited as unknown. There are some good examples of syncopation in this group, and the early work of Eubie Blake and James P. Johnson is sophisticated in rhythm, melody and harmony. In other words, well worth studying despite the fact that it is nearly a century old. Here is an example from this disc:

Disc 2 is Harlem Stride, with the inventors well represented: James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Fats Waller, as well as those who were heavily influenced by them like Duke Ellington, and even Fletcher Henderson and Clarence Williams pieces. Notice how much more sophisticated, rhythmically and harmonically this is compared to ragtime. An example:

Here is one more example with an explanation of what James P. Johnson is doing:

Disc 3 through 5 focus on blues and boogie woogie with some of the giants: Cow Cow Davenport, Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and others. Here are two excellent examples:

Discs 6 and 7 are interesting because they are divided both by race and city. 6 is Chicago Black and 7 is Chicago & New York White. Earl Hines and Jelly Roll Morton dominate disc 6, with additional tracks by Jimmy Blythe, Clarence Jones and Alex Hill. Disc 7 is more diverse with a lot of tracks by Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacey, but also Bud freeman, Art Hodes and others. One treat is by Bix Beiderbecke, mainly known for his cornet contributions to jazz, but a great pianist in his own right. His "In a Mist" is included and is well worth studying and is provided in this clip:

And an example of Earl Hines around the same time he recorded Hot Fives and Hot Sevens with Louis Armstrong:

In fact, let's drill down into a song from the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. This song represents a major turning point in jazz, and the video explains what is happening, including what Hines is doing:

Discs 8 through 10 are devoted to swing, and is dominated by Teddy Wilson (an extremely important figure in Swing and other jazz sub genres), Earl Hines, Art Tatum and a plethora of other well- and lesser-known names. Here are some excellent examples:

Disc 11, Kansas City, has the usual suspects: Basie, Jay McShann, Mary Lou Williams (who was Monk's and Bud Powell's mentors among others), and Pete Johnson.

Disc 12 was something of a letdown. It is focused on bebop and rightfully includes a good number of Bud Powell tracks, but only a few for Monk. Al Haig, John Lewis and Dodo Marmarosa are represented along with a few others. However, I cannot resist the temptation of using some of Bud Powell's and Monk's later work as an examples. In the near future I will be doing a post exclusively about each that will dip back into earlier earlier work. Please pay close attention to what the drummers are doing in each of these clips. It's very obvious that they are aware of melody and harmony (and dynamics):

Disc 13 is titled Modern Jazz, with Lennie Tristano and John Lewis getting most of the tracks. For an example of Tristano see Bird & Lennie: a study in great music and great drummers, which includes video clips. Here is a clip of John Lewis with one of my favorite groups, The Modern Jazz Quartet. Connie Kay, the drummer, is one of my influences:

Disc 14 is Cool with Dave Brumeck, Hampton Hawes and Russ Freeman providing most of the examples.

Disc 15, West Coast, is misnamed. For example it has more than a few Monk tracks, which are strictly New York pieces, and I never associated Horace Silver or Richie Powell - two predominately East Coast musicians - with West Coast jazz either. Still, the tracks are wonderful so I shouldn't be quibbling about how they are labeled. A little Horace Silver is in order for an example. Also the late Richie Powell who perished in the car crash with Clifford Brown. Richie was Bud's brother.

The remaining four discs contain some of the giants of jazz piano and are my favorite discs from the set. Among those amply represented are Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Hank Jones, Kenny Drew, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Gene Harris, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. Among this august group are other, less mainstream - but excellent - examples too.

If this set is too comprehensive for your needs or tastes, you may want to check out Jazz Piano Masters instead.

It is more focused on a later period and strictly jazz, cutting out any examples of ragtime and stride. See my review to determine if that set is right for you.

This post covered a lot of ground on one hand, and has barely scratched the surface on the other. Know that you do not have to learn music theory, including digging into melody and harmony to learn from listening to pianists. If you have a rudimentary grasp of the concepts, then awareness of what the musicians you are supporting are doing will follow. If you achieve awareness then you will be a better drummer.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comping and off-beat grooves versus mindlessly hitting on 2 and 4

In my 11 June 2012 post titled More Quick Tips (fills, dynamics and melody) I introduced an alternative to playing backbeats. While the examples were clearly aimed at jazz, they also work in other genres, and especially so in blues and R&B.

This post will extend the groove possibilities to include playling off beat and comping rhythms. The best introduction these concepts is this video by Peter Erskine:

Before proceeding go to this link and check out the examples, and pay special attention to Charlie Smith's playing behind Bird and Dizzy in the Hot House video.

Back? Here are some more lessons that will impart some very basic and easy-to-learn skills in comping:

Tommy Igoe from Groove Essentials

An interesting video I came across and liked

My final video is of Peter Erskine in performance demonstrating comping. Unless you are playing heavy backbeat music that is formulaic, try experimenting with comping patterns instead of mindlessly hitting on 2 and 4. Also practice off beat playing per Erskine's video on that subject. You are still providing a time reference with the 2 and 4 on your hi-hat, along with time via your ride pattern (and it can be unswung, straight quarter or eigth notes). Playing on the up beat, for example, can propel the groove.

Granted, some of these things may not fit into your music or comfort zone - for the time being at least - but trying them out and experimenting will open you to many more possibilities.

Here is the final clip:

One parting word: if you haven't checked out Tommy Igoe's Groove Essentials video, I highly recommend it. See my 18 February 2010 post, My Favorite Instructional Videos for details and other recommendations. You can also head over to this post about Giant Steps and listen to how comping is done on a world class, iconic album.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An innovation in ... hardware bags!

Something as simple as a hardware bag is the last place you would expect to find innovation, but Stagg has managed to do just that. Their SPSB SET 5 Professional Hardware Carry Bag is, in my opinion, a godsend for protecting expensive hardware.

This bag was designed to hold three cymbal stands, a hi-hat and snare stand. The innovation is each stand gets its own pocket to protect the chrome instead of rattling around inside a bag or case and chipping or marring the finish.

While the design will protect those hardware pieces, you will still need a bag for your throne, bass drum pedal and any ancillary gear and parts you carry. In my case I hand carry in my throne and use a Gibraltar single pedal bag for my pedal and spare parts. You may already have that covered if your pedal came with a bag or case. Another option is a smaller bag for the rest of the gear. I use a Beato Pro 3 25 inch bag for everything else. For me, that bag is ideal, and should work for you - especially if you have a lot of other gear and a double-pedal. Put your high-end stands in the Stagg pocketed bag and the other gear in the Beato one.

Most of my hardware is from the DW 6700 flush stands series, which is pricey. This bag protects them beautifully.

If you are using high-end (i.e., expensive) stands this bag will protect them better than any other bag I have seen. You could individually wrap each of your stands in towels before putting them in a standard hardware bag, and save the price of this bag, but that is going to increase your set up and tear down time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Jojo Mayer Bass Pedal follow-up

On 5 August 2012 I wrote a brief piece titled Jojo Mayer Bass Drum Pedal.

Jojo Mayer Perfect Balance Pedal

This is a follow-up with some additional thoughts after I had a cursory, hands-on session with one.

Jojo Mayer has spent over a decade designing this pedal, swinging the pendulum back to old school style pedals.

Some of the design goals included non-accelerating cams and strap drives. Before proceeding, understand that I am basing my five star rating and effusive comments on my personal perspective. I am a jazz drummer who plays heel-down and who started playing in 1964 when the emphasis was on what was done on top of the kit with the bass drum relegated to a time and pulse keeping instrument. So my needs are probably not in line with more modern drumming styles, and definitely not rock drumming where 16th notes on the bass drum are the norm.

The claim that this pedal is almost invisible to your touch is true from my brief (thus far) experience. It reminds me of the Axis X-L Longboard Single Drum Pedal from both a touch and response perspective, as well as the long board configuration. In addition, this pedal shares the single post design with the Axis.

An advantage (to me) is it allows me to move my foot as far forward as I want to shorten and control my stroke for very light playing.

The other hand, the old school beater (very much like the Ludwig Felt Bass Drum Pedal Beater) is a plus to me, although I generally use the Vater Vintage Bomber beater for the type of music I play. But that fact should also clue you as to where I am coming from when you are deciding if this is the pedal for you.

What I do not much care for, but can live with, is the split foot plate where you have the foot and feel plates separate. I prefer the Axis cited above or the Ludwig Speed King, both of which have a single plate. But, that is a personal preference and - remember - I am a strictly heel down player. Do not allow my preferences to deter you from checking this pedal out.

Other things I love include the fact that this pedal quickly folds flat, and when you are unfolding it, the clamping mechanism automatically engages your bass from hoop as you bring it into the playing configuration. Another nice touch is the carrying case that is included.

The only thing I strongly dislike - and this is a personal preference - is how narrow the foot board is. True, there is a round portion where you can place your toe or to provide a stable resting point for your foot, but it is disconcerting for me. Many players use a lateral motion to get speed. For those this foot board design is probably perfect. I, on the other hand, do not play fast bass drum patterns so any advantages of that design feature are lost on me.

Despite my minor complaints I think Sonor's 'Sonor Perfect Balance' name is an apt description. This is one of the most balanced, responsive and natural pedals on the market today. Jojo Mayer did an excellent job designing it, and Sonor's engineers took that design and created an amazing pedal that swings the pendulum back old school feeling with modern technology.

Monday, August 6, 2012

K Custom Session Cymbals

A few years back my brother gave me a complete set of Zildjian K Custom cymbals, which consisted of a pair of 14" hi-hats, an 18" ride that has since been dropped from Zildjian's catalog for some reason, and a 16" crash cymbal. Later I added a 20" K Session ride cymbal to which I had Zildjian install a 3-rivet cluster.

I do not use crash cymbals, so I cannot comment on it. And since the 18" ride is no longer available, anything I can say about it is moot (although I did think it was a little too bright for my tastes - back then, anyway.)

The 14" hi-hats are versatile in my opinion. versatile. The only two other multi-purpose pairs I like more are the Armand 14" hats and the A. Zildjian & Cie "Vintage hi-hats.

They have a strange design based on an old pair of Istanbul K. Zildjian hats Steve Gadd used to own. The top is heavier and slightly smaller than the bottom (the top is 13-15/16" and the bottom exactly 14"). This configuration gives the hats a surprisingly responsive feel, and I like the sound - especially with the top hat loose in the clutch.

Unlike the ride cymbals in the K. Custom Session series, which sound great out front, but terrible behind the kit, these hats are great sounding to both the drummer and audience. And they can project if needed, or will give subtle notes if played softly. This quality makes a pair perfect for just about any music genre or playing style. They also pair nicely with other cymbals from not only Zildjian (both A and K series), but other brands too.

The 20" K Session ride cymbal, even with the factory-installed rivets, took some time to get use to.

One of the barriers to liking this (and its 18" sibling) is they sound clangy from behind the kit. Out front they actually sound pretty amazing and they also record very well.

Also, unlike other Zildjian K. Custom series, the Session series is consistent. Mine sounds practically identical to one owned by a fellow drummer. And hearing him play is what inspired me to dig out mine, which frankly had not been getting much use over the years.

This cymbal will not project, so for loud music it is not a great choice. There is a lot of definition with a slight wash when playing it, and the bell is very strong. It also crashes well.

It is versatile enough to work with jazz and blues and other quieter types of music. It may work with classic rock, but will definitely not cut through if you play heavier rock or metal.

When I received my set it came with a cymbal bag and a DVD. I managed to track down the DVD, which features Steve Gadd explaining how and why the K Session series came about. Here is the full length video, which rounds out my thoughts in this series:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jojo Mayer Bass Drum Pedal

I recently wrote about the importance of good pedals (among other things). Earlier today a friend told me about a new bass drum pedal he purchased. I consider my friend to be very knowledgeable and not prone to buy drum gear unless it makes sense (unlike my compulsive self), so I decided to check out the pedal.

His new tool is the Sonor Drums 14508401 Bass Drum Pedal:

It also goes by a few nicknames: Sonor Perfect Balance is one, and - not surprisingly - the Jojo Mayer pedal.

I do not have any firsthand experience with this pedal (I only found out about it a few hours ago), but did unearth a video by Jojo himself explaining why he designed it and what it's all about:

I love his design criteria and the final product. I was especially impressed by some convenient features, such as how it folds down compactly, and when you unfold it, it automatically engages your bass drum hoop and firmly clamps on.

Those features, though, are secondary to the feel. Again, I have not touched one, but from the look you can be sure that not only the older Gretsch and Camco pedals Jojo mentioned inspired the design, but also the venerable Speedking, and even the [still] highly regarded Ghost Pedal. As an aside, the Speedking was a collaboration between WFL and Ray Baduc, a great drummer who also collaborated with Zildjian to design the swish cymbal.

Of course I am going to check this pedal out in person. I am not sure if I will be buying one since I am pretty happy with what I have and I canme up in an era when drummers emphasized hands over feet for playing. However, Jojo's musical style is in line with mine, so who knows.

Instead of making this post completely about gear, I am going to weave in some music. In this case it's a very young Jojo backing the late, great Emily Remler on guitar and one of the top B3 players - ever in my opinion - Barbara Dennerlein.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tap Dancing and Brushes - Update

In my 17 March 2010 post titled Clayton Cameron on Tap Dancing and Brushes I demonstrated a connection between tap dancing and brush playing.

Jon McCaslin, whom I often quote or link to his blog here and on my Music for Drummers blog, recently wrote a piece titled Baby Lawrence that will be of interest to brush players.

If you are not familiar with Jon's blog, Four on the Floor, I highly recommend you check it out and go exploring. It's a treasure trove of information on a wide ranging array of drum and music topics. Jon is a Doctoral Candidate at University of Toronto, as well as an active musician who has released albums.

See also: Selecting Heads and Brushes.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dynamics and Sound Levels - part 1

In earlier posts I opened the door to this discussion. Specifically, Some Quick Tips (tempos and dynamics) introduced the notion of dynamics, while Drummer Apps for Androids touched upon sound pressure levels (SPLs) as they relate to decibels.

This post will discuss dynamics as they relate to music. I am going to cover the absolute basics to lay the foundation for tying it all together in future posts.

The goal is to make you aware of some fundamental characteristics of your instrument, and how to use those characteristics to their best advantage.

Characteristics: drums are not [normally] a melodic instrument. While you can play the melody - see More Quick Tips (fills, dynamics and melody) - you are not concerned with the melody as a series of tones with specific note values. That is not to say that the two elements of a melody, pitch and rhythm, are unimportant. They are. In fact, pitch is one of the fundamental characteristics of your instrument. The rhythm is what you, the drummer, provides. Here is what your instrument brings to the ensemble and what you should know how to accomplish:

  • Dynamics - the ability to play between very soft and very loud.
  • Note style - staccato to legato (short and sharp to long and drawn)
  • Change in dynamics, such as crescendo or going from soft to loud in a continuous, smooth build-up or the opposite called diminuendo. Those are gradual changes; there is also a sudden change, called subito, that would be a cymbal crash (as one example).
For the remainder of this post I am going to discuss dynamics and how they are expressed. Let me emphasize that dynamics are relative. Here is one way of marrying the terminology to the definition, using an illustration that Demetri Music has generously placed into the public domain:

Ignore Velocity, which is not germane to this discussion, and compare the values expressed as P and F, and combinations of those, to the relative loudness those values represent.

Please note (and remember) that the table is truly relative. When applied to loud, amplified music, PPP could actually be construed to be yelling while FFF could be as loud as a jackhammer.

P stands for Piano and means soft. Repeating it is the same as saying very; i.e., PP would be very soft, and PPP would be very, very soft. The same applied to F, Forte, which means loud (FF meaning very loud and FFF meaning very, very loud.) The two designations - mp and mf - stand for mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte where mezzo means medium or moderately.

At this point you have three things:

  1. A list of the fundamental characteristics of your instrument
  2. An introduction to the basics of dynamics and their relative nature
  3. A basic vocabulary with which to express dynamic levels within a dynamic range
In my next post I'll provide definitions of note styles and changes, and start to tie them together with examples. In the meantime, carefully study the dynamics employed by Papa Jo Jones in this video:

Friday, July 20, 2012

What is "The Best"?

Every time I check my logs for this blog there is at least one visitor who arrived via a search engine query looking for The best .... Most of the time it's the best snare drum, or, on occasion the best cymbal or even the best head. No matter what the specific search, it boils down to gear and usually gear that will make the visitor a better drummer. It's interesting that this blog typically attracts nearly ten times more visitors than its companion blog, Music for Drummers. Frankly, that blog contains listening recommendations that are more likely to make one a better drummer than all of the gear discussed in this blog!

If you've taken the time to peruse this blog you know that I have some pretty good drum kits, as well as some highly desirable snare drums. Here is one example of a kit I routinely play out with:

Certainly there is nothing to complain about with that kit, which is described in this post (the snare drum is a single-ply, olive ash shell snare drum tha Kevin Smee built for me.) One would think that the drums (or the cymbals - or both) were the most important components. Not really so.

For one thing, it truly is all about the drummer. And as a drummer who has played some sorry backline kits, such as the one shown below, I can attest that the drums and cymbals are not the most important pieces to a great sound. Not by a long shot. Imagine yourself behind this kit:

Aside from the acoustics of playing outdoors and your own touch on the instrument, what do you think are the most important factors for playing your best?

Answer: pedals that actually work, and heads that still have some life in them. Most drummers are on a quest for gear that will make them sound good. That part, though, is up to the drummer. So what are the barriers to sounding good? Remove those and you will - with proper skills and technique - sound good. Here are the barriers as I see them:

  • Bass drum pedal and/or hi-hat stand issues; i.e., sticks, too much slop in movement, etc.
  • Other hardware broken or in need of servicing. Examples here are bass drum spurs that will not hold the bass drum in place, brackets that will not completely tighter or have restricted movement, and tension rods that are rusted, stripped or missing.
  • Lifeless (or missing) heads. Note the backline kit I am pictured behind in the above photo. The resonant heads are missing on the toms. The other problem with that kit and a barrier to any kit is heads that have been pounded on by people with drum sticks who are not actually drummers (even if they claim to be.) Dead giveaways are heads that have what appears to be moon craters on the surface, or are so stretched that you cannot tension them evenly when trying to tune them.
Those are the major issues with any drum kit. Note that I have not mentioned anything about the quality of the drums. Even cheap drums can be made to sound good if the barriers mentioned above have been dealt with, they are properly tuned, and the drummer employs good technique. In fact, very low end kits can be easily and inexpensively modified and tweaked to sound like a much more expensive kit.

Conversely, even the most expensive kit can be brought down to the level of a super-low end kit by stuffing blankets, pillows or other resonance-killing material in a bass drum, and/or using moongel and sound rings on the other drums head. If you must use stuff like that, then you are wasting your money if you purchase any of the high end kits or snare drums, like those made by Craviotto, DW, and the like.

Trust me, it is not the gear as much as the drummer and his or her skills at tuning and playing them. Going forward I am going to post less about gear in this blog and more about technique and the care and maintenance of drums, while I concentrate most of my writing and sharing in Music for Drummers. As promised (or threatened, depending on your interest level), my next post will cover dynamics, which was touched upon in this post about tempos and dynamics, and in this short piece that introduced decibels and sound pressure levels.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Zildjian Armand 19" and A. Zildjian & Cie "Vintage" series

I recently stumbled upon Chip Stern's excellent review of, and thoughts on what he considers to be outstanding offerings in Zildjian's A-series line.

I certainly concur with him since I own a full set of the A. Zildjian & Cie "Vintage" series as well as a full set of Armands. At the time Chip wrote this piece only the 19" Beautiful Baby ride was being offered. Now you can purchase a full set of Armand cymbals for a pretty nice price.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back from my break

I have not dropped completely from sight - I was sidetracked by a few other things. My next post will take up where I last left off.

I was not completely offline since my last post as evidenced by the reviews I've written in the past few weeks.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Get a Grip

This is an interim post that provides a brief overview of some popular methods and techniques, as well as a recap of some of my earlier posts that are relevant.

The earlier posts:

Here is some additional reference material that may be of interest.The above dips into history, which you may or may not find boring. If the historical aspects grab and hold your interest, then you may also enjoy George Carroll: Marching and Field Percussion Historian and The Timeline Of Marching And Field Percussion Between 1900-1950.

If you are into drum corps, then all of the above may prove to be both good reading and helpful.

Next up will be a post about dynamics. Stay tuned.

Drummer Apps for Androids

This post is going to pave the way for a short series on tempo and dynamics. I lightly touched upon both in Some Quick Tips (tempos and dynamics), but want to delve deeper. In particular I want to address dynamics, but for now am going to kick off with a very brief discussion of two cool Android applications I have on my Droid X phone.

The first is Tempo (Special Edition), a metronome by a company called Frozen Ape (which also makes an iPhone version. The best way to describe the product is to show this video, which covers it in detail. It is much more than a cheap metronome, as you can see in the video, and at $0.99 is quite the bargain.

Cool, right? If you own a smart phone that runs the Android or iPhone operating system you are fresh out of excuses for not always having a metronome handy.

In this series of posts, though, tempo is going to take a slight back seat to dynamics. The impetus behind this emphasis is a discussion among some drummers titled, Venues with decibel limiters. The subtitle of that discussion was, How much to they suck? I weight in firmly on the side of using decibel limiters. My reasons will be in subsequent posts along with some technical information about sound pressure and other dry, boring stuff that every drummer should know. Believe me, the misconceptions about this (and unwarranted assumptions) are mind-boggling.

That brings me to the second app: Decibel-O-Meter Free. As the name implies, this is a free application that has this screen on your Android phone:

As a prelude to the next post, which will discuss not only this application, but decibels as they relate to sound pressure levels, read these one star reviews of the application, then contrast them with these five star reviews. See the disconnect between informed users and those who downloaded the application without any understanding of decibels as they relate to sound pressure levels? I hope to clear that up, because those physical aspects do have a lot to do with music and drumming. Until the next post, enjoy ...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A shocking subject - Part 2

I covered power conditioning and surge protection measures for indoors studios and stages in A shocking subject - Part 1. This post will discuss additional precautions that should be heeded for outdoors venues.

One major consideration is does the venue's electrical power provide ground circuit fault interruption? Basically, this protection cuts the electricity in the event that a ground fault is detected. Put another way, it keeps musicians who inadvertently touch something as innocuous as a microphone stand from getting fried in the even that there is a fault. If you want an excellent description of what the term means and why you should know about it, read this excellent article titled, How does a GFCI outlet work?

One approach is to install GFCI adapters like this one directly into the venue's outlets before plugging in your own electrical cords into the power source.

While the surge protectors and power conditioners protect my equipment (amps, PA, etc.), this ground fault condition indicator protects the musicians who use and adjust the amps and PA. This is an especially important safety feature when you are setting up at various venues over which you have no control over how safe outside power outlets are. And in some cases, your power source is an inside outlet that is reached with an extension cord.

Operation is simple: plug it onto the power outlet. Use the test button to ensure that the adapter's GFCI function is properly working, then plug your power cord into the adapter. If it trips, the reset button will restore power. And if it does trip, it means that a potential safety hazard was avoided.

In fact, that is a prudent thing to do and something I recommend. However, there is another measure that can be used in conjunction with the GFCI adapter: a GFCI tester like this model:

Not only will this inexpensive tester check out whether or not you have functioning GCFI protection, but it will also test the electrical power for other problems, such as hot grounds, opens, and other conditions that could fry equipment and people. What I like is you need not be technical to use it. Unless you get a Correct indication like what is shown in this picture, the outlet is unsafe.

For both inside and outside cabling I use Yellow Jacket 12/3 15-amp extension cords. It is heavy gauge and suitable for outdoors contractor work, so is perhaps overkill inside, and probably even for outside stages, but is sturdy and safe.

The lighted ends are nice features for dark or dim stages (or outdoors runs from an inside outlet to a makeshift stage). This can be used to extend the distance from an outlet to one of your power conditioners like the Furman rackmount discussed in A shocking subject - Part 1, or the Tripp Lite TLM825SA, also discussed in that post - or whichever type of protection you are using.

Another way is to run the extension cord from the power conditioner or surge protector outlets to various amps and other gear requiring power. Personally, with models ranging from 25 to 100 feet, the Yellow Jacket 12/3 15-amp extension cords are too long for the latter strategy. For running extensions from individual outlets in the Furman rackmount or the Tripp Lite TLM825SA I much prefer the 2 foot Yellow Jacket 12/3 15-amp extension:

Regardless of which actual products you use (I gave examples based on what I personally use), stage and studio safety are important topics. Unfortunately, they are rarely thought about until after an accident or incident occurs. I hope this post creates an awareness before that happens. It costs a lot less than most of the components you are protecting to purchase these items, and if the case of a human life - there is no price tag than can be put on one of those.