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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A shocking subject - Part 1

In More Stage Gear for Live Playing I ended the piece with a promise to discuss an often overlooked subject: electrical power. This is part 1 of a 2 part set of posts about electrical protection. This post will focus on how I deal with indoors power conditioning and surge protection requirements.

You need not have an electronic drum kit to be concerned with power. Many of us have home studios or practice spaces that are equipped with electronics, or, perhaps, we have chipped in to purchase out band's PA, which makes us part owners of gear that drummers traditionally do not own. Regardless, it's a safe bet that you own gear worth protecting.

For home use how much protection depends on a number of factors, such as geographic location, age of the building and electrical infrastructure, and even the value of the equipment to be protected.

I live in central Florida where thunderstorms are relatively frequent, and some of the competing power companies are better than others. That alone makes power protection a priority in my home studio and practice space. Since much of my more expensive gear is rackmounted I use Furman Merit series power conditioners. Before purchasing a pair of these I lost not only a powered mixer, but some consumer electronics and even a microwave oven! Since adding these (and some other conditioners that are not rackmounted, but had the same basic specs), I have not experienced any electronic equipment loses. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I researched Furman and a few other companies before buying and Furman came out top rated. The bottom line is I have confidence in them.

Front of one of my racks, showing the Furman power conditioner

Close-up of the front of the Furman

The receptacle spacing on the back is well designed to take both wall warts and plugs. I would never fully populate the receptacles because I do not want to tax any single power outlet. If I were to add another of these to any rack I would make sure I split my power sources between two different circuits. That is just me being cautious. I have also never used the front receptacle on these racks - except to quickly test a piece of gear - because I prefer to have minimum cabling (power or signal) plugged into the front of my racks.

Keep in mind that the depth of these are shallow, so if you were to place deeper rack mounted gear like power amps on the top and bottom you may have a difficult time plugging or unplugging cords and wall warts.

I also use standalone surge protectors. My favorite model is the Tripp Lite TLM825SA

I use this both indoors and outdoors as a protected outlet for two keyboards and, sometimes, amps. One rule of thumb I use is to not overload protected power strips. The two keyboards I plug into this does not come close to overtaxing this device or power outlets into which I plug it, and for amps, this model also works well.

Some features I love include the 25 foot cord, which is heavy duty and is sufficiently long for any conceivable placement situation I will encounter. And because the cord is heavy gauge, and the housing is metal, this protected outlet is designed for rigorous use.

Tripp Lite's reputation for quality, reliability and safety is another reason I purchased this unit. I am a firm believer in safety and will not cut corners.

One final piece of gear that works for home studios, and venue stages (indoors and outdoors): Wiremold Company Brown 15Ft Cord Protector.

This will protect electrical (and other types of) cable, which will actually breakdown if repeatedly stepped on. It also removes a tripping hazard, improving stage safety. The half-inch opening will accommodate most electrical cable, up to heavy duty 12/3 (12 gauge, 3 wire).

In addition, it is great for protecting XLR cables, snake trunks and speaker cables. This molded protector can be cut down into shorter lengths to protect only exposed runs across a stage or studio. This makes it economical for situations where the main cable runs are along walls and do not need protection. It works well as a permanent solution for fixed stages and studio spaces, as well as a temporary solution for stage set-up indoors or outdoors. Most folks overlook this simple, effective piece of gear. It will save your cables and make your playing area a lot safer it you use it.

In my next post, I will continue with electrical equipment to provide protection (for gear and musician safety) for outside playing situations.

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Quick Tips (fills, dynamics and melody)

In my last post I provided a few of Ed Soph's quick tips, focusing on tempo and touching upon dynamics. In this post I am going to continue with Ed's quick tips, this time focusing on fills, dynamics and melody.

Tip - Fills (and dynamics)

Reinforcing Examples. These examples show two masters of dynamics - Papa Jo Jones and Alan Dawson - matching the dynamic level of the music and musicians. As described in the tip, both Jones and Dawson perform their fills at the same dynamic level as the grooves they are employing. Pay close attention to Jones because there are many subtle things happening rhythmically and dynamically. Notice how each of them never plays louder than the instruments they are supporting - they find their spot under the music and support it. This is underscorded by Dawson's playing because he never gets louder than Rollins, and takes care to ensure that he also does not overpower the bass.

Jo Jones Caravan

Alan Dawson Trading Fours with Sonny Rollins

Tip - Know the Melody. This is probably one of the most important tips for jazz and blues drummers. Listen to just about any jazz or blues (not rock-oriented music called blues) and you will probably hear the drummer playing the melody. If they are not playing the melody they are usually supporting it with counterpoints and comping. Regardless, you still need to know the melody if you are going to support it.

Reinforcing Examples. Mel Lewis playing The Cute is definitely supporting the melody, and Vernel Fournier's groove on Poinciana is a masterful creation that actually harmonizes with Ahmad Jamal's melody line. There is a lot to learn from Ed's quick tip and these two examples.

Tip - Create a Melody. This tip is about a practice regimen more than a playing technique, but when I get to the reinforcing examples you will see some of the fruits from incorporating this into your practice and mindset.

Reinforcing Examples. Listen and watch as Al 'Tootie' Heath, Joe Morello and Alan Dawson incorporate the melody not only in their grooves, but in their solos in these four clips. It's obvious that each of these drummers practiced and thought in terms of melody. Listen to each a few times each pass will reveal a structure in their playing that is tied to the melodies of the songs they are playing. This did not happen by accident. Ed Soph's quick tip is not revolutionary - drummers have been incorporating this advice forever. Sadly, I see little evidence in many drummers of all experience levels today.

I hope this is helpful.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Some Quick Tips (tempos and dynamics)

Ed Soph has a series of quick tips, all of which are pure gold and a few of which are essential for any drummer. While the examples are jazz-oriented, they can be adapted to any genre, and especially blues.

Tip - Tempo Control:

Tip - Ride Technique:

Tip - Up Tempo Ride Technique:

Reinforcing Examples. The following are examples from real life (and famous performances) that reinforce the above lessons. First is Max Roach backing Clifford Brown on Cherokee. Max maintains full control over the tempo, which is pretty fast, and his playing also exemplifies ride technique, especially at extremely fast tempos:

Another outstanding example of tempo control and ride cymbal technique is contained in this clip of Tony Williams backing Miles Davis. Tony's ride technique is simply amazing at any tempo, and here he manages to maintain a very fast tempo on the ride without dragging or rushing.

There is enough here to study, digest and incorporate. Tomorrow I'll continue with more quick tips.