Archive for 2011

another approach…

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I have a lot of middle school and high school students who have very busy schedules. I try to give them ideas for ways to rehearse efficiently, get things done in a short amount of time and gain some technical mastery while they are at it.

The truth is that a student’s rehearsal time is often dictated by 1) what the next audition requires, 2) an upcoming concert, or 3) something that the student heard played by one of their drum heroes on a web video. The focus is momentary, but at least there is motivation to learn. Longer-term goals and objectives aren’t necessarily in the mix…

Lately I have started to ask my drum set students to improvise for a few minutes every day. I learned this from a Billy Martin video, “Life on Drums”. Improvising opens the mind, keeps the brain “in the moment”, and is fun! Does it help with the next marching band audition? Probably not, but it does give the student a sense of what is possible on the instrument. It also can expose things that we want to play, but cannot, at the moment execute as well (or at all) as we would like. Finally, it gives the students a way to build their own “personality” on the instrument, something that is important for every drummer to develop, no matter the type of music that they play.

looking for parts

Students often bring in tunes to learn parts or write new ones. If they are working on originals or something that doesn’t have a good drum part already recorded, we go through the process of writing a new or different part. I spend the first lesson working on song form, learning the lyrics, knowing when the song changes direction harmonically, or makes a dynamic change that needs a set up. Then we look at what can logically be done to make the transitions in the tune. I add to that a few things that help me to keep focused on playing for the song.

Knowing the bass player (if you have one) and their style, feel and abilities is critical, not to mention the rhythm section in total. Writing a groove or pocket requires that I try to find a spot that pulls the entire rhythm section together (unless you want a more “jangly” feel), so that everything supports the vocals.

The very last thing I do is to put together fills for a tune. If it is a live situation, I tend to think of a rhythmic “shell”, the length and placement of the fill, and the direction that I want to move the tune toward, or a particular effect (build, pull back, etc.). Then I play as few notes as I possibly can to do what I want. If it’s a studio gig, the fill gets played the same way during the recording as it was rehearsed, just to keep surprises to a minimum.

For inspiration, I listen to drummers that really make that happen for me, particularly ones that have the ability to take very simple grooves and turn them into magic. Brian Blade, Billy Ward and Jim Keltner come to mind, along with a few local folks that I occasionally get to hear live.

The oldest licks in the world come alive if played the right way in the right place…

new day

The day after 9/11, I realize more than ever how important the presence of music is in the life of people during good times and bad. The FDNY pipe and drum band, armed forces performing groups and the artists that performed throughout the ceremonies added immeasurably to the solemn gatherings that were held at the 9/11 memorial venues. Add to that concerts and memorial services held across the country, and you get the picture of a country that embraces music during its most solemn and important moments.

Nearly all the performances included percussionists in all types of settings, including concert band, orchestra, or contemporary pop music. The obvious connection of drums to military events is not lost, but in this case, the percussionists participated in requiem masses, spirituals and tributes. It was reassuring to me to hear percussion instruments used in these memorials. The drums in the pipe bands, the back beat in a country ballad, the timpani in the Mozart Requiem all added to the day.