Read Exclusive Interviews written for Drumhead, Modern Drummer and Off Beat: Troy Luccketta – Steve Goold – Daniel Glass – Garrett Goodwin – Steve Smith – Dan Needham – Kelly Keagy – Scott Pellegrom – Brandon Scott – Mike “Woody” Emerson – Ben Barter – Rich Redmond – Sean Fuller – Jason Hartless – Robert Sweet – Keio Stroud – Tommy Taylor – Frankie Banali – Bobby Z – Danny Seraphine – Dino Sex– David Abbruzzese – Marisa Testa – David Thibodeau – Robert Perkins – Sarra Cardile – Bill Stevenson – David Cola – Next Up: Stan Frazier – Mel Gaynor
I trust you are enjoying your time under self-quarantine. Someday we will look back on this experience and hopefully we will be able to say that we used our time wisely. Of course one of the benefits of having so much free time is the extra hours we have to practice. I have been spending time in the drum room working on exercises that I might not have otherwise spent time on. Displacement has been one of the exercises I have been spending time on. I enjoy the challenge it brings as you can apply it to any pattern. The key is to be able to apply proper coordination and independence. Here are the two videos I am using (Mike Johnston & Brandon Scott). I started out slowly and I am progressing slowly but surely.
Also…My friend and co-author Rich Redmond has generously released the transcriptions to the drum parts he performed on eight Jason Aldean records. These usually run for $15.99 a pop. You can download all of them for FREE to help pass the time. Go to: https://richredmond.com/shop/.
Those of you that frequent this blog know my affinity for the mixing of electronic and acoustic drums. I spend time going between both kinds of kits and have worked with triggers and sample pads in the past. I recently came upon someone who is bridging the gap between electronic and acoustic sounds. His name is Ran Levari and his YouTube channel is titled Breakbeat Meditations. Ran’s creativity shines through in his experimental compositions that truly exhibit what can be done. Through the use of electronic devices, sample pads, and a simple kit Ran incorporates unique beats that he accentuates within creative drum sounds. I had the pleasure of asking Ran a few questions about his drumming:
MA: When did you start incorporating acoustic drums and electronic instruments?
RL: I’ve been using electronic equipment in my setup since 2003, although by that time I was already heavily into electronic and sample based music. I grew up listening to Metal and Punk-Rock. The natural progression from there was hard Hip-Hop and Electronic music – that was in the mid 90’s. I used to go to lots of Jungle Raves and absorbed those sounds and all the Chillout tracks that were played after the party was done. Back then I played a lot of that music live, trying to get the same sounds and feel of the electronic beats from my acoustic kit.
During that time I also got into playing indigenous percussion instruments and studying the different rhythms and techniques. I played Congas, Bongos, Frame drums, Djembe and Djun-Djun in various ensembles and my kit was packed with bells, hand drums and pretty much anything I could get my hands on. (Literally…) I was so concentrated on my percussion studies that another discipline seemed too much and I let the initial DAW craze pass me by.
It was while living in NYC in early 2000’s that I realized I can’t depend on anyone else to write my musical ideas for me and I bought some basic electronic equipment – just a laptop, a sound card and some software. From there to implementing those sounds directly into my kit was an obvious step but it took me a while to figure out how to do it well enough that it felt like a single unit.
I started out with the Roland pads – the SPD-S and the Handsonic. Both I still love and use quite a lot. After that came the Korg Kaoss pad and the Elektron Octatrack which turned out to be the hub for my live setup. I used some more controllers over the years, but most I left in favor of a simpler setup.
I try to treat electronic equipment the same way I treat other instruments. I’m a percussionist, I’ll press down on a drum head to muffle the sound of a stroke or turn a knob on a filter to cut off a high frequency – it’s the same thing to me. (At least conceptually.)
MA: What challenges are there using acoustic drums and electronic instruments?
RL: The technical side of things is definitely a challenge. It can be hard enough to be on top of a drum kit. Add to that a multi-effect sequencer, triggers, mics, midi splitters, a laptop and a sound card – each with their own eccentric behavior and a 15 minute change-over before your festival slot can be quite stressful…But that becomes easier with experience.
For me the greater challenge is musical in nature – it’s trying to meld the acoustic and electronic pieces of gear to one organic set and not get too technical about the instrument as a whole – to keep it playful and interesting for myself and hopefully for my audience. It’s very easy to lose yourself in a sea of endless possibilities when augmenting your kit with electronics. That creates situations where too many options are paralyzing and you find yourself having to ‘work’ for your gear instead of having it work for you. Too many samples, too many knobs to turn, it gets messy. That’s why I tend to favor hardware to laptops – it keeps me focused on less options and that in turn makes me more creative.
Going back to my percussion background – that’s exactly what some of my heroes excel at – master like Zakir Hussain and Giovanni Hidalgo can keep you mesmerized for a very long time by playing just one or two drums. I try to adopt some principals from the older drum traditions and adapt them to my needs – mainly the idea of the drummer as a story-teller.
MA: Can you give us a rundown of your acoustic drums and electronic instruments?
- 1967 Slingerland kit
- 70’s Premier kit
- 1965 Slingerland Maple SD 14”x5.5”
- Early 70’s Ludwig Supraphonic SD 14”x6.5”
- Assorted found drums – Japanese, East-European etc.
- Assorted vintage cymbals 60’s – 80’s – Zildjian, Sabian, Paiste
- Roland SPD-S
- Nord Drum 3p
- Elektron Octatrack
- Korg Kaosspad 3
- RME Fireface 400 sound card
- Bome midi translator
- Kenton midi splitter
- Macbook Pro
- Ableton Live
- Propellerheads Reason
- Custom made headphones – Peltor casing with Sony membranes
For more information on Ran and his unique style, visit:
This month marks the five year anniversary of the Off Beat blog. Who knew back in March of 2015 it would still be going strong. Over the last five years I’ve posted over 550 posts to include exclusive interviews, drum history, gear reviews, music transcriptions, and more. I want to thank everyone who visits this blog and keeps it running. I average thousands of hits from hundreds of countries each month and that is what keeps me going. I promise to keep on coming up with new content as long as you keep on reading it. Now I’ll open this virtual bottle of celebratory champagne. Cheers!
Today I’d like to discuss the first (and most often) thing that we do as drummers. That of course is practice. It’s a dirty little schizophrenic word in every musician’s vocabulary that means both agony and ecstasy. Who doesn’t remember sitting at a drum pad for hours on end practicing sticking exercises and rudiments? How about working endlessly at the drum set on three way independence and syncopation? “Practice makes perfect” some say. Wrong! Practice makes you better. No one’s perfect.
That said, practice is perhaps the most important thing that we do. Establishing muscle memory, maintaining consistent time and getting the proper feel is an absolute necessity. Therefore the exercises that we do over-and-over-and-over are critical. Just like an athlete must sharpen their mind and body, so too does the drummer. Many people don’t know that there is a correct and incorrect way to practice. The biggest mistake that drummers make when practicing is trying to sound good. That defeats the whole purpose and stifles any growth or potential.
If you are really trying to get better you should struggle. That means you are learning. Only by challenging yourself, exploring places you’ve never been to and having the courage to take chances can you improve as a player. There is an old saying used by ballerinas that goes “Dance like no one is watching.” What an amazing concept. Practice like no one is watching. Be brave. Go for it. That’s how you learn. That’s how you improve. If it sounds good you’re not learning anything.
Barrett Deems was known as “the world’s fastest drummer.” With a reputation like that he earned premier billing at Chicago’s Randolph Square in the 1940s and accolades from Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. Beyond speed, it was Deems’s impeccable swing and bandstand drive that enabled him to maintain a career over seven decades. Deems was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1914. He started out backing famed jazz violinist Joe Venuti from 1937 to 1945. He achieved his greatest acclaim as a member of Louis Armstrong’s prestigious All-Stars band. Between 1953 and 1961, Deems played on classic albums such as Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy and appeared in films like High Society with Armstrong and Bing Crosby and Satchmo The Great.
Deems travelled the world with Armstrong on tours sponsored by the US State Department. At a concert in Ghana, Deems’s drum feature “Mop Mop” so excited the 100,000 crowd that a riot broke out. After leaving Armstrong, Deems performed with Joe Kelly’s Gaslight Band, and made periodic appearances with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band. In 1976 Deems toured Europe with Benny Goodman, in ’81 he traveled to South America with Bill Davison, and in ’86 he spent six weeks in Europe for the filming of The Wonderful World Of Louis Armstrong.
He continued to remain a big presence in Chicago and continuously fronted his own bands, including the Barrett Deems 18-Piece Big Band. According to an article in the Independent: “Researching for a programme on Armstrong a few years ago, the radio presenter and producer called at Deems’s home. It reflected the drummer’s personality. By now he collected drums and one bedroom was jammed to the ceiling with them. One of the largest was a bass drum that had been used in John Philip Sousa’s original brass band.”
Deems nearly died from a collapsed lung in 1993 but determinedly rose from his bed and continued to lead and play with the band each week until his death. You can hear Deems discuss Jazz Drumming on the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.
I’ve always been a big fan of disco drumming. Here’s an introduction to disco included in our book/DVD FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids:
To be honest I’m not really that much of a gear head. I do get to review gear on the blog from time to time but when it comes to playing drums I don’t get too infatuated with equipment. I’m not the kind of drummer that has to go out and get the latest double bass pedal and I don’t have a snare collection worth more than my car. That said, I do treat my gear very well. I currently have two kits, one acoustic and one electronic.
The acoustic kit is the Questlove Breakbeats kit that is put out by Ludwig. Positioned on a riser for optimum reach, it features a compact 14×16” bass drum, 7×10” rack tom, 13×13” floor tom and a 14” x 5” matching wood snare. It features Remo Pinstripe heads for pro-level tones, and comes with a multi-purpose bags for easy transport, and drum muting. The driving force behind these drums are the 7-ply poplar shells that produce punchy, focused attack with dry, clipped resonance. A 45-degree bearing edge ensures quick, classic shell response, while triple-flanged hoops endure the best rimshots. I bought this set because I was looking for a compact kit that didn’t sound compact. This one delivered.
The electronic kit is the Yamaha DTXPLORER. It features 214 drum and percussion sounds, 22 preset songs, and 32 preset drum kits covering rock, funk, jazz, reggae, and Latin styles. An array of onboard digital effects lets me tweak the sound to my liking. I can create and store up to 9 custom kits. The module also includes a multifunction metronome, backlit LCD display, and simple plug-and-play connections. Auxiliary inputs and MIDI outputs expand the kit’s versatility, allowing me to connect to a PC or other device. The headphone output allows quiet practice. (I supplement this set-up with an Alesis PercPad.) This kit was a gift from a friend. I was looking for something I could practice on any hour of the day.
Both of these kits serve their individual purpose and allow me to accomplish any goal that I have.
FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids is a great program that covers the important, but less-mentioned drumming topics for beginners such as stretching, warming up, and getting into the right frame of mind. The book progresses logically and contains material for true first-time beginners, as well as kids who have already gotten their feet wet and need a challenge. There is a hefty amount of FUN exercises and playing examples that will give the young reader a fundamental understanding of the drums.
– J.P. Bouvet
2011 Guitar Center Drum-Off Champion and 2011 U.S. V-Drums Champion
Perhaps the most important skill to learn in drumming is the proper way to hold the stick. The way one grips the stick is critical to how effective they will play. Proper finger technique and control of the natural rebound is essential.
HINGESTIX® Practice Drumsticks is a learning tool that helps drummers understand proper grip and finger technique. Each stick has a rotating finger pad that positions the thumb, index finger and middle finger for the perfect fulcrum. This ensures that the drummer maintains balance between the hands every time he/she picks up the sticks.
A winner of Best In Show at 2011 NAMM, HINGESTIX® makes it easy to guarantee that the user will build muscle memory over time and grip the sticks properly. HINGESTIX® are also endorsed by Bernard Purdie.
Sam Ruttenberg is the inventor of HINGESTIX®. He has performed with many stars and recording artists. He is also a successful teacher and clinician with a client list that reads like a Who’s-Who of famous musicians. Ruttenberg created the HingeStix® practice drumsticks as a learning tool.
HINGESTIX® lists the benefits on their website. Single strokes using the rebound. Like bouncing a basketball, the HINGESTIX® simulate a loose grip where bouncing becomes easier, Learning the double bounce for your “open” roll. Just throw the stick down once and let the stick bounce free for that 2nd stroke and Learning the all important “buzz” stroke for your long or “closed” roll.
They are now available as 5A Hickory Performance Drumsticks. I highly recommend HingeStix® for anyone looking to develop that perfect grip and natural control.
For more information, or to order your pair visit: https://www.hingestix.com/default.asp