[Your blog host 1986]
Today’s post isn’t the usual here at Off Beat. It is not a historical piece, or an exercise, or a video. It is a declaration, from the heart, about why I love this instrument that has had such an impact on my life. I am posting this in hopes that you will be able to relate and share your own experiences in the Comments section of my blog below. The goal is to share our collective stories. I first took up the drums in junior high school. After a year of drum lessons I got my first kit, a gorgeous white Pearl Export series that I wish I had kept to this very day.
Soon after I got involved in my school’s music program and over the years played drums in the choir, symphonic, stage, drum line, and percussion ensemble. I also played in a couple garage bands and competed in Nashville TN with the marching band. This was followed by performing at the Mellon Jazz Festival and with the PITT Panther college drum line. I was also named co-captain my senior year of high school. As I grew into adult hood I became a writer for two major drum magazines, penned a best-selling instructional drum book and became friends with many drummers at every level. I share these accomplishments not to brag but to explain how drums have affected my life in such a positive way.
I love everything about the drums. From cleaning and setting up my gear in a series of never-ending configurations – to tuning and experimenting with different heads and accoutrements. I pride myself on maintaining my equipment and having a set-up that is original. “Traditional” doesn’t work for me so my drums are oddly arranged. I love the fact that I have a custom wrap that makes my drum’s appearance unlike any other’s and am grateful to work with endorsement companies who believe in me just as much as I believe in them. Having my own signature stick is a blessing beyond compare. I am also thankful for all of the drummers, professional and amateur, who have inspired me to become better.
Playing-wise, I love performing, practicing and shooting videos (albeit phone quality) which have resulted in both good and bad feedback. I love my practice pad. I love rudiments, my favorite being the paradiddle, and the challenges that come with learning sticking techniques. My strive to become the best drummer that I can be, not the unrealistic and ego-driven desire to be THE best, has enabled me to maintain the fun of the instrument. As it is not my full-time vocation I have the luxury of walking away for a while if I become frustrated or uninspired. The instrument waits for me to return and is always there. There is no feeling better to a drummer than to lock into the pocket and become one with their instrument. I for one will never stop seeking that feeling and looking for the next groove.
[Still shot from 1964 performance ]
Today I want to briefly discuss “feathering” the bass drum. You “feather” a bass drum by striking it very lightly with your bass drum beater. This technique’s origins are often credited to my favorite drummer Papa Jo Jones. The concept of “feathering” was used primarily in early Jazz music to maintain a pulse and prevent the drums from overpowering instruments that had no amplification. As one who often struggles with a heavy foot, playing softly is a lot harder than it looks. At least it is for me. In fact, it is one of the biggest challenges that I face as a drummer. Steve Smith has mastered this style of play and offers up a great lesson. According to him:
Begin with the heel down style of playing. The heel down technique produces a more legato, resonate sound which is generally desired for this style. Your foot should be comfortably on the pedal with your heel on the heel plate. Using the weight of your leg and perhaps a bit of foot pressure should make the beater sit about 1 to 2 inches from the head. When making the stroke you should strive to keep that 1 to 2 inch distance between the head and beater. The space should only widen when you intend on making accented strokes. The feathering stroke is compared to lightly tapping your toe, however, plenty of sound will be generated from the small ankle movements. Allow the beater to rebound off the head. The finishing position should be the same as the starting position. The main point is to get the bass drum head vibrating just enough to generate some low end frequencies, you don’t need to hear the attack and definition.
I recommend practicing with just the bass drum. That way you will have no distractions while you build up muscle memory and can accurately judge the quietness of each stroke. Once you master the feel add the other limbs and practice it all over again. Try a simple pattern 1-2-3-4. Then add 1-and-2-and-three-and four. Then mix them up: 1-2-3 and 4 etc. Remember to play as softly as possible while keeping the beater close to the drum head. There is a great example of this technique in Jone’s Caravan solo from 1964 (below). Note at the 2:33 mark how he uses dynamics to establish a backing groove to what he is playing up top on the rims. You can barely hear it but it feels the space perfectly. This is the “feathering” technique personified: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3QFNNk3tgI
Today I want to share one of the most unique drum performances I’ve watched in a long time. The track comes courtesy of my pal Steve Goold who is the drummer for Sara Bareilles and Owl City as well as several jazz and church ensembles. I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve for a feature in Drumhead magazine a couple years back titled “The Gospel of Goold”: http://www.pinstripepress.net/Goold.pdf. Since then Steve has become one of my favorite drummers. Following that story Steve and I became friends and he has provided me with some excellent insights and inspiration. We both share much of the same philosophy both musically and spiritually. This track was filmed at the Drumeo studios where Steve was appearing as a guest. Check out the offbeat rhythms throughout, the cool use of the splash cymbal and shaker, as well as the interesting pattern he uses on the hi-hat. His playing transitions seamlessly throughout the song and his timing is locked in. In an interview with Priority Access Steve shared his affinity for the groove. “I play music because I love music and I specifically entered the music world with the drum set because I really love groove.” If you want an example of an innovative groove that is dependent on the fundamentals of drumming this is it.
UPDATE: Steve offered some additional insights on this post: Thanks for the shout out, Mike! Trivia facts: this entire part was my attempt to recreate the synthetic loop that’s present in the studio recording of this tune. We tried it at rehearsal with me just playing the track samples on my SPD but it lacked the energy that Sara wanted, so I had to figure out a way to make the transcription and feel of the loop translate to an actual drumset. No toms, no ride or crash, and the splash on the snare helps to create a distorted clap sample.
Today I would like to introduce you to ‘FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids.’ I co-wrote this award-winning instructional book/DVD with my friend Rich Redmond (Jason Aldean band). Our goal was to provide an instructional program that catered to young students (ages 5-10) in a way that mimicked elementary school education. Published by Modern Drummer and distributed by Hal Leonard, the book is set-up like a workbook with games, flash cards, illustrations, photography and our custom drum notation for learning music. The book received a lot of praise from the drum community upon its release. We were surprised to learn that the book is being used by drum shops and music schools across the country and abroad for older students who are just beginning to learn the instrument. The book won “Best in Show” at Summer NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and is an Amazon Best-Seller in four countries (USA, UK, Canada and Spain). The best way to explain the origins and philosophy of the book is to share a video example that comes with the DVD. I am also posting a PDF link to our informational packet that further explains the book and the opportunity to become a FUNdamentals franchise (minimum 25 copies purchased).
Promo and Franchise Opportunity (PDF): http://www.pinstripepress.net/FUNdamentals_Information.pdf
We also developed a classroom teaching aid: http://www.pinstripepress.net/FUN_Teaching_Aid.pdf
I am VERY fortunate to have the support of some outstanding companies who have made me one of their artists. I only preach what I play and I truly believe in these amazing products:
Most folks know I’m anything but “traditional” when it comes to drums from my set-ups to my videos. Lately I have been entertaining the idea of turning my bass drum over into an upright position to be played with my sticks in conjunction with my toms. I feel I can create some very interesting rhythms by treating the bass like a primary tom. The inspiration for this setup comes from Maureen Tucker from the Velvet Underground. According to her bio “Tucker’s style of playing was unconventional. She played standing up rather than seated (for easier access to the bass drum), using a simplified drum kit of tom toms, a snare drum and an upturned bass drum, playing with mallets rather than drumsticks. She rarely used cymbals; she claimed that since she felt the purpose of a drummer was simply to ‘keep time,’ cymbals were unnecessary for this purpose and drowned out the other instruments. Rock critic Robert Christgau said of Tucker, ‘Mo was a great drummer in a minimalist, limited, autodidactic way that I think changed musical history. She is where the punk notion of how the beat works begins.’” Here is a diagram I put together depicting this unique setup. You can watch Tucker perform with this configuration at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbryJqOFxOs.
One of the recent trends among drummers has been to combine various types of cymbals together in interesting formations to produce one-of-a-kind sounds and textures. When you stack the cymbals together, they can vibrate against each other, creating a complex sound. I recently began experimenting with stacks. This came about after I watched a video with Questlove (The Roots and Jimmy Fallon) in which he used a configuration featuring a 12” ozone crash stacked on top of an 18”dark china boy. I tried a similar set-up before settling on two configurations: 1) a 10” china on an “18” crash or 2) an 18” crash/ride mounted on top of a 20” heavy ride. It literally sounds like a garbage can lid with sizzle. I am still able to play or crash on the bottom ride around the edges. I have also experimented with some cheap off-brand cymbals I had laying around with similar results. Trash stacks are a great way to expand the effects options on your kit and can be used in a variety of ways. I prefer using it for accents, off beats and alternating beats (between one of my two hi-hats).
It’s hard to believe one would intentionally mix together good sounding cymbals to create a trashy sound but it works. According to the Luke Snyder Music blog post titled Why Every Drummer Should Stack Cymbals: “Another good reason to try stacking cymbals is that you can get fresh new sounds using stuff that you already have. Sometimes, you just need a new sound on the drum kit to get your creative juices flowing. With drums, you can grab a key and re-tune them. With cymbals, not so much. So in some sense, stacking cymbals is sort of a way to tune them.” Another advantage to stacking cymbals is making use of cracked cymbals. Instead of tossing them you can extend their life. Often they make a sound that you can’t reproduce with uncracked cymbals. Here’s my set-up:
Special thanks to our friend Richard Williams over at the Old Virginia Blog for sharing my article on Civil War era drummer boys. Check out his blog at: http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/. While I’m on the subject of the Civil War here is a shameless plug for two of my books on the topic: The Civil War in Spotsylvania County and Historic Churches of Fredericksburg.
Today’s post expresses my own personal feelings on the subject of the single vs. double bass. This debate has raged on since Louie Bellson pioneered the double bass kit and it continues to this very day. I am a proponent of the former and take a great deal of pride in my bass drum foot. I practiced the heel toe and slide methods over and over until I was able to play doubles with no strain. I must admit that I used a double bass pedal in my youth but nowadays I don’t really play the kind of music that would necessitate one. Unfortunately many drummers have become dependent on double bass and often overuse it. I had the honor of being a judge for three rounds at the local Guitar Center Drumoff. Although there were some great players, almost all of them brought their own double bass pedals and used them extensively. As a result, their feet distracted from their chops. What I find interesting is how many double bass players from back in the day have switched back to single bass drums. For example, Tommy Lee and Frankie Banali have stripped down their entire kits from the monstrosities that they played back in the 1980’s. I actually believe that it has improved their playing. Now I understand that not everybody has a bass drum foot like John Bonham, in fact very few people do. That said, one should not become so dependent on double bass that they are unable to play without them.
Let’s briefly talk about rudiments. I know this is a touchy subject for some drum set players who feel they are unnecessary but I maintain that rudiments are the foundation of all drumming. As one who has a drum line background I can attest to the challenges of playing rudiments effectively and the hours I spent practicing them. I’m still working on them. In my opinion, having a basic understanding of the simplest patterns and rolls are absolutely essential to being a well-rounded musician.
My favorite rudiment is the Paradiddle. According to the definition “When multiple Paradiddles are played in succession, the first note always alternates between right and left. Paradiddles are often used to switch hands. Paradiddles are a quick succession of drumbeats slower than a roll.” The Single Paradiddle (RLRRLRLL) is the 16th drum rudiment in the Percussion Arts Society standard list of Drum Rudiments. There are also two variations to the single paradiddle. The first inversion is RRLR LLRL and the second is RLLR LRRL. Paradiddles are among the most versatile rudiments as it works well by itself and within the context of drum set playing. One must master the double stroke roll to play this drum rudiment effectively.
All that said Paradiddles are not popular with everyone. John Bonham once said, “It’s all very well doing a triple paradiddle – but who’s going to know you’ve done it?” I hate to contradict the great Bonzo but… The Paradiddle is one of the finest drum rudiments for coming up with great sounding drum beats and fills. Regardless if the audience can specifically identify them as “Paradiddles” they are certainly affected by the rhythms they produce.
Here’s a short Facebook video showing a Paradiddle exercise I like to do for my warm-ups (*you must be signed into Facebook to view). The sequence is single-double-triple configuration and then back again (in reverse). The key is to transition smoothly between each segment. If you were playing on a drum set this would be a dynamic way to move between the snare and toms for a fill. I’m pretty proud of this one…