“Practice makes perfect.” We all know that isn’t true. However, practice does make you better. In fact the very essence of a musician is built upon how seriously he or she takes their craft. The ability to practice varies. Some players have all the time in the world to finesse their chops while the vast majority of others have to fit practice in between the daily demands of life. Family, work and other commitments dictate when, and sometimes where, one can rehearse. I have a limited amount of time to work on my chops so I work very hard at making the time I do have as beneficial as possible. This requires time management and accountability. One way that I tackle this challenge is to keep a practice diary next to my drum set. In it I record what works, what didn’t work, what I did well, and where I need to improve. The next time I sit down to practice I look at the diary and see what items I need to address. In addition to keeping me honest, it also serves as a motivator. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment as I can see exactly where I improved. Sometimes I will video myself and watch it back later to critique my playing just as an athlete does. Another way to make practice time count is to take risks and try new things. If you sound good all the time you probably aren’t learning anything new. Struggling through a particular pattern or part means you are truly working at it. Relying on what you already know will prevent you from growing as a musician. Try playing music that you don’t normally listen to. Spread your wings and try to expand your skill set. If anything you will pick up some tips you can use in your own genre. Nothing worth having comes easy. Now go practice…
Monthly Archives: June 2015
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle
I started playing drums in middle school during the 1980’s, right at the onset of the heavy metal movement, when spandex-clad musicians with hair that defied gravity dominated MTV and the radio. I can still recall the outlandish drummers of that time, neck-deep in gimmicks that ranged from gigantic wrap-around sets to the use of chains in place of cymbal stands. Pyrotechnics trumped technique and drum solos became death-defying circus performances that seemed to go on forever. Overkill was the norm. The introduction of the drum rack empowered these players, who competed against one another to see who could amass the largest collection of toys. Like most fads it started out cool – and ended up comical. One can only speculate on how much scrap metal came out of this era.
As much as I enjoyed watching those types of drummers and their apocalyptic drum solos, that kind of showmanship was never “my thing.” I always favored the standard 5-piece kit (trimmed down to a 4 piece after GnR’s Steven Adler made it cool to dump a rack tom) with just enough cymbals to get the job done. OK, maybe the occasional splash or china was thrown in for effect and everybody had a set of roto-toms and a cowbell, but for the most part, I wasn’t immersed in an avalanche of wood shells and compressed metal.
This “mainstream” approach served me fairly well for many years until one day I felt as though I had hit a wall. Suddenly, I had no creativity, no desire to practice and no excitement about exploring my instrument. I’m not sure if it was middle-age or boredom, but whatever it was, the feeling of discontent almost drove me away from the drums for good. My stark realization was that I had invested years of practicing and performing, yet I never quite felt like I knew who I was when I sat down on the drum stool. I was lost and even worse, I was fake. My style was a hodge-podge of tricks stolen from drummers who I liked at the time.
I always worked hard on maintaining a solid groove, but my fills were never really “my own.” If it wasn’t considered cool, I probably didn’t do it. Frankly, I was trying too hard to be someone else instead of trying to be me. It took quite some time for me to figure that out and in the course of that revelation I began to strip away the very conventions that had become my mainstay. First and foremost was the need to redefine my kit. First, I dumped both rack toms, then the double bass pedal. The majority of extra cymbals went next. This is where I began to make the distinction between ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ The more stuff I discarded, the more my voice began to emerge. It became a challenge of sorts to see if I could get by without something that I had depended on for decades.
Although something positive was obviously happening, I didn’t quite make the full commitment. I still had doubts about myself which were really fears…fear of trying something new, fear of failing at something I thought I was good at, and fear of what other drummers would think. This required me to push myself and go even further. I looked to the examples of minimalist players that were practicing a “use it or lose it” approach to their playing. These guys had guts and clearly did not cater to anyone else’s perception of what a drummer should be. (Phil Rudd comes to mind.) I found myself becoming inspired by these simplistic and unconventional drummers who stood in stark contrast to the players I had looked up to in my youth. It was the polar opposite of the overkill approach that had defined my early years.
Eventually I decided to just go for it. The process required me to take an honest and sometime painful look at myself as a musician. What was I truthfully good at and what did I just think I could do. This led me to recognize my own strengths, weaknesses and passions for playing. That resulted in a renewed and even brazen attitude toward drumming. Soon after I found myself scoffing at all convention and tradition and committing fully to going my own way no matter how odd it may have seemed.
This “drummer’s block” I was experiencing had manifested in my adult years as I had lost my focus. I was distracted and in order to refocus I had to get rid of the extraneous things that had ultimately made me a poser. The result was an uber-minimalistic kit consisting of a bass drum, snare, floor tom, crash/ride, and two hi-hats. That’s it. Looking at my sparse setup I felt pride for the first time in a very long time.
What had initially felt weird, now felt invigorating. My playing immediately took on a new flavor and I was inspired. My pals who are pros had already figured this stuff out. Each one of them had already defined their own niche in the industry by being true to themselves. (That’s what sets them apart from the rest of us and makes them professionals.) Although I never tried to be like any of the drummer’s I had relationships with because it felt strange to me, I totally impersonated the drummers who had influenced my past. And since I was obviously not as good as those guys, I came off as a hack. At least that’s the way I felt.
After years of uncertainty, I finally found a configuration that truly worked for me and I could make it sing. Finding the right drum setup was a key to finding the right drummer. For me, less is more and the philosophy behind that mindset is that more creativity is found within less opportunity. Today, my fills are actually mine. My compositions are original and my chops have never been better. This is because I constantly strive for improvement and practice is fun again, yes even rudiments. I’m no longer trying to learn how to play like ‘so-and-so,” I’m trying to learn how to play like me. Other musicians who I am playing with are responding positively and they actually want me behind the kit, not someone who sounds like [insert famous drummer here].
My work as a drum journalist has enabled me to build relationships with many professional and amateur drummers from all genres. Some of these musicians are renowned players that I looked up to as a kid. Some even call me a friend which still amazes me. The wisdom that I have gleaned from these players has been incredible. They have taught me is that drumming is as personal as your signature and your drum kit is as individual as your fingerprint. In order to truly grow as a musician you must acknowledge that fact and embrace it. The journey starts there…
I don’t review gear here at Off-Beat as there are other people who specialize in those types of reviews. Most of them know more about drum equipment and manufacturing than I will ever know and are far more qualified to critique them. One such individual is Sheldon Kreger at Pro Drum Blog. Sheldon does an excellent job of presenting evaluations on all kinds of drum equipment from albums and cases to instructional books. Most impressive is the World Drum Database that Sheldon designed with his friend Johnny Rabb (Yes, THAT Johnny Rabb). According to Pro Drum Blog “ Drummer List is the one-stop database for drummers worldwide. Register your free account and let the world know of your passion for drums! Your profile will be part of the world’s ultimate list of drummers. Drummer List isn’t just for individuals. You can also register your drum company to be listed for free on the site. If you’re wondering who plays drums in your area, use the search tool to find drummers in your city. Add your profile for free and let other musicians around the world discover you!” According to his bio Sheldon is inspired by the way the internet has connected musicians in the last decade, and seeks to build strong relationships between students, teachers, vendors, fans, and all individuals who love music. Visit Sheldon’s blog at http://www.prodrumblog.com/.
Thanks to John Salazar for answering our call for ideas. John’s question: “Locking in with the bass” was a term I heard frequently as a young drummer, but really never knew what it really meant until I was much older. Could you explain the “locking in” relationship between a band and how it works?
It goes without saying (at least on this blog) that the most important part of any band is the rhythm section. Drummers and bass players are the foundation of every song. The ability for each musician to lock-in with one another sets the tone. Drummers and bassists hold similar roles to hold down the bottom end while establishing the groove. Both musicians need to maintain the same tempo and agree where the band can find the downbeat. This varies from one music style to another; the bass may be on the beat, in front of or behind the beat. Synchronicity can be achieved if the drummer has good meter and plays a constant kick pattern. Good drummers will listen to the bassist playing and accentuate it. Good bassists are able to strip down the drummers beat to hi-hat, kick and snare.
According to Smart Bass Guitar “…drummers are dynamic. There are times when certain drums hit at the same time as others, spread apart from others or remain consistent over the pattern. There is one big pattern, the collective sound of the drums being hit in a particular arrangement, then there are smaller patterns, the loops that individual drum pieces are playing. Upon understanding the patterns that are emerging within the drummer’s groove allow you the bass player to see where exactly to make your bass line shine through without ever having to play too much.”
Locking in is more art than science as it all comes down to feel. Drummers and bassists need to listen to one another. Both should feed off the other and complement each other’s performance. Timekeeping and maintaining the foundation should be the goal of every rhythm section. Good rhythm sections bring out the best in any band. Great rhythm sections do it naturally so nobody notices.
Today I want to discuss the effects of technology on music. No doubt the Internet has changed the way musicians communicate with one another. Nowadays, fans can email their idols, students can study with teachers abroad, and bands can audition new members from anywhere in the world. Thanks to the World Wide Web, musicians never have to be in the same place at the same time and the possibilities for collaborating are endless. Social media sites, to include Facebook, YouTube and Skype, have enabled musicians to connect to an infinite audience by posting videos or sound bites. Anyone can showcase their music, anywhere, at any time, to anybody. This capability can be a double-edged sword. I read an article lately that said that Google, despite being a great tool, has had a harmful effect on the learning process. The theory is that many people no longer feel the need to learn things as they can look them up on the Internet using a search engine. I am guilty of that.
According to a Braathe Enterprise article titled Is Technology Ruining your Education? “Our generation’s experience with ever-developing technology is nothing short of mesmerizing; it is a process that simply cannot be ignored. Today, a four-year-old child is just as likely to play games on a portable tablet (navigating it with ease), as they are to pick up a set of Mega Blocks. As time goes on, the trends of using and heavily relying on technology for entertainment and education are becoming increasingly popular. Even though the advances in technology are truly amazing, many people worry that it is not only altering the educational experience, but hindering it as well.”
I have used the ‘Net for quite some time to promote my various projects and publications and the relationships I have gained as a result are priceless. Outside of this blog, the most enjoyable interaction I have is through my videos. Many of these lessons are raw and were shot using an iPhone but recently I upgraded. There is something about teaching someone a new pattern, fill, or warm-up routine that really pleases me. I’m the first to admit that I am far from being an expert and there are multitudes of teachers out there who can play circles around me but in my own small way, I am contributing to the drum community. I, in turn, benefit too by learning from other’s videos. The proverbial drum circle goes round-and-round.
When I co-authored my first drum book I knew the print audience was our target demographic but once the book was released as an eBook the digital format opened up a whole new world. Readers could now download the book and corresponding videos instantly and view them on any device they wished. It is the speed in which we can acquire and discern information that makes the ‘Net incredibly powerful and scary all at the same time. We must remember that the foundation of music is the musician’s connection to their instrument. We must still learn how to play, cultivate our skill level, and practice. We must never let technology trump musicianship. Remember that learning is the foundation of all that we do and not all answers can be found on the Internet.
I’ve been amazed (and grateful) for the increasing number of visitors and views over the last few weeks. It appears that this blog is resonating with the readers and I am just getting started. When I began this blog I intended to use it as a way to keep my writing chops up and share some insights on my passion for the drums. Since then I have blogged about a wide variety of topics relating to the instrument. This includes history, interviews, articles, lessons and philosophy. In an effort to continue this momentum I am asking readers what subjects they would like to see covered. Just leave your suggestions in the comments below and I will use them for future posts.
Today I want to present a quick analysis of my all-time favorite drum fill. This beauty comes to us from the Simple Minds hit song “Don’t You Forget About Me” and occurs at the 3:42 mark of the album version. Mel Gaynor performs this gem and it has become a fan favorite among drummers. Here’s a breakdown:
The fill actually starts on the ‘+’ of beat 3 where Mel moves down to the snare drum to play a thirty second note roll (played RRLL). The roll then turns back into single handed sixteenth notes for the whole of beat 4 and beat 1 of the next bar. Mel doubles the left hand that falls on the ‘e’ of beat 1 of bar 2 creating a little offbeat moment of interest. The sixteenth note roll then moves into beat 2 before Mel moves his right hand to the open hi-hat on the ‘+’ of beat 2. The hi-hat closes on beat 3 where the pattern that was played in beat 2 is then repeated again for beat 3. The drum fill ends with a great little roll down the toms and double handed crash stabs. The left hand plays the crash on the ‘a’ of beat 4 while the right hand plays the crash on beat 1 of bar 3. (analysis courtesy of drumstheword.com)
Yesterday I was informed by our friends at Modern Drummer that FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids is now being released as an eBook. This is extremely exciting as the printed version is doing very well. It won “Best In Show” at Summer NAMM and is an Amazon Best Seller in the USA, UK, Spain and Canada. Technology is changing the way people absorb information so it is only logical that books are made available in two formats. Some folks will enjoy setting the physical book on a music stand while others will use one of the available digital devices. The book and DVD are a package deal but the eBook will be available with or without the video content. Stay tuned for ordering information which I will update here.
UPDATE: Order your digital copy here: http://moderndrummer.storenvy.com/products/13485522-fundamentals-of-drumming-for-kids-digital
Welcome to Off-Beat’s first “Get to Know” interview where we present up-and-coming drummers who are making their mark and gaining notoriety. Our inaugural guest is a young man named Brandon Scott. I was first introduced to Brandon when he shot a week long video blog while attending JP Bouvet’s Drum Camp in 2013. (JP has been a great supporter of our FUNdamentals book and even provided us with an endorsement quote prior to its publication.) Throughout the video Brandon’s enthusiasm for the instrument was abundantly clear. I was also impressed with his sincerity and wit. A few months later I came upon some of Brandon’s “formal” video blogs and lessons on his YouTube channel. Once again his personality grabbed my attention and I found myself watching each one. I also played along to some of his exercises and found them to be very beneficial. This included lessons on displacement, sextuplets and ghost notes. Brandon also produced videos on how he built his own snare and bass drum. The production quality of these videos was exceptional and as good as anything I’ve seen on the Drum Channel. In addition to providing private Skype lessons, Brandon also gigs with a number of local artists.
MA: What first drew you to the drums? Why the drums?
BS: My Dad influenced me to play drums! He had been playing drums ever since he was a kid. I remember he had set up a home studio in the garage with all this gear as well as his five piece ‘Premier’ drum kit. So, me being an eight year old who liked to hit stuff, I played my dad’s drum set all the time. Also, one thing that may have contributed to my decision to play drums is when my older brother started to play guitar. I remember I used to just copy everything my brother did so I was like, “Well… I can’t copy my brother and play guitar too, so I’ll just play the drums!” So tried it out and have been playing ever since.
MA: You’re very active on Social Media and have done some excellent videos. What aspects do you think are most beneficial to having an online presence?
BS: It’s crazy to see how important social media has become in the past few years. I personally think it’s an absolutely perfect tool to use when you or a company wants to advertise themselves to people around the world. I feel like a big part of being “discovered” as a musician is just being seen. You need a way for thousands of people around the world to have access to your content and YouTube is the perfect tool to make that happen. I always think about it like this: When I play a local gig with bands in the area, only a select few people get to see that. Only those people at that bar just saw me play and now we’re done. They may never see me play again. Conversely, when you upload a video to YouTube, that content stays there forever and the entire world has access to it. One of the biggest perks to having an online presence is that ability to connect, learn and influence others around the world and social media has made that so easy.
MA: Your chops have grown incredibly since you attended JP Bouvet’s 2013 Drum Camp. How did it affect your playing and philosophy on the instrument?
BS: JP’s camp definitely did play a huge role in my progression as a musician. He changed the way I thought about practicing, kind of in a very simplified way. You find the problem in your playing, and then fix it. That’s it. I think one of the most difficult things about improving on drums is trying to find out what to practice. During camp I began focusing on weaknesses I had in my playing and JP helped me recognize those weaknesses and attack them. Sometimes it’s hard to sit down and be like, “Alright, I suck at this… let’s figure out how to work on it.” That’s really all it is. The next thing is how you spend your practice time. I used to sit down and just chop out for hours and call it practice, but it’s not. That’s playing. Of course, I do still sit down and chop out because it’s fun. But, when I’m actually practicing something, I’m focusing, trying my best to give it the attention it deserves. Soon you begin to crave those moments of overcoming challenges behind the kit. You feel your limbs become comfortable playing what was awkward to you 30 minutes ago but you can now play them! It’s so rewarding and it just kinda snowballs. I became addicted to practicing properly and JP helped me realize that. Lastly, the amount of inspiration you leave camp with is monstrous. You feel like you can rule the world. When you get home you feel so refreshed and inspired because you just spent a week surrounded by other musicians who share the same passion as you. That post-camp inspiration is what drove me to practice hard for a very long time.
MA: You’ve made your own snare and bass drum. Did that project give you a greater appreciation of the instrument?
BS: Yes. It totally did. I’ve always been into crafty stuff, so the building process was enjoyable for me. It’s very tedious, but I had the patience for it. You spend all this time and effort into building this piece of wood that is now complete and you can’t help but feel good about your work and the fact that you get to play it is the best part. You appreciate the instrument more because you understand the amount of work that goes into making it. You know every inch of the drum because you build built it from the ground up. Even when I look at other drum sets I observe more detail of how the kit was built (Dimensions, Hardware, Finish, etc.) I’m a total gear-head so every year at the NAMM convention I run around like a kid in a candy store.
MA: Where do you see your drumming taking you?
BS: That’s the million dollar question. Haha! I ask myself that all the time. Honestly, I don’t know where it will take me. I love it and I want to find a way to make it my career. I remember in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I knew is I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle for the rest of my life. I want to travel the world. I want to influence others. I want to be able to support myself (and eventually my family) doing what I love. I want to be able to look back at my life and be like, “dang… ya did good, Brandon, ya did good.” Haha! I always tell people I would rather be barely scraping by financially by playing drums, than be filthy rich working a job I hate. I think it’s very important to make a career out of something you enjoy doing. I’m sure most people would have it that way if they could, but it isn’t an easy thing to make your hobby a career. Although, I truly believe that if you’re passionate enough about something, you put the work in, and you stay focused, things will come your way. It sounds cheesy but I really do believe that. I have a feeling everything is going to work out for me. I don’t know where drumming will take me, but I know I’ll be playing for the rest of my life.
I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss creativity. Creativity is perhaps the most important word in the artistic world. It means no limits. Anything and everything that you can imagine generates from creativity. I’ve posted about unique setups and styles before and now I’d like to get a little more philosophical. Ideas are precious no matter how complicated or how simple they are. Ideas are what built society as we know it today whether it be through language, architecture, invention, or art. Everything was spawned from an original idea. This is very true in drumming. Most drummers have the same “tools” meaning four limbs and a pair of sticks. No matter the size or configuration of their kit or what style of music they play these are constants. It is what they do with them that sets them apart. Creativity and an open mind can generate endless possibilities. Think about your favorite drum parts, fills, rhythms, or musical exercises. These represent someone else’s creativity. Now think of your own perspective. What creative things can you come up with?
Here’s a very simple example of my creativity. I like to shoot drum videos. Unfortunately every one I’ve done so far took place in my practice room which also doubles as a bedroom. No matter how good the video turns out the environment it was shot in is always “blah.” I have a large pool in my backyard which inspired me to move outside. Instead of carrying my kit outdoors I built my own mini kit (above). The 13” bass drum was created by converting a PDP tom, the 10” Pearl popcorn snare is mounted on a music stand, and the GonBops tambourine is doubling as the hi-hat. The grooves I intend to play are completely improved and I am hoping they result in some cool patterns. Here’s a pic of the kit. I will post the video here as an update once it is completed.