Monthly Archives: March 2020

Bridging the Gap

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:

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Half a Decade!

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!

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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.

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The World’s Fastest Drummer

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.

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Not everybody hates disco

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:

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