Category Archives: Drums and Drumming

P4 Practice Pad

I’ve reviewed drum pads here before but none have been as versatile as the P4 Practice Pad from Drumeo. Known for being one of the most successful online drum communities Drumeo worked with educator Pat Petrillo to design this unique training tool. Petrillo is the author of “Hands, Grooves, & Fills.” I’ve yet to come across a drum pad that features four playing surfaces. Each section is elevated to simulate the same movement one would experience around the drum kit. Each surface provides a different rebound.

The large blue section is your standard drum pad gum and is meant to simulate a snare drum. Next to that is a black surface that gives a little and is supposed to simulate a rack tom. To the right of that is a white area that is less responsive and is supposed to simulate a floor tom. Top red level is hard and emulates a cymbal to act as a ride.

I had a great time moving about the pad from section to section as if I was moving about the kit. You can also use the pad in a traditional manner and focus on specific surfaces for specific exercises.

According to Drumeo there are three specific areas of improvement the P4 will provide:

  • Speed and fluidity around the drum-set
  • More consistency and accuracy on all surfaces
  • More musical and creative practice sessions

According to Petrillo the P4 helped his students to replicate the feel of moving around the drum set and work on independence techniques. In addition to being able to practice drum set-like exercises anywhere, you can do so in a quiet fashion. Just throw the P4 in your bag and pull it out whenever you want. I highly recommend this product as one the most dynamic practice tools I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

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Holiday Shopping Solved

This week marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. I’ve already promoted my drum book. Why not consider purchasing one, if not both, of my History Press books on Civil War history?

Historic Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy: This book recalls stories of rebellion, racism and reconstruction as experienced by Secessionists, Unionists and the African American population in Fredericksburg’s landmark churches during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Using a wide variety of materials compiled from the local National Park archives, author Michael Aubrecht presents multiple perspectives from local believers and nonbelievers who witnessed the country’s Great Divide. Learn about the importance of faith in old Fredericksburg through the recollections of local clergy such as Reverend Tucker Lacy; excerpts from slave narratives as recorded by Joseph F. Walker; impressions of military commanders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson; and stories of the conflict over African American churches.

View book cover (PDF)
Purchase on Amazon

The Civil War in Spotsylvania County: Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads: From 1861 to 1865, hundreds of thousands of troops from both sides of the Civil War marched through, battled and camped in the woods and fields of Spotsylvania County, earning it the nickname ‘Crossroads of the Civil War.’ When not engaged with the enemy or drilling, a different kind of battle occupied soldier’s boredom, hunger, disease, homesickness, harsh winters and spirits both broken and swigged. Focusing specifically on the local Confederate encampments, renowned author and historian Michael Aubrecht draws from published memoirs, diaries, letters and testimonials from those who were there to give a fascinating new look into the day-to-day experiences of camp life in the Confederate army. So huddle around the fire and discover the days when the only meal was a scrap of hardtack, temptation was mighty and a new game they called ‘baseball’ passed the time when not playing poker or waging a snowball war on fellow compatriots.

View book cover (PDF)
Purchase on Amazon

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Youngest Drummer Boy?

Gilbert Van Zandt is believed to be the youngest enlistee in the Union Army during the Civil War. Born on December 20, 1851, “Little Gib” joined the ranks of Company D, 79th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the age of ten years, seven months, and sixteen days. Before enlisting, Van Zandt had volunteered as a drummer for the local recruiting office. He hoped to encourage men to enlist in the Union Army at the beginning of the war. He wore a uniform designed by his mother. Barely four feet tall, Van Zandt served initially as the company’s drummer boy, and later as a courier for the regiment. Distinguished for his bravery under fire, young Gilbert saw action in the battles for Atlanta, Sherman’s March to the Sea, and the Carolina Campaign. He was discharged from service on June 9, 1865, already a seasoned veteran at thirteen. President Andrew Johnson offered the young veteran the choice of attending the United States Military Academy at West Point or of keeping a pony that Van Zandt had used in the war. Van Zandt chose to keep the horse, which he had named “Fannie.” Van Zandt died in Kansas City, Missouri on October 4, 1944 at the age of ninety-two. His lengthy life made him one of the last surviving Civil War veterans. For a free 50-page book on the wartime experiences of drummer boys from both sides download The Long Roll.

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NIN Polyrhythms

Today I would like to talk about polyrhythms. The definition of a polyrhythm is this: A polyrhythm, also called ‘Cross-rhythm’ is the simultaneous combination of contrasting rhythms in a musical composition. Rhythmic conflicts, or cross-rhythms, may occur within a single metre (e.g., two eighth notes against triplet eighths) or may be reinforced by simultaneous combinations of conflicting metres. Simply put, a polyrhythm is more than one type of rhythm that is played at the same time, with each rhythm containing a different subdivision.

One of my favorite modern composers, Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor uses polyrhythms frequently. One notable appearance is in the song “La Mer” from the album The Fragile. The piano holds a 3/4 riff while the drums and bass back it with a standard 4/4 signature. It’s genius.

He also uses a moody, polyrhythmic composition for “The Lovers,” off the Add Violence EP which began with a combination of idiosyncratic drum and synth loops.

Perhaps the most famous song is “Piggy” from The Downward Spiral which features a polyrhythmic drum solo with beats wildly falling inside and outside the song’s meter. It was played by Reznor himself, originally just as a placeholder.

Hesitation Marks’ “I Would For You,” “Copy of a” and the sci-fi flavored “Running” are all driven by rolling techno polyrhythms. NME critic Louis Pattison recognized this and stated: “This is the sound of a cleaner, smoother Nine Inch Nails, one that delights in complexities of rhythm more than caustic blasts of rage.”

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A Great Gift

This week marks Black Friday. That means the Christmas shopping season has begun. Why not give your child or beginning drummer a copy of FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids? It’s a best-selling and award-winning program guaranteed to introduce them to the instrument in a fun and inspiring way. It’s available in print or electronic formats and is perfect for students and teachers. Go to our Amazon page at FUNdamentals on Amazon to get the print version or our FUNdamentals Modern Drummer page for the eBook! Also visit our Course Syllabus linked above for more information and materials.

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Webb vs. Basie


UPDATE:
As a continuation to my post below. Here is an article posted in a 1938 issue of Downbeat magazine recalling the January 16th Battle of Bands at the Savoy that featured Chick Webb (with vocalist Ella Fitzgerald) and Count Basie (with vocalist Billie Holiday). This night was exceptionally memorable as Benny Goodman’s band, including drummer Gene Krupa, arrived after playing their own concert at Carnegie Hall. Duke Ellington also arrived and wound up swinging along with Basie on the piano after being persuaded to play. Both bands brought the roof down but Webb’s orchestra came out on top.

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Chick Webb “The King of Swing”

You know somethin’, man? Some day I’m gonna be walkin’ up the street one way and you’re gonna be comin’ down the other way, and we’re gonna pass each other and I’m gonna say ‘Hello, best white band in the world’ and you’re gonna say ‘Hello, best colored band in the world.’ – Chick Webb

Introduction

No one studying the history of drums could dispute the remarkable influence and legacy left behind by the amazing Chick Webb. Despite having physical limitations from contracting spinal tuberculosis shortly after his birth Chick stood out as one of the greatest drummers of his era. His keen ability to swing in a way that truly complimented the other musicians or singers around him was second to none. Chick knew when to play time and when to stand out. Many drummers today could take a lesson from listening to the remarkable “Stomping at the Savoy” or “Blue Lou.”

The Savoy (where Chick led the house band) regularly featured battles between the name big bands of the day, with Chick Webb’s band taking on the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. Chick usually came out on top and is said to have put Gene Krupa in his place. Over the course of his career Chick spread the popularity of contemporary big band music among the black community by becoming their champion. His inspirational story of a man who rose above his physical limitations to become one of the best big band drummers of all time is an amazing story in itself, but the music he left behind is just as remarkable.

A Star is Born

It never seemed more unlikely that a child would grow up to become a star than it did with the birth of Chick Webb. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, to William H. and Marie Webb, Chick was born with a deformed spine due to tuberculosis which caused him to appear hunchbacked. It also stunted his growth which made him appear much shorter than those without his affliction. It is said that his doctor first suggested that he take up a musical instrument to help “loosen up” his spine. Chick took his advice to heart and delivered newspapers in order to save up enough money to buy his first set of drums. Showing an aptitude for them he was playing gigs on pleasure boats by the age of 11. Realizing that in order to support himself he had to go where the music was Chick moved to New York, Harlem to be exact, when he was 17. Jazz drummer Tommy Benford began giving Chick drum lessons upon his arrival and Chick started leading his own band. Chick was unable to read music, and instead memorized the arrangements played by the band and conducted from a platform in the center. The year was 1926.

Chick quickly established a name for himself and often sat in on sessions with players like Duke Ellington. Shortly after he formed his own quintet, and played for five months at the Black Bottom Club. He then formed an eight piece band called the Harlem Stompers who played the Paddock Club, moving next to the Savoy, and setting up there in 1927. This band grew to eleven members, and by the end of the 20’s they were gigging at all the major jazz clubs in the city as the Cotton Club, the Roseland, and the Strand Roof. In 1930 they toured with the “Hot Chocolate Revue”. By 1931 the band was made the house band at the Savoy, which would last for the next five years. They also did road tours and other dates at clubs such as the Casino de Paris, but it was the Savoy where they would be called the Chick Webb Orchestra. According to Cootie Williams, Chick was “perhaps the greatest natural bandleader jazz has ever known…Any musician that worked with Chick…became a great musician.”

Chick’s Kit

By then Chick had become a well-known drummer enough to endorse the custom made instrument that was constructed to counter his affliction. According to a blog post at Gretch.com titled “Chick Webb the Savoy King” Chick was probably the first real drumming star to be promoted as a Gretsch artist. The Gretsch catalog features a great photo of Chick—touted as “the king of the drums”—enthusiastically swinging behind a Gretsch-Gladstone drum kit. “If Gretsch-Gladstone drums were unusual, Chick’s kit was downright unique. It was a combination of drums and “traps”—percussive sound effects including temple blocks—all mounted on a rolling console frame. The bass drum was 28” in diameter; the “rack” tom was 9×13, and the floor tom was 14×16. Zildjian cymbals–one large on Chick’s right and one small on his left–were hung on loop hangers from gooseneck stands attached to the bass drum. The drums were covered in a striking oriental pearl finish inlayed with contrasting green sparkle “chicks” around the center of each drum.”

Going to War

“Battle of the Bands” was a huge crowd-draw during this time. Two bands would take turns on the bandstand playing their hottest arrangements with the dancefloor crowd acting as judges and picking the winner. Chick’s band was considered to be among the best. One such battle inspired a Down Beat critic to write, as quoted in the book Ella Fitzgerald, “Chick had such amazing musicians in his band and they played with so much feeling and fervor that they swung the crowd right over to them, astounding everybody.” They competed against the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra beating them both but they lost to the Duke Ellington in 1937. In 1938 Chick’s band was declared the winner over Count Basie who said he was relieved to come away from the contest without embarrassing himself. Gene Krupa was also bested by Chick’s band and was left drained and defeated. Krupa, years later recalling the event, wrote, “I’ll never forget that night. Webb cut me to ribbons!”

Ella

The band was to enjoy a long run at the Savoy then when things couldn’t seem to get better, he replaced his longtime vocalist with a young Ella Fitzgerald. She had won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater. This move took the band to a whole new level. Ella would captivate the Swing Era of jazz with hits such as “A-Tisket a Tasket.” In 1937, they got a regular radio spot on NBC. They played at the prestigious Lowe’s State Theater and at the Paramount, and, in December, became the first Black band to be hired at the Park Central Hotel.

Life and Legacy

In November of 1938, Chick’s health began to decline. Despite this he continued to play, refusing to give up touring so that his band could remain employed during the Great Depression. Chick disregarded his own discomfort and fatigue, which often found him passing out from physical exhaustion. Finally, he had a major operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1939. Webb died from Pott disease on June 16, 1939, in Baltimore. Reportedly his last words were, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.” He was roughly 34 years-old. Chick was buried in Baltimore County, in Arbutus Memorial Park, in Arbutus, Maryland. On February 12, 1940 a crowd of about 7,500 people attended a Chick Webb Benefit in Baltimore, Maryland.

Following Chick’s death, Fitzgerald led the band until she left to focus on her solo career in 1942. The band was renamed Ella and Her Famous Orchestra with Fitzgerald taking on the role of bandleader. She recorded nearly 150 songs with Webb’s orchestra between 1935 and 1942.

Chick Webb was a major inspiration for all the drummers in that era, including rivals Art Blakey and Gene Krupa, and would go on to influence drummers as Buddy Rich, who studied Webb intensely, and Louie Bellson. He was the consummate showman and with his rhythmic style, was perfectly suited for the swing era. He raised the standard for drummer awareness, and paved the way for drummer led bands. Perhaps Krupa best summed up his mentor when he exclaimed in Modern Drummer, “He had style!”

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Remembering a Master

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Today is the anniversary of the death of Tony Thompson. (November 12, 2003). Whether in the studio or on stage his pocket was second to none. He is truly missed. Here’s a post featuring Tony from a while back.

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Review: Art Imitates Life

“Progressive” is a word that is often thrown around for music that is indescribable. “Unique” and “Avant-garde” also come to mind. It’s a definition for music that challenges the listener to open up their ears and their minds. Such is the case with Hepcat Dilemma’s latest release Art Imitates Life. The album, released on vinyl, is the first record from the band in 17 years and it is well worth the wait.

How would one describe Hepcat Dilemma? An incredibly original band from their music, to their look, to their branding. Hepcat has crafted a truly unique style and presentation. How do they sound? It’s hard to describe but the easiest way would be a cross between King Crimson and Frank Zappa. They live in the world of odd time signatures and thought-provoking lyrics. Founding member Bob Loiselle (guitar), drummer E Hood, and Chris Colpo (bass, vocals) have crafted arrangements that take the listener on a musical journey. The Chauffeur Will Have the Last Word, Night of the Spiders and Blindsided in Aisle 12 are as distinctive as their titles.

I grew up with the band’s drummer E Hood and he is one of the best I’ve ever heard. His command of the odd time signature would make Terry Bozzio proud and he is the driving force behind Hepcat’s sonic “weirdness.” (I use that term in a good way). I’ll be interviewing Eric in an upcoming post. Hood introduced me to his band through live performances posted on YouTube. Each one showcased the band’s ability to play in another realm while not losing the audience. That takes skill.

Recorded at Hollywood Studios their presence translates on each song and one can get a feel for what the band sounds like live. Hepcat fancy themselves a Rock band but this release shows that they are much more. Art Imitates Life is an excellent example of what can happen when a band refuses to compromise and puts themselves out there. For more information, visit https://hepcatdilemma.com/.

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Substitute Rig

Today I want to rundown my current rig. For practice purposes, that is, being able to practice whenever I want, I stacked the Ludwig Breakbeats kit in the corner of the drum room and set up my Yamaha DTXPLORER electronic kit and PercPad. The DTXPLORER is a fantastic and affordable e-kit that comes loaded with all the features.

It features 214 high-caliber Yamaha drum and percussion voices, 22 preset songs, 32 preset drum kits and digital effects. The high-impact rubber pads feature a natural feel and rebound. The preset kits are Rock, Funk, Jazz, Reggae, Latin Percussion and more. You can also create your own customized kit and store up to 10 drum kits.

There is a metronome included. You can combine clicks at the exact timing as you want to customize your own click patterns. Up to 30 patterns can be saved into the memory area. You can assign a different drum voice like a kick or a snare to each of five click value types (quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, or triplets). Moreover, individual volume levels for each of the five click beats can be adjusted.

The DTXPLORER comes with 22 preset songs. You can either mute the drum track or play the bass part only to play along with the songs in a virtual session. “Groove Check” function allows you to check on your playing accuracy (timing of hitting pads and how hard you hit pads). I particularly like jamming to the funk and blues songs. You can also connect a CD player, MP3 player, or other external audio device and play along with your favorite recordings.

On the side I am using an Alesis PercPad. This pad enables you to add four drum pads and an optional kick trigger to your acoustic or electronic kit or percussion setup. Its compact, fits on a snare stand, is easy to use, and it contains 25 sounds that are perfect for accessorizing standard drum sets. I primarily use it for auxiliary percussion. I also like the old school sounds it provides. I can program the DTXPLORER as a Hip Hop kit and add 80’s effects on the PercPad.

Obviously playing on an electronic kit is different from playing on an acoustic one, but it allows me the freedom to play whenever I want. I have a drum room but it isn’t sound proof. I do enjoy the flexibility to program whatever kind of kit I feel like playing and it’s a lot of fun to play along to the tracks. If you are interested in getting into electronics I cannot recommend the DTXPLORER and PercPad enough.

I plan on putting together some videos in the very near future featuring this setup. Stay tuned.

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