Going acoustic to electronic


You may remember our friend Mike “Woody” Emerson aka “The Gigging Drummer” who we interviewed a while back (Read Here). He’s known nowadays as “Woody Rockinfeller,” drummer for the popular 80’s cover band The Rockinfellerz. We asked Woody about his conversion from acoustic to electronic drums for his latest gig. He gave us his thoughts, experiences, as well as the pros and cons.

Hi Michael! The “gigging drummer” aka “Woody Rockinfeller” is honored and excited again to be part of your Off Beat series. Well first of all…I have a new band (because I can’t stop my passion of playing drums) The Rockinfellerz. Yes with a “Z” at the end. (The other spellings were already taken. Ha!) And yes, I did answer a Craig’s List ad. I showed up at the audition for the band and there was an electronic drum set there (Roland TD-20X drum brain for V-drums). Ok stop! I’ve played on one twice filling in for my friend JR’s band live and of course being an idiot in the drum room at Guitar Center who didn’t like it. It felt weird.

So anyways, I got the job and I played on the “electric thing of a jig” for rehearsal. It was already set to a mixer at low volume with guitar, bass, keyboard and vocals so learning songs was easy to hear. We booked our first show and I was excited to bring out “The Beast” my Ludwig seven piece with Roto Toms cowbells, blocks, lots of cymbals and a bunch of other percussion fun. The show was in a couple weeks. I was still playing on the electronic “thing” but as I was playing on it my keyboardist Phil Rockinfeller showed me that the rims and pads can be programmed to do anything I want. So we started putting in cowbells, tambourines, clap sounds ect.

Yes it was a little fun (shhhh did I say that?) because a lot of the songs that we cover are from the 80’s (my favorite genre) which had a lot of double track studio magic and electronic drums in them that my acoustic drum set can’t do live. So I agreed to use them for the first show. And I’m sorry to the “The Great Almighty Drum God” they worked out well and yes, that’s why I’m still playing them now.

The difference between playing my acoustic drums and the electronic ones live is the “big drum sound” response time is gone! If my monitors in the mix on the Rolands are too low it sounds like I’m hitting practice pads. I go through the motions, but I don’t know what it sounds like coming out of the P.A. system. Meanwhile my Ludwigs, when mic’d, sound great to me. Still, when the mix out front is too loud I can’t tell. It’s misery for the audience if they can’t talk to each other or order drinks at the bar which is why we get paid!

When I’m on stage with the Rolands I can have a conversation with my band while playing live. There is no ringing cymbals or drums so we can talk about the next song we’re playing or if my tempo is too fast or slow. But with my Ludwigs, I miss the power and the intensity which is the reason I started playing drums in the first place.

I have a few pros and cons between electronic vs. acoustic. First off, since the Roland’s cymbals are rubber, or whatever it is made of, I don’t brake drum sticks or have huge chips in them, plus I love this one, my wrists don’t hurt as much after playing a two hour show because I’m not hitting metal rims or heavy crashes. Plus the setup time for the Rolands takes way less time to setup on stage.

The pros on my Ludwig set is that it looks cool on stage when the lights shine on them Ha! It’s easier to hit the drums without triggering a programmed rim (which I do often) and I can hear them without a monitor. Of course, the big sound is there when you just tuned them to your liking. Oh what a feeling! The cons I pretty much just described in the differences. You have to decide for yourself what you like. I’m just happy to still be playing out live and I don’t care if it’s on an electric or acoustic drum set. Like Sonny & Cher sang “The beat goes on.”

Visit The Rockinfellerz on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TheRockinfellerz/

 

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Inspirational Kids

One of the goals of our book FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids was to inspire our readers by introducing them to their peers. Here’s two obvious choices that we highlight in the book’s history section (click image for full-size):

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The Paradiddle

We all have our favorite rudiment. My personal favorite is the paradiddle. I just love the feeling and flexibility of it. A paradiddle consists of two single strokes followed by a double stroke, i.e., RLRR or LRLL. When multiple paradiddles are played in succession, the first note always alternates between right and left. Therefore, a single paradiddle is often used to switch the “lead hand” in drumming music. It is also common to accent the first stroke of each diddle (Rlrr Lrll).

For a little history, the word “paradiddle” is probably of an imitative origin. The history of these words (if taken apart) is: “para” (which means “beside” or “beyond”). It was spoken by people of Greece starting about 1000 B.C. and “diddle” (which means to “move with short rapid motions”) and is of unknown origin. In percussion, a “diddle” consists of two consecutive notes played by the same hand (either RR or LL).

Some songs that prominently feature the paradiddle are “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly, “Vaseline” by Stone Temple Pilots, “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and “You Fool No One” by Deep Purple.

Mark Feldman over at Big Bang Drum School has generously posted a 100-page PDF of Advanced Paradiddle Exercises by Dave Tough. Tough was a drummer who was active from the 20’s through the 40’s. He played with swing bands including those of Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. You can read Tough’s bio over at Drummerworld. Tough’s approach to teaching the paradiddle is outlined in the Foreword of his book:

“I have designed this book for the advanced student who has a knowledge of the rudiments of drumming. The book deals with the three forms of paradiddles – single, double and triple, each form represented and mixed in each of the two hundred exercises. This will assure him of improved coordination, technical development and fluency of sticking in his practical day to day playing. It will be invaluable to the individual, while practicing these exercises, to play two or four foot beats to the bar. To my knowledge, this is the only book published that is devoted entirely to varied paradiddle exercises. In conclusion, I have found that too little time is devoted to the practicing of varied combinations of paradiddles, and it is my sincere hope that this book will prove to be an aid in acquiring a well-rounded system of drumming.”

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Four-on-the-floor

Some of the most underappreciated drumming came out of the disco-era. As a precursor to modern day electronic dance music disco made funk music approachable by the masses. Four-on-the-floor is a rhythm pattern used primarily in disco music. It is a steady, uniformly accented beat in 4/4 time in which the bass drum is hit on every beat (1, 2, 3, 4) in common time. I love locking in to a beat in four-on-the-floor and riding it throughout an entire song.

To make this beat sound clean and powerful you have to make sure there’s no flaming. Flaming is where one strike falls just before or after another. You want the beats to line up perfectly for a nice, fat sound. Practice this with a metronome first. Start really slow so you can train your muscles and your ears. You can do this at speeds as slow as 45 beats per minute (bpm). As you progress, increase your speed by five bpm at a time. When you work your way up to 120 bpm, you’re ready to play this drum pattern with music.

What I like about four-on-the-floor is that you can let the other instruments shine and create the groove. Syncopate heavily with other instruments, especially the bass. The easiest way to create some interest in a four-to-the-floor beat is to get rid of the kick every once in a while. For instance, try removing the first kick every 9th bar of your drop. Here’s a perfect example of four-on-the-floor in a classic disco song:

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Johnny Guerin

Perhaps the most famous drum break in television history came on the opening credits for the television series Hawaii Five-O. Johnny Guerin was the drummer on that session and his performance has been replayed over and over for years thanks to syndication. Appropriately, Guerin was born in Hawaii and raised in San Diego. He was self taught on the drums. Guerin learned by playing along with Court Basie recordings. In the late 1960’s he became a successful session drummer and worked with such notable artists as Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Frank Zappa and Ella Fitzgerald. From mid-1972 to early 1973 he was the drummer for The Byrds and he also played in Joni Mitchell’s back-up band LA Express on tour during the mid- to late-1970s. He had a brief relationship with Mitchell and she later wrote the song Hejira about leaving him. Guerin had a diverse approach to the drums and was a leading exponent of the jazz-rock style. He was extremely prolific, and played in many different genres, including for film and television. In later years, Guerin worked with Oscar Peterson and Ray Charles. He also worked on the soundtrack to the 1988 film Bird by Clint Eastwood. Guerin died of heart failure on January 5, 2004 leaving behind a long legacy of music. No piece of work is more recognizable than his epic opening for Hawaii Five-O. (The theme song was covered by the Ventures, who took the song all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.)

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The Banda


Formed in 1506 and often called the “smallest army in the world” or the “Pope’s army”, the Swiss Guard have had a rich and storied history. Their main duty is to protect the pope and ensure his safety. Besides that, they also perform various ceremonial responsibilities: guarding the Apostolic Palace, keeping vigil at various Vatican checkpoints, and taking part in celebratory masses and events. They even have their own musical band called The Banda. Those who are musically inclined join it. The band performs each year at the swearing-in ceremony and other special occasions like Christmas or National Day. The drummers today can be distinguished from other Swiss Guards by their use of a different uniform. Visit Inside the Vatican: Christmas with the Band of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

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Guest Speaker

Back when I was more active in promoting my Civil War books I was a frequent guest speaker. I spoke at museums, churches, libraries, round tables, banquets, film screenings, and even wineries. I recently wrote a 30-40 minute presentation on the history of the Civil War Drummer Boy. In it I cover many subjects that present the history of the drummer boy along with specific stories of those that have left their mark on history. Included are the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga, the Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock and three Medal of Honor winners. I still have yet to rehearse the entire presentation but I may shop it around to see if I can generate any interest. It would be nice to get in front of an audience again. This would be especially enjoyable as it would allow me to combine my interests in the Civil War and drumming. I could promote three of my books to include Historic Churches of Fredericksburg, The Civil War in Spotsylvania and FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids. If you know of anyone that may be interested in this I am looking to possibly present it in person and/or online.

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Need for Speed

When I was growing up nobody played faster than Dave Lombardo of Slayer. Nobody. Even fellow thrash drummers had a hard time reproducing the sheer velocity of Lombardo’s hands and feet for an extended period of time. Lombardo’s feet were exceptionally mind-blowing. Drummerworld crowned him “the godfather of double bass” for his unparalleled fast and aggressive style of play. Unlike his predecessors Lombardo actually used both of his bass drums. In an interview with Guitar Center in the spring of 2012 he said: “I don’t like a double pedal because when the beater hits, I immediately come back with the other pedal. And that head is resonating, which creates a momentum that isn’t helpful. It throws me off balance. With two bass drums, I don’t have any problems. It’s just a feel thing.” When playing the double bass, Lombardo uses the ‘heel-up’ technique and places his pedals at an angle. Here’s a video of Lombardo in action showing his rapid-fire hands and feet technique.

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The Damaru

I’ve been spending a great deal of time listening to Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay). There are many lessons posted online of him teaching at the Plum Village Monastery. He relaxes me on the train ride home from work and I’ve learned some things about the practice of Buddhism that fascinate me. The practical application of the lessons are interesting.

Music is an important part of the monk’s tradition whether it be chanting, bells, or drums. One drum in particular is the Damaru, a small double sided hand drum. There is a leather string tied over the narrow middle part of it, where knotted, wooden or bone ends make of rattling sound on the drum’s membranes, when swung.

According to its description: It is a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck – like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unamani fest and manifest. Damaru has a resonator which is anywhere from 4 – 10 inches in length and 3 – 8 inches in diameter. The resonators are laced together with cords. The knots on each end strike both heads to produce a rattling sound. This is affected by rotating drum rapidly in alternating directions. The pitch is bent by squeezing lacing. When a damaru is vibrated it produces dissimilar sound which are fused together by resonance to create to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation.

Like many ancient religious practices drums are commonly used for ceremonial purposes.

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Medal of Honor

I’ve written extensively on the history of the Civil War Drummer Boy here before. One search for the term will bring up over a dozen posts exploring the subject. No instance however presents a story quite as remarkable as that of Johann Christoph Julius Langbein.

J.C. Julius Langbein was born in Germany in 1845. His family immigrated to the United States when he was still a young boy. Langbein grew up in Brooklyn, New York and at the onset of the American Civil War, he volunteered at the young age of only 15. With his parent’s permission Langbein enlisted with the Union Army’s 9th New York Volunteers, also known as Hawkins’ Zouaves. There he served as a drummer boy. Langbein was young and small, with feminine features that earned him the nickname “Jennie” by the soldiers in his regiment. In January of 1862 his regiment joined General Ambrose Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition.

During the Battle of Camden on April 19, 1862, Lieutenant Thomas L. Bartholomew was hit in the head by shrapnel and collapsed. Langbein ran to his aid despite continued heavy enemy shelling and rifle fire, and managed to guide the officer to relative safety. The regimental surgeon determined that the officer was too far gone to save but Langbein was determined that the lieutenant would not be left behind to die. He snuck him into the wagon of other wounded men headed to the federal hospital on Roanoke Island where he received life-saving care. After the Lieutenant’s recovery the drummer boy was subsequently recommended for the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery and valor that can be bestowed upon a member of the United States military. One such citation is that of the Medal of Honor for Johann Christoph Julius Langbein. It stated: “A drummer boy, 15 years of age, he voluntarily and under a heavy fire went to the aid of a wounded officer, procured medical assistance for him, and aided in carrying him to a place of safety.”

According to his bio Langbein left the regiment in 1863 and returned to his home in New York City. He took up the uniform again in 1869, this time as an infantry officer with the New York National Guard, where he rose to the rank of captain. Returning to civilian life once again, Langbein became a lawyer and then judge in the state of New York. In 1905 he was elected commander of the Medal of Honor Legion. (Drum and Drumsticks used by Langbein)

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