Brazilian Drumming

Over the years, I’ve tried to learn different styles of drumming. One in particular that speaks to me, is the drumming from Brazil. The Bossa nova and samba are two rhythms that are pretty much required for any serious drum student. Dig a bit deeper and discover the baião, maracatu, frevo, choro and many others. Explore the different sounds and feels.

It has been my experience that any time I’m attempting to play a certain style of music, it’s best to listen to the masters of that style. Seeing written music may help understand the rhythmic foundation, but take the time to seek out recordings and really try to absorb it all. The feel cannot be notated. This applies to rock drumming, jazz drumming, reggae and, well… every style. Play along and have some fun!

More on Matched Grip vs. Traditional Grip

I’ve tried to become more in tune with my body over the years. This has included looking at and evaluating my drum grip (or hand position). One thing I like about both hands being “matched” is that I feel that I can experiment more with playing in an open-handed positioning. I have written a bit about this positioning before, and it’s something I’m still exploring. To be clear, I have seen great drummers who play traditional grip use their non-dominant hand on the hi-hat from time-to-time (Steve Gadd, e.g.). However, that’s not the most comfortable way for me. Certain grooves (50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon with Gadd on drums) do feel good to me with the traditional hand positioning.

Other times, I want to try and channel Carter Beauford and/or Billy Cobham and go for the open-handed positioning. Both of these drummers tend to play in the French grip positioning (palms facing each other), so this is yet another area to explore. I find that when playing in this fashion, I have lots of access to my fingers. JoJo Mayer has some nice exercises to develop this technique. All-in-all, when going back to my dominant hand on the hi-hat or ride cymbal, I feel stronger. I like that.

Traditional Grip vs. Matched Grip

Within the drumming world, there are people who like the traditional grip and others who prefer the matched grip. Some drummers switch back and forth between the two. I tend to play mainly palms down these days, with a few exceptions. There is no right or wrong here, but here’s my initial take on it. (I’ll write more on this subject in subsequent posts.)

First of all, I prefer the term “hand position” over “grip.” To me, the word grip implies that I’m holding onto the stick firmly. I don’t play this way, nor do the masters of the instrument. The dictionary talks about “the act of grasping” when looking up this word. That’s not what I do.

My first drum teacher played and taught the traditional grip, so that’s what I first learned. A few years later (while in high school) I found myself playing a slightly larger drum set (more toms, basically) and needing more power. I started experimenting with my hand positioning — both palms facing down. My palms tend to face slightly in — as if I’m bouncing a ball — not as though I’m about to do a pushup. Bring a basketball into where your drums are set up and bounce it a few times while looking at your hand position. Then, go and replicate that at the kit.

I started liking this “new” hand position and it worked well for the music I was playing at the time — rock and jazz/rock (or fusion). Not only did I have more power, but getting around a bigger drum kit was much easier. The drummers I was listening to at the time were also playing in this fashion. I was also playing percussion in the school’s orchestra, and the palms down approach allowed a nice way to approach the mallet instruments.

Take the time to look up the history of where the traditional grip (or orthodox grip) originated and stayed tuned for more on this subject.

Staying Excited

There have been times while playing music that I have felt inspired, and then other times when I’ve felt less so. My goal is always to perform to the best of my ability on any given day. If a certain night seems lacking in energy and/or inspiration I try to simplify things and focus on the basics. If I’m able to focus on locking in with the bass player, e.g., then perhaps the music will start to feel more energetic and alive. It also seems to help if I can focus on the other players in the band. Let me be as supportive as possible of the guitarist (during a solo, e.g.) and from there, the music has a chance.

Staying Relaxed

When practicing, I focus on staying relaxed, getting a nice sound and groove. I find that when I’m at the gig, there are times when the sound is out of my control. This could be due to playing on a “house” drum set and/or a louder than usual band situation. When that happens, my groove feels different and I can end up less relaxed. I have found that the best thing for me to do at that point is to let go of wanting to hear things exactly one way or another. Even though I tend to start being less in control and less relaxed, I very much need to be even more relaxed to stay in control. It seems to be a bit of a paradox, yet it seems to be what helps me in those situations. I’m not always successful at this, hence, I practice more. At the gig, I try to call on my muscle memory to guide me.

Locking In With the Bass Player

It has been my experience when playing in any musical situation that if the bass player and I can lock in and play well together, then the rest of the group will feel our groove. I’m always listening to the other players, but I’m also aware that my primary focus is on creating a danceable feel — regardless of the genre. I believe that any music and any tempo can be felt as dance music. Peter Erskine talks about his jazz ride cymbal pattern and making it “dance.” That has stayed with me, and it’s something I’m always trying to achieve.

Dave Weckl Drum Clinic

On December 5, 2013 I had the pleasure of attending a Dave Weckl drum clinic at The Toad Tavern in Littleton, CO presented by Rupp’s Drums

Here were the main things Mr. Weckl talked about:

  • Stick position: middle of hand — not the front. This would mean using the middle finger for the fulcrum — not the index finger. It’s something that I’ve been doing for while and really enjoy.
  • Traditional Grip (left hand): thumb is doing most of the work.

He stressed that most problems arise from not spending enough time working on independence. He then gave some cool exercises:

  • Independence: eighth note triplets with the feet (hi-hat followed by two bass drum notes); (1) the hands play a single stroke roll on top of that; (2) the hands play three notes each; (3) the hands play four notes each, etc.
  • Independence: Same three note idea with the feet (hi-hat followed by two bass drum notes), however, think in sixteenth notes now (not eighth note triplets; (1) the hands play a single stroke roll on top of that; (2) the hands play three notes each; (3) the hands play four notes each, etc.

He recommended two books:

  • Gary Chester — The New Breed; and
  • John Riley — The Art of Bop Drumming

He also talked about the importance of transcribing, saying that it helps in learning how to read music.

Drummers Are Musicians

Yes — Drummers are musicians. This is not always reflected in other people’s attitudes towards us.

I was preparing for subbing for a gig and the leader put lyric/chord charts into a cloud folder for me (along with mp3′s, as well). The charts had notes that related to the arrangements. These were not written out on staff paper, so I still had plenty of homework to do. Part of the email said, “I know the chords are useless to you…” There is an assumption being made here that, because I’m a drummer, I don’t understand these things. It’s been my experience that making assumptions can lead to problems, and it’s something I try very hard not to do. I responded, “chords are not useless to musicians who happen to be drummers.”

Alan Dawson made a point of stressing that he was a musician first and a drummer second. We are musicians who happen to play the drums. Thinking like a musician means learning music. Don’t be put off by this idea — embrace it. I would encourage every drummer to learn the piano.

Breaking Sticks (Not Breaking Bad)!

It’s not very often that I break drum sticks. I find that if I go back to my old ways and hold my sticks too tightly, then the sound gets choked and the greater the chance of me breaking something. By relaxing and focusing on fluid motions, my sound gets bigger and fat. This doesn’t necessarily mean louder — just full sounding.

I let my snare stick move as much as possible — even if I’m playing a backbeat and nothing else (no other snare notes). The same goes for my dominant hand which is usually playing the hi-hat or ride patterns. I don’t waste motions, but I don’t try to grip the stick either. The sticks want to move, so I let them move. After that, I have to decide what will happen next. That’s where the fun begins!