I was the host drummer at a jam session last night and some guitar player friends showed up. I was fortunate and got to play with them all throughout the evening. You never know who’s going to show up for a jam, and last night no other drummers showed up. I actually feel lucky in that situation, because then I get to play with my buddies. There was some nice music being made and I came away from the evening feeling stoked. I believe that this is the feeling that all musicians strive for, and it’s the reason we do what we do. Keep playing music and enjoy that interplay — that feeling can’t be replaced!
Simply put, I love what I do. Not only do I get to play the drums at many different kinds of gigs, but I also have the opportunity to influence students and try to impart some drumming knowledge. I’m never too old to learn from anyone, and I’m not too good for any gig.
If I take a gig that turns out not to be so fun, I believe that I have a choice. I can get bugged about it during the gig and think to myself how I’m a much better player than so-and-so; or I can try to connect with the people I’m with —musically and/or personally. I can usually make one of those happen. The connection to my fellow musicians is, to me, of upmost importance. It all comes down to my attitude, which is something I have complete control over at any given time. It’s my attitude and I own it. Thinking this way has helped me.
When drumming, I like to put in “ghost notes” on the snare drum. These notes are played much softer than my backbeats or other accented notes. I like to use a rimshot for the bigger notes and then leave my stick close to the drum head for the ghost notes. I tend to play these notes very quietly which took a lot of practicing. I’ve been checking out Bernard Purdie, Steve Jordan and Dennis Chambers recently on youtube. These guys are the masters at this style. I believe that all of these drummers were influenced by the great Clyde Stubblefield and John “Jab’o” Starks with James Brown.
My goal is to blend the sound of the hi-hat with the sound of the ghost notes. I want the two sounds to percolate and create a train-like effect.
One of my students likes to call this way of drumming “whisper beats.” I had never heard someone use that phrase to describe this way of playing, but I love it!
Before we got to the end of the clip, I paused it and remarked how consistent his hi-hat was. I attributed it to the arm motion involved. I transcribed what Dennis was doing, we started working on the groove, and then we finished watching the clip. Near the end, Dennis pointed out the exact thing that we had been working on — the hi-hat! It’s something that I’ve seen many of the masters do while playing. It was way cool for me to see it, explain it, and then hear Dennis explain the exact same thing.
I love the feeling when playing music where it feels almost magical. One of my students felt this recently after we had been working on a swing ride cymbal pattern and I asked him to try to count out loud while playing the ride. Before he began counting, he was having some trouble keeping the pattern consistent. After getting used to counting (not too long), his ride cymbal pattern not only fell into sync rhythmically, but the sound changed. It was like “magic” (his words).
Counting out loud made all the difference. This is something we can all learn how to do, and then replicate whenever we want. We can indeed make magic while playing the drums and bring that to the music at hand!
I like lots of different kinds of music. I grew up listening to The Beatles and top-40 radio pop and rock. One cool thing was that radio stations used to play many different styles of music. I could hear Led Zeppelin followed by The Carpenters, followed by Marvin Gaye and then hear the entire seventeen minute version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly! I still think that it was great to hear such a variety of rock, pop and Motown in one sitting.
Later, I starting branching out a bit and was heavily influence by the fusion movement (before it became a dirty word). This was powerful music played with authority by master musicians. I was hooked and that started me on my path trying to learn about improvisation and jazz.
During this time, I played with some rock bands and also with a horn band that covered tunes by Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears and others. In high-school, I played in the stage band (jazz band), in the pit orchestra for various musicals, as well as for one of the high-school vocal groups. I was immersed in all sorts of music and was getting the benefit of learning how to be versatile.
To this day, I am thankful for all of these experiences. I continue to pursue different kinds of gigs. I tend to have fun at all of them! If I’m lucky, I get to play lots of different styles at one gig. Now, that’s cool!
I have a fondness for the half-time shuffle and I really like how Bernard “Pretty” Purdie does it (called the Purdie Shuffle). I remember when I first heard Steely Dan’s Aja album and the tune Home At Last — wow! Shortly after that, I checked out John Bonham on Fool In The Rain on Led Zepplin’s In Through The Out Door and loved Bonzo’s power and sound. The way he played that groove was outrageous! Jeff Porcaro has credited his Rosanna groove as a cross between a Bo Diddley bass drum pattern (with a slight variation) and Purdie and Bonham —that’s a nice combination.
As always, listen to the masters and see if you can play it like they do. After that, see what you can do with it. It’s funky, laid back and grooves hard—what’s not to like?
All of my students today were incredible! Granted, some of them hadn’t had much practice time, but the lessons went great regardless. Everybody seemed very focused and willing to put in their best energy during their drum lesson. Each lesson was different because they’re at varying levels, but each session was so rewarding. I let every one of them know that I felt something great today from them and how much I could see and hear their effort. It was a great day!
I like my drums to sound good and I try to tune them after setting up at a gig. This means that I try to to get to a gig in plenty of time to not only set up, but to accomplish the tuning task as well. It’s not always possible for me to “make noise” before the actual downbeat —at a restaurant gig, e.g. However, I find that I can do it pretty quietly. One request I need to make (sometimes), is for another musician to be quiet while I’m doing this. It may sound as if I’m simply banging on the toms or snare, but in fact, I’m really trying to hear what I’m doing. Likewise, I will be very quiet when the bassist or guitarist is tuning by ear (without the benefit of an electronic tuner).
There are different approaches to tuning drums, however the basic idea is to have each tension rod at the same pitch for any given head. You want each head to be in tune with itself. I tune my resonant heads to a higher pitch than my batter heads, but some drummers like both heads of any one drum at the same pitch. This comes down to personal preference, and there is certainly a big difference in sound. I also like my drums to really “sing” to the fullest extent possible. A choked drum is not much fun to play on and usually doesn’t sound good when recording or live. If I can get the drums to resonant with a pleasing tone, then I can adjust from there if something else is desired.
It’s taken me a while to get good at tuning. I had to practice doing it and it helped to hear some good sounding drums and check them out. Oh, and new drum heads get put on my kit more often than some drummers. But as long as your drum heads are not pitted or too worn/dirty, you should be fine.
Recently, I bought some new and used microphones for Gregory Tech Drum Center. I will be recording some examples of the different models — also known as a “shoot out.” I can’t wait to see how different the drums will sound with some new stuff. My goal is to have my studio sound as good as possible so that it’s on a high level. Stay tuned for some new sound files showcasing the new possibilities!