AUDIO TIPS: Percussion

Audio Tip #19: PERCUSSION

No one can be working, creative, successful, admired and in demand all the time. We all have periods of transition, depression, insecurity, frustration, etc. where nothing seems to be happening. Don't think that you are the only one that goes through this. The times where nothing seems to be happening are actually periods of subconscious activity and growth, or a sort of cosmic alignment where things you are going to be doing or people you are going to be working with are all coming around to the time and place that it's going to happen. So don't force it. Sometimes it's best to take advantage of these times for friends, family, hobbies, and other enjoyable activities.

In 1933 a group of drummers in Chicago, Illinois formed the 'National Association of Rudimental Drummers'. They originated thirteen basic roll patterns to function as a guide in teaching beginning drummers. They called these rolls 'The Thirteen Essential Rudiments of Drumming'. Later, they designed an additional thirteen rudiments, which brought the total to twenty-six. The American public school system adopted these 'rudiments' as the teaching standard nationwide for elementary, high school and college drum squads.

When practicing, keep a notepad nearby. Write down any thoughts that may cross your mind concerning the rhythm, motion of the sticks, sound of the drums, etc. At the end of your practice session, review your notes. Apply any changes that you may want to make to your next practice session. You will gradually notice improvement in your performance.

Don't procrastinate with your music. Like exercising, if you relax too long you will lose some of that hard earned ground that you worked so hard to gain. Try to practice every day, even if it is only a few minutes. Practice never makes perfect; it only makes you better. You can always improve your abilities. Even though we may think there are some "perfect players" out there, they usually know their own flaws and are trying to improve as well.

"To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late". Keep this thought in mind when leaving for a gig. It could possibly make the difference in getting future gigs.

When looking for new drum grooves to apply to the drum set, look to the south, or South America to be more precise. Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, and Brazilian are just some of the rhythms available to aspiring drummers and percussionists.

Duct tape is essential in the drummer's arsenal. In addition to a variety of other tasks, duct tape can provide the drummer with a better grip upon his sticks. Take a small amount of duct tape and roll it into a ball, sticky side out. Then roll it around in your hands. The sticky residue will enable you to better grip your sticks. Just remember to wash your hands after the gig.

Networking is one of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of being a professional drummer. Get out there and play, jam, or sit in with others as much as you can. Word of mouth spreads fast and one thing leads to another. Join the Musicians Union, Musicians contact services, go to clubs, rehearsal complexes, music stores, watch for ads and auditions in local papers. Your phone won't ring if no one knows who you are.

Bands or individuals should write, rehearse and record their own CDs. Take advantage of cheap, high quality technology that was unheard of 5-10 years ago that make it possible to do a great sounding recording at home. Then pursue local college radio and record stores to play it and sell it on consignment at gigs.

Consider organizing your practice sessions into 15 or 20 minute segments, i.e. 15 minutes for reading, 15 minutes for rudiments, etc. This will allow you to concentrate on many areas at once. You can often accomplish a lot more by practicing this way.

Here's a thing that we all can do at a minimum of time and expense. As an additional warm-up before a performance, listen to CD's or tapes that inspire you. You will usually play better as a result of the motivation you feel from the music.

Don't forget to practice fast tempos. It's not enough to know how to play drumbeats at moderate tempos. Before you know it, someone will throw you a tune that's blazingly fast. You need to be prepared when the time comes.

Brushes are so soft that the subtlety of what you are playing (the pattern) can be lost or less precise unless each hand is playing a shape that relates to a rhythm. White noise, texture, and color may be desirable or

appropriate within certain sections of tunes. The defined musical outcome determines how strongly you want to imply time, or if one or both hands are actively shading time, color, and textures.

One advantage to having a double pedal is you'll always have a spare. Conversely, a very real disadvantage is the overuse of this pedal arrangement. Doubling up on every other beat will make it impossible for the bass player to lock in to you. Then other thing is that you can unwittingly create a low-end rumble that destroys the foundation of the groove you are trying to create.

The speed of your drum rudiments is only as fast as your left hand (or right hand, if you're a lefty) will allow. Practice your weak hand diligently. You'll then notice all the rudiments becoming easier to play.

Some of you use a house drum kit when you record. Whether it be your own kit or one you have access to, accurate tuning can make your recording experience a pleasant one. It's the last thing a drummer learns if at all and it's the most important thing in recording. If you have garbage as your source, even the best signal path won't help you.

Each shell of a drum kit has a resonant frequency. The frequency can be found by removing all the hardware, suspending the drum and tapping it to find the tone. This can then be matched to a tuning fork etc. as a tuning source. Once you find the resonant tone you use this to tune the drumheads.

The important thing is that no two drums of different sizes overlap each other's timbrel frequency range. Ultimately you want a set that's matched in tone. The intervals far enough apart so the drums complement each other without the sympathetic vibrations causing problems. Bigger drums such as the kick and low tom should be a fifth apart where as you get smaller and smaller it can be a fourth apart.

In order to enjoy any level of success as a drummer in the music business, it is vital that you be absolutely clear about your goals. Do you want to be a studio musician, rock, jazz, or country musician? Do you want a sideman gig? Do you want to play original music in a band? Do you want a job in a symphony? Search your soul, talk to people, and write your goals down on paper. Then simplify and focus on what you can do now, just for today to work toward your goal and do one little thing at a time.

Don't burn bridges. Try to secure your next career or employment move before canceling your current one, and when you move on, try to do it honestly and remain on good terms. You never know when you might need a former colleague's help.

The drums are the second oldest instrument known to man, the first being the human voice. Even that assumes that the earliest man sang before he began beating a stick against a hollow log. Drums and drumming still awaken a primal instinct in all humans. Participating in and listening to drumming are still a major part of our rituals in America today, from Theater to Parades to Football games.

Reasons for becoming a Drummer: # 1. You have a good sense of rhythm. If you are good at keeping time, that's a good start as the drummer is the timekeeper of the band, but remember this fact. Keeping the pulse going is just one of your responsibilities. However, as a drummer in a band you will need to do more than just keep the pulse. You will need to develop the ability to play intricate rhythms based upon the pulse that you're keeping.

Reasons for becoming a Drummer: # 2. All your friends tell you that because you can't carry a tune you should become a drummer. Not only is this insulting to other drummers, it's just plain wrong. When you seriously begin to play, you will discover that all of the drums in a five-piece kit have a pitch, and they all can be tuned. Playing the drums will increase your exposure to music, and actually help you to improve your sense of pitch.

Reasons for becoming a Drummer: # 3. When you listen to music, be it rock, jazz or classical it's the sound of percussion that gets your blood moving. This is actually a good reason for you to pick up this instrument, as an interest can easily turn into a passion, and a passion is something that you will stick with.

Reasons for becoming a Drummer: # 4. You like music and the thought of making it, but you don't like showboating and would prefer to be in the background. This is true of drummers, most of them sit behind the other instruments, but it's a bad reason to pick up the drums. The drummer may not be the one who takes the flashy solos, but he/she is one of the most important

members of the band. Everyone is depending on the drummer to keep the beat and keep the momentum moving forward. And, if you should make a mistake, guess what? Spotlight on you!

Reasons for becoming a Drummer: # 5. You like music and the thought of making it, and the thought of getting all the glory really turns you on. Again, this is not a good reason for taking up the drums (in fact, it's not a good reason for doing much of anything, in my opinion.) Being a good drummer is about being part of a team and creating a whole that sounds bigger than any of it's parts, and if one part stands out larger than the rest, the band and the sound will suffer.

Reasons for becoming a Drummer: # 6. You have a lot of energy and pent-up aggression and you're looking for a new way to blow off some steam. This is fine, as beating the hell out of a poor defenseless drum is great way to rid yourself of some aggression, but it doesn't lead to making great music. Drummers, like all musicians need to learn to play with tenderness and expression, as well as Agro and volume. Except if you're in a Punk Rock band

What is the role of the drummer in a band? #1- Within a band, be it Jazz, Rock, or Pop music the function is first and foremost, to keep the beat. The drummer is the pulse of the band, and it is his/her responsibility to keep time and to make sure that everybody else stays in time. In order to accomplish the latter, the drummer needs to be as solid as a rock with the tempo, not speeding up when he/she gets excited. And not slowing down when the rhythms get complicated.

#2: It is also the job of the drummer to add color and variety to the music. If all that were required was a solid beat, drum machines would soon replace live drummers. The way to learn how to add color and flourish is to listen to other drummers. Imitate what they do at first. Before long, you'll find your own voice.

#3: As a drummer, it will be vital for you to be able to complement and interact with the other players in your band. This means hat it's not enough for you to keep just a solid beat; you also need to listen to what's going on around you. For example, when the guitarist is soloing, you need to listen to his solo and anticipate where he is going with it. This will allow you to insert the appropriate fills, accents and crashes that make the entire band sound fantastic.

The 'Traditional Grip', favored by drummers who learned their trade at the hands of a crafty Jazz veteran, consists of holding one stick in your right hand with all four fingers wrapped around the stick and the thumb supplying the grip. In your left hand, you will hold the stick between the 2nd and 3rd finger with the thumb relaxed. Some drummer I know will switch between grips, as the musical feel that they want to get requires.

Older Jazz drummers favor the "Traditional Grip", while some of the younger monster Jazz drummers use the Matched Grip to hold their sticks. This is because it used to be thought that a drummer could coax more expressive or sensitive notes from his snare drum by using the Traditional Grip. Nowadays, this is not so any more as it's common knowledge that either grip will suffice in terms of left-hand control.

If you have ever watched a live drummer in concert. You may have noticed that playing beats and rolls are his two major functions. The pro drummer will normally hold a steady beat through the vocal parts of the song. Between verses he/she will often let go with a thunderous roll burst around the toms, and return to the beat again at the beginning of the next verse. In this way he will tend to 'fill' the holes, or lulls in the music. These short roll bursts have become known as 'fills'. Many different types of roll patterns will function as 'fills'.

Many of the techniques drummers use to get their signature sound are things that are difficult or at minimum time consuming to do with midi sequencers. For example: Cymbal chokes, flams inside of rolls, playing light "ghost hits", playing cymbals with soft mallets, rim shot in the middle of a roll, exploiting the timbrel variety of a drum by going from soft to hard hits, tapping back and forth from the center of a cymbal to its periphery, playing the snare .

slightly ahead or slightly behind beats 2 and 4 often differently for each bar, playing with brushes on toms and cymbals, double hitting a drum with two sticks, one slightly behind providing a "snap". And the important thing about good drummers is that they don't repeat these accents all the time. They put them in whenever they think they can get away with it, not only at the fill.

Many drummers who trigger from acoustic (hybrid) drum kits are blending both the acoustic and perfectly processed electronic drum sounds. This will commonly "color" the sounds and "fatten" your overall sound up. Electronic drum sounds can't "go out of tune" like an acoustic drum. Drummers also commonly use a mix of acoustic and electronic drums to add sound effects or the exact sounds they had previously recorded in the studio.

Defining Strokes and Rhythm

Use recognizable shapes to begin experimenting with strokes and patterns. Circles, heart shapes, and Xs are three shapes that you can use with almost all tempos and grooves (ballads, medium, fast, Latin).

Brush Effects and Rhythm

Each hand should play a discernible rhythm unless you want color or texture.

Experiment with New Strokes

To develop fluidity and facility with brushes, practice less familiar motions. This will help you strengthen the strokes that feel natural or comfortable. It is the best way to discover new strokes and develop variations on established patterns.

Use Your Feet to Feather the Bass

Brushes can be less rhythmically defined and need greater support, definition, and bottom than sticks. When using brushes, feather the bass drum. Use the hi-hat to provide bottom and support.

Feathering the bass lets you play very soft quarter notes or half notes to provide bottom and support, with the bass player in a lower harmonic range. However, the hi-hat can overpower the brushes, particularly on ballads where you need a softer execution or a one-quarter foot stroke (cymbals one half-inch apart). Play on the Tips of the Brushes

When playing patterns or time, play on the tips of your brushes, holding the brushes at a 45-degree angle to the snare. Otherwise, you will lose the contrast essential for pulse, nuance, and soft shadings in accenting, embellishing, and filling. A lower angle gives you a more legato sound. A higher angle gives you a more staccato sound.

All brushes are not created equal. Before you buy brushes, take them out of the container to inspect them. Make sure that they retract easily and that the shank of the brush is made of a material that feels good in your hands. Plastic corrugated shanks, metal, and rubber are materials that, with repeated use, may feel uncomfortable. Check the balance and weight to see if they are light enough to play very fast tempos.

"Multi rods," "Rakes," and "Blas-Stixs" are not brushes. They offer an infinite variety for experimentation of new sound sources and color, but you should never use them as a replacement for brushes. Practice Without Brushes

Practice brush strokes using only your hands and fingertips on the drum (without brushes).

It is much easier to capture the shape and flow of a pattern with your hands. Once you have perfected the stroke, it is easier to move to the brushes.

When creating and maintaining a time feel and flow, brushes are similar to sticks. For example, when playing time with sticks, the right hand predominantly stays on the ride cymbal to create a cushion. The left hand and right foot are used in supportive, accent roles underneath the ride cymbal. When playing time with brushes, both hands are, for the most part, on the snare together. It may be disruptive to the overall time feel or cushion if either hand leaves the snare often. It is easier to embellish, accent, and fill within the original stroke or pattern by maintaining the original shape. Rhythm table and coordination exercises strengthen this concept further.

Implying Rhythm: To create greater fluidity between transitional strokes, and to discover your own personal strokes, experiment creating variations of shapes to imply a rhythm. Transitional strokes include circles, heart shapes, and Xs. They may be played as quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, sixteenth notes, and so forth.

Adapted for this page from Mastering the Art of Brushes, by Jon Hazilla.
Copyright 2001 Berklee Press, Implying Fills, Accents, and Metric Modulation