Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Create An Arrangement Part 2



1. Now's The Time!
Charlie Parker
In this installment of the series I tried to take my drum arrangement to the next step by actually playing the "pitches" of the melody.  You can hear the melody played through twice starting around   after the brief introduction.  Although trying to get even a relatively simple melody like this across on the drums is a lot of work, it can can also inspire some really fascinating musical directions in your drumming, so in my opinion it is well worth it.  Here is the original Charlie Parker melody for reference:




Always inspiring
2. How to develop an arrangement
In addition to the overall idea of staying in the character/form of the song discussed in the last post here are some more strategies for developing your own arrangement.  
  • Experiment with different sounds and use those sounds to dictate what/how you play.  For example in my arrangement I start with the open snare/tom sound.  This sound strongly influences my playing lending itself to less cluttered and more melodic style drumming.  After a couple of choruses of that sound I transition into a closed snare sound which leads me to more intense and busy playing that builds intensity. 
  • Use rudiments thematically.  For example listen to how I use flams in this solo.  I am not playing a flam and then moving right on to another rudiment, I am really trying to explore the sound and feel of the flam all around the drum set.  Using rudiments this way can help you develop your solo in an unhurried way.  In general playing an unaccompanied solo like this can make you feel a lot of pressure to play everything you know right away, it is just you up there after all!  So combat this tendency by using rudiments in this fashion.
  • Listen to the greats.  Max Roach springs immediately to mind, but there are many others.  I know I sound like a broken record with this, but the truth is that ear-training is the single most important part of learning the drums.
  • Use call and response.  The idea of playing a simple idea and then responding to that idea is probably the single most common/helpful phrasing technique for drum soloists.  This kind of phrasing not only takes a lot of the pressure of improvising off, it creates a structure that listeners can easily grasp.  Communicating with an audience is always a challenge, particularly when you are talking about drum solos.  The conversational nature of call and response phrasing is perfect for confronting this challenge, so try incorporating it into your solo.
  • Use mistakes and unintended things to grow your arrangement organically.  As you are practicing  you will often stumble across great ideas entirely by accident.  For example initially I meant to turn on the snare and leave it, but it slipped.  When I turned the snare on again I had the idea of alternating between the snare on/off sound.  The truly great improvisers can incorporate these kinds of ideas on the fly, but for right now just think of them as new compositional elements for you to incorporate into your solo over time. 

3. Overall map of my arrangement
Each section or idea usually divides along roughly the lines of the form, hopefully some of these ideas will be useful or inspiring to you!
  • Short intro 
  • Melody twice
  • Solo with pitch
  • With Flams/Pitch
  • Pitches again, but more aggressive and with rolls
  • Alternating between snare on and off sounds
  • Press rolls and cymbal chokes
  • Open playing around the drums
  • Staccato rolls followed by looser rolls with right hand lead
  • Floppy long roll
  • Head out
  • Short outro

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beyond A Beat Part 1

The Grady Bossa
My teacher (the great Chuck Redd) recently introduced me to a slick new way of playing the bossa nova that he picked up from listening to Grady Tate.  You can clearly hear and see Grady's Bossa at 7:58 in the video below:




Grady at work
The basic gist of this groove is that the right hand plays a guiro-like pattern with a brush instead of the typical eighth notes.  If you listen to how Grady plays this groove here, you quickly realize that this approach to bossa nova is much more than simply a beat.  Grady plays with such command that he is able to alter the beat to fit whatever is going on in the music.  In other words, Grady's bossa is beyond a beat, it is more like a style.  

Here is what the basic groove looks/sounds like:



Rather than simply showing you this groove, in this series of posts I am going to take you through the process that I am using to get myself beyond just playing this idea as a beat, in the hopes that it will help you navigate this process more efficiently yourself.

Step 1: Orient your ear
This step is reasonably self-explanatory but also surprisingly easy to overlook.  You need to know what a groove is supposed to sound like in context, so find some good recordings and dive in.  I would recommend a combination of really mentally engaged listening where you are trying to actively pick apart the groove, as well as more passive listening to let the overall sound wash over you.  For the Grady bossa, the song "O Grande Amor" from the Stan Getz album "Sweet Rain" is perfect:




Step 2: Get it in your hands
This step is all about the physical feeling of the groove, mastering the technique and coordination necessary to play the groove.  One really helpful tip with this step is get a lot of this work done away from the drum set.  This will help you use your actual time at the drum set more efficiently as well as open possibilities for more flexible practice. 

Here is an example of me practicing the Grady bossa away from the set:



Once you feel good away from the drums, it is time to work out the basic groove on the drums. Chuck has hipped me to practicing at 100 bpm, as this is a very challenging "in between" kind of tempo that tends to either rush or drag.  Check out the video of me playing at the top to hear what this sounds like at this tempo.

Ol' Faithful
Step 3: Generalize and expand possibilities
After you have a groove firmly in your ears and hands, the next step is to expand away from the basic beat by generalizing and working on variations.  In this case, generalizing means to find what makes a beat distinctive.  For the Grady bossa, the brush sweeping the guiro pattern over a bossa foot ostinato with a cross-stick sound in the left hand is what makes it distinctive.  But you can play just about any rhythmic variation with your left hand without compromising the distinctive sound of the groove. 

In order to get at some of these rhythmic possibilities, I like to use Syncopation to experiment. Here is a video of me playing through the first couple of lines of page 34 in this fashion again at 100 bpm:


In the subsequent posts in this series I will discuss more steps to getting beyond a beat, so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Play like it's fun!

David Sanchez, a great musician and teacher!
Last week I had the privilege of studying and hanging out with the San Fransisco Jazz Collective.  This incredible group was engaged in a week-long residency at the University of Maryland where I am currently pursuing a masters degree. 

Play like it's fun
I wanted to share a profound observation that David Sanchez, the Collective's tenor saxophonist, laid on my group at one of these masterclasses.  We were playing "Freight Train" at an uncomfortably fast tempo, and everyone's playing, while technically correct, came across as tense and hurried.  David pointed out that an audience comes to enjoy themselves and have a good time, and that tension and stress on the bandstand translates directly into an unpleasant experience for the audience.  In other words, if you aren't enjoying the music you are playing, why would your audience? 


Like this
Here is an example of me playing the Monk tune "Pannonica" with a great group (Ted Baker on Sax, Tim Whalen on Piano, Joe Bussey on Bass) at Twins Jazz Club a couple of weeks ago:


If you mute the video and just watch us playing, you can easily tell how engaged we were in the music, and how much we were enjoying it.  Do you see how we are moving together and looking at each other?  This feeling of engagement and joy translated into a great night of music for our small but loyal audience. 

A simple reminder
No matter how hard the music you are playing is, how difficult the circumstances of the particular performance, how you feel about the people you are playing with, or what is going in your life, once you get on stage your job is to love what you do.  Music is meant to be enjoyed, and that enjoyment has to begin with you!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Newk The Bass Drum Part 2

St. Thomas appreciated here!
St. Thomas appreciation week
It is apparently St. Thomas appreciation week here at the Melodic Drummer.  Today's post features a video example of me playing the first part of the bass drum exercise from the previous post in all its soul-crushing glory!




Preparing the bass drum mentally
I have spent a great deal of time practicing and thinking about the importance of preparing notes with my hands, but much less dealing with the issue of preparing my feet.  While practicing this truly difficult (to me) exercise, I re-discovered just how important preparing notes on the bass drum really is.  Doing something as simple as focusing on relaxing my foot and mentally anticipating/hearing the melody line was usually the decisive factor in a successful play through.  Quick quote from the bard that sums up my point nicely:


"All things are ready, if our minds be so" 
-Shakespeare

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Making Weird Things Work



As promised in a previous post, here is a great example of how to escape from the sometimes monotonous head/solo/head format.  In this example of the song "Just You, Just Me", Chuck Redd (the vibes player) sets the pace by introducing a new melody halfway through the song.  This is not something that you can do lightly, and there are a number of instructive things that Chuck did to make sure that this unusual technique would work.  The following are three of these things extrapolated into general principles for making weird thing work. 

1.  Broadcast your intentions ahead of time
Chuck introduces the new melody ("Evidence" by Thelonious Monk) a chorus ahead of time by quoting it on the bridge at 3:26.  This gives the musicians in the band a heads-up that something funky could be going on (although I still totally bungled the transition to the new melody).  Of course there is nothing wrong with actually talking about an idea before you begin the song, but that is only if you think of it ahead of time and doing this can also take some of the fun element of surprise out of the music. 

2.  Listen
This is certainly not the first time I have brought up the importance of listening, but nowhere is it more obviously important than when something outside of the box is going on.  If you are just playing on auto-pilot and you aren't engaged in what is going on in the music around you, you will totally miss any subtle hints that something strange is happening and will most likely make a mess of things.  For example, notice how quickly everyone in the band picked up on the new melody.  Even though I was shaky for a second, because I was listening I could find my way back by the second A section.  

Another great example of listening is how Chuck picks up on the phrase from Nicki's solo (5:05) and turns it into a shout chorus!  

3.  Know what works and what doesn't
Chuck knew that "Evidence" fit well over "Just You, Just Me", and that it could easily be super-imposed for that reason.  Knowing when this sort of thing will work and on what songs is a key component to pulling it off.  Essentially, you can't move between melodies successfully in this fashion without a great deal of knowledge and experience.


This video is another from a great gig from several months back featuring my teacher Chuck Redd on vibes, Chris Grasso on piano, and Nicki Parrott on bass/vocals.  For residents of the DC area, if you want to hear some great jazz check out the calender at the Mandarin Oriental.  Chris books the shows there and always does a great job!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Music, Music, Music



Great album + Awesome pun = Highly recommended
Tommy Flanagan Trio "Overseas" aka "Elvin Plays Amazing Brushes"
I didn't get hip to this album until this year when it was recommended by Jon McCaslin at FOUR ON THE FLOOR, and it has been a joy getting acquainted with it.  It is too easy to form a one-dimensional picture of Elvin Jones.  The irresistible force of his playing in the classic Coltrane quartet overshadows the many other sides of his playing.  Not that I have anything but the deepest love for that group, but it is good to hear Elvin playing in other contexts, in this case a straight-ahead piano trio featuring the great Detroit pianist Tommy Flanagan.  Elvin was a master musician, capable of adapting to fit any context in the enormous range of jazz music.  

The big highlight of this album for me is getting to hear Elvin's nasty brush playing.  In my experience Elvin is a really underrated brush player, despite the fact that his deep, rolling, triplety vocabulary works equally well with sticks or brushes.  Just listen to the track at the top ("Beats Up") for proof!   

Friday, August 10, 2012

Create An Arrangement




                                         
Practice by creating an arrangement
I was feeling inspired by a fantastic solo by Jeff Hamilton where he plays a whole arrangement of "Caravan" (it seems to have disappeared from the internet) on the drums, so I thought I would record my own version of "St. Thomas" as well as share some thoughts on how to play an arrangement in this fashion.  Making an arrangement of a song is a great practice tool for internalizing whatever tunes you are working on, soloing more compositionally, and often inspiring some great ideas that you wouldn't have thought of otherwise.



Here are some basic techniques to use when playing an arrangement:

1.  Come up with an overall map of the arrangement
It is important to understand the over-arching structure of the arrangement you are going to play so that you can anticipate what is coming next.  The map of my very basic arrangement goes like this:
  • Brief rubato intro on the cymbals
  • Max Roach inspired latin groove taken from the original Sonny Rollin's recording
  • Melody twice- I tried to match the contour of the melody on the drums
  • Solo section
  • Melody twice again
  • Ending- I tagged the last four bars three times
2.  Stay in the character of the song
In order for this style of solo to come across to an audience you need to spend some time thinking about how to keep your solo in the character of the song.  To accomplish this, when I am soloing I am constantly thinking about the melody of the song (for more on this check out my post about the two songs of jazz).  If you listen carefully to my solo you will hear me referencing the melody, playing off of the call and response structure of the phrases, and also outlining the form of the song.  

This is the most important part of this exercise, and is also the most difficult.  Start with simple ideas that come to you from the melody or structure of the tune and then build off of them.  Often using the most basic call and response style phrases is a great place to start.  Don't worry about trying to play your fanciest, most technical ideas, this isn't really the place for that.  Just play what comes naturally and take your time.  

For more inspiration on how to keep a solo in the character of a song, I would check out Max Roach.  As a matter of fact, his classic solo on "St. Thomas" is a great place to start:



3.  Try to give your solo a shape
Once you start to hear the song in your solo and you are feeling more comfortable, you can begin adding a macro dimension to your solo, a shape.  In the most basic sense you can think of your solo as an arc.  It has to start low and build intensity to some sort of climax before coming back down.  There are different variations of this shape, starting high before coming down and building back up, multiple crests and troughs, ending at a high point, but they all work on the same basic principle of tension and release.  

This deceptively simple phrase basically describes why music works, it builds up tension and then it releases it.  The important thing to take away is that if the shape of your solo is too flat for too long, you will lose your audience.  

There are a number of elements you can manipulate to build tension in your solo including:

  • Dynamics- How loud or soft are you playing?
  • Texture/Orchestration- What parts of the drum set are you using?
  • Note density- How many notes are you playing or not playing?
  • Rhythmic phrasing- Call and response?  Reference to the melody?  A groove?  Rudimental ideas?  
Essentially, the degree to which you use your musicality to control these elements will determine how much tension and release there is in your solo.  This in turn will effect what impact your solo will have on an audience.  More tension and release = Better solo.