Friday, January 13, 2012


The two most important parts of a song
The two parts of a song that are going to have the biggest impression on an audience are the beginning and the ending of a song.  In today's post we are going to talk about four general strategies for playing great endings. 

1.  Listen
Everything you do, including playing a great ending, is predicated on your ability to listen.  If you are listening intently you can have the confidence to know when to be flexible, and when to be assertive.  The following clip of me playing a great Bobby Muncy original is an example of how listening can make an ending flexible:

Did you hear how the note the band held at the end started to rise and crescendo?  That wasn't planned, it just happened because everyone was listening to each other. 

One more quick anecdote about listening.  I remember my very wise college drum teacher Randy Gilispie giving me the following analogy for how to listen.  He told me to imagine I was in a forest hunting, completely alone.  In this almost complete stillness, every sound becomes magnified because every sound is significant.  He told me to bring that same intense focus to my musical environments. 

2.  Learn the standard endings
In jazz, certain endings have become so popular over time that they have become a part of musicians standard vocabulary, and are widely used on many tunes.  As a drummer, it is your responsibility to learn and master as many of these as possible so that you can play them when they are called for.  The two most obvious examples are the "Take The A Train" ending (4:05):

And the Count Basie ending (3:23):

There are many variations of these standard endings, as well as a wealth of other standard endings to learn.  The best thing to do to prepare yourself is to listen to as much jazz as possible.

3.  Learn tune specific endings
In addition to the standard endings mentioned above, many songs have built in endings that you need to know.  Often times these endings are short and precise, sometimes just on the last note of the melody, so you won't have time to anticipate them if you don't know the ending ahead of time.  An example of this type of ending is on "Ornithology" (7:39):

I'm not sure about this, but it sounds to me like the bass player might have missed the cue on this one!  

4.  Relax!
Just like listening, being able to relax when you are playing is something that will determine your success in music generally.  

The negative impact of tension on your ability to think clearly can not be overstated.  In this case, tension will lead to frantic and muddied endings.  Conversely, if you can relax and think clearly, you will be able to make good decisions.  In my experience, one of the best ways to help yourself relax is to remember to actually breathe while you are playing. 

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