Monday, June 25, 2012

Chopping Wood

Chopping wood is great for building energy unobtrusively
Chopping wood, meaning playing a strong rim-click on beats two and four, is an effective technique for building energy in a song while also staying out of the way.  I am particularly fond of chopping wood when more than one soloist is trading (like in the clip above starting around :52), as I find that trying to switch gears between different soloists can lead to tedious and overly complicated playing.  In my experience it is better to just play good time, build energy, and not clutter up the soloists ideas.

The Lumberjack, Sam Woodyard
General Playing Tips
In general, once you start chopping wood don't move away from it too quickly.  This is because chopping wood works best gradually and over time, and switching in and out of it too abruptly can feel herky-jerky to the other musicians and audience. 

You can do some simple bass drum comping and marking of the form while chopping wood, but don't try to do too much.  The main thing here is just the intensity of the groove, so focus on building energy and enjoy the feeling you are helping to create. 

Perhaps the greatest recorded example of chopping wood, and also a brilliant guide for learning how to use this technique, is Sam Woodyard's epic performance on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" from "Ellington At Newport 1956".  I spent a whole summer playing along with this track just to try to capture some of it's feeling, check it out: