Monday, July 1, 2013

Zoro's Four T's

Well I finally finished Zoro the Drummer's "The Big Gig" and just had to share some of his wisdom with you. Picking items to focus on was a challenge, as the book is dense-packed with valuable tips and insights. So if you haven't yet checked out this invaluable book, I encourage you to do so ASAP.

In a drum world filled with over-worked platitudes and questionable advice, it's refreshing to find solid material reduced to its essentials. Zoro's recommendation to any musician -- and drummers in particular -- is to focus on four key areas of our playing. Of course there's always more we can work on, but these core skills should be where we all begin.

1. Time

“ … all the chops in the world are useless if you can’t keep them within the framework of solid time.” - Zoro

I don't think I've ever heard a musician claim that someone's sense of time was 'too good'. (Let me qualify that -- a bass player I know sat in with Buddy Rich on short notice. All he could say afterwards was that Buddy's time was “disturbingly” accurate.) Read any interview with a top drummer and the issue of keeping good time will invariably crop up. I'd even go as far as to say that time trumps all else. I've seen some marginal drummers firmly ensconced in the drum chair because of their sense of time. And there are at least as many examples of drummers with lots of skill who don't get asked back because their time just doesn't work.

2. Technique

“Great musicianship is achieved by employing a combination of techniques to serve the music with the greatest possible depth of expression” - Zoro

Bottom line: You need technique. That's what gives you the ability to make meaningful noises on your instrument. You don't need a lot of technique, but you do need enough. Kirk Covington, for example,  claims that he only knows single strokes and double strokes -- a perfect example of quality over quantity.

In essence, technique is what stands between you and the sounds you want to create. Still, while you may be able to get by with a modest amount of technique, if you want to move forward musically   and professionally, you need to work on technique.

3. Touch

“Touch is what makes each musician an individual.” - Zoro

Touch is just a fancy term for how loud and/or sensitively you play. The right volume is the right volume, and your volume should always be appropriate to the music. Then, within the volume 'envelope' you need to have dynamics. Your volume should increase or decrease as the music dictates. This requires control and technique, which beget touch. Touch also allows you to articulate and 'voice' your playing, such as when you play a figure that includes accents or ghost notes.

Also be aware of your different limbs. There too you need to strive for balance so one instrument doesn’t overpower another.

4. Taste

“To me, the hardest thing about being a musician is knowing which musical choice to make at any given moment” - Zoro

Here's where it gets personal. It's also a case of the subjective vs. the objective. You may have had a situation where you were playing the ‘correct’ thing, but it didn't work or someone in the band was unhappy about it. Remember that you're not trying to play by the book or the theorists. This is music, and in order to play musically you must work with the feel and the style. I went from rock to jazz, back to rock, then country, and back to jazz. Each time, I had to make an adjustment to the feel (and the touch) in order to fit in. A shuffle may very well be a shuffle, but how it's played in one genre may be completely different from how it's played in another.

There's also the issue of busy-ness. Every style has different tolerances for how busy you may play. And there are different tolerances from one band to the next. What got a thumbs-up from one band might get you fired by another.

So let the music, its history and the band members be your guide to what constitutes 'taste', and then bring your own creativity to it.

The Big Gig: Big-Picture Thinking for Success
Alfred Music Publishing
ISBN-10: 0739082434 | ISBN-13: 978-0739082430
Also available as an ebook.

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