Friday, December 20, 2013

Picks from Joel Rothmans’s Catalogue

Joel Rothman has been writing drum books longer than a lot of us have been playing. His Rock And Roll Bible appeared in the late 1960s, and soon became the standard. His philosophy is simple: if there's a need for it, he'll write. His catalogue currently lists more than 100 books.
I got hold of a number of his books and thought I'd share my observations with you. (Note that I've added three of these books to my practice schedule.)

Basic Rock Beats$10.95, 16 pages
Succinct preface. Fairly well structured and well paced, with 4-6 exercises per page. Progresses slowly to 8th and 16th variations. Deals with 8th note and 6/8 rides; the 16th note ride is barely mentioned on last page. Overall a good intro to the basics.
Value: Very Good

Easy Drum Solos for Jazz Coordination$14.95, 32 pages
There’s no preamble to explain how to use the book. More of an independence tutorial with snare shots against a swing ride. Bass drum is introduced on page 23. A pretty good intro to comping, but it's in tablature so not very good as reading practice. Not sure how the term 'solo' applies.
Value: Mixed

Mini-monster Book of Rock Drumming$19.95, 96 pages
Very comprehensive, from basic one-bar patterns to syncopated beats in odd times and some polyrhythms. Progression is suitably graduated and with no ‘filler’. A number of sections integrate common rudiments. Good for someone who just wants to grind through a lot of rhythmic ideas.
Value: Excellent

Easy Drum Solos to Develop Technique$14.95, 33 pages
After a page of warm-up motif exercises, the book switches to 4-bar mini solos in an 'AABA' pattern, which is a useful concept. Relies mainly on simple rudiments and sticking patterns. Not overly adventurous or challenging.
Value: Fair

Accents and Solos for Rock and Jazz$14.95, 32 pages
Basic stuff, only slightly more complete than Ted Reed’s "Progressive Steps to Syncopation". Preamble has some good ideas for embellishments. Otherwise nothing really new here.
Value: Fair

Rudiments Around the Drums$16.95, 47 pages
A more complete intro to the concept than most. Covers a useful subset of rudiments -- single strokes, double stokes, paradiddles. A very good study of getting around the set. Adds 40 rudiments at the end.
Value: Very Good

Sticking Patterns$16.95, 71 pages
My main problem with this one is the printing. The whole purpose is to communicate stickings, but the printing is somewhat hard to read. Lacks focus; seems to want to cover all the bases, but to what purpose? Patterns are grouped, often with no clear indication of how they relate.
Value: Fair

Reading, Rudiments and Rock Drumming$14.95, 76 pages
Seems too ambitious, with each lesson moving along a bit too quickly. Short on explanation, and some pages are just confusing. Many exercises introduce advanced concepts too soon.
Value: Good if a teacher is involved

Basic Drumming Made Easy$14.95, 80 pages
In trying to cover everything, this book falls short. Emphasizes reading over rhythm. Uses tablature without advantage.
Value: Very good, oddly.

Duet Yourself$16.95, 98 pages
An interesting concept: top line is for snare and bottom line for bass drum or anything else. Covers a lot of ground including odd time signatures, rudiments, rolls, and reading. Lots of warm-up exercises plus theory and a glossary. Not for the timid. Printing could be more user friendly.
Value: Excellent

Teaching Rhythm$16.95, 97 pages
Very good intro to the basics. Introduces odd time signatures early -- plus! Sufficiently gradual, with liberal use of common notations (e.g. ‘repeat bar’ sign). Stops at 16th note triplets. Very thorough without drifting off into the esoteric.
Value: Excellent

Rock Breaks Around the Drums$14.95, 32 pages
Great intro for the beginner. Each lesson begins with a statement of the motif, followed by three patterns on the basic 4-piece kit. Builds from a half bar to a full bar, from simple to quite complex; some exercises include rolls. Tablature takes a bit of concentration. Holds off on bass drum integration until page 26.
Value: Excellent

Hardest Drum Book Ever Written$14.95, 16 pages
Although subtitled '5-way coordination', this book might be more correctly called "progressive steps to open-handed playing". There is no fifth 'limb' presented, the extra voice being played by one hand on two instruments. Begins with a good explanation of the concept, then starts with simple exercises on hi-hat, snare and cymbal, adding the bass drum early. In all, a good study in funk style using open-handed techniques.
Value: Excellent

The Rock And Roll Bible$16.95, 80 pages
Pretty ambitious title, yet considering the book was originally written in 1968, it's still considered to be one of the best for the genre. Starts with an intensive bass drum workout, but it’s simple and manageable. The basic rhythms, starting on page 11, build gradually in complexity with liberal use of two-bar patterns. There are sections for snare development as well. Also includes a good section on 12/8 rhythms.
Value: Excellent

Stop by your local drum shop or Joel’s on-line store to discover more.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tricky Things, Those Quarter Notes

Steve Gadd says that he concentrates mainly on the quarter notes, i.e. the pulse. You'd think by this stage of his career he'd have that down and wouldn't have to give it a second thought. But, he says, that's where the time is. And he's not the only top player who points to the pulse and says that it’s the single most important thing!

Putting the quarter notes in the right spot is called, simply, playing good time, and it’s every musician's first responsibly. But what about all those notes in between? They're important too, but consider this: If your quarter notes aren't where they're supposed to be, nothing else will be either. If you're not consistently hitting the beats with the rest of the band, then everything suffers: time, groove, career opportunities. The importance of 'playing good time' cannot be over stressed, and learning to play steady time is the quickest and shortest path to playing with the better players and landing the better gigs.

I knew a young drummer whose sensitivity to time was quite poor. I suggested he work out with a metronome, but he had a ready come-back: "When we get in the studio we'll use a click track". Actually, if you've never worked with a metronome, playing with a click track might be a challenge. But a bigger problem is that if you aren't able to play in time, you'll likely never get anywhere near a studio. Period.

There is no shortcut to improving your time. Regular practice with a metronome is a must. Also be conscious of other players' time. Stick with the good time keepers and avoid the bad ones. And listen. The easiest way to stay in time is to listen to and become part of the team. Singers and bass players are particularly good at staying in time. Singers are usually very aware of the time, and if it goes awry they are quick to pick up on it -- if only because “something isn’t right”. Bass players consider it their duty to lay down a solid foundation. In fact, many top drummers form tight professional and personal relationships with good bass players. Together, drums and bass can often work miracles.

So break out that metronome (or buy one) and make it a regular part of your practice routine. Be aware of the time … all the time. And especially be aware of your own time. The best description of good time is trying to put your quarter notes “in the bass player’s back pocket”. Of course it's easier said than done, but with practice and attentiveness, it will happen.

Here are a couple of very cool metronome apps for PC that you can download for free:
  • MetronomeExp32
  • Weird Metronome