Monday, October 20, 2014

Century Drums - A Place for Vintage Drum Addicts

I ventured into the big city recently to check out a new drum store and possibly buy a drum featured on their website. The drum was a mid-70s Ludwig Supraphonic with a brass shell! It turned out the drum had just been sold, but I still ended up having the most 'drum fun' ever.

Greg Millson opened Century Drum as a store front in Toronto's west end to cut down his reliance on road gigs and also to indulge his 'drum nerd' side. Far from nerdy, Greg is a humble guy with tremendous enthusiasm for and knowledge about old drums. While the store does have the occasional newer item, the majority are pre-1970.

The main focus is on snare drums. This, after all, is where drummers do most of their business. It's also the most personal drum in a drummer's set-up, and finding the right one can be a life-long quest. Well, I had no problem targeting a half dozen drums I'd gladly own -- and not just snare drums. (The first drum I noticed was a Leedy 11" tom that sounded unbelievable.)

The front room of the store is mostly snare drums. The walls are lined with snare drums, as is one wall of the adjacent hallway. In the middle of the floor was a line of newly arrived vintage Leedy, Ludwig and Slingerland drums, and the front window sports a couple of extreme vintage sets.

The hallway leads to a cymbal room, a teaching studio, and a drum set room. There are cymbals of every era here. My favourites were an old pair of 16" K Zildjian hats and a UFIP ‘reverse’ Chinese. The back room has mostly Rogers sets at this point, plus a couple of Ludwig kits.

Across the board, the quality of Greg's inventory is top notch. If a drum needs a bit of TLC, Greg has the knowledge and skill to bring it as near as possible to its original state. Obviously Greg is in this to make a living, but he's wisely chosen a mid-line pricing model. His drums are all affordably priced. Yes, some of the numbers are high, but they should be. When a re-issue of a classic drum sells for $1000, I think picking up an original one for $650 is a coup.

Century Drum Shop
985 Dovercourt Road (Just north of Bloor St,) Toronto ON
647 956-9035

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Let Me Rephrase That

Many of the drum exercises I see in books and on blogs and websites seem to completely ignore phrasing, which is unfortunate. I see some very good ideas presented in an  interesting manner but with no context. Ignoring phrasing is a disservice to all musicians. Musical phrases are what music is all about, so anything that a drummer does should relate to the tune’s phrasing, and anything you practice should translate easily into musical applications.

Phrasing is not difficult. The humble 4-bar phrase is so pervasive that anything else can stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. Four-bar phrases are rooted in nature. Before we had instruments, we had only the voice, and most vocalists (and therefore wind instruments players too) have enough lung power for roughly two bars. So if you sing a 2-bar line and then stop to take a breath, chances are you'll naturally fall into a 4-bar phrase: a 2-bar musical statement followed by 2 bars of breathing space (or meditation or whatever). Thus the 4-bar phrase is born.

It’s a good idea to practice everything in 4-bar increments. The best way to do this is to count the downbeats of the bars: One 2 3 4 / Two 2 3 4 / Three 2 3 4 / Four 2 3 4. BTW  if  you put three 4-bar phrases together, you have the framework for a 12-bar blues.

OK, that settles the length issue, now how does a drummer approach phrasing musically. I like to use the classic ‘call and response’ method. I think of the first two bars -- the musical statement -- as the call (this is usually the vocalist's bit) and the next two bars would be the response.

So:|  2-bar statement  |  2-bar response  |
|  2-bar set-up  |  2-bar resolution  |

Listen to any blues guitarist for splendid examples of 2 bars of vocal line followed by 2 bars of guitar embellishment. Drums can do the same.

The opposite form will also work -- but is less common -- where, for example, a drummer might do some 'colour commentary' for the first two bars and then play more simply for the next two bars. This can be an ideal model for soloing, though.

While the 4-bar phrase may be the basic unit, lots of music is cast from 8-bar phrases. Well that's just two 4-bar phrases. Count the down beats and use a call & response style, this time with a 6-bar of time followed by a 2-bar resolution, or 7 bars of time and a 1-bar resolution. We call this technique a turn-around, and it’s an important concept. Don’t just put stuff in ‘cuz you feel like it. In fact, you’ll find that the end of a phrase will often call out for some sort of recognition … a fill or a figure.

So play in 4-bar phrases or 8-bar phrases, depending on the music form, and listen for the call & response structure. Listen also for the 'resolution' at the end of a phrase, which is your opportunity to help finish off one phrase and usher in the next one.