Monday, December 22, 2014

Any Educational System Must Cover ALL The Bases

For drums, education must include hand control, strength training, reading, musicality, and ideas for creativity. Many teaching strategies focus on just one or two of these areas, but as a complete musician you need to develop all these skills, and to a high degree.

Hand Control
The bottom line is that we want our hands (and feet) to do the things we want them to do. So lots of practice on sticking patterns and basic rhythms is in order. Control also determines speed, articulation and facility with dynamics.

Strength Training
 Drums are physically hard to play, and it takes quite a bit of muscle to get through. A single demanding song can wear you out if you're not prepared. Speed also comes from strength, so be sure to include exercises and routines that push your speed as well as your endurance.

Reading music has a number of advantages. At the very least it allows you to access the ideas on the page. A systematic course in reading will not only teach you the notes, it will clearly lay out how different note values are related to the beat and to each other, and this can help you put the notes where they need to be. Plus if you can read reasonably well, it's not that big a step to reading charts, and that can make you more valuable.

Your course of study should include analyzing tunes and working on form, melody and perhaps even harmony. It's nice to have practiced '1001 rock beats', but how do they fit the music, if at all? And if you intend to be a freelancer or generalist, then your study should include all of the genres you might encounter on a gig.

Ideas & Creativity
My approach to everything is to work with building blocks: specific exercises to build strength, others to develop control, etc. To that end, I tend to avoid overly specific beats. I prefer the freedom of creating my own beats derived from the music. So my regimen includes lots of idea builders --basic patterns that have broad applications in music.

One of my favourite proverbs is "Work hard and never hurry". The skills you need cannot by rushed, so forget the time table and focus on your overall musical education. And remember that curiosity is the best motivator.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Layered vs. Linear

There are two types of drumming -- layered and linear -- and they are very far apart in every way.

Layered drumming is what we all do most of the time: bass drum on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4, ride rhythm on top. The instruments and the figures are in layers: a layer of cymbal, below that a layer of snare, and a layer of BD as a foundation.

Layered drumming requires a lot of coordination. It also requires the ability to play at least a couple of ostinatos at the same time. An ostinato is simply a repetitive pattern: ba-bump/ba-bump/ba-bump on the bass drum, ding-dinga-ding on the cymbal. The idea here is that some limbs will play an ostinato while other limbs might play in a less regimented manner. Most rhythms are just a pile of ostinatos.

The rule for linear drumming is that no two limbs will strike at the same time. Traditional drum training has neglected linear playing, but it is coming on strong. Linear style can range from the simple to the complex. Usually the practitioner will work out a number of interesting patterns and intermingle them in a tune. So our layered rock beat can be reinterpreted as linear: BD Cym SN Cym / BD Cym SN Cym / BD Cym SN Cym.

Linear playing will take some work to master, and because it is radically different from what you're used to, your existing technique may get in the way from time to time, so one of your objectives is to unlearn the old ways. One of the best books for this is "4-way Co-ordination" by Dahlgren & Fine.

Another approach you might try is mixing things up with ”Stick Control”. Alan Dawson reinterpreted “Stick Control” by playing the R strokes with alternate sticks and the L strokes on the bass drum. So a paradiddle -- RLRR LRLL -- would yield RH BD LH RH / BD LH BD BD. You can take it a step further by alternating feet as well. Try this: play your right hand on the ride cymbal and left hand on the snare. For R, play alternate hands; for L, play alternate feet. So our paradiddle now becomes Cym BD SN Cym / HH SN BD HH.

You don't have to play linear patterns all the time. Even a little bit of linear variation can add interest to a conventional rhythm. Plus working on linear patterns will help free your limbs to do more interesting ostinato patterns.

4-Way Coordination: A Method Book for the Development of Complete Independence on the Drum Set, by Marvin Dahlgren & Elliot Fine
ISBN-10: 0769233708
ISBN-13: 978-0769233703

Stick Control For the Snare Drummer by George Lawrence Stone, 1935
ISBN-10: 1892764040
ISBN-13: 978-1892764041