Wednesday, August 19, 2015

But I Want It To Just Happen

Some very frustrated words from a frustrated music student. We were doing a bit of jamming -- part of our first year Intro to Jazz program -- and this fellow wasn't getting anything going. The bass player and I had more experience and were able to make a pretty good showing. What this poor fellow didn't realize at the time was:

1. 'Just happen' comes later.
2. It takes conscious effort and even some planning to get things happening.
3. The bass player and I, not being especially seasoned players, were essentially faking it. 

So the message is, 'Fake it till you make it'.

Sharpen the saw ... a lot
You can only work with the tools you've got. My poor friend didn't have a lot of technical skill, and no improvising skills. So his goal of extemporaneous improvisation was unrealistic. 

Lighten up
One of the hardest things to do when learning is to ignore people who can already do it. Instead of focusing on what we're doing, we might be thinking about what we can't do. Although this can motivate, it can also be a recipe for frustration. Remember that the people we admire are usually exceptional, and usually they've had a lot more training, opportunities and experience.

Play as much as you can
The only way to get better at doing something is to do it. If you spend all your time practicing, you'll get better at practicing. So get out there and play some music with other people. The more the better. 

Be the worst player (sort of)
Very few people can drive themselves the way a team can. Working with other people will push you to go further. The best situation is to play with good players -- players who are better than you. They will both push you along and pull you up to greater heights. 

10,000 hours
Malcolm Gladwell says you have to spend 10,000 hours at something in order to master it. So let's say you practice 2 hours a day and play another 2 hours, six days a week. At that rate it will take you a little over eight years to get competent. Two points here: First, it will take a lot of work, so better start practicing. Second, it takes a long time. Even doubling the time spent (8 hours a day? Seriously?) You're still looking at 4 years ... 4 long, intense years. So slow down, take it easy, and don't be in a hurry to get there.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Visit To A Toy Factory

I have a wee dilemma. When I play with brushes (which is quite a lot these days) I occasionally want some real attack. So I was intrigued when I saw Headhunters' new line of strange drum brushes. To be honest, my first impression was that they were perhaps mainly a gimmick. So I contacted Dave Rundle at Headhunters to arrange a factory tour and to discuss these radical looking implements.

I've actually been using Headhunters sticks since long before they became Headhunters (does the name Kirkwood ring a bell?) and although I'd visited the Headhunters shop a couple of years ago when they were just getting into 'exotics', I was still in for quite a treat and an education.

Dave is quite a gear head when it comes to discovering ways to hit things. If it can possibly be used to strike a drum, he's either tried it or is about to. The evidence is in the racks, boxes and baskets filled with prototypes, experiments and oddities. From out of Dave’s curiosity and creativity have come some products that should be in every percussionist's stick bag. The new products are so radical that the company is modifying its slogan. While the traditional sticks will still be known as “The stick with the groove”, Dave feels the new slogan is a better fit:  “Advancing Designs for Creative Drummers”.

Brushes, brushes and more brushes
I'm quite fond of my Headhunters Jazz Brushes, except for the lack of cymbal articulation, so I was curious about brushes with things attached. I was mainly interested in the Dream Catchers: non-retractable brushes with a loop of nylon rod transversing the wires. If you're looking for brushes with more oomph, these may be just the thing. I think the heavy duty model would be a must for country shuffles. There are three styles of Dream Catcher, all of them adjustable. Impressive, but not quite what I was looking for (tho' I do own a pair).

Next I tried the Saber Tooth. These have two adjustable rods extending to the sides of the wires, each with a small nylon ball near the tip. All I can say is you've got to try them. Never have brushes had so many sounds available and with pin-point articulation.

I finally settled on the Cyclops model, which has a single, adjustable rod with a ball end poised in the middle of the wire spread (without the ball it’s called a Rhino).  I took these out on a gig and was floored by what they can do.

Rather than try to describe Headhunters’ cross-over designs, here’s a video from Jeff Salem that does an excellent job of presenting them:

Cajon Creations
Many of the brush and multi-rod designs have been adapted to accommodate the needs of cajon players. One distinctive option is a sponge-rubber beater ball. These have been added to sticks, brushes, rods and cross-overs, and the variety of sounds available is astounding.  The sound possibilities are awesome plus they reduce wear and tear on the hands. If cajon is your thing, you've got to check out these products! Oh, and you can have jingles too. How about ‘the works’: bundled nylon rods with a sponge ball and jingles in the middle?

Mere words really are inadequate for describing the wealth of possibilities lurking in these creations and it would be easy to write a lengthy post on each one, but I think a better use of your time would be to get out there and try some of them. Life is too short to use a single tool for hitting things.

Headhunters brush Creations (L to R) Cyclops, Dreamcatcher, Rhino, Sabretooth.