Saturday, March 23, 2019

Is Moeller Wrong for Today's Drumming?

Everywhere you turn these days, someone is talking about, writing about or demonstrating something they cheerfully call "Moeller". But here's the thing: There appears to be a lot of different techniques being presented as Moeller.  So I decided to see if I could get to the bottom of the apparent confusion, and here's what I found out about our friend "Gus" and his teachings.

Sanford Gustav Moeller's goal in his 1934 publication was to document and explain the techniques used by old-time field drummers. In those days, drummers used the German grip in the right hand, with the butt of the stick held out to the side. Moeller further recommended the 'open' right hand grip (also known as the 4th finger fulcrum). To achieve power on the somewhat loose calf-skin heads of the day, the trick was to hold the stick with the 4th & 3rd fingers, letting the other digits remain loosely wrapped around the stick. Well, there simply is no possibility of using finger control with this technique!

Moeller never specified a whipping motion, although he did acknowledge its usefulness. The motions he described come mainly from the forearms and wrists. The whip only comes into play when extra power is needed. (BTW, Billy Gladstone was the champion of the whip stroke.)

Did early field drummers ever play fast one-handed triplets on their period drums? I doubt it. The combination of German grip and primitive tensioning systems made articulation difficult. Double strokes at 140 bpm? OK, but that's where it'll top out. Moeller merely documented how the drummers could get some speed under these conditions, and he showed how the technique could be applied to the more modern drum and the then-recently-invented drum set.

The bottom line here is that Moeller is not about arm movement or finger control or bounces. Moeller's real message lies in what happens between the strokes. Controlling what happens at the end of each stroke gives us command over the next stroke, and that's vital for developing control and speed.

I must admit that I use Moeller and Moeller derivatives. A lot. I didn't set out to. I just copied what my teacher showed me. I also closely watched the hand work of my favourite drummers. It was actually years later that I learned what this key motion was. Somehow, I doubt Mr. Moeller would be surprised.

The Moeller Book - The art of snare drumming, Sanford G. Moeller.  (Long out of print and very hard to find)
Ludwig Masters: (1956)
ISBN-10: 157134689
ISBN-13: 978-1571346896

Friday, March 1, 2019

It's Just an Outline

I’m a big fan of structured writing, also known as outlining. All of my notes are in the form of an outline, as are my shopping lists and todo lists. But there’s another type of outlining I like to do, and it’s very handy around the drum set.
Outlining is the technique of playing a rhythmic pattern with one hand while filling in the 'missing' notes with the other hand. (Actually, any two limbs/voices/instruments will work.) The concept is simple, is easy to learn and has great pay-back.

Pulling it Apart
Let's start with a familiar sticking pattern -- paradiddles. If you play all the strokes on the snare at the same volume, then it's just da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da. But lean into the right hand strokes and you get a rhythm: DA doo DA DA / doo DA doo doo. The DA's give us the outer line and the doo's play the inner line. We can re-voice this by putting the R strokes on a cymbal and the L strokes on the snare. The cymbal is now playing the outer line and the L strokes on the snare then become the inner line.

Swing Thing
We can apply outlining to swing just as easily. All we need to do is fill in the 'missing' triplets with the other hand. Here the lead hand plays 1 2-uh 3 4-uh or R R-r R R-r. With outlining, it becomes Rll RlR Rll RlR. The swing ride plays the musical line and the inner line makes it sound a bit like Elvin Jones.
Steve to the Rescue
Now let's look at Steve Gadd's Mozambique, which sounds pretty complicated. The cymbal pattern -- the Mozambique proper -- is based on eighth notes. All we need to do to complete the outline is play the other eighth notes on the snare.

Outlining can be very exciting, and the result sounds much more difficult than it is. It can be applied to just about any sticking to reveal new flavours. Move it around the set and it gets really interesting. You can also try emphasizing the inner line for some unique effects.