11 Rules for Sideman Success

On August 25, 2014, in The Thinking Drummer, by feldiefeld

11-Rules-for-sideman-success-illustrationAfter playing a lot of shows with a lot of artists around NYC,  I started thinking about what works and what doesn’t.  Why do some musicians get called for gigs and why don’t others?  Perhaps the hardest thing is number 11….in the world of people playing for free, making sure you get paid is tough.  Hopefully these thoughts will be helpful.

These are not necessarily in order of importance, with the exception of number one.

1) Crush The Material

First and foremost, your job is to play the material to the artist’s liking. That means you must know the material. For me, knowing the material means that I can either blow through the chart or have the songs memorized to the point where I don’t have to think about arrangements. Being on autopilot with arrangements means that you can play with more emotion, and that’s where you want to be.

2) Don’t Be A Pain In The Ass

If you are difficult, awkward, annoying or otherwise a pain in the ass, you won’t last long. Some examples of “pain in the ass-ery” are being defensive when being asked to change a part or adjust your playing, talking too much, or complaining a lot (about anything).

3) Have Your Transportation Together

Particularly if you are a drummer and you want to be a side person, you probably need a car that is reliable. I can’t imagine how I would function around NYC without one. If an artist has the choice of hiring a drummer who gets to the gig on their own or one who needs help or a ride for every gig, why would they pick they latter?

4) Have Your Gear and Sound Together

One of the things that will make you stand out from the pack is having your sound together. That implies that you have your equipment scenario figured out. Top notch gear, in the right hands, means a high level and pleasing sound. Give this a lot of thought and attention.

5) Embrace Direction and Ask Questions

Being a side person means giving the boss what they want. If you can’t take direction, you should just start your own band and forget being a side person. You should also make sure you ask whatever questions you need to ask if you don’t understand something in the music or need some clarity.

6) Be a Great Hang

It’s just a fact that your playing is only half of the picture. If you are no fun to be around, you’re toast. Do you have good social skills? Do you know when to shut up and when to contribute to the conversation? Can you read people socially so you know how to behave to make them like you? You must figure this out to be successful.

7) Be Early

Being early means you have more time to get your gear set up, read the situation you’re walking into and generally be comfortable. Being late can cause all kinds of problems for your leader, and therefore for you, so take this seriously.

8) Play Within Your Abilities

When you’re first asked to do a gig, consider whether or not the music is “in your wheel house.” Can you play the style convincingly and do you have the vocabulary for the music you’re being asked to play? Every genre has it’s own set of grooves and vocabulary, so make sure you can really play that style before saying “yes.”

9) Play Appropriately for the Song

Don’t overplay.

10) Exude Quiet Confidence

You want the artist who hires you to feel comfortable that the music is going to sound great and that everything will go well in the heat of the moment. If you don’t act confidently (this doesn’t mean arrogant), the artist won’t feel comfortable and relaxed. Your quiet, ego-less confidence will make other people in the band feel more comfortable and relaxed. That’s what you want.

11) Get Paid

If you are doing this for a living, or you are working towards doing this for a living, you have to get paid. And if you really live up to everything on this list, you SHOULD get paid. You’re worth it. So don’t sell yourself short out of insecurity. I understand that it’s not so easy, and I do believe there are certain situations where you trade favors. But at the end of the day, requiring a certain price will get you more respect and bolster your reputation. Anyone who wants a “pro level” player but says they don’t want a “hired gun” is full of crap. You get a pro level player by paying for one.


Here’s a new spin on independence.   The idea is to develop the same type of facility against a steady eighth note cymbal pattern that a jazz drummer has playing with the ride cymbal’s jazz pattern. Jazz drummers create conversations between their left hand and feet while playing the “classic” jazz cymbal pattern. I want to be able to do the same thing in a pop and rock context (ie eighth notes).

It’s a modern take on independence. The classic books on modern pop and rock independence, even the revered classic “The New Breed,” all focus on the left hand playing backbeats. In today’s ever progressing world of music, it’s my feeling that backbeats are not enough. Sure, you must have the ability to play them with freedom while you layer various bass drum ideas below or around them, but the freedom to create more complex ideas while maintaining eighth notes with the cymbal hand will give you even more possibilities for expression.
I’ve been pondering this a lot and experimenting with it. This worksheet begins the foundation of interplay between the hands and feet in the context of 16th notes.

These should start to grease the wheels and give you some facility in this area.

Some thought on practicing: try the eighth note pattern with 1) no accents, 2) accents on the downbeats and 3) accents on the upbeats.

Think of these like a jazz drummer would; there’s no need to crush the snare drum notes. Playing the snare drum softly and smoothly will help you stay loose.

If you feel like it, experiment with double bass drums. I have found that playing two notes in a row using double bass allows me to go much faster and achieve a very even sound on each of the two bass drum notes.

This is the beginning of a new era in independence and I’m excited to delve into it further. I hope you’ll join me.

Here’s the PDF of the worksheet for you to take into the practice room: The New Indpendence Sixteenths hand foot combos part one

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The rhythm created by playing every third sixteenth note is one of my favorites. I’ve used it a lot in fills and soloing vocabulary. I think that I initially got the idea for applying this to a cymbal pattern in grooves from something (surprise!) I heard Vinnie Colaiuta play. I know, shocking.

The only way to get something like this together is to create some exercises, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. So, here it is, the beginning of a series that will seek to give us freedom with this idea as it is applied to grooves. I have not, by any means, mastered these exercises as of this writing, but early indications are that this is going to sound amazing.

The first step is to take the simplest eighth note rock beats–the first beats we all learned–and try to layer this new cymbal pattern on top.


In 4/4 time, the dotted eighth note pattern will resolve after three measures, so the exercises are all three measures long and repeat. Although these are the most basic of all rock beats, you may find that the layer of dotted eighths on top will give these beats a new life. There is a brand new texture on top which I think, as I work through these, is going to sound very cool.

As a summary and to build some real control, the final exercise (6) includes a four measure bass drum and snare pattern that repeats until the cymbal pattern on top resolves. The underlying four measure snare/bass drum phrase is similar to the type of rock beat you might encounter in a real playing situation. But, to gain real freedom playing these ideas while maintaining our new cymbal idea, you need to be able to play it while rotating through the entire system of the cymbal pattern. Tricky and fun.

Here is the PDF: dotted eighth independence one

Very different. Lots of fun. Have at it.

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Just published and transcribed by Joerg Eckel, this book of Philly Joe Jones solos is certain to be very accurate.

On matters such as these, there is no one I trust more than John Riley, who, several years ago, told me about a student of his who had transcribed a large number of Philly Joe solos and was working to publish them.

At long last, the book is available. To get a copy, go to:
–Steve Maxwell’s in NYC
–Columbus Percussion in Ohio
–247 Drums in Boston

Have a look at the book cover:




GearHead: Gibraltar Ultra Adjust Hi Hat Stand

On July 22, 2014, in GearHead, by feldiefeld

Gibralter Ultra Adjust Hi Hat Stand

Gibralter Ultra Adjust Hi Hat Stand

I have been experimenting with the idea of moving my hi hat position for months now. I really do like the idea of not crossing my hands, but the shedding that I would have to do to play completely open handed all the time is a bit over whelming. Truly, that practice is not a logical use of my time.

So when I saw this gleaming and super modern looking piece of equipment at Sam Ash, I got excited.

First, let me explain in more detail the “problem” that this piece of equipment was created to solve.

The classic problem here? The crossing of one’s hands. And yes, I know that the “best” solution is actually to play open-handed, but let’s assume that you don’t have enough time to re-learn all of your groove playing in that manner.

I had a student who moved his hi hat away from his body and then uncrossed his hands that way. That is the concept; moving the hi hats forward and to the right of their “normal” position allows you to uncross your hands.

But, your left foot has to move too. The resulting position is decidedly awkward.

Here’s how the product is explained on the Gibraltar website:

“Gibraltar’s Ultra Adjust hi hat stand allows the player to position the stand in a comfortable leg playing position and independently position the hi hat cymbals for best playing placement. Gibraltar accomplished this utilizing the patented Ultra Adjust system. These two gearless positioning points give up to eight inches displacement for the upper stand section of the hi hat.”

The Gibraltar Ultra Adjust did allow me to position the hi hats in a great spot so that I could uncross my hands. It also allowed me to keep my left foot where I wanted.

BUT, more importantly, the motion of the hi hat stand is very sluggish. That is the Achilles heel of the product. Frankly, it’s a deal breaker for me. The first thing that has to work well for me is the actual function that the hi hat is supposed to serve. And that is action and response. I want to use the hats for “chik” sounds, splashes, and the standard open and close sounds.

Yes, I can do all those things, but not with ease. Making the hi hat open and close is laborious. I need to exert more physical energy to move the hi hat up and down than I would with a standard pedal. It’s slower; the response is sluggish.

Unfortunately, this means that the Ultra Adjust is a failure. It just doesn’t feel right at all.

A great idea….but the execution is not there.

Too bad. I really wanted it to work.

I STILL resist the notion that I should go into the shed and learn to play all of my grooves open handed.

I will continue to look for solutions.

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nasty lick 56 Zach Danziger inspiredThis latest Nasty Lick, which happens to be number 56, was inspired by one of my all time favorite drummers, Zach Danziger. I heard him do something like this on the Wayne Krantz album, “Long To Be Loose.”

The phrasing of Zach’s version was a bit different, but the essence of it is very similar.

It’s a killer.

Here is the pdf: Nasty Lick 56

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“Indian Time Zones” appears on Warren Cuccurullo’s 1996 album, “Thanks To Frank.” The tune is in 5/4 and Vinnie Colaiuta takes an eight bar drum solo on the track. My favorite part of the solo is the 2nd half. A transcription of those last four bars is presented here.

The 2nd half of the solo is where Vinnie really blasts off–machine gunning us with a bunch of mostly 32nd note ideas.
I’ve included a one beat pick up (the last quarter note of the fourth bar) on the transcription to maintain the flow of ideas. Where the sticking is difficult, I’ve included my suggested sticking.

Here is the PDF: Indian Time Zones 2nd Half

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The Thinking DrummerAt some point in your career, you will probably have to think carefully about which gigs to take and which to turn down.

Some gigs will be no brainers. But if you find yourself not sure if a particular gig is for you or not, try using the following as a framework to evaluate.

These are not necessarily in order of importance. You have to decide how to weight each factor. That being said, ignore numbers 3 and 4 at your own risk.

1) Time/Opportunity Cost
2) Money
3) Hang
4) Music
5) Business

1) Time/Opportunity Cost
If James Taylor was right and “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time,” then you need to think about how much time you have available to you.

Do you have the time to take this new gig and still enjoy yourself?

Opportunity cost means you may have to give up something else you want to do by spending your time on this new project. Consider what the new gig might prevent you from doing that’s important.

2) Money
There’s not much to explain here. Is there money or not? If there is, how much? Money can make music you don’t love sound a lot better.

3) Hang
Do you like the people on the gig? You may have to spend a lot of time with them. If they are annoying, mean, unpleasant, drug addicts, etc, just factor that into your thinking. If not and you like them, good!

4) Music
Remember why you started playing in the first place? Right. Because you love music. Do you like the songs? Do you like this style of music? What is the level of musicianship? Better than average or amateur hour? If you are struggling to keep up because the musicianship is very high, that could be a positive; you’ll grow as a player. On the other hand, if you are the best player in the band, perhaps you should think again.

5) Business
What are the networking opportunities? Where will you play? Is there a big producer attached to the project? Is there a more experienced musician who might recommend you for other gigs?

You get the picture.

Thinking about this stuff should help you make better decisions.

Here’s to your success.


Rodin-The-Thinker-1024x975I frequently see drum students rushing through a page of exercises.

One such page is the first set of eighth note rock independence exercises in the late Charles Dowd’s book “The Funky Primer.” I use the book often with beginners who are interested in playing pop and rock.

It’s a great way to begin that journey because developing independence with your bass drum foot against eighth notes on the cymbal and backbeats on the snare drum is crucial to functioning in rock music.

The point of these exercises is mastery. Rushing through the page will not develop mastery. In fact, hurrying through the 18 exercises on that particular page (or any) will get you nothing. Nada. Rien. Zip. Bupkes.

I tell students who are rushing through that I wish all drum books were written with only one exercise per page. Perhaps then, it would be easier to focus on JUST THAT ONE PATTERN.

It’s that kind of thinking and focus that will help you. One at a time. Over and over and over again. Until it’s easy, and thoughtless. Until you don’t have to look at the page anymore. Until you can play the pattern with ease. Until you can actually think about something else while playing the pattern. If you’re daydreaming and still playing the material perfectly, you’re really in the zone you want to be in.

You want to play the exercise until it gets into your muscle memory. Once you have the exercise down, move on. But not until you do.

NOW you are on your way to mastery.

Kenny Werner, in his book, “Effortless Mastery,” suggests that one of the components of mastery is “the ability to play the material perfectly every time without thought.”

Don’t let the implied psychology of a page with 20 examples suck you in and make you rush. Pretend that the pattern you’re working on right now is the only thing on that entire page. One at a time, slow and steady.

That’s how you get good.

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More doubles licks. These are good.

Not much more to say. Download the PDF here: Blazing Double Stroke Roll Licks #2

Blazing Double Stroke Licks 2 Illustration

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