On January 17th, 2015, the five finalists in Guitar Center’s Drum Off gathered in Los Angeles for a final show down.
Shariq Tucker, 22, brought home the trophy this year.
I was at the semi-finals in the new Times Square Guitar Center store, where Shariq competed against four others winners in the Northeastern division of the competition. Frankly, after hearing all five on that November evening, it was clear that Shariq was the winner. His groove, flow, integration of the Octapad into his performance, showmanship, creativity and confidence were all unquestionably superior to his competitors.
Having competed in the 2013 competition for the first time, I can tell you that playing a drum solo for three to five minutes in front of a crowd is really difficult and quite stressful. The preparation is intense and the thought behind each section of the solo is significant.
Congrats to Shariq; it is quite an achievement.
Check out his solo below.
A few months ago I bought the DrumDial, a device that was created to help drummers more easily tune their drums.
Tuning is an important skill for a drummer. Often overlooked, but clearly important. A great player with a not so great sound on their instrument translates into a so-so player. So it follows that you need to care about your sound as well as your playing.
But drum tuning seems a bit mysterious to many. In the beginning it certainly was to me. For melodic instruments, it all seems much simpler. A G is a G. A D is a D. Very specific. Not so for us drummers. There are no real notes to tune to as there are with melodic instruments (some will debate this and say that tuning drums to specific melodic pitches is both possible and desirable, but I have never been a fan of tuning my drums this way). So, just how does one learn to tune drums?
The first place to turn is a trusted drummer friend or teacher. I learned by having a teacher show me. But there are many other sources of information including books, videos and the web. Below are just two to get you started:
So, over time, I’ve become good at tuning drums, but I figure, there’s always room for improvement, right? Hence, my decision to buy the DrumDial.
The idea behind the DrumDial is logical: match the tension of each lug on the drum and you should get the basis of a good clear tone. This is what any drummer who knows how to tune generally does anyway. But without the DrumDial, we do it by ear.
Simply tapping the stick on the head an inch or so inside of a particular lug and matching that sound lug by lug is a common method of tuning.
But, the promise of the DrumDial is that you can get those tensions so perfectly even that your resulting sound could be that much better. Simply get the tension numbers, as measured by the DrumDial, to match to a specific tension, and you’re good to go.
Well, guess what?
It didn’t pay out for me. I spent a bunch of time tweaking the tensions on various drums to get them perfect by using he DrumDial, always following the instructions provided, and often the result was less than I had hoped for.
Frankly, I was able to make the drums sound better when tuning by ear. I also was able to tune much more quickly with out the Drum Dial.
Sorry, I love new drumming related devices. I really do, But this one was not a winner. Not recommended. Save yourself some time and trust your ears.
In recent weeks, freedom of speech has been under attack in a most violent way.
The forms of art that were involved were both satires. Sony’s weak response to the alleged North Korean threats against their film “The Interview,” a comedy satirizing the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was a mistake.
Charlie Hebdo, the French satirist publication, was brutally attacked by assassins who claimed to be seeking revenge against satirical cartoons that depicted Islamic prophet Mohammad.
Freedom of speech is a basic right. More than ever before, we must make our art. If your art compels you to satirize anything at all, you have the right to express yourself and you must not be hindered by the threats of thugs who wish to censor you.
I was outraged at Sony’s initial reaction to the threats they received. They folded.
Charlie Hebdo, on the other hand, having faced the murder of their employees and editor in chief, marches on with strength.
In response to these horrible events, I suggest that we KEEP MAKING OUR ART. What could be more important than continuing to speak freely about what inspires us? Make your music, your paintings, your films. Write your words. No one can stop you.
In addition, I think another appropriate response is to spread the art of those who were to be silenced.
Above are some of the most controversial of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures. I urge you to spread them widely!
Never forget that the pen is truly mightier than the sword.
The “Reverse Six Stroke Roll” (LRRLLR) is very fertile ground for new ideas.
The latest in the Nasty Lick series, number 63, is another example of this in use. There are two exercises presented, one where the phrasing is very simple (see illustration above), and one that is a bit more syncopated. Once you get comfortable with both exercises, you should be able to mix the phrasing around as you wish.
The phrase is reminiscent of Gadd’s famous ratamacue lick (example #4 from BANG’s “7 Gadd Licks”), but for me, it’s easier to play.
The third example (labeled on the worksheet as “How to get ‘out'”) shows one of my favorite ways to end the idea and get back to a groove. Since my groove playing is generally led by my right hand and this soloing idea uses a left hand lead, this way of ending simply adds a bass drum so get my hands back to a right hand lead. You’ll get what I’m talking about when you have a look at the PDF, which is here: Nasty Lick 63.
Today I came across these words from the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. Recently, I’ve been thinking about practice and the work that goes into becoming a great artist. Evans echoes my beliefs on how it all works. There is no secret. The answer is focused hard work.
See the quote below the photo.
I believe in things that are developed through hard work. I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually a much deeper and more beautiful thing than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning. I say this because it’s a good message to give to young talents…
The Talent Code examines the details of exactly how great skill is developed.
There is more science to this than you might imagine. As a matter of full disclosure, I haven’t finished the book yet. But I’ve read enough to be able to tell you that I think it would be worth your time to check it out. You will find out a lot about the topic of developing the skill you seek. And I’m pretty certain that some of the information here will surprise you.
I won’t give all of author Daniel Coyle’s revelations away, but here are some of the key findings:
- Skill is not something you are born with. Great athletes are not born with genetics that are superior to you. Great musicians are not born with music in their blood. All of the skill is developed through focused, repetitive work and practice.
- There is real science that has been discovered in the formation of skill. These new discoveries are related to the physiology of what happens in one’s body while practicing. Note that this science has nothing do with born ability.
- The specifics of how you practice is very important.
- Having the right guidance is paramount. Coyle calls this “Master Coaching.”
If you are serious about becoming a great drummer (or becoming a great artist in almost any discipline), you must read this book.
Part of my job with this blog is to be a curator. In that role, I want to share things with you that I think are excellent, inspiring and push the limits of the art form of drumming.
Here is one such example. Dave DiCenso. Do you know him? Perhaps his most well known gig these days is as the drummer with Josh Groban. He also teaches at Berklee School of Music.
When I saw this solo, I thought it had it all: groove, creativity, technique, fireworks, and great musicality.
Have a look and listen and see if it inspires you. It definitely inspires me.
At first, you may look at this and just say, “why?”
I know. I get it. But I have begun to find use for this idea. Bear with me a moment, OK?
We’ve been taught since the day we begin drumming that we should be able to play lots of figures with our limbs while maintaining an eighth note cymbal rhythm. Lots of figures that don’t include eighth note triplets. I have never seen this explored in any drumming literature and I don’t think I’ve heard anyone play this way. Why is that?
As I thought about the “why,” I started to feel that there wasn’t any good reason for this stuff being ignored. I also could imagine this facility yielding some pretty cool sounding stuff.
Good enough. Let’s go.
As I’ve messed with this notion, I’ve discovered that there is some use for it. Mixing eighth note triplets in with other ideas that are more commonly played can actually sound musical if played tastefully.
So, I’ve decided to explore further. This worksheet will give you some ideas on how to begin working on gaining the facility to play this way. It’s just a start, but a significant one.
To get started, you need to work on the essence of three against two, which is the very first exercise on the sheet. It’s presented in the simplest form (quarter notes vs quarter note triplets) so you can start to understand the rhythm of overlapping these figures.
I would suggest working on exercise one for a long time, and then substituting your bass drum and hi hat foot for the snare drum. As you get more used to how this feels and sounds, you can start to speed it up. As you do, you’ll start to get the feeling of eighth notes vs eighth note triplets.
Then, start working on the exercises.
After you’ve messed with the exercises for a while, try improvising with adding a few eighth note triplets here and there as you play the more conventional things you can already play vs the eighth note cymbal pulse.
Here’s the PDF for you to take into the practice room: eighth note cymbal vs eighth note triplets part one
More to come as I get deeper into this…
I’ve always believed that the ultimate achievement for any musician is to have their own voice or sound on their instrument. For many ambitious musicians, that notion represents the Holy Grail of musicianship.
Steve Gadd, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Keith Carlock are just a few of the drummers who have reached that apex. Can you listen to a few bars of music and on that basis alone know who a particular drummer is?
Yes? That is the hallmark of a musician who has successfully developed their own unique voice.
The question is: how does one get there?
Passion and Work
One must have a passion for the instrument that is extraordinarily deep. The work involved is too overwhelming for all but the most dedicated. If you speak to musicians who have reached this high level of achievement, they will tell you that they listened to many musicians and delved deeply into those who they felt passionate about. They practiced thousands of hours. But was it chore? Perhaps sometimes. But mostly, no. The passion drove the work.
Part of the work is to explore the vocabulary of great drummers before you. You don’t have to learn what everyone played. That would simply be impossible. Just pick those who inspire you. That is part of what makes this journey fun. You get to pick which drummers will influence your playing.
Exploring in this journey is not cursory. It means transcribing and dissecting. Just listening to a few tracks is not enough. One needs to become deeply immersed. I believe that learning the time playing and soloing of the artists you choose to explore is important. Perhaps you choose the time playing of several drummers and the soloing of others. Pick and choose that which excites you.
Beyond the specific ideas you might have heard your heroes play, there will be concepts that influence you. For example, Billy Cobham was one of the first players to play open handed. That had a great influence conceptually on many other drummers. You can bet that Simon Phillips was heavily influenced by Billy, but he took the concept and did new things with it.
Look for some other big picture drumming concepts that you can build your unique playing voice on.
Then, you’ll have to learn to play these ideas yourself. You’ll get a deep understanding by doing this. You’ll start to hear new things. You’ll keep some of it. You’ll discard some of it.
At some point, you will have to make a conscious decision to go down your own road. If you don’t do this, you will never make it to the unique place of having your own sound. This is crucial.
Once you give yourself permission to do this, gates will open. You’ll take ideas that your idols played and alter them. There are many ways to do this. A few are:
- Orchestrate the idea differently on the drum set, using different voices than that of the original.
- Play the idea as a different metric. For example, if the orignal idea is based on triplets, try playing it as sixteenth notes.
- Add or subtract notes. If the idea has two bass drum notes, try it with only one.
- Try a different sticking.
You will find some of these new ways of playing things sound good and some don’t. That’s OK. That’s the process. You’ll keep some stuff and discard other stuff.
Putting it Together Your WayYou’ll also have to figure our how to integrate your ideas into your playing in a way that makes sense. This will take a bunch of work on it’s own. The work to do this is very important. Practice improvising your new ideas. If you can’t improvise them into your practice playing, then they probably won’t come out in your performances when you want them to.
The sound of your instrumentWhat about tuning, drum sizes, cymbal choices, and technique? All of these directly influence how you sound so you have to think about these things too. Are you going to have a massive kit or a small one? Double bass or single? Coated Ambassadors or Pinstripes? Muffling or open? Traditional grip vs matched? Do you rely on doubles or singles? Each of these choices is important.
This is the most exciting journey of all. Embrace it and enjoy it.
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.
-Jim Jarmusch, filmmaker