Jojo Mayer On Greatness


This quote pretty much nails the big picture of how to conceptualize what a drummer needs in order to be a great player. We’re not talking about skills. Yes, you need to learn to read rhythmic notation and gain technique. Yes, you need to study and gain multi limbed independence. Yes, you have to learn foot technique and study different styles. But those are micro level things. Jojo is great at explaining details but he is also really good at condensing the big picture into understandable concepts. That’s what he does here. He boils it all down to three big picture ideas. Succinct and thought-provoking. Check it out. It’s Yoda-like and heavy.

Do you know the John Bonham logo, the three circles that intersect? Those three circles I see as the physical or technical world, or the body; the conceptual world or the mind—the choices; and the emotional world. There are areas where the three overlap, but you can also separate them.

Now, say there’s a drummer who’s ready to emote and share his feelings but is technically unable to execute his ideas. He’s going to be frustrated. Now let’s say there’s a drummer who has a meticulous understanding of the physics of his instrument and a very good concept, but he cannot emote. He will only be interesting to other drummers. He’s going to be a clinician. He’s going to do incredible things, but your girlfriend is going to go out and grab a coffee and meet you after. Then maybe you have a technical or body understanding and you are ready to emote but you have no concept. You’re going to become a clone of somebody who’s already out there. And you’re going to miss authenticity, which is very important.

So, all of us have to allow ourselves to be honest and aware of our emotions. We want to share these things with someone else, so we have to put them into some sort of structure so people can understand it. And then we need technique to do it. So in the process you make acquisitions of knowledge. You process this, but then you have to let things go, because you cannot be everything. You cannot be Jack DeJohnette and John Bonham and Stewart Copeland and Elvin Jones. But you can simplify and find clarity, and you find clarity when you remove things and you spend time with simple things.

–from Modern Drummer magazine, May 2015 issue

Bill Stewart on Technique

billstewartOne of the purposes of “The Drumming Blog” is to curate. As one who is obsessed with drumming, I’m a big consumer of the drumming media and therefore I stumble upon little tidbits of drumming wisdom all the time. Often, it’s from interviews I read with great drummers either online or in magazines.

In this edition of “DrumSpeak,” Bill Stewart, one of our generation’s most influential jazz drummers, speaks about technique. I found this quote in an interview with Stewart that appeared in the April 2015 issue of Drumhead, a relatively new entry in the drumming magazine world. If you don’t know Drumhead, it’s a magazine worth checking out.

Here is Stewart’s response to the question: “What gives you the desire to work on technique?”

I work on technique every time I practice. I come across things that I’m maybe not doing well enough so I will focus on whatever is bothering me, as far as execution goes. Obviously I work on technique, but it’s in order to play what I want to play musically. I’ve never liked it when musicians play things that seem technical for the sake of showing that; showing fast hands, for example. It’s usually something fast that people associate with that. That’s not really where Im coming from but obviously I do have to work on getting my hands and feet and coordination to all work well. To me, technique is about getting a good sound too; it’s not just about playing a bunch of flashy stuff.

On Drumming Open Handed

Open handed drumming is a method that is debated frequently. I’ve considered it and have applied it to my drumming here and there. In this article, I will weigh in on the pros and cons, my experience with playing this way, and my net-net opinion.

For those not familiar with it, let’s define open-handed drumming. Let’s assume a right-handed drum set-up. Most of the time, the right-handed drummer will cross his right hand over the left to play the hi-hat. Certainly, in rock and pop music, a lot of time is spent in this position, because the primary function of the drummer is to play grooves to support the band.

A good view of Simon Phillips playing "open-handed" at a drum clinic.

A good view of Simon Phillips playing “open-handed” at a drum clinic.

Drumming “open-handed” simply means that the drummer plays the hi-hat with the left hand while the right hand plays the snare drum. This avoids the crossing over of the right arm above the left. Proponents of the open-handed style claim that the un-crossing of the arms frees up the right hand to play anywhere on the kit that is desired.

The open-handed method also allows the right hand unrestricted power on the snare drum. With no arm above it, the snare drum arm can rise as high as the drummer wishes and hit the drum as hard as is desired.

Open handed players will often mount their ride cymbal on the left side above the hi hat and play the ride cymbal with the left hand as well. Some open-handed players have their ride in the “regular” right side position, effectively becoming ambidextrous.

Some well-known drummers who play “open” include: Billy Cobham, Kenny Aronoff (sometimes plays this way), Simon Phillips, Claus Hessler, Dom Famularo, Will Kennedy, Carter Beauford and Lenny White.

My first exposure to open-handed playing was when I saw Billy Cobham (as Jack Bruce’s drummer) play at the Bottom Line in NYC (circa 1980). Besides Cobham’s obvious mastery and technique, the idea that he played “uncrossed” was impressive to me because it just seemed so difficult to do. As a teen, I recall Billy’s open-handed playing had a real “wow” factor.

Despite the allure of the “open-handed” method, I continued to play the “normal” way and still do.

I don’t disagree with the logic of uncrossing one’s hands as described above. Yes, you can play anything you wish with your right hand while maintaining the hi hat pulse. And yes, you have no power restrictions. Yes, it looks pretty cool and it is different from the majority of players.

However (and this is a very big “however”) there really is no logic to re-learning to play “open-handed” once you’ve gotten very far down the road with your right hand leading on the cymbal. Imagine how much work that would take! Hours and hours and hours. Perhaps more than a thousand hours of practice. I find that daunting and actually just stupid.

Instead, I’ve used the idea on occasion, when it served a musical purpose. Recently, when playing with MANCIE, I wanted to play a groove that included the hi hat on every eighth note with the tom toms mixing in with the snare drum and bass drum. I simply decided upon the beat I wanted to play, learned some additional variations on it, and played open-handed in order to execute. I could have added a remote hi hat on the right side to meet the same goal, but I would rather not carry the additional hardware and cymbals around with me, so learning the open-handed beat was an easier choice. It required a few hours of practice, not a thousand.

I also once learned an entire set of music open-handed but I only did that because I was bored with my playing in that particular band. We were touring a bit and I knew the music so well that I needed to think of a new way to play the music without getting bored and without over playing. It worked. But it was an exercise rather than a necessity.

Let’s look at the main advantages put forth by the proponents of open-handed playing.

1) The entire kit is open to the drummers’ right hand when the left hand is playing the hi hat.

Yes, this is true. But do you really want to incorporate tom toms and cymbal bells into all of your beats? Do you need or want to do any of that with any real kind of frequency? I would argue that the answer is “no.” No, you don’t need to play that many sounds on your kit with much frequency at all. In fact, if you did play that way all of the time or with great frequency, you’d be one of those annoying, over-playing drummers who no one wants to play with.

Remember, our function is to lay down the groove. With only the three basic rock/pop voices (hi hat, snare and bass drum) you’ll have plenty to work with if you have technique and control over your dynamics. In addition, linear ideas can allow you to move around the kit more if you wish to play more “stuff” with out playing open-handed.

So, yes, the assertion is true, but I don’t particularly care that much about having the entire kit available to my non-cymbal hand at all times.

2) The snare drum hand can hit harder.

Yes, but really, who cares? You can hit plenty hard crossing over, particularly if you know how to hit a good rim shot.

Here is an important final issue. What about someone who is just starting to play? Does it make sense to play open? I personally think it’s fine to present it to drum students and give them the facts. Some students have a natural affinity for this style.

I rejected open handed playing because I would have had to practice a huge amount to get as good that way as I am crossing. But the beginning student is not re-learning anything. A newbie, who learns open from the get go is not wasting any practice time and will reap all of the benefits of the style. I see no reason to discourage it. I have one student in particular who has been pursuing open handed playing and I am happy to help her with that endeavor.

I do not mean to be negative about open handed playing at all. I like the notion. I think it does make for interesting possibilities. I have dabbled in it. But to make a switch after years of playing? No way. As a way of playing from day one? Absolutely.

9 More Exercises To Build Bass Drum Double Strokes

9-more-exercises-illustrationOne of the most popular posts on this blog is 9 Exercises To Build Bass Drum Double Strokes. I wrote that page of exercises a few years back in order to help give some structure to drummers who are working on doubles with one bass drum.

To follow up with some more exercises, I put together a new worksheet that has 9 two measure phrases. The focus is on doubles with the bass drum in a more musical way. These stray from the usual “two” and “four” on the snare drum rather quickly, but I think you’ll find the phrases interesting. The ideas here come from applying the jazz drumming concept of comping and over-the-bar-line phrasing to 16th note funk/rock playing.

I hope you find it helpful….you may develop some new phrasing ideas in addition to getting your bass drum double strokes together.

Please feel free to comment or otherwise let me know what you think.

Here’s the worksheet: 9 more exercises to build bass drum double strokes PDF

Steve Gadd On Groove


In the latest DrumSpeak, Steve talks about groove and how his jazz background, combined with the music that was popular while he was coming up helped define his sound. There is a lot of great information here—soak it up.

Below, the interview with Gadd from Modern Drummer online (July 1, 2005).

MD: I was a freshman at North Texas State in 1972, and my teacher was John Gates, who had been in the Army with you. He told me, “There’s this guy that nobody knows about named Steve Gadd, and he’s something else.” That began my search for your recordings. Chuck Mangione’s Alive was the first record I heard you on, and the groove was incredible. Your solos on “High Heal Sneakers” and “St. Thomas” have the clarity of Max Roach, and there is an incredible fluidity and a contemporary slant. Do you recall what you were listening to and practicing at that time?

Steve: That was done right after I moved to New York. I had just gotten out of the Army, and before that I was in school. My main background was listening to guys like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, and Art Blakey. Then I got to New York and started hearing some funk players, so I started to concentrate more on the groove than on the freedom of straight-ahead stuff. One of the first guys I heard that had a really great groove was Rick Marotta.

MD: So he was established before you?

Steve: We both got to New York around the same time. But he grew up with a different background—more of a backbeat thing—and he had a hell of a pocket. Still does. So having come from the kind of background I came from and then hearing that groove, I was inspired to technically emulate those jazz guys but to put some of that stuff in a great pocket.

MD: I hear that in your earliest recordings. How did you develop that deep, relaxed pocket?

Steve: I think it’s a matter of being aware of it and trying to do it. No matter how “out” and over-the-bar whoever you’re trying to sound like did it, the challenge is to try and do it in a way where you’re paying tribute to what they did but that is understandable in terms of a groove.

MD: Did you have a method for practicing that?

Steve: No, it was just a matter of being in a situation where I had the chance to record and hear it back. That’s a tremendous education right there, because there are a lot of things you do in the studio that get very creative and exciting, and you think they sound great, but on playback you can tell it’s jumbled up and not easy for the listener to understand. So you go back and simplify some things and you find out that it’s a lot more understandable when you leave some space. So being in the studio and hearing things back was a good education. And then years later, when they started using clicks, when things got exciting you could tell where you got away from the click. So those were ways of testing yourself and trying to develop the pocket.

MD: Your playing is highly supportive and highly interactive. But there’s also a transparency. Although the playing may be busy, it doesn’t create interference.

Steve: When you’re playing high-energy music in the studio, a lot of times when the soloist gets busy, everyone gets busy. I’ve learned that that’s the time to not get busy and just be supportive. When he takes a breath, that’s a better time to play something in terms of being a support player. You have to pick and choose your spots, sort of like filling in the blanks.

MD: I was in the studio once in the early ’80s watching you do a Dave Liebman record called What It Is. I remember the rhythm section putting down a track, and then Dave put a saxophone solo on. The groove was kind of static, but he played on top, behind, and all around the time, and it was a really interesting contrast. Mike Mainieri was producing, and after Dave put his solo on, I remember Mainieri saying that something was missing. You said, “I have an idea.” You went in and made a pass that corresponded to the saxophone solo. Do you remember that?

Steve: I remember working with Dave, but I don’t remember that particular session. What condition was I in?

MD: At that time you seemed to be burning the candle at both ends. You were playing sessions all day, and then I remember you playing at Mikel’s all night. It seemed like an amazingly stimulating but exhausting period.

Steve: Yeah, it was a great period, but it was pretty exhausting. So I don’t remember that particular session. How did it come out?

MD: It came out incredible. You did exactly what you were just describing: following the emotional path that he was on, but not talking when he was talking, so to speak.

Steve: I’ve found over the years that the feel overcomes everything. If you get a good groove happening, that carries it along. If it feels good, there’s not a lot you have to do. You can pick and choose your spots to dynamically respond to what’s going on, but you don’t have to technically, constantly challenge yourself to fill in those spaces.

When you play live, it’s another ballgame. People can see the excitement, and that helps them put it together with the audio. When you don’t have that visual thing, it’s better to keep it simple. It’s a lot more understandable.

Jojo Mayer’s Sonor Perfect Balance Bass Drum Pedal Revisited

I’ve been messing with different bass drum pedals lately. I know. So what else is new, right?

Any drummer obsessed with sound and technique is always trying different gear. It’s a never-ending journey. This is one of the reasons I am glad I don’t endorse a ton of drum related products.

I like to change my mind. Artists do that. It’s OK. I endorse Vic Firth and no other companies’ gear. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with Vic. For a while now, I’ve been using their Keith Carlock signature sticks. They’re killer. But I digress. (If you’re interested, you can read about my obsession with these sticks HERE)

So with my bass drum technique, I’ve been messing with four pedals lately.

Sonor's Perfect Balance Pedal by Jojo Mayer

1) Sonor’s Perfect Balance Pedal

DW 5000 Heel-less Pedal

2) DW 5000 ADH Heel-less w chain

Yamaha FP 6110 w/ Strap

3) Yamaha (FP 6110) with a strap

Yamaha Direct Drive Pedal

4) Yamaha’s Direct Drive (FP 9500d)

When I originally wrote about the Jojo pedal, I was over the moon. You can read that article HERE. I loved it. At the time I was deeply into playing jazz and only jazz. I was trying to play mostly heel down. The pedal was great for that. Feathering the bass drum? The Jojo pedal is amazing for that. Heel down doubles? Not bad at all.

Later, I started having some reservations because I began playing more heavy rock. The Perfect Balance pedal is not intended for that. It’s not built for smashing. For that heavy style of louder rock (think Dave Grohl circa Nirvana), my DW 5000 is ideal. Chain drive pedals that are supported by thick metal hardware are intended for that purpose. When I tried the Jojo pedal in that musical situation I was disappointed. But that should not be a surprise. It just didn’t feel right for that application, but I may revisit this again.

Lately, a larger portion of my playing time is devoted music where my playing is more subtle. I’m working on a project that requires a lighter touch and more technique. It’s more funk, more progressive, more ghost notes, more double strokes, less pounding, more caressing. So, I revisited the Jojo pedal.

I’m glad I did. The pedal really feels great. In particular, fast doubles are very clean and consistent. There are some ideas i’m using that require two 32nd notes in a row on the bass drum at 100 to 116 bpm, and this pedal makes it feel almost effortless.

Now, let me tell you a little about the Yamaha Direct Drive and the older strap based FP 6110.

The Direct Drive is a pretty good pedal. I like the feel. But for fast doubles, the pedal seems inadequate. I use a sliding motion that comes from a toe-heel movement (think Gadd and Weckl’s motion). At higher speeds, with a greater foot slide up the pedal, the entire pedal would just move off of the hoop of the bass drum. After a while, the pedal was almost falling off the drum completely. Very surprising that this pedal wouldn’t hold up under this motion. The Jojo pedal had no problem with this at all.

The old Yamaha strap pedal was great. It actually felt the closest to the Jojo pedal of any of these. It’s a decidedly “old school” pedal. Not a lot of extra metal. It is definitely not a heavy-duty type of pedal. But it feels great, and fast doubles are pretty consistent. A close second to the Perfect Balance.

But overall, I’m back in love with the Perfect Balance. I may be sticking with this pedal for a while.

Try it. It’s not for your metal band; but that’s OK. There are other pedals for that.

If you want a pedal that reacts to your foot technique the way sticks react to your hand technique, this is a pedal you need to try.

Plus, it really is the coolest looking pedal I’ve ever seen.

The Inverted 9 Stroke Roll

The Inverted 9 Stroke Roll

The Inverted 9 Stroke Roll

This highly useful rudiment inversion came about by necessity, like many inventions. I was working on some 32nd note soloing ideas and I had a few I liked. Unfortunately, the stickings were tricky and I was having trouble coming out of the phrases and landing on “1” (or other places, like the “and” of “1” etc…) with my right hand. Like many of you right-handed drummers, I like to land on my right hand when I come out of fills so I can go back the groove more easily.

I concocted this sticking to allow this to happen, and I’m finding it very useful in my playing. Because I’m a righty, the more useful version of this is shown in example #1, which begins on the left hand and ends on the right. However, some of you may find #2 (which is the reverse sticking, beginning on the right hand) more suited to your needs.

There are two examples on the PDF/worksheet of how to use this sticking (presented as #’s 3 and 4). Example #3 is a groove idea, while example #4 shows a paradiddle combination that uses the inverted 9 stroke roll to land on your right hand as you go back to the groove.

Here’s the PDF: The Inverted 9 Stroke Roll

Write me or comment to let me know what you think.

The Secret Of Drumming

imageIn one of my lessons with John Riley, I asked him about talent. I have often thought about whether there is such a thing. Many drummers-to-be ask me about this too, wondering if they have enough talent to make it worth their while to try playing.

Honestly, I’ve never thought I was particularly talented. But I work really hard, I’ve always sought guidance and I’m really excited and passionate about drumming. I believe that these are the keys.

When I first wanted to play drums, I found a local teacher who put me on the right track with learning to read, working on technique and developing independence. I practiced a lot. The more I practiced, under this guidance, the faster I got better, so I practiced more. That continued. This cycle informed my opinion of talent.

It was that hard work with the proper guidance that allowed me to become a good drummer. The hard work was fueled by passion. This part is kind of unexplainable. You are either passionate about something or you are not. I was (and still am) passionate. When I was a teen and started listening to Led Zeppelin and RUSH, I heard drumming that excited me. I can’t explain why, but I was so passionate about what I heard that I had to find out how to do it. This passion drove the work. I became a drummer.

This continued through many stages. I would get excited by different drummers and different styles of music. Then I would dive into those musical waters, transcribing and learning that type of drumming.

This cycle continues to this very day. I have a new band I’m working on and I am inspired by the music to create great drum parts. Sometimes the drum parts I hear in my head require a coordination I don’t have yet. So, I have something new to work on. But it is the music and passion that inspire the practice.

So the cycle works like this:

Passion + Guidance + Hard Work/Practice =Drumming Proficiency

So back to my lesson with John Riley. I asked him if there was a gift that allows one to be good. John replied that the gift is merely the ability to have the focus to do the work required to acquire skill. So I had a gift, but the gift wasn’t some secret innate ability to be a good drummer. The gift was the ability to lock myself in a room for hours on end and practice.

So, that’s the secret. There is none.

Now, go practice.

66 Measure Weak Hand Single Stroke Endurance Exercise

Weak Hand Exercise IllustrationThis three page monster exercise, inspired by a similar idea in Joe Morello’s “Master Studies 2,” is a killer, and the title describes it’s purpose. I’ve been working on single strokes lately, and as usual, I want to share my methods with you.

I did not write the sticking on the exercise sheets because once you understand the pattern, you really don’t need to see the stockings on paper. There would be a lot of L’s and R’s on the paper clogging up your mental energy. Not necessary. Here’s how it works. Throughout the entire exercise, your weak hand plays 16th notes. That never stops. When you get to Exercise #2, you begin to add your stronger hand to create 32nd notes. With each exercise, you add an additional 32nd note with the stronger hand.

As you progress through the pages, you will be playing a single stroke roll and that roll is held longer and longer until the end where you reach two full measures of 32nd notes.

Just for clarity, here are exercises #11 and #12 so you can see exactly how this plays out (assume the left hand is your weaker hand):


Work with a metronome, and be careful! If you feel pain, don’t push through it. We don’t want any drumming injures….

Here’s the exercise as a PDF: Weak Hand Single Stroke Training Exercise

Quotes Every Drummer Must Read 1

BIO_Mini-Bios_0_Theodore-Roosevelt_151070_SF_HD_768x432-16x9Theodore Roosevelt must have been talking about leadership in the quote below, but every drummer in pursuit of their art form will relate to the thought. In fact, any artist will understand the idea of battling against the pull of the “normal” and striving to do something different. I stumbled upon this through my readings of an entrepreneurial business author, John Warillow, but no matter the source–read on for inspiration.

  It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.   –Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States