This is the story of one of BANG’s students, Jeff L. It is also the first of a series on this blog about BANG students. I have found that my students often inspire me and that I learn from them just as much as they learn from me. For example, I recently gave a drum lesson to Daniel, a recent graduate from a music college in the midwest with a degree in jazz studies. I showed him a lick that I like to play and he tried it out on the drum set. He played it back to me with a new twist that I had never thought of. Awesome. I learned something from him that day.
So, back to Jeff L. and Operation Neil Peart. Jeff came to BANG about five months before his wedding, with a great drumming challenge ahead of him. Jeff has always been a huge RUSH fan, and he wanted to play the drums on a RUSH song at his own wedding. His plan was to have the wedding band learn the RUSH song in question, as would he, and then he would perform it with them during the party. Jeff is a very ambitious guy. When he came to BANG for drum lessons, he was essentially a self-taught drummer, without a whole lot of technique. He had done a bunch of practicing on his own and had a good deal of rock drumming independence. He had gained this skill primarily from listening to and playing along with a lot of records. One difficulty was that he did not know how to read music at all. As you, my dear reader, probably know, RUSH’s music is generally very complex–full of many rhythmic twists and turns and rarely without at least one odd time signature thrown in. I was pretty sure that reading was a skill Jeff and I would have to deal with in order for him to meet his challenge. Jeff and I eventually agreed that he would learn the song “The Trees,” from RUSH’s seminal album, “Hemispheres.” Jeff was pretty adamant that he wanted to play the song note for note.
Needless to say, this was a big drumming challenge. I thought the most efficient way to handle this was to work from a transcription of the drum part. The book “Drum Techniques of RUSH” has a note for note transcription of the drum part Neil played on the track. Since Jeff did not read music, the beginning of our drumming mission was to teach Jeff enough drum notation to work from the transcription and to give him the basics of technique.
Jeff is an extremely hard worker and he had assured me from the beginning that he would study hard and practice. This was a necessary element of success here. Nothing else would have mattered had this not been the case. In fact, it would have been impossible for him to have succeeded had he not practiced like a maniac…which is exactly what he did.
For a few weeks (our lessons were once weekly), Jeff and I focused on technique and reading. Once we got to the point where he understood enough music notation, we starting diving into the details of the transcription. We worked on the piece in chunks. We would sit in the BANG studio, and look at the notation together. I would play him what was written and he would video me. He already knew the song really well, so he could recognize that the drum parts from the transcription were correct. Then, he would play the chunk of the transcription that we were working on by going home and practicing….a lot. Using the written transcription and the video of me playing that section (I played the sections significantly slower than on the recording), he would learn the drum part to the section of the song we were working on.
We proceeded this way until Jeff could play the entire song. Then, we focused on Jeff playing along with the track, until he could do so pretty much every time. This process took the entire five months or so. Jeff practiced so hard that he had the entire drum part for the entire song memorized! Pretty amazing. He also would drill down into the little pieces of the song, working on particular fills until he could nail them. A lot of the fills are pretty complex, so you could imagine how much hard work was involved here.
Jeff arranged to rehearse with the wedding band before the “big day” of his wedding arrived, and they were very impressed with his ability to play this very difficult music. The day of his wedding, Jeff sat in with the band and came very very close to playing the song perfectly during their one and only performance. He told me that he messed up one fill, but kept going (of course) and nailed the rest of the song.
I love this story because it is proof that with hard work and proper guidance, anyone can learn to do almost anything–not just in the world of music and drumming– but in general.
So, practice hard, get yourself help if you need it, and you can play anything on the drums that you want.
Jeff L. is definitely an inspirational character in my book.
I love the drums and hope you do too,
One of my favorite drumming ideas is that you should ”milk your licks dry.” A lot of great drummers and musicians rely on a limited vocabulary of ideas and patterns, but they play the shit out of those patterns and use them in many different ways. One player who has signature licks he uses over and over to great effect is Steve Gadd, one of my all-time favorite drummers.
Once you find an idea or pattern that you like, you can “milk it dry” by manipulating it in various ways. Here is a lick that I use a lot : RLRF. The link below will allow you to open a pdf file with full drum notation that shows you how to take this lick and play it in several key ways. Click on it…it’s called “Nasty Lick #32″:
The pattern we’re manipulating here is orchestrated as follows: right hand on snare, left hand on hi tom, right hand on floor tom, and finally, foot on bass drum. The pdf exercise /transcription simply shows you how to play the lick as eighth notes, eighth note triplets, sixteenth notes, and finally as sixteenth note triplets.
Try playing the exercises on the sheet. You should have a great new lick you can use after mastering the lesson. Perhaps more importantly, though, you should have a good understanding of how to milk your licks dry.
I love the drums and hope you do too.
The benefits of recording yourself drumming are immense. I am constantly recording my gigs, practice sessions and rehearsals and I learn from it every time, one way or another. If you are not already doing this on a regular basis, I strongly urge you to begin doing so now. Recording yourself is possibly the most important learning tool that many drummers and other musicians somehow overlook.
Do you have a way to record yourself? Well, if you don’t, I will wait right here while you go to Musicians Friend, or some other online music store and buy yourself a ZOOM or some other handy dandy digital recording device. They aren’t that expensive. You can buy a ZOOM H1 for about $100. And it will pay dividends for the rest of your drumming career. Go ahead. Go buy it now. I’ll wait.
So why am I being so aggressive about this? Because recording your playing is a critical step to jump starting your development as a player. Recording yourself is truly the only way to know what is really going on in your playing. All the great musicians record themselves. This is not only for drummers. Eric Clapton wrote about taping himself in his autobiography. Clapton would figure out solos of his favorite guitarists and then tape himself attempting the solo along with the original recording of the song. Then he’d listen back, figure out what was missing, and try again. And so on. Until he sounded like Albert King or whoever he was dissecting at that point in his development.
Dave Weckl talked about taping himself in one of his first videos from the late eighties (it was either “Back To Basics” or “The Next Step,” I forget which). In the video, he demonstrates a groove he was playing at a gig…..that is ….what hethought it sounded like. The groove is a paradiddle style 16th note funk beat with a lot of ghosted notes on the snare drum….you know….Garibaldi and Gadd style. Weckl describes how when he listened back to the tape, he realized that it didn’t sound the way he had intended at all. In the video, he then demonstrates how it really sounded…..with the ghosted notes way to loud…..kind of destroying the subtlety of the groove. YIKES….that is not right at all! Taping himself allowed him to realize that he didn’t really have that groove together the way he wanted and to then, of course, solve the problem.
Imagine if Weckl didn’t go through that process. He would have continued to play this complex groove—badly—-night after night at gigs. Consider this —- do you actually sound the way you think you do? What if you are playing stuff on gigs that sounds wrong, but you don’t even know it? I can promise you that if that is the case, you are risking stalling your drumming career. Unless you are in a band with your buddies and you are all comfortable enough with each other to gently and constructively critique each other’s playing, you might just get fired. Are you starting to see how important this is now?
Here are some of the things I record with my ZOOM in order to improve my playing:
- gigs and rehearsals
- my practice sessions – licks, technique, grooves
- other gigs of drummers I like so I can figure out what they’re doing if it inspires me…
Here is one last story that reveals another benefit of recording yourself. I want to show you another spin on this, an angle that is more positive and gets into the psychology of playing. Have you ever had a gig or rehearsal where you thought you just sucked? You got all inside your head while you were onstage playing a particular song and started sweating, thinking, “man, I really suck on this song. What the hell am I doing? How can I even call myself a drummer?!” Well guess what, I have done that too. And recently at a gig, after thinking these kind of thoughts, I listened back to the recording of that song. I realized that my playing was fine! It was all in my head. So, this recording yourself thing will not only tell you what you have to work on, but sometimes, just sometimes, it will bring you a sigh of relief and a little reassurance that you are a pretty good drummer after all. And that is a good thing.
I love the drums and hope you do too,