Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Drummers Only pt 6: Pull 'em Out; Don't Beat 'em In

Great drummers never beat a drum; they play a drum. This final installment is about pulling the notes out of a drum, not beating them into it.

This is important because how you hit the drum has everything to do with your drum sound. Pull the note out of the drum and it will have great tone and will sing. Play into the drum and it will be choked and have less tone. (This definitely applies to the bass drum too--big time!)

If you don't understand what I'm talking about yet, don't worry. It's easier at this point for me to show you an exercise that will clearly illustrate this concept.

The exercise is called "da-da mommas." You can do this with your hands on a table right now if you don't have sticks handy.

Play two notes with your right hand, play the first very soft and seriously accent (play louder) the second note. "da-DA!"

Did you see your hand (or stick) jump off the table (head) on the second note because you accented it?

Do it again. Accenting the second note makes you pull that note out of the head; you're literally pulling the stick (or hand) back. Be sure to keep the first note soft and the second VERY LOUD.

Try to do this with your wrist more than your forearm.

Now do the same with the left hand and alternate between hands. Do this very slowly at first:

right RIGHT, left LEFT, da-DA, momMA Over time slowly speed up.

THAT is how you strike a drum properly! Pulling the note OUT of the drum or cymbal.

Have you ever dented a drum head? Seen dimples in a drum head? Guess what---you cannot dent a drum head when you're properly pulling the notes out of the head.

When I was younger I tried. I knew I was changing the head anyway so I tried to annihilate it. I couldn't get one dent in it hitting it as hard as I could while striking it properly.

Play into a head with a lot of force? Dent city.

If you were to be at eye level with the top of my snare drum watching me play, you would probably swear that my sticks don't even touch the drum. It would look like I'm playing about an inch off the head.

Why is this important?

1. The drum will always have better tone when struck properly.

2. You will develop faster hands. Not kidding. If you start that da-da momma exercise slow and slowly build up your speed until you can play a da-da momma drum roll, you will have some serious chops!

My ability to play fast and play doubles like a fiend come from working da-da mommas like crazy when I was younger. Speed comes by mastering the control of pulling the sticks off the head, not pressing them into it.

3. You will have more control. I tune my toms very loosely. But because of working da-da mommas so much, I can play doubles or rolls over my very loose tom heads. Why? I'm not counting on the head bouncing the stick back at me. I'm literally pulling each note out of the drum.

It's never too late to develop great technique--working da-da mommas will get you there!

Great drummers pull the notes out of a drum. They don't pound the notes into it.
Great drummers play the spaces.
Great drummers play with volumes, not volume.
Great drummer realize they must decrease in their monitor mix.
Great drummers keep time from their feet up.
Great drummers are humble, putting the band and song before themselves.

Thanks for reading. Now lets elevate the gifts we've been given by developing them and making even better music!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Drummers Only pt 5: Play the Spaces

I realize the further I get into these articles, the more Zen-like this drumming thing becomes.

This is about when to put in the tasty fills and the stuff beyond just keeping time. In essence, play that stuff in the spaces left by vocalists and other musicians.

I said in pt 3 that playing music is a conversation with instruments. So in that light, don't interrupt when someone else is talking.

Here's one example of how this works. In most music we're playing 8 bar phrases. At the end of most 8 bar (or measure) phrases, drummers often add a little fill, a little something that says, "That's the end of that phrase, let's go on to another."

(NOTE: whether you read music or not, you have to know the phrasing of the song. At the end of each phrase we cue the band that we're done with this and moving onto something else. We don't play fills for the sake of fills. It's our way of saying, "Here comes the bridge." Or, "We're going to get soft/loud now." A fill is a way we conduct the band from the drum chair.)

If I'm playing with vocalists, I'll often wait and listen to make sure they've left me a space to put that fill in. Or I may even put a tasty snare or tom variation in the middle of a phrase IF there's a vocal space there. Again, I don't just plop a fill in at the end of every phrase--I want to do it in the space at the end of a phrase if I can.

I try to think about a song as a give and take between instruments and vocals. Sure, there are times when we're playing the same rhythm at the same time. But when a vocalist or lead instrument is shining, I try to support him/her and try not to "step on" what they are saying.

I think there is a lot we drummers can do by paying close attention to the vocal lines. I'll sometimes try to stab accents with them to give the song more punch and make them feel shored up and supported. Likewise, when they leave a space, I'll try to use that opportunity to add something interesting and fitting to the song.

At Oakbrook Church, Jlee often does rhythmic add libs at the end of phrases. Whenever he's leading worship, I'm really listening to see if there's something he's doing that I can mimic on the kit. If I can hit his add libs, the band sounds more like we've been playing that song forever instead of just Thursday night and Sun. morning.

This is about listening to phrases and listening to how lead instruments are playing through them. Support them rhythmically when you can, and wait for the opportunities to play the spaces they leave open.

Great drummers play the spaces. (Told you it was Zen-like.)

Coming up: Pt 6 Pull the Notes Out; Don't Beat them In (last one?...)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Drummers Only pt 4: "Volumes, not Volume"

If we're not careful, the drums can be the most non-musical instrument in the band. Everyone else has things to work with like pitch, notes, melody, harmony, counter-melody etc.

What do we have? Timing (pt 2) and volume. This post is about playing with dynamics, or more than one volume.

Every drummer is good at playing loud. It's in our divine nature. I've never had to teach anyone to play loud. One might paraphrase this post, "The Zen of Drumming," because without soft there is no loud. Loud is only relative to what came before it. (Hmmmm, deeeep thoughts.)

Contrast is what commands our attention and makes impact. The cool swimming pool never feels better than on a 96 degree day. The Red Robin burger never tastes better than when you are legitimately hungry. Ice cream tastes best after a spicy Mexican dish. Loud has more impact after you've played softly.

Think of it this way. Any schmoe who can play a beat can play loud. Anyone. Do you want to be a dime-a-dozen drummer? Do you want your loud rock-god-anthem choruses to be mediocre? No, you don't. Read on musical drummer.

The truth is our louds stand out, have impact, blow people's hair back, when we've played softer elsewhere in the song--when we've worked up to it.

Studio recordings can lead us astray on this point. Why? Because they can record the drummer playing a nice loud snare sound and then turn it down in the mix. We hear that sound and try to copy it, but it's not copyable--unless we're in a studio too. Playing live is different. Don't worry about it--that same recorded drummer sounds differently live too.

When we choose to play the verses softer, the band will follow suit--the whole band will play with more dynamics and the whole ensemble will be more musical. The drummer wins, the band wins, the song wins, and the audience wins. Beautiful!

Caution: there's nothing worse than a drummer playing softly with loose mushy time and no intensity. (More zen coming up here.) Learn to play soft, but with intensity.

That's really vague, I know, but it also happens to be true. It's like momentum in sports; you can't define it but you know it when you see it. I can't tell you how to have intensity but I can tell when a drummer does not have it.

(Just to be clear, intensity has nothing to do with volume. And for the record, one of the hardest things to do as a drummer is playing quietly, in time, with intensity.)

For me playing soft with intensity means I'm going to rhythmically nail every 8th note on the hats and stick every kick drum precisely where it needs to be. And I don't care who in the band wants to rush because I'm playing soft--I ain't budging!

That's how I go after intensity when I'm playing soft, anyhow. All I know is that a drummer needs intensity to play soft well.

Do you want your loud choruses to rock your world?
Do you want to be known as a musical drummer?
Learn to play everything from very quiet to very loud in strict time and with intensity.

Some practical guidelines:

Way back when people read musical charts there were these great little things called dynamic markings:

pp = very soft (pianissimo)
p = soft (piano)
mf = medium loud (mezzo forte [met-zo for-tay])
f = loud (forte)
ff = very loud (fortissimo)
fff = school of rock loud (fortississimo)

When I'm charting songs for myself I always use these markings. Even when I'm not using a chart, I bet I play 3-4 dynamic volumes in a given song. Why? I want to serve the band well. I want the band to be as musical and as expressive as possible. Don't you?

To be a great drummer, be known as a drummer who has many different volumes, not just one volume--volumes, not volume.

Coming up: Pt 5 "Play the Spaces"

Drummers Only pt 3: "I Must Decrease"

I got this tip years ago from an article with famed bassist Lee Sklar. Apart from his funny name and looks, he's one of the most recorded and toured musicians of the modern era. In this instance he spoke of how his bass was always the lowest thing in his mix. Why? So he could hear everyone else.

More and more drummers (as are other musicians) are using some kind of in ear or headphone monitor mix. This is great for at least 2 reasons: a) getting a monitor loud enough for a drummer to hear makes it even worse on a drummer's ears. b) it keeps the stage volume down for the front of house mix.

Since I share a drum chair with several drummers, one thing I notice when it's my turn to drum is how loud the drums are in the headphone mix. Hence today's post:

My drums in my mix must decrease.

Put the drums in the mix to the point you can hear them and loud enough you're not overplaying them (hitting them harder than needed). Your drums should sit LOW in the mix. You should hear lead vocals/instruments and bass player very clearly--louder than you.

Since our goal is to make the overall sound of the band better, we need to be able to hear what everyone else is playing. A humble drummer (pt 1) needs to hear everyone else more than his/her self.

If you can't get over how amazing your drums sound in the mix, and you just can't get enough, then turn yourself up on your own practice time. When we're playing with the band, our focus needs to be the greater good of the band. "I pledge allegiance to the band." Thank you for that, Jack Black.

Playing music is a conversation with instruments. In a conversation we have to hear what other people are saying so that when we chime in, it makes sense. What others are playing dictates the pattern and feel I'm going to lay down. I can't serve them if I can't hear what they're playing.

To listen well to the musical conversation and best serve the song and the band, I must decrease in my monitor mix. Simple.

Coming up: Pt 4 "Volumes, not Volume."

Drummers Only pt 2: Time from Your Toes

This tip profoundly changed the way I conceptualize and execute keeping time when playing a kit. I think I first read about this in a Modern Drummer article with/by Steve Smith many years ago. Derek W. if you're reading, it may be in that musty stack of MD mags I gave you last year ;-)

Time from Your Toes
Drummers usually keep time with their hands. Right handed drummers primarily with their right hand. In other words, of the 4 appendages a drummer plays with (exception Rick Allen), our dominant focus is our hands. And we tend to keep time, in our minds and physically, with the sticks. In essence, our feet follow the lead of our hands.

In this article I encourage you to flip that: Keep time with your feet. Or another way to say it, play from your "feet up."

Thinking about keeping time with your kick drum and hi-hat will "shore up" those looser appendages. Your foot playing will become more solid. As a result, your overall playing will improve. Not to mention that in any mic'd-up rock situation, the kick is the most dominant part of the kit. Loose feet = loose grove. Tight feet = tight groove.

You probably don't think about it, but it's likely your hands and feet are playing slightly different time. Unless you've worked on it a lot, your right foot is developmentally behind your hands. Why? Because drummers are always working on having fast hands.

As I've been mulling over this post, John Bonham came to mind. Think about a a Led Zep song like "All My Love." Bonham seems to drive his time with his kick drum. And his overall time-keeping always sounds rock-solid.

Here's an applicable example of "feet up" playing. When you're playing a song and a fill in bar 8 is coming up, what do you think about? Your hands. You think about what you're going to play between the snare and toms. Your kick drum is an afterthought.

Keeping time with your feet will change how you think about and play fills; which is great, because our timing tends to suck when we play fills.

Also by thinking of your feet more and incorporating them into a fill, will make for more interesting and impacting fills. Now speaking of timing...

The biggest problem among drummers is we keep bad time. This is our #1 problem.

Ladies and gentlemen, this has got to stop. We have no chords or scales to memorize, no transposing to do. So let's get serious about this.

If you don't have a metronome you can listen to with ear phones, get one. Turn it on and start playing--from your feet up.

Once you start feeling comfortable with it, slow it down. It just got harder. Why? It takes more control to play slow. Your feet (and hands) have to be more precise when the tempo is slow. Playing really slow tempos, in rock-solid time, is a phenomenal exercise!

Work that metronome from super slow to fast and everything in between. I promise you, the first time you put the metronome on, you'll swear it's not keeping steady tempo. Trust me, the error isn't with the metronome.

So, conceptually and physically, play from your feet up. It will help lock all 4 of your appendages into the same groove, which will make your time more solid, which will help you better serve the song and the band.

Coming up: Pt 3: "I must Decrease" (it's prob not what you think it is)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Drummers Only pt 1: Humility

I've been beating on things for forty+ years. Took my first lesson in '73. Studied briefly with Dr. Mueller at Ball State. I play anything from rudimental marching snare, jazz, pop, rock, country, worship music, blues etc., sight read a chart or sit in and play by ear.

I recently had the honor of sitting down with a young 20-something drummer looking for feedback and advice. In our conversation I realized there are some foundational truths that relate to all drummers. This is a 6-part series on the essentials of successful drumming for all musical styles.

HUMILITY: Putting others first.

This may be the most difficult principle of drumming. Why? Because we become drummers to gain attention, take the stage and gain accolade. This is what's best about my drumming and at the same time, most difficult.

This is about putting the good of the song and the group ahead of yourself. As a drummer, there are always licks, patterns and fills that I want to play. That's the wrong focus.

The song and the group, since they're more important than me, determine what I should play. Sometimes a song demands rhythmic simplicity. That means I swallow my pride and lay down the most simple, solid musical groove I can. Great chops over-used in the wrong song is the wrong part.

Sometimes I'm playing with a band that has a weaker rhythm section; or perhaps you have vocalists that aren't in time. That scenario demands that I simplify what I play so that the other members of the band can more easily lock into the groove. If a vocalist, bass player or keyboardist is loose rhythmically, I will always simplify my part to better serve them.

In a rehearsal situation I may talk to the players who aren't keeping good time. I strive to be kind. I usually broach it in the form of a question, "Did you know you slowed down going into the bridge?" I will try to do it discretely so others can't hear. If I do this well, they'll usually ask me later, "Was that better?" When it's done well, every healthy person loves feedback.

On the other side of things, if I'm doing a prog rock, The Who or Dave Matthews Band tune with a solid crew, heck yeah, I'll tear it up with some appropriate wicked chops. But again, only as that flashy style fits the song and serves the group as a whole.

The goal of a great drummer is to make the band better. If people compliment me without complementing the band, that's a lose. If your goal is to be noticed as a great drummer, you'll never be a great drummer. Great drumming lifts the level of the whole ensemble.

Being humble doesn't mean you never have the spotlight or are noticed. It means you have the spotlight and are noticed IF it's appropriate to the song, the gig and serves the group.

Humility: Put others first. Let the tune and the group determine what you play. That's the path to great drumming.

Coming up: Pt 2... "Time from Your Toes"

Videos of me playing live.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oakbrook at the Movies "INCEPTION"

Great times doing 3 in a row of this summer series. This was my 100th talk @ Oakbrook; God is good! Look for Mark to close it out with "Tron" and "Hoosiers" in the coming weeks.

Message text in PDF click here.

Checkout YouVersion Bible app click here.

I forgot to say that YouVersion will actually READ THE TEXT TO YOU! Does it get any easier? I'm really enjoying the reading plan "The Essential Jesus."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lukas Nelson & Fireworks @ Foster Park

Had a GREAT time Friday night at Foster Park taking on one of Kokomo's free concerts at the new arts pavilion. Lukas Nelson is the son of famed Willie Nelson.

Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real did a great job of Willie covers to their originals. It's blues+rock+county+Willie+60s = fresh good jams! Really enjoyed them.

The rained out fireworks from the prior week followed the show so by the time the concert was over there were more people in that grassy lawn than I've ever seen before--huge crowd!

And the fireworks were AMAZING; one of the best displays I've seen in quite a while!

Pictures of Lukas and the band click here.

Pictures of fireworks click here.

Oakbrook at the Movies "Forrest Gump"

Really enjoying teaching biblical truths through the perspective of movies. Next week I'll take a look at Inception.

To read a PDF manuscript of today's talk click here.

An MP3 usually shows up here by Tues.

Here's the song that followed the message click here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Oakbrook at the Movies: "Up"

Fun times teaching on biblical truth represented in the great movie, "Up." No matter your age, I highly recommend renting this one.

Here's the opening video: Carl & Ellie

Here's the Zimmer's "My Generation" video click here

Here's my message text in PDF click here

Podcast of message shows up a few days later click here