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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Mix up your rudiments!

Just a quick one today!

If you're getting bored of playing the same old rudiments over and over, try mixing up various combinations to create new patterns.

Here's one I've been using a lot lately, it works great as a warm up exercise too!

 Here, I'm going though singles, doubles, paradiddle and a triple paradiddle to finish. Putting paradiddles at the end of these combinations allows you to flip the sticking and start again, leading with your left hand. This also allows you to see how your "left lead" compares to your "right lead" and encourages your weaker hand to catch up!

I like to practice rudiments in this way, as it puts them into more of a musical context. You're very unlikely to find yourself playing one sticking all the way through a song, so it's worth practicing moving from one rudiment to another!

Enjoy :)

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Creativity: "The Random Phrase Generator"

Do you ever find yourself playing the same things over and over? You play something and think, "Man, I use that all of the time! I really need to come up with new stuff!"

Try this little game I like to call "The Random Phrase Generator". If anyone can think of a more interesting and exciting name for it, please let me know ;) 

A) Draw 16 boxes (to give you a full 4/4 bar of 16th notes). Cross out some of the boxes at random. *Being random is the key to this game, don't try to think about it!!!* Even better, if there is someone else with you, ask them to pick random numbers between 1 and 16 for you.

B) The boxes left over will give you a one bar phrase. 

Now use the phrase in as many ways as you can around the kit! I've drawn up some ideas to start you off:

C) Play the "random phrase" on the kick drum, under an 8th groove. You can of course play the hi-hat pattern on the ride, and change it to quarter notes or 16th's.

D) Play the "random phrase" on the hi-hat or ride. Keep the kick drum pattern simple to begin with, and add more when you get comfortable with it! 

E) Play the "random phrase" as ghost notes on the snare, adding the "2" and "4" back beat. This is tricky!! You are still accenting the snare on "2" and "4" but those ghost notes need to be nice and soft. Take your time with this one, it's a great work out for your left hand independence.

F) Use the "random phrase" as a fill around the kit. The example is just one of many ways you could orchestrate this, try moving it around.

I could go on all day showing you other ways to use this, but we haven't all day and really the idea is for you to get creative. Don't be afraid to try things, as crazy as they might seem!! 

Let me know how this worked for you and share your ideas!!

Have fun :) 

Monday, 8 July 2013

The Importance Of Being Accurate

We all want to play faster. We watch our favourite drummers play and marvel at how fast they move around the kit. It's something we generally use as an indication of how good someone is on their instrument.

What we often overlook, is what makes their lightning speed chops sound so good: Their accuracy.

Being accurate in your playing is not only essential for making what you play sound good, it's also essential for allowing you to play faster. If your rudiments are sloppy and out of time at 70bpm, they are going to be even more sloppy and out of time at 170bpm!

With that in mind, think about playing songs. You may well be able to play lightning fast single stroke fills around your kit, with out playing to a click. This won't mean a thing when you have to play these fills in a song, at a tempo that is dictated by the song, not you! You should aim to be able to play everything well at any given tempo.

Don't be in a rush to play things fast. Get your technique right at slow tempos and make sure what you are playing is accurate. If you practice things faster than your technical ability allows, you will only be practicing everything wrong, and once these wrong movements become habit and locked into your motion memory, you will struggle and wonder why you have to put so much effort into playing fast.

The best tool I can suggest for checking your accuracy is a metronome that will count in various note values.

I use a Yamaha Click Station. It has faders for bringing in the 8th, 16th and triplet 8th notes into the click. If you are practicing, for example, your single strokes in 16th notes, you can play along with every 16th note and hear if every note your are playing is in time or not.

If your paradiddles sound sloppy at 70bpm, then forget about 170bpm for now! Get them sounding and feeling awesome at 70, and work your way up in steps. I usually go up 5 bpm at a time.

Another good idea for checking your accuracy is a mirror. It might seem vain, but it's a great way to check that your technique looks correct. Whether you put it in front of your practice pad or next to your kit, being able to see what you are doing can really help you improve your technique.

Keeping your sticks at even heights, starting and ending your strokes at the correct heights, and keeping your movements in sync with what your are playing are crucial to playing accurately.

So, don't worry if you can't play as fast as you'd like, or as fast as someone else. It's not a competition, and that finish line that you are trying to reach doesn't exist! The world's top drummers are always practicing and getting faster (or increasingly accurate!). Practice is something that we continue to do for as long as we are musicians, and no one ever stops learning.

We all know the story about "The Tortoise & The Hare" (or at least I assume so!). The Hare is the guy who raced away and tried to play his paradiddles at 200bpm right away, got it all wrong for years and had to go back and fix his technique after he realised in hindsight that he got it all wrong. Meanwhile, the Tortoise took it slow, did it properly, enjoyed the journey and made it to 200bpm without breaking a sweat :)

Happy practicing.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Listening To Music

How often do you listen to music? By this, I don't mean "How often do you hear music", but "How often do you listen to music?". We all play music in the background as we go about our daily lives. In the car, while we work, while we cook, what ever. But, how often do you just sit and listen to music, giving it 100% of your time and attention?

Listening to music from an analytic point of view is so important in order to become a better musician. Not just as a drummer listening to drummers, but as a musician listening to musicians.

As a member of a band, it is your job to be aware of what everyone in the band is doing, not just yourself. This means you must have the ability to listen to everyone, while concentrating on what you are doing, in order for the music as a whole to make sense, to sound tight, and to sound like a band playing together.

You won't learn this by practising rudiments. You won't learn it by developing your 4 way independence. You won't learn it by learning to play loads of cool fills, and you won't learn it by only ever taking notice of the drummers. These things are important of course, as they give us the technical ability to execute what we want to communicate, but if we don't have anything to say musically, what's the point?

Set aside time to listen to music, and spend that time listening to music only! No distractions, just you and the music. Turn the lights off, lock the door, phone on silent, and whack some headphones on!

While you're listening, think about:

  • What the drummer is playing? Work out the kick drum patterns, listen to ghost notes, whether the hi hats are closed tight or open and "washy". Listen to the construction of the fills and where they were placed within the song. With brand new new music, try to play along, tapping your hands and feet intuitively and try to guess what is going to happen next.
  • Why the drummer is playing it? To me, this is more important. So you've worked out the drum parts the the whole album, and you can play it. But, why did the drummer play those things? Would you have done the same if you were in that position? Try and "get into their head" and listen to the instruments. Is there a bass line or a vocal melody that they are following? Why did they play that fill going into the chorus, compared to the one they used to come out if it? Try to understand why each individual note has it's place in each song!  
  • Can I play it? Listen for new ideas that you may not have heard or played before. Take note of them so you can try them in your next practice session. 
Also, remember to listen to it as a music fan, not just a musician. How does it make you feel? Why do you like (or dislike) it? What is it that makes you feel these things when you are listening? If you can understand what it is within the music you love that makes you love it, you're likely to have an easier time making people feel that about your own music!

The problem these days (I run the risk of starting to sound old here!!) is that music is so disposable. Due to the technology we have now, such as YouTube, iTunes, Spotify etc, you can listen to a song or an album for the first time, then instantly go and find something else new, never going back to the previous album for a second listen.

While I do think it is amazing that we have, pretty much, all of the music in the world instantly accessible, it is changing our listening habits. I find myself doing it, I'll have a browse through Spotify, find something new that I like, then totally forget about it and find something else! I make a conscious effort to put time aside and listen to music how I did when I only had my CD collection to pick from. And, every time I do, I learn something new, and remember why I started playing drums in the first place..... I love music!