Down To The Wire

The snare drum. Our best drum friend. Sits there, in front of us being all awesome every time we hit it. Metal, wood, acrylic, no matter what the material, we easily get very attached to our snare drum sound. It’s one thing we spend time trying to cultivate.

But every once in a while we get a customer who has come to the point where they want their drum to sound a little different or their bored of the sound their drum makes.

Let’s look at 3 ways we can give your drum a new lease of life!

Heads
Hoops
Wires.

Heads

Drums, for all intents and purposes, are simply chambers that move air. They don’t make the sound. That’s done by the combination of heads and bearing edges.

Heads can make a world of difference to how your drum sounds. The difference between a Coated Ambassador, a Genera Dry and an Emperor X is vast and so is the sound difference.

Single ply heads typically make a drum open and bright sounding. Usually the drum will ring out at the top end if it’s tuned tightly. If this is a sound that you’ve played for a while – a tight, highly tuned single ply head, then changing to a heavier head will really bring out different qualities in the shell.

A double ply head with a dampening ring will remove the majority of the overtones at the top end and therefore you’ll get way more of the body of the sound. The pitch of the drum will drop and it’ll be able to take heavier hitting and hopefully be more durable!

Thicker heads will also greatly change how a drum sounds when tuned low. They will typically be drier and much lower in pitch than if a single ply head was on the drum.

Obviously this a very generic overview and with the number of different heads on the market, there are a vast range of sounds you can go for. Single ply heads with dots underneath/on top will give you the sensitivity of a single ply head, but with a little more low end due to the thickness in the middle of the head being greater.

Try out different things and see what works. It’s also worth remembering that live and recording are very different so if you have a recording session at some point, you’ll want to think carefully about how bright your drums sound, as that will no doubt either be captured by the mics or be problematic for the engineer.

Hoops

This sounds a bit like witchcraft but I promise it’s not. Hoops can fundamentally change how your drum both sounds and plays.

Switching from say, triple flanged to die cast, will add more weight onto the shell, therefore changing the way the drum tunes. I find that die cast hoops need a lot less work to change the pitch of a drum than triple flanged do. A quarter turn on a die cast hoop can really change the sound way more than on a triple flanged.

To me, die cast hoops tend to focus a drum a lot more and give it (in my experience) more crack and a whole load more volume when you rim shot. I have a Yamaha 14 x 5.5 Bamboo drum that sounds totally different when I put die cast hoops on.

S Hoops are a great combination choice if you can’t decide which you prefer. They give the stability of tuning that a die cast will give you due to the added steel which improves rigidity, however tension wise, they behave quite like a triple flanged. Their edges also turn inwardly which decreases stress on the wrists, especially when rim shotting.

Wires

A recent change in snare wires for myself led to a fairly obvious lightbulb moment that hadn’t occurred to me before. The wires of a snare drum are the most stressed part of the drum. They are under tension nearly all the time. Even in the case. If you are like me, you NEVER loosen them when you put your drum away. So they can lie under tension for the length of time it takes me to remove it from the case, and not even be played. (Months in some cases).

So as you can imagine, this will tend to dull the wires down and probably fairly quickly (much like guitar strings).

I have a 13×6.5in brass shell, which has die cast hoops and a Powerstroke X (14 mil single ply with a 2 mil underlay to dampen the overtones). Recently I switched my wires over to a Puresound Custom Pro 20 strand wire. It’s a steel wire which is remarkably articulate and just the right amount of dry for me. It’s instantly revived the drum to be much more lively and responsive and has added a little extra projection – which is never a bad thing.

I have also recently switched out some wires on another drum to a Puresound Equalizer 16 strand wire. This wire has the middle 4 wires removed in order to eliminate as much snare buzz as possible whilst still retaining a strong snare sound (it works in conjunction with the snare’s natural acoustics or something). Again it’s totally revived an old drum to sound fresh, articulate and it responds under my hands like never before.

So there you have it. A few different ways that you can spice up your snare drum sound, without going too crazy. Try them out, experiment with different head/wire choices or hoop choices. Stuart Copeland famously had different hoops top and bottom of his drum (die cast top, triple flanged bottom). See what works for you. You never know what lease of life it’ll breathe into your drum and your playing.

It’s Time To Embrace Electronics

Electronics can be a daunting process for people. But with the world of music ever changing and computers coming loaded with GarageBand and the like, embracing Electronics is becoming more and more important for the working drummer.
So on the back of Craig Blundell’s awesome visit to the store last week, we thought we’d give you a run down on all things electronic that we love, in-store at the minute – all under £500.

Sabian Sound Kit.
Sabian have come away with an awesome product at an AMAZING price. The Sound Kit is a 3 channel mixer, complete with a kick drum mic and 2 overheads. The idea is an introduction to either recording or monitoring for your drums. It gives you options on how to mic the drums and records directly onto SD Card.
It features a line out facility in order for live use, so that you can monitor your drums yourself in a live environment and control the volume as you see fit.
Priced at £264, it’s an absolute bargain and a great way to get yourself started down the recording rabbit hole.

Roland TM-2
The TM-2 is a great idea to help introduce you to the world of triggers, without any compromise to your acoustic sound. It’s quite simply, a trigger module. You plug your triggers into it, and assign the sounds to the trigger which then come out of the speakers when you hit the drum that the trigger is on. Simples.
It features 2 trigger inputs that can be used in conjunction with Roland’s RT Trigger range (including dual triggers). The module has over 100 built in sounds that can be assigned to said triggers and runs off of either 4 AA batteries or a power pack (supplied). You can also supply all your own WAV files or backing tracks via SD card. My mind was suitably blown by Craig Blundell who used two Y cables and assigned 4 triggers to a 2 trigger set up. Amazingly powerful and at £165 it’s a really inexpensive way to break you in!
(N.B. Triggers sold separately).

Yamaha DTX Multi
The DTX multi is a fantastic 12 pad electronic percussion instrument. With over 1,277 sounds built in, the samples are as realistic as it gets. From top end Yamaha drumsets to Tabla and more. It includes not only digital sounds but also DJ sounds and a rich variety of voices from percussion, chromatic percussion, folk, and acoustic drum instruments. You can also import WAV and AIFF audio files from a USB memory device and use them as voices. 64MB of memory lets you play back samples as well, making it quite the percussion pad.
It can also be enhanced by using Yamaha’s free DTX Multi touch app that’s available for iPad. The features of the app include mixing, EQ-ing, and layering of the pads. Each pad can hold to 4 different sounds at any one time.
Amazing value at £426

Whilst not an exhaustive list of what’s around for under £500, these guys really do take some beating and present a great way into the world of electronics and electronic percussion. Feel free to pop in and have a look, try them out and who knows, you might end up enhancing your acoustic set up for better!

How Well Do You Read?

How Well Do You Read?

Drumming education has come a long, long way since the birth and continued evolution of the instrument. An instrument that was designed for jazz music, drum set language was developed in the military snare drumming that preceded it. It’s education was traditionally aural – passed down from the elder statesmen to the younger generation.

 

While that tradition still exists and drummers continually trade information and patterns, licks, ideas etc, the market for education has grown considerably. With that growth has come a vast library of drumming books, which deal with just about every conceivable topic and style out there.

In this post, I’ll attempt to outline some of the books on various styles that I think are important and that should be in your library. It’s worth noting that list is by no means, definitive/exhaustive and contains nothing more than my own opinion, garnered through my experience of teaching/studies. Please feel free to investigate either all or none but please do investigate the wealth of knowledge that is available – you’ll be undoubtedly a better drummer for it.

 

ROCK

Ultimate Realistic Rock – Carmine Appice
One of the first books to really crack open and deliver a method for teaching Rock, Carmine Appice’s book continues to be a staple used to teach the style today – dealing with everything from basic rhythms to polyrhythms, linear phrasing, hi hat and double bass drumming exercises,shuffles and syncopation exercises. Well worth a look.

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The Roots Of Rock Drumming – Daniel Glass.
Whilst not a method book, this book provides a wonderful insight into the development of the style and more importantly WHY certain players played certain things. Some wonderful interviews with legends of the instrument.

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FUNK
Advanced Funk Studies – Rick Latham
Latham’s classic first book, Advanced Funk Studies, was named by Modern Drummer magazine as one of the 25 greatest drum books ever published. In it, he teaches essential hi-hat, funk, and fill patterns—with ideas taken from some of the most famous and proficient funk drummers in history. It’s also available in DVD form.

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Future Sounds – David Garibaldi
Tower of Power’s Garibaldi has always been revered as a funk pioneer and his books and videos are nothing short of awesome. He is a fantastic player and teacher and Future Sounds provides and insight into his unique style and his permutation ideas. The book is broken into chapters that deal with his ‘Two Sound Level’ concept. There are 15 Groove studies available and 17 Permutation studies that follow studies on Four-Bar Patterns, Groove Playing and Funk Drumming. A must for all funk fans. Below is a lessonon Permutations taken from his ‘Breaking The Code’ DVD which will highlight the concept explored in the book.

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Groove Alchemy – Stanton Moore
Described by Moore as a ‘Groove bootcamp’ it features a wide array of grooves and exercises, that Moore himself went through in order to develop his groove ability. Highlights include transcriptions of classic James Brown grooves, Led Zeppelin grooves and many more, with over 600 examples being outlined. Also available as a DVD.

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JAZZ

 

The Art of Bop Drumming/Beyond Bop Drumming – John Riley
These were originally written as one book which would have been a behemoth. They focus on the evolution of jazz drumming from Bebop onwards, with a really comprehensive breakdown of studies – everything from comping ideas, solo ideas, how to play the ride cymbal, how take phrases and orchestrate and develop the phrases through different subdivisions. It also includes a detailed and comprehensive listening list with a breakdown of various recordings and the features of the drummers and the band.

Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer – Jim Chapin
One of the original jazz books to be printed (1948). One of the reasons that the book has endured is it has very little text but hundreds of comping examples. It deals primarily with snare drum comping and snare and bass drum comping through both triplets and semi quavers. It pulls all the info together with solo exercises.

 

The Drummers Complete Vocabulary, as taught by Alan Dawson – John Ramsay
This is one of the most elaborate methods to ever be brought to the drumming pedagogy (yes I did just write that). It has come from Ramsay’s studies with Dawson whilst at Berkeley. The book is separated into 4 sections. One is the rudimental ritual – a detailed routine of all 40 rudiments plus around 4o or so more o top. It’s to be played over a samba bass drum pattern and with brushes in order for the student to develop finger control.
The next section deals wth Ted Reed’s Syncopation book – predominately the pages between 33-45. It takes the rhythms provided in these pages and shows different ways to comp them. Dawson had around over 40 different ways to play the exercises.
Section 3 deals with speed exercises for the hands and section 4 deals with soloing – using various linear exercises to be played whilst singing the standards over the top. An amazing, yet frustrating book.

 

Other
Rather than break these ones into styles, I’ll list them as other, simply because they may cross genre or they cover more specific things and don’t necessarily focus on a style.

 

Patterns Series – Gary Chaffee
These books, for some, are the paradigm of top end education. Chaffee is famed for teaching such guys as Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Smith, J.R. Robinson, Dave DiCenso, Jonathan Mover, Casey Scheurell, Joey Kramer and more.
His Patterns series of books are divided into 4 – Time Functioning Patterns, Sticking Patters, Rhythm And Meter Patterns and Technique Patterns. Each book has tremendous content from groove exercises to polyrhythm study to finger control study, linear grooves and fills and more and it’s impossible to really outline the depths of these books in a mere paragraph. Suffice to say that the systematic approach of the books makes a lot of sense and has a broad spectrum of application. A must for any serious student but by no means are they beginner books.

 

The New Breed – Gary Chester
Much like Gary Chaffee, Chester has taught a mass of wonder drummers such as Kenny Aronoff, Dave Weckl, Danny Gottlieb, Max Weinberg, Tico Torres and Lindy Morrison, out with his own celebrated session career. The New Breed focuses on a variety of things at once – independence, vocalisation of rhythms, reading, ostinato, and groove/time. Said by some to be on of the most difficult books around, Chester followed it up with the New Breed II

 

Master Studies – Joe Morello
Adapted from his love of Stick Control, Morello fleshed out those exercises into what is a veritable bible on hand technique practice. The book deals solely with the hands andhas been layed out with 7 sections – Accent studies, Buzz roll studies, Stroke combination studies, Control studies, Fill-in studies, Ostinato studies, and Flam studies. It’s an intense study but very, very worth it and short regular practice session would perhaps be the easiest way to tackle the material.

 

Stick Control – George L. Stone


Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer – Ted Reed
Voted second on Modern Drummer’s list of 25 Greatest Drum Books in 1993, Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer is one of the most versatile and practical works ever written for drums. Created exclusively to address syncopation, it has earned its place as a standard tool for teaching beginning drummers syncopation and strengthening reading skills. This book includes many accented eighths, dotted eighths and sixteenths, eighth-note triplets and sixteenth notes for extended solos. In addition, teachers can develop many of their own examples from it. As stated earlier, Alan Dawson had over 40 ways of playing the Syncopation exercises in the middle.

Reed followed the book up with Syncopation II which provided a few of these ideas, fully notated out for drumset.

 

Beginner/Playalong.

Groove Essentials 1/2.0 – Tommy Igoe

A great addition to the drum book library, the books feature 47/53 different grooves respectively that deal with just about every conceivable style that drummers are likely to come across/have to play. What’s more there are 2 playalong versions for each groove – slow and fast so that every ability level can work on said grooves. Each groove is also supplied with 2 variations, so that as you progress in ability, the grooves change and/or become more challenging. A must book for beginning styles.
The books are broken into sections, such as Rock, Funk, Hip – Hop, Jazz, Speciality/World and Odd Meter grooves and there are exstensive introduction sections to guide you through at the start of the book.

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A Fresh Approach To Drum Set – Mark Wessels, feat. Stanton Moore
A thorough approach to starting the drums, Mark Wessels has taken what he considers to be the iumportant builidng blocks in order to have a great working knowledge of playing drums. With over 41 playing alongs covering a variety of styles and grooves, the book is broken down into sections that have an accompanying track(s). In conjunction, he has filmed video lessons to work hand in hand with book, featuring New Orleans drum star Stanton Moore. The book can be used by beginners, intermediate and advanced players as the play along material can be used for a variety of different practices.

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As I said before, this list isn’t exhaustive and I encourage you to find books that work for you. I haven’t covered the feet really at all and there are some bass drum books worth looking at – Colin Bailey’s Bass Drum Control would be a great starting point.

Most newer books are usually accompanied by an online resource and/or DVD package which is always worth a look too, in order to re-affirm what you’re learning. Dive in and you never know what might inspire you!

Wanna Go For A Ride?

So the ride cymbal might just be the most personal part of your drum kit. Some might think it’s the snare drum but if you don’t like the sound of your snare, it can be re-tuned or manipulated with moon gel/tape/different snare wires/a new head etc. All or none of these can be applied and the sound the drum will be changed.

A ride cymbal however can’t be modified to quite the same affect. Tape can be used underneath a cymbal to dry it out slightly if it’s to washy and rivets can be added to create a wash effect. In order for some serious sound difference to be made, there would need to be a drilling of a hole or a cutting of metal in some fashion however the results are permanent.

 

So what does that mean for you? Well it means usually that selecting a ride will be determined by what kind of music is being played? I’ll break down styles into a few different categories and provide some ideas of what might work if you’re on the hunt for some new metal.

 

Rock

The style is usually played loudly. Drums are competing with heavily amplified guitars (sometimes up to 3) and bass, maybe keys and some vocals (therefore a PA). This would require a medium – heavy cymbal, that offers projection and not too much wash, in order for the articulation to cut through the band. A bright bell is usually helpful, for the reasons just noted and perhaps some effect.

 

Sabian make some popular cymbals that would provide you with the required ‘criteria’. The HH 21″ Raw Bell Dry Ride is particularly suitable and popular for rock music. The stick definition is strong and the bell will most definitely cut through any band. Sabian describe it as “Mixes power and tone for explosive response and moderate sustain”.

 

Zildjian carry the A Custom 20″ Projection Ride that does exactly what you’d imagine it to do. It projects. Again with the appropriate articulation, being described as “Beautiful, loud, clear bell and clean articulate “ping” with just the right amount of shimmering undertones”.

 

Paiste offer a few in their 2002 series that are worth investigation. The 2002 Wild Ride is, like the other 2 mentioned, is appropriate as you’d expect. A medium heavy weight, loud with a strong clear bell. Paiste describe it as “Full, rich, aggressive. Wide range, complex mix. Even feel, very responsive. Pronounced, crispy ping over loud, massive, icy wash. A huge, dirty ride sound that’s very loud and aggressive when crashed. Well suited for forceful playing, especially in Rock and Metal.”

The standard 2002 ride is a classic Rock cymbal – John Bonham being a notable user.

 

Another worthwhile investment would be the Meinl MB10. Made from B10 alloy which provides a modern and sophisticated sound. A glassy ping and bright definition with a bright, penetrating bell sound makes it perfect for Rock.

 

Jazz

In the main, jazz is traditionally an acoustic music. The drums are playing predominately alongside an acoustic bass (lightly amplified) a piano, and a horn (trumpet or saxophone or trombone). This an overgeneralisation and there are many exceptions to this however as a basis, it lets us look at appropriate cymbals.

The cymbals will most likely be thin, dark and washy. Smaller bells are usually featured and the cymbals are used as both crashes and rides so the need to be versatile.

 

Sabian have a variety in their catalogue. Notably the Manhattan series, the HH Jazz ride, Legacy Ride and my personal favourite from their catalogue, the Artisan Light Ride. All of these cymbals sit in the top end of Sabian’s ranges with the Artisan being the flagship cymbal.

Rather than me talk about it, hear it being demo’d by Alyn Cosker.

 

Zildjian’s main Jazz line is the Constantinople range. Zildjian have been the mainstay cymbal company in the world for many years now and most of the traditional Jazz recordings in history have been recorded with Zildjian cymbals being played. Check out Kaz Rodriguez playing some Constantinoples.

 

Turkey is considered to be the home of cymbal making and the Turkish brands make some amazing gear. I’ve always been a big fan of Istanbul Agop cymbals and actually own 2 – the 20.5″ 25th Anniversary Ride and a 19″ Agop Signature ride.

The Agop signature line are really beautiful Jazz cymbals. Dry, articulate and yet crashable. A woody stick definition and also a nice bell sound (although it’s not particularly bright). But they’re definitely worth considering if you are looking for a jazz cymbal. But perhaps the ‘jazziest’ of their range is the 30th Anniversary range. Originally based on old Zildjian Ks, every cymbal, like all hand made cymbals, is unique and won’t sound exactly as the last one. These cymbals are dark, with a beautiful stick definition and crashability.

 

Pop

This genre is now so open to interpretation that suggesting what could work.

The Sabian 21″ HH Crossover Ride is a beautiful cymbal for, as it suggest, lots of genres. It will ‘cross over’ from one style to the next no problem. It’s dark, but with lots of stick definition and controlled wash with a bright, articulate bell. The volume is controllable and can be crashed on if needed.

 

The Paiste 20″ Giant Beat is another extremely versatile cymbal. It is billed as a ‘multi purpose’ cymbal which suggests a crash ride. The cymbal opens really quickly when needed. Paiste describes it as “Mellow, yet cutting and powerful. Fairly wide range, slightly complex mix. A distinctive silvery breath over a big, soft layered wash. Very responsive and giving feel. A classic thin crash, perfectly suited for today’s new beat/pop/rock music.

One of the best features is that if/when you’ve crashed on the cymbal, you can ride on the top and it’s immediately very articulate. A really versatile cymbal.

 

Zildjian’s 21″ Avedis Sweet Ride is one of the most popular and versatile cymbals on the market. All purpose, with beautiful overtones. Can be used as a crash, a ride or both with a beautiful bell.

 

Mienl make the Byzance Brilliant 20″ Medium Ride and whilst the Byzance range is typically dark sounding, this cymbal would work really well in a pop setting. The bell is cutting and there is the right level of wash and stick underneath to lift a chorus or outro of a song. It also has great crash capabilities.

 

So there are obviously cymbals I’ve missed whilst compiling this brief list and the genres have been perhaps simplified down but I feel it’s a good start to helping you find something you may like. The music at hand will dictate what you may or may not require in order to get the right sound and it may also be that one cymbal can’t do everything you need it to. Rhythm Base carry a huge array of cymbals and have a purpose built demo room for you to try things out in order to get the correct sound.

Spend some time on picking a ride cymbal. Don’t settle and if possible try not to be brand biased. Picking different things from different companies will give you a much more rounded sounded but what you may want to think about is matching your Hi Hats and Ride. Given that we usually move from the hats to the ride, it makes sense to me that they aren’t too far away in terms of tonal quality (unless of course you’re tying to avoid that exact thing).

Have fun taking yourself for a Ride.

Did Someone Say Practice?

Practice can be an elusive thing. Taking an instrument seriously means that we can’t avoid it. Even if you want to play for a hobby, then it’s needed. Simply just to get better. The difficulty is that people have decided somewhere along the line that it is a chore. Practice CAN be difficult, but it doesn’t HAVE to be difficult.

There are simple things that can be done to help you along the way.

 

Firstly, have a plan. It makes life a whole bunch easier. Now your plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as ‘learn X new groove’ or ‘work on opening hi hats etc etc. Or it can be a little more elaborate, such as:

10 mins – doubles through table of time at 80bpm

10 mins – Songo bass drum variations

20 mins – Linear 4s through triplets and 16ths

15 mins – Comping figures in 5.

5/10 mins break.

Repeat.

This kind of idea can be aligned with something like a pro practice schedule. The timings and content can change depending on the needs of he student but the idea remains constant. But these ideas are not the only important factors in practice. Dave Weckl presented Rhythm Magazine with his 5 tips on getting the most out of your practice:

 

1. HIT THE PAD

“If you’re plagued by sound or volume limitations, you can get a lot of work done on just a pad. I suggest doing most of your rudiment and chop practising on a pad, so you can save the ‘noise making’ for application of those on the kit.”

 

2. SIT COMFORTABLY

“Set up your kit to make sense with your natural body movements and hand positions. Sit at your kit, close your eyes, let the sticks hang down at your sides. Bring up your right hand in a Moeller motion, whipping the stick down as to hit the snare. Don’t try and hit it, stop at the ‘crack of the whip’. If you didn’t hit your snare, you should have a rim shot. Do the same with all the drums. Then move them to your body, not the other way around.”

 

3. GET A GRIP

“Let the sticks do as much of the work as possible. This works only if the grip point is primarily at the thumb and middle finger, so the stick is balanced from the centre of the hand. All fingers are in contact with the stick as much as possible, while the feeling of ‘bouncing a ball’ is maintained while throwing the stick down to the head using the wrist – thumb sideways, palm down.”

 

4. GET THE FEEL

“I highly recommend Gary Chester’s book The New Breed. These exercises will tear you apart, and create the ability to analyse at a microscopic level the internals of your playing and grooves, necessary to identify feel problems. It’ll also increase your consistency level, one of the hardest things to achieve in anything we do.”

 

5. TRY THE ‘SING TEST’

“Record yourself playing grooves and fills. Play it back and see if you can sing what you just played. Would you sing it? Is it really what you want to say? Practise singing drum grooves and fills, concentrating on making it sound and feel like you want it to. The idea is to intend everything you play from a musical perspective. You’ll probably find you’ll play more simple, effective grooves and fills with this idea in mind.”

 

The hard part of practice is that is that it should be a daily thing and due to the nature of modern life, that can be difficult to maintain. Tiredness, family life, running a household, work (if you’re semi pro) etc. All these things can lead to a desire to not practice. I try and make it a daily routine and preferably at the same time. During a masterclass at the RCS, legendary sax player Dave Liebman suggested that he practises between 8am til noon every day. That way his practice remains consistent and he can track any bad habits or develop any new things and monitor them regularly.

 

Online Drum Teacher Mike Johnston has developed a practice schedule based on the Pomodoro method. It’s a 4 stage plan which looks like:

1.) Practice something non creative that you can already do but wouldn’t mind being better at/faster/cleaner at etc (10 mins)

2.) Practice something creative (he makes the suggestion of left hand quarter notes whilst soloing against that) – so probably something improvisatory. (10 mins)

3.) Practice the new thing you want to work on (25 mins) This is the most important time limit – according to Johnston, neuroscience has suggested that the brain can only continue to absorb new information for 25 mins.

4.) Musical application. Johnston suggest using a music randomiser like Spotify and play 2 songs by any artist. He suggests that the key is to play these songs like you’re auditioning for that artist. Get as far inside the music as possible.

You can hear him talk about it here on the Drummers Resource podcast. You’ll find it towards the very end of the podcast but do check the whole thing out – it’s great.

 

The monitoring of your practice is both really important and extremely helpful. Keeping a log or recording and listening helps consistency and development. It lets you hear yourself subjectively and like an audience member would if your were playing live. You’ll probably find that your ideas enter into your playing faster than otherwise.

The site musiciansway.com has free downloads of practice schedules that can help you formulate a plan for yourself.

Also, Zoom make some great recording devices that don’t require a mixing desk, mic or computer to use. I’ve owned the H2 device for years and it’s one of the most handy devices to record your practice. Outside of that, the H4 and H6 are also pretty amazing. They can even be used to record band rehearsal too.

 

There will be times when you feel like you can’t do anything right and you sound terrible. It’s important to remember that this is practice. You should sound bad – especially if you’re working on something challenging. But the repetition is the key and having an objective view point – don’t take it personally, it’ll sound better faster than you think.

Your Function In A Function Band

The humble wedding gig. It is looked upon by different people in different ways. Some drummers loathe it and some drummers love it. A lot of people see it as uncreative and unsatisfying and some people see it as a great challenge. Where else would you get to emulate so many classic drummers, play classic drum grooves AND get paid for it?!

Personally I enjoy wedding gigs. Firstly, two people are having what is meant to be one of the happiest days of their lives and have asked you to be part of it and entertain their guests for a few hours.

Secondly, it’s usually a great hang out with good friends eating buffet food and cake. Thirdly and most importantly, for me, you get to play a bunch of drums.

Now I’m weird. I like playing for a long time. I relish the challenges. Ever played Led Zeppelin’s ìRock n Roll” after two and a bit hours of playing relentlessly? It’s a tough ask, especially as the groove, if played properly, is a roast! But I like that. I like having to de-tune my snare in between tunes to get a compressed, drum machine sound to play some of the modern pop tunes. It’s all good.

But these things aren’t the only part of the job. So I asked 10 or so of Glasgow’s busiest wedding band players for their input and advice on what they consider some of the most important aspects of playing these gigs, and what to know if you want to get started. I’ve split these into 6 sections, that whilst not definitive by any means, are a great starting point.

Groove

Grooving is important in every aspect of drumming with these gigs being no exception.

ìThink about the job you’ve been given. It’s to make people dance. This means that you’re going to do well if you can find an enjoyment in the disco beat and the pop/rock grooves. Neither your wedding guests or your fellow band mates really care about your chops.” (Martyn Hodge, Aurora).

As with any original band you might find yourself working with, the relationship with the bassist is paramount.

And spending some time in rehearsal building a solid foundation is worthwhile: ìKeep it solid with your bass player, work on phrasing with each other and get that rhythm section as tight as possible.” (Ross Findlay, Waterfront)

Part of the package of a good player, especially those who focus on groove, is the attention to detail and playing weddings can mean having to cover a base of different styles, attitudes and players. This attention to detail is an important aspect.

ìThe difference between Steve Gadd and Ringo playing a shuffle is massive. The difference between Ronnie Vannucci playing a rock beat and Charlie Watts playing the same rock beat is worlds apart and shouldn’t be approached the same on a gig.

ìOverlooking this aspect of the song will result in the ìfeel” of the song being wrong. At this point, it’s game over. If that’s not there then nothing else can be achieved.

ìGetting into as many players in the ìtop 40″ world and listening to what they do within that framework, understanding their ìvibe” and imitating them will give you a better idea of how certain songs should feel, how you should play them and ultimately will make the band sound and feel better.”

(Jamie McGrory, Replay)

Gear

Some people may not consider this as an important aspect, however I have had beginning students come to their first lesson and suggest that they were going to buy a £250 kit and start playing weddings. Suffice to say the student never returned for a second lesson.

Doing the job on tools that don’t stand up to being hit for 4 hours a night, 2-3 nights a week, 4 weeks a month is simply not professional. One doesn’t have to spend a lot of money (I WOULD suggest spending more than £250 though).

ìThere are so many wedding bands out there and it’s tough to make a mark in the wedding scene, so set yourself apart from others, pride yourself in having good gear, you don’t need to spend thousands on a kit to have a decent one.

ìI recently bought a Mapex Armory Series kit for less than £600.” (Ross Findlay, Waterfront).

The venue can dictate the amount of gear that you take too, as some of the spaces are small with the band having to put PA, bass and guitar amps in.

ìTake minimal gear. Ideally, a four piece set up with a few cymbals is more than enough, plus it doesn’t piss everyone else when trying to squeeze into small spaces!”

(David Calder, The Riffreshers)

ìAdvice that Jim Drummond gave me was: if you get booked to fill in with a band, bring sensible gear and make minimal fuss with it. No double pedals, no china cymbals, no drum racks.”

(Ewan Laing, Cruise).

With all the guys I spoke to, gear was a big factor. It shows a sense of professionalism is necessary in this regard. Joiners buy the best tools, Driving Instructors have decent, well looked after cars to teach in. For the most part, you’re a tradesperson so have good gear to work you trade on.

Attitude

This is a big deal when dealing with music in general. No one wants to play with or be in a van driving for hours with someone who’s negative or a pain in the ass or any of these things. I certainly don’t with other instrumentalists/singers.

This idea isn’t just related to your attitude to playing the music, but also just in general.

ìBe punctual and help with lifting gear (especially when depping). You would be surprised the amount of musicians who don’t get a second gig because of lateness and laziness.”

(David Calder, The Riffreshers)

Just how you conduct yourself as a person can be tantamount to how much you work.

ìGo into it with a good attitude, don’t just think ëit’s only a wedding band’. Make it one of the best wedding bands! Work hard at it and constantly work with your band mates to get your set as solid as possible.”

(Ross Findlay, Waterfront).

Ross’ advice serves as a reminder to me anyway of how hard you have to work sometimes. It’s not always just sitting down at the drums and playing. It’s making rehearsals count, learning the music beforehand so that the rehearsal is just plying through them and tightening them up. This makes everything more productive.

Volume

We play probably the loudest acoustic instrument around and can pretty much drown out everything that is not amplified. But that doesn’t mean we should.

Some gigs have limiters. Which means that above a certain volume, the power cuts out and everything goes off – so all guitar amps and PA. Which is a horrendous pain in the backside.

So how do we deal with it?

ìBe willing to play at any volume – don’t play LOUD all the time! I usually keep a few different weights of sticks in my bag to facilitate this.”

(Douglas MacFarlane, Ernest)

The singer of the band usually has the hardest time with volume. Firstly they need monitoring to hear themselves as their voice is going out the front, and the PA speakers can’t be put behind the band due to feedback issues from microphones.

So in order for the singer to pitch correctly they need to hear themselves with monitors. We don’t. We can pretty much hear ourselves acoustically. So we have to try and be responsible and be sensitive to the singer’s needs.

I can’t imagine it’s a nice experience to wake up after a gig and have problems speaking but you had to push your voice over a drum kit and guitar stack.

ìAlways accompany the vocalist/singer. If you can hear them, you’re playing at the right level. If you can’t – sit back till you can!”

(Gordy Turner, Daytura)

All singers will have a different threshold for volume so it’s probably sensible to ask on the gig.

Charts

A couple of the guys suggested using charts for a variety of reasons and I agree that they can be very useful.

ìFor guys starting out – get your reading on. It saves the pain of memorizing/learning an enormous amount of music. Even if it’s just the geography of the tune and especially the first dance, it can really help. This applies if you’re depping a lot too.

ìYou may get the set on the day of the gig if it’s an emergency so being able to throw a quick chart together can make all the difference!”

(Ian Hendry, Dawn Patrol)

A lot of bands will do different version of tunes so quick cheat sheet can help you. Plus you never know when it’ll come in handy elsewhere.

ìCharts can be useful when depping, but maybe just some short hand notes:

ìVerse – 8 bar funk

Chorus – disco groove – 16

Bridge – out

Chorus – in as above.”

(David Calder, The Riffreshers).

Songs

This is probably the most obvious yet sometimes the most overlooked part of the gig. The amount of instrumentalist deps that I’ve worked with that haven’t learned the music or hearing reports of people who have covered me that haven’t learned the songs is crazy.

ìLearn all the classics. Get your hands on a few set lists from established guys on the scene and learn the tunes inside out.”

(Allan James, Real Easy)

Usually set lists will contain the classics and some more modern tunes but if they don’t and you don’t know who is around on the scene, or where to meet them – use a wedding band agency.

These usually house plenty of media of bands playing and more importantly, their sets. There will be literally hundreds of songs on there so you’ll get an understanding of the popular repertoire.

Having a strong knowledge of repertoire is really important – you have no idea who is going to be in the room and what they want to dance to.

You might find that all your old classics are working and that’s what is getting people up, but you only know 6.

ëTailor your set to suit the crowd if need be.”

(Douglas MacFarlane, Ernest)

You could be depping and you don’t wanna be the guy who doesn’t know the tune if it gets called (trust me – I’ve been that guy!).

What have we learned?

So from these few things you can see there is a lot to think about. There was a lot of crossover from the drummers on a lot of the topics.

The big crossover points were:

  • Don’t overplay and play what the song needs.
  • Have decent gear.
  • Don’t be an arse.

There is a decent living to be made playing weddings and it’s a great job. For the most part you’re in charge of yourself, you’re playing music and not serving someone’s dinner or pulling pints or anything else you may not want to do.

Approach it with a positive attitude, work hard on your set so you know the music, work hard on your craft so that you play it well and you’ll have lots of fun.

It’s All In Your Heads

Drum heads can be a tricky thing. Even for the most experienced player, they can be a daunting prospect but they needn’t be. I’m going to take through my drum head choices and why I use them. Hopefully it provides some food for thought.

Firstly I’m going to say I use Birch drums (Yamaha Recording Custom). So this means my drums will naturally have low end and are ëpre – EQ’d’ (Yamaha’s language, not mine) which suggests that, hopefully, I won’t need any aids such as moongel to dampen the drums down, especially if I select the correct heads for the job.

If you read my last blog post on drum sticks, then you’ll know that I play a lot of varied gigs and choose tools accordingly for the job at hand. I’d love to be able to do that for drum heads as well, however it’s both impractical (sometimes I don’t have time to constantly change drum heads for each gig) and it would also be expensive.

So what does that mean for when I select heads? Well around 80% of the sound your drum makes is down to the head that is on it. Single ply heads will be open and ëringy’ (for lack of a better term). They will bring out higher pitches in the drum and tend to be used for Jazz or lighter styles of music. Double ply heads seem to provide plenty of mid/low end, especially on my drums and I’ve gravitated towards them for that reason.

I love Remo. Specifically Coated Emperors. They sustain like no other head for me when needed, are very controllable and last forever. They suit most of the styles I play too. I can tune them really high for jazz gigs and they don’t choke or sustain, while still bringing out the fundamental pitch of the drums which I love. I can tune them down for rock gigs so they’re fat and beefy with great sustain and have them somewhere in the middle of it all if thats the sound I require. I also like the slightly drier sound you get from coated heads. They seem just a little more focussed to me. I still have the factory Yamaha heads on the bottom which Clear Ambassadors and they’re perfect. As long as the tuning between top and bottom heads is in sync, the drums rock.

I have 2 main snare drums – a Brass 13 x 6.5 and a Bamboo 14 x 5.5

The brass shell has a Powerstroke 3 on it currently and it’s great. It’s lively enough to not sound too muffled or dead, but the underlay controls the overtones that naturally exist in a brass shelled drum. I have used an Emperor X (which in effect is almost a 3 ply head) however I felt too much resonance was removed from the drum. The trade off was projection – lots of volume and a really focussed sound. Perfect for hard hitting rock.

The Bamboo drum is naturally dry so an Ambassador is perfect. It has the brightness I want and I don’t need to moongel the drum to focus the tone, it does it naturally in the shell/head combination.

For my bass drum, I mainly use a 20″ drum, but do have an 18″ and 22″.

The 18″ is the jazz drum so it has a coated Ambassador and usually stays at the one pitch/tuning. I also use Gibraltar felt strips on the front head and batter head, just to take the edge off – especially if I know it’s going to be mic’d. I don’t port the front head so the felt strips help the engineer out with overtones etc. I also usually play it quietly (although not all the time) so it’s a little easier to deal with in that respect. There’s nothing inside the drum so the sound is pretty traditional and wide open.

The 20″ drum is my main stay and it has a Clear/Coated Powerstroke 3 on it. I swear by this head. On most top end kits, it’s the factory standard and I understand why. It’s an awesome drum head. Versatile and punchy, especially from 20″ on up to 22″/24″.

This drum I will mess around with depending on the gig. Sometimes I’ll change out the front head and take out the damping/pillow, use some felt strips and have no hole in the front, with a coated Ambassador and it sounds amazing. Tunes up well and cuts through. I use this combination if I’m playing more modern Jazz or with my Connected band and it’s perfect. For functions or rock n roll gigs, I’m 95% of the time mic’d so it’s a ported Coated Ambassador on the front, a pillow in the drum and a Powerstroke 3 tuned down. Perfect. No fuss and an all round awesome sound. Just what I need.

So that’s my head choices. They’re a myriad of options out there. Rhythm Base is well stocked in both Remo and Evans and the guys are very clued in to what each head offers. Try different things. The one thing I’ve never done an need to try is mixing heads. Maybe my 10″ will sound much better with a Diplomat on it, or a Controlled Sound and same applies to the rest of my drums. The experimentation is certainly worth it to try and find different sounds.

What’s In Your Stick Bag?

So? What’s in your stick bag? Aside from drum sticks of course. The contents of your drumstick bag will obviously be related to the kinds of gigs you’re doing. My bag contains a bunch of different things. I’m lucky enough to do a different style of gig regularly, from jazz gigs to weddings to 3 piece rock gigs, to even the odd Cabaret style show and each one brings with it a different set of challenges that may require a different tool.

Jazz gigs

Dependent on the gig, my jazz gigs require two main staples – the drum stick and the brush. Stick wise, I’m a Vic Firth guy and HD4 seems to work well. They’re light enough to work on thin cymbals and not overpower the band. Usually I’m playing alongside and acoustic bassist and when the tempos get a little faster, thinner sticks with less weight and the right kind of tip, work well against the bass and other instruments (piano/guitar and saxophone usually).

I have a pair of Vic Firth Heritage Brushes in the bag for ballads. Brushes are fun and often looked at as a dark art. There are some things that may need practiced initially but they can also be lots of fun if you’re open to using a different sound and texture. The Heritage brushes are really comfortable to use – the handles are rubber which are non slip and also don’t make too much of a noise if they knock on the snare rim, which is important if you’re playing with a singer or generally just really quietly. The wires are soft enough so that they give underneath the pressure if you push harder than normal so they create a great tone on the snare drum. A great brush – check them out.

Wedding/Function gigs

With these gigs, the average playing time is 3 hrs, so for me, I need something that’s not so heavy that I get fatigued but not so light that I have to really dig in to cut through lots of guitar or bass and get, well, fatigued. The Vic Firth 85A is great for those kinds of gigs. They sit between a 5A and an 8D in the range in both weight and size and let me have enough volume without hitting too hard but also, if I need to dig in, they’re awesome. They also work really well for when I play with my Connected band as that music needs a little more than the HD4 gives me.

Rock Gigs
I also have 2 rock trios that I’m part of (Hercules Mandarin and Driven By Harness). There is no real finesse in these gigs as the music calls for really simple rock playing and for these gigs I’m reaching right for a 5A. I’m not a big guy. In fact I’m quite skinny so a 5B would be too big and cause me to fatigue after about 3 tunes, however a 5A is perfect for letting me dig in and rawk and also sit easily when the music is quieter.

Others

Recently I’ve been doing some gigs that require different things for more or less each artist (Cabaret gigs). I have Mallets and Rods in various guises. The Rute Rods or Promark Hot Rods are ideal for lighter playing situations and I’ve used both with great effect. For lighter cymbal work and rolls for ballads, the Chalklin MS24 are my best pals. They’re soft enough to let you start your cymbal rolls quietly but build quickly when you need them. This is perfect for me as I use thinner cymbals so when it’s quiet, if I used heavier mallets, they may make the cymbal speak too quickly.

Spares

Lastly, in my bag I keep a bunch of spares. Some are there because of experience and some are there as I think it makes sense. I snapped a pedal spring one night and was stuck without a spare. So I have pedal springs in my bag, always. Snare tape or cord, felts, hi hat clutch and cymbal seats are all in my bag now due to various kit share gigs and not having these things available. If you have to put a £400 ride cymbal on a cymbal stand without a seat and felt, needless to say you don’t really want to hit it the same way as if you had it seated properly. The final thing, and one of the most important. Ear Plugs! I never leave without them.

So there you have it. The contents of my stick bag. Hopefully it provides you with some food for thought. The stick selection available now is huge which means there is literally a stick that will suit everyone. Drummers Only carries a great selection including Vic Firth, Promark, Zildjian and Vater all of who make a wide variety of sizes, wood types, tips and more. Check out different sticks, different rods and brushes. You never know what might work for you.

Chris