I was very excited when the invitation came for me to offer a drum set clinic at KOSA NYC (Lehman College) on March 27. Having just presented a clinic at PASIC, this was a chance to refine it even further and to focus on topics that I didn’t quite articulate fully at PASIC. My clinic focused on applying traditional Maracatu rhythms from the northeast of Brazil to the drum set. I also discussed the close parallels between Maracatu and New Orleans second line rhythms. Following is a short overview of the topics covered in my KOSA clinic:
The Swing Feel
“How do you play with that swing feel?” This is always the first question I face from students. They expect an answer that somehow will add a swing feel into their playing immediately. The fact is, the answer is very simple: it is going to take a great deal of practice and time to understand and play with that feel. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN and SING, SING, SING.
Do you ever wonder why people from Kentucky and Boston speak with a different accent? Essentially, they’re speaking the same language using a different swing feel. Have you ever tried to write an email that includes your southern drawl in each word? Well, it’s just as impossible to write with an accent as it is to write a swing feel into your music. In our western society we have quantized music to the point that computers are employed to fix our grooves and line everything up perfectly. We think that Blues is simply a 12 bar cycle. We have simplified things so much that we are missing out on the beauty, complexities and subtleties in our music and art.
The first step to understanding swing feel is to realize that rather than learning a new language, you are learning a new way of articulating yourself, essentially, speaking with an accent. Humans are not born able to speak languages. They are born with the capacity to *learn* to speak languages based on sounds they hear on a daily basis. It is the same with music. In order to play with a certain swing feel we need to listen to that music on a daily basis.
Of course, there are all kinds of ways to break down swing feel into musical exercises. But imagine – in the same amount of time you would spend learning an exercise, you could transcribe a traditional samba tune by Cartola and not only learn the swing feel, but also learn a new song in the process!
In closing, I’d like to remind you that the reason you started playing music is probably not because you liked the way those quantized little black notes appear on a sheet of paper. Most likely, you started playing music because you liked the way it sounded and the way it made you feel. Don’t forget that – keep learning it that way!
DNA of the drum set and the evolution of our Groove
Understanding the evolution of the drum set is very important. It will help you feel a greater connection with both the instrument and the grooves you play. The drum set is a multi-percussion instrument invented in New Orleans during the early 1900?s. Early brass bands often used a pair of drummers: a bass drummer with a cymbal attached to the top of the drum, and a snare drummer. For both economic and artistic reasons, bands began experimenting with using only 1 drummer – setting the bass drum on its side, holding the snare drum and playing both at the same time. This set-up quickly evolved into what it is today; namely, the most central instrument in virtually all contemporary bands worldwide.
But what I’d really like to discuss is the evolution of playing the drum set. What did those early drummers do when they first sat down to play the parts of two or three drummers? There are many theories about this, but the one I have explored for many years, both on my own and with Billy Hart, is as follows. Begin with a street beat/march. This was the type of groove most of the brass bands were playing at the time. You now have 1 drummer seated, playing his regular groove on a snare. He obviously needs to simplify the bass drum part since his single foot cannot match what the bass drummer could do with both hands. Once the groove was established, he could turn his attention to the cymbal mounted on the bass drum, moving his right hand from the snare to the cymbal while maintaining the march feel and sticking pattern. Voila! You now have the first 3-way coordination groove played on the drum set.
Let’s try this simple example, it’s a very basic second line groove played on the drum set using the 2:3 clave pattern:
Now, let’s distribute the right hand to the ride cymbal, playing the accents on the bell of the cymbal while maintaining the sticking and 2:3 clave pattern. This will give you a better sense of how the drum set evolved – it’s the root of orchestrating rhythms around the drum kit:
Now that we have a sense of orchestrating rhythms around the kit, let’s apply the exact same concept using the maracatu rhythm. First, let’s examine the traditional instruments and their grooves for maracatu:
Let’s take the alfaia, caixa and gonguê instruments and apply these directly to the drum set. We’ll put the alfaia part on the bass drum, the caixa part on the snare drum and the gonguê on the hi hat. Pay close attention to the sticking pattern and the accents.
Once you are able to play the above example with good feel, you can take the same concept from the New Orleans second line groove and distribute your right hand to the ride cymbal. Remember, you’re not going to change the sticking pattern, rather, simply move your right hand to the ride cymbal while keeping the groove happening.
You should notice a huge difference between example #4 and #5. Example #4 takes up a great deal of harmonic space, while #5 opens up and leaves more room for harmonic instruments.
In conclusion, I hope some of this information has been insightful and will inspire you to continue searching deeper into the rhythms and grooves you play. Remember to have fun and always keep your mind open to change whenever you play music.
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