Applying more ‘Rubato’ (vs. ‘Mr. Roboto’) to the drum set  

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA- Drummers are first and foremost timekeepers, plain and simple. That is our core mission. But we are also the gateway to a band’s inner time machine. Like the planet we live on, time fluctuates.

 When playing live with other musicians, there is an unwritten ebb and flow of tempo to keep in mind. It’s called “feel.” Play with your ears, first, and then your eyes. That’s what my drum teacher always taught me. But how do you know when to play looser interpretations of time and when to be a metronome (which was first used by Beethoven, by the way)? Not an easy question to answer. Time tends to advance and retract from the initial beats per minute you lay down during certain segments of a song – unless that tune actually calls for tempo changes.

 Understanding basic classical music terminology governing time signatures and tempo is helpful – even in rock genres. In any original or cover song composition, there are several main tempo ingredients we knowingly and unknowingly follow, including: Allegro (fast), Adagio (slow), Ritardando (slowing of tempo), and Accelerando (quickening of tempo). There are all sorts of variations within these broad terms, but you get the point.

 The most important tempo term – and the one most appropriate for contemporary live music – is “Rubato,” or the free adjustment of tempo for expressive purposes.

 Most of us live within this expressive shaping of music that is a part of phrasing, which is further defined by the spaces between each note we play  – otherwise known as subdivisions. Where drummers tend to experience time fluctuations in a song can be both apparent and elusive. Solos and section transitions tend to inherently lend themselves to tempo rate changes.  That does not mean the song’s time signature actually changes, though. While guitar and piano melodies can be flexible with tempo, accompaniment by drums and bass never radically departs from the original meter. The rhythm section must keep the regular pulse (yet not rigidly in mechanical fashion) and adjust to pace changes.

 Regardless of incidental time changes as they relate to the nuances of playing live, the song must return to its original rate at some point.  And the onus squarely falls upon drummers to reel everything back in.

 There are a few tricks of the trade to re-set a tempo during a song, if the need arises. Cracking your snare hard on the first beat of a measure is one good way to send a message. Closing the hi-hat on downbeats is also a great tool in keeping solid time, so get solid with your footwork on it. If your other three limbs are playing more “feel” during a particular point in a song, the musicians around you tend to key in on the security of the hi-hat. Brief stops can provide that brief non-musical interlude that makes everyone think about coming back in together. And if all else fails, simplify your drum parts to the point of awkwardness and count aloud.

 The best way for you to experiment with time and apply more Rubato to the drum set is by practicing along to a metronome or online click track, particularly at slower tempos that are more challenging to control. Work fills into your beats and have fun with the fluctuations.

 

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

 

 

 

Building endurance on the drum set

By Tim Kane
http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

STURBRIDGE, MA – If you asked 10 drum set players how they warm-up before a practice or live gig, you would probably get 12 different answers.

Some musicians don’t perform any warm-up exercises and still look relaxed behind the drum kit. They allow the sound check tunes or even early songs on a set list to massage their chops. Other drummers are nearly obsessed with warm-up exercises. I used to be the skinner who never warmed up with the exception of actual gear lugging and set-up time, which can be a cardio workout in its own right. Then, I bought a practice pad and discovered that by playing various rudiments daily, it did have an immediate effect upon my playing stamina. What quickly became apparent was not so much how long and skillfully I played those drumming essentials, but how I was actually playing them as applied to motion, stick bounce and dynamics.

Drummer fatigue runs rampant in our little corner of the musical woods. The problem is if we push the limits of endurance without proper warm-ups, injuries can and do result. Too much tension while playing the drums can cause inflammation that is passed along to your tendons and ligaments, which then become swollen resulting in pain and possible damage such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

Some drummers use weight training to build endurance, but I didn’t recommend that. Learning how to properly breathe – like running a 5K road race – can also certainly add more strength to your muscle behind the kit. Understanding proper arm, wrist and finger techniques are key as well. As the famous Gladstone and Moeller technique books and videos all profess, we all need less tension in order to play at top speeds with maximum power, endurance and precision. But drum set warm-up exercises aren’t so much about just getting your arms, fingers, wrists, feet and toes well oiled for that particular day. We’ll never be totally tension free on drums.

Building endurance via warm-up exercises is all about teaching your brain through repetition to execute proper hand and foot technique. Through memorization of patterns meets technique, you learn to conserve more drum set energy and thus create more endurance.

Those who don’t warm up before playing are really fooling (and cheating) themselves. The good news is you are never too old to learn new tricks on the drum set.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor, and drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

 

Who are your favorite drummer inspirations?  

By Tim Kane

http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

STURBRIDGE, MA – Buddy Rich once said that there were 10,000 drummers trying to play exactly like their heroes. Little did Buddy know it was more like millions trying to play just like him. I can’t claim that Buddy was an early influence of mine as I am a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But it turns out Buddy was an early influence for the drummers I most admire.

Buddy was trying to say that drummers should strive to make their own mark in creating music instead of copying someone else’s body of work. I could not agree more, but actually also believe that playing along to and studying a favorite drummer’s music is a great way to both develop your chops and intuitive ears.

Last week I looked back at some vintage videos of my early drummer inspirations while learning to play. Suffice to say, it was an interesting exercise with surprising new discoveries.

When I think of the drummers who truly inspired me early on with the essence of drum set dynamics, fills and polyrhythms, I conjure up three: Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen and Steve Gadd (hear Gadd at the 5:40 time mark for his solo).

When I was a kid sitting in a tiny bedroom with that white sparkle vintage kit I stole from my sister, Alex was the man who taught me how to play hard rock drums and double pedal kick action. Neil, the ProgRock professor of the drum kit – who by coincidence took drum lessons just a few years back to improve (like he needs to) – jumped into my scene with the “Moving Pictures” album. I saw Neil play with RUSH this past summer in Boston, and they played that entire record. It was awesome and inspirational.

To hear “Tom Sawyer” or “Red Barchetta” back then, and try to play along with headphones, was virtually impossible but also quite enlightening with regard to better understanding the complexities of odd time signatures and triplet/flam fills.

Then came along Steve Gadd. He had been around for years, but I did not really discover him until Buddy died and I read about what other drummers had to say.

When I purchased his Gadd Gang album and gave “Way Back Home” a listen, it opened up another facet of my playing style. Steve’s keen ability to just groove in the pocket or heavily synchronize notes between hi-hat, snare and kick with these fantastic buzz-like rolls blew my mind. So I learned the solo in that funk song to the best of my ability. And it turned me on to this greater concept of being a funk/fusion drummer, which is how I would define my style today.

I have come to realize that my own style has early roots in Alex, Neil and Steve’s style – and the styles of the drummers they admired most, and the ones before them.

The point is we should never stop emulating inspirational drummers, for they help us to refine our own skills, style and creativity. I still strap on those headphones from time to time and give “Hot For Teacher” a whirl.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kanedrums.com

Drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

What should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped drum shells?

 

By Tim Kane
http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

STURBRIDGE, MA – What happens when your sound guy misses the tom clip and drops a mic right atop your nicely lacquered kick drum shell? How about when you leave your wrapped drums in a 100-plus degree car for several days?

It usually means bad things for both types of drum shell finishes.

Lacquer and satin finishes on outer drum shells certainly look great, especially if they accentuate the inner wood grain well, but can get chipped and damaged more easily than plastic drum wrap. Wraps, on the other hand, are more durable, but purists argue they conceal the true inner sound of a shell.

Some dings on a lacquer/satin oil kit can damage not only the finish but also the actual drum, making the argument that if you are an active gigging drummer, a wrap kit will better protect the drum and last longer.

My opinion is so long as you take care of your drum set equipment, it takes care of you. Like a guitar, use cases and care when handling and moving drums. Any drum set can get dinged and scratched whether sitting in your practice spot or on stage. Yes, a lacquer finish is more fragile and easier to dent, but wraps scratch and are more prone to temperature swings affecting the plastic’s glue bond with wooden shell.

A recent IIRC study states that wraps reduce resonance by 4.7 percent. Perhaps that is what you want for sound and in exchange for the nice visual textures, you are willing to sacrifice that percentage. I tend to disagree, as wrap by its very essence, if glued properly, adds another ply layer of thickness to your overall drum shell. The thicker your shell ply, the bigger the sound.

So what should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped shells?

On lacquer shells, the overall appearance of wood is first and foremost. Does the lacquer show off the outer shell’s knots, curvatures, and grain textures enough, or are you going for a smoky look? Does there appear to be enough clear sealant coat atop the lacquer finish for added protection? How does the finish appear under bright lights versus dark corners? Will they blend well with your other drums?

As for plastic drum wrap, there are nearly endless varieties of colors including solid, swirl, sparkle and pearl patterns to choose from. If you visit a music store, don’t just go with the available floor models. Ask what’s available for textures online or from their distributors.

Remember, a lacquer or satin finish produces a more “open” sounding drum allowing the shell to resonate more freely than is possible with a plastic wrapped finish. However, a wrapped finish can be more durable as well as less expensive.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about what looks and sounds good for shell finishes. Some say my bright green pearl wrap Rodgers kit should only be played at Christmas parties, and that my cherry red lacquer finish Gretsch kit should be in a Marlboro cigarette commercial.

But I sure like the look – and sound – of both, and that is all that matters.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years living in Massachusetts. http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

 

What’s the right cymbal set up for you?  – drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane
http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

STURBRIDGE, MA – I have been experimenting with the location, angles and heights of my cymbals lately, so it naturally got me thinking about the larger drumming community’s approach.

And there are some interesting trends developing (or re-emerging) out there. I am seeing more splashes positioned together in a row on single boom stands; inverted cymbals atop large diameter sisters; dual hi-hats with the auxiliary positioned next to the right-hand ride; left-hand rides above standard-use left hi-hats; growing use of double Chinas; greater emphasis on bells; and yes, the sizzle cymbal is back – and not only for jazz this time.

Quick tip: Try using a long chain of metal beads wrapped around your bell pads with one side hanging down on the ride for instant sizzle effect – without any need for a specialty model or rivets.

As for predicting cymbal sounds and mastering their relationship to one another, I’ve found a cool exercise. If you have the time, go to any major cymbal dealer’s website and test drive your ideal set up using its online digital cymbal simulators. If you are in the market for additional metal, take your existing primary hi-hats and ride to the local music store’s cymbal room to ensure the used models jive with the new ones you considering.

Before positioning a cymbal on the boom stand, think about relationship to the drum closest to it. Do you want your splash(es) just off the edge of your snare? Is your 18-inch crash best-positioned right of your ride or above your second tom-tom? Is that china best suited far left or far right for accents? What feels most comfortable?

General industry agreement on cymbal arrangement centers on placing higher pitched cymbals to the left of center and darker or lower pitched cymbals exit stage right. The middle area is much more personalized.

My own cymbal arrangement, which employs Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste gear, recently underwent a set-up metamorphosis of its own.

I’ll take my giant 24-inch ride first. Yes, 24 inches of sheer Paiste, Alex Van Halen-endorsed, glory (not pictured below). The mega-ride used to rest over my floor tom, but I often found it difficult to “ride” the ride without feeling a bit strained.

I previously had two rack toms above the kick, so I took my second drum off the kick mount and clamped it to a heavy stand as a second floor tom. Those adjustments essentially freed up the former right tom kick area for my big ride.

In changing around the ride cymbal position, I also noted that my various crashes – including a splash, two Chinas, and 16- and 18-inch crashes – had no distinct order to them or placement hierarchy. They were just kind of sticking out wherever I could fit them in my space challenged shed-turned-drum studio.

After considerable studio thought in comparison to live gig stage parameters, I decided to group and layer my splash and crashes just above the kick drum – pretty much at a flat horizontal angle. The decision had an immediate impact on my approach and skill development. Center kit cymbal placement occupies the heaviest “strike zone” area of your kit, typically comprising a tom, snare, kick, and first floor tom. So why not have your primary crashes and ride out in front?

Beyond ease in finding and playing each cymbal with a tighter drum set grouping, it has created a welcomed side effect with rediscovery of crash bells and the nuances each cymbal offers when played against each other.

If you play out or move drums around a lot, it is best to work from a file photo of cymbal arrangement and use electric tape or markers to indicate where your boom stand maximum height settings should be. And if you employ a lot of hardware, you may want to mark upper and lower parts so you know what goes with each piece.

With so many different approaches to drum kit cymbal set up, I’m curious what fellow drummers out there are doing with their kits? Share your photos and thoughts here.

TIM KANE is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Massachusetts. http://www.kanedrums.com

How to play better drum set fills – Drum Set Lessons in Sturbridge, MA

By Tim Kane

http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

STURBRIDGE, MA – The ability to play accurate yet creative drum fills at just the right moment during a song – and with a sense of dynamics – is a critical ingredient in your drum kit arsenal.

Even celebrity drummers become stuck at times in repetitive, overzealous, or overly simplistic fill patterns. Hopefully, this blog post will inspire you to further hone fill skills and play your drum kits better.

One obvious way, whether you have taken drum lessons and music education courses or not, to both evaluate and further develop your chops with drum set fills is to play a simple rock beat and navigate around your kit’s toms and cymbal arrangements at a slower tempo.

At the end of every four or eight measure phrase, play quarter, eighth, sixteenth and 32nd note fills using a standard 4/4 time signature for counting (4 beats per measure). Move from snare to tom-toms, and then on to more complicated variations integrating the various note values above with triplets, flams and quads alternating between toms and kick drum.

A video of my own drum set fill playing linked directly here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4oCfNXUGJM) demonstrates those basics and how to adapt and weave them together to add more sophistication and individuality.

The governing concepts behind ad-lib drum set fills require not only these basic chops, but also a good ear and ability to recognize the need for simplicity vs. complexity.

I find my best drum fills are ones stolen from rhythms already being played in that cover song or original jam by a guitarist, keyboardist or bassist. I try to echo their phrasing to an extent and then build upon it.

Understanding the mechanics of song structure is important, too.

Drum fills fall into two natural categories. The first kind is meant to lead in and lead out musicians from one musical sequence in the song’s composition to its next counterpart, such as verse to bridge or chorus. Drum fills essentially “queue” those chord and lyric changes.

The second aspect of filling utilizes playing off other musicians in order to fill gaps in time when string players are positioning fingers and chords elsewhere on the frets, allowing the music to breathe during a phrase, or leading up to an accent or stop in the tune.

What is crucial to effective drum fills is keeping time and tempo consistent, which is our primary role as drummers. That’s where the bass drum comes in. Unlike jazz where the kick drum is used primarily as a sporadic accent piece, basic rock drum patterns mandate a kick hit on the 1&3 beats of a standard 4/4 measure. Snare usually occupies the 2&4 beats. So, play your kick through drum set fills to help keep time and introduce another accent element. As shown in my video, many fills are built off the bass drum. I use the kick drum on most every fill as both part of that phrasing and to not lose sight of where I am in the measure.

An awkwardly placed or played drum fill with a band can affect the song’s outcome, if not your own motivation. Remember, drum set fills don’t have to occupy an entire measure or be flashy, and they are not limited to just snare and toms. Cymbals make great fill tools as well.

Build from the basics and bottom up to discover new fills and improve your flow around the drum kit.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor, and drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kanedrums.com

The value of large drum sets versus smaller kits – Drum Set Lessons in East Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane
http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

STURBRIDGE, MA – The sort of small clubs and practice spots I currently play at require a 4-5 piece, tightly assembled drum set with no more than 5 cymbals.

No gongs, second kick drum, effects pads, or octagons are possible, or there would not be any room for the amps and guitarists – let alone our cases and cords.

Call it a frustrated experiment, but I decided during my summer vacation to conduct a “drumvention” of sorts in my garage.

I assembled a 16-piece (cymbals not included) “mega kit” by combining every single piece of drum equipment I own. The drum kit expansion project took about three hours to construct, but it provided me with some very valuable lessons and challenges – and lots of fun.

I combined both of my drum sets, a five-piece 1979 Rodgers Studio 10 series, one 1950s vintage Pearl tom, and a 2010 six-piece Gretsch Maple shell series, with two Matador timbales, pair of LP bongos, stationary tamborine, assorted woodblocks, cowbell, wind chimes, hand percussion instruments, and 9 Zildjian and Paiste cymbals, including a cool double highhat set-up. I also needed about 10 boom stands and 3-4 Tama hardware clamps to pull all the cymbals, toms and percussion altogether.

Whew. I get tired just listing all of that gear.

In comparison, my mega kit was built in the spirit of Neil Peart’s last tour kit. While mine is nowhere close to his kit’s quality or quantity, I did borrow a few key elements that Peart talked about in his recent instructional video, “Anatomy of a drum solo”, which I highly recommend you watch. The heart of Peart’s kit – snare, kick, center rack tom, ride, and first floor closely resemble a traditional jazz kit.

If former Frank Zappa drummer Morgan Ågren of Sweeden can play a three kick-oriented drum kit, I can at least attempt two bass drums. Terry Bozzio, another great Zappa drummer and current Drum Channel resident musician, plays at least a 24-piece kit on some concert tours. Hec, even PBS Seaseme Street drummer “Animal” (Ronnie Verrell) played a double kick set. That said, John Bonham and Charlie Watts were most comfortable behind a simple 4-piece.

Drum set largesse beyond a 10-piece kit, however, is declining in popularity today. A random drum kit PR photo sampling I conducted of the world’s top 25 celebrity drummers found online at Drummerworld.com (an awesome web resource for drummers, by the way) reveals that they play an average of 6-piece drum kits.

What is more interesting about these posted kit photos is several trends I identified. More and more drummers today are integrating a second pair of closed highhats above their first floor tom. Some just clamp them tight to boom stands while others use more sophisticated hydraulic cords to enable double HH foot pedals. I tried this concept out at a recent gig and it provided me with additional drum fill phrasing freedom, and the ability to use both closed and open highhats while playing double kick drum patterns.

Another trend I found while perusing drum set PR photos was that at least half of the drummers whose kits I studied are now using a floor tom to the left of their main high-hats. I have employed this strategy for years and it offers a wonderful off-beat accent tool – not to mention a back-up tom in case a head breaks.  Holds a beer and set list quite nicely as well. Just don’t hit said left tom while beer is on head.

There is also a growing interest in elevating a 8 or 10-inch rack tom above the high-hats, too. I am seeing many drummers orienting 3-4 rack toms centered above the kick drum these days. And finally, my highly unscientific analysis revealed that two floor toms to the right of the snare is more the norm today than the exception.

So how does this all relate with my mega kit experiment?

What I learned from the procedure is you need a lot of practice to handle that many drums. Detractors in the past have said large kits hide the imperfections of the drummer while he or she cannot cover up behind a 4-piece.

Not true. I make as many mistakes behind either.

You pick the kit that matches your style and tastes. Bill Cobham sets up a 10-14 piece kit regularly in jazz/fusion realms. And he actually uses all of those drums. I watched a recent warm-up video of Billy practicing at the famous Long View Farm Studios in North Brookfield, MA and he plays everything to perfection.

The challenge I have with a 16-piece drum kit is navigation at faster tempos. You need to be quite mobile to work a kit this size and still keep the beat. I did find a distinct advantage in tuning and control while playing two different kick drums versus using my transmission highhat double kick drum pedal on one. Both kicks and their respective pedals respond differently. I actually found it easier and more controllable to play double kick patterns on two bass drums versus one.

The best thing about a larger than life drum kit is the endless possibilities with solos. The triad of toms and second snare to my left in this photo link here make a beautiful “solo” zone, if I shift my right hand foot to the left hand kick drum. Likewise, the timbales I dangled above my two right-hand floor toms offer many options for creativity.

I am not overwhelmed by the size of mega-kick, but it is just not practical for the types of gigs I play. Suffice to say, my two young sons love playing it – this time together.

Enough about my grandiose experiment, though. Please share your own drum kit set-up realities and dreams with this drumming community blog.

 – Tim Kane is a published writer/editor and professional drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com

Dude, I can’t hear you – Drum Set Lessons in North Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane

 STURBRIDGE, MA – I played a recent outdoor gig where the sound engineer placed the drum riser behind a pop-up shade tent and positioned all the amps and monitors out in front of my kit. I also had the distinct honor of playing without any floor or in-ear monitors.

What resulted from this poor stage sound arrangement was audio quality I can only describe as mush, and an inability for me to relate musically to any other musician.

I usually set-up before any other band mate and leave plenty of room on stage for other amplifiers. Unfortunately, a muffled stage sound is more the norm for me than the exception. Let us assume for a moment that you are like most drummers reading this blog: you are the weekend warrior-type musician playing live gigs at smaller indoor and outdoor venues with low pay and free beer (maybe). These types of gigs are not always conducive to running direct feed or line-in with all instruments going through a PA system. You often neither have the time, money, personnel, nor equipment for that integrated of a stage sound investment.

If I am lucky, the sound engineer will mic my kick drum and perhaps the snare at gigs. Because most venues I play at are space limited, guitar and keyboard amps are rarely sent direct through the portable sound system, and thus do not create a nice balanced on-stage sound by using EQ’d monitors in the overall mix. More often than not, I do not even have a monitor of my own. And even if I did, the most I can hear through it is vocals as I don’t need my own drums in the monitor. I need bass and guitar, which is only possible to achieve with a direct line-in amplifier send through the PA system.

So I have decided to take stage sound control into my own hands and ears. There are some simple strategies you can advocate for as a drummer to ensure you enjoy listening to the music you help produce as much as the fellow musicians in front of you.

What I advise is for drummers to encourage your bandmates to not stack their amps directly in front of your kick drum, snare, or floor toms. Be courteous to them as well. Arrive early and do not arrange your drum set in a way where there is no room beside your kit for amps and guitar stands to be comfortably placed. Talk to the sound person before he or she sets-up.

Moreover, try to have the “gig set-up” discussion at your next rehearsal. Express your inner feelings. In fact, use your next practice session as a true dress rehearsal. Set up exactly how you would live with an audience out front. Know how large your upcoming gig’s stage playing area will be. Garages work fine for this test, minus your car and lawnmower, of course – and a very forgiving spouse or roommate.

Another “back wall” stage set-up involves bassists and guitarists tilting their amps up towards the sky or roof and pivoting amps at a 45-degree angle toward center stage and you. That way, you catch some of their playing volume, but not all of it.

Running all instruments through the PA system and mixed into monitors is obviously the best option. With the overall stage volume down, the sound engineer can give you what you want to hear without killing the audience’s ears.

My own experimental solution at the next “monitor-less” gig will involve separately sending all amps and vocals through my laptop’s 8-channel audio interface device and wearing ear buds. That way, I can record the music and hear everyone at the same time.

The key is to take the necessary time before a gig to strategize stage set-up, run a few tunes as sound check, and be willing to readjust the position of certain speakers.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor and drummer for 30-plus years living in Massachusetts. http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com