GIVE YOU SHINS A REST
Ok, folks, today we turn away from the more mental aspects of drumming to look a technique: foot technique to be exact. But we are looking at it for a specific reason.
I have had new students recently, who have been self taught, who have complained of shin pain, and muscular pain where the front of the leg meets the foot – about where you would tie shoelaces. So this month we are going to look at the solution.
The problem is caused, playing heel down, when the muscles that lift the foot, in the 'shoelace' area, are used in isolation to execute kick drum strokes. It is not a muscle we use this way very often in normal life, and so it becomes fatigued very quickly – causing pain, which can often be felt in the front of the shin.
On occasion, students also complain of pain in the crook where the torso meets the top of the leg at the front – ie where it bends to allow you to sit. Again, this is caused by poor kick drum technique, because the entire leg is being lifted by the muscles in this area. But that tends to be when heel up is being used, which we'll look at later on.
So lets look at heel up pain first. The key to just about everything in drumming is relaxation. And that includes kick drum technique. Keep the entire leg relaxed, and this is the key: imagine your heel is stuck like glue to the foot plate. Then, focus on your knee, and think of lifting it, at the same time trying to move your heel back – BUT – keeping you heel in place. This action, as if your leg, from knee to ankle is a piston, and the small backward motion caused by lifting the knee but NOT allowing the heel to move, causes the foot to lift – without using the 'shoelace' area muscles or the hip 'crook' muscles. Then, to play the stroke, simply allow the entire combined weight of leg and foot to drop back onto the pedal – allowing gravity to do the work. Of course, you can put more power into the stoke by making a motion as if you are pushing the knee cap and lower leg forward. You'll feel that for yourself when you try it. This technique has worked for me, kept my leg relaxed, allowed fast and accented strokes and kept me pain free. But remember, there are a whole variety of kick techniques, so check those out as well. I can only give you my personal experience in the hope it helps.
Now, heel down: to avoid pain in the same areas, the key is to push the leg up, using the ball of your foot, and drop it back on to the pedal, allowing gravity to do the work. Again, you can put more force in to this if need be, and will feel this when you try the technique. This keeps the leg relaxed, and the muscles in the complaint areas relaxed, and thus keeps you pain free. Again, this works for me, but check out other techniques as well.
Give these a try, and hopefully, you'll stay pain free, and develop a great kick technique, either heel up, heel down – or both!
You may be unsure as to which sticks to choose as there are so many options.
We tend to find that the 7A, 5A, 5B and 2B models in all brands are the most popular choices with 7A being the lightest through to 2B being the heaviest.
For the really heavy player the Ahead sticks seem to be the one, great for heavy rock/metal.
Sticks are priced and supplied in pairs.
IT DOESN’T FIT!
By Ian Bee
I made this mistake I’m about to regale you with probably about twenty five years ago – which apart from making me feel old – I’m glad to say, I never forgot – and am able to warn you guys about in the hope you will avoid making the same faux pas!
Ok, so confession time!
A long time ago in a practice room, far, far away…..
I’d spent a lot of time developing my paradiddles, double paradiddles, six stroke rolls etc – concentrating on clarity of stroke, relaxation, and accuracy, and how to apply them musically around the kit. I’d worked my butt off!
I was really beginning to understand how to play more melodically, getting very much into using varied sound textures within and around grooves and fills. And it was a big breakthrough for me! Many aspects of my study were really coming together, and it was an exciting time for me.
So, I was feeling confident and that I had a good approach.
I’d tuned my kit carefully, marked it off on my drum mat, had my spares sorted, all ship shape and ready to go as the first gig after my epiphany came along.
So, the first number began – the start of a simple set of good old pop-rock standards. And there I was, relaxed, playing for the music, keeping it in the pocket. All was going well and then came along the need for my first fill – off I went: a smooth set of paradiddles across the kit – very nice! Success!
And so it continued: flam taps, here, double paradiddles there, a few six strokes rolls between bell of ride and cowbell, etc. You get the picture.
Eventually of course, the gig came to an end. Good audience response. I was happy, felt all my hard work had paid off and my chops had been clean and well executed.
The next day, I happened to see a video of a couple of numbers from the gig, shot by a friend of the bass player. And that was when it all fell apart! It was then that I realised what a huge mistake I had made!
Listening to my playing, I was happy with the grooves – simple, right for the music, good pocket – but then, my fills – oh Lordy!
The stroke clarity was lost under the bass, the intricate textural variations just sounded random and the drive of the songs was completely diminished until I returned to the groove, and things got motoring again.
Now, the fills were all in time, so I thought ‘what on earth was going on?’ Why weren’t my hard earned chops working?’
As usual, with a lot of these situations, the answer was very simple – but it took me listening to my playing to realise I was guilty of the mistake!
I’d been so keen to implement my new techniques, instead of playing fills that suited the musical situation, I was shoe-horning what were essentially jazz / fusion fills into everything I played. I was labouring under the misapprehension that just because my fills were in time, and had clarity and variety, they were working well. I was so wrong!
And the crazy thing is, I’d got it spot on with the grooves. But it was clear when I listened to my playing on the video, that the minute I played a fill, my dedication to ‘playing for the music’ went right out of the window! I was so keen to play these new fills, I lost my sense of musical proportion – and those fills simply DID NOT FIT! They did not sit in the genre, the balance of the band or the dynamics and volume of the gig. The fills were lost in a world of rock – totally inappropriate. Instead of playing the kit musically, I played fusion oriented fills! Ultimately, they made me sound amateur!
To a lot of you guys out there, this will be familiar and a lesson you learnt years ago – so this is really aimed at the newbie drummer.
My mistake was twofold – I tried to fit the wrong fills into the wrong music, and I treated the gig as a rehearsal for my new chops! A total no, no!
I was appalled at how I sounded, and have done my level best since that day to never let it happen again – keeping that golden mantra at the back of my mind – play for the music always!
Don’t do what I did, folks – play selfishly. How can I finish, other than saying…
Always play for the music, always play for the music, always play fo………!!!
ORTHODOX OR MATCH GRIP – A STRAIGHT ANSWER TO THE AGE OLD DEBATE!
It never ends – the debate over which grip is best: the orthodox (jazz) grip, or the match (German/French/American) grip?
For me, there is a simple, clear, definite answer – but to arrive at that, we first have to define the meaning of ‘best’.
For some people, it seems this whole subject is a competition – to them, ‘best’ means the exclusive use of one grip over the other – a ‘winner’. But surely it’s better to define ‘best’ as: what is best for your own drumming! One grip certainly should not be used in favour of another simply for the kudos; there are those people, again, who are grip ‘snobs’. For them, if you don’t use the time honoured orthodox grip, you’re not a ‘proper’ drummer. What utter tosh! There is only one thing you need to be concerned about – does the grip you use work for you?
If the grip you use feels good and does not impede your drumming, and does not cause pain – then use it!
At the centre of this subject is the debate over the position of the fulcrum – whether each respective grip gives a better balance point for stick control. Well, first of all, as the great Freddy Gruber, and the world renowned Dave Weckl both say, if you examine your fulcrum position in both grips, they are virtually the same – one is with the hand ‘under’ or ‘cradling’ the fulcrum (orthodox) and the other is positioned over the top of the fulcrum (match). And we must remember, there is not a hard and fast rule for the fulcrum position anyway!
Just take a look at Vinnie, Keith Carlock, Steve Smith, Steve Gadd – all of them grip in orthodox, but all of them have small differences in how far along the stick their fulcrum is. They grip in a way that feels good, works for them, and does not cause any pain!
Now, all that said, it’s clear to anyone that each grip affords a different feel, and as such, different applications – orthodox grip, generally speaking, allows you to cradle the stick, giving more of an intricate feel, especially for softer or intricate work. The way the wrist and forearm move is different for the strokes than match, effecting how the drummer feels, and thus plays, personal to each.
The match grip lends itself to more powerful, heavier strokes, but in the French application, again, more of a cradling action.
But here is the very important point – in the hands of an accomplished drummer, soft, intricate, powerful, open, closed strokes and so on are fully achievable with EITHER GRIP!
So as I said at the beginning, the answer for me is stunningly simple –
If you are accomplished, either grip will work as well as the other, offering different feels, but the same results – and whichever grip doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t impede your drumming and works for you – JUST USE IT!
And don’t ever worrying about getting tied up in this pointless debate again – put all that energy into your playing, and enjoy yourself!
DON'T BE A DRUMMING FASHION VICTIM
by Ian Bee
One thing is just as evident in drumming today as in so many other parts of modern life -fashion. And it does very little to help us develop a greater sounding set up. So I am here to try and give you the best advice so you end up playing a superb sounding kit.
It is very simple - do not become a fashion victim! Now I, the same as many of you, like to have cool finish on my kit that I love. And that is totally fine as rarely does that affect the way your kit sounds. What I'm talking about is buying a certain drum make, setting your kit up a certain way, using certain cymbals- all because it is what everyone else is doing. That is an insane way of getting your set up -there are two major factors when buying gear and how you set up: the music you are playing and your physical comfort when playing. What on earth is the point of having just a 12 inch and 14 inch tom because a known drummer uses this set up, perhaps because the 1960's set up is in fashion. If you play, for example, in a heavy metal band you will need more drums just for starters, to do justice to the music. And vice versa. And, for example, what is the point of a rack of ten toms when you play straight ahead simple pop?
But it happens all too often. Impressionable drummers will set up in a certain way simply because it looks good or is how it should look according to what is 'vogue'. Then they find that in the demanding environment of a gig they cannot reach a cymbal or it hurts when they reach for a tom. And consequently the look far from fashionable - they looked awkward and sound terrible! Still want to be fashion led?
And then there is the snobbery in manufacturers' labels. Drummers are bombarded with adverts and articles that convince them they are less than human if they do not buy the most expensive cymbal they can afford, which of course, must be top range and a recognized make. And then they wonder why their cymbals do not sound musically integrated, and do not work with the music are playing.
Do not be fashion led! Buy cymbals that sound exactly how you want, regardless of make and cost. It is exactly the same with drum kits. Buy the sizes and specifications you want that sound how you want and are appropriate for your music.
This is even more important when you are a drummer who plays different genres. Choosing gear that is a happy medium within your musical style is vital.
Now we all know that under a certain price range, the build and manufacturing quality will be of a lower standard. There is no getting away from that. But even then, if you find a drum or cymbal that has the exact sound you are after - buy it!
What is the result of all of this then? It is massive - if you play a kit that sounds and performs exactly as you want, you will play with far, far better feel and musicality. When you are really inside the music at that gig that is going superbly, when you hit that drum or cymbal and that perfect sound you searched for comes right back at you, you will not care what it costs,or how it looks in that moment - you will be getting high on how good you sound, how good you make the band sound, how good you make the music sound and the reaction of the audience who are loving it too!
Fashion gives you none of that! Follow fashion and be a drumming sheep - the same as everyone else! Or follow the sound you want, the ease of physical playing you want and you will sound fantastic! And of course, play so much better!
OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF FILLS
by Ian Bee
This is a subject that crops up almost more than any other when asking students new to me what particular problems they want to overcome. To that end, I hope to allay a few fears and point you in the right direction when it comes to playing fills. As normal with drumming, there is, of course, that ever present 'mental aspect.' However, it plays a small part compared to the practise techniques we are going to use. So let's cover it now:
Billy Ward makes a very good point of this in his DVD, Big Time, and although this was something I already taught, I find his explanation ideal to pass on here: much of what we play when drumming we play within our comfort zone. And there is nothing wrong with that. Most times, that comfort zone is achieved as a result of hard practise, so that when we play, these things come to us naturally and without effort - i.e., they are in our comfort zone.
However, there are times that the body position, or hand position, or even the musical genre will throw a drummer outside of his comfort zone - sometimes, and depending upon the skill and experience of that drummer, with detrimental effects. And with those starting out on the demanding journey toward natural, spontaneous, musically colourful and appropriate fills, the initial hurdle is exactly that - converting their musical 'discomfort' zone to their music 'comfort' zone.
But what is this comfort zone I keep on about? It's this; when right handed drummers play a groove, their hands are crossed across their chest, shoulders dropped and a little turned in - a comfortable, familiar position that the drummer spends the majority of his time in. The brain gets quite happy with the body being in this position, the heart, lungs and centre line of the body all pointing in towards the snare, the seat of the kit. A balanced, strong position. Physically, and indeed mentally, he is in his comfort zone.
But what happens the moment we want to play a fill? - we sit up slightly, our hands become uncrossed and arms open up, our chest is exposed, and we are twisting the centre line of our torso slightly towards off centre - and usually towards the ogling audience (a lot of us drummers like to hide behind our kits, so opening up to an audience is not often something we're happy with). At once, if we are not practised at this, we have catapulted ourselves miles outside our comfort zone.
So, before we look at the construction of fills themselves, we have to practise becoming confident with this open position, and thus allow it to become part of our comfort zone. Once we've done this, we have the self-assurance to concentrate on fill structure, fill improvisation and good, clean fill execution.
The way I teach my students to overcome the initial hurdle is to split the idea of fills into two parts. This is the crucial aspect.
a) Learning four 'sound groups' to eliminate the task of thinking about 'what to play', the minute you come off of the groove and into a fill
b) Once this is mastered, and confidence gained, learning to combine sound groups and using them upon appropriate instruments around the kit, until the idea in the head is played out on the kit without conscious thought.
You must be disciplined enough to ensure you do not move onto to b) without having gained absolute confidence with a). Doing this will cause this method of fill development to fail totally. You need the consummate confidence gained in a) before b) will ever begin to work.
So, here is a):
1. Learn these two sound groups -
(known as 'black-cur-rent' for non-readers)
(known as 'lem-on-ade' for non-readers)
2. Choose one of these to work with.
3. Play a groove.
4. Play the chosen sound group - BUT DO NOT, IN ANY WAY, THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE HITTING!
The crucial idea here is you rely totally on the sound group. Just let your hands play the sound group, and let them wander - give no attention to what drums you are hitting.
Ensure you practise this for at least two weeks daily. Part a) is designed to get you feeling totally relaxed when you open up your posture and leave the groove in order to fill. It has nothing to do with how the fill sounds. You are concentrating on bringing the act of 'going into a fill' into your comfort zone.
The great bonus here, is that 90% of the time, if you rely on the sound group, the fill will take care of itself and sound fine without you 'choosing' what to hit. I cannot reiterate enough that you MUST NOT get concerned over what to hit, just put all your faith in playing the sound group. Play them over and over and over again, using one of the sound groups above until you feel no apprehension when coming off of the groove into a fill.
Then, begin to combine the sound groups - two at a time, then three, then four - play around with as many combinations of the four sound groups as possible, but NEVER thinking about what drums you are hitting - that's the crucial part! Once you've mastered this, you can move onto b) which will polish and refine your fills, and have you playing tonally balanced and great sounding fills. We'll go into this next time, so come back soon for part b). And remember - have faith in those sound groups!
THE MENTAL APPROACH TO DRUMMING
by Ian Bee
Today, as drummers, we're all spoiled - endless DVD's, videos, books, websites - all of them offering a mind-boggling array of technical, performance and musical advice. Just deciding which ones to watch or read is a task in itself - then you have to decide which parts of those DVD's or books you need to learn, which bit of advice is going to work for you (that's the important bit)- by which time, you have double vision and a grinding headache!
However, the solution is here - there is one piece of advise this old pro can give you which applies to EVERYTHING - yes, EVERYTHING!!
No matter what material you are using to learn this wonderful art of drumming from, what particular skills, or what exact piece of music you might be trying, there is one aspect of drumming that is the lynch-pin of the entire art - an aspect that, because we take it for granted, will seem very obvious at first glance - until you stop, put down your sticks, and have a much closer look at it!
And that aspect? - the mental approach to drumming.
Yeah sure, we all know that to do anything you have to have a certain mental capacity, we all use our brains to learn, so what is this bloke on about?
Like I said, it seems obvious, but when you break down that mental aspect, and actively think about what's going on in your head when you're drumming, or learning a new technique, what you find can have a profound effect on both your physical approach to the art, your self-confidence in your own ability and ultimately, your technical and musical skills.
So let's take a look at this mental thingy!
The best way to put this is by listing, so here you go -
1. When we learn anything new, neural pathways are formed inside the brain - physical connections that create a pathway in the brain that, if you like, hold the memory of that action, or knowledge.
KEY: The more you repeat that action, the stronger the pathway becomes - the benefit to us - the more natural the action seems to be, and the easier and easier it becomes to execute. We know that 'practice makes perfect', but this is how it actually works. The human body needs to repeat an action at least 500 times before it even begins to recognise the action as a muscle memory, but the great thing is, if we know this, it greatly improves our confidence that if we practise regularly and with focus, we will DEFINITELY IMPROVE.
Knowing this gives you confidence that your hard work will indeed pay off, that all the time you are hammering out those tedious paraddidles, even if you FEEL you are not making progress, you can take comfort knowing that you ARE, and that it is very much worth the grind!
Okay, so that's the 'physical' side of how understanding the mental side of drumming can help our confidence and encourage us to practice. Now here is the other side - HOW we view our practice, performance and goals can also make a huge difference. So this is really the thought processes we can harness rather than the biological aspect as above.
I take great care to point out the following to my students, in an effort to boost not only their confidence, but faith in achieving their personal drumming goals: When you watch you role model drummer, be it Weckl, Gadd, Smith - whoever, and you think 'Jees, I'll never be that good' - then DON'T!!
DON'T think like that. I know that these guys have years of experience, years of playing and usually a certain amount of natural ability, but if you think like this, you've sold yourself short before you've even begun. Remember this; - the ONLY main difference between you and these guys is time. They have often had 8 hours a day to hone their craft for years.
Most of you guys are either in full time education or holding down a day job. So you do not have this kind of time to practice - but come on, we already know that humans work the same - the more you repeat something, the better you get, the stronger those neural pathways become; so to close the gap, to get closer and closer to being as good as these guys is getting in as much practice as you can. The pros are not super human - they ALL got as good as they are by doing the same as you - practising with vigour and passion and joy!
So okay, we may not ever get the time to reach the skill level of these drumming heroes, but you must take confidence and excitement in knowing that it really is only the amount of time you've put it that separates you from them - and take on board the fact that keeping this at the back of your mind should spur you on to better yourself again and again and again!
You CAN be a great drummer - you CAN be as good as you wish you were now. Just put in the time and it WILL pay massive dividends.
Last but my no means least, is another strange but wonderful phenomenon that occurs in the old brain box – I call it ‘subconscious reinforcement’ – sounds creepy, eh? But relax, this does not involve any surgery! It’s an observation I have made from years of practise, and you may already have discovered it yourself.
I find time and time again that this happens; I’m in a regime of focused practise of a particular technique, and I give myself a few days break, even longer sometimes, after two or three weeks practise. Then, when I start up again, and this is the wonderful part, I am, 99% of the time, far improved past the point when I stopped those few days ago.
This may sound odd, but I promise you , it happens. The key is strong, focused practise for a good two weeks BEFORE a few days rest. This seems to give the brain time to let the muscle memory and new neural pathways to subconsciously reinforce all the work you have been doing.
It’s as if this allows the brain to divert the energy it would have been using to help you learn (as you practise) into strengthening the new technique you have taught it. Now, I certainly don’t have a physical explanation for why this happens – all I can do is assure you that for me, and many of my students, it works.
So, there you have it. All of these mental aspects can and will effect every areas of your drumming, so remember, whatever DVD you are emulating, whatever book you are learning from, use these mental aspects – keep them at the forefront of your mind and apply them to your individual situation, and allow them to boost your confidence, your outlook, your ability, your technical and musical self-expectation and the endless joy that drumming should always bring.
LEARNING DRUM TECHNIQUES
by Ian Bee
In my article on the mental aspect of drumming, I talked about the myriad of material out there for drummers to learn from - DVD's, videos, online lessons, books, clinics, and so on. In this piece, I hope to allay your frustration at trying to figure out what methods to learn, to guide you through the maze of decision making when it comes to technique and provide a few words of advice that will help you decide on, well, the subject of advice!
Dave Weckl put it very well when addressing an Australian audience at a clinic a couple of years ago - he made a very strong point that drumming is NOT a sport - it is an art. Your expression on the kit comes from within you, from your creative soul - so what in heck's name has speed and volume and athleticism remotely got to do with drumming? Dave states you need three things to be a good player - good time-keeping, as this is our primary role, dynamic contrast, and tonal contrast.
And this is the hub of my advice. If you look at the obtaining of these three golden qualities, as indeed you should, then the microscopic examination and choice of the techniques you use to achieve this become far less important. Allow me to explain, with all those choices of material I mentioned above, many of us get lost in trying to figure out which techniques to learn and use. Some of us spend years learning one thing one way, see a DVD and start re-learning it another way.
When we do this, we totally loose sight of WHY we are learning this technique - to express our art, NOT for the sake of the technique itself. This is an all too often mistake, a process many drummers become obsessed with, and can indeed be costly in terms of musical development. So, okay - that's what often goes wrong when we are spoilt for choice in terms of learning material. How do we solve that particular problem? Good news - easily!
I've come to believe after thirty years behind the kit, that there really is no such thing as a wrong technique - I know, some of you will be howling abuse at the screen now, but trust me, trust my experience, but most of all trust your own eyes - just LOOK at the huge array of fantastic players out there who DON'T hold their sticks in the 'accepted' way - Keith Carlock, Billy Ward, Carmine Appice, for starters. They fly in the face of technical convention, using a grip that would NEVER have been taught to them by any 'conveyor-belt' tutor - and you know why?
The answer is what this whole article is about - they use a technique that works for them!
And that's your solution - take on board all the material there out there to be had, but don't worry about which is the correct technique - try them all, just for a little while, and adapt them, mould them and use them in a way that works for you, a way that allows you to obtain the time-keeping, dynamic contrast and tonal contrast that will make you a great drummer. Don't feel guilty or technically inadequate just because you've adapted a technique that gets you results. That's okay, that's you expressing yourself - that's the art of drumming - not the sport.
Now, the one caveat I will put on this article is this - if you adapt a technique and this results in pain, discomfort, blisters, calluses, then yes, something is going wrong. Listen to your body, and as with everything, don't take adaptation or technique to the extreme. Everything you do should be done as naturally as you can in terms of the physical. If the way you do something hurts in whatever way the, yes, your body it telling you you're off in the wrong direction. Often the way you'll find yourself adapting technique will be in small ways, but that won't always detract from the improvement you gain.
Dave goes on to say in no uncertain terms, the audience for the main part don't give a damn how you're playing something - they get off on how you sound. And that's what it is all about.