All You Need Is Love
I have plenty of problems. You see, when I am driving through a parking lot and looking for a space to park, if there are lots of available spaces, I can’t decide where to park. I keep driving around until my wife says, “That’s the one!” Then I thank her and park the damn car. Menus do the same thing to me. A large menu at a restaurant will also keep me spinning with no decision. I usually end up asking the waiter what they recommend and choose from that.
That’s why, after posting a blog, I live in uncertainty. “What in the world should the next one be?” And then I get all super critical of myself. “No, that topic is tired”…or “This one is much too heavy” or one that we all share in one form or another, “I’m not good enough to write that.”
Well? My mentor (and friend) in all things Internet, Toby Goodman, assists me with my website and continually kicks me in the arse. He’s English. I love to hear him say “twitter”. Brits enunciate their “t”s like nobody! Anyway, Toby suggested I put the topics out there in front of me. And then I should throw a dart and get to it! Toby, it’s not working! I have too much FUD – fear, uncertainty, doubt.
I’ve now realized the answer to that question lies in you. Yeah, you. I’m asking you to tell me what you want. I want to select from your menu! Do you want to hear more about something that is in my vids? Or my book? Or someone else’s vids? Or something that happened to you on the bandstand? In rehearsal? Or is it something that was in your head when you woke up yesterday? (Yeah, that last one might be the scariest)
Staying in tune with this thread of us communicating, today the forum at my website has been reactivated so you can sign in and speak directly with me there. This forum started before Facebook and was very active – 2k per day visitors! Let’s compare private forums vs. Facebook. I had thoughts of sticking with FB but they can change their rules and your posts disappear in a New York minute. Also, a forum is able to maintain threads of interest. All the past posts have been saved at the Billy Ward Forum and there are incredible topics available for you to read and discuss. Thousands of posts! If you were a part of our family before, please go and sign up with your old ID or with a new one and give us a brief introduction about yourself! I look forward to speaking honestly and sharing our truths and doubts with each other. Don’t forget to leave a topic or two for me.
Before closing this week’s blog I wish to acknowledge one last thing. Lately there is WAY too much trouble in the world with fires, storms, earthquakes and people and countries threatening each other. My hope is that we as a people (and I mean all people) get it into our hearts that we have more in common with each other than the reverse. I’m writing these words on Monday September 11th 2017. I will never forget the anguish and terror that made 9/11 a shivering memory. I had just begun a clinic tour with John Good from DW and after a heart-wrenching decision making, I chose to continue on with John while my wife was in NYC less than one mile from the WTC. Because of the ensuing breakdown of transportation and rampant fear that was chilling our country, John and my travels included taking a taxi from Pittsburgh to Canton Ohio as well as driving 10 hours to the next show because of cancelled flights. What held me together…for both of us really, was music. We always centred most of our listening on The Beatles. There was lots of singing to music as well as crying in our car as we covered the entire US – east to west. So today, for John and me, remembering 9/11 involves “Beatles day”. Let’s all listen to more music and less hateful speech. Deeds will take away hate and bias, not words.
All You Need Is Love
How I Got Here, Technique-wise, Part 3 of 3
I was a practicing monkey in my early 20s, playing 8 hours a day while dropping out of two music schools. Not being in a band tilted my attention to freer forms of music, Coltrane, Anthony Braxton and others. Have you heard Jack DeJohnette play drum solos? I was into that kind of thing. I even performed a solo drum concert at North Texas State after dropping out. Looking back on that, all I see is ….big balls, LOL!
But speed for its own sake was of little interest to me. Seeing how my favorite drummers of that time (Nigel, Ginger, Ringo, Blakey, Elvin, Jack, Mel) were not particularly chopsy with their hands directed me to focus on other areas.
I wanted my technique to work toward absolute control of tone and what I am going to call “balance” which is… Making mus
ic up on the spot, and being able to get those barely-just-thought-of-notes out in some semblance of order, without the entire thing falling apart. I think balanc
is one of the hardest things to do. It starts with attaining comfort with your left hand and right foot as well as your right hand and your left foot.
This last book pictured here helped launched me toward developing better balance on the drum set. “Independence for The Modern Drummer” by Nick Ceroli. I never heard Nick play anything in person but he was very highly respected by all the pro drummers of that time. Nick’s main gig was The Tijuana Brass. This book is quite similar to Ted Reed’s Syncopation in that you add bass and hi-hat on all the exercises. But the exercises get more difficult. I swear to you, I would’ve never been able to make up the drum part and comfortably play Robbie Robertson’s song “Hold Back The Night” on his album “Storyville” If I hadn’t decades earlier owned the idea of haunting patterns on tom toms instead of hi-hat, and yeah, I think that song has four on the floor and 2 &4 on the hat that, if I remember correctly, escalates to 1/8th notes.
This Ceroli book has been out of print for decades, but now one of the more exceptional drum shops, Pro Percussion in LA, has a reissued version of it for sale. There’s even a second, Volume Two version now available. I haven’t seen it but if the first is working for you, check it out.
These are the method books that worked for me. Remember, it is what you do when your nose is NOT in these books that will truly advance your musicality. Simply use your instructional books as a guide. Search for your personal angle. What I mean is this: Imagine you are touring Italy. There is a guide and every minute of your time is taken up by what they have to show you. There is no time for reflection, for sitting down in a town square and having a coffee and watching all the attractive Italians walking around while smelling the smells and taking in the sights. Ah…. That’s nice! Treat your method books the same way. Stop being so serious. Space out and have fun! Personally, I always “stole” patterns and fills and more from almost everyone. This Garibaldi thing – that Papa Jo thing – this Keith Moon–ism. Alan Freaking Dawson. But much of my time was making my OWN music on drums, using the hammers and screwdrivers borrowed by my favourite great ones. I recommend you doing the same. Please share your own thoughts with me at my website or wherever I will see it.
Technique, Part 2. Feeling Those Triplets
Have you ever followed through on a friend’s recommended book, and upon reading it you oddly just weren’t “feeling it?” These recommended drumming method books are in a similar place. You may not like working on these books. If that happens don’t feel guilty. The main thing is to keep playing while keeping an ear open for your progress. In fact if the ONLY thing that you do is work through these books? Yuck. We are supposed to be musicians, not chimpanzees learning how to move and make a noise! I believe the most important things in studying drumming are to listen harshly to recordings of your favourite musicians AND listening to how you sound when YOU play. Technique will come in its own time.
Now, continuing on what worked for me. “Rhythmic Patterns” by Joe Cusatis: A perfect book to work through while doing Ted Reed’s “Syncopation” as describe last week’s Technique blog. With Rhythmic Patterns, you play jazz time – again, four on the floor on BD and rocking the toe/heel on your hi-hat foot to have it play 2 & 4. Then you go from time and perform the exercise. Triplets can get you tangled up, so it needs to be taken slowly and then worked faster in speed. I like method books that inspire. Once learned to play at reasonable tempo, you will be able to keep the brain out of the pattern. Then you can extend the solos on the drums with your own ideas while keeping the triplets going. Running into tangled arms or hands? Slow it down and work it back up and you will be able to own Ferris wheels of triplet cities.
One of you might say: “I’m a rock drummer so I don’t need to learn this jazz ride pattern stuff with two and four on the hi hat, let alone four on the floor. That’s stupid!”
Me: Don’t do it then. Enjoy your drumming in the shape and form you wish. The only thing I hope you are doing is holding yourself accountable for the notes by listening to your recordings. Strive for excellence.
BUT… The main benefit of learning the hand patterns with the feet on autopilot is that you will maintain a better balance on the kit. If those feet are really playing on their own, they will help you to keep the tempo steady. In my DVD ”Big Time” I show this in specific detail.
Now it is time to get to Jim Chapin’s bible, “Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer.” Bebop was just breaking out in NYC and it was a hyper fertile time for music and drumming. Jim noted what he was hearing and made the single most important book I’ve ever worked on. He once told me he had to carry sticks and pad around town because drummers were giving him grief, that some of his exercises were unplayable! There is one exercise with jazz time and playing ¼ note triplets inside the jazz ride pattern was my single most important exercise because it taught my hands and ears that triplets have a different mysterious flow to them that 8ths or 16ths (duple time) cannot. Playing 3 over 2 was, for me, like cracking the atom open and seeing another Universe! Being able to add a bit of swing feel into some duple (8th note/16th note) grooves adds so much feeling and swagger! Ladies and gentleman of the jury, may I introduce to you Levon Helm, Al Jackson, Ringo Starr and the list goes on and on. Have you heard Omar Hakim solo in a 6 over 4 (or 3 over 2) feel in his clinics? Magnificent.
I promised to discuss a particular book that was pictured in the last blog yet once again I have diverted away to other method books. Bear with me as I continue to attempt staying on point next week.
And finally we can’t forget this. Snare drum/rudimentary solo books! It’s your job now. What is or was your favourite and why? Please share your ideas here. You know where to write for me to see – on my blog at billyward.com or wherever you are reading this.
Technique. Part 1, Well, it worked for me…
What I see most often in younger drummer is some combination of the hands not having equal skills as well as simply being unable to travel around the drum kit comfortably and it all holding together. Grip and independence are big problems for many drummers.
Now, first and foremost to all else, a functioning and comfortable grip that doesn’t hurt you is essential. Working on your grip by studying snare drum exercises and strengthening your hands are what has to happen if you want to get better. If you doubt the solidity of your grip, ask a drummer you admire about theirs, and keep asking until you see progress. It might be an evolving – changing search as you pursue getting better. Be patient and keep digging until you find something that works for your style of playing. Unless we are in the same room together and you ask me about my grip, I cannot help you, so get out there, get bold and ask people to show you their grip!
As far as independence goes, moving around the kit and playing something that you want to play and not having it all fall apart is a big deal. For now, I’m going to stray away from the usual psychological aspects of drumming and get into the nuts and bolts of my own instruction that I was lucky enough to receive. It will hopefully help you on many levels.
Here goes. First, it should be noted there are many ways to become a musical drummer. It’s possible that a particular style of drumming/music suits you better than another. I can only share my path, which is this. I started playing at 9 years and studied with a local professional drummer, Jack Volk, who was holding down a daily live TV talk show gig in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He immediately taught grip, reading and rudime
nts from the beginning. The first bible-like book that helped me was “Syncopation” by Ted Reed. I played each exercise with four on the floor (quarter notes on the bass drum) and rock my high hat heel back and forth so it is playing two and four. Heel on one and three, toe on two and four. Have you seen me play with a shaker in my heel and wondered how I could do that so comfortably? This is why.
I’ll continue in present tense (as your teacher if you will)
Read each exercise with right hand on one instrument (floor tom perhaps?) and the other hand on another instrument (snare drum is good). Play it slowly and get it to where you own it. I mean Own. It. Then play other things in similar vein. Yep, make things up. Play time and then go into the exercise without losing flow and come back to time. Use your imagination to expand the notes musically. Continue until you are fully through the book. Whenever you play, keep the two and four on the hat, and the four on the floor with the BD. Patience is required. For proof of this approach being a successful one, go to any video of Steve Gadd, Steve Smith, Steve Jordan… any Steve that is a pro, Ha! Check out their hi-hat foot. Yep, they are using that heel on their left foot to fundamentally assist their timing and groove. The secret to this book (and another that I’ll mention next week) is what is happening with your feet. You must become automatic with your feet being cement solid, as if another person is playing those 4 on the floors and 2 & 4s.
“Oh, I can play that exercise now, in fact I’ve been playing to records and am jamming great with my band! Why should I take the time to involve my feet with such boring, stupid exercises?”
When you get good enough to begin playing with professional players, you will likely have begun to hear microseconds of time. If you want to be able to play with that pro level of timing, you will need your feet to help you through the storms that can happen on the bandstand and in the studio. This book and the next one, when studied this way, will teach you mild versions of independence and most importantly insist that your feet are in the game.
Writing about technical exercises is my least favourite thing to do, perhaps as much as I disliked learning some of those same exercises when I was a kid. But now I am forever grateful that I suffered through them. They are part of my foundation. You are invited to join the party! Next week will be about the book that is pictured here. It is kind of a graduate course to Ted Reed’s “Syncopation” study.
I am very interested to know if this topic is of interest to you. Please send me your comments.
Steering the ship. Two things
Here’s a couple a stories that might influence you in some way. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but wouldn’t change any of them because, well… here I am. There isn’t an artist out there who doesn’t have a list of failures equal to his list of accomplishments. Your drumming heroes may not speak of the failures but they happened. So… two things.
I began playing drums when I was 9. At 11 years old, I began playing in bands; YMCA concert bands, rock and soul band(s) made up of mostly high schoolers. During that year I met John, a high schooler at the time who turned out to be very influential to me. He loaned me jazz records, which began my music studies – Charlie Parker, Jimmy Smith, Count Basie, and Buddy Rich… I would go to his house and play the Chapin quarter note triplets over jazz ride pattern that I’d just figured out with REAL OLDER MUSICIANS! Holy crap that felt good.
I ended up playing in bands with this person all the way through high, even a bit more. I learned so much from John and am entirely grateful, but one regret that I have is I got “comfortable” playing with this particular group. I stopped learning on the drum set, or you might say “on the job.” I think I stopped listening to the band then also, yet nobody called me on my selfishness. I was practicing like a madman but my playing wasn’t being challenged by anyone and it wasn’t growing.
So, something you might want to note as you swim through your career?
#1. If you might be the best musician in your band or feel bored, look around for a more challenging gig.
I love baseball, I see players who are favourites on the team and in the community. They get traded and boy, they are gone. Like immediately! See ya! On more than one occasion I turned down far more important work because of a conflicting date or dates with my (at that time) current employer. A conflict with one stinking date cost me the better gig entirely. The thing to realize is our employers will sack us immediately, with no regrets. While working your way up the sideman trail, don’t be too loyal. Realize that even if we become successful working sidemen, we are still the catfish at the bottom of the lake.
I recommend approaching your career with the same zeal that you have shown to get better as an individual musician. Relentless pursuit is as necessary as improving your musicality! What about that current gig with lifelong friends? Well, carefully negotiating your relationships is a super important tool. Try to maintain all relationships, but if your heart wants that other gig, and especially if you think it might be a bit over your head….
#2. Take the gig.
See you next week. Please comment to me at my website, billyward.com
Hi everyone. Here’s my second blog and I believe it’s packed with information that could last a lifetime. Now to it…
Music is a big part of my life everyday. Good habits are a powerful life tool. Here’s three things I do that perhaps you can get into and incorporate it into your daily or weekly activity.
ONE. Listen to music. I go to my music service online (so far it is Tidal but I may change at some point) and float around with searches and see what I can find that I’ve not heard. Sometimes it’s yet another jazz record from the 60s or 70s that I once listened to, such as Jimmy Smith Trio with George Benson – highly recommended for tasty feels to copy as well as understanding when to do that fill… Other times it’s something I haven’t heard – today was the Luminaires. Pretty sweet record.
Thinking about music and how to approach it as an author of drum parts is crucial for growing personal technique that is yours and yours only.
TWO. Change the tuning on your snare drum, or if you have time, change the tuning on your entire kit and play play play! You will find new technique that works with that ridiculously higher or lower pitch of your drums. Each area has pluses as well as minuses. Great for learning how to tune the damned things also! In most all recording engineer’s opinions, drummers don’t know how to tune their own instrument! Figure it out! The benefits are extremely high. In my case today, I took a 6.5 X 15 Liberty Drums snare and cranked it as high as it would go. This led to me playing some seriously crazy funky shit for about an hour! Stay fluid with your tuning and approaches to the kit!
THREE. Record yourself. I say those two words to students more than any other. Record yourself often and listen to it as if you are listening to a stranger, not yourself! Imagine it is someone you have great hatred towards – look for the flaws! Now you know what you need to work on, and THIS CAME FROM YOUR SPECIFIC NEED, NOT A BOOK OF EXERCISES.
As I envision this unfolding series of blogs, future topics will include the following and likely more:
– Technique. Both physical as well as “life chops”
– True stories from my career. Some funny, some simply odd, some hard to believe. We will all enjoy this. I’ve got stories.
Who are you? I like to envision you as my friends because we have so much in common. We all love drumming and music! I suspect you already are, or at least certainly wish to be, exceptional. Many of you may feel somewhat close to reaching your next goal in music, but maybe you need a push in one way or another to move forward.
I will tell it like it is based on my perceptions and experience. I hope that when I suggest doing something that you like, you don’t just nod your head and think “That’s a great idea” and then never do it. This is a Nike gig, folks! “Just Do It.” You want be special? Unique? Deeds, not words are what matters, so put the work in. Everyone you look up to, who is great, has put the work in, for hours and hours and day after day. I’m reminded of Mark Craney’s drumstick. It said “Mark Craney – No Excuses”. I suppose that’s the main point of this particular blog – let’s get serious!
Finally. I’m thrilled to announce my blog will appear regularly at mikedolbear.com. I met Mike Dolbear in 2006 where he organized a thrilling teaching tour throughout the UK and we have remained friends to this day. I have “tortured” many UK students at two of his sponsored 5 day intensives and I can’t express how much love I have for those students and fellow teachers from those two events. I am thrilled to be on Mike’s website and hope to remain close to my accomplished students living in the UK and Europe. I’m so psyched! Let’s get serious. Let’s go!