Book Reviews - June 2012
A Fresh Approach to the Drumset – Mark Wessells and Stanton Moore
This new addition to the highly successful ‘Fresh Approach’ series by Mark Wessells seeks to provide (as the marketing goes); “everything a drummer needs to lay a solid foundation for future success”.
At just over 100 pages this book is crammed with information honed and refined by Mark Wessells through his years of teaching. He identifies from the outset how becoming a great musician always comes back to the fundamentals. This particular concept contributes to the relevance of this book to beginners and advanced players alike.
This book is described as a drummer’s guide to ‘Rock Beats and Fills, Hand and Foot Technique, Coordination and Independence, Reading Music, Understanding Song Construction and R&B, jazz & latin styles and more’. These components combine the fundamentals with knowledge of styles that would leave any drummer well equipped to get out of the practice room and get on stage.
It begins with an introduction to the instrument, anatomy of the drum, tuning etc and moves quickly onto basic stick and foot technique. Accompanying this introductory section is a series of QR codes alongside each sub section. QR codes are the square barcode-like images that act as direct links to web pages, online media etc when scanned by a smart phone. The use of this technology to compliment the lessons in this book is certainly an innovative and efficient way of combining online (in this case video lessons) and written content for a well rounded learning method. (The accompanying video lessons are only available for free in the introductory section, the rest are available by pay-per-download or separate DVD.) Having created the Vic Firth website from scratch in 2001 Mark Wessells is continuing to innovate in the field of online media and education.
The fundamentals listed above are not presented separately in chapter style format but are presented in a more organic way. As most of the fundamentals are interdependent it allows for more fluid progression by presenting them simultaneously. For example certain styles require certain coordination and have their own unique song construction. If this was scattered across the contents of the book it would be harder for the reader to follow.
The accompanying MP3 CD enhances the various exercises and provides context for some of the more difficult grooves and patterns.
With a wealth of information and fluid presentation this book provides a unified source for all drummers to launch their musical careers.
Big Band Drumming: At First Sight – Steve Fidyk
Steve Fidyk is a well known big band specialist. As a player, author and educator he has contributed to the art of big band drumming more than any other in recent history. His new publication ‘Big Band Drumming: At First Sight’ reflects his experience and authority on the subject.
Big band drumming is a uniquely challenging style. Well known practitioners of big band drumming possess a hard earned skill set which is often underestimated and poorly understood. This book identifies and shines light on arguably the most challenging element of big band drumming; sight reading.
I often compare reading music to reading any other language. Your goal is to understand all symbols and notation elements, as you would an alphabet, and to fluently translate the written combination of these elements into musical phrases and patterns. However, what is unique about big band drumming is that you are not just required to translate, you are required to interpret.
Interpretation requires a deeper understanding and it is this method of interpretation that is brought to light in this book.
The way in which this interpretation is explored is by a detailed dissection and discussion of 10 different big band arrangements. With styles ranging from swing to Latin to funk – all variations in style and notation are explored.
For example, the funk track ‘Pecking Order, written by Kris Berg, is first presented with the full chart plus annotations (non annotated versions are included on the accompanying CD in PDF format). Steve’s annotations provide a clever way of breaking down the complexity of the chart and highlighting various important sign posts within the music. One element introduced at the beginning of this book and used on all the consequent charts is combining knowledge of popular formats and your own annotations to minimise bar by bar reading and focus on interpretation. The goal with sight reading is often to make it sound like it’s not being read.
After the chart itself the inner working of the arrangement and their relevance to the drum part are discussed. Trombone, sax and trumpet sections are shown and discussed and much attention is paid to the bass part in this particular arrangement. Suggested dynamics and texture changes are detailed and explained in relation to the ensemble and any non symmetrical (e.g. 9 bars instead of 8) or tricky sections are flagged and broken down.
This format of annotated chart plus analysis is what is most unique about this book. It provides the student drummer with a method of systematic interpretation to approach what can sometimes be daunting charts.
The accompanying CD allows the reader to play along with and hear examples of the various ways of interpreting the pieces.
This book provides a great insight into the anatomy of big band charts and arrangements and will certainly leave the reader more equipped to tackle any charts set in front of them.
The Complete Guide to Playing Brushes – Florian Alexandru-Zorn
Brush playing is a technique often thought to be jazz specific and is consequently often not prioritised by non-jazz players. With unique tools, techniques and applications, learning how to use brushes can seem like learning a whole new instrument. Florian Alexandru-Zorn is a much respected authority on the artistry of brush playing and imparts his knowledge in this expansive book/DVD combination.
After a brief introduction into the tools and notation of brush playing it begins with the main section, ‘Sweeping Motions’. This section opens with full circle sweeping motion incorporating various clockwise and anticlockwise movements with different starting and accent points. You’ll find that these exercises will improve your coordination from the outset. The exercises themselves are presented in an easily accessible and simple way allowing the reader to efficiently utilise the different practice methods.
Moving from quarter notes through eight note triplets and sixteenth there is no shortage of variation in these practice methods. Half circle motion adds another dimension and the consequent chapter on linear motion introduces patterns and grooves which broadens the scope of brush playing from a jazz technique into groove laden syncopated rhythms which are more applicable to funk, R&B etc.
Even for advanced players well versed in brush technique, this 360 degree exercise method will identify and strengthen parts of your playing you wouldn’t even have been aware of.
Section I is 109 pages in itself, larger than most books and yet is not littered with superfluous information. It is succinct and simple. Section II introduces various tap techniques from the simple open tap to the less commonplace brush roll.
An interesting element in this book is the section on rudiments. Many readers will know and have studied rudiments but it may not have seemed obvious that the PAS rudiments are equally applicable to brushes. The rudiments are applied through various sweeping motions (full circle, half circle, linear etc) and not just played as they would be on sticks (tap strokes).
The section on Grooves allows the reader to bring to life the patterns and exercises already worked through in the earlier sections of the book. Drum ’n’ bass, Latin and odd time signatures are all explored.
The accompanying DVD contains video clips for every exercise and provides a necessary visual reference for the various brush motions and techniques.
Overall the wealth of content, the succinct delivery and unique exercise structure make this book a core text of any drummer’s library. It is like George Lawrence Stone timeless book ‘Stick Control’ but for brushes. A must have.
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