A Note to All Students

To play any rhythm in a comfortable way and be able to use it in music, you must relax with your body and mind. Relaxing is all about how you sit or stand at your instrument, and how you think about what you are doing.

First, we’ll talk about the physical part of relaxation, and then we’ll get to the mental part. The only way to feel comfortable, and not really tense, when you are playing is to take your time and control your speed. It is much easier to learn rhythms at slower speeds, the slower the quarter note: the more space between the notes. After learning a new pattern (rhythm, rudiment or beat), you can control the speed you play it depending on how it feels. If you find yourself playing in a overly tense way, holding your arms in a certain position, or gripping the sticks tightly; then slow down. You are not helping yourself by playing in an uncomfortable way, just to play a faster speed. You are hurting yourself and could do physical damage to your wrists. You are also making it much harder to move forward musically. Remember to breathe, try to keep your arms by your sides (nice and loose) and keep a light touch on the sticks. If the pattern you are playing feels comfortable; then keep speeding up.

The way you think about what you are doing when you play an instrument is very important. You must have a way to focus on what you are playing in order to succeed. Try to stay calm, stay positive, and if you make a mistake don’t dwell on it; keep moving forward and don’t let any mistakes interrupt what you are playing. Think about one note at a time. Get into what you are playing by listening, thinking only about those rhythms, and you’ll be sure to get more focused and mentally relaxed with the patterns you are playing.

If you truly want to be a better musician and a better drummer; then you must accept where you are with the patterns you are practicing and remember to move forward only when you feel completely comfortable. For even more information on other related topics please visit my archive page and read through, the articles on “drums and music”.

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Various Styles for Drum Set

“Music, it’s good to have in the house; just like having flowers in the house, it’s beautiful. We should listen to all kinds of music- everything.” -Art Blakey, 1985

As a musician, it is important to learn and listen to different styles of music for many reasons. In this article I’d like to share some of my thoughts on playing different styles of music and why, as a teacher, I think it is necessary for every musician’s growth. As a drummer and percussionist, I think that all players of my instrument have a lot to gain from listening to and performing all styles of music. The more you listen to and play different styles of music; the more rhythms and rhythmic patterns you can learn, develop, and perform. Even though rhythm can be somewhat limited, this will help you make new discoveries and give you a chance to be more creative. For example, if you like to play rock or funk you have a lot to gain from learning how to play jazz or latin styles because you have to view and use the instrument differently to play those styles when compared to the styles you like. Check out these examples of players that developed different styles of music.
Michel Petrucciani Trio-Take the A Train (Steve Gadd-Jazz example)

Eric Clapton-Bell Bottom Blues (Steve Gadd-Rock example)

Hancock,Carter,Cobham-Eye Of The Hurricane (Billy Cobham-Jazz example)

Billy Cobham-Red Baron (Funk example)

I believe that developing different styles of music helps you to develop your own voice. The process of listening to and working on various styles of music helps you gain experience and use your instrument in ways that you wouldn’t if you never go through the process. As you learn new styles, you will incorporate what you like from those styles into your own playing: it’s inevitable. This will help you create your own sound because you’ll take patterns from various styles and begin to put them together in ways that you enjoy. Learning more about music will always give you new ideas and aid your development as a musician. Check out these examples of players who have clearly developed different styles of music and have developed their own voice in the process.
Medeski,Martin&Wood-Rise Up (Billy Martin)

Stanton Moore- (Don’t Be Comin’ With No) Weak Sauce

The Bad Plus- Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Dave King)

New ways to use your instrument makes you a stronger player because in each style of music you develop you will use your hands and feet in new ways. This, in turn, will give you better body control and coordination. Coordination, or balance, helps your reaction time and your overall feeling of comfort when playing the instrument. Feeling of comfortable at the drums is extremely important for your musical and technical approach: the more relaxed you feel, the easier everything becomes. Movement to the different instruments of the set and your musical use of those instruments are both made simpler if you feel solid and balanced in your approach. For more information on coordination, check out my blog on “Balance” on how to gain a better approach.

Music, like any art form, can be very opinionated, so to insure a good relationship with music it is important to develop a healthy opinion. In developing your opinion, it is good to keep an open mind and try to listen to various genres, even ones that you don’t have any experience playing. Another part of developing your musical opinion is finding a mentor or industry professional that can help you grow. Finding the right teacher is something that helps you develop musically, technically, and in your knowledge of music past and present. I truly thank all of my teachers for the musical knowledge they have given me on a performing and a listening level. Without help from my mentors I wouldn’t have found some of my musical heroes and favorites. I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite drummers, Art Blakey, who in a 1985 video called “Jazzmakers” said this: “Music, it’s good to have in the house; just like having flowers in the house, it’s beautiful. We should listen to all kinds of music- everything. Mostly what we do is done to some kind of music. If a child is born they play music. If you die, they play music. They play when you march off to war. Music is a very important thing. Music to wake up by, music to sleep by, music to dance by, all kinds of music.” Fill your head and heart with song and you’ll be sure to create your own music in life.

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Arranging Your Drum Set

How you set up your drum set is personal and unique, and, musically speaking, can make everything that you do easier. The difference between players lies in the placement and spacing of the individual instruments of the set. Some players like the drums and cymbals closer together than others, so figuring out what works best for you and playing with a comfortable arrangement of your drum set is very important. The tips that I will be giving you in this article relate to how you already set up your drums, and will be ideas for you to test while you hit the drums.

First, you should set up your drums and cymbals and get them into an arrangement that is how you currently like to play. We will start by taking a look at the position of your seat. You should center your body on the snare drum and make sure that your feet are an equal distance apart when you place them on the pedals. If your feet are not an equal distance apart; then try moving the hi hat to a position that helps you sit that way. There is more information on seat placement in my “Balance” article from a few months ago, so check that out.

Next, we’ll look at the height of the snare drum. The snare should be at a level that is easy to play. You don’t want the snare drum too high or too low, so make sure that it is at a height that doesn’t make you feel that you have to change the angle of your arms to play it. You should keep your forearm flat from your elbow to your wrist when playing the snare. If the drum is too high; you’ll feel cramped, and if the drum is too low; you’ll end up hitting your legs a good bit. The way to judge the height of the snare is to adjust it to be about belt height: a few inches above or below your waist.

“Playing all the drums should have a nice flow and an easy feeling when you have the instruments arranged comfortably, no matter what speed you are playing.”

Now that we’ve taken care of your seat and snare drum, let’s look at the tom drums. The toms above the bass drum, or mounted toms, should be fairly close together in order to play them comfortably. Their angle, distance from you, and height are what we can change to get a more fluid playing position. The toms should be at an angle and distance that is easy to play, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to lean into or away from the drum set to play them. The mounted toms should also be at a height that relates to one another and allows for a smooth transition when playing from one to the other. You should only have to raise your forearms and extend your arms a little to hit each mounted tom. Try playing from the snare to the mounted toms, and back and forth a little, to test the angle, distance, and height of this relationship. If the position of these three drums feels good; then move on to the floor tom. The floor tom should be kept at a height that is similar to the snare drum. It doesn’t have to be the same exact height, but it shouldn’t be higher than the snare. The distance from the snare that you keep the floor tom is also something to take a look at and make sure it isn’t too far away. Some players only leave a space that is large enough for their leg to fit through to the bass pedal; while others like the space larger between the floor tom and snare so that it is more to the side of the bass drum. Where you place your’s is something to evaluate to make sure that it feels connected to the other drums of the set. Try playing around the drums in a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction to test out all the drums, and then make small adjustments to the angle, distance, or height that you might want. Playing all the drums should have a nice flow and an easy feeling when you have the instruments arranged comfortably, no matter what speed you are playing.

When you have gotten the drums into a comfortable playing arrangement, move on to the cymbals. Cymbal placement is even more player specific than the placement of the drums. There is really no right or wrong place to keep the cymbals on your set, except for the hi hat. The hi hat cymbal needs to relate to the bass drum pedal, your seat, and to the snare drum, as mentioned above. Since you have already placed the pedal/stand in a spot that relates to the rest of your set up, you should test the relationship between the hi hat and the snare drum. To do this, play a beat pattern and make sure that you can keep your hands, wrists, or arms over one another while playing the hi hat and the snare. If you can’t or don’t have your hands in this spot; then you should make some adjustments by moving the hi hat. Use your judgement to figure out which direction to move the hi hat stand: just make sure that where ever you move it is still a comfortable place for your feet. When you can comfortably play a beat between hi hat, snare and bass, then take a look at your other cymbals. Overall, you should have the cymbals close enough to the drums, both in height and distance from the set, so that you don’t have to extend your arms too much to play them. You should feel comfortable when you play all the cymbals on your set and not like you have to reach to hit individual instruments. Mostly, you should get the cymbals to positions over the drums that make sense and give you the ability to play them whenever the musical idea strikes you. The ride cymbal should be between the second mounted tom and the floor tom, or on the right side of the drum set, and at a height that is as low as possible. You should keep the ride low to be able to play on top of the cymbal comfortably and be able to access the bell of the cymbal easier. The crash cymbal or cymbals are important to place where they are easy to use, but there is no area that they need to be positioned as it relates to the rest of the set. Test out the placement of your cymbals by playing some beats or rhythms that include all of the cymbals you have, and make any adjustments you might want to get each to the best possible placement for you to use them musically.

I haven’t forgotten the bass drum but the main arrangement of your drum set is all about the drums and cymbals, and the bass drum is not really adjustable. However, there are some adjustments that you can make to your pedal to make playing the bass drum more comfortable. The main adjustment that you can make to the bass drum pedal is the tension on the spring. Your foot and the pedal should work together, and the tension on the pedal partially controls the way this can happen. The other part of controlling the pedal is how you play it, but we’ll concentrate on the tension. To find out what setting works best for you, play the pedal a little and pay close attention to the movement of your foot and the pedal. If your foot and the pedal don’t follow each other entirely or if you feel that the pedal pushes your foot after hitting the drum; then you may want to adjust the tension on the spring. If the pedal lags or doesn’t follow your foot; then tighten the tension. If the pedal feels like it’s pushing your foot; then loosen the tension. No matter which technique you use to play the bass drum, heel down or heel up, the tension of the pedal can make you more comfortable when playing the drum. Make sure to test the tension setting to get the best possible pedal movement for your foot.

I hope that the tips and hints have helped you get more comfortable with your drum set. It is important to keep in mind that your set up is always a fluid arrangement. You can always reposition any of the instruments of your drum set, and it is good to make sure the instrument still feel fluid as you add pieces. Finally, since you have taken the time to evaluate the arrangement of your drum set and position the instruments to get as comfortable as possible with them: go have some fun and hit ’em!

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Choosing Heads & Tuning

In this article, I’d like to talk about how to choose drum heads and the tuning of the drum set. I would like to pass on some of the tips I’ve learned while studying and performing, and talk about how to achieve the sound you want from your drums. The sound you get from your drums often relates to the kind of wood that your shells are made of, the type of heads you use, the kind of music that you listen to or perform, and your level of overall technique. The sound you’d like to get from your kit can change over time or depend on changes in the style of music you are playing. If you are a fan of classic rock or funk; you’ll probably desire a different sound from your kit than someone who listens to jazz.

This article will be written with the beginner/intermediate drum set in mind. This type of drum set is typically a ply shell that is composed of two or more types of wood. This shell type often gives a very mellow, blended, tone that is not based more in one frequency than another: not too much high or low end sound. When you play shells that are composed of one type of wood, you will get a sound that is more focused in one register from the shell resonating. The beginner/intermediate drum set can give you a blended sound that is good for any style of music, and help you form an opinion of what single wood shell might be best for you when choosing a more professional level drum set. The sound you get from this level drum set is more determined by your approach, or technique, and by the heads you choose than anything else because of the resonance the shells.

“If you are a fan of classic rock or funk; you’ll probably desire a different sound from your kit than someone who listens to jazz.”

When choosing batter heads (the ones you play on) it is very important to think about what sound you’d like from your drums. Do you like a brighter, more attack driven, sound or do you want a warmer, more woody, sound? I always suggest two ply batter heads unless you are playing lower volume or only acoustic music. The single ply head is best for the resonant side (the one you don’t play on), for low volume situations, or when you want a more open, ringing, tone from the drums. When you are a beginner or intermediate player, it is best to choose a two ply drum head: it will be a little tougher, last longer and will support the sound you like. The way you choose this sound is definitely dependent on what type of music you listen to and also the sound you hear when you think of the drums. If you like a brighter sound from the toms and the bass; then you should choose a clear head. If you’d like a more woody sound from the toms and the bass; then you should choose a coated head. You should always use a coated head on the batter side of the snare drum because it is naturally a brighter sound. This head makes the snare richer and supports the use of other implements: like brushes or bundle sticks. Always use a resonant head with internal muffling on the bass drum, and, when choosing the batter head for the bass drum, it may be a good idea to choose one that has some internal muffling as well. Then you won’t have to do any internal muffling of your own: like putting a blanket or pillow inside of the drum. When you purchase a drum set it typically comes with single ply clear heads on every drum except the snare which typically comes with a single ply coated head. It is best to just remove these batter heads right away: don’t play on them. The purchase of new heads all around the kit may be an added expense up front, but it will save you time and energy in the long run. The single ply batter head won’t help you achieve the sound you probably desire so you shouldn’t drive yourself crazy trying to get that sound from it by over-dampening the heads. Also, when you want to resell the kit, you can put the original heads on, and (if you’ve taken good care of it) it is like a brand new drum set. This is a tip that one of my teachers gave me, and it has proved very useful in reselling drum sets.

“It may take you a while to figure out what sound you really like and how to achieve that sound, but the journey is always the exciting part of learning anything.”

When tuning the drums, start by tightening all the tension rods down with your fingers. Then check to make sure that all the lugs have a similar pitch by playing around the drum in a circular pattern in front of each tension rod. If you notice a difference in tone; then do some fine tuning (slight tightening or loosening of the tension rod with your drum key) to even all the pitches. Next, tighten each tension rod to the pitch that you desire by using a criss-cross or star like pattern. When you tighten one of the tension rods, the ones next to it loosen slightly, so you want to apply this criss-cross pattern to get an even tension on all the rods. If you have started from a similar pitch on all the rods; then you shouldn’t have to do any fine tuning at this point. After tightening the tension rods to achieve the pitch you want, next you should seat the head. The way you seat the drum head is by placing the drum on a flat surface, like the floor, and strike it in center of the head with your hand, palm down, in a fist. Seating the head will ensure that it holds it’s pitch a little longer. After seating the head, recheck the pitch of each lug, and do some fine tuning to correct any drops in tone from this action. The tom heads should be the same pitch on the batter and resonant side, but the bass drum and the snare drum should be tensioned tighter on the resonant side than the batter side. The reason for this different tuning approach for the bass and snare has to do with the resonance that you want to achieve from these two drums. By tuning the resonant heads on the bass and snare in this manner, you will limit the sustain of each drum which can be important for the two drums that we typically use the most, and give them each a more defined tone: which is important for beat playing.

Always remember that tuning a drum is something that you have to practice to perfect. To get the sound you want, you may need to tune the drums more than once and after playing you may need to re-tune the drums: value these experiences and learn from them. One of my favorite things about playing an atonal instrument is that there is no specific pitch that we have to tune to, and we can feel the freedom to experiment with the sound of our own drums in any way we’d like. It may take you a while to figure out what sound you really like and how to achieve that sound, but the journey is always the exciting part of learning anything. Take your time, enjoy the experience of choosing sounds, and playing with different tunings. You’ll, not only, be more knowledgeable but you’ll be a better musician because of it.

Lastly, you should check out the interactive DrumHead Finder on Remo’s website, the Drumhead Guide/Comparison on Aquarian’s website, the Wood Choice Guide from Pearl’s website, and this video done by Drum Workshop to give you a better idea of some of the sound references in this article.

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Finding Balance on Drum Set

Balance is a very important part of playing the drum set properly. If you feel off balance or awkward while playing the drum set, it can make the rhythms you play very hard to use musically. In this article, I will explain how to achieve proper balance with your hands and feet, and also give you some exercises to help you find better balance on the kit.

Balance begins with how you arrange your drum set. The more comfortable you feel with the spacing of the instruments and the distance from them that you sit: the easier it is to feel balanced. When you set up your kit, evenly space the pedals and place your seat is in a position that doesn’t feel too close or too far away from your drums. Make sure that you can reach all the pieces of your kit and that you don’t feel like you have to put any weight on your feet to reach the cymbals or toms. If you feel that you are putting weight on your feet or pushing on your seat; then try moving it back, to the left or to the right. If you feel that you are leaning too much, then move your seat closer to the kit, to the left or to the right. Your seat is the easiest part of the drum set to move, so adjusting it’s placement is always something to do when you don’t feel quite comfortable. Putting weight in your feet is very natural: you walk around on your feet and use them for balance in almost every natural situation. If you are holding your weight in your feet; then your body will be pushed left to right or forward and back when you play with both pedals, which will affect the pattern you are playing with your hands. However, when playing the drum set you want to keep the weight of your body in your seat or in your hips. This is very important because keeping your weight in the center of your body will allow you to play the pedals freely without affecting what you do with your hands. You should feel that when you play any pattern with your hands and feet: the center of your body is a rock, an unmovable force, from which you can play anything and you don’t feel off balance or awkward. Basically, you want to sit in a position where everything is reachable, and you feel a natural comfort level with the height of all the instruments and your seat. Try to get comfortable with your weight in the center of your body, and remember that it is good to move when you play, to get into the feel of what you are playing and “dance” with the rhythm, but you shouldn’t feel that you have to move your body just to perform the music you are playing.

“Feeling comfortable and balanced while playing the drum set will help you achieve all your musical goals and helps you relax while improvising.”

Balance is one of the three main physical parts of drumming, so getting to a solid, comfortable place with the drum set will help all musical situations and will greatly enhance how you feel when you are playing the kit. When you can improve your balance, you get more comfortable with new patterns or just get “better” at old ones in a shorter amount of practice time. The way your hands and feet relate to one another helps establish a connection between the limbs which determines the feeling you have when playing. If you are off balance, then making these connections is more difficult. If you feel a solid balance, then these connections come easier and that will help you progress faster. There are some very simple exercises that you can work, at various speeds, to help improve the relationship between your hands and feet. There are essentially two ways to align your limbs: the same side of the body together, or the opposite sides together. Start by walking your feet on the pedals (R-L-R-L), then add your hands in the same single stroke pattern at the same time, so that hands and feet are playing exactly together (R-L-R-L). Once you have done this, stop and then switch your hand part to be opposite of your feet, so while your feet are walking (R-L-R-L) your hands play (L-R-L-R). Make sure, in both variations, that hands and feet are playing exactly together: you shouldn’t hit your hand before your foot, or your foot before your hand. Each of these, although similar, is a different exercise, so don’t be concerned with the speed that you play them individually when you are starting out: just be comfortable. Over time the speed will come and the two exercises will start to even out: in feel and in tempo. You may even be able to make the switch with the hands without stopping at a certain point: which is also good to try to make those connections between hands and feet even stronger. There are more of these exercises to do which are taken from the book “Stick Control” by George Lawrence Stone, as taught by Joe Morello, where you take a pattern from Page5 to play with your feet and combine it with a different pattern from the same page to play with your hands. These can get tricky but can make the connection between limbs even stronger. Mostly, you should work patterns of together and opposite limb relationships, where the hands and feet play the same rhythm and tempo, to strengthen the connection between hands and feet and, in turn, strengthen your balance. These exercises will help your balance, your coordination, and, moreover, will help both sides of your brain communicate quicker. Most of what you do musically is controlled by the way you think about it and by the time it takes your brain to process a signal. If you can heighten the communication between the two sides of the brain; then this will also affect everything you do musically. Furthermore, the more you consistently practice these exercises the stronger and more comfortable you will be in all playing situations. Feeling comfortable and balanced while playing the drum set will help you achieve all your musical goals and helps you relax while improvising. Focusing on a balanced feeling while playing is an important step toward being the kind of musician you want to be and dedicating some time in your set up and practice can insure that you get to that place.

Check out the balance displayed in this video of Joe Morello from 1961.

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