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Follow That Sound – a journey in technique (part 3)

In trying to document my technical and musical journey, I’ve thought about all of the things I’ve learned and practiced, and how that has influenced me. I’d like to talk about my progression in hand technique some more in this article, and specifically how I’ve incorporated matched grip into my musical performances.

I’ve always enjoyed playing multiple styles of music and, through that, I’ve incorporated matched grip to play certain styles more comfortably. The decision to play some styles traditional and some matched has been a personal one. I don’t think that there’s much technical reasoning or importance for it in general, but I feel that it makes sense for my hands and for the way I hear music. I grew up playing traditional grip and performed only that way for about ten years. I was teaching matched grip to all students in those years, but didn’t feel the need to bring it into my personal playing until I started studying and developing certain rhythms that just felt more comfortable while playing matched. I had begun to open my mind up to the idea of incorporating the grip into my personal playing, but I knew there would be work involved to fully gain comfort using matched in my performances.

“No matter how complex the exercise or the rate of speed that you may be working on, choosing to fully dedicate your mind to the task at hand is one of the main factors in the success of what your are trying to technically work out.”

In the initial stages, my hands didn’t function the way I was accustomed while using traditional grip. I dusted off a couple of books and started building my dexterity while using matched. I wanted my hands to be completely interchangeable. I was trying to be very mindful of my approach because I wanted to make sure that I was applying all the techniques that I’d practiced over the years of studying and playing traditional. It took me about a year to truly get comfortable, but since then I feel that I have gotten my hands to that even place I wanted them to be. Simple hand exercises and a single focus has reaped all the benefits that I sought.

There’s something to be said for a level of concentration when approaching the instrument in a technical way. No matter how complex the exercise or the rate of speed that you may be working on, choosing to fully dedicate your mind to the task at hand is one of the main factors in the success of what your are trying to technically work out. I’m not necessarily advocating a meditative state, but you should be intently focused. This focus makes a huge difference in the time that it will take you to become fluent or successful at that specific task. Very early in playing I had an influential teacher that would say, “Drumming is 75% mental and 25% physical.” That has stuck with me throughout my playing and I find it to hold a lot of weight in my personal successes. I do not feel like this journey is complete but with advise like that and teachers that are giving: I feel like I’m on the right track.

Here’s an in studio video of an example of a style that I play matched currently

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Follow That Sound! – a journey in technique (part 2)

In this installment, I’d like to talk about my feet. In drum set playing, we use our feet just the same as our hands. Getting comfortable with certain foot techniques has improved my playing as much as anything. When I started on the kit, I wasn’t concentrated on my foot technique, but as I developed I noticed more limitations from my feet than my hands.

Beginners have trouble separating their feet and their hands, that’s common, but there are some beats and exercises that can really help to gain balance between the hands and feet, and balanced is the place that every drummer wants to be. I had gotten comfortable with the balance between my limbs by doing exercises, but I noticed that the sound I was getting from the bass drum and the strength of the hi hat “chick” wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I started to think about the work I was doing with my hands and wrists, and applied that to my feet and my ankles. I started to train with some simple foot movements, in heel down and heel up bass drum techniques, and found that I could apply the same idea that I was using with my hands, about velocity, to my foot. I could make quick precise movements without a lot of effort and get a great sound. I also found that I could apply these techniques to my left foot. In addition to working on ankle strength and relaxed movement in my feet, I also started to develop a good feeling of pulse with my left foot in multiple styles. To do this, I applied a technique that I learned from my teacher, in jazz patterns, to other styles and patterns. In this technique you use your heel to keep a steady pulse while the ankle and ball of your foot, with a little weight from your leg, actually play the pedal. This technique enables you to really lock into a tempo, gives you more stability and a stronger “chick” sound.

“The sound you want is out there waiting for you to rise to it and through technical practice you can physically get the place that you’re hearing.”

I was starting to really develop the right kind of strength and balance to effectively use my feet like my hands. These techniques also helped me establish feel in my feet like I hadn’t had before and this kind of feel leads to trust. Trust that you can lock into a rhythm, a tempo, or a pattern and not have to devote thought to do so. This mental trust helps you listen to the music around you or the ideas that you have more clearly. These are times in playing when you truly grow because you’re able to let go of mental processes that slow you down and focus on movements and sounds. Technical knowledge and practice sometimes seems endless. It is hard to notice your own progress, but when you get to another plateau you can look back and see how much technique has actually given your musical ability. The sound you want is out there waiting for you to rise to it and through technical practice you can physically get the place that you’re hearing.

Here’s an example of the balance I’m talking about from a solo recorded. Check out the left foot eighth notes that stay steady while moving the other three limbs.

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Follow That Sound! – a journey in technique (part 1)

In this series of articles I’d like to explain my journey a little, and comment on what I think it means to be a performing musician. As a performer, I am constantly working on technique to better express my ideas. My hands (and feet) are always trying to keep up with my mind. I’ve found that if I can stay relaxed, both physically and mentally, in a solo or group situation; then I can usually achieve this goal. My ideas don’t always work out the way that I hear them, but I’m getting closer through personal practice and listening.

“…if you are a musician, a craftsman, an artist, you are never really satisfied.”

When I was younger I was a traditional grip player. I was very focused on getting a relaxed grip on the stick: to be comfortable playing at multiple speeds, and to get a nice thick sound from the drum. I used some snare drum books and some personally developed exercises to do this, and I spent about five or six years, with my first teacher and mentor, really zeroing-in on how my hands worked in various, usable, patterns. Leaving some space in my hand for the stick became very important to me, especially when playing faster speeds. In addition to leaving some space for the stick, I also was very focused on wrist movement. I was trying to use a quick, downward only, movement with my wrist and allow the stick to rebound back to the height that the movement started. These techniques helped me get a full sound from the drum with less effort and stick height. Moving less and sounding fatter was the thing I was after and with the watchful eye of my teacher and some diligent practice, I mostly achieved that goal. I use the word mostly because if you are a musician, a craftsman, an artist, you are never really satisfied. There’s always improvement to be made and something new out there to learn or gain from personal practice. A painter paints. There isn’t only one masterpiece but a body of work to be seen, or, in my case, heard by an audience.

In certain styles, like swing, I still play with traditional grip. Here’s a short solo groove that I did in that style.

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New Photos from Ryan Smith

I wanted to take some time to let you all know that I’ve had the pleasure of being photographed by one of the best professionals in our area, Ryan Smith. Please take a second and check out these new photos on my pages and also give Ryan’s website a visit as well. His work is amazing and certainly worth looking into!

http://www.ryansmithphoto.com/

http://www.ryansmithphoto.com/

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Groove Diary

I’m starting a new series of short videos that will be only focused on Groove. I’m really excited to share some beats that I create every now and then! I hope you enjoy my Groove Diary! You can find all of the videos on my Solo and Videos page, but here’s one to get you in the mood to groove!

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