Friday, February 22, 2019

The Four on the Floor "Keep the Form!" Challenge

A simple conceptual exercise today, inspired by a lesson I took with Carl Allen many years ago and from Todd Bishop's recent blog post on playing music with "odd" forms. Check out his insightful commentary here.

Basically the above idea is an exercise that involves keeping the form while alternating between playing measures of Time and then improvising on the drums for a pre-determined number of bars. It's also an exercise in becoming comfortable with "odd" phrase lengths as well as shorter ones.

So here's the basic routine:

1) Choose a Time Signature (ie. 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, 12/8, etc.)

2) Pick a Style (Swing, Afro-Cuban, ECM, etc.)

3) Choose a Tempo (slower is always better!)

4) Play Time for the first section, then solo/improvise over the second half. Repeat. Then go on to the next one

5) The idea is that you are free to play whatever you want in each section BUT the form (ie. the number of measures in each section) and tempo must be clear and respected at all times

A few other variations:

- Trying changing the time signature every time you reach a new section

- Stick with one phrase length for the timekeeping sections but cycle through the lengths of the solo sections (ie. 8-8, 8-7, 8-6, 8-5, etc.)

- Mix up the order in which you play each section

- It is advisable to plan these routines out in advance and maybe even write them down such as I did for reference (ie. a road map!)

- Once you are comfortable with each phrase length and the transitions between them, challenge yourself to play over-the-barline phrases within each section.

- Be creative and have fun. Challenge yourself

Anyways, it's not rocket science but I find little games like this really help me break out of my usual vocabulary. Personally I find it can be a bit cold to play like this without any melodic reference or framework but it IS a good exercise in sharpening one's concentration skills and overall attention to phrasing (a tune like Victor Feldman's "Joshua", made famous by Miles Davis and his quintet, comes to mind...)

I also suggest recording yourself while practicing this, listening back afterwards for the clarity and definition of each section. Imagine that you are the saxophone player in the band, listening patiently to the drum solo and anxiously wondering when you need to come back in with the melody!

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