Monday, May 3, 2021

The Three Bloggers - Part III: Technique!

For the third and final instalment of our ongoing collaborative collective series entitled The Three Bloggers, myself, Ted Warren of Trap'd and Todd Bishop of Cruise Ship Drummer! will each offer our individual thoughts on the concept of Technique

As before, this topic was suggested without any specificity or direction so I'm sure between the three of us we'll come up with a variety of interesting perspectives to consider.

Given the current circumstances and on-going restrictions re: Covid-19, the idea of Technique is something I've given quite a bit of thought to over the past year now since I've had more time to practice. Specifically, the question I've been asking myself has been: "How do I become a better drummer AND musician throughout all of this?"

Here are a few of my thoughts and some things that I've learned:

- In my opinion, developing one's technique as a drummer is a very important and lifelong study. 

Specifically, I am referring to developing, maintaining and refining one's rhythmic control and ability with one's hands, feet and overall four-way coordination on the drum set.

I once heard Jerry Bergonzi in a Downbeat interview say something along the lines of: 

"You never really master music. Music is the master." 

...and I think he's right! But what does this mean?

- I think people all too often confuse the idea of technique (practicing rudiments for example) with that of developing speed and virtuosity for their own sake. In a society and culture that generally celebrates speed and virtuosity it's easy to buy into this. But for me it becomes much deeper than that and I think it's really about developing and expanding your rhythmic/musical vocabulary and, most importantly, your sound on your instrument.

As my good friend jazz trumpeter Prof. Dean McNeill often reminds me: 

"Often the things that count the most aren't easily counted..."

- So yes, we should always continually work on the technical side of our instrument but ultimately it's how we apply those concepts in a musical context that matters most.

- I'm often reminded of many significant drummers who, over the course of music history, certainly had adequate technique but not to a level that I would qualify as being overly virtuosic (I won't mention any specific names here...)

So why were those drummers so special and in constant demand? It's because it wasn't necessarily what they played so much as it was how they played (i.e. their attention to their sound and how they made the music feel) and for me this is really the heart of the matter.

Carl Allen recently commented on this during my recent Four on the Floor *Live* interview with him:

"When you are playing there are two questions that you have to ask yourself: how does it sound and how does it feel?"

And he's right!

- Speaking of feel, Steve Gadd is, of course, one of the greatest drummers in the world and his prolific career reflects the way he makes the music feel and the rhythmic dance with which he plays the drums.

However, Gadd is also a master of the snare drum rudiments. My friend Chris Worthington recently forwarded to me this compilation of Gadd demonstrating his brilliant approach to using flam rudiments:

For me, I think Steve Gadd is a perfect example of how technique and musical intention merge and all come together.

- This has all been, admittedly, very challenging for me to put into practice over the past year since we, as musicians, have had our livelihoods turned upside down and haven't been able to play with other people!

- However, for myself, addressing technical issues from a musical perspective (such as sound), playing along with recordings, play-a-longs, composing/arranging new music, listening to music (more on this below) and playing melodies on the vibraphone has really helped give me a musical sense of balance to my practice routine over the past 12 months.

It's all a matter of musical intention and balance!

- Speaking of balance, saxophonist David Liebman puts this all into perspective with a brilliant artistic concept he breaks down into three areas. He calls this The Three H's: The Head, The Hands and The Heart (check out Liebman's excellent book Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist).

These three areas of one's artistry (no matter your artistic discipline) all need to be addressed and they all work together towards creating a healthy and balanced creative spirit (and as Bergonzi stated before, it's a journey that one never finishes and it's always a work in progress).

1) The Hands

This is the technical and hands-on "muscle memory" aspect of being, in our case, a drummer. This is developing your facility on the snare drum, learning to use rebound, developing coordination, independence, etc. In some ways this is almost like being an athlete, meaning training our hands and feet to react in certain ways, developing control, dexterity and overall skill on our instrument (and your sound!)

2) The Head

This is the theoretical aspect of being a musician and a drummer: being able to understand and think about rhythm, melody, harmony, form, different styles, etc. One has to understand how music works and of its theoretical possibilities and potential.

3) The Heart

This is probably the most subjective aspect but the emotional content of one's artistry is very important as well. 

What does your music mean?

Why do you play? 

What message are you trying to convey?

These are important questions to ask and not only are the answers unique to every individual, they often take a long time to ask and to answer in an honest way. It's all very personal.

When thinking about this particular aspect, I often return to Charlie Parker's famous quote:

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn.”

All these Three H's work together towards creating an honest individual artistic identity. They all must be addressed or else you'll likely fall short of your creative potential. 

For example: one could have great technique (the hands) and lots of theoretical knowledge (the head) but with a lack of emotional meaning (the heart) one's music might come across as being cold and mechanical. The last thing you want to sound like is a machine!

One could have great chops (the hands) and lots of emotional spirit (the heart) but without a deep grasp of theory (the head) the depth and use of one's vocabulary will be limited.

Finally, one could have a lot going on in their Head and in their Heart but without the Hands (ie. technique!) one will never be able to fully express themselves adequately nor have the proper technical tools to do so.

But like I said before, how these different elements add up is different for everyone and everyones journey is unique.


Furthermore, Adam Nussbaum (also a frequent musical collaborator of Dave Liebman's) puts things into perspective with his concept of Chops that he shared with me once:

In Adam's opinion there are two kinds of chops, your Outside Chops and your Inside Chops.

Your Outside Chops are what one usually thinks about when we talk about chops: ie. your hands, your feet, 4-way coordination, rudiments, etc. = technique.

But your Inside Chops are what you listen to and how you listen.

This is really important because what music you listen to and how you listen to music informs everything you do with your Outside Chops!

I'm reminded of something Joe Farnsworth said to me in my recent Four on the Floor *Live* interview: 

"You have to listen to learn and you have to learn how to listen!"

Great advice from Joe Farnsworth, Charlie Parker, Adam Nussbaum, Dave Liebman, Steve Gadd, Carl Allen, Dean McNeill and Jerry Bergonizi and I think about these things a lot, whether I'm working things out on my drum pad, learning new Brazilian Batucada patterns on the drums or playing along with recordings of Bud Powell.

Furthermore, I've shared this one before but it's really important, in my opinion. Percussionist Evelyn Glennie offers this wonderful TEDx talk that is certainly worth a watch entitled "How to Truly Listen":

So there you go, a few thoughts about Technique to consider.

I'd also like to leave you with vocalist Jon Hendrick's timeless one-word jazz poem:


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