Ten Years of Drumming - How Did It Unfold?
Few memories stand out to me like when my neighbor gave me a copy of the self titled Pat Metheny Group album. From that moment forward, I had a vision for music and how I wanted to play. Even at age 16, I knew I had to get back into music and I loved the drums (I had played trumpet and some drums through elementary and middle school). Within a few years, I had a kit, an arsenal of books, and a much broader vision of music and how I wanted to play. The online community was just starting to form, and materials were quickly becoming more and more abundant.
We all know drumming is hard work. But, ten years is a long time! Although it's been more than 10 years since I started playing at age 16, the reality is that I've only had a handful of real opportunities to practice regularly. On top of that, I've never played professionally, I've never attended music school, and I've never gone on tour. I knew early on that I needed a career with a tremendous amount of intellectual challenge, and getting this career off the ground has been very rewarding - even if it came at the expense of my development as a musician. For many of us, drumming is a hobby - and for all of us, drumming is often a struggle. Even when we have the time to practice, we might not have the space. And if it isn't the space, it might be the equipment. But, the real musician always finds a way to keep moving forward, even if it's between long breaks in playing.
What is Your Real Drum Age?
It's important to step back and consider how much you've REALLY practiced. For me, it's been 1-2 hours per day, for just a few months per year. Frankly, considering all the obstacles and the direction I've taken, I'm pretty proud of that.
That being said, this conversation is not about reviewing (all these books have been reviewed previously here), but about why they have risen to the top of my music stand over and over again.
Where Have I Invested My Practice Time
By the time I was 19, I had amassed the most important materials that I still fall back to in my practice sessions today. Although I have a large library of books and DVDs, these are the ones that I picked up early on and have stuck with.
Thomas Lang: Creative Coordination and Advanced Foot Technique
Within minutes of opening this book, I knew I would be lucky to grasp the material in this book/DVD combo in 10 years of work. At a time where my only interest was jazz music, Lang showed me the creative potential of his truly progressive approach to the drums. It opened my eyes to the sheer power of extreme control and confidence. His dominance of the kit left an impression that has never faded, and it's driven me through several 2 or 3 month spurts of focused practice on the material. I even made it through the insane section of layered ostinatos, both hands-over-feet and feet-over-hands. Although I made it through the groups of five, I always want to work on these due to the maintenance required. Furthermore, the syncopated kick drum patterns of this system have allowed me to understand almost all double bass drum music today. Speed and precision is always an issue that I find myself coming back to, and I don't expect that to ever change.
Even if you never play a singe note from this book, grab the DVD. Lang's drumming is breathtaking and you'll never believe that he actually plays every single exercise in the book until you see it.
Gary Chester: The New Breed
This classic needs little introduction. Having again spent a few months here and there on this one, I made it through about a half dozen of the systems. However, I am proud to say that I learned these systems well, and was playing them at a variety of tempos. This was the only book I used to develop the pulsating left foot movement that's so common today, which I later gave up in favor of freedom to improvise. Practicing this book always solidifies my time and gives good momentum to my grooves. However, I left this one in the shelf for a long time, after discovering "The New Frontier" (see below).
Marko Djodjevic: The New Frontier
In a radical departure from the previous two books, I stumbled upon this one just a few years ago. While most of these books emphasize control and deliberate phrasing, Marko's book shows you how to surprise yourself as you play. By removing the driving left-foot pulsating pattern, and instead using it as another limb for improvisation, everything goes out the window. When I practice this book. I find that I am far less likely to 'drop the beat', but that my groove doesn't feel as solid. It's great for some styles, and absolutely awful for others. This is definitely worth a shot if you are tired of feeling robotic or even if you're bored with your playing altogether.
Claus Hessler: Open Handed Playing Vol. 1
It is surprisingly difficult to find a book that emphasizes the mechanics of the sticks and their relationship to dynamics. An advocate and master of the Moeller method, Hessler's excercises mix accented up and down beats on the hi-hat, which are played over combinations of ghost and accented notes on the snare. Interestingly, Hessler does not utilize the left foot, probably due to the extreme technical difficulty of landing these dynamic, swooping hand motions in perfect time. Having spent my entire drumming career playing open handed, I am proud to say that I can play anything except traditional swing patterns with a left hand lead. However, the emphasis really should not be on the open-handed nature of this book. Instead, it's the Moeller method being applied to the drum set in a very, very nuanced manner. Give this a try, even if you cross your sticks. There is no better book for developing dynamic grooving on the kit. For me, there is nothing that feels as good as the exercises in this book.