This book is a comprehensive guide. It describes the fundamental concepts which a modern drummer should be familiar with. All elementary issues of drumming are analyzed systematically. The book demonstrates approaches from scratch for reaching top results and a maximum joy of playing the instrument. A conceptional guide for all drummers, teachers and students alike. I took a long time wondering whether it would make any sense to write yet another book on drumming. The market is fully saturated, and for any conceivable topic you will find more or less sophisticated literature. In the course of my activities as lecturer and director of the drum department, I was granted many really astonishing experiences. I have developed many concepts of my own, some of which are based on the support and suggestions provided by my colleagues1. Intensive encounters with some of the world's best drummers2 have helped me analyze and understand the most various approaches to drumming directly at the source. Realizing the fundamental structures of today's drumming practice has inspired and encouraged me to start this project. In this book I will try to introduce these concepts to the reader. I want to show how people can learn and experience drumming in a way that is different from what is perceived and described in the existing literature on drumming. The whole book is free from any musical notes, because it is not about learning yet another set of licks, patterns, and combinations, but instead a fundamental approach to the instrument we all love to play so much. Some colleagues may consider the one or the other issue from a completely different point of view and tend to a different approach. But that doesn't mean in turn that my concepts are insufficient. They are just different, and they may seem odd in certain respects, but in fact they have been shown to be highly efficient.
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Translated from German by Gert Sass, M. A.
First of all I would like to say thank you to all my students. Without their intense interest and their capability of asking even the least likely of questions, I would certainly have failed to recognize some of the most basic principles and concepts. Their passion for learning to play the instrument has inspired me time and again, and this is why they are the first to be mentioned here. I would also like to express my acknowledgments to my colleagues from the drum department. They all kept motivating me to write this book. Thanks to my wife Jutta for her opinion on the texts. She was the first to read and correct the manuscript, and she did an excellent job. Thanks to my children Kaja and Jannick, who keep on challenging me and providing me with new and interesting educational insights. Thanks to Diethard Stein for his great support and, last but not least, Wolfgang Leupelt and his wife Ursula, who were instantly enthused about the idea of this book and did not hesitate to publish it.
I took a long time wondering whether it would make any sense to write yet another book on drumming. The market is fully saturated, and for any conceivable topic you will find more or less sophisticated literature. In the course of my activities as lecturer and director of the drum department, I was granted many really astonishing experiences. I have developed many concepts of my own, some of which are based on the support and suggestions provided by my colleagues1. Intensive encounters with some of the world‘s best drummers2 have helped me analyze and understand the most various approaches to drumming directly at the source. Realizing the fundamental structures of today‘s drumming practice has inspired and encouraged me to start this project.
In this book I will try to introduce these concepts to the reader. I want to show how people can learn and experience drumming in a way that is different from what is perceived and described in the existing literature on drumming. The whole book is free from any musical notes, because it is not about learning yet another set of licks, patterns, and combinations, but instead a fundamental approach to the instrument we all love to play so much. Some colleagues may consider the one or the other issue from a completely different point of view and tend to a different approach. But that doesn‘t mean in turn that my concepts are insufficient. They are just different, and they may seem odd in certain respects, but in fact they have been shown to be highly efficient. Many roads lead to Rome, but one definitely doesn‘t: Following a path and then turning around and going back, then going forth another path, only to return again, and so forth. This would definitely not be recommendable for pursuing a goal. The important thing is to decide for a path and then follow it all the way through. I have made a decision for myself and want to ask the interested reader to join me on this journey, which will lead us to the very core of this instrument, its very substance and basis. It will soon become clear that this is not about abstract ideas and concepts, because the active musician will always remain in focus. A human being with his or her own emotions, conceptions and ways of thinking, with his or her personal traits and individual body awareness. With hopes and joys on the one hand, and fears and insecurities on the other. This is where all the work needs to be aimed at: The very basis. I am sure and have often been assured that the fun you can have with your instrument rises, that the rhythmical skills will improve, and that you will simply sound better as a musician. And that‘s what it‘s about for me.
1 It goes without saying that this book is directed at both male and female readers. For better legibility, however, I have decided to largely do without bulky „he or she“ and „his or her“ formulations only to stress an inclusion which is self-evident. I am confident that female colleagues and readers of this book will understand and accept this decision. 2 E. g. Ricky Lawson, Dave Weckl, Virgil Donati, John Riley, René Creemers, Jojo Mayer, Chester Thompson, Chad Wackermann, Billy Cobham, Curt Cress, Armin Rühl, Billy Ward, to mention only a few.
All ideas are based on our Western culture and do not raise any claim to be universal applicable. There are completely different rhythm structures in Indian, Arabic, and African regions which I will not expand on. I will focus on those rhythm structures which we find in contemporary popular music, and which contemporary drummers should be able to handle. It goes without saying that only the outlines will be dealt with, and that there are exceptions to each „rule“. As a principle, anything that pleases is approved. Every individual is free in his or her personal artistic expression.
As far as I am dealing with musical rules and principles, I am actually referring to patterns of listening. There isn‘t such a thing to our instrument as an academic domain, an absolute doctrine which everybody would be expected to follow, as we know it to be a usual case in the context of empirical science. It is all about the listening habits of fellow-musicians and consumers: That‘s the standard. Somebody who is not headed at gaining an audience may of course feel free to do whatever he or she likes - there are no borders set to his or her freedom. But those who are striving to improve their drumming according to our listening patterns will certainly find some new approaches for doing so using this book. That‘s the idea: I want to help us all become better drummers, and I‘ll be happy to help us all to enjoy our instrument even more. And I am confident that I will succeed.
My main activity is teaching. I am a performer myself 3, but I have always been teaching intensively, and with joy. Bringing this incredibly beautiful instrument closer to others has always been a great pleasure to me. This may be because for me, a student is not just another student, but I conceive of him as a person who is trying to express his feelings by means of the instrument. And this is something which I like to support. I have always been looking for ways and concepts in terms of how to facilitate drumming in a most simple and efficient manner. This is my key motivation: The search for the most fundamental structures. And not only for me, but for anybody who want to develop their skills at playing this instrument, together with their personality. Most of the exercises are conceptionally simple, and perhaps very efficient for the same reason, as they help increase the fun you can have with drumming. No fun, no success. Forced practicing and a dogged attitude are in sharp contrast to my concepts. An educational approach is thus always the top priority, and the resulting didactics will be assessed according to individual success and applied in this way only. That is the difficulty with these processes, since talents and interests, skills and insufficiencies can individually vary to such an extent that any overriding didactical concept is very likely to fail unless taking into account those principles which concern and govern all persons involved. Revealing these principles and helping individuals learn, improve or perfect and groove their drumming is my profession and my vocation. This is why I never settle for an exercise X or Y, but instead keep trying to understand the principles of this exercise and its effect on an individual. This is necessary because learning how to play an instrument cannot be compared with usual learning as we know it from school or higher education. Learning an instrument is always a highly individual and intimate process. At some point during his development, a music student enters a relationship with his instrument, which is to last for a long time or even a life time. Just like in an interpersonal relationship, there will be ups and downs. At one moment, one may perceive oneself as an absolute master, while at another your frustration makes you want to burn your instrument. That‘s perfectly normal, and I think it‘s inevitable. Because this is a precondition for the development of a strong relationship over time.
3 Unfortunately, many musicians consider teaching a necessary evil only. They would prefer to live exclusively from performing. Because only a happy few manage to do so, many colleagues depend on teaching for economical reasons. This kind of motivation is obviously not the most appropriate one for developing a passion for teaching. Unfortunately however, the lack of quality resulting from this is acquiesced in many cases.
What also follows from this is the awareness of the fact that it is impossible to pin down a time span after which absolute control can be gained. Because these processes typically take very long and keep changing all the time. Yet it is precisely this constant change that keeps our relationship with our instrument alive and lets us grow as musicians. Most of the exercises described in this book follow this principle. They represent processes rather than short exercises to be paced through quickly and then left behind. Rather than that, they should be perceived as what they are: Possibilities to deepen and accelerate the process of learning and growing, and most importantly, to lead it into the proper direction. This process is an individual one that moves along the fundamentals. That‘s what it‘s about. And I am confident that in the course of time the one or the other reader will come to appreciate and apply an exercise which he first dismissed as to simple, banal or even ridiculous. In my understanding, however, there is no such thing as a banal or ridiculous exercise. There are certainly many useless and unnecessarily complicated exercises, which don‘t help the student‘s growth but in the worst case can even hamper his development. To regard drumming as personal expression and as a phantastic possibility for improving human communication is what is really is about.
Music is an important means of communication between people. It expresses emotions and has a universal character. Hence it can be said that, in a more or less metaphorical sense, it represents a sort of language. The major means of communication between human beings is of course verbal language, and learning a language affords more than memorizing a tourist dictionary. Unfortunately though, music is often taught this way. Instead of teaching the fundamentals of music as a language and enabling the student to use its elements in his own and personal way, the student is often supposed to reproduce, at best interpret, finalized patterns and figures. This implies that the first and foremost principle of learning a language, the fact that it should enable its speaker to make use of it with the greatest freedom possible, is neglected, if not ignored and omitted altogether. The so-called classical education often provides the student with little to no chance to learn the language of music using his own words and creative potential and then „speak“ it.
In this book, I will present my concepts of a creative, individual approach to the language of rhythm, especially at the drum set. Using these concepts, the student learns the language of his instrument from the beginning. That‘s the essence. Just like a spoken language, music has a core vocabulary, idioms, quotations, grammar, and a sentence structure. You read the old masters and every now and then a more recently published novel, too. But the most important exercise of all is: The language is used freely and with creativity. This allows every drummer to express his own emotions and learn to play fluently and freely at a relatively early stage. My intention is to facilitate this.
There are three large areas which permeate drumming like a golden thread: Technique, rhythm, and style. By technique I mean the mere craft. What kind of sticks do I use, how do I hold them, how can I play fast double strokes, paradiddles, rolls and stuff like that. Moeller technique, finger control, and rudiments belong to this area as well as hand/foot combinations, fast fills, independence, mind/body sections, parallel motions, antagonistic movements, etc. In short: Aspects of good workmanship. Rhythm encompasses all rhythm phenomena, the two major structures of binary and ternary structures, meter, pulse, beat, groups, systems, note value tree, internal clock, synchronicity, parallelism, timing, etc. In this context, we also focus on rhythmical differences of styles and the internalization of rhythmic structures. The third major area obviously refers to the various musical styles, such as Swing, Rock, Blues, etc. In our context, however, it primarily refers to how we can use our technique applied rhythmics for making the drum set sound. Those are the three major areas. They don‘t allow for a clear distinction but rather blend into one another. This is why many exercises include all three areas. If for example you practice sixteenths on a drum pad, this is both a technical (how do I perform those strokes) and a rhythmic exercise. If you do the same thing on a set, the aspect of sound comes into play, thus making it a stylistic exercise. The differentiation between the three areas, however, remains important in my opinion, because it helps define problems. If a pattern doesn‘t sound too good, an experienced teacher can immediately recognize whether this has to do with technical, rhythmical or stylistical skills of the student, or with two or with all three of these areas. Discerning problems is important for allowing the student to refine his way of playing. Inadequate or ineffective exercises often hamper the student‘s progress. This is where the tripartition comes into play. It has proved its worth.
Meanwhile, any number of titles on drumming has become available. All styles and innumerous concepts can be gathered from literature on drumming. Grooves, rhythms, fills, and any imaginable licks, patterns, and combinations can be gathered and learned from exercise and other books. This is why, in the course of time, many drumming students received the impression that drumming can be entirely learned from a book. The limits of these learning methods, however, are obvious: A book allows for one-way communication only. This means that all areas which require two-way communication will be excluded. And since drumming is a form of communication, this means an exclusion of the main aspect of drumming. Hence the interested student has no option but to look out for a good teacher. And there is quite a few of them by now. Certainly it is not a hard lesson to learn for anybody that motion sequences cannot be studied by means of a book only. While a DVD4 is more like it, the drummer conveying his knowledge and skills through it cannot correct the student in his own attempts, and what works well for the one student doesn‘t necessarily work for the other. A good teacher will not only demonstrate what the student is to learn, but he will creatively and constructively focus on the student‘s drumming skills in order to develop the latter‘s individual language in cooperation with him. This book provides the student with a guide which can serve as a means for testing the qualification of his teacher. In this book, I will go without all those areas which have either been sufficiently covered by existing literature, or which in my opinion cannot be sufficiently communicated and applied by means of a book. I will provide corresponding notes where appropriate.
4 Personally, I do appreciate the educational effect of DVDs, not so much for the purpose of studying motion sequences, but rather for understanding the personal approach of famous colleagues. In addition, DVDs, and of course CDs, are indispensable for enhancing one‘s own stylistic development. They are also perfectly suited for inspiration and motivation.
The drum set is by far the most spectacular instrument. This results from the enormous mobility which it demands from the musician who is playing it. All four extremities are required, and when a drummer slips sticks tricks and other gimmicks into his play, this adds to the spectacular impact on the spectator. Amazement is a natural result. This is why some drummers’ performance is more adequately described in terms of a circus event, rather
than a musical performance. However, and as stated before, this is due to the very nature of the instrument and can never be avoided altogether. For me, though, the limit is reached when the artistic aspect gains a primary recognition while sound is being pushed into the background. Apart from that, I have often found myself marveling at what some colleagues are able to do with their instrument and their bodies. Still, there is much to be learned from these artistical colleagues, because they keep shifting the border of what is technically feasible, thereby limiting our possibility for excuses for not being able to play one idea or another, since these well-versed and virtuous drummers provide us with demonstrations of what is technically possible - meanwhile on a considerably high level.
The one criterion which counts to me is: How does it sound? In the course of my career, I have too often met musicians with odd motion sequences, a crude technique, and little to no visual impressiveness, but who can nevertheless produce an incredible sound. This, for me, is the most vital aspect: Sound. Music is sound. As musicians, we are the producers of sound. Music as one of the most important human communication forms is defined by sound. Music gives rise to, transmits, and communicates emotions. And that’s exactly my concern. Music as a means of communication in general and of drumming in particular. Without emotions, but instead with mere artistry, we can make people marvel at our skills, but their emotions will not be influenced in any sustainable way. The little boy demonstrating his ability to memorize a page in a phone book during a Saturday night TV show may take our breath away. And the other day we may feel tempted to ask a business colleague whether he has seen that same thing, according to the motto: Well, that was brilliant, wasn’t it? ... But then that’s all. Music which touches people, however, remains in their emotional memory. For any person I know, I could not imagine that he or she, on request, would not be able to name some piece of music which gives rise to some special emotion in him/her. Therefore, the emotional aspect is the most essential one for us as musicians. Mere artistry doesn’t provide that sort of thing, and it never will. This is unavoidable. Just like in verbal language, one can use sounds, harmonies, and structures to produce impressive and emotionally moving compositions just as well as commonplace and superficial ones. This is also something which results from human emotionality, since after all there are many occasions at which people are after shallow pleasures rather than thoughtfulness. But if that were the only kind of emotionality which we are still able to feel, this would be quite unfortunate. Just like verbal language, music can enable us to express ourselves appropriately in the most various situations. And if, in addition, music is well visualized, that’s a phantastic thing, too, although it’s not necessary. Of course we have to distinguish between music on sound carriers and music experienced as a live event. If we visit a concert, we experience the visual dimension in addition to what we can hear.
This is especially the case with large show events. In these cases, further criteria beyond sound come into play. The visual dimension can even gain a priority over sound, and in this case the experience is of course governed by other kinds of causality. In this book, however, I am focusing solely on rhythm and sound, leaving any artistic, spectacular, or visual aspect aside.
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