Jan. 2019 UPDATE
- René's busy drumming, teaching, performing, see schedule
- www.kingsmenthunderdrumline.com click on PAYPAL Rex Putnam High School Drum Line
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- René's band HERE COMES EVERYBODY. New Video posted.
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Here Comes Everybody
“To Grip Or Not To Grip, that is the question: How to hold traditional grip. Much has been written on this subject, yet many drummers do not know how to hold their sticks in “trad” grip even though they have seen it or worship drum idols who use it. I hope a little history and direction will help more percussionists honor the art form and benefit from learning this misunderstood technique. History: Dating back to the 1400-1500’s, this grip is called traditional because it descends from military marching drummers who carried a snare drum on a sling hung around the neck or one shoulder, with the drum riding closer to one hip than the other and tilted slightly for easier reach. This allowed the drummer to play the drum with the left hand “under-handed”, and match grip (like a hammer) with the right hand while marching without banging the knees or thighs into the drum. The first drum set players surfaced in around 1840 when drummers started sitting down. Since most of those players were marching drummers, the traditional grip continued to be the orthodox way of playing and the snare drums continued to be slanted within the drum set arrangement. The traditional grip is still part of the art form and the technique is more difficult to master. However, it is embedded into our percussion culture and continues to be used mostly in jazz and marching drum line genres. Grab a stick!Hold the left arm, palm down, fingers together. Place the stick in the socket between the thumb and 1st finger (about 1/3 of the butt end of the stick above the hand). Grip should be tight enough on the stick to cause a slight drag if you try to pull it out from the hand. Keeping 3rd and 4th fingers closed, turn the arm to the left and the stick will naturally fall into position across the third finger. Bring your arm in towards your body. Curl finger 4 and 5 so that the stick is laying on the nail bed of finger 4 with finger 5 (your pinky) supporting finger 4. Bring your index finger around and cross your thumb between the 1st and 2nd knuckles of your index finger (like a “T”). At this point, and this usually gets a small chuckle from students, you are flipping me off. Yes, your middle finger is “out there” about an inch from the stick. Bring it in a bit so it’s not an extreme flip-off. Some instructors teach that the middle finger is to be straight, but a slight bend is more comfortable. Be sure not to arch the wrist back, but keep it straight. For the right hand, a simple match grip is fine. At this point if you check your fulcrums (where the point of balance is on your sticks), they should match. There should be butts sticking out on both hands and it should be even. Now you are holding your sticks in front of your with your wrist on the left hand, “trad” grip, and the match grip right hand. It should be about 1/4 of the “pie” on the drum or about 45 degrees in angle. To Play:Your left hand should be slightly higher than the right. With your wrists straight and not bent back, you are going to now imagine turning a door knob and strike the drum. If you are like most drummers, you will immediately feel how under-developed your wrist muscle is and you will soon notice how the stick wants to slip off your 4th finger nail-bed. It is really easy to develop a blister, so if you feel one coming on, stop and give it a rest. It takes awhile to get used to traditional grip. Try not to hold too tightly as to push the stick down onto the 4th finger. With practice, it’s like riding a bicycle, it will get easier, and you’ll notice that your muscles in your hands and wrists will get strong. I always tell my students that if you are going to practice this grip, start with a band-aide and protect your finger. If you get a sore spot or blister on the ring finger, it will take time to heal. Have a teacher check you so you don’t continue to learn this grip wrong. Now, go and try this and get your “trad” grip on! ” - René Ormae-Jarmer
— Tom Tom Magazine
“In My Drum-pinion: an article that is based my opinion. There are common themes and I draw on my 20+ years of experience, schooling, performing, and with the aid of well-known teaching and technique methods commonly published in all the best drum books. Addressing 7 common problem basis drumming areas for the beginner… 1. How you sit: A slouching drummer with poor posture shows the audience immediately that you have low confidence. Sitting too low on your throne forces you to reach higher to strike cymbals and wastes time, space, and energy to get there. The throne should be at a level that allows your thighs to be slightly higher to create an almost 90 degree angle with your leg. Feet should be lined up so knees are not hyper-extended forward over ankles. This is common for drummers who started young. I didn’t realize for a long time that I played “squished” up and too close to my drum set since I was used to setting up a certain way in my youth. I’ve grown taller since then and an instructor pointed out that I needed to stretch out a bit to accommodate my growth into an adult! Finally, a good quality drum throne can never be underestimated: make sure it is comfortable, adjustable, and heavier duty to withstand years of hauling around and you sitting on it. Sitting on hard chairs can result in back and butt pain. Don’t skimp on the throne, it’s worth it! 2. Arms: To avoid the “monkey-arms”, it is important to relax and have your arms naturally at your sides. Many drummers raise their elbows too high as soon as they get ready to play. Hence the monkey-affect. Ergonomically speaking, this also creates intensity in the shoulders and before you know it, you are as stiff as a board, sore, barely able to keep up with the song and your band. (Not to mention bananas may start to fly at you….). Keep your elbows at your sides and allow your right arm to naturally curve in front of you as you reach with your hand to position over the hi-hat to play, if that is where you are starting. 3. Hands: Ah yes, the hands….so much has been written on this subject. Many techniques including Gladstone, Traditional Grip, Match Grip (German, French, American) could fill this page. Basically, you need to be able to reach everything with ease. So do your hands a favor, adjust your drum set so you are not stretching to reach those crash cymbals. Since I could go on forever about one grip vs. the other, for the sake of addressing the most popular grip, Match, let us use two examples. ROCK: Match grip rock on the drum set is not the knuckles up, 45 degree, German grip where you are looking like a rudimental drummer and stiff. The American grip is somewhere between 45 degree and a slight turn of the wrists affords us to look more at the thumb, but don’t turn your hands so you are looking strictly at the thumb (French). Use the right tool for the right job. I use Vic Firth sticks. Use a good rock stick (I like the HD4 but anything bigger is fine, as along as it’s NOT a marching stick). The flags on the sticks are a nice place to put the thumbs. If you need to adjust the fulcrum (the balance point) up a ¼ to ½ inch, that’s OK, just be sure your sticks are even. Close the “smiley-face” between your forefinger and thumb, so there are no large gaps between them. This will give you a firm grip that will allow maximum contact with the stick (which helps keep down the possibility of losing a stick during that big drum break). Sticks go flying, it’s a reality….just have other sticks readily available in case you rock out too hard. JAZZ: OK, this is a huge topic, but in a nutshell, jazz is way more relaxed, but not lazy. Jazz is still intense and you have to pay attention. Hands are more thumbs up, especially for the ride cymbal swing pattern. Important note: don’t use rock sticks for jazz. The heavier sound won’t afford you any finesse. Don’t worry, you can still hit the ensemble hits with force. It’s a common misconception that jazz is “quiet” all the time. In all cases—no extended pinkies (tea-cup drumming), no white-knuckles, no inward-turned or bent-upward wrists. Let stick return to you, no buzzing or dribbles on the head. A clean stroke that returns is desired, however, don’t let the stick come back and hit you in the face. Play up as if you are playing in a tube in the center of the drum. Playing back and not playing up for stick height is a very common bad habit. Lost of control ensues and frankly it just looks floppy. 4. Feet: Put them on the pedals and keep them there. Feet should never leave contact. For the rock BD, I’m a toe-player and dig right in. However, it should be noted that to get a better tone, it is desirable to back off the pedal and let the BD tone come through. In the beginning, drummers are learning basic independence with all the limbs and the BD pedal should be played and pushed into the head until needed again. So, heel slightly up and play with the ball of the foot (not the toes). Too much of an arch will be overkill. For the hi-hat, it is important to keep it closed until needed. Since we’re talking basics here, just keep it closed and start getting used to pumping it with your BD during your fills on 1/4 notes. 4. Hitting the drums: First of all, when a new student comes to me, I ask them to play how they normally play, and then bad habits are addressed. Almost all the time, the sonic balance is off. What that means is that not every drum is played with equal force or attitude. The bass drum may be too quiet, or the cymbals may start to get the “washing” sound because they are being hit in the wrong place and too loudly. So listen to each limb and what it is playing and try to make sure they are all evened out as far as dynamics. With all this said, each drum and cymbal has a tone and it’s important to get the best tone out of it. Make sure you are targeting the appropriate place to get the sound. For example, do NOT play on the bell of the ride cymbal constantly. Save it for Latin feels, or special funk/rock grooves. The bell is punishing and can really annoy the listener. Wear ear plugs. Cymbals can sear off the high end of your hearing, so get those puppies in your ears! 5. Dynamics: Playing a regular 4/4 rock beat without any dynamics or development of the phrase (whether it be a 4, 8, 12 bar phrase) is a common problem for many drummers. It’s not enough to do the mechanics of keeping time. In order for it to sound good, there needs to be attention paid to where on the dynamics scale you need to be: loud or soft, medium or build to loud before the fill? And how about those accents? Drumming without any kind of accent pulled out, is doomed to sound “square” and boring. Learn and feel the difference between a 2” and 12” stick height. Playing harder is not always recommended either. At some point there is no more tone to level of sound to be gotten out of pummeling your drums. In fact, if you just hit hard all the time, it just sounds…well….bad. Crescendos, accents, riffs that develop in not only complexity, but dynamically all make you stand out from other drummers. 6. Fills: Keep them simple and dynamic if you are a beginner. Get some help from a good drum teacher to listen to records to learn new fills and don’t play them unless you know them! So many drummers don’t have a clue what they are going to play when it’s time to fill. Don’t be that drummer. Have a group of fills you can use and start developing more for your repertoire so you don’t freeze up or repeat yourself over and over. Don’t forget to keep some sort of time during your fills. So many drummers rush or drag without keeping hi-hat or BD going to keep some kind of time while you are out exploring the fill in the song. 7. Hi-Hat Finesse: Playing 1/8 notes on the hi-hat is something you learn early on. But without some kind of approach, most drummers end up sounding stiff. One of my early drumming heroes was Stewart Copeland. If you listen to his famous hi-hat work, he is “Driving The Hi-Hat”. He is accenting the downbeats and that motion drives the sound forward. Even 1/8 notes are sometimes required for punk, but after you play stiff for awhile, it can be fatiguing. You could actually injure yourself trying to keep up a straight and even loud sounding hi-hat pulse, especially at a quick tempo. Using the Moeller approach on your hi-hat will allow you to whip up a faster tempo while getting that two-for-one special associated with Moeller method (described as a whipping motion, where the first stroke is generally emphasized and the second is the coming up on the return bounce up-stroke….another google-worthy method that is widely used and requires more space to write about). Basically, emphasizing a driving hi-hat will give your playing speed, and an emphasized “lope”. Everyone has eventually develops their own sound, and it is really apparent on the hi-hat approach. Generally, in rock you will use the shoulder of the stick and not the tip. The tip is used for more delicate funk and jazz approaches (unless you listen to Belle and Sabastien and hear the “ticky-ticky” tip of lighter playing in pop). In conclusion, there are many things that a drummer can do to performance. A good drum teacher, good knowledge, practice and performance are the only ways to continue getting better. In this day and age, the internet also offers a wealth of information that makes it more accessible, but unless students actually apply the info and DO THE TIME on your instrument, the payoff won’t be as complete or rewarding. I hope this article has helped future drummers get a good start. Now go practice! --René Ormae-Jarmer www.renesdrumstudio.com ” - René Ormae-Jarmer
“Killing Apathy In Drumming & Life APATHY : ap-a-thy (noun) 1. Lack of enthusiasm or energy 2. Emotional emptiness. Indifference, lethargy, laziness, boredom, ennui, droopiness, unconcern, dispiritedness, or lack of interest. Apathy. It happens.... As a musician, others look up to us to inspire and impress. So what happens when we drummers are hit with apathy (or that “not-so-fresh” feeling) regarding our drumming and musicianship in general? Don’t just change your deodorant. Make plans to squash that apathy dead as soon as possible! I’m going to discuss how apathy can creep into our personal musicianship and lives and how to hopefully kick it in the booty. At the very least, I hope that this discussion will help y’all be on guard for apathy and recognize it when it does hit. How do you keep it fresh, especially if you’ve been playing, studying, touring, or even teaching the drums for a while? I’ve been performing, recording, touring, teaching, songwriting, booking, managing, teaching for many moons (over 25+ years) on drums and piano/keys and there are times that I have to admit hitting a wall. I have had that feeling of general malaise regarding music at times. Anyone who says they don’t get that nagging feeling every once in a blue moon is A) Lying, B) Not old enough or hasn’t done music long enough for it to get kinda repetitive, or C) Not working hard enough or busy enough in the first place for apathy to rear it’s ugly head yet. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m as energized and passionate as they come about all the musical drumming and music that I do, but apathy can either sneak up on us, or hit us square in the nose sometimes and it’s good to at least examine how that can happen. There are some things that we as drummers/percussionists may experience that can create a strong aversion to doing the thing we love. I am not talking about forgetting to wear earplugs and developing tinnitus. Let us go over some of those habits or experiences that may contribute to reaching a point of apathy in our drumming and maybe in our life: Problem #1. Playing the same music, groove, or fill over and over without any aspiration to change or improve. Solution: If you find this happening to you, it’s obvious you’re going to need to change things up a bit. Record yourself. There is NOTHING like the TRUTH and a serious reality check. Are you repeating your fills and patterns with your time/groove/pocket playing? Start listening to music that is more challenging. If you are only playing 1/8th note rock beats, then start throwing in some 1/16th notes on snare and bass and get your funkier grooves on! Learn how to ghost your notes to give your playing a “shuck and jive of subdivision”. It doesn’t take much to spice things up a bit. TAKE A DRUM LESSON from a new instructor, and if you haven’t taken any lessons, that may very well be a huge contributing factor of ennui: lack of education. There is a whole world of grooves, fills, beats, styles to explore and if you haven’t had a lesson, break out of the habit of surrounding yourself with self-taught drum teachers and get some real drum education on! With a really good credentialed instructor (and I DON’T mean a teacher who is just rocking out like you, but at least a weensy-bit better than you). Get one that is several steps better: one that blows your MIND. Your entire drumming world will open up and even a few lessons will keep you fresh for a long time to come as well as add a spring to your step. Problem #2. Doing the same kind of gigs that may or may not have any payoff (whether financially or creatively). Solution: How many of us are playing in our first band with our first music best buddies? On rare occasions that may actually work out and bands can grow together and stay fresh (usually with a catalyst of having other revolving members join the band). But if you are unhappy playing AC/DC covers at the bar down the road, then STOP and find a new situation. If the club is screwing you, STOP playing there. I could go in a whole separate rant and tirade about why bands need to stop playing for free, but that is a different and much longer topic. I will say this in regards to apathy though: If you are playing for free all the time, without any value on your playing, creativity, effort and time, it will start to GRATE on you and erode your love of playing live. It also erodes the local music climate. Another idea is to do a tribute, change up styles (throw in a raunchy blues tune, or hip-hop groove). Diversify getting your music out there by releasing tunes online, licensing your music, learning about the music business end of things, play in more than one band, etc. Problem #3. Not challenging ourselves to play at a higher level. Solution: Let’s face it, self-examination can be painful. Take lessons with a really great teacher and learn all styles of drumming and break out of your rut. I often notice that some students come to me because they have hit that apathetic wall of boredom, but are still eager to learn new grooves or read music or perhaps learn a completely different style of drumming. Reality Check: How many of you self-prescribed rock-n-roll drummers out there can play a simple jazz swing beat? If you are NOT raising your hand right now, then get on it. All the truly great rock drummers have a diverse knowledge of other styles of drumming. Even though Jason McGerr of Death Cab For Cutie plays singer-songwriter solid grooves behind the band, Jason is a master of rudiments, poly-rhythms, and jazz drumming and that puts his rock chops in a whole different level of pocket, finesse, and stamina. Cindy Blackman had a very strong rudimental upbringing that has allowed her to play with many jazz heavy hitters including Santana, to name just a few. Also, it’s not a bad idea to actually learn how to read music, rhythms, and yes, notation & theory. Are you a drummer or are you a percussionist? Another really simple way to kick that apathy and yourself in the “boot-tay” is to PLAY WITH MUSICIANS THAT ARE BETTER THAN YOU. You will have to rise to the occasion and quickly too! A little trial-by-fire never hurts musical learning. Don’t be afraid of new situations! New experiences force growth. If you do fail, do it loudly and then go get the help so it doesn’t happen again! Take a chance and be fearless. I signed up for a drum line camp 4 years ago with some of the best instructors in the country. They all saw I was a teacher and said I generously invited me to attend for free, but I resisted that and said “No way, sign me up and kick my butt”…and they did. I was basically at “attention” for 3 days (never mind I had to see my massage therapist afterwards! ha!) However, Mike Stevens, Tom Float, Vern Johnson Jr. really challenged me and it forced me to think in longer patterns and clean up my act. I am eternally grateful for that experience. Now I teach high school drum line along with all the other stuff I do and I am a better stronger player because of it. Keeps me honest when I have to be better than my students. One sure-fire way to kick apathy is to attend PASIC (Percussion Arts Society Int’l Conference). Go the pas.org to check out this yearly conference featuring the best drummers and drum groups in the WORLD. It’s like a religious experience for drummers. You cannot be uninspired after attending this conference. If you are, then you have probably been zombified somehow without your knowledge. The top percussion names of our time and all types of drumming are featured. Problem #4. Not having a balance of musical and non-musical things in our lives. Solution: OK, so this one is more esoteric and smacks of some psychology, but I seen life’s situations completely kill the love for some musicians. I know some musicians who have quit completely on one end of the spectrum and then others who have stuck with it relentlessly and ignored the apathy gnawing at them and have been somehow surprised where they ended up, stuck in a cycle of bad vibes. What it means to truly be a musician is dedication, skill, talent, a little luck thrown in there, and let’s not forget the education part. To not have any other non-musical aspirations is to lead an unbalanced life in my humble opinion. I know colleagues who have continued to “live the dream” without dental or medical insurance, relentlessly tour with little support, continue to live in a one-bedroom hovel studio apartment still eating top ramen and ketchup sandwiches in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond and many are BITTER. Not only do they fall into the trap of believing they must be the starving artist, which I will go on record as saying how unnecessary that whole lifestyle is if taken literally, but they are resentful, feel that life and music industry owes them something, they are unable to freshen things up and therefore are stuck in a perpetual cycle of apathy unable to change. They actually end up hating music or blaming it for their situation. Some folks just stop drumming altogether, never to return. Some of these talented individuals were uh-maze-ing percussionists or musicians. Sometimes they ended up with an unsupportive partner (don’t make all that noise in the house!), or just gave up on themselves. Keep it fresh folks, make TWO lists: one of drumming & music goals and one of other life goals. I have a diverse musical life: drum line, teaching, sitting in on jazz jams with some of Portland finest, performing in musicals (that actually pay me to read music and I get to both rock out and swing it baby in front of large audiences too!), drum clinics in schools and other events, recording/songwriting with my band, piano, weddings/events, etc. I also am a mother, enjoy gardening, traveling a bit, taking time to slow down with friends, writing these articles etc. Even so, I still have to change things up and re-access all the time so I don’t hit that wall of ennui. Problem #5. Blaming music or our musicianship when it’s really something else that’s making us unfocused in the first place. Solution: I have a habit. I have a hard time half-assing anything. If I say I’m going to do something with or for someone including myself, I go whole-hog. At least I do that until I realize I have taken on too much. Then I just get grumpy and implode a bit until I balance things again. Learn to say no. Try to keep it fresh for yourself while you focus. Get a new method book or something! Address your weaknesses (i.e. left hand, rudiments, reading, jazz, start singing backups behind the kit, take a marimba lesson, etc). Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to take a little break from that death-midget metal band so we can go swing out with the jazz cats down the street, or take the time to get those lessons, or even just take a weekend off and visit mom or dad. Sometimes we have to take a look at why we can’t play that John Bonham 32nd note bass drum riff, which is soooo Bonham by the way. Maybe we’re tired, or hungry, or we’re sitting too low at the drum set in the first place. A little distance can help us focus on what we need sometimes. Sometimes, it’s not us drummers at all. It may be the grumpy guitarist who has such a toxic personality that no one will hire the band. All these things can lead to drumming malaise and apathy. Don’t get into a grind you aren’t excited about! Keep it fresh, enlist help from professionals (don’t bother with the leagues of self-taught rock drummers who have no more diversity in their repertoire than you do!). Learn new stuff, enroll yourself in a camp to kick yourself out of complacency. It works! I still take advanced lessons to keep it fresh. Then I bring that to my playing and my students. A fresh outlook will help keep that apathy from bringing you and your drumming down. Now get busy on those lists! Peace. ” - Rene' Ormae-Jarmer
“ Health of a Drummer Part III of IV—René Ormae-Jarmer NUTRITION, HYDRATION, AND COMMEN SENSE HEALTH POINTS Eating and Consumption in general: Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Eating ½ hour before the gig. Yet many times this gets ignored, especially if showing up early to the gig advice is not followed. Eat like an athlete because drumming is the most physically demanding instrument of the band. We’re moving all the time with all four limbs. Protein, greens, and smart carbs are what you need to keep going if the gig is longer, louder, and physically demanding. We burn lots of calories. ENJOY THAT. Here’s a sample of smart carbs: minimally processed whole-grain products like oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Avoid candy bars, sugary foods, and junk food. Keep on hand energy bars, nuts, portable fruit (bananas, apples, etc) so you’ll be able to concentrate and not hit a sugar low during a 2-hour show. No one wants to see the drummer stare off into space, especially the band leader! That’s when musicians are at risk for making mistakes. I teach many different levels of drumming, drum line, private lessons, clinics, etc. I can always tell when a student is “spacing” out. The eyes wander, response time is slow, and a general “checking out” of concentration makes for sloppy drumming, mistakes, and reinforcement of drumming “ticks” (bad habits that creep up and become part of our presentation and performing). Liquids and free drink tickets for the band! Playing your favorite club (or any club for that matter) comes with lovely beer, wine and cocktail tickets that are often given freely to bands. Unfortunately, this is often done in lieu of compensation in the industry, but that’s a whole different article. So, you show up and YAY!!!, drink tickets are handed out! You slam a couple back, do your sound check and before you know it, it’s your time to rock the casbah. So why ½ way through your show do you feel like crap? Because you are DEHYDRATED and literally have no time to consume water since drummers play often continuously during the show without breaks. I cannot say this enough: Drink water, not booze at shows. Wet blanket? Maybe, but there are more reasons than just your health to follow this path. Alcohol also has a side affect of making you think you just played super awesome, when in reality, you totally thought you were awesome, but truly sucked (missed entrances, sloppy hands, or inability to concentrate on the music, or worse …saying something really stupid into a microphone to the audience!). I dare you to record your next performances and see how it sounds under the influence and dry. Compare and contrast not only how you sounded, but how you felt. Of course drinking those 8-10 glasses is not some myth, y’all really need to do it. It’s a fact that most people walk around dehydrated even when they think they are getting enough water. Common Sense Health Points: I’m going to be efficient, opinionated, and forthright (also seen as bossy, know-it-all, and naggy) here because again this list may seem obvious, but I often see drummers ignore common sense at shows in order to show off, create the illusion of tough drummer-ness (is that a word?) or simply common sense is forgotten: Be well-rested. Not only will you play better, but you will enjoy music more and not be a grumpy-pants drummer. Being friendly and professional only works in your favor for fans, future gigs, and band relationships. Take care of your mental state. Being stressed out, distracted doesn’t help you or your playing. Where EARPLUGS. Do it. It’s smart, so find some you can tolerate. You need to avoid tinnitus that can result from loud rim shots and cymbals. Cymbals can be punishingly loud. That ringing sound after you play or listen to a live show? That’s NOT a good thing. You’ll be rockin’ for years to come if you take care of your ears. Wear decent shoes. Almost all my shoes are dictated by “Can I drum in these?”. Leave sunscreen, bottled water, drum rug, first-aid kit with lots of bandaids, towels, and a drum key in your car at all times. Active lifestyle, active and healthy drummer. Anyone can benefit as a musician, but also as person from just taking care of your body: stretching, walking, running, biking, whatever you can do to get some physical activity. I also find that walking or biking allows me to do a mental brain “dump” as well. Some drumming requires physical fitness: marching drill or in drum lines and parades requires a strong back and ability to carry field drums while running. My first year drummers in high school drum line have a huge wake-up call after their first parade (as much as I try to prepare them). They end up tired, sore, and spent. Drum set playing can be physically demanding depending on the type of music you’re playing. There is always a level of athleticism present for drumming though so the more you drummers can take care of yourselves, the longer you’ll be able to keep drumming your passion! Till next time! ” - Rene' Ormae-Jarmer
“APPROACHING THE ODDS Understanding, Practicing, and Conquering Odd Time Signatures… So you just got asked to drums in a progressive rock band? No problem right? Audition time and you climb aboard and are asked to play in 5/4, 7/4, and maybe have a passage that rocks back and forth between 5/8 to ¾ to 5/8. Dig! Um…..maybe not and you leave confused, wind firmly NOT beneath your wings (more like tail between your legs because you couldn’t find the feel…). Well, help is here and I will try to set you on the path to odd time signature happiness, or at least a basic understanding. Whether it’s orchestral, rudimental, or drum set, having some exposure to time signatures other than 4/4 or ¾, which are the most common, will help you become the counting maestro that all drummers should be. Before we get to far, let me just say loud and clear: “You must be the one who counts!”. Be the drummer who knows where “one” is. Because you won’t be able to just vibe it out, feel it, or make eye contact with the rest of the band if you don’t know where “one” is. Chances are, you may be the ONLY one in the band counting anyways. Most of the time, we’re asked to play in the people’s time signature of 4/4. It’s even, it’s steady, you can shake your booty to it. Lots of rock, funk, disco, house, rap, and hip-hop uses that repetitive 1,2,3,4 beat. It’s easy to feel. You still have to count and know where “one” is in 4/4. It’s basic and essential. But what happens if you need to count to 5, 7, or even phrases in 6? The easiest thing to do is to emphasize “one”. Even in ¾ time, it’s good to count off two measures of 3 (to get your mind around that you are not in 4) and say “one” louder as well as physically mark it so everyone around you can follow you. Let’s define time signature: For example, in 4/4, the top number means how many notes per measure and the bottom number means what kind of note (1/4 note, 1/8 note, etc). In odd time signatures, combinations of 2 and 3 make up an uneven or asymmetrical count. Avant-guarde genres like jazz, fusion, progressive rock or metal tend to use odd signatures to get a more angular sound in rhythm and that type of music isn’t as widely accepted in our pop-music culture, although there is a definite market for it. Occasionally, an amazing hit will sneak through and it’s so catchy, that some people don’t even know it’s in an odd meter. Here’s an approach: 1. Begin by listen to some of the basic favorite rock songs with what I call “meat & potatoes” drumming in 4/4: AC/DC, Talking Heads, REM, anything with a nice steady beat. Count 1,2,3,4. 2. Listen to basic songs in ¾. Waltzes or Celtic music works or anything in 6/8 blues would work, but know that it’s not really ¾, but 6/8 time: emphasis here is 1-2-3-4-5-6 with backbeat on 4. 3. Now start listening to some famous odd signature songs Mission Impossible (5/4) Take 5 (Jazz 5/4) Dave Brubeck All You Need Is Love, 7/4 and later 7/4 to 8/4, Beatles Money, 7/4, Pink Floyd ”Tom Sawyer, ½ -time 4/4, middle section is the famous 7/4 jam, RUSH “Eleven”, 11/4, Primus Emerson, Lake and Palmer, "Tarkus": introduction 5/4, and more… Ben Folds, "Bastard", uses 4/4, 3/2, 7/4, 6/4, 3/4, 5/4 Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi, "Pruit-Igoe": mixes 9/8 (4+3+2), 4/4 (with 12/8-like triplets in forte section), 7/8, 6/8 Pick up any Frank Zappa record and it’ll be full of everything. Including some of the highest level orchestral musicianship that a progressive rock band can offer. 4. Play a super basic 5/4 and 7/4 beat like the one below (insert basic notation here) 5. Now try to play to a couple simpler songs with 5/4 or 7/5 like Mission Impossible or Money. Note on Mission Impossible: not all grooves have the snare on 2 and 4, even if they are odd. All the more to take you outside your comfort zone. Keep counting and read, then let the groove sink in. (Insert one bar of Mission Impossible & Money notation here) You are now on your way. It takes time to think odd. The more you listen, count, and practice, the easier it becomes. It could pay off! All the odd times signatures I’ve learned paid off recently when I was hired as a pit orchestra drummer for a crazy fun musical theatre show called “Putnam County Spelling Bee”. The composer for this had odd time signature grooves all over the place. Boy was I glad that I knew how to find one. Everything is basically broken down into 2’s and 3’s. Count it up and get your odd groove on. Don’t be afraid of the math, it can groove just as hard as 4/4. As for conquering odd signatures, it takes time (ouch…pun intended). Until next time!—xo René ” - René Ormae-Jarmer