Thread: John Riley
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Old 06-28-2006, 07:51 PM
smoggrocks smoggrocks is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: nyc
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Default Re: John Riley

here's how the lesson went down:

firstly, i must say that mr. riley is truly a nice human being. as soon as he opened the door to the practice room, i felt like i was in the company of a good neighbor. it put me instantly at ease.

the other cool thing was that he didn't ask me to just sit down and play something for him. i hate when people do that; inevitably i choke. he just had me have a seat at the drums [a lovely little yamaha jazz kit with fresh heads; there was another kit next to him], he sat in his easy chair, and asked me what i've been doing, where i want to go, and what kind of setup i play on.

so i told him what i've been up to and what i play, then took out my laundry list of drumgoals, which essentially focused on my desire to get a firm foundation in jazz, continue to improve my hands, get better at transcribing, and understand the evolution of traditional jazz to modern jazz. also, to take whatever i learned with him and apply it to my rock playing, and essentially become a better, more knowledgable and effective drummer overall.

so first he did a synopsis of the link between jazz and rock. how swing begat shuffle begat eight and 16th notes. he demonstrated that on the kit and we talked briefly about earl palmer and the other jazz cats who basically responded to the piano parts they heard, and who altered their playing in response to it.

then we got right down to hands. he asked me what i didn't like about mine, and i played paradiddles and showed him my weak left hand. he said my right hand looked very good, and my left looked a little tense, but not THAT bad. i was relieved. i explained that i keep getting thumb injuries from trying to play faster, and he said we would change that. [if you can't tell, the man is very positive].

he asked what my theory and approach was regarding holding/using the sticks, and i said i was torn between the loosey-goosey model and the hardcore stick control model. he said we would strive for a middle ground. i brought up the whole tony williams thing, and he said he'd watched enough slo-motion vids of tony to know that he did not always do what he espoused; that is, he did stay loose with his sticks, even though he talked a lot about controlling the stick's rebound.

he talked quite a bit about arm mechanics, and how volume and sound is achieved, and we spent a significant length of time doing whipping exercises on the pad and the snare. what's that 60s dance called -- the one that travolta and thurman danced to in 'pulp fiction?' that's sort of what our arms were doing, or at least what it reminded me of, though the arm went more up than sideways. i started to laugh inside, but it was a good exercise, because i was able to see at what point i tensed up. his wrist was very limber, and mine stayed rigid at a certain point. so we focused on that a lot. we also did whipped and non-whipped famularo-ish motions, holding the stick between the middle and forefinger, so i could really see the stick rebound.

then we did paradiddle grooves and alternating single strokes around the kit, using the whipping motion, then not using it, and he stood behind me and would move my elbows and arms to take me through the motion when i would do it wrong. we did crossover exercises doing the same thing, and that's where i started getting it down better.

midway through, he said, 'i am encouraged by your enthusiasm!' [translation: it's a good thing you like playing drums, babe, coz yo' azz is gonna be in here a looooooooong time] actually, i think he was being genuine, and he seemed to appreciate my questions and my focused attention.

we did lots of the paradiddle groove thing, then he got behind his kit and we played the grooves together, and he had me add in the bass drum a 16th note at a time, and move it progressively over by 1/16th. it was cool, but i never really have played on an 18" bass drum, and man, it was so different! the sound and the boing were really strange to me. i also didn't expect that we'd be doing funk stuff, but the exercises served the purpose, so that's what counts. he also showed me a better way to position my sticks when playing hi-hat snare stuff. i was definitely not giving myself enough air.

oh -- he did ask me to play everything very lightly. in fact, when i first played my paradiddles on the snare drum, he said, 'it's okay to play softly.' stupid rock drummer. in fact, he encouraged me to go for american grip, as my hands tended to alternate while playing. he said for now, it would be the easiest way for me to achieve power without tensing up.

and that was essentially it.

he wrote out some exercises for me, answered some questions, and stayed with me an extra 20 minutes or so. then he had to get ready for his vanguard gig.

i was delighted with the whole experience! i appreciated his lucidity and analogous discourse [geez, are those even words?] i felt very comfortable, clear and hopeful. he pointed out lots of good things i was doing [posture, relaxing, breathing, timing], and didn't make me feel bad for my weaknesses. he just stressed that certain things take a lot of time, and i said i had all the time in the world, which i really do.

we will be doing lessons only 1, maybe 2 times a month, because he's quite pricey. but he gave me so much stuff to work on, i think it's a better approach. he'll get to see more dramatic improvements when more time has passed.

so that's the shebang. i'm still excited about everything. i especially like that i take the lessons at manhattan school of music, which felt special in and of itself. that place puts out some great players. and the 5th floor has that great, musty music room smell.
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