Freakin' Out!

Coldhardsteel

Gold Member
Hey guys, I have a story.

Tonight I played at a school function with my bandmates. This function was an art exhibition and auction that showed student art, which after a certain period of time could be bid on in a silent auction.

Anyway, being an artsy-fartsy situation, we couldn't exactly play certain types of music, so we stuck to lounge-y jazz, mid-20th-century pop, and jazzified versions of more contemporary music. The event was held in the school's library, and although the acoustics weren't too bad, they weren't perfect either.

The whole time, I couldn't play anything above pianissississimo. I could never lift the bead of my stick more than 1" away from whatever surface I was going to hit, and it was driving me insane! How do you jazz cats do this stuff all the time? The whole thing, along with a lack of a comprehensive set-list (the invite was two day's notice) made me feel extremely restricted, and I left feeling pathetic, at the very least.

I learned that I need to practice intricate fills and beats and all that at extremely quiet dynamics, and that what kind of cymbals you use really do matter.

Any advice for a drummer feeling sheepish and ineffective?
 

Red Menace

Platinum Member
Channel that sense of defeat and inadequacy into drive and motivation and then use that drive to practice your butt off. I've been taken to town by many many great musicians on different instruments and I just use that as motivation to get better. I've been forced to practice my dynamic jamming with an unmiked singer and I've seen an improvement in my playing as a result.

Get out your 7As, sit down behind that kit and get your jazz on! Keep it down though.
 
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Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Anyway, being an artsy-fartsy situation, we couldn't exactly play certain types of music, so we stuck to lounge-y jazz, mid-20th-century pop, and jazzified versions of more contemporary music.

... The whole time, I couldn't play anything above pianissississimo.
Welcome to my world :)

I've always played loud rock and after after two years in a laid back band it still drives me crazy. The only way is to practice playing very gently with low hands as much as possible, and even then Rome wasn't built in a day.

Charlie Watts put it nicely: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_6z9oqet8#t=180s
 

theindian

Senior Member
Start slow (60bpm) and play very simple grooves/rolls at the lowest dynamic level; pp, or just a hair above ghost notes. When you feel comfortable, add more complex patterns & gradually increase the tempo. Work on crescendos/de-crescendos & all the levels in between. It takes practice but it is well worth it to have great dynamic control.

I think some drummers often forget about dynamics and only focus on playing loud. I have always prided myself on being able to play quietly as opposed to being the loudest drummer ever.

I play drums for a contemporary church service that requires me to play very quietly. They were a little nervous the first time I sat in, that the drums would be too overpowering. . They said they had tried having a drummer before but it was too loud, & they saw my gear (big drums, cymbals plus the auditoriums crappy acoustics).
I told them to give me a chance. I used a hot rod for the cymbals & a regular stick for the snare, with the dynamics staying around piano but never going over mezzo-piano.

Afterward I got several compliments from the band & people in the audience. They said the volume was appropriate, my playing was subtle but it still made the music move. They invited me back to play every week. It takes a little getting used to but it can be just as fun to play quietly as it is to rock out!
 

Coldhardsteel

Gold Member
I think some drummers often forget about dynamics and only focus on playing loud. I have always prided myself on being able to play quietly as opposed to being the loudest drummer ever.

... I used a hot rod for the cymbals & a regular stick for the snare, with the dynamics staying around piano but never going over mezzo-piano...
I normally play around mezzo-forté when I'm playing 'normally'. My drumming friends aren't the quietest players in town, so I suppose my comparison within my small community had me thinking I was pretty quiet. Not to say that I only play at a certain dynamic level, I enjoy adding changes in velocity to the music. Accents and taps make drumming twice as cool as without them.

I had the chance to get brushes before the show, and didn't. Biggest face-palm in my career so far. I've played with hot-rods before, and I found them to be really useful in changing the character of the sound you get. Definitely something I should look into getting.
 

mattsmith

Platinum Member
Hey guys, I have a story.

Tonight I played at a school function with my bandmates. This function was an art exhibition and auction that showed student art, which after a certain period of time could be bid on in a silent auction.

Anyway, being an artsy-fartsy situation, we couldn't exactly play certain types of music, so we stuck to lounge-y jazz, mid-20th-century pop, and jazzified versions of more contemporary music. The event was held in the school's library, and although the acoustics weren't too bad, they weren't perfect either.

The whole time, I couldn't play anything above pianissississimo. I could never lift the bead of my stick more than 1" away from whatever surface I was going to hit, and it was driving me insane! How do you jazz cats do this stuff all the time? The whole thing, along with a lack of a comprehensive set-list (the invite was two day's notice) made me feel extremely restricted, and I left feeling pathetic, at the very least.

I learned that I need to practice intricate fills and beats and all that at extremely quiet dynamics, and that what kind of cymbals you use really do matter.

Any advice for a drummer feeling sheepish and ineffective?
That stuff requires practice and dedication just like anything else and yeah you have to find time for working towards perfecting this element too if you're going to do it all that often. I know old pros who say it took them years to get good at that stuff, but that most people suck at it because they don't take it seriously enough as an individual genre worthy of appropriate attention. I sort of believe it's worth perfecting because there is a lot of money out there for the background music gig. But it's not really something you practice as part of your normal routine although pianissimo playing can certainly be part of your method book stuff.

The best way to get better at the muzak gig (and that's what it is) is to get yourself on many of them as possible. They're really not that hard to find. I remember once just asking a hotel trio if I could play with them a couple of weeks for free just to practice all the things you described and if they didn't like me just tell me not to come back lol. It seemed to work.In fact I ended up staying on the gig a full month and got all the tip money. So in the end I got paid to practice.

And yeah you really need some brushes on a gig like that but you only use them because they're the dominant appropriate color in that scenario. A good background music guy should be able to play the same gig on sticks too... and the key to that is a kind of focused intensity that you center into your wrists and fingers where you maximize everything within that softer volume. In the beginning it will drive you crazy working like this. But in the end it helps you towards many facets of your overall game/ control especially/. Also understand that there are a lot of people who get angry when you tell them that brushes or blastix are unnecessary for a gig like this. But that's because they think you're just jerking them around because they haven't taken the time to address their concentration issues. Still in the end you're almost entirely on the brushes anyway because the blend that brushes provide at a softer volume ends up being the most applicable musical solution. However there are certain uptempo or pop tunes that sound ridiculous on brushes at any volume...meaning you need to use those sticks.

As for the not having a set list, that's going to revolve around the listening issue. The more listening of everything you do the more adaptable you become ...making that set list more and more unnecessary. Besides the best muzak gigs are steered by the room itself and/or instantaneous crowd behavior... How many are in the room? Are people walking? ...standing around?, sitting? both? etc...

A set list doesn't help you much with all that.

Bottom line...it's another thing to learn with yet another set of rules.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
For a long time I wasn't very good at playing softly- here are some things that helped me when I decided to get it together once and for all:

- Lower your stick heights on the practice pad- keep them in the range of 1-6".
- Keep your volume from creeping up by learning not to pick up your stick before playing a note. Work on the full stroke/down stroke/tap/up stroke system so your stick in position for the next note.
- On the drums, get some books with written-out exercises/fills- like Morgenstein's Drum Set Warm Ups, or the Cusatis books, or Morello's Rudimental Jazz, or Rothman's Rudiments Around The Drums. Run the exercises at a low volume. I find it's easier to start with books like that than to improvise; taking away the creative element, it's easier to focus on keeping the volume low and not get carried away.

You know what, I think I'll do a blog post about this- I'll let you know when it's done...here we are.
 
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Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I've done entire evenings on nothing but brushes and loved it. Sometimes I feel like if I have to switch to sticks or something I'm totally blowing the mood. I agree with taking that feeling of inadequacy and channeling it into practice time with the softer dynamic spectrum, though.
 

veggo32

Silver Member
It's called discipline. If you practice like that from time to time then it won't seem like the end of the world. Trust me its not that bad. your just not used to it. And btw jazz drummers don't play like that all the time. Dynamics does not mean playing soft all the time, its the transition from soft to loud and vice versa. that's what creates the dynamic (the wide spectrum).
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Steelie, it probably felt worse to you than it sounded out front. I know what you mean when you have 450 horsepower available but can't use but 3 of them. Like Matt said (among other great points) it's great for your control. Burning while tapping is challenging.
 

Otto

Platinum Member
I found that once I started to hear my playing on a song as being part of the integrated whole as opposed to being 'the drummer' I began to have greater tolerance for seeking my place IN the song.

eg "How can I contribute to THIS instance of this song" became my first response as opposed to any preconcieved notion I may have built over time of what my playing "should" be.

I think that feat of perception not only leads to a better song and a happier career, but to the MOTIVATION to practice things, such as very quiet playing, that allows your playing to integrate into your perception of the song.
 

tamadrm

Platinum Member
Clearly another example of playing for the room as far as volume and technique are concerned,but don't overlook the hardware aspect of this issue.While technique is the most important aspect to these situations,tuning,muffeling and stick choice are important also.It not a terrible idea to muffle your cymbals slightly,as well as your drums;being careful to avoid them sounding like a pizza box.

Steve B
 
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