Quarantine Practice Part 1

Not just a clever title. I’m lucky to have a drum set where I live, and in order to look back on this and say, “everyone overreacted”, we should all be staying where we live as much as possible. So, let’s practice.

The great Dan Weiss deserves some credit for this one, I attended a masterclass of his a week ago and saw him work through a similar idea (ostinato between LH/RF, improvising with RH on HH.) I was struck by the evenness of his sound, the whole exercise was played very smoothly. It occurred to me that a typically easy exercise, such as playing short phrases on the hi-hat with your RH (or left if that’s your thing) can actually be really tricky if your other limbs are preoccupied. As a result, practicing simple ideas against an ostinato in this way not only makes for a great “independence” exercise, you can really focus on your balance, both sound and physical once you get it all together (f’real, if you’re not careful your physical posture goes to crap and your sound follows, this is something I’ve struggled with a ton on the bandstand.) So without further ado, here’s what I’ve been working on the past couple days:


Orchestrated 6 Stroke Roll_LF Independence


Jazz Clave, Part 2

In Part One of this lesson I introduced six one bar “clave” grooves that are based on a set of rhythmic accent patterns that make up what I call “Jazz Clave”. I started developing the idea of Jazz Clave while listening to Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones on Miles Davis’ records Cookin’, Steamin’, Workin’ and Relaxin’. As I listened more I noticed that these “claves” outlined rhythmic patterns that both he and Red Garland were weaving together in different sequences allowing them to “link up” their improvisations. These patterns all reminded me of the Afro-Cuban Clave, just little bits and pieces of it at a time.

Afro-Cuban Clave is a two bar ostinato pattern that serves as the foundational rhythm of afro-cuban music. What I am calling Jazz Clave is a set of rhythmic clave like patterns that can be used as a sort of guideline to improvise a rhythmic foundation. The Jazz Clave is comprised of three elements; emphasis of “weak” beats in the measure, “passing tones” and resolution or cadence points. The jazz clave evolved directly from Afro-Cuban Clave sometime in the late 1800s. European style marches were being played alongside Caribbean folk music by Creole musicians in New Orleans, the result is what Stanton Moore calls The Second Line Clave. All three elements of the Jazz Clave can also be found in the Second Line Clave.


Every group of measured notes has a pattern of stressed and unstressed beats, often referred to as “strong” or “weak” beats. This pattern of strong and weak beats is what gives music a “feel”. Jazz and later R&B, funk and rock & roll all get their feel by emphasizing the unstressed beats (two and four) in a measure of 4/4. The Second Line Clave emphasizes both weak beats, starting on beat two and ending on beat four.

Passing tones and resolution points are terms we typically use to define melodic or harmonic events. In this case I’m referring to the use of “passing tones” – dotted eighth notes – and resolutions – emphasis of beat four or beat one – to create rhythmic tension and release. The dotted eighth note is the rhythmic key to this whole idea. The dotted eighth note played consecutively in 4/4 will give you a “three over four” feel. Starting on beat two in The Second Line Clave each note is a dotted eighth from the next giving you the rhythmic tension of playing “three over four” followed by the resolution and release of that tension on the weakest point in the measure, beat four.

In a moment I’ll present a full table of rhythms that I’ve derived from the possible combinations of dotted eighth notes with the three emphasized beats in The Second Line Clave along with two ideas derived from displacing these rhythms. This will provide another two resolution points, the “and” of four, and the “and” of three leading to beat one. In general resolution points are used sparingly, to mark sections or the top of the form. I think it’s worth noting that you’ll hear Red Garland play a down beat, or beat one, more frequently than Philly Joe. The piano has a dual purpose in the rhythm section, there’s the harmonic outline and then the rhythmic outline. The downbeats you hear from the piano are often serving more of a harmonic purpose while the downbeats you hear from the drums serve more of a bigger picture “road map” purpose.

The following table shows the patterns that Philly Joe and Red Garland seem to use most often. This is obviously not an exhaustive analysis of their rhythmic language, rather, I hope to provide some insight into how a rhythm section uses common language to really link up and “play a tune together” instead of merely “playing a tune at the same time.” This first line shows the “weak” beats that are emphasized in the Jazz Clave, two and four, both as-is and displaced by an eighth note. The second and third lines contain the possible combinations of one emphasized “weak” beat with one dotted eighth before or after and the final line contains the three cadences built off of beat four (which is taken directly from the second line clave), the + of beat four (the first idea displaced) and finally beat one, again taken directly from the second line clave.

full table

By practicing and eventually utilizing these patterns in your playing I believe you’ll find a greater ability to “link up” with the rhythm section while also rhythmically “pushing” the soloist. You can work through and internalize this information in two ways, the first is to listen to the four Prestige Records…a lot. Try transcribing a chorus here and there. The second is to use phrasing exercises to work towards total improvisation. I’ve presented this kind of idea in part one of this lesson as well as earlier lessons. Pick a pattern A and a pattern B, work through different “song form” combinations on the snare while playing time on the ride cymbal; AAAB, ABAB, AABA, etc. Alternate between two, four or eight bars of a planned pattern and an improvised pattern of the same length and so on. Finally, these ideas are not meant to be confined to their one or two measure cells, for instance, if you play the two “beat 4” ideas in reverse order you get this two bar phrase:

final clave idea

All of these patterns are meant to be woven together to create that clave-like rhythmic foundation that Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones played so well.





Jazz Clave, Part 1

A couple of years ago I started using some grooves that I had noticed Philly Joe Jones playing frequently as an introduction to jazz comping. I called these grooves “Jazz Clave” because of the way that he would use them as an ostinato over long stretches of the tune, sometimes playing a pattern for 32 bars, or even a whole solo of 3 or 4 choruses. I found these patterns while listening to and transcribing the four records he made with Miles Davis for prestige records in 1956; Cookin’, Workin‘, Steamin‘ and Relaxin‘.

In this post I’m going to focus on these one bar “clave” grooves. In Part Two I’ll talk about the accents or “clave” like patterns that these grooves outline. These are patterns that he’ll play for long periods of time, 8 bars at minimum.

6 jazz claves

Once you’ve played through the six patterns it’s important to start using them musically. Pick two patterns and a tune to sing them over. One pattern for the A sections, one pattern for the B. You can also try playing along with a record, change the pattern you’re using every time a new soloist starts playing or try changing the pattern every chorus. Spend time planning out how you will arrange these (first chorus pattern A, second chorus pattern B, etc) and then spend time improvising your way through the tune in a similar way.

You’ll notice that I included an “empty” bar of time on the ride cymbal. This is an important pattern to keep in mind. Not only does it outline the two emphasized “weak” beats in the measure (more on this in Part Two) but it also represents a moment of rest. Comping is a game of tension and release, the moments that you choose to play these “jazz claves” will be emphasized by the moments that you choose “not” to play them.

This is a great exercise if you are just getting into playing jazz or if you’ve been going along wondering what to play when you are comping. A frequent misconception about jazz drumming is that it has to be busy. It’s no wonder, musicians like Tony Williams and Billy Cobham are awe inspiring to watch and listen to, who wouldn’t want to play like that? I think people forget though that Philly Joe was one of Tony’s biggest influences. The ability to play a tune with simple vocabulary is essential to then be able to play it with more complex phrasing.






Press Rolls Using The Rhythm Scale

This is an exercise I’ve been using to gain better control of my press rolls. An earlier post using a 32nd note subdivision and a couple of pages from Ted Reed’s Syncopation is an extension of this original exercise.

For this exercise you need to first familiarize yourself with the rhythm scale. This is a progression of subdivisions from quarter notes to 32nd notes. Take a look:

rhythm scale copy

To start, play through each subdivision at a slow tempo, Q=50 or so, using alternating strokes (RLRL). I work on this exercise in two ways; the first is measured, each subdivision gets four bars, the second is meditative, more on that in a moment. If you are still working on “odd” subdivisions; 3’s, 5’s, 7’s, you can start with quarter notes, 8ths, 16ths and 32nds. I use this version with a lot of my students, we refer to it as the mini-rhythm scale. Once you are comfortable with each subdivision begin buzzing each note as you play through the scale. The goal is to connect each stick’s roll to the next, whether you’re playing quarter notes or 32nd notes.

Each subdivision presents it’s own challenge. The most obvious being quarter notes. For these it’s best to play them for an extended period of time your only real goal being to make a good sound. I call this meditative practice. While you play, check in with the different physical aspects of playing the roll. Where are your fingers on the stick and in relation to each other? How much pressure are you putting on the stick with your fingers? With your actual stroke? Through this process I discovered that a slight lift at the end of each buzz helps me to connect the notes.

You can repeat this process with each subdivision. Ultimately, the goal of this exercise is one of meditation anyway. The more time spent playing through the different subdivisions, the more your hands (brain/hands, who’s to say…) will begin to internalize the feeling of rolling at different speeds. This comes in handy when you’re on the bandstand and you want to use a roll dynamically; speed up as you crescendo, or slow down as you decrescendo. The key is to play it by feel though, you’re not going to be counting strokes and subdivisions in the middle of a tune.

Make sure to check out my post on the movement between the ride cymbal and playing a press roll on your snare too.

Phrasing over the bar line in 3/4

Here’s a Simple idea to get some phrases happening over the bar line when you’re playing in 3/4. This idea came as an extension of something I first heard Max Roach play. He’d trade 4’s of time, playing 4 bars of a waltz feel then 3 bars of a straight 4/4 swing feel (which you can think of as 4 bars of 3/4 or 2 bars of 6/4.) Take a look:

max in 34

This got me thinking about what to play with that 4/4 ride pattern. For source material I opened up Ted Reed’s Syncopation. I use Syncopation Set 2 often for work on both phrasing and limb coordination. In this case, for a first step, we’re just going to exchange measures 5-8 above with 3 measures of the first exercise in Set 2.

ex 1-1

When you play an idea like this it sounds like you’re playing in 4, the rest of the players on the bandstand will feel the “pull” of your 4 against their 3. If you change your ride pattern you can take the same phrase and make it feel like a longer idea played over the bar line in 3/4 time.

ex 1 in 34

Once you have the general coordination down add accents to play with the time feel and phrasing. The bass drum on each down beat is a good starting place, it will anchor the feeling of 3. Accenting the first beat of each “measure of 4” will emphasize the feel of 4 over 3. I like the sound of the last quarter note in this phrase, try each note on the snare out and see what catches your ear.

ex 1 with accent


Ride Cymbal Phrasing With Triplet Partials

This is the original exercise that my “Accenting The Ride Pattern” exercise grew out of. Conceptually it’s a bit of a “rub your tummy and pat your head” kind of exercise.

I grew up playing hockey and remember doing these drills where you would skate with a puck through a lane that your teammates were passing other pucks through. What happens is your focus tends towards your peripheral vision to avoid the incoming pucks, this forces you to focus on the feeling of the puck on your stick without your eyes. Our goal will be to increase our focus on ride cymbal phrasing by engaging our “peripheral instruments” the kick and snare.

To begin you’ll need to learn how to work with triplet partials between your bass drum and snare. Orchestrate the twelve possible triplet sticking patterns as R=bass drum L=snare.

12 triplets

Play these with either quarter notes on the ride cymbal or a straight ahead da daga da pattern. Here’s RLL:triplet 1.jpg

Once you’ve got a good handle on this idea, refer back to Lesson Four in Ted Reed’s Syncopation, the page of eighth notes and quarter notes. This page has fifteen potential ride patterns starting with these four then progressing through four eighth notes in a row then six, and finally a straight ahead and reversed straight ahead pattern. You can also work four quarter notes to the bar to make sixteen total patterns.

lesson four two eighths

When I first started developing this exercise I would play through each ride cymbal pattern against the triplet phrase until I felt confident with it. I still might warm up this way if I haven’t worked through the exercise in a while. Once I feel confident that I’ve got the coordination of the exercise down, I’ll start to improvise phrases. Start with two bars, then move on to four or eight bar phrases. Use simple A/B ideas; ABAB, AABA, AAAB, etc, eventually improvising freely between the sixteen patterns.

Finally, when you are able to improvise using the sixteen patterns, you can really stretch that idea of engaging one part of your body to increase your focus elsewhere by singing a tune to play behind. Hear your phrases against the phrasing of the melody. Play around with leaving space and playing more actively against the melody. For instance, in a tune like Take the A Train, try playing more actively in bar one and four of the melody while just playing quarter notes behind bars two and three.

I’ve found two things after taking this all to the bandstand. With everything that’s happening on stage I’m now able to focus in on my ride cymbal, sort of like how you can switch between controlling different characters in a video game. Sometimes I find myself selecting the ride cymbal and like the exercise, I’ll manipulate quarters and eighths to create phrases. Conversely, similar phrases still tend to come out while my focus is elsewhere, I believe this is simply a product of having spent so much time manipulating these phrases as an exercise, eventually they just become part of your natural vocabulary.

Accenting The Ride Pattern, Part 2

In Part 1 of this exercise I wrote about using the snare drum, on and off the beat, to accent simple phrases played on the ride cymbal. Part 2 will deal with similar ideas using ride cymbal phrases that have four eighth notes in a row.

Here are the four patterns we’ll be working with on the ride cymbal:4 note patternsThese are pretty much taken right from lesson 4 in Ted Reed’s Syncopation. Just like in Part 1 we’ll start by either accenting on or off the beat.

accent on off

Instead of adding the bass drum before or after these notes (though you can totally do that) I’d like to bring in the first couple pages of George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control for ideas. We’ll orchestrate the bass drum and snare drum using R = Bass Drum, L = Snare, the trick is to only play during the eighth note pattern. Here’s #1 RLRL and #2 LRLR followed by #5 RLRR (LRLL) and #6 RLLR (LRRL). Again, I’m keeping parameters pretty strict. Finishing any of those phrases on the snare, bass or even crash works great.

stick control 1256

Work on alternating phrases like this with an empty bar (just quarter notes on the ride, probably hi-hat on two and four as well.) Use phrase ideas like ABAB, ABBA, AABA or even, ABAC (you can bring in a measure or two from Part 1 to open up the phrasing even more).

Here’s a phrase you could hypothetically improvise using ideas from Part 1 and 2; the snare accents the eighth notes in the ride cymbal pattern; off the beat in measure one and four, on the beat in measure two and three. The bass drum is played an eighth note after the accent note in measure two and three and a quarter note before in measure one and measure four, then a quarter note after at the end of measure four and finally, we accented using a paradiddle (#5 in Stick Control) in the second half of measure three.

improvised phrase

That may be a lot of explanation for four bars of comping, but you certainly wouldn’t ever think that way on the bandstand. Practicing these ways of accenting your hi-hat pattern will expand your comping vocabulary. The more you work on the actual phrasing of your cymbal pattern (another post on that is forthcoming) the more your overall comping will flow from phrase to phrase.

Moving Between a Press Roll and Playing Time

This is an exercise I was working on yesterday. It developed as an extension of the rhythm scale (I’ll dedicate a post to this basic exercise in the near future.) It’s one thing to subdivide in septuplets or some other less common subdivision when practicing your press roll, but in context, on the bandstand, what actually works? Working on the rhythm scale will put you in a better place to be expressive with your press roll, but I’ve found at times, all of that subdividing and practicing with a metronome goes out the window in actual performance. My shoulders and forearms tighten up and the loose expressive roll that I worked so hard at comes out like a weak cough.

The goal of this exercise is to get your ride cymbal hand moving between the ride and a press roll on your snare. There is a subtle change in pressure that happens when moving from playing a press roll on the snare to playing time on the ride and vice versa. This is similar to the change in pressure it takes to go from playing a staccato group of notes to a legato press roll on the snare.

As a preliminary exercise we’re going to work on playing sixteenth notes, first staccato and then legato as a press roll. Try to make the roll as even and smooth as possible, even if you’re starting slowly and it’s difficult to connect the notes. Here’s what that looks like:

staccato and smooth

I suggest starting closer to 60bpm than not. Like I said, it’s difficult to connect the notes as smoothly as you might like to at this tempo, but this is a crawl before you can walk – walk before you can run type of exercise, it’s the long con. Focus on your grip as you play. Feel the pressure change on the stick as you go from staccato to legato and back again. Focusing on how your hands work through this change at a slow tempo will help internalize the movement so that you don’t even think about it in the future, whether playing slow or fast.

The second half of this exercise utilizes Exercises 1-8 in Ted Reed’s Syncopation. You’re going to play a press roll subdivided as 32nd notes through the whole exercise, moving the hand you play your ride with over to “play the line” on your cymbal. Here’s a couple examples taken from Syncopation Set 2, the pages leading up to Exercise 1. Again, start slow, Quarter note = 60bpm.

press roll 1 and 2

press roll 3 and 4

All notes on the snare should be played as a press roll, the ride cymbal should be a clean single stroke. Once you can play these examples try playing through all of Exercises 1-8.


Accenting the Ride Pattern, Part 1

This exercise is an extension of a ride cymbal phrasing exercise that I developed using one of the earlier pages of Ted Reed’s Syncopation. Lesson four would usually be used to teach eighth note reading, which is probably what I was doing when I realized that read top to bottom, it’s just a catalog of the eighth note patterns you can play on a ride cymbal. I’ll write out the original phrasing exercise before too long, but today I was working on a  simple idea that sounds pretty hip so I want to get it down here.

This exercise has two parts, each will use two different ride patterns alternating with a measure of quarter notes. Here’s what we’re working with for part 1.

two rides

Add the snare drum to accent the pattern, this can be done on the beat or off the beat. Here’s what that looks like using pattern number two. You could also accent on or after the quarter note of each phrase if you wanted to go beyond what I’ve got here.

accent pattern 2

It doesn’t look like much as is, but if you alternate each idea with a bar of quarter notes on the ride we start to get some phrasing that can sound pretty hip. Here’s one example, though there’s four that you can play around with.

accent phrase 1.jpg

Once you’ve got that down we’ll add bass drum. We’re going to work with an eighth note before and after, and a quarter note before and after.

eighth before

quarter before

I’ve kept the parameters pretty tight on these examples, there’s a lot of room to interpret these ideas. For instance, if you’re going to play the bass drum on beat four, a quarter note before the accented ride pattern (third example above), you might as well play it on beat four afterwards. To my ear that makes sense, leaving it empty sets up all sorts of other possibilities though; play the eighth note after the last snare, play a bass drum on the “and of four” followed by a crash/snare on beat one of the following measure, play something on the toms at the end of the bar, or just leave it empty and move on to the next phrase. Sky is the limit as they say.

Part two will deal with ride cymbal patterns that have more than two eighth notes in a row. When you combine the two exercises along with some “empty” bars, you can start to put some pretty serious phrases together on your ride that go way beyond the usual da daga da daga da thing.



Up Tempo Comping With Stick Control, Part 2

Once you’ve got Part 1 down and you’re playing it comfortably at a million bpms, add the bass drum.

Part 1 started with a paradiddle sticking, #s 5-8 on the first page of Stick Control, isolated the left hand and added a ride cymbal pattern over it. Now, In the style of Max Roach, “droppin’ bombs” as they say, add a bass drum before and then after each “single” from the paradiddle. Two and four on the hi-hat are assumed but not the rule.


You can do the same with the hi-hat for more of a Roy Haynes thing (I’m thinking Now He Sings, Now He Sobs era.) Here’s what that looks like with a different snare pattern taken from #6, RLLR LRRL. Here I would refrain from two and four on the hats to emphasize it’s role in the phrase instead of as background rhythm structure.

RLLR w HH.jpg

From there, experiment with placing two bass drum beats in each measure, or one bass drum and one hi-hat (again, refraining from two and four on the hats) or mixing and matching measures to create longer phrases. Again, is in Part 1, all of the stickings from the first couple pages of Stick Control, not just the paradiddles can be applied to this exercise.