The Magic Bullet

 

A good friend of mine recently posted an article entitled ‘The Magic Bullet’ on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/scott.whitley.bass.services). It really struck a chord with me, and although my friend Scott is a bass player, it applies to all musical instruments, not least the drums. I will quote Scott’s post, and hopefully you will find it both interesting and inspiring…

 

“The Magic Bullet”

Out of all the people I’ve had come to me for bass lessons over the years, most are looking for the same thing – they want to be able to improvise and play more inventive & musical lines and fills. They see other players play these exciting lines and fills here and there and want to do the same.

Well that doesn’t sound like a big deal does it? They’re already good solid players, maybe even making good money doing a great job holding the low end down! Well here’s the thing – it’s a MASSIVE deal!

Us bassists spend 99% of our time pointing out the root notes of the chords, and to a slightly lesser degree the 5th. This is especially true in rock music. Nothing wrong with this of course – it’s usually what the music calls for. But say you get to the end of a 16 bar section and you get that feeling inside urging you to play a nice line to bring in the next section of the tune, unless you know exactly what chord is being played at that point and how that chord is constructed the chances all you can really do is bluff it! Sometimes you might get lucky and accidentally play something cool, but more often than not it not going to sound good at all!

So it turns out for that mere 1% of your time playing fills outside of the usual Root/5th you need to know EVERYTHING about the harmony of the music your playing. Now that’s a LOT of work for what might seem like very little gain isn’t it? We’re talking about a lifetime study here with many thousands of hours work and practice! Phew – not worth it is it?!

It’s so worth it if you’re serious about your playing! Once you start on a journey of understanding harmony and other concepts relating to improvisation etc., you’ll never stop! But you’ll have such a great ride along the way. You’ll have dips and peaks, you’ll have plateaus, you’ll have periods where you simply lose interest for a while and get on with some other pastime or calling. In the end it’s all about taking a piece of music and making it your own and there’s nothing like coming off stage and knowing that you ‘spoke’ through your instrument.

Improvisation is just as creative as any other form of writing – in fact it IS “composition on the spot”! If you’re really serious about bass I urge you to make a start on your journey into the world of improvisation today and take your playing to places and heights you never dreamed it could go.

Oh and ‘the magic bullet’ – sorry there isn’t one!

Peace,
Scott.

 

So, how does this apply to us drummers? Well, like bass players, much of our time is spent holding things down and playing simple things. Many of my students (beginners) are surprised when they first start really listening to what drummers are playing on their favourite pop records (with some exceptions!). They can often replicate the rhythms within a couple of weeks of starting to learn. It’s mostly the fills in between that can cause the difficulty. We can all learn many of our favourite fills parrot fashion, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Building up a library of great chops is a good thing to do, but unless you understand and practice the building blocks of those fills, you’ll never be able to reach your full potential and be able to improvise your own great fills and solos.

 

Drum rudiments are a big part of the building blocks we need as drummers. I always hear drummers talking about practising rudiments as being boring. I disagree. I get a kick out of playing a paradiddle on a pad to a metronome, whether it be fast (bouncing the diddles) or slow. I don’t only enjoy paradiddles, but all rudiments. Some translate to the kit better than others, and not only as fills or part of a solo. For instance, have you ever tried playing a paradiddle with your right hand on the hats and left on the snare? Mirror the right hand part on your foot and you’ve got a great groove, especially if you keep the accents on the first beat of each paradiddle phrase (as it’s classically written). On your left hand snare part you will have great ghost notes and a strong backbeat. Try the same thing with a double paradiddle and see what happens. Then there’s using paradiddles as fills. Put the accents on the toms, and you’ve already got a more interesting sounding fill, and that’s only the beginning. Go and check out Youtube, or buy a book on rudiments. If you’re serious about drumming, rudiments will become part of your lifetime study. Don’t think of it as being boring – it’s not. It’s just a part of what it takes to be a good, inventive drummer.

 

I’m not saying rudiments are the be all and end all of drumming. They are probably a drummer’s equivalent of scales. They aren’t the only thing you need to practise, and how to split your practise time to fit in everything you want to work and improve on is a whole subject of it’s own. Only you can decide how much time you want to dedicate to being the drummer you want to be. There are no short cuts or magic bullets.

 

Thanks to Scott Whitley for allowing me to use his original article ‘The Magic Bullet’.

 

 

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Review of the Porter & Davies BC Gigster – Tactile Monitoring Drum Stool

 

I’ve been using the BC Gigster in both live and studio situations for a number of months now, and feel the time is right for me to give it a fair and informed review. The Gigster is the more portable and more affordable version of the Porter & Davies BC2, which was originally dubbed the ‘Bum Chum’.  Although the BC Gigster is cheaper, the spec of this piece of kit is pretty much identical to the BC2. The main difference is that the BC2 comes fully flightcased, and has a voltage selector making it useable outside the UK. The BC2 also has phantom power built in, and the facility to allow both line or mic input to be mixed together simultaneously with independent control.

 

I decided to go for the Gigster for several reasons. Firstly, it’s smaller. Drummers usually have quite a bit of kit to transport, and I appreciate my gear being smaller and lighter. Secondly, although I do play abroad quite a bit, I rarely take anything but sticks, and occasionally cymbals with me. I figured that I would be able to manage without tactile monitoring for a few gigs when out of the country (this may have been a mistake!). Lastly, although the line and mic inputs on the BC2 would be a cool option to have, I primarily wanted it for bass drum monitoring, and so the Gigster would seemed the more obvious choice.

 

The Gigster consists of two main items – the throne top which has the tactile generator BC Gigster www.chrislewisdrums.co.ukmounted internally, and the ‘engine’. The throne top looks like any other high end stool top to look at, if perhaps a little deeper (19 cm deep). Only the weight of it gives a clue to the power it has hiding away inside – 8KG. It’s a nice looking throne, black and green with some nice embroidery of the Gigster logo and website on it. It’s very firm to sit on which I soon got used to, and I guess that helps with the feel it gives during use. The system doesn’t come with a throne base, but it fits most popular stool hardware. One thing to note, if you like to sit low, the depth of the stool might mean you might want to purchase the extra low base available on the Porter & Davies website. One last thing I liked about the throne top was that with a diameter of 40cm, it fits perfectly into a 14” snare case, and that is probably a wise thing to do to protect your investment.

 

So, to the engine part of the setup. This little green box of tricks connects to the throne BC Gigster Engine www.chrislewisdrums.co.ukitself with a supplied 2 metre Speakon lead. It has three dials on it – an input gain control with three LED lights for you to monitor the input, a low contour control, and a bigger output, or ‘volume’ dial. Although I say volume, the Gigster is a silent system. On the back of the engine, there is the input and output connectors. There are a couple of different ways you can wire this thing up, but the way I have used it most is to mic my bass drum in the usual way and connect the XLR to the input. Then, another normal mic lead connects to the output into your desk or stage box. The engine will not affect the mic signal in any way, so your engineer can treat the bass drum signal as normal. Even if the Gigster is switched off, the signal still goes through to your desk. The other way to use the Gigster is to connect a 1/4” Jack to the same input (it’s one of those fancy connectors that takes either XLR’s or Jacks) which you can take from your desk and have a mix of any instruments you want fed into your stool. Although I haven’t used this feature as much, it’s ideal if you want to feel your toms or perhaps some bass guitar. It’s also perfect if you play electric drums.

 

So, how does this tactile monitoring feel? In a word, brilliant. Personally, in my usual live setup I use In Ear Monitoring, which I love. It’s only downfall was the bottom end. Even though I use high spec in ears, you can’t expect them to give you that low end thump. The Gigster gives you that last missing piece of the jigsaw. Because the Gigster is a silent system, it’s perfect for use with IEM. According to the Porter & Davies website:

“Most of the sound we hear reaches our ears via airborne vibrations, like those produced by acoustic instruments and loudspeakers. However, there are four additional pathways through which we perceive acoustic energy, all of which fall into the category of tactile sound. These additional pathways include:

  • Deep tissue and muscle mass (“Kinesthetic”)
  • Skeletal joints (“Haptic”)
  • Skin sensation (sense of touch)
  • Bone conduction (skull to cochlea transmission)”

 

However it works, it works REALLY well! With my IEM, I feel like I’m hearing my bass drum as well as feeling it. There is no lag between hitting your kick drum and ‘hearing’ it through the stool. With the low contour dial turned to about 3/4, I get a really low end, almost sub sounding kick. The mic you use and the positioning of it does make a difference. I generally use an AKG D112, but as a comparison, I once stuck an SM58 on the kick drum, and it wasn’t nearly as good. You do need to give the Gigster a good signal to work with to get the best from it. In the studio, the Gigster is just as effective. I use Beyer DT770M headphones when tracking drums, and the stool gives me confidence on the accuracy of my kickdrum hits.

 

On the couple of occasions I haven’t had my Gigster with me at a gig, I have missed it terribly. This is the one danger with this system – once you’ve tried it you won’t ever want to be without it. This isn’t an exaggeration. It makes such a difference to the playing experience. You feel a connection to your kick drum that you’ve never had before. I urge you to hunt one down and try it for yourself. Even if I had a gig in a local pub where I knew I wouldn’t be using any drum mics or monitors, I would still mic my kick up just for the Gigster. Hell, I even use it when I’m practising.

 

Chris Lewis

www.chrislewisdrums.co.uk

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So This Is A Blog….?

 

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, so we’ll see how it goes…

 

A lot has been going on recently. As well as my busy gigging and teaching schedule, I’ve been trying to devote more time to my Online session Drumming. I started it quite a few months ago, and it instantly proved popular amongst a few friends. It was good to have friends to do my first recordings for, because there wasn’t much pressure to get it right first time. Having said that, I was really pleased with the results I was getting straight away, and I know they were happy with the drum tracks I was gave them. So it’s all been a very steep learning curve, and I guess it’s one of those things you never stop improving and picking up little tips and tricks. I have more recordings scheduled, so I’ll try to keep things up to date on here, and maybe post some recordings.

 

I have also had some exciting stuff going on regarding endorsements. First of all, I became a Los Cabos Drumstick endorsee, which is fantastic. They are made in Canada, and really are 1st Class sticks. I honestly wouldn’t use them otherwise, as I spend a lot of time with sticks in my hands! If you are a drummer, I would urge you to give them a try. They won’t disappoint. The next endorsement I recently aquired was with Ahead Armor drum cases. Again, they are amazing quality with some inovative features. I join some really top name drummers in endorsing these cases, so that’s very flattering they saw fit to give me a deal. Please check out these and the sticks – there are links on the bottom of each of my pages, and on my gear page. Lastly, I became an Official Ambassador of Porter & Davies. If you’ve haven’t heard of them yet, you will! (If you’re a drummer of course!). They make tactile monitoring drum stools. Basically, when you hit your kick drum, you feel it through your stool. Through bone induction, this translates into you thinking you’re hearing it. If you’re wearing headphones in the studio, or perhaps In Ear Monitoring whilst playing live, this will transform your experience. I’ve had one for a few months now, and I couldn’t be without it, either in the studio or live. Some big names are coming onboard with Porter & Davies, and I’m not surprised.

 

Something else I wanted to talk about was my new drum room project, but I’m going to leave that for my next post. It involves a lot of soundproofing research, which I had no idea could be so complicated, and expensive!

 

So, that’s a blog is it? Let’s see if I can keep it up…

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