Gente – Solo Vibes

 

This is a quick solo arrangement of the tune Gente by the great Brazilian songwriter Caetano Veloso. Arranging up-tempo tunes like this poses a bit of a challenge for keeping the groove going. Left hand accompaniment is an obvious choice to keep the groove going. A less obvious but equally effective option is to use melodic phrasing that outlines the agogic accents of the groove to help perpetuate the motion. For reference, here’s the original so you can see how I stripped it down to be played solo:

 

Snare Drum Etude #3

Click here to download the etude.

This etude was inspired by the solo “The Ultimate Triplet” by my former teacher Ron Fink. He was my first university lesson teacher and taught me more about drumming in just one semester than I ever thought possible. It’s only fitting that at least one of my etudes references him.

This etude works on switching between triple and duple subdivisions. No tricks or gimmicks, just a lot of counting.

Remember, if you learn the etude, I’d love to hear it.

Snare Drum Etude #2

Click here to download a copy of the etude.

This etude is inspired by “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” by Aphex Twin.

This etude explores echo-like decrescendo effects. It also explores cross-sticks, muffling with one hand while playing with the other, one-handed buzzes, and extreme soft dynamics.

Etude 2 Key

“x” on the line is a rim shot.
“x” above the line is a cross stick.
“z” on a note is a one-handed buzz.
A staccato mark means to muffle the drum with the fingers of the hand that is not playing the note. (I recommend a drum with little muffling on it so the difference between these notes can be easily heard.

As always, if you learn the etude, I’d love to hear it.

Snare Drum Etude #1

Click here to download a copy of the etude.

I have been working on some new snare drum etudes on and off for a couple of years. I finally decided I should just share a few instead of waiting until I had enough for a book (like that’s ever going to happen), so here’s the first one.

This etude is inspired by Shostakovich’s String Quartet #7. Here is a recording if you’ve never heard it before:

The main rhythmic motif in this etude is simply two eighth notes and a quarter note.

Etude 1 Motif

This motif is permuted throughout the piece. The main challenge is to make all the ruffs consistent regardless of where they happen in relation to the beat. We also have a few flam rudiments and very quick dynamic changes to contend with.

I hope you enjoy this etude. If anyone bothers to learn it, I’d love to hear it!

Bach on Vibraphone

Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time studying Bach on the vibraphone. In particular, I have been playing the violin sonatas and partitas. Here I am playing the Sarabande from the Partita in D minor:

We can learn a lot from these pieces by adapting them for the vibraphone. First, by studying the voice-leading, we can create a better understanding of how to navigate harmony on a limited range instrument. After all, the vibraphone barely even makes it down into the bass clef, so we sometimes have to get creative with our voicings. In addition to the theoretical aspect, these pieces are great dampening and pedaling workouts. Let’s look at a couple of measures and see what’s happening.

D minor example 1

In these two measures, the harmony is a pretty simple i-V7-i-V progression, but the voicings here are a little more clever. The first inversion D minor chord leads to the second inversion A7 which then leads to a root position D minor, with some embellishment on top. This gives us a great walk down in the lowest voice from “F” to “E” to “D.” Also note that the “A” is missing from the A7 chord. This is a very helpful trick when working with a limited range (and number of mallets). If you can imply the harmony with fewer notes, it can free up a mallet or two for other melodic content. Finally we land on an A chord in the next measure with a 4-3 suspension. Now that we understand the harmony, we have to figure out how to execute it cleanly on the vibraphone. Here is how I would play it:

D minor example 2

The “x” means to dampen the last note played with one mallet while hitting the next note with the other hand. The line below shows where I would pedal. I try to be true to all note lengths written in the original. This is one reason I prefer playing these on vibes over marimba. I have more control, but there are also more opportunities to muddy the sound, so clean execution is a must. Typically, I do not write out the pedaling or dampening, I just work it out as I learn the piece.

There is a lot going on here in just two measures. Imagine how much we can learn from dissecting a whole piece! I have found lots of voice-leading ideas just from working through these pieces. Before you start playing, remember to find a couple of recordings on the original instrument as a reference. I usually listen to a couple recordings before I start on a piece, but never while I’m working on it. I want to be true to the original, but once I start playing it, I want to make it my own.

If you want another example, here’s me playing the B minor Sarabande.

16th Timing Metronome Tricks

The most important part of a percussionist’s skill set (or any musician) is his/her time. For me, it’s really about upbeat timing. If that’s good, your overall feel of the pulse will improve as well. I prefer a simple timing exercise where the difficulty will come from the metronome. Just play a measure of 16ths then a measure of e‘s and a‘s:16th Timing

The challenge of this exercise comes from metronome adjustments. First, practice with the click on every beat. Then make it click every two beats. Next is just once a measure on beat one. Finally, just once every eight beats. If you don’t have a metronome with these functions, I would recommend Tempo Advance for iOS. Here are some screen shots of how to do this if you’ve never used the app before:

Click every 2 beats

Click every 2 beats                                     Click every 4 beats                                    Click every 8 beats

I use this app every day in my teaching, and it’s great for things like this. Making you responsible for more of the time in this manner will greatly improve your feel of the pulse and consistency of time.

Mindless Practice

It happens to all of us sometimes. We get get busy (or just lazy). I know for me it was the World Cup. I just wanted to plop down in front of the TV and watch a month of soccer. When those times come, I still want to be productive. Enter mindless practice. The concept is to do an exercise purely for the hands. Something so simple that my mind can be engaged elsewhere. In my case, I like a measure of double stops followed by a measure of 16th notes. The exercise has no rests or breaks (B=both):Mindless Practice This should be repeated indefinitely. I do 5 to 10 minute intervals. The double stops help me work on matching my hands, while the singles actually feel like a break. That’s it. Keep it nice and simple. Remember, this is just for your hands. Sometimes, I even tell my private students that this is called a TV exercise. Veg out, turn on the Twilight Zone marathon, and give those hands a workout.

Samba and Such

One thing that is often neglected in practice is composing. Many musicians practice playing constantly, but never stop to make music of their own. One of my favorite compositional exercises is to write a tune in 10-15 minutes. I pick a style and form, then just go for it. That is what I did for the tune above.

This tune is in a sort of samba style. The opening rhythm is called a partido alto. It is usually played with a high and low pitch like this:

Partido Alto

 

I chose to vary it a little by not moving low to high. This was to preserve the voice-leading of the chords.

The form of the tune is a standard AABA with a four bar intro. The A section melody and accompaniment is meant to continue to imply the partido alto without constantly playing it. The B section augments the rhythm of the melody to give a sense of separation between the sections. Harmonically, we also travel further from the original key. After that, we get a short recap of the A section. The improvisation takes place over the whole form (minus the intro). Click below for the full PDF lead sheet:

Samba and Such

I find this kind of exercise very beneficial. Writing a tune from start to finish (including a performance) in a short time really forces us to apply all of our musical knowledge at once. I try to do this at least once a week. You may not create a masterpiece, but you may at least get a nice little tune out of it. Sometimes, you may even end up with the seeds for a bigger work.

If this post got you more interested in samba or Brazilian music, I have created a sort of Brazilian music primer playlist using some of my favorite artists:

Listening

Every year, I pick a week and ask all my private students about their listening habits. I also do this to all the drumline camp students I see in the summer. Then, every single time, I am horrified by their responses. “I don’t really listen to anything.” “I just listen to whatever is already on the radio.” “I can’t think of anything.” “I don’t know of any vibraphonists, marimbists, percussionists, drumset players, etc.”

Listening is the most important thing a musician does. To me, not listening is worse that not practicing. No one ever really believes they can become a better player without practicing, and the same holds true for listening. I often tell my students that if you had to write a novel, you would at least read one first. Naturally, if I had to play in a symphony, I’d probably want to hear one first.

So what is listening? I will start with what listening is not. Listening is not having music on while you vacuum the house. Listening is not having the radio on while doing homework. Listening is not hearing music over the loudspeakers in a store. Listening is not passive. Real listening is active.

That gets us to our next question. How do I improve my listening? How do I listen actively? First, we have to find something to listen to. This is unbelievably easy. If you are reading this, you have access to the internet. All you have to do is go to Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, Pandora, Rdio, Beats, iTunes, etc. (handy links have been provided to make this step even easier). Next, pick a song. It doesn’t matter what it is. Really. Anything will do. Now, listen to the song (I told you this is easy). While listening, start asking yourself questions. Here are some sample questions you could use (feel free to re-listen if this is difficult at first):

  • What time signature is it in/how many beats per measure or other grouping?
  • What instruments are present?
  • How many different parts are being played?
  • Who/what is playing the melody?
  • What rhythm is being played by the drums? or guitar? or bass?
  • How many different sections does the song have (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.)?
  • What is the form of those sections?

That should be enough to get you started.

Now you can ask yourself the two most important questions. “Do I like this song?” and “Why?” Answering these questions will really make you focus in on different aspects of the music. Whether you answer yes or no to the first question, determining the answer to the second will still help you learn. Instead of just looking for music from the same style or genre, look for music with similar attributes to the ones you found pleasing. Make sure you are keeping a playlist of what you are listening to so you can find it again (this is very important). Once you find something you like, there is one more step. Share it. No matter how many algorithms Google comes up with to recommend things, other people still remain the best way to find cool tunes.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of listening strategies. It’s just a place to start. If you want to be a good musician, listening is imperative, and right now is a great time to start.

 

Metric Modulation – 4’s and 5’s

Here we take groups of four 16th notes and modulate the speed slightly to four notes of a fivelet, quintuplet, or whatever you want to call a subdivision of five notes per beat. It will take some time to feel the exact hand-speed change necessary since the two speeds are so similar. This particular exercise also works great on mallet instruments using a scale sequence style exercise (don’t forget to do every key).

4s and 5s