Newsletter Update 06.02.15

June 2, 2015 Atlanta, Georgia   Hi Everyone,   If you’re doing our 10 for 10 experiment, yesterday was your first day. How was the exercise? It can be challenging until you get used to it, but here’s more good news: the more you struggle with it, the more you’re getting out of it, especially when you’re starting out.   If it was really difficult, don’t worry. It gets easier. There are also some other methods to try: maybe a guided meditation will suit you better. In the past I’ve used an app called HeadSpace, and they have a version of 10 for 10 that’s free when you first join. I liked it very much, and found it very easy to stay on board with. Calm is another recommended app. Whichever method you use, try to take it day by day. Let me know how you’re doing!   Drummer Nerd Stuff: Warm-ups   Some folks have asked about what I’m practicing, and also for some warm-ups for working drummers, which I assume all of us are to varying degrees. As I get older, warming up before I play has become more and more critical. My hands ache and sprout calluses when I don’t, and when I do, I play better, my stamina doubles, and I don’t need a full day to recover from a long show.   To begin, a little context: when I was coming up I was a self-taught drummer, so I missed a lot of early practice and instruction in rudimental technique. These days I kind of obsess over it, and every time I hit a...

Meditation 411

May 26, 2015 Atlanta, Georgia, USA   In this series, Getting What You Want: Directing The Mind To Desired Ends, we will examine applying meditation techniques to train the mind and get better results. For this discussion to make sense, there should be a number of assumptions at the outset:   Our mental and emotional states affect our playing deeply. It is possible, with practice, to direct our mental and emotional states. Rules that apply to physical technique can be used for mental and emotional technique too. These rules can often appear illogical, contradictory, or counterintuitive. In each case, there will be ample anecdotal evidence that said technique does actually work.   What IS Meditation?   What, exactly, is meditation? Well, one could define it as the progressive refinement of conscious awareness. Its’ progression moves from merely calming the mind to improving focus, eventually developing one-pointed concentration, and ultimately, a state of such stillness, clarity, and bliss that it is sometimes called Nirvana. It is reportedly a state in which the meditator fully realizes the interconnectedness of all things.   While these lofty goals require a prodigious amount of effort and discipline, even the beginning stages of meditation practice can yield beneficial results you can use, and that’s what we’ll focus on here. Not to mention, let’s face it, my meditation practice is by these standards quite un-advanced, and some of these advanced practices I’m just not qualified to discuss (or instruct).   Where to start?   Okay, this I can help with. As we do this, remember: just as many techniques in drumming require slow diligent practice for...

Syncopation Variations Part 1

When I first got serious about playing drums, I began lessons with a wonderful teacher named Jeff Wilkinson in Atlanta, Georgia in about 1990. I guess Jeff noticed I could read some already, and I was getting interested in jazz, so he got me started with a series of exercises using Ted Reed’s Syncopation, a classic 4/4 reading text. This book has many virtues, and it and similar texts (Louie Bellson’s Modern Reading Text is another example) are great for helping to get a feel for offbeat rhythms, as well as a tool for developing the ability to read ensemble figures and reading in general. I highly recommend checking it out.   Although I recommend the entire book for study, the following exercises use Syncopation Sets 1-8, which are 40-bar pieces that begin on page 37 (depending on which edition you have). The exercises below also help to begin to develop vocabulary ideas, using simple melodies, and melodies that use various techniques to embellish them. We’ll start simple, and expand into deeper and more technical applications as we go along.   If you find the exercise you’re working on is just too difficult to start with Set 1, you can always start by reading the figures from earlier in the book. On occasion, I’ve gone back to the first pages to get a grip on something particularly difficult. The book progresses very logically and methodically; in no time you’ll have a better grasp and will be able to proceed.   Jeff is a big fan of slow practice and repetition; we’d start these exercises at around 70 bpm (for...

Elegant Themes’ Divi

So I’ve been getting back into web design and strangely enough, finding employment as a copywriter for the web, and whilst exploring, I came across Elegant Themes’ Divi. I thought it looked really cool and flexible, and I’d be able to use it for a ton of stuff, so I joined for a year and downloaded it. What you see is the result of about two hours’ messing around, without reading the instructions. That said, there are some great tutorials on Elegant Themes‘ site, and more documentation than I care to read unless I have to. I’m doing very little with it considering what it’s capable of. The theme is CRAZY flexible, with a cool module-based format that works seamlessly with WordPress. I’m impressed. Next I’ll try to rebuild Electric Avenue’s website with it. Stay...

Playing The First Bar

I remember watching Dave Weckl’s video, Back To Basics (or was it The Next Step?) and he talked about counting in a song: he suggested singing the song in your head to get the tempo, and then play a bar or two by clicking your sticks or whatever. I’m badly paraphrasing here, but this always stuck with me, and is in fact a great way to start a song, though it takes a bit of practice to learn to do it quickly. This is an important skill, so let’s explore it a little further… My approach to this concept could be stated as: “play the first bar without using your kit.” In this context, the first bar is something you’ve added, a moment or two to get locked in to the correct tempo, so you’re already feeling and playing the right tempo before the sticks touch the kit. To do this, you first need to HEAR the correct tempo, then FEEL it. It’s pretty simple but both steps are crucial. Let’s tackle hearing the correct tempo first. There are some different ways to approach this: 1.) Using a metronome Pretty obvious, right? Really a great way to eliminate the guesswork. Make a “crib sheet” with tempo markings for the songs in your set. At the beginning of each number, listen to a bar or two of time, and you’re off! The tricky part is making this process happen quickly: it takes a second to read the notes, set the metronome, listen, and count in the band. Apps like Metronome by Frozen Ape allow you to make auto-advance setlists, so you...

Gorilla Ears!!!

So as of last week I’ve joined the Gorilla Ears family! I’m now endorsing these high-quality molded In Ear Monitors. I just got mine last Friday and I am shaking them down good! They sound fantastic so far… I’ll do a proper review and spec piece here shortly, but in the meantime check them out at...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 19: The Fat Lady Sings

March 21-22, 2012 Paris, France London, UK Atlanta, GA, USA After our last episode, Eric and I decided to find a sidewalk cafe’ and have some more espresso. The cafe culture in Paris is so cool – everywhere you look there’s chairs on the sidewalk, and the people-watching is the best anywhere. We just chilled, preparing mentally for the rest of the day. When it got close to go time, we all had said our official goodbyes, and multiple hugs and promises to stay in touch. Dirk (Bruinenberg, from Patrick Rondat’s band) agreed to take a final photo of us onstage after our last number. The show went pretty well – we were all so pumped we nearly jumped the rails on the first number, but the crowd loved it. We played the hurry-up offense so we only had to cut our last number (everybody had shorter sets due to Patrick Rondat being on the bill). Then we did the Cookville breakdown and loaded our gear into the alley next to the club to wait for the bus that would take us to London. We didn’t wait long: 20 minutes later we were loaded and headed for the Chunnel. We’d hoped to make the early ferry, but we missed it. We took the 1:15 instead. If you’ve never done the Chunnel, it’s crazy: the bus pulled into this open train car and parked, and we stayed in the bus watching movies. The entire crossing only took 30 minutes once we were moving because the train travels at 150 mph! It was a smoother ride than any subway train or...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 18: Hosed Again

March 18-21, 2012 Vigo, Spain Spanish countryside Paris, France We rolled into Vigo (a beautiful city, like San Francisco) and had to do this song-and-dance at a parking facility 5-10 minutes from the gig. They brought a couple vehicles and we did the infernal cross-load – 4 trips altogether. We later discovered this was not necessary. Naturally. Pretty much the same Spanish routine: ham sandwiches, intense boredom. Once we went on, we played well, but the crowd was stony-faced at best. Very odd, as nowhere else on the tour did we get this reaction. Oh well, you can’t win them all. Tony and band played well, but it took Tony three or four to find the groove. Then it locked in. Load-out was not too bad, we had a lot of help. I’d gotten some bad news that day, so we stayed up and squeezed our livers heavily. We went to bed around 4. I woke up at 11:30 and the bus was parked. I soon learned that one of the trailer wheels had fused it’s bearings. We weren’t going anywhere. We were about halfway from Vigo to San Sebastian, about 6 hours away. Tony’s girl Begonia helped translate with the locals and after WAY too much deliberation, opted to rent a van. The nearest rental location was 100 km away back towards Vigo. We unhooked the bus, and Doug, Mike and I stayed with the gear (for 4 hours) at this gas station on a windswept hill in the Spanish countryside. It was cold, but pretty. We were mostly pissed. In the end, we missed the show (which...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 17: Becalmed In Spain

March 15-17, 2012 Madrid, Murcia, and Seville, Spain After Barcelona we made our way to Madrid. The promoter for Spanish run, while doing an OK job of promoting, is not so great on the details of our day-to-day existence. The club owner didn’t block out the parking, so we had to back down the street, drop the trailer, and then park a half-mile away. We spent the rest of the day on the bus, as there was nothing nearby. Once in the club, things went pretty much as usual: we set up quick, and then sit around and wait on the tour manager/FOH guy to get around to soundcheck. To be fair, the PAs in these Spanish clubs are a little janky, and the language barrier slows things considerably. If we didn’t have a couple of Spanish speakers on the bus, we’d have a big problem. I got a shower, and settled down to wait. Seems like these last three clubs have all had upstairs dressing rooms. The shows went well: AC kicked ass, and is getting steadily tighter and more consistent. Tony’s band is playing well, but some numbers they seemed to struggle through, while others just rage. Their set is 100 min while ours is only 35, so I imagine that, and the level of difficulty has to play a part. After the show it was the usual quick breakdown and on the bus. The after show hang was long, with me and Sean finally giving up near dawn. The next stop was Murcia. We were parked in the front yard of the club, and across the...

Tony MacAlpine European Tour Part 16: The Back Nine

March 13-14, 2012 Barcelona, Spain After the show in Switzerland, the plan was for the drivers to take a break there, but they opted to shove off for Barcelona and take their break there. We arrived in Barcelona in the early afternoon on the next day. The weather was fantastic and parts of the city are jaw-droppingly beautiful. We ended up parking in a tourist parking lot very close to the palace with a nice view of its own and a great breeze. We opened up the doors on the bus and just chilled. Tony and band took off to see the city, and Doug went with them. The rest of us sat around yukking it up, determined not to rush into anything, but rather just see how the day unfolded. We must have sat there telling jokes to each other and laughing ourselves hoarse for three hours or more, when Doug strolls back up. He said they wandered for a bit, taking in the sights, but they wanted to get on the subway and he’d rather come back and get a jacket. So we all decided it was time to forage a little. By the time we got seated at this little tapas place it was about 8 pm. After spending some time figuring out the menu, we all ordered and got to feasting, and boy, did we ever luck out with this little place. This was some of the best food I’d ever had, and when the first course came, silence descended upon the table. We spent a couple hours at least, and then made our way...