Got Technique? Got Groove? Got Concept?

Got technique? Got groove? Got concept?

I have been receiving lots of questions lately about how to get to the point where you can play lots of gigs! So…one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is. “Take care of Music and Music will take care of you”.
And what exactly do you do about that? It is often said that in any kind of training it’s always a great thing to get back to basics. Now many people believe that basics are how to hold the sticks and basic coordination. But that’s only one side of Drumming.  Before that there is one thing missing in lots of beginning players and it’s also missing in the popular drumming culture in general. That element is “concept”.
The current drum culture in the west seems to be really hung up on technique. (How to execute paradiddle’s with exercise 27 coordinating the bass drum and hi hat bla bla bla.) And I love that too, to a certain extent. But some of the things that don’t get talked about leave a wide gap in players abilities to contribute to a musical situation in a meaningful way. How do I know this? Quit frankly because I’ve been around for a while now. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, play extensively and teach all over the world. Especially after being back from India where I spent almost a year teaching and studying. When it comes to teaching I see the big difference between Eastern and Western methods. Drumming has historically been kind of an internship. An apprenticeship where student and teacher have a close relationship and are focused together in a common goal.  In India this is especially pronounced. The point of this whole train of thought being that “conceptually” you come from somewhere. A point of view from an experienced player that gives you an edge as an artist. A wealth of experience can be gained from learning this way. And the musical richness of players that come from this type of background is absolutely visible and obvious. The main difference being at their approach to the instrument conceptually.
So how do you get concept and what is concept? Let’s start by defining exactly what concept is.
1. general idea or understanding of something: the concept of inertia; the concept of free will.
2. plan or original idea: The original concept was for a building with 12 floors.
3. unifying idea or theme, especially for a product or service: new restaurant concept.
Having an experimental or strikingly different design, especially to test
or demonstrate new features: concept car.

So this maybe helps us in having an idea of how to approach the task of working with concept. In drumming terms let us put it in a more obvious way. I’m sure everyone knows Neil Peart at this point. Listening to him you understand that his concept for the music for Rush comes from a progressive rock point of view. His set up is geared towards that and his writing etc etc. Now let’s take example of Tony Williams. Listen to Tony Williams playing and try to detect all the concepts he is expressing in his music. Obviously we are talking about more of a jazz concept. And just to continue with Tony for one more moment, if you have read any interviews with him you know how he felt about playing volume, ride concepts, the types of heads he used on the drums, the size of the drums etc. etc. etc. To me it’s almost as if both those players personality really came through the drums and their music. For any artist, to expose yourself like this and have an opportunity to play the way you want and the way you truly feel is a dream come true. But in order to achieve that you have to have a concept.

Another cat with a fantastic concept and actual voice, is Stewart Copeland. And yet another…Bill Stewart. There are many and there is a good reason for this!
So now maybe you have an idea of what I would like to convey in this blog.
Personally I think it’s about time we confronted this issue in the drumming world. If you take one look at YouTube and start to get into the Gospel chops thing for example, you will see that all those guys are playing the same licks that they all play. And that for the most part it’s all Gary Shaffee material. That’s almost as if the genre is defining you and you don’t define the genre. A very strange thing for me to observe since everyone of my teachers since I was a kid told me I had to find my own voice.
So how do you go about developing concept?
1) Of course the first thing is to follow music you are passionate about. If the music doesn’t hit you in the stomach and you are beginning player things will be harder on you. Because every genre has lots to say and you will need to dive in deep to learn it.
2) The next thing is to research as many players as possible in your favorite genre. See how they approach the instrument and the music. Going to see them live as much as possible. And of course transcribing what they do if possible. Short of that at the begin to analyze what they are doing and try to copy it yourself. But remember the ultimate goal of that is to add your own spice to it. Try to decipher how their sound on the drums is produced. Notice the balance between the snare, bass drum, cymbals etc. Notice their grip approach.  Grip will definitely affect sounds. Notice seat height. Gear. And most of all notice the fine details and the things they are doing. Cymbal technique. Motion. Phrasing. Articulation etc.
3) Grab any and all of your past music experience and apply it into the things you have learned while doing your new research. This could be a starting point. That means taking vocabulary that you might know now, and try to apply that into different genres. In other words, if you have a lick that works well in rock, try to find the jazz way of doing that lick. Or the Latin way. Most likely, it’s not going to work so well. So you will have to adjust somethings to make it sound like it belongs in that genre. What that might do is trigger a creative streak in you and a journey into new vocabulary. Cross referencing vocabulary from different genres is a fantastic way to develop your own voice and concept. You simply have to start somewhere and this is a possibility.  But be absolutely sure that you are adapting yourself to whatever particular genre you’re playing. I doubt that anyone wants to hear a double bass drum 16th note run in a jazz ballad. So if you want to play jazz, “conceptually” you must be strong in the jazz vocabulary to make your playing fit.
4) Expand on ideas that are familair to you by using compositional techniques, such as “Diminution” / “Augmentation”. This could turn ideas you are set in and turn them upside down! Triggering a creative streak you will need to blend “conceptually” into a new style.  (Diminution = To make smaller – Augmentation = to make larger. This is accomplished through the use of rhythmic knowledge)
These are some serious things to think about if you want to take your drumming to the next level. And of course taking your drumming to the next level means that your musicianship MUST follow. This study is not about a particular technique, but that of what I call “Field research”. A doctor in and particular field needs to keep up on all new methods to better serve people. And we are no different. Our growth and learning curve as drummers is just as long and takes as much discipline and courage. Maybe more even! Make sure your concept is strong in whatever you do and dive into it with passion.
The learning will never stop for us. So make sure that each new challenge is met from the ground up! Don’t skip any stages of the process because you will just be denying yourself the great pleasure that will come from doing a thorough job of learning your instrument.
My latest journey …is the study of music from India. I will need another lifetime to get to where I want to be with it….but I am enjoying the process and really love it when things start to sound good!
In this photo one my teachers. The great DR. S. KARTHICK
 Phil Maturano- Karthic
All the best
Phil Maturano