What I'm Practicing

I've been trying to have a new blog post up every Thursday. This past week I didn't get to it. Not because I didn't have anything to say. I wanted to write one about how to read rhythms in sheet music but couldn't figure out how to make pictures to accompany the article. I'm still not sure and I didn't have another topic, so it didn't get done. 

The irony that my previous post was titled "Sticking With It" is not lost on me. But like I said, you need to be inspired or it's not happening. Not that music runs purely on inspiration. It doesn't. More like, you get a tiny grain of it and you have to work to refine and develop that idea into something. But that's exactly what didn't get done, and exactly part of the reason why there wasn't another topic. 

The bigger, better, more important reason: blogging isn't making music! I've been working on my singing/guitar playing/songwriting thing, putting in a ton of time on the DJ console and rediscovering the benefit of rudiments for my hands and arms (over and over again with the drums, it's not just about knowing the material. It's also about conditioning your muscles). Specifically, I'm working on the first page of Stick Control and the first four bars of John S. Pratt's Hodge-Podge (a rudimentary snare drum solo I first learned 15ish years ago) at 80bpm. im practicing slowly and paying attention to every little muscle movement, every rebound, my phrasing and control at low speeds, how it all feels. At times embarrassingly bad, but the process feels great. 

And there's my point. I think most of our reasons for pursuing things are social reasons- we want to be the best drummer, able to play the fastest, most complicated stuff, because we saw someone else and it looked impressive; we want to be seen as excellent. Or else we're chasing a feeling - "I love the way that sounds and I want to make that sound."

In either case, the music is a means to an end. We tend to look at practicing that way - it's something you do so you can be better at the thing you actually  want to do ("maybe? I guess? I don't know?" say my students). it's seen as an annoying chore we have to get over with, not the point of what we're doing. But I think it can be. Hopefully this blog is useful to you.  I'd love it if it were so useful you decided you wanted to pay me for lessons. But that's a means to an end. I didn't start playing music so I could write a blog about it. I started playing music because I wanted to make music. This week, I've been doing just that. 

✌️️

Ryan Brown
Sticking With It

This is the hardest part.

Most of us have all of the info we need. You have internet access, which means you have tons of practice material at your fingertips and don't need me to throw more exercises your way (but if you're looking, I've compiled some things here and here to get you started - or just google "free drum lessons").

I have had a gym membership for 2 years. I am not especially fit. I've owned a DJ controller for close to a year. I'm a mediocre-at-best DJ. I'm a great rock drummer. I played drums for 6 years in school and in garage bands before studying them intensively for 5 years, then spending another 6 years teaching them 6 hours a day, 5 days a week while playing in a band that rehearsed and played live all the time. I've put the time in, because I've been in situations where I was forced to. I'm a passable jazz drummer, if you don't know much about jazz (luckily for me, most people don't) - I studied jazz in university, because it seemed like the closest thing to what I wanted to do at the time, but it's never been my true passion. As a result, my skill level has remained about where it was when I graduated in 2005.

But this isn't about me, it's about you. How do you achieve what you're after? The only answer I can give you is: you need to be inspired! It's too easy to give up. You're probably not going to become rich and famous, statistically speaking. There are much easier ways to make money and you're competing for attention with every other musician in recorded history. But that's not what music is fundamentally about. Music is a form of human expression that's older than any currency or society on earth. It will be around as long as humans are. For a while, when it was contained on plastic discs, you could make money selling those discs. Now you charge for access - to digital reproductions or live events. I charge for my time and effort - I'll be where I said, when I said, and I'll do a good job. I do not charge per note played.

Maybe you want to be on a big stage with screaming fans everywhere. (I've done it, and it's great!) How badly do you want it? Are you willing to play 1000 poorly-attended shows to get there? (bubble burst: no promoter is going to book a band's 1st show on a huge stage, and no crowd is going to show up and go crazy for an artist they've never heard of - they need to be convinced). Are you going to give up if you don't achieve that goal within a year? 5 years? 20 years? Suppose you do make it there. Do you plan to quit after that one show?

I'm a pretty good rhythm guitarist and I'm OK at the piano and bass guitar, but I've never gotten much money or recognition for those things. I keep doing them as I have for years, simply because they bring me joy.

It works best as an ongoing practice; a relationship between you, the instrument and the music itself. "Life security" would be great, but that can't be the point, because that's not why music exists. You can learn to bake an amazing delicious cake, just don't be upset that you can't wear it in a rain storm. Enjoy the cake for what it is, and perhaps you'll find you like making (and eating!) them enough to keep doing it.

You're on your own path. It's different from everyone else's, so generic advice online isn't going to help unless you know what to do with it. Find the thing you truly care about, and do it. Ignore trends and advice from anyone who doesn't fully understand your situation. Those people are trying to help, but you'll burn out or just lose interest if you leave your trajectory in their hands. 

and 

HAVE

FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ryan Brown
Taking Up Space

This week, we're talking context. Drums don't exist in a vacuum (treating them as though they do is my #1 issue with 'drum culture'). Music doesn't exist in a vacuum (as much as some people would like it to). For the past week, a single story has been occupying way more of my thoughts than EVEN THE DRUMS, because it's way more important. That story is: the social media frenzy surrounding Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimienta's performance at the Halifax Pop Explosion 2 weeks ago. If you're unaware, you can get the best summary of the events from the artist herself here. If you google it, you'll find the Canadian Press article that got picked up by all of the major news outlets (why'd you pick that quote for the headline, CP?) and generated controversy all over the internet. If you click around further, you'll find lots of unsavoury comments via your social media platform of choice. Those comments are written by people who took her actions out of context, either by accident (because they weren't there) or on purpose (because they have their own agenda).

I was going to post the following thoughts along with Lido's post on my personal Facebook page yesterday when it came out, but I decided it was too long and I didn't want to sidetrack her message with my own. Instead, I'm putting it here. Also, relevant to your/my interests: her drummer/percussionist guy is super heavy. Also her horn section is all Halifax guys and they are all amazing musicians.

That is all. Be good to each other plz xoxoxo

 

*****************************

i was at this show. missed all of the ‘drama’ because i was downstairs watching designosaur at the seahorse. when i did make it upstairs i was blown away! amazing singer, powerful performer, commands the room, takes artistic risks, makes it count. the marquee was jammed. the MARQUEE! it fits 800 people! and the audience LOVED IT. show was great. killer band. super cool drummer. it’s a shame that that has gotten lost in all of the discussion. 

to be completely honest, i often don’t feel comfortable (or necessarily safe) in a crowd that size. and i’m a 6’2” white male. crowds can be sketchy. drunk crowds especially.

so when i got to this show, like i often do, i went looking for a spot at the back. not because i’d been ordered to do so, or because i think i’m some kind of hero. it was partially because it was a busy bar and i like to have my own space. but also because i’m taller than a lot of people and when i stand in front of them, they can’t see. i know this because i have been asked to move in the past, by short people. not because those people are obsessed with height and making an issue where there was none, or because they don’t understand that i ‘earned’ that spot (general admission ticket means you get to be in THE ROOM, guys). it’s because they can’t see. they paid just as much as i did to get into the show, and now i’m blocking their view.

that wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind until somebody told me, and i’d be lying if i said i was happy about giving up my spot the first time it happened. the short people are not always nice about it. i didn’t choose to be this tall! it’s not my fault they didn’t get there before i did! i don’t discriminate against them because of THEIR height!

but

now i just do it before anyone asks. it makes the show better for everyone. i can still see and hear just fine from a few feet back, or to the side. no big deal.

everyone can learn to do that.

ps- if an artist is able to touch a nerve and provoke a huge discussion, that means they are a vital, valuable artist and you should pay attention!!!

pps- re the incident itself - i worked for the festival last year and i feel for them. they're now also getting all kinds of online blowback ("rascist festival" etc) because they chose to back their artist and not their volunteer. they were put in a tough position, and i support their decision.

hpx is run by a very small group of full-time staff, and a much larger group of people who work there for the week. many of these people are volunteers, who participate as part of NSCC course requirements, or in exchange for free tickets to shows. the festival can't run without them, but the situation has its challenges. i admit i don't fully understand the relationship between festival and volunteer photographer, but it is a MUSIC festival, which to me means #1 priority is presenting the artists, who are booked, promoted and paid, in the best possible context. if you're working for the festival, even for free, i'd assume you share that priority with the festival and wouldn't want to disrupt the flow of a show to make it about you, even if you disagree with what the artist is saying/doing.

for instance, in a different context: i used to work at a theatre where the ushers were volunteers, often kindly older retired ladies. occasionally we'd have standup comedy shows, with all manner of content coming from the stage that certain volunteers found offensive. there are avenues for them to deal with that. complain to the organizers if you think they were wrong. do some research on the performer before signing up. don't volunteer for those shows if they make you uncomfortable. whatever the volunteer's reservations, the theatre had a performer onstage who we'd chosen to host, and a room full of happy, ticket-buying audience members enjoying the show. we never had an volunteer take it upon themselves to hold up the show because they disagreed with the comedian. should they? 

Ryan Brown
The Single Most Common Mistake (Are You Making It?)

The one thing people consistently do to sabotage themselves when learning a new drum thing is..........................................................

 

They play it too fast! Then they want to move on before they're ready. People of all ages and levels of experience. I still catch myself doing it.

The reason: is simple. You want to be able to play fast and be impressive. People don't pick up an instrument because they're interested in sitting in one spot, doing something repetitive. More often, as drummers, we see someone with a lot of skill and think "that looks like fun! I want to do that!" Especially now, in the age of YouTube stars, we see people deliberately highlighting that side of their playing in order to attract viewers (see video below).

The problem: seems obvious. If you don't learn to do something well, you're not going to be able to do it well. Then when you try to play the next, more difficult thing, you're not going to be able to do it either, because you never developed the skills you needed. You're never going to build an architectural wonder on a weak foundation. The whole thing will just collapse.

Duh. So why do we all do this? It boils down to focus, patience, trust and ego. To practice effectively, you need to focus- identify what needs work and why; have patience to work on that thing for as long as it takes to really internalize it; trust that doing this is going to pay off; and keep your ego in check so that you don't immediately get distracted by thoughts of "yeah but i want to LOOK COOL! NOW!!!!" Seems logical enough, but we're generally not logical creatures. The drums are fun to play. As soon as you sit down behind them, it's very easy to forget about everything else.

Jazz pianist Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery" covers this subject in great depth if you want to go there, but I'll leave you with Pearl-sponsored, 1.5 million-YouTube-subscriber-having razzle-dazzler Casey Cooper's thoughts:

Ryan Brown
Halifax Pop Explosion

#HPX2017 is here! I'm back on Atlantic time and playing a killer show at the Seahorse tonight. Here are the things I'm hoping to get to, so we'll call them my recommendations, but my #1 recommendation at a festival like this is: get a wristband. Hop between shows. Have a plan, but be prepared to deviate from it. Check out a bunch of stuff. Take a chance on something new. If you want to get into a big show, get there early. Have fun.

Of special note, a bunch of these (particularly all-ages shows) are free this year. OK:

THURS OCT 19

5pm: Free + All Ages: WHOOP-Szo and Strongboy at CKDU

7:30pm: Gianna Lauren + JOYFULTalk (free, all-ages)

8:45pm: Charlotte Day Wilson, Lido Pimienta, Ralph, Vogue Dots

9:30pm: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, WHOOP-Szo, Geil, Inland Island

10pm: Partner, Fake Palms, Designosaur, Valerie at the Seahorse

1:30am: Afterparty with DJ BUDI - ft. Lido Pimienta, Ralph and MORE!

 

FRI OCT 20

Honestly, I'm torn. Will probably be a game time decision. But the one thing I am definitely not going to miss is:

8pm: Weaves Aquakultre + Big Budi Band LUKA Kurt Inder Strongboy

 

SAT OCT 21

2pm: HfxPop Quality Block Party All Ages Extravaganza v 1.5

6pm: Husband & Knife, Yoneda, Fantasy Eye at Art Bar +Projects

6:30pm: Patrick Watson, Rural Alberta Advantage, Yukon Blonde, Dance Movie

9:30pm: Not You, Jon McKiel, Rabies, Thick Business at the Seahorse

10pm: DA x Halifax Pop Explosion Showcase

12:30am: Dabin, Pineo, DJ Douvet at Reflections Cabaret

 

See ya in the pit.

Ryan Brown
How to make your cheap drum set sound amazing

Great, practical advice for people starting out. There's a lot you can do with any instrument to optimize it. If you own an entry-level drum kit, think it could probably sound better but aren't sure what to do with it, watch this!!

These guys have done a favour to beginning drummers everywhere, for free. To be totally honest, neither of their style is really my thing as a drummer, but I have to give props for this video. And there's another lesson: you don't have to agree with everything about another musician's approach in order to learn and benefit from listening to them. Our world is full of perspectives. ✌️ ❤️

Ryan Brown
#goals

What do you want to do? 

Everybody's different.  There's no real predetermined path for music. There's knowledge that has been accumulated over the years (varying amounts of centuries, depending how long your instrument has been around). There are combinations of sounds that just seem to make sense (David Byrne's "How Music Works" devotes an entire chapter to ratios found in paintings, architecture and planetary orbits that mathematically match up with the kinds of sounds humans like), and technical things that, if you learn them, will make you a more efficient/effective player. You don't need to learn any of it if your music doesn't require it. Kurt Cobain proved that point in the early 90s. But he had a clear goal: to become the biggest rock star in the world while staying true to his punk rock roots. And he nailed the technical aspects of his music. Morrissey and Johnny Marr have both attributed The Smiths' unique sound to the clarity of their vision - Morrissey the tragicomic poet; Marr the rock guitarist who had to avoid "rockisms." While Four Tet uses a bunch of gear, he doesn't get too complicated with each piece - just makes it work and exploits what's weird about it. You can learn all the rules of a particular style, but music that simply recites the rules is never the legendary stuff, because it doesn't move us on a gut level.

When you have a destination in mind, you can pick out which skills are relevant to you, and learn them. When you don't have one, you spend a lot of energy on "Just In Case." You might buy a shelf full of books, videos, some really nice equipment. Will that stuff mean you're ready? Do you need permission to go and play? I believe this view is actually counterproductive. Yes, you'll take in more material, but all the while you're worried about not being good enough, not knowing enough, doing it wrong. As we know, anything you do repetitively is a form of practice. And "practice makes perfect." Would you choose to spend time perfecting the art of feeling unaware and unprepared? Is that why you picked up an instrument?

There is another way. A musical practice can be like a doctor or lawyer's practice (credit due: I got this idea from Jerry Granelli). It can be something you do, rather than something you polish up and display. Are you trying to communicate? Make a billion dollars? Join a band? Blow people away with your technical prowess? (and if so, WHY?) Push yourself to achieve more, because it feels good? Feel like you can "just play anything"?

It all starts in the mind. If you can be crystal clear about what you want to achieve, doing it is the easy part.

Ryan Brown
How to Practice Effectively

1. Decide what you want to do.

2. Find out how to do that thing.

3. Train yourself to do it.

That's it. Simple, but not easy. Most of what we do in drum lessons revolves around #2 and #3, but both are pointless without #1. And the whole thing is pointless without a focus (although I don't think "pointless" necessarily means "bad').

In his book "Talent Is Overrated," author Geoff Colvin studies high achievers across different disciplines to see what makes them stand out. His conclusion: "deliberate practice." He found that the top achievers were not necessarily the people who put the most time in; they were the people who had a clear goal and worked very intentionally toward achieving it.

When people start out on the drums, goals are often vague ("to learn"..... "to get better"... "to be able to go crazy".........). I like to ask students why they think I'd make them practice something as boring or annoying as a paradiddle. I often get answers like "..........to do it right?" Not wrong exactly, but the reason you practice the paradiddles is: to develop your hands! And your mind! But if there's no clear connection between the task you're given and your own goal, there's not a lot of motivation to do that task well, or even at all. Paradiddles are boring and annoying.

Mostly, our education is: here's a task (or idea). Learn it. Complete a test. If you pass, congrats, you know that thing. That doesn't really work long-term with music. There are skills and styles you can learn, but you need listeners and for them it's mostly about feeling. Great technical players often make boring music, "poor" technical players are among the most celebrated musicians of all time. Of course it's all subjective and there are lots of examples of the opposites being true. That's the point. Everyone plays and experiences music differently. Creativity is an essential part, and creativity, by definition, can't be taught.

It's easy to sit down with an instrument, play it for a while and tell yourself you're practicing. You're definitely putting time in. It's probably fun. Nothing wrong with it. HOWEVER, if you're not working toward something specific, you're also probably not improving your skills; you are maintaining them. If you want to improve something, the more specific the better, because then you can really dial in what you need to do in order to get there.

For best results:

- Decide exactly what you want to be able to do. This can mean a long-term goal broken down into steps, or it can just be "what do I want to improve this week?" but in either case the point is to stick with a task until you nail it.

- Find out how that thing is done, make sure you understand it, set aside some time to train yourself to do it.

- Get a metronome. People (self included, sometimes) like to think it's a torture device designed to suck the fun out of music. It's just a tool that helps you focus.

- Set a timer. Play your thing with the metronome for one minute, then stop. See how it feels.

- Figure out how much time you can consistently devote over several days. Doesn't have to be much. Each time you practice, work on your thing for a set amount of time, then give yourself permission to be done.

- Repeat, as often as possible. Take breaks. If you have a bunch of things you want to accomplish, divide the amount of time you have by the number of things you want to do and practice accordingly - let's say you have 20 minutes, 3 days a week and 4 things you want to learn. That gives you five minutes on each one, then you're done. But it's a much more focused five minutes than most people actually get around to.  You're probably not going to master your task in one week at this rate, but you will make actual progress. And in the end you'll get there faster.

- Feel good about having put in the time and energy, and about accompishing something.

The best thing about this approach is that it's addictive. You don't get burnt out or frustrated because it's not drudgery. You may get to the end of your time limit and decide you want to do more. Great! Do it! Also please remember: exercises don't have to be boring. You're in complete control of how you play things - when things seem boring it's often because we're taking a very limited view of how we're supposed to (or allowed to) approach it, and as a result, play boringly. Please don't do that to yourself or others. Make it sound great! Have fun!

Ryan Brown
Best New (local) Music

My favourite stuff out of Halifax this week: 

- Big Budi Band / Aquakultre's set from this year's SappyFest. Live hip hop jazz improv groove party music from some of Halifax's best. SO GOOD. Recording is a little scratchy. Do not let that deter you. Push play, drift away.

- Tara Thorne (Dance Movie, The Coast, CBC) being interviewed by James Boyle (Halifax Pop Explosion). Lively convo about Dance Movie's new record (prod by John Goodmanson - Bikini Kill, Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney etc) and whether pursuing the music "industry" is a worthwhile or even necessary goal for creators in 2017.

Ryan Brown