Planet drum teacher, Radovan
shares his experience of his latest studio session at Wax Studios.
'This is an upcoming debut EP of my good friend Severin Bruhin who is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger from Switzerland. His music is in the realm of jazz/fusion mixed with neo-soul, hip-hop and more. The project features quite a few international session musicians, vocalists and artists including a successful Canadian-born producer Robert Strauss (studio owner).'
You can watch their experience below:
“Improvisation is too good to leave to chance” - Paul Simon
To say “I’m practicing improvisation” sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact a lot of preparation is required in order to improvise well. And by preparation, I don’t mean memorising a bank of perfectly formed riffs and fills that can be retrieved at random whenever someone points and shouts “drum solo!” - I mean getting comprehensively familiar with patterns, variations on those patterns and variations on ways in which those patterns and their variations can be applied to the kit and to the music.
When I started playing the drums, almost two years ago, I thought that I always needed a kit to be able to do meaningful practice, but recently - and following the wisdom of my tutors - I’ve realised that a lot of what I’m doing is actually just learning how to count, but using my whole body.
I’ve realised that it’s entirely possible to develop independence, coordination and the ability to count with each of my limbs (and my voice), using nothing but my body. And, I’m not for one moment discounting the importance of practicing stick and leg technique, for which you obviously DO need some sort of physical resistance from a practice pad, or pedals.
I’m just talking about the daily brain workout that (will hopefully) lead to becoming a thoughtful and creative improviser. I’m not there yet and I’m sure I’m not the only drummer who can say that I know how I want to sound, but the reality of what comes out of my sticks doesn’t quite live up to the dream…. Yet.
My current practice regime
involves sitting with a metronome, Ted Reed’s syncopation book and a whole load of patience, to go through each of the patterns, page by page, playing each pattern on different limbs, with the metronome on different beats, using different ostinato patterns, playing it straight, playing it swung etc…
Essentially playing the same thing in as many different ways as possible, until my brain becomes comfortable enough to enable each of my limbs to count their own way through the piece, with my voice keeping track of the base pulse and time signature.
Though, this alone isn’t going to make me a great improviser. I’m not practicing this stuff absent mindedly - I’m also trying to use these exercises to develop ideas, which I can only try out on a kit and with a band, in the moment.
The development of ideas and the application of these ideas to create something musical and interesting, is the real goal here - not the mental endurance test that I set myself (most days) with Ted Reed and the metronome. I’ve not been playing for long enough to know whether this is all going to pay off, but my tutors reassure me that it will and I trust them...
So to reiterate; the future is uncertain and no one is totally in control of the type of drummer that they will become, but it seems that it is possible to increase the chances of becoming an inventive improviser through… PRACTICE.
Planet drum student
I have only recently learned her name
due to her recent passing, but I was instantly inspired and curious to learn more about her. As it turns out, she was pretty epic. In a male dominated industry (and world), she was quickly promoted as the ‘fastest girl drummer in the world’ in the 1930’s, alongside blazing a path for women in music. Viola played a giant drum set that included a double bass drum, an instrument that would years later become a tool for hard-hitting rock drummers.
Where did it all start?
Viola smith took up drumming as a teenager in Wisconsin, when her father assembled the ‘Schmitz sisters family orchestra’ (there were 8 daughters)! Their band played in theatres during school holidays and Viola took lessons from drummers in the orchestra pits. They were soon in demand for weddings and fairs. By 1938, she formed another all-female orchestra - The Croquettes. They moved to New York in 1942, where Viola studied under legendary snare drum innovator Billy Gladstone.
In the same year
as men were being drafted to war and women taking their place in factories, Viola wrote a now-famous article for Down Beat magazine, arguing for the inclusion of women in the big bands of the day. She wrote:
“Many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted. Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their places?
“We girls have as much stamina as men. There are many girl trumpet players, girl saxophonists and girl drummers who can stand the grind of long tours and exacting one-night stands. The girls of today are not the helpless creatures of an earlier generation.
“Some girl musicians who are as much the masters of their instruments as are male musicians. They can improvise; their solos are well-defined and thought-provoking and show unlimited imagination”.
At the height of her success, Viola performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, as well as for the 33rd president, Harry Truman in 1949. Today in 2020, the drumming industry is still very male dominated, with very few female drummers pursuing it as a full time job. I feel it is important to read about these female pioneers and continue to play in their honour.
Let’s keep drumming girls!
I’ve been playing the drums for 13 years now
And for a very large portion of that time, I would always practice on my own drum kit.
Everything was set up exactly how I liked it and I’d know if a single drum or cymbal had shifted a millimetre.
When I first got the drumming bug, I convinced my dad to build an extra shed in the garden and made it my musical home. I playing on the same drum kit, set up in exactly the same way for a good few years before I even thought about doing a gig.
When I finally started practicing with a band, we had a rehearsal place that a family member had built. Eventually, I moved my drum kit in, and with few other people using the place, I was still able to fulfil my slightly OCD tendencies of having everything exactly how I wanted it.
When the time came to start gigging,
I realised something very important: drummers need to learn to be comfortable playing on unfamiliar drum kits.
You can’t always take your own kit with you, especially when you’ve just started out and you’re playing support slots in dingy London bars.
Other people’s bass pedals are weird. Tall drummers have incredibly low seats. Some long-armed musicians have cymbal stands locked in place at a higher altitude than Mount Everest.
Before a gig, I would get really, really nervous. Not so much about getting on stage and playing in front of people, but nervous about what the equipment is going to be like.
I quickly learnt that you’ve just gotta suck it up and get on with it.There was one time where there were not enough stands for the amount of cymbals I use. I only had one crash where I would usually have two. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but because some of the songs were so engrained in my muscle memory, I tried to hit a non-existent cymbal on a few occasions during that gig!
I learnt to get over the fear of the unfamiliar drum kit by making myself play the same drum beats to my band’s songs on different parts of the kit. I would play the song using less cymbals and think about the pattern of drum fills rather than the actual drums that were being hit. That way I knew if all else failed, I could play them just on the snare and not put any other band members off.
Once I let go of having my cymbals in a certain place, and putting up with it if my seat was an inch lower than I usually had it, I realised I could get through any gig regardless.
Everything changed on my birthday a few years ago
As a surprise for my birthday, my other half (a tall handsome Irish bloke) led me on a mystery tour ending at the Scar Studios in Camden, the one time home of Planet drum. He had arranged for a few drumming lessons for my birthday. There to greet us was Alain.
Becoming a drummer, has been an enjoyable journey but not an easy one. I am not being humble when I say that I am not a ‘natural’… far from it … but I stuck with it and, as they say, persistence is stronger that failure.
The love for drumming has never faded, in fact it continues to grow stronger.
It took me a while to pluck up the courage to throw myself under the bus in search of a band. I was fearful of replying to adverts looking for a drummer. I had that constant terror that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I was somehow a fake and would be found out… “Call yourself a Drummer!”
Having a demanding full time job, a family and that Irish guy I mentioned! didn’t make it easy to fit drumming into my life but I guess when you love something you magically just make time.
I am currently a happy member of the noise pop outfit called Bedlam Motel.We are constantly busy with emails, rehearsal times, gigs, carrying stuff, uploading recordings, reschedules, bookings, updating Facebook pages and endless debate about the name of our band. To some this may be a chore but to me it's all worth it.
After a long hard day of work, the tiredness of dragging yourself, and in some cases your kit, to rehearsals or a gig may seem a chore but any misgivings soon disappear within minutes of immersing ourselves into the glorious racket we create.
Rehearsals nowadays usually consists of a good old crazy jam
"About 15 minutes before the end we will do a rendition of one of our “old classics”. Songs are created out of these jams which we record and pour over and dissect over the following few days until next rehearsal when we might be ready to stitch it into something… or not!
I look forward to my commute the morning after a rehearsal, where I can re-live the evening (including chats and comments but also all the mistakes and "bad beats"). Sometimes, it all comes together when I am about to reach the office entrance and then I have to walk once around the block to get a couple more minutes of joy before grown up life begins.
We'd like to record and album but this takes time. There should be a couple of songs printed on tape this year.It still brings a smile to my face when I arrive at a rehearsal studio or a gig, or by simply walking in the street with the guys carrying guitars, and I think, I am not with the Band, I am IN the Band.
Planet drum student
It’s all too easy to get bogged down in music theory and lesson material when you’re doing your grades.
And when you’ve managed to somehow successfully make it through one grade, you start work on the next one only to find it all gets even harder, more complex and in time signatures you never knew were possible.
At times you wonder how you’re ever going to fit all this new information in your head, and when your limbs will be able to naturally jump into action to play these complex rhythms without having to “think about it” for ten minutes.
Every drummer has their own way of learning.
Some like to be very rigid with their practice sessions, some are determine to play the same rudiment over and over for an hour until it becomes muscle memory, and others find short bursts of multiple exercises work best.
Whatever way you prefer, I’m sure you’ve had a moment here are there where you’ve hit a wall and felt like you’ll never be able to play the piece of music sitting in front of you well enough to pass your grade.
I’ve had it plenty of times, and I’ve come to accept that I probably always will. But I’ve recently found that the best way I can help myself get past that barrier is to take a little time out to just have fun.
You’re playing the drums because you want to.
You decided to have lessons because you enjoy playing the instrument – that's what I remind myself of.
There are many moments I can think back to where I sat down at a kit and just had an amazing time playing. But sometimes, when you’re too focused on learning, you forget to spend time just enjoying the act of drumming.
It sounds incredibly obvious, but in between work, home life and your lessons, it can sometimes be far too easy to slip into the habit of only finding time for drumming when you’re practicing for your grades or your next lesson.
Personally, I stick on a couple of my favourite tracks from when I first started playing the drums and pretend I’m 17 again!
Editor at MI Pro, online platform dedicated to the music industry
Planet drum student
What are the musical commonalities between famous artists such as Skrillex, The Prodigy, Jay-Z, Slipknot, Bjork, Oasis, Amy Winehouse and Duran Duran?
The answer is rhythm
All of these artists have at one point used a specific rhythm pattern that is so identifiable you would recognise it even if you have never heard the original title song.
At just 6 seconds long it is the most sampled rhythm in the history of drums.
The Winstons, below, were an American funk and soul band who were not very well known, (their drummer G.C. Coleman even more so) and they released a song in 1960 titled ‘Amen Brother’, listen below! Little did they know that a sample derived from the drum solo in this track would become the ‘Amen Break’ - the most sampled rhythm in the history of drums.
The Amen Break is a loop of 4 bars that was popularised by the drum sample album ‘Ultimate Break and Beats’ released in 1986 for the DJ population. Since the sample was created it has become a prominent feature in mainstream music, featuring in a host of famous songs such as; Oasis - ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’, Nine Inch Nails - ‘The Perfect Drug’, Slipknot - ‘Eyeless’ and Björk - ‘Crystalline’.
The concept of sampling: where did it come from?
It was in the 70’s when the concept of using a ‘sample’ was brought about. Musically speaking, sampling is the process of taking a portion of a sound recording and reusing it on a separate piece of music. More often than not, this is done through a ‘rhythm break’ whereby a small section is sampled from one piece of music to form the beat on another track. It is through the sampling method that a piece of music can transform from average to being equipped with a catchy and memorable rhythm, making it hard to forget!
So as a result of this, DJ’s, musicians and artists like Skrillex and Jay-Z are continually in search of a melody ostinato/lick or drum pattern, that has the ability to resound in your mind long after it has been heard, leaving the taste of desire to hear it again… which is how the ‘Amen Break’ became one of the most extensively used rhythm across all genres of music.
Unfortunately, The Winstons never received any royalties for their original creation. However, in 2015 a DJ from the UK created a ‘GoFundMe’ page in the name of Richard Spencer, the singer and saxophonist from the band, to acknowledge and give appreciation to the ‘Amen Break’, whereby 2,000 people have donated $24,000!!
More about the ‘Amen Break’
It is a groove of 4 bars, originally played at 136 bpm, composed of 2 sequences.
1st Sequence: The main groove is played twice; 8th notes played on ride, snare accents on backbeats, 16th notes played by the bass drum on the “and” of the 3rd beat and 3 ghosts notes per bar.
2nd Sequence: It is a variation of the first one. The 16th notes have moved to the 2nd bar on the ''and'' of the first beat, the 2nd snare accent originally on the back beat has moved to the ''and'' of the 4th and in the second bar we can notice a tasty punctuation change on the off beat of the 3rd beat, which can be played on the crash or the edge of the ride.
Blog post by Planet drum teacher, Sebastien Solsona
We know it, we are drummers
We all like crazy syncopated patterns, intense solos and intricate rhythms. All that noise can sound cool, but we often forget about the power of simplicity in music. Some of the greatest songs ever recorded have been done with two verses, a chorus and most of the time with a single rhythm looped for the entire duration of the song.
Why am I writing about simplicity? Well, for two main reasons.
The first one, is that I spent the whole summer gigging almost every day with instrumental jazz gigs with various acts, electronic rock/pop (http://www.fjokra.com) and last-minute function gigs. The differences of “vocabulary”, sound, repertoire and approach are quite challenging and very often there’s no time to prepare or rehearse the set list.
There is always a good solution for this kind of situation, it is simplicity. Keeping the rhythmic section clear, minimal and most of all musical helps the music breath more and sound better ( and eventually get more bookings).
The second reason why I’m talking about simplicity
is for all the music students who are reading this. During lessons, I talk with students about band workshops and about “being ready” to play with a band. I know it can be hard to believe, especially for beginners, but a single rhythm looped for an entire song, plus maybe a single fill is enough for a successful session.
To be good drummers/musicians in a band context, we don’t need to show several different ideas squeezed inside a single song or demonstrate incredible technique and independence. The main factors we need to take care of are: timing, song/structure (stating the form), and sound control. If we are successful in doing this, we will have a successful session, 100% assured!
Don't misunderstand me
I’m not saying that technique and other more academic studies are not important. Indeed, every kind of music requires a specific standard knowledge; what I’m saying is: do not confuse practicing with playing when you're making music with a band. In other words, while you are playing, focus on the “now’ and do your best with the skills you have acquired up until now.
Of course, I like watching skilled drummers showing off brilliantly executed chops and taking inspiration from them. But don’t forget that what you really need to do is to play for the song, this is what drumming and making music is about..
As Miles Davis used to say “I always listen to what I can leave out”
Blog post by Planet drum teacher, Filippo
It's always best to buy a quality branded drum kit. Brands include DW, Yamaha, Pearl, Mapex, Tama, Premier, Ludwig, Sonor, Pacific and Gretsch. The cheapest brands at the bottom end of the market are best avoided, even for children.
If you seek the advice of an experienced drummer and reputable drum dealer, then the chances are you will be armed with the advice you need to go out and make a great buy. You will get a lot more for your money buying second hand.
We can give advice to all enrolled students and help them to find the right kit.
Electronic kits have come a long way since the 80's. They allow you to play with headphones and are virtually silent. Electronic drumkit brands include Roland and Yamaha. Prices start from about £500.
Again, stay clear of budget brands!
Music classes can feel solitary,
when you just have one on one lessons and practice alone. Being in your own space and having the freedom to go over parts you’re struggling with is a great way to improve your skills, but practicing with others is how you can take your playing to the next level and learn to adapt your skills in new ways.
I have been going to Planet drum for over 3 years now and have improved my drumming and participated in performances, all whilst playing with talented and inspiring fellow students and musicians. You can attend workshops for free if you are taking private lessons too, and they’re a brilliant way to meet other drummers, get involved in playing with other instruments and to try something different alongside private lessons.
Being a lover of Afro-Latin rhythms and dances,
my favourite workshop that I have attended is the Drumkit and Percussion workshop with Louis. This workshop incorporates traditional percussion instruments and rhythms with contemporary drum kit grooves, and allows us to have some fun with percussion instruments and bits of the kit too.
The workshops occur once a month and all levels can attend and can benefit from it. You can set the pace and pick up a clave – a wooden percussion instrument found in Cuban, African and Brazilian music, or learn some rhythms on a conga or two. Maracas and shakers are often involved as well, and parts of the drum kit – or the whole kit itself – is sometimes used to create rhythms. When they all come together, it sounds incredible and is very infectious – I have been lost in the moment many times!
Louis is passionate and patient and involves everyone equally in this workshop. Attending it has improved my confidence in many ways, as the group performs at the summer and winter shows each year which are great fun and a good introduction into playing in front of a live audience. I have also met other fellow drummers this way, some of whom have become wonderful friends.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.