The Troupe
This drummer's journey with other drummers.

The mumbo-jumbo

We have another rehearsal is tonight, and I really enjoy them, but it can be nerve-wracking.

One of the most difficult things about music, and drumming in specific, is the entire concept of “feel”.  Is the rhythm groovy or chunky?  Do I hit it fat or skinny?  Should my volume be thick or thin?  Do I keep my rhythm loose or tight?  Shall I play it straight or with a swing?  How exactly should we play this, beyond fast or slow?

It’s hard to define any of those ideas because they are essentially mumbo-jumbo.  That doesn’t mean that the concepts are not actual things that exist, just that it is nearing impossible to define terms about feel using the language we have.   In fact, one of the reasons we use such strange, ill-defined words to talk about them in the first place is the simple fact that normal words don’t describe them accurately.  It’s like using body language, but with words.

For instance, when drumming a Shiftitelli, I want to play the Doums with a certain amount of chunk, getting them nice and low, so the reverb on them lasts all the way to the Teks that follow them.  The Tek combinations after the Doums can be played straight and tight.   I like to play them with a bit of swing, and some back and forth.   I play the first Tek sharp, but thin, and the second Tek with a bit more softness, but looser.

Now, obviously, all that description above only makes sense to me.   Just using the words to describe it does very little, except to create a sound in your mind, based on what you think those descriptions mean.  But if you played what I just described the chances are very slim that you and I would sound the same.

Add in little twists, like acoustics or instrument dynamics, and things get really complicated.   What I mean is: a drum sounds a lot different in a bathroom compared to a concert hall.  And both are much different to an outdoor stage with a crowd of one hundred living, breathing, murmuring, coughing, laughing, clapping and talking audience members.  But, a performer wants as consistent a sound as possible, so adjustments must be made on the spur of the moment.   Dynamics is another thing that has a big impact.   If you are playing with a bunch of drummers all on big drums, your sound will be bigger and deeper.   All high drums, cymbals and cowbells, and you will sound much thinner and tinny.  Your drum interacts with all the other instruments on stage with you, for better or for worse.

This is why practice, rehearsal, live instruction, and performance are so crucial to being not only a good technical drummer, but also a good performer.

Tonight we will warm up a bit, and then probably work on dynamics, using a series of solos and duos as we play the basic performance piece.

And, just like that, I am suddenly really looking forward to practicing tonight.   Groovy.

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