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L.A. Beat

Tune up those drums and learn to swing

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Welcome to column number 2 and I hope your your holidays were awesome indeed.


After looking at my last column I realized I did not discuss how to actually tune a drum. While this seems to be a very complicated process for most people, it is actually very simple. The hardest part is using your ears, so it should not be that hard.

In order for a drum to sound good it must have two heads on it.alt Do not play a drum with one head on it unless it is designed that way, like a conga drum. Place the head on the rim of the drum. But before you place the head on the drum, lightly sand the edges to a smooth finish so that you can spin the head around the rim without any problems. This will eliminate any dust or small wood chips that will affect the sound if they are trapped between the head and rim of the drum. Next tighten down the tuning pegs going around the drum from one tuning peg to the other, going in a across the circumference of the head pattern. In other words tighten one and then go to the tuning peg across from it, not next to it.

Tighten the pegs slightly and then move to the next one. Keep doing this until all tuning pegs are so tight that you hear a sound like the head is cracking. This is ok, do not worry. This breaks the head in so it will keep its tuning longer and will be more consistent in its flexibility and workability. At this point loosen all of the tuning pegs by a 1/2 rotation turn until you achieve a good tone. The head should be somewhere between really tight and really loose. In other words a nice medium. Use your ears and get a good sound. Once this is done, using the cross diagonal method, hit the drum lightly next to each tuning peg on the head. Go from each tuning peg and match the sound you hear so they are exactly the same pitch and tone.

Once this is done you will have a drum that is in tune and will stay that way, at least for awhile. Repeat the same thing with the other head on the drum. Make sure at every gig or rehearsal to tune the drums. They will go out of tune when moved or exposed to weather, etc. You do not have to tighten the head until it cracks every time. Once you have put a new head on a drum, until it is time to replace it, you just have to tune the drum by tightening or loosening the tuning pegs slightly and then using your ears to match the sound at every tuning peg with the cross diagonal method to get it in tune again. As a note, tune the bottom head slightly lower than the top head. This is a personal preference. Experiment with this and find out what you like best.

 Concepts on Drumming #2 — Control your environment
The second conceptual drumming thought will center around a discussion on how to control all aspects of your environment in order to channel emotion to your audience.

You are not merely providing a loud noise with some kind of rhythm to it. You can use your beats, your dynamics, your individual style and drum sound, along with controlling the acoustics and lighting of the room you are performing in to not only make someone dance but to actually take it to another level of emotion and release for them. You can do this by creating an environment and mood instead of just a beat by simply taking a few steps.

Here is an example. When entering a room take note of the surroundings. Is the room dimly lit, how does it sound in the room, it is muffled or loud, is it thud prone, how are the stage lights, etc, etc. These factors enter greatly into the the way you will play, tune your drums and translate to the audience. For example, if the room is dimly lit, with a muffled sound, you are going to want to tune your drums a little more wide open. Tune them higher and use rim shots, and cymbal bells, the side of your drums along with a little tom action and create a dynamic live crisp sound for the drums. Adjust the lighting so it is pleasant. Shine them on the drums if possible so they are warm by the time you perform. Do a long sound check to get the drums sound just right. Now you have control over the environment and can take the audience into your hands because you are setting the feel and energy of the room. You might think this is dumb. In fact I am not sure if many even think of these things. The issue is, it makes more sense to control the vibe and feel of a room so you can maximize your creativity and ability therefore creating a platform that allows you to translate feeling and emotion through your drumming. You can be free of all negative influences and actually achieve a place where you can be in a "zone" of creativity and awareness which translate to the audience. In other words you can translate and channel yourself, to evoke emotion from your audience they otherwise might not have felt. If you take the time to do this it seems people who have never danced can be seen dancing freely for the first time. Experiment with rooms and find what works for you. You will be glad you did.
Lesson #2— learn to swing
The second lesson is going to center around playing the swing beat. Every drummer should be able to "swing". Basically you need to be able to count, one twoah three fourah, assuming a tune is in 4/4, over any music in for it to swing. (Please note, music can swing in any time signature, not just 4/4). The bottom line is, if you cannot swing as a drummer than stop being a drummer. One of the best bands every to swing is Lynyrd Skynyrd. You can count the swing beat over their music whether it is a ballad, a rocker or an acoustic tune. You need to be able to play with a dotted eighth note feel regardless of the style or genre of music you are playing. The best way to achieve this is get a ride cymbal and a hi-hat. Next search the internet for the swing beat written in musical notes so you are aware of what we are talking about as it is technically written and played.

Play the swing beat over and over and at different speeds on the metronome until it is stuck in your brain. Then when practicing other styles count the swing beat over what your playing and you will soon understand what I am saying. This is not an overnight achievement. Work on this as part of your daily practice or wood shedding regime.

Look at the following paraphrased definition of the swing feel taken from wikipedia.

Swing eighth notes are generally played legato (slurred). Accenting the "and" between each beat slightly is also a common swing characteristic.Swing feel is an assumed convention of notation in many styles of jazz.The subtler end of the range involves treating written pairs of eighth notes as slightly asymmetrical pairs of similar values. On the other end of the spectrum, the "dotted eighth - one sixteenth" rhythm, consists of a long note three times as long as the short. Rhythms identified as swung notes most commonly fall somewhere between straight eighths and a quarter-eighth triplet pattern.
Swing ratios tend to get wider at slower tempos and narrower at faster tempos. Miles Davis varied his swing ratios, frequently delaying the first note of each pair of eighth notes by some milliseconds and then synchronized the second eighth note with the drummer's swing eighths being played on the cymbal. Advanced performers often lay back or play behind the beat when performing jazz melodies by delaying the rhythms by milliseconds.
This is somewhat an arduous description but take from it what you want. The truth is get to know the swing beat, live with it, sleep with it, carry it around with you until it is part of your drumming fibre.

Please be aware that you can swing straight quarter notes. The trick here is to still play the notes with a dotted eighth feel, but with the dotted note being silent. Basically play behind the beat, (We will discuss this later), but lay it back and accentuate the dotted feel. (As I go forward many things I discuss are based on feel. You can play notes all you want but until you achieve a great feel you will just be another musician playing notes).
Until next time and have a great New Year!
— Stanley Jackson, The Drum Beat
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