Playing drums: notes and movement

Last weekend we worked with our drum teacher on movement while playing the snare drum. Today I thought about the connection between notes and movement, and which one influences the other, in which music styles and in my practice.

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Drumline – source: marchingbands.wikia.com

I remember having paid attention to movement in itself only in my first year of drum lessons, because I started focusing on technical challenges in reading notes, learning new rhythms and learning to play various percussions. I stopped noticing when I was getting tired and cramped, when the movement was not calibrated well and therefore the notes came out of rhythm. My response was to try harder – cramping even more – and finally give up.

During Saturday’s lesson I understood that if a set of notes is not sounding right, or even is not properly timed, it is very likely that the movements are not correct. I thought about pieces that are written with the movement in mind, from which the notes come out – for example marching band music, especially the more spectacular pieces. I have in mind my beloved Downfall of Paris. Look at Tormod’s hands and arms first, then listen to the music:

This video shows the symetry of movements and is for me a feast for the eyes:

And look at the bass drum players’ movements, especially at the beginning:

The movement has a big influence on the sound itself, because the speed of the stick hitting the drum decides how it will rebound – a light stroke will muffle the note, a faster/stronger stroke will make the stick rebound and produce a cleaner note. The skill of a drummer is being able to guess the movements just by reading the notes, and practice so much that the movement does not need to be adjusted with conscious decisions (a bit like when driving cars). This is made easier in marching music, because the building blocks are not single notes, but basic patterns (the rudiments) that are learned until they become “movement units”.

I feel that I understood something big, that allows me to make progress by spotting myself what I can improve. As with horse riding, I will in any case benefit from “an eye on the ground” and will keep asking for expert advice, but I know I can do a fair amount of work on my own.

 

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Music weekend with my orchestra

Last weekend my orchestra had organised a three-day musical retreat, in order to practice before our main concert. We had a great time, that I enjoyed even more as I have recently started playing again, after a long musical break. I realised how much I missed my fellow musicians, the positive energy I get from our being together.

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Still nature with trombone (accidental composition)

The orchestra was divided in three groups: wind instruments (flutes, clarinets, saxophones, oboe, bassoon), brass (trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas) and percussions, each under the lead of a teacher. The percussion section was definitely the smaller and consisted of me, the first drummer and the teacher. We first looked through all the notes (we had notes for 5+ percussionists in some pieces, and had to select which ones to play), then we practiced the most difficult spots. I practiced on the castanets, that are very conveniently mounted on a wooden base, and are therefore way easier to play – there is even a knob to calibrate the opening of the shells:

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We solved our doubts on the notes in the first half of the day and dedicated the second half to posture and movement while playing the drums. It was a precious moment. We rarely have the time to take care of our posture, because we are busy following the notes; but this work is even more important, because it allows us to play for longer bouts without strain or even injuries. The exercises are on a musical sense extremely simple (for example slow quarter notes) just because the attention is elsewhere, needs to be elsewhere: on the wrists, arms, back, seat; on the speed and the similarity between the hands. It is a sort of yoga for drummers. You can read more on this topic on John Lamb’s blog.

After the practice in separate sections we had two sessions of rehearsals all together. The sound was way better than in our previous runs, thanks to the accurate work on each difficult spot! I am confident that we will have a great concert, because we have passed the point where we only read notes, and are now able to add expression to our parts.

On Saturday evening the conductor was ready to thank everyone and close the session, when the trombones asked to practice one spot once more, and the conductor was so surprised. I later thought about it, and why is it such a rare event. Maybe it is because conductors are used to whip the orchestra forward, as if the orchestra itself would otherwise not play. Therefore, at the end of the repetition the orchestra usually ends up more tired than expected. In this case, working separately allowed a better feedback between the musicians and the teacher, and probably a more appropriate workload; thanks to that, we were not as tired as usual, and wanted to continue playing. If I were the conductor, I would take it as a sign that I have allowed the orchestra to work in an efficient way, and moreover, that it is manifesting its own will to improve. I would find it wonderful, and I would do my best to replicate the conditions that lead to it.

I’m so looking forward for our Sundays concert! I feel so different from when I wrote about concerts, and am so glad I am feeling overall much better.

Shopping strategies: focused and scanning

I noticed I have two main strategies while grocery shopping, that strongly depend on how much time I have and how much optimisation I need to achieve. When I’m in full focused mode, I set up a kind of filter and I only pay attention to what I have to buy. On the opposite extreme, when I’m in scanning mode I am looking at everything with interest.

OK, this is barely new information to anyone. What I want to share is the surprise I felt when I thought: when I’m commuting, am I more focused or more scanning? And when I’m in a queue? When I’m home? I realised that I tend to travel around in a very focused manner. I wait at the bus stop with only my destination in mind. I check the phone to see if the bus is late. Only few times I have managed to look around in a more scanning-like way, and I discovered a woman on the balcony, reading among her flowers; the different greens of the trees above me; a crow walking across the street; the nice evening light.

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Source: my Flickr

This way of looking around didn’t take long, and filled the few minutes of waiting time in a very enriching way. I want to practice it more often, especially when I feel that the focused mode can be switched off for a while.

Jumping: the landing

One more post about the show jumping event I attended a while ago (previous ones: jumps and take-offs): landings. After the flight phase, the horse and rider have to prepare the landing. The difficulty for the rider lies in keeping balance, while allowing the horse to use its front legs in a way that the combined weight doesn’t damage its front limbs. In the fourth picture you can see the angle of the pastern, absorbing the impact – it is the less blurred part of the picture, so the stillest one. Furthermore, horses have no collar bones, so the impact of landing is received by muscles and tendons, instead of more breakable joints.

The rider changes position, from staying close to the horse’s neck during the flight phase to leaning slightly backwards, ideally on a vertical line. The rider in the fifth picture is leaning forward, maybe the horse made a big jump that was hard to follow? It sure takes a lot of practice to properly ride your horse on such jumps (thanks Scottish Rider for sharing your experiences during training!), so I prefer to celebrate the moments of good coordination 🙂

 

 

 

Jumping: pictures of take-offs

I wish to write several posts about aspects of horse jumping that I observed at last Friday’s competition. Today I write about the initial phase of the jump, the take-off. It is less often portrayed in photography, and in my case it was mainly the result of inaccurate timing than a conscious decision – still, I caught on film a bunch of interesting moments.

Horse jumping looks really crazy when you realise it involves galloping full speed towards the obstacle. Notice also how the rider changes the body position during the take-off (see Wikipedia for further info on jumping techniques)

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This pair is jumping willingly…

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… while this pair looks concerned…

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… and this horse refused to jump:

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and these two pictures caught the moment when the horse has both front feet below the body, right before the jump, and look unnaturally still:

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Stay tuned for further posts about this event!

Photography: my first steps

I have admiration for great photography, but I am a beginner. Unfortunately, I was so afraid of bad results that I haven’t properly tried out the nice camera I have at home since a couple years, a Fujifilm FinePix. However, yesterday I attended the first day of the Longines Global Champions Show in Berlin, and I brought the camera to snap a few pics.

I ended up taking pictures the whole day, and piled up one thousand of them! Thank you, digital cameras and large SD cards! I can’t imagine myself daring so much, if I had to spend money on film and development. And thanks to the camera for letting me snap great pictures, without requiring me neither a good eyesight nor photography background. In fact, all pictures in this post are done with fixed zoom and the default camera preset.

Time for the pictures! I want to share my thoughts about taking pictures to a horse show jumping competition. The first ones that come to mind are portraying the flying moment over the jump, and I managed to snap 4 pictures with an acceptable timing and focus, here are two of the best:

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A few pictures were correctly timed but out of focus – I decided to keep them, and I find them somewhat artistic:

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The important point is that for every of these good(ish) pictures, I took tens of pictures with no horse, or a nose, or a tail:

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I think the picture with the best focus AND with a horse in it is this one:

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… while this is the blurriest (that I like nevertheless):

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I took many pictures of the riders and horses negotiating turns, the rider with the eye and attention on the next obstacle (in the second picture, the horse is not turning yet):

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I managed to get a single picture of a horse hitting a pole (poles are held in place by small, almost flat supports that allow the pole to wiggle but stay in place if it is lightly touched, but fall down at moderate to hard impacts. There is no danger that the horse remains trapped in them), also because it happened quite rarely:

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There are many other pictures that I find interesting, in their unprofessionality; but I am afraid to make this post too long, so I want to end with this nicely timed picture of the suspension phase of the gallop:

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Time for final considerations and to-dos for myself:

  • I enjoyed taking pictures, especially after I decided to focus on something else than getting the standard jump pic;
  • … therefore I saw many more aspects of the riding competition, and collected a lot of impressions along the day;
  • I was OK with making an awful lot of pictures, but only 1% that I could be proud of, and show to others;
  • I realised that I need to learn more about photography principles, if I want to access the potential of this camera;
  • I enjoyed the fact that the camera compensated most of my mistakes, thus motivated me to improve – it is otherwise hard to see if bad results come from my skills or from the equipment.

Stay tuned for more pictures from this event in some future post, and let me know your feedback in the comments! Thanks in advance 🙂

 

Book recommendation: “The magic of drawing” by Cliff Wright

I found Wright’s book in my local library, in its German translation. It is filled with ideas for sketching, exploring new techniques and improving your observation skills. I recommend this book to all people who feel too clumsy to draw, even for themselves, and find Drawing on the right side of the brain too lengthy and too… brainy 🙂

I loved how each page captivated me with lively drawings of magical creatures, some of them trying the drawing exercises themselves in cute poses! And how to forget the full pages of his complete drawings, like this one:

The book is mostly a school for observation. There are so many issues in the drawing process that are rooted in the ordinary way of scanning the world with the eye, that is oriented to classification and not to analysis. Wright provides tips to train the eye to collect information for the drawing, and surprisingly few tips for drawing techniques. He even encourages to draw with your other hand, a hand that has had little or no training in holding a pencil – but when the eye has done his observation job well, the drawing will come out far more alive than the one made by an unschooled eye and a skilled hand. Try for yourself!

Happy sketching everyone 🙂