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.

Drumline
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.

Drawing session: mammal profiles

Today I went to my favourite library with my sketchbook and looked for a book with a lot ot pictures of mammals, as I wanted to put into practice a few tips from John Muir Laws’ lesson. Here are the results:

sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--african-wild-dog
African wild dog
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--chimp-eating
Chimpanzee, handling a stone
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--chimp-water
Chimpanzee, playing in water
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--cinghiale
Wild boar
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--grizzly
Grizzly bear, hunting fish
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--indris
Indri (lemur), on tree
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--jaguar
Jaguar, climbing on tree
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--young-tapir
Brazilian tapir, calf

I observed attentively before starting with the drawing, and then drew the outline very fast (1 or 2 minutes maximum). I didn’t use the eraser, just drew more lines. I tried to notice proportions, so that few pencil strokes could suggest the species, without the help of colour or surrounding habitat.

I am quite happy with the result, given that it’s the first time I draw most of these species in a realistic way (I have drew some in cartoon style before). My next step is to work on the outline, adding details (fur texture, eyes, precise shapes of legs/head/body/tail, 3D suggestion through line width). Stay tuned for next posts!

Watercolour: first negative space painting

Yesterday I gave a try to the negative space technique, and this is the result:

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I picked Horsepower by Chad Hanson on Flickrย and drew the minimum amount of lines needed to reproduce the scene. I then put one layer of watercolour after the other. I suspect that the paper had to be prepared before painting, because it bent a lot and made a strange effect on the left side. Maybe I used too much water. As a first result, it is not so bad! For sure I need practice in painting uniform surfaces (not like the darkest layer, where you see all brush strokes ๐Ÿ™‚ ) but this painting encourages me a lot.

Thanks my fellow bloggers for your inspiring posts about watercolour, and I hope that some of my readers feel like trying watercolour as well!

Learning to learn (from now on)

A few days ago I read this tumblr post and resonated with it like a gong:

Source: Tumblr

I have the sensation that in my childhood I found either things I could master right away, or things that required me some practice. I suspect that I received a lot of encouragement when I did the first kind of activities, and something in the lines of “don’t bother to practice that, you’re not as good at it as with the other things you can master right away” when I tried the others. I think I missed the opportunity to learn that some things are hard to master, and that I could not avoid practice forever.

I’m not a fan of the “if you ain’t sweating, you ain’t doing it right” either; but rather of a reasonable amount of practice, mistakes and lessons learned, that make the goal worth reaching. I feel like I am learning how to learn only since last year or so, because I had the privilege (or curse?) of mastering enough necessary skills without (perceived) effort, and I lived off this treasure until recently. The downside is that I am a bit old to start learning how to learn, so it looks odd to most other people who encountered this hurdle in their childhood, and I get more puzzled looks than helpful hands. Anyway, now that I realised where I am, and which path I want to follow, I can start walking.

Source: The Latest Kate

Watercolour experiments

Today I wanted to test some exercises suggested by “The magic of drawing”, and I’m quite happy of the result:

 

The process was free, the shapes came out from a first random brush stroke, that suggested the subject of the small painting; a linear stroke invited more linear strokes to represent tall grass or slender trees, while curved strokes reminded me of oak trees, like the green one.

My first steps of watercolour are about learning to control the brush, so they are not anything close to reality; nevertheless, I had much fun just practising these basics.They reminded me the free canvas use by children, who are additionally learning to control their hand. It was for me a happy jump in the past, in the times where I could draw and paint without thinking about the time or the use of paper.

I hope this encourages you to try too: you only need paper (any kind is OK for the start, it only has to be a bit thick, otherwise it bends with water) and a watercolour set! Hint: shopping for these supplies is a feast on its own ๐Ÿ™‚

Drawing with non-dominant hand

It is natural to work on the non-dominant hand (the left hand for a right-handed, and vice versa) on the drumset, where it is required that both hands develop equal strength and precision. It is not considered when drawing, but as my recent studies focused more on observing than on technique, why not letting my non-dominant hand draw too?

I felt that the observation step was as accurate as by right-hand drawings. The difference came when I had to draw – my left hand has very seldom held a pencil, so there is no muscular memory of a pencil grip. I somehow grouped my fingers together and started with the mare’s head. You can see the hesitations and trembling. There was sometimes too much opposition from the paper, that my left hand had to try hard to move the pencil. Another difficulty that arose half-way was that I started drawing, as usual, from the left – not taking into account that my hand would cover the drawing, therefore I went on holding the hand and arm above the drawing, like left-handers do when they write.

The drawing took maybe ten minutes to be done. It is of course very sketchy and by no matters finished, but the point is made: a good observation matters more to me that technique. Even from an unschooled hand, the subject is recognisable and with acceptable proportions.

That made me also think how adults can forget how hard it was to learn to write and draw when they were children. It is a good refresher for my teacher’s future.

I hope this is of encouragement for you! Let me know in the comments or on your blogs about your drawing experiments.