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A, E, I, O, U and Sometimes Paradiddle

Article by Sean Mitchell // April 02 2009
A, E, I, O, U and Sometimes Paradiddle

Think of the numerous times you sat behind the practice pad and did your single strokes, your doubles, your triplets and your five stroke rolls. That time was imperative to you as a player whether you were conscious of it or not. You were building the foundation of what would become the drumming temple known as insert name here.

Let’s face it, we are in an industry that thrives on communicating human emotion and ideals. Two musicians who verbally speak different languages can communicate on the same level when they play music together. As drummers our “job” is to speak the language of rhythm, and in order to be understood we must mind our p’s and q’s. Enter endless hours of rudiments and technique practice. Consider for the sake of simplicity that rudiments and technique are to your playing as vowels are to a sentence. You can get by without them, but it makes things a little harder to understand. What if Van Gough only had one color of paint, or Wayne Gretzky could only skate forward?

When you lack technique you lack the ability to utilize the very tools that will help you express your distinctiveness as a player. Imagine a world where ghost notes don’t exist (and cross over to the other side); where press rolls and buzz rolls line the streets, asking for your spare change; where the millions of unused flams fill our unemployment lines and saturate our homeless shelters. Let’s look at any common sentence and say that vowels represent the rudiments and techniques you possess and practice, as monotonous as they are. In the string of a sentence the less technique (vowels), the harder it is to express the flow of creative ideas.

The following sentence we will say has no technique, and therefore the sentence contains no vowels:

t s s r sly c l th ng t b bl t h t th ngs f r l v ng!

You can see that clearly, someone has tried to express a thought here, but, without the vowels, something was lost in translation. Now let’s take a moment and practice a few techniques. Say for example we practice enough technique to have only e’s become part of the equation. Thus our musical master piece will now read:

t s ser sly c l th ng t be ble t h t th ngs f r l v ng!

Better, but still… huh? For a number of years I sat with the headphones on and hammered out groove after groove of my favorite tunes. One in particular gave me my first mental meltdown: Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” To that point I was able to play straight eighths on the hats with a decent backbeat and equally ample four on the kick. However, in the case of this new tune I was tackling, Mr. Kramer had added those tricky little sixteenths on the kick. As a young player my drumming vocabulary was limited enough I could not play the song at all. Not because I wasn’t talented but because I lacked the awareness of the foot technique that would enable me to play the kick pattern for that tune. As a good friend has so eloquently put it, “The things you don’t know you don’t know.”

Isn’t it scary that we brilliant and highly evolved humans can run around formulating thoughts and free will, but are also prone to letting ourselves believe that we are only as capable as what we currently know? The average player, for example, might play to a hundred people a night only because he or she does not yet have the awareness or the technique it takes to play to a hundred thousand a night. Needless to say, if ever you have an issue with your abilities or a lack of practice time the person you need to talk to is always waiting in the bathroom mirror. Now let’s get back to our sentence. Let’s say that we now have done enough work with that seemingly lame practice pad to warrant the addition of some i’s:

It is seri sly c l thing t be ble t hit things f r living!

See the thing I always missed when practicing rudiments was that I underestimated how much I was accomplishing when I sat at my practice pad. There was a period in time when I was on the road in my early twenties that our band was learning tune after tune to accommodate what I now deem to be a ridiculous sized set list (five one-hour sets) as per request from the many clubs we frequently played. For a time, I hate to say it, but I chose to forsake technique to learn tunes. In the end, I paid the price when I came upon many concepts which initially seemed relatively easy but proved difficult to execute without certain chops. Try playing any sixteenth note shuffle on the snare at a rate of 170 bpm or higher and tell me that you don’t need technique!

Back to our metaphor: the sentence that lacks vowels. Let’s put my two-fingered typing skills out of their misery and say that you now have enough quality time with your rudiments that you have all the vowels a cunning linguist could need. And thus we read:

It is a seriously cool thing to be able to hit things for a living!

In this day and age of heavily produced music and compressed sound, MP3 has given us so much in the way of freedom to download and distribute music, but the process of digital compression unfortunately does limit the depth of our musical landscape once it hits the web. Because of this duality we have become a society all too accustomed to the heavy four on the floor dynamics with the relentless 2 and 4 on the back door of the groove. Although a beautiful thing in its own right, you still must go out and spend some time with the notes and space between the backbeat to find balance; for there lies a lesson or two in control and dynamics. Listen to vinyl and CDs to find the mastering that actually lets you hear those grace notes, those beautiful flams, and those magnificent buzz rolls. Be bold, my fellow batterista. Your voice in music requires its own care and consideration— for drummerkind cannot live on 2 and 4 alone. The road to musical expression is only partially paved with groove. Vive la chops!


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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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