Friday, November 30, 2007

Prog Improv

As a kid taking drum lessons, I didn't know what kind of music I liked. I was just interested in music and I wanted to play. After taking drum lessons at a local music shop for some time I started to get really bored. I was playing endless exercises but no music. The drum teacher never encouraged me to play in school band and it wouldn't have mattered anyway because I went to a parochial school with no fine arts program at all. I don't know why, but one day out of sheer boredom, I put on a pair of headphones and tried to play along with some music on the radio. I didn't try to play exactly what I was hearing I just tried to play along using ideas from my exercises that seemed to fit. I know that one of the first songs I tried this with was Dreamweaver by Gary Wright, so I guess that was 1975, and I was 12.

About this time my older brother started bringing home more and more albums, most of them Prog. I would play my drum lessons, then put my headphones on and play to Prog records and FM radio for hours. I know that a lot of what I was hearing was way over my head, but that didn’t matter, I just kept trying different things, different exercises, playing what I thought I was hearing, trying something else, making things fit, and so on. Then I would take the headphones off and keep playing. I would play the grooves, create fills, string fills together, incorporate my drum lessons and try to see how long I could keep it going. Little did I know that I was teaching myself how to improvise. This became my routine for several years. Then one day I met up with some guys from another high school and they invited me to come jam with them. These guys were into music I had never heard of, something called fusion. I was completely unfamiliar with that style. They told me not to worry and just play the way I play. So I did and they loved it.

I think that the ability to improvise is one of the greatest skills I’ve ever acquired. The ability to improvise gives me the freedom to let creativity flow. When you can improvise, the instrument has become your voice. But even more than that, Improvisation keeps art (and much more) from becoming static.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Prog drumming on Myspace you might wanna hear

Ahh Myspace. Anybody anywhere can post anything. I constantly blab with musician's from all around the globe, both signed and self produced. Guys I never would have heard any other way. On several occasions, I've been able to swap demo CDs with them and I've ended up with some fantastic music. Here are some Prog bands that I really enjoy the drumming on:

Octopus - from Santiago, Chile
Behold... The Arctopus - from Brooklyn
Antimateria - from San Jose, Costa Rica
Psicotropia - from Madrid, Spain
Magic Elf - from New York

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Polyrhythms In Prog

I was recently viewing a discussion of polyrhthms on a popular Prog forum. One thing I noticed was a lack of consideration that there is more than one concept that goes by that name. One concept of polyrhythm consists of the sounding of two seperate time signitures simultaneously, i.e 5/4 and 4/4. In this example, after five measures of 4/4 and four measures of 5/4 both meters will land together on "one". Many examples of this in Prog music were cited, including songs by King Crimson, Tool, and Meshugga. I love this stuff and it can get really crazy. The measures don't have to be based on the quarter note either. You could just as easily play 13/16 against 7/8, the principle is the same.

The other polyrhythm concept that was not really discussed is the idea of the "tuplet", i.e. triplet, quintuplet, sextuplet, septuplet, etc. This is the case where an odd number of notes is evenly distributed across an evenly divided number of beats, or vice versa. An example is a measure of 2/4 time comprising an even division of two quarter per measure. If I evenly distribute three quarter notes across the measure I have a triplet, or a 3:2 polyrhythm. The trick is to play the triplet and the duplet simultaneously. This is not so dificult with simple polyrhythms like 3:2, 5:2, 5:3, etc, especially if the occurance of the polyrhythm is isolated. You just find that the larger number is played slightly faster than the smaller number. This becomes much more dificult when you have multiple tuplets of varying degrees ocurring in rapid succession. This is the case with Frank Zappa's The Black Page, (a prog masterpiece).

The Black Page is actually in 4/4 time, however each measure is incredibly syncopated, and the piece is full of polyrhythms that are constantly changing and ocurring in rapid succession. For instance, in measure two there are 16th note triplets on the first half of beats one and two, followed by an eighth note quintuplet across beats 3 and 4. At measure four, beat one is 32nd notes, beat two is a 16th note triplet and 32nd note quintuplet, and beats three and four are both septuplet figures. Beats three and four of measure five are subdivided into a quarter note triplet, however beat one of the triplet is further subdivided into a quintuplet, beat two is a quintuplet, and beat three is a sextuplet. This figure occurs four times in the score. Here is a link to a video of Terry Bozzio playing The Black Page:
The Black Page

The video Terry Bozzio And Chad Wackerman: Solos And Duets features the two drummers performing The Black Page drum solo simultaneaously. They run the score measure by measure underneath the performance, so with some manuscript paper and the pause button on my handy remote, I was able to write out the whole score.

Here is a link to a brilliant article by Steve Vai on the subject of ployrhythms:
Tempo Mental

Further reading
wiki on polyrhythm

Why a Prog Drum Blog

I'm a drummer and I love Progressive Rock. I've looked around on the net and found great sites about drumming, like the Percussive Arts Society and , not to mention many great artist sites. I've also found great sites dedicated to Prog Rock like and (maybe I will compile a list) . I thought it would be great to have a site that's just about the drums and the genre, a place where I can blab about technique and concepts, listening, new bands, old bands, CD's, DVD's, concerts, and interesting sites, but with a definite focus on the drumming. Also, a place where others can share things with me.

As much as I can, I would like to talk about specifics of playing and musical concepts. For instance, the use of polyrhythms, ostinati, counterpoint, roll techniques, hand/foot combinations, linear playing, four limb independence, and so forth. If anyone has a question or a topic to suggest, I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Marco Minnemann with UKZ

Okay, I just heard about this one. Eddie Jobson (ex Zappa violinist and founder of the Prog Rock super group UK) has formed a new band, UKZ, featuring Marco Minnemann on drums. As if that weren't enough, he's got Alex Machacek on guitar, and Trey Gunn on Warr guitar.

So let's see.... Marco is one of my favorite drummers, I play Chapman Stick and I think Trey is one of the coolest touchstyle players on the planet, Alex plays on one of my favorite Terry Bozzio DVDs, and I grew up with Jobson. I saw Eddie Jobson with Frank Zappa and I saw him open up for Jethro Tull (with Terry Bozzio on drums).

That said, I am going to do everything within my power as a human being to see them play live.
UKZ official site