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Guitar Musician e-zine 05/31/2006
In This Issue:
| "Back in those days, all us skinny white British kids were
trying to look cool and sound black. And there was Hendrix, the ultimate in
black cool. Everything he did was natural and perfect."
- Ronnie Wood - Guitar - Rolling Stones - was Hendrix's roommate early on
A Lesson For The Learning
Interested in guitar lessons? - Be sure and check out the guitar lessons offered by Andrew Koblick at Amazing Guitar
GUITAR Q AND A
Dale Jason; Gilbert, AZ
Q: My new guitar has two pickups and I don't know which one to use. Can you give me a brief explanation of how they work?
A: Two pickups is the most common setup for electric guitars. Here is how they work:
The Bridge Pickup is closest to the bridge of the guitar where the strings anchor into the body of the guitar. This pickup usually gets a thinner sound because it captures the sound right as it comes off the bridge; it is commonly call the treble pickup.
The Neck Pickup is closest to the guitar neck and has a warmer sound. It is often used for playing rhythm guitar.
You should experiment with different combinations to find your own signature sound.
Hope this helps!
Yours in Music,
Feature Paid Advertisement
9 Questions with Steve Smith
Since his explosive fusion album debut on Jean Luc Ponty's Enigmatic Ocean and his tenure with the more mainstream Journey, Steve Smith has spent three decades touring and recording with dozens of top names in rock, jazz, pop, and fusion, including his own band Vital Information. For five consecutive years Smith earned Modern Drummer magazine's reader-voted award for #1 All-Around Drummer. Smith took a few minutes out of his frenetic touring and recording schedule to answer a few pertinent questions.
1: How important is studying with a good teacher?
A: Studying with a good teacher is vital. The main way a musician is going to learn how to play an instrument is through private lessons.
Most so-called "self-taught" players are never as good as players who have studied with great teachers. There are a few exceptional self-taught players, but if you look at their history you'll see they are few and far between and lived in a time and place that is quite rare: for instance Buddy Rich growing up in the early half of the 1900s in a show-business family or Dennis Chambers growing up in a musical family in an African-American community in Baltimore. Both of these examples are certainly different than the average kid growing up in the USA or Europe today.
It's strange to me that people even question the idea of music instruction at all. Would anyone try to teach themselves martial arts or ballet? To me, drumming is just as specialized and you need to learn how to really play the instrument versus bang on it. The problem is that there are so many role models who can barely play, yet they are working professionally. This is a sad commentary on the level of today's average pop-star drummer. What you'll find is that the level of the average local working musician is higher than that of the average pop star. The local players usually have more experience and have played with a variety of good musicians versus being limited to the same group since they started playing.
2: What's the difference between a good drummer and a great one?
A: Interesting question. A good drummer plays in time and plays with a good feel and can work on a professional level. To me a great drummer is a great musician. They have all the elements of good drumming�good time and feel�and go beyond that. Their musicianship is apparent. They give the music shape and form, and they control the band dynamics and phrasing, playing with a sensitivity that is clearly motivated by the desire to have the entire ensemble sound as brilliant as possible.
3: Give one piece of advice�above all others�to the developing drummer.
A: Take your time, be patient, and learn how to play the instrument first. Don't be in a hurry to join a band and try to "make it." Learn how to read music. Develop good technique. Work on your coordination, time, feel, touch, sound, and dynamics, which will add up to you developing your musicianship. There are a lot of good DVDs available for ideas and then, of course, find a good private teacher. Then play with other musicians and develop the ability to be a good team player.
Being a good musician will last a lifetime and if you choose music as a profession, you will be able to find work. Taking a "short cut" and joining a band and trying to make it before you really learn how to play is like buying a ticket to the lottery. A few people get lucky and win; most people are just wasting their money. On the other hand, a good drummer will be able to work and enjoy being a musician for a lifetime.
4: How do you work with a bass player to develop a deeper pocket?
A: That is usually a matter of both the drummer and the bass player being good individual players who agree on the basic feel. To develop a deeper pocket is usually a matter of focus and dedication to making the pocket the priority. Both the drummer and the bass player make sure that everything they play is in service of the groove.
5: How do transcendent musical moments feel to you?
A: I'm very relaxed and the playing is effortless. Time seems to slow down and I can even watch myself play sometimes as if I'm in the audience. I feel connected with the other musicians and the experience is usually a collective experience.
6: How do you decide to use clear or coated heads?
A: I use coated heads for acoustic jazz; they give me a warm, round tone. When I play rock or jazz/fusion, I use clear heads to give me an open, resonant sound.
7: Give us some tips for choosing the right drum set.
A: I would start with a small kit�bass drum, snare, one mounted tom and one floor tom, a hi-hat, and two cymbals. That is the best way to get your fundamentals together. Then once you start gigging you can add drums or cymbals based on your musical needs.
I find it useful to have different size bass drums with my drum sets. If I use a 22" bass drum, this gives me a very different feel and sound than an 18" or 20" bass drum. I tend to use a smaller bass drum with jazz playing. My average bass drum is a 20" because it's the best compromise.
The way I set the bass drum up with heads and muffling is also very important. I use a full head on the front of the drum with no hole cut in it and no pillow or "stuffing" in the drum. The only muffling I use is a felt strip on the batter (beater side) head and sometimes a felt strip on the front head. This way I can play with more dynamics and the drum actually has a nice tone and not just a flat thud. This is important to take note of for the younger drummers who may have never played a bass drum that has no pillow in it. That sound and feel was designed for studio playing and, in my opinion, doesn't work for acoustic jazz. The double-headed bass drum, played with a nice touch (having the beater come off the head as opposed to "burying" the beater) will blend well with an acoustic bass and give the band a warm bottom-end sound and feel. If you need to mic the bass drum, place the mic on the batter head (as if miking a tom) and you'll get a great sound.
Tuning the toms and choosing heads are also important when playing acoustic jazz. I tune my toms relatively high and like to use coated heads which give me a warmer and slightly softer sound than clear heads. I tend to stay away from heads with built-in muffling; they were developed for the dead studio sound.
8: What primary difference do you find using a wood snare versus a metal snare?
A: One would think of the usual characteristics, like a wood snare usually has a darker, "woody" sound whereas a metal snare has a brighter more "metallic" sound. Though this is generally true, I own both metal and wood snare drums and if the drum is made of wood or metal isn't the issue. I choose a drum based on the instrument's unique sound and if it's right for a gig or a particular song.
9: What about choosing a ride cymbal?
A: Choosing ride cymbals is very important for drummers, especially for playing jazz, because most of the rhythms being played are centered on the ride cymbal. I've noticed that many young drummers who ask me about certain ride cymbals are usually not taking into consideration the music they will be playing and the other musicians they will be playing with. They talk about the cymbal itself and ideas like "cutting through," "projection," and other qualities that are the opposite of what they need if they are playing jazz with acoustic instrumentalists. Also, many drummers now practice with ear plugs or headphones, which is good to save their hearing, but I have noticed that it can have a tendency to make them play louder and be less sensitive to the actual sound they are getting from the instrument. The sound you get from the cymbals and drums is very important and it mainly depends on your touch, but choosing the right equipment is the first step.
If you are playing with an acoustic bass it's important to have ride cymbals that are not too loud and will blend well with the sound of the bass. I think this is one reason why many jazz drummers prefer darker cymbal sounds�they blend with the warm sound of the upright bass. I've told many young drummers who are just starting to play jazz to find ride cymbals that will sound pleasing to the ear and musical in a small room�cymbals that will be pleasant for the other musicians to hear too, keeping in mind they will be standing only a few feet away. This was surprising to them because it's very different from the information they get via media advertising that makes drumming look like a violent act that requires loud cymbals, powerful drums, and sticks and heads that won't break.
The idea of "cutting through" may have some relevance for big band playing but, more than volume, the clarity of the beat is what is important. For big band you may want a brighter ride cymbal than if you are playing with a small group; but again it depends on the band and what kind of venues you will be playing. If you are in a college big band and are mainly rehearsing in a room at school, you need to take that reality into consideration when choosing a cymbal. I've found the only times when cymbals that "cut through" are needed is when playing with a rock group that uses highly distorted guitars that cover every frequency. In those cases I've needed a ride cymbal that has clarity and some volume. Other than that, volume is not an issue and neither is "projection." Cymbals tend to be loud to begin with, especially if they are not played with a mature touch. I find it harder to find a cymbal that has a nice sound and doesn't get too loud as I play it than a cymbal that isn't loud enough. I generally use relatively dark rides when playing acoustic jazz and rides that are a bit brighter when playing electric jazz. When I play with Indian tabla players or acoustic instrumentalists in a small room or club, I find that the lightest flat rides give me the airy sound needed to blend with and not overpower the other players.
I have also found that when playing small-group acoustic jazz, crash cymbals are unnecessary. If you need a crash sound, you can get it from a good ride cymbal. I like to add crash cymbals when playing with a big band or a rock band to accentuate some of the band figures. I have found some splash sounds and specialty sounds to be useful in small-group playing, but whether or not these sounds are appropriate also depends on the overall musical concept. If you have at least a few different ride cymbals and additional cymbal sounds (crashes, splashes, etc.), you can make choices depending on the musical situations you find yourself in.
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