Glen Allman Posts

Opinion: Are Drum Covers Beneficial?

steve-gadd

Welcome back to the Chops blog! Today I’d like to address a topic that I feel has needed attention for some time: drum covers.

Over the past five to six years a type of video called a “drum cover” has become popular on the internet, especially on YouTube. If you’re not familiar, a drum cover is a video of a drummer playing along to a prerecorded track. However, rather than playing an authentic, straight-forward version of the track, the drummer plays their own version of the song. This often involves unique beats, fills, and solos. There are many drum cover videos available on YouTube that showcase some incredibly creative and technical playing.

Despite their prevalence, and the impressive musicianship often on display, drum covers are often a negative influence on young or otherwise impressionable drummers. When a naïve musician watches a drum cover, they are easily impressed by the complex techniques on display. They then think that these things are important, and should be emulated in their own playing. This idea is then reinforced by the number of times the video has been viewed.

Unfortunately, drum covers are unrealistic and impractical for drummers in the real world. For every YouTube drummer that uploads an exciting drum cover, there are thousands of drummers and percussionists that survive as professional musicians and hobbyists without the flashy skills needed for their own video. These musicians are successful because they understand a few fundamental truths that you may not find in a drum covers:

  1. Drummers and percussionists play a supporting role approximately 99% of the time.
  2. In the real world, drum solos are rare. If you are given the opportunity to play a solo it will probably occur in the context of a song. Instead of spending time developing your chops for an “open” solo, learn how to solo over a vamp, or trade fours and eights.
  3. Simple is always better, and more effective than complex. The flashy licks and beats from the drum cover will not work when you play with other musicians. In other words, play the song.

Instead of watching drum covers, try these few tips instead. First, listen to, watch, and study great drummers. A five-minute video of Steve Gadd will teach you more than any drum cover ever can. Second, get out and play with other humans. Listen to what they’re playing, and match it as simply as you can.  Third, find a great teacher who can explain and demonstrate what it means to be a great musician, not just a drummer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that drum covers have no purpose or value. What you need to understand about drum covers, however, is that they’re just for entertainment and self promotion. They have little to no value in the real world.

Mallet FAQs – Marimba VS Vibraphone

Welcome back to the Chops blog! Today we’re going to continue our series on mallet-related frequently asked questions (FAQ) by explaining the difference between marimba and vibraphone mallets. While they are very similar in appearance, and can sometimes be used for the same purpose, there are significant differences in marimba and vibraphone mallets.

The differences between marimba and vibraphone mallets begin with the materials used in their construction. The head of both style mallets contain a rubber core, but the material wrapped around that core varies. Marimba mallets use a softer yarn than vibraphone mallets, which use cord. The harder cord and rounder shape of the mallet head allows the mallets to produce a clear sound from the metal bars of the vibraphone.

Note the differences in appearance between the Vic Firth marimba and vibraphone mallets below. The M1 on the left is a popular marimba mallet. The M25 vibraphone mallet on the right was designed by Gary Burton, the world’s foremost vibraphonist.

marimba-vibe-mallets

Another important difference between marimba and vibraphone mallets is the material used for their shafts. Both are commonly available in birch or rattan, but marimbists and vibraphonists have different preferences. Marimbists typically prefer the rigidity of birch shafts, while vibraphonists favor rattan. Its flexibility is better suited to vibraphone techniques like mallet dampening.

In addition to their respective instruments, both mallets can also be used to play suspended cymbals. In fact, they are preferred over timpani mallets, whose wood cores can be damaged and destroyed by the vibration of cymbals.

If marimba and vibraphone mallets are very similar, can they be used for the same purpose? Yes, but only in certain circumstances. The soft yarn heads of marimba mallets limit their volume, and therefore effectiveness, on the vibraphone. However, vibraphone mallets can be used on the marimba for a clear, cutting tone. Jazz musicians who play both instruments simultaneously often choose vibraphone mallets for this purpose. In this video, Dave Samuels, with the Caribbean Jazz Project, uses vibraphone mallets while soloing on the marimba and then comping on the vibraphone.

Advanced percussionists, such as high school or collegiate students should own both marimba and vibraphone mallets. Serious soloists will have several sets in varying styles and hardness (see our previous mallet FAQ on marimba mallet hardness) available in their mallet bag.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the difference between marimba and vibraphone mallets. Please contact us for assistance choosing mallets or for recommendations. See you next time!

Opinion: Carriers are uncomfortable!

Welcome back to the Chops blog! Today I’d like to address a concern we frequently hear at this time of year: uncomfortable carriers.

Carriers

As the marching band season begins, students often suffer through the first several weeks when they are commonly out of shape, and unprepared to carry the weight of a marching drum. Combine that with the intense, all day schedule of a band camp and you quickly have a miserable student. Weak shoulders, backs, and legs are punished by the weight of the drum.

After suffering the shock of a heavy drum, concerned parents often contact us seeking relief for their student. However, before investing in expensive alternatives, I recommend that your student endure the first weeks of the season and develop strength in their back, shoulders, and legs. The more time your student spends marching and wearing their drum, the more their body will be accustomed to the weight. By the end of the season your student will barely notice the weight, and will be able to wear their drum for hours at a time.

However, if your student is still suffering a month into the season, contact us and we’ll discuss options that might work for some relief.




Mallet FAQs – Marimba Mallets

Mallet FAQs: Marimba mallets

Welcome back to the Chops blog! Today we’re going to begin a series of posts on mallets. With the large variety of brands, applications, and styles available, purchasing mallets can be very confusing for non-percussionists and non-musicians. We frequently answer questions about mallets such as:

  • “Why does my student need these mallets when they already have several pairs?”
  • “What is the difference between these mallets?”
  • “What does my student’s teacher recommend this mallet and brand over others?”
  • “Can I use this mallet for this instrument?”

 

In this series we’ll attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) we receive about mallets.

marimba

We’re going to begin with marimba mallets. The most common marimba mallets consist of yarn wrapped around a rubber core, which is attached to a wood or rattan handle. Other styles, including rubber, are available, but yarn is the most common.

Yarn mallets are commonly described in terms of their “hardness” or articulation. “Soft” mallets have a large yarn head and produce a round, gentle tone in the mid to low range of the instrument. “Hard” mallets include a smaller head with less yarn and are better suited to the upper range of the instrument. Between hard and soft are a wide variety of “medium” mallets. Some brands include many models in this range, from “medium hard” to “medium soft”.

Compare four different mallets from the Innovative Percussion Soloist series in the photo below. From left to right:

  • IP200 – medium soft
  • IP240 – medium
  • IP275 – medium hard
  • IP300 – hard

 

Notice the differences in the shape and size of the mallet head.

ip-soloists

Experienced percussionists and marimba soloists should have several sets of mallets, from soft to hard, available. Students purchasing their first set of mallets for marimba should consider a medium mallet that will work well on the entire range of the instruments. Here are some recommendations for the beginner:

  • Innovative Percussion:  IP240, F1.5
  • Vic Firth:  M212, M3
  • Mike Balter: 13B, BB2
  • ProMark: DFP730

We hope that this brief introduction will help you understand the difference between marimba mallets. Stay tuned, we’ll have another mallet guide here shortly! Contact us for additional guidance or to purchase mallets.

Farewell Rhythm Devils

OPINION: Farewell Rhythm Devils

01-greatful-dead

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most celebrated rock and roll bands in American history, The Grateful Dead. To celebrate, and close their legendary career, the surviving members gathered to play five final concerts, dubbed “Fare Thee Well”. As we look back on rock and roll’s “longest, strangest trip”, we’d like to highlight their renowned drummers, the Rhythm Devils.

Bill Kreutzmann formed The Warlocks in San Francisco in 1964 with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. They quickly gained a strong following in the bay area, and in 1965 renamed themselves The Grateful Dead. Two years later Kreutzmann invited percussionist Mickey Hart to sit in with, and eventually join the band.

02-rhythm-devils

Kreutzmann and Hart were a perfect match and quickly became one of the defining sounds of the band. Together with bassist Lesh, Kreutzmann formed the rhythmic base for the band while Hart added more complex, decorative parts to the mix.

Kreutzmann and Hart earned their nickname of “Rhythm Devils” in the 1970s as they began playing drum solos during Grateful Dead concerts. Their extended solos were largely improvisation, and featured a large variety of percussion instruments. In addition to their drum sets, Hart and Kreutzmann played various hand drums, electronic instruments, and unique, custom made instruments.

03-drums

In this Rhythm Devils solo, recorded during a Grateful Dead concert in the summer of 1989, they feature a talking drum, timbales, several large bass drums, and a unique string instrument called “the beam”.

While Kreutzmann and Hart are most recognized as members of The Grateful Dead, they both have active solo careers. After attending a Grateful Dead concert, renowned film director Francis Ford Coppola enlisted Kreutzmann and Hart to record their improvisations for the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now.

Mickey Hart is also recognized as an influential figure in ethnomusicology, the study of music throughout the world. As he toured with The Grateful Dead, Hart collected instruments and recorded and documented the music performed by the local people. Hart would also form several important percussion groups, including the Diga Rhythm Band. His 1991 album Planet Drum was awarded a Grammy for Best World Music Album, and his book Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion is regarded as a classic work on drums and ethnomusicology.

04-hart-book

While The Grateful Dead and the Rhythm Devils will not perform together again, they leave behind an extensive library of audio and video recordings. We recommend the following recordings and books:

American Beauty, The Grateful Dead
Workingman’s Dead, The Grateful Dead
Live/Dead, The Grateful Dead
Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion, Mickey Hart
Planet Drum, Mickey Hart
Diga, Diga Rhythm Band

The best way to experience the Rhythm Devils, and The Grateful Dead is a recording of a live concert. There are many official releases, but countless “bootlegs”, or audience recordings, are legally available for free on the internet using BitTorrent.

Farewell Mr. Kreutzmann and Mr. Hart, we’re thankful for everything you did for rock and roll, drums, percussion, and ethnomusicology!