Nonhavinus Groovus - the
tendency to play too many notes with little or no groove. I have
figured out, over the years, that because those
of us rooted in drum corps tend to play short little high-impact
exercises when we practice, our muscles don't get the lessons in
efficiency that they typically need in order to obtain "long-range" chops.
The kind of chops I'm referring to are the kind that start with the
ability to play in time well, with notes that mean something, over
extended periods of time. Typical drum corps chops can seem amazing
at the time, but if you talk to someone who's been out of it for
a while, you always hear about how they've "lost all their chops".
There are some ways to minimize this, and make it relatively easy
to get the muscles tuned back up more quickly. My solution? Practicing
along to recorded music.
I have recently discovered a great
new product from Vic Firth that has really helped transform my playing
and teaching skills, and I've been given the opportunity to share
some thoughts about it here. They have become an integral part of
a very simple practicing technique that has done wonders for my playing
abilities, as well as for the playing abilities of my students. The
product I'm referring to is the Vic
Firth SIH1 Musician's Stereo Isolation Headphones.
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|When I "aged out" of drum corps a little over ten years ago,
I decided that I wanted to play drum set. I started taking lessons
with a great bay area drummer named Curt Moore, who during my first
lesson, asked me to play a simple jazz beat. I can only imagine
what I must have sounded like, having come off of five years of
playing as loud as I could with tenor mallets. He politely said
something like, "Uum, you don't have it." Ever since then, I have
struggled with what it was about drum corps drumming that kept
me from having the kind of touch and relationship to the drum set
that was exemplified by all my favorite drummers. Drum corps is
a great activity, and I'm very proud and fortunate to be associated
with it -- particularly with the Santa Clara Vanguard (SCV). But
there is something inherent in the activity that seems to show
up again and again as I watch young players coming up. Ask them
to play all-flam quintuplets at 200bpm and you're golden, but ask
them to play a simple beat that feels like something, and
you might be out of luck.
If you're a rudimental player (or gear-headus
maximus), you probably
practice exercises that are short and to the point, and these exercises
are probably high-impact. If this is all you do, however, you're
likely to have chops that are a little (or a lot) out of balance.
When you play lower impact exercises over extended durations of
time, though, your muscles are allowed to learn efficiency. Efficiency,
in turn, leads to flow. Flow leads to better time and feel, and
on and on. It's like that anecdote about Bruce Lee, where a student
asks him, "How do I deliver a proper roundhouse kick?" Mr. Lee
responds, "GO THROW 500 KICKS."
This is where the SIH1 headphones
come into play. While playing along to recorded music,
you will inevitably be playing for more substantial periods of
time without stopping.
One of the obstacles in the road of music/headphone practicing
is what can be called competitive volume levels. I used
to use regular in-ear headphones (called earbuds) when I would
practice. Since I want to hear the music at a detailed level,
I would have to turn up the volume on the CD player, which would
in turn cause me to listen at abnormally high, and even dangerous,
levels. And because the volume was cranked, I would tend to play
louder, which might make me give the volume another upward tweak,
and so on. You end up competing with yourself, and it's not good
for your ears.
The SIH1 headphones were designed
along with excellent drummer Rod Morgenstein to help protect the
wearer's ears (they reduce overall ambient noise levels by 24 decibels)
and feature high quality stereo sound. They also happen to be extremely
comfortable to wear. Actually, I think they're the most comfortable
headphones I've ever owned! With the SIH1 headphones, you're in
a virtual isolated music-listening environment. This enables
listen to the music at safe, normal levels, and the comfort of
this isolated, non-competitive environment helps you relax while
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So, what, just, like, put on the SIH1
headphones and play? Exactly. Whether I'm playing on my drum set
or a marching drum, I keep a bundle of CD's and Minidiscs handy (and
believe me, ever since I've started using these headphones, I've
never had more fun playing). Much of what I use for this purpose
has a clear, well-defined groove, and over this groove I can play
exercises, improvise, or emulate what the drummer on the tune is
playing. Sometimes, I'll even put on orchestral
music and play along, and because there's often no percussion part
of any kind, it forces me to be super-creative. Again, the SIH1 headphones make this possible because
of their clarity.
I have started implementing this kind
of practicing with many of SCV's drummers. You can use just about
any type of rudimental exercise over the top of many types of music.
I have a few exercises that I particularly like for various reasons,
and I'll list one below.
(click thumbnail to download a printable PDF of this exercise)
This exercise easily plays over the top of
anything "swingy," such
as straight-ahead, hip-hop, shuffles, etc. Find a tune that fits
the groove, start playing the exercise at the top and don't stop - not
even for "4 for free" - until the tune ends. Be "all ears," and
encourage your students to be likewise. If the exercise contains
accents and "taps" (unaccented notes), go for extreme differentiation
that makes an audibly meaningful difference. Even if it's a very
basic exercise, encourage your players to say something with it
against the musical background. So far I have gotten 100% positive
results from this, because it gives the students context and application,
as well as muscle training and timing practice. They also love
the fact that they are not killing their ears, as they most surely
would be without the Vic Firth SIH1 headphones.
Click here to watch a video of Murray and members of the
Santa Clara Vanguard perform this exercise!
Songs used in this video include:
Mike Stern - (from Voices, Atlantic
Fantasy by Miles Davis & Easy Mo Bee
- (from Doo-Bop,
There are some logistical considerations if
you want to include multiple players in this. You have to have
a way to get a stereo signal to several sets of SIH1 headphones
at once. You would also typically want to be indoors, since you
are dealing with powered stereo equipment. You can purchase some
tasty little devices for splitting the headphone signal (such
as a 4-Way Headphone Amplifier) for a reasonable price and get
separate volume-controlled headphone outs from one input. This
way you can have small sessions with yourself and a few others.
(Hint: Always include yourself. Nothing works like demonstration).
Or you can use a combination of signal splitters, or one of the
many other devices available on the market like the one listed
above, to include more players.
Many great drummers tell stories of spending
countless hours in some basement putting on records and playing
along. It's no coincidence that they turn out to be the great
players we all look up to. Practicing your craft for hours and
hours certainly takes discipline. However, something tells me
a lot of these same players, whom we would normally think of
as extraordinarily disciplined, might have been just disciplined
enough to sit down at their drums, put the headphones on, and
start having fun. For all I know, having fun might have been
the only thing that mattered. I see no reason why rudimental
players and drum corps drummers can't benefit from the same methods.
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|I highly urge anyone reading this article to pick up a pair of
the Vic Firth SIH1 Musician's Stereo Isolation headphones, plug
them in, put them on, and play until it's time for dinner. They
will protect your ears, enhance the way your drums sound, and truly
help make you a better player. If you teach, recommend a set of
these to your students for the same reasons. Don't let them burn
out for lack of experiencing the joy of playing drums, or from
being overly critical of their current skills. Slap the headphones
on while you show them how it's done, and they'll love you
Gusseck is currently the percussion caption head for the 6-time World
Champion Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps,
from Santa Clara, CA. Murray started his tenure with the Vanguard in 1988
as a marching member, aging out in 1992. He was on staff as a percussion
instructor in 1994, 1996 through 1999, and again from 2002 to the present.
the early 1990’s Murray attended San Jose State University
where he studied world music systems and drumset. Some of Murray’s
friends, mentors, and teachers include Royal Hartigan, Dan Sabanovich,
Ralph Hardimon, Glen Crosby, Curt Moore, Ed Barguiarena, and Dennis Aquilina.
He has taught and arranged percussion music for many high schools in
country, including Amador Valley (which placed 2nd at the 1997 WGI Winter
Finals in Phoenix, AZ), Richland Hills (TX), Lassiter (GA), and Beyer
High School in Modesto, CA.
In 1997 Murray teamed up with long-time friend
peer Jim Casella to form Tap
Space Publications, now
based in Portland, OR. Tap Space specializes in producing forefront percussion
literature in the areas of marching, concert, and drumset percussion.
The company continues to ramp up its list of publications, one of the
of which is a sound sample library containing a multidude of Santa Clara
drumline samples, called “Virtual Drumline.” Murray uses
percussion products by Vic Firth and Remo.