Floyd Sneed: The Unmistakeable Backbeat of Three Dog Night

When I was a kid growing up in Delaware in the 70’s, I listened to a lot of top-40 radio while in elementary and middle school. Three Dog Night was one of my favorite groups, and it was the first group where I distinctly remember listening to the drummer for the feel he created. That drummer was Floyd Sneed.

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He played a clear, acrylic Zickos kit with double bass, which at the time was about as cool as it got. Floyd was built like Billy Cobham, so his physical presence behind the kit was formidable. His solid grooves and use of backbeat were what really got my attention. (Note: If you’re ever in Hollywood and want to see his kit, walk through the doors of Pro Drum and look up and behind you, on the shelf above the door…).

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Disco was about eight years away from invading the airwaves, but Floyd employed a kind of groove that clearly preceded what would become the classic sound, and he also played it in a way that Billy Cobham would later popularize on his China cymbal. “Black and White” kicks that groove in well, and I remember getting a very strong sense of feel that made me appreciate keeping time quite a bit.

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His backbeat always seemed (at least to me) to hang back just a bit, creating a very cool platform for the other musicians to contribute over. Some guys just have it in their blood, and the rest of us have to work at figuring it out. I still cogitate on it from one measure to another at times…

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Three Dog Night owned the airways for a brief period during the 70’s, delivering one pop hit after another with no Pro Tools, and I would seriously doubt any click-tracks. It was human beings playing human feel, with incredible harmonies. As disco began its insidious invasion, I lamented the loss of simple pop music, but I often thought about Floyd Sneed and his great feel. “Out in the Country,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Never Been to Spain,” “Joy to the World,” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come” are just a few that come to mind.

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Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Floyd when I was writing for Easyriders magazine. He lived near the offices, and he was playing in a little bar around the street. I introduced myself during the break and told him how much I had loved his playing over the years, and we had a great conversation. Turns out he was as equally interested in art, and he has done a lot with it as a mode of personal expression.

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We met a few more times at the same bar, and one night, he gave me a small paperback about Three Dog Night. I have no idea what ever happened to it over the years, but it meant a lot coming from a drumming idol.

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Every generation has their music and the values they associate with it. Mine will always be the 70’s, an era that emphasized the human element of real-time performance. Floyd’s grooves, feel, and musical fills hold a special place, and if you want to hear good, solid, musical drumming, check out the streaming tunes available for a bit of old school schooling. You might just find yourself tapping your toes, bobbing your head and humming… the way you do when something works the way it should and is played as it should.

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For me, Floyd Sneed’s playing is a backbeat model for drummers, someone I will always look forward to returning to, providing reminders of when music was truly magical to me, and how to keep my own feet tapping and head bobbing…

 

For more information on Floyd Sneed, checkout his website at http://www.floydsneed.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Top Practice Areas For Increasing Your Drumming Speed

Welcome to the AfterTimes. We live in strange days and a new world as of only a few months ago. It’s filled with a great deal of uncertainty that until now we’ve only seen in movies. Kids born today will be referred as Generation WTF, I’m sure of it.

As we wait for better days, some things never change. The need to practice and improve our drumming craft doesn’t have to succumb to Covid-19 or anything else if we can stay healthy and stay focused. Since a great many drummers of all ages want to increase their speed, here are five top areas for you to work on.

  1. Use Proper Technique: Sloppy practice equals sloppy neural programming. Garbage in, garbage out. Take care of technique, and speed comes much easier. This means LEARN YOUR RUDIMENTS and PRACTICE MOVING VERY SLOWLY AND PRECISELY. Exaggerate your movements to discover the full range of motion of each rudiment you’re learning.
  2. Think Fast: You have to be able to hear the speed you aspire to. Sing patterns out loud. Doing this energizes your entire mind/body connection. Hear them in your head and re-create them, over and over and over and over. You’re priming your neural pathways by doing so. Use a metronome while you do this. You’ll be quite surprised at how effective this technique is.
  3. Relax: Part of proper technique is relaxing. This is different from executing the movements precisely, because if you stiffen up as you speed up, you’ll choke yourself out. Breathe, keep you shoulders relaxed, and the SECOND you feel your muscles tighten up, STOP. Shake your hands off, stretch your legs and calves, then get back to it.
  4. Visualize Your Performance: Close your eyes and see yourself practicing, gradually increasing your speed. This also helps develop the mind/body connection, and if you don’t believe me, ask professional athletes and coaches who’ve been using this technique for decades. See your hands starting slow with say, paradiddles, and then moving faster and faster. The same applies to your feet.
  5. Vary Your Stick Weights and Pedal Tension: Use three different weight sticks (light, medium heavy), and alternate between them as you practice. Try playing marching sticks as quietly as possible to discover the degree to which you can refine your control, then switch immediately to light sticks (7A), then medium (5A), or some similar combination. Likewise with bass drum pedals, although this does take little more work. If you can find small weight to attach to the beater stem, give that a try, or adjust the pedal distance quite a ways back form the head. This will definitely make you work harder.

Most of us have nowhere else to be right now, so give these ideas a shot and see what happens. Ultimately, we want to be able to play whatever we do musically, and there is a time and a place to unleash and make a blistering musical statement. If you put time into developing these five top areas of improving your speed, you may soon discover that your inner drummer has a Ferrari waiting to be revved and cut loose. All you have to do is turn the practice key, and you’ll be leaving these strange days in the dust before you know it.  Good luck!

Hey Drummers, Compose Your Musical Future!

Howdy again from ATX, home of SXSW and some very entertaining bats who erupt from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge. I moved back home two years ago to regain some perspective on a lot of things, including music and drumming. I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about both in this piece, focusing on how we create our true musical future.

Many years ago, a friend of mine from high school (guitarist Chris McDermott) said I should write my own music to showcase myself and my style of drumming. I’ll never forget that conversation, a brief phone call that changed everything. I was heavily into odd meters at the time (1979) and had been since high school, when composer Hank Levy came up from Baltimore on a government arts grants to teach us his style of music. Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, and he believed a rhythmic revolution was long overdue.

I had very little music education and did not really think I could write my own music. There was no Garage Band, no Pro Tools, no laptops to help you construct music one step at a time on an electronic grid. There was blank sheet music, pencils, and inspiration. For someone with my level of ADD, learning how to read music was agonizing. The symbols barely made sense, and it was extremely frustrating to even think about following my friend’s suggestion of somehow showcasing myself…

But… there were cassette recorders…

I started singing my ideas into a cheesy-assed Radio Shack cassette recorder, hoping that some day, I could find the focus to write the notes down and bring things to life. I dreamed of there being technology like we have today, which probably seems impossible to imagine that it was not around. Every couple of years or so, I’d go back East to Delaware and be fortunate enough to spend a day in the recording studio of another high school friend (keyboardist Paul Harlyn), who’d let me tinker and explore. We’d capture the ideas on tape, and I continued to dream of the day when I could buy all the equipment I needed to spend hours diving into the sonic palettes that awaited.

It would be many years later that I’d finally acquire some equipment and begin my own electronic explorations. I bought a TEAC 4-track from Paul Harlyn in 1987 and started making my very first actual compositions, and here’s one that I wrote in a Washington D.C.

“Morning Walk Through Tibetan Gardens”

I used an Ensonique sampling keyboard, layered a few tracks, and BOOM! I was a composer! It was pure magic to bring these sounds in my head to life and actually MAKE something happen, taking charge of my music and life for the first time. I could finally combat my ADD and be patient enough to take the small steps necessary to bring the ideas out and make them happen. It was a game-changing moment.


Now, fast-forward to today. I’ve accomplished a lot outside of music, written books, screenplays, learned to fly and teach flying, traveled the country as a writer for a Harley magazine… but cranking out my own CD of original compositions still remains unachieved. It’s really the last big goal, because it’s the one I’ve had on my mind forever but had to put behind some of the other larger goals.

And here’s my point. Well, two actually. One… as drummers, if you aspire to lead your own band, to create your own music, know that this is the best time in history to do so, because you have incredible tools at your disposal, more powerful than is sometimes believable. Learn them, use them, and do it TODAY.

Second point… Don’t ever tell yourself you aren’t a composer. Every time you create a beat for a song, you ARE COMPOSING. You can learn the basics of song construction, simple music theory, and you can noodle around with the endless sound possibilities on a synthesizer until your fingers fall asleep. You’ll hear cool sound here and there, learn to cut and paste loops, add some effects here and there, and make music that YOU enjoy playing.

Here are a few samples of explorations from 1987 to 2020, to give you an idea of how things evolved. I hope they give you some inspiration to explore, and to reach out to musicians from around the world to collaborate with. I hope to do this in 2020, as I’ve seen a great of it being done lately and know just how possible it is.


1987-1990: Still living in Washington, D.C., aching to get back to California. I had a one of the original square Macintoshes, with Mark of the Unicorn software that I never fully mastered. Most everything else was just multi-tracked onto my faithful TASCAM 244. I still have those tapes, and I found a newer version of the 244 in a pawn shop for $50!

 

“Go Dog Go”

 

“Funk 5 Dub”

 

2004-2007: I was living in San Luis Obispo and had a Roland TD6, a Korg keyboard (model unknown), and a Fender Squire Strat and Precision Bass set-up. I was using Cubasis, running into a big blue Mac desktop that surely weighed 100 lbs. I used a TASCAM analog to digital converter to bring all the sounds into the Mac, and it was a lot of fun to see where things could go.

 

“The Crawl”

 

“Ghost 23”

 

“Some Thunk Funk”

 

“Nature Boy”

 

2017-2019: Between my last few years in L.A., and then once in Austin, I could more fully dive into ProTools, my Roland Handsonic, and a handful of other Roland synths to discover some cool sounds.

 

“10-4 Tribal Groove”

 

“27”

 

“Chasing Mr. Z”

 

“The Hunt”

 

“Madge Likes Mars”

 


 

I play all the instruments on these clips, trying to lay down ideas that I’ll share with like-minded and more skilled musicians to help bring them to life. I hope you’ll do the same with your music, and compose your own future. Drummers lead, we don’t follow. We drive the band and energize the music. There’s no reason we can’t do it for ourselves if we so choose.

And there’s no better time than now to do so.

– David Aldridge

 

 

 

 

Meet Gary Leach and Beats Exotiques – Drum Grooves For Independence

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Three years ago or so, I was experimenting with posting video clips on Periscope. In a short period of time, a following developed, including positive comments and encouragement from an English gentleman named Gary Leach. He posted his own videos, shot in a small room, using his iPhone. What struck me about Gary the most was his sincere enthusiasm and desire to impart his vast knowledge of beats to whomever might spend a few minutes watching and listening.

Fast forward …

After working with exhausting detail to produce and explore his grooves, Gary took the self-publishing plunge and created Beats Exotiques – Drum Grooves For Independence. And take the plunge he did. His organization of materials is impeccable. The level of detail is extraordinary. The cultural range of grooves is indeed exotic, drawing from Africa, Brazil, Cuba and many more countries.

The grooves he presents incorporate both ride cymbal and cowbell, with enough of the latter to satisfy even Christopher Walken. They are beats that Gary enjoys playing, so in a sense, the book was really a labor of love. They are organized into Easy, Intermediate, and Advanced examples, with 850-plus bars of rhythms and ostinatos collected over the last ten years.

Like I said, he plunged.

You can see examples inside the book at the website, www.beats-exotiques.com, where you can also download MP3 examples of every groove in the book. This aspect in itself is invaluable, as the MP3 files may be used by the non-reading drumming to learn the patterns. Gary developed a visual aid system that employs empty and darkened boxes, aligned horizontally, to depict the silence and sound of each pattern. It’s novel, useful, and easy to grasp.

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Okay, that’s the technical end of Gary’s book. Anyone can write a review. I want to tell you about the person. As regular readers of this blog know, I rarely ever mention a product. That’s not what this is about. What it is about is discovering interesting PEOPLE and their path. Without fail, every comment Gary posted about my short little Periscope videos was positive and encouraging. He’s the real deal. He honestly cares about teaching, sharing, improving a student’s playing and breadth of knowledge.

I used to watch his clips sometimes when I was the only person on Periscope seeing his videos. He played and talked like the whole world was watching, and that was intriguing. He really loved figuring out how to make the groove GROOVE, make it sound right and honest. You’d see him tuning it up on the spot, and I really enjoyed this. Point being, you could see where the exhaustive list of patterns found their study origins, and it really gave me some interesting context within which to appreciate his book.

Speaking from personal experience, I KNOW this project took a tremendous amount of effort, and it shows. If you want to broadly expand your groove knowledge with rhythms from around he world, and if you fancy a bit of cowbell to break up the monotony, Beats Exotiques will show you the way. It’ll take a bit of time to get through over 200 pages of examples, but you won’t be bored.

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And when you do take a break, check out the man himself on drummercouk (YouTube). You can hear examples the beats, played by Gary. There’s heart and soul in his sticks and lessons, and that’s something we drummers can never get enough of.

 

 

 

 

Drum! magazine is closing

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As you read this, Drum!magazine is preparing to shut down. One of the longest-running drum publications will be closing its doors after a run of twenty-eight years. Originally spawned from Drums and Drumming, Drum! magazine was launched under the publishing direction of Phil Hood, his wife Connie, and editor Andy Doerschuk in September 1991.

I wrote regularly for Drum! throughout the 90’s, doing features and providing whatever ink Andy needed. I was introduced to Andy when he was editor of Drums and Drumming, where I wrote the introduction to a piece called “The Drummers of Miles Davis” (the body of the article was written by the late Adam Ward Seligman). This assignment was the beginning of my professional writing career, something I’ve always been grateful for.

Andy gave me a truly powerful lesson in writing in that article, showing me how moving paragraph three of the intro to the very beginning proved to be the perfect editorial change. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve used this writing device, but I certainly owe it to him.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to interview some of drumming and percussion’s true heavyweights, including Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman, Luis Conte, Bill Summers, Rick Allen, and Virgil Donati. Through Drum!, I also had the opportunity to write my dream article, “10 Billy Cobham Tracks You Must Hear.”

Phil Hood sold Drum! to Stringfellow Publishing in 2016, where it was steered by Nick Grizzle. The magazine converted to a quarterly version, but even this reduction was not enough to prevent the virtually inevitable overrun by the digital world and the reduction in demand for printed matter. In a nine-hundred mile and hour, sound byte world, waiting a few months for something to hold in your hands simply proved too much for conventional publishing.

I have little additional information to offer, but I do know that Drum! will not be forgotten. It was a magazine that wanted to always remind you that you should be playing. The title was a directive, a command, an order of the highest order, to get behind your kit and light it up. The exclamation point in the title was no accident. It was an imperative.

And it IS imperative that we continue to do exactly that.

 

 

Dr. Nadia Azar – A Pioneer in Drumming/Sports Medicine Research You Should Know About

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photo credit: Dr. Nadia Azar

“Drummers should be training their bodies for the demands of their profession, to be able to perform at their peak and to avoid getting injured.” – Dr. Nadia Azar, Associate Professor, University of Windsor

 

The academic exploration of drummers and the drum set is kind of like Oklahoma at the near turn of the 20th century; vastly wide open and mostly unclaimed. It was the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 that sent settlers blazing across the unassigned lands, as they were called, all seeking a spot to stake out and build upon.

 

In the world of human movement studies, Dr. Nadia Azar has hitched her horses to a unique research wagon of her own design and is pioneering the exploration of exercise analysis and pain research as applied to the drum set. With the help of Mike Mangini (Dream Theater) and Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party), Dr. Azar is opening the doors for future academic exploration of the drum set and the players who up until now have not likely seen themselves as athletes who can benefit from a sports training perspective.

 

I discovered Dr. Azar’s work on a Twitter feed and contacted her requesting an interview. Regular readers of this blog know that I usually just write about someone and leave it to you to explore further. The Clem Burke Drumming Project is such an example:

https://davidaldridge.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/clem-burke-drumming-project-studying-drumming-and-the-brain/

 

I wrote a fairly short post about it 2009, briefly describing the project and the research being conducted with respect to drumming and exercise.  However, in this case. I felt it was important to get the story directly from Dr. Azar about her work and its potential application.  If you click on the following link, you can view her university website and background.

http://www.uwindsor.ca/kinesiology/455/dr-nadia-azar

 

What follows is a Q & A conducted via e-mail to allow Dr. Azar to expound on her project. Hopefully, it will inspire drummers to participate in her future research and perhaps even nudge some of you into the realm of academia to help push the research envelope further. It also serves to lay groundwork for the next evolution of this blog, into a second one that will be focusing specifically on Drum Set Research (the new blog name).

 

We’ll be interviewing Dr. Azar again when her current study on drumming and pain is complete. I encourage drummers to check out her studies in this area especially and to please help her complete a survey that could eventually help drummers down the line with respect to pain research, management and avoidance. You’ll find the link at the end of this interview.

 

That said, let’s get to know a bit about Dr. Azar and her work…

 

What first prompted you to study drummers?

“In the fall of 2016, I was at a Dream Theater concert watching Mike Mangini playing, and I thought to myself how great it would be if I could hook him up to my research equipment and see what his back muscles were doing while he was playing. About a week later, Mike tweeted something about his drumming technique, so I took a chance and responded that I’d like to study his technique, not really expecting that he’d respond. Well… he did, and we began corresponding about possible research projects! As I started digging into the research literature, I realized that there is very little research on the biomechanics of playing the drums, and on drumming-related pain and injuries. So, I decided to design some research studies to start investigating these things myself.”

 

Do you play drums? Other instruments? If so, please share some background, favorite groups and musicians, influences, etc.

“I can play a 4/4 beat, maybe even add in a basic fill – but I wouldn’t call myself a drummer. The summer before I started high school, my friend’s cousin set up his drum kit in her basement, and he taught us how to play. We spent the summer playing Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ on a loop. I did take piano lessons for about eight years though, and I also played the flute for three years.

“[As for] favorite groups & musicians – there are so many! Dream Theater, Disturbed, Walk Off the Earth, Walk the Moon, The Tea Party, Imagine Dragons, 311, Phish, and many more.”

 

How did you become interested in kinesiology/biomechanics?

“I’ve always been interested in sports, health, and how the human body works. When I was deciding on potential career paths, my high-school guidance counsellor introduced me to the field of ergonomics. The Kinesiology program at the University of Windsor allowed me to pursue my combined interests, and our graduate program also has a strong biomechanics/ergonomics stream.”

 

What made you want to pursue your Ph.D, and what was the focus of your thesis?

“My father is a (now retired) University professor. I knew I wanted to pursue research as a career, but in an entirely different subject area (he was in Education). When I finished my Master’s degree at the University of Windsor, I was working as a research technician for one of my former professors. I loved it, but it was a temporary position, so I started looking for PhD programs and came across the Biomedical Engineering program at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. It was one of the top programs in the country, and it appealed to me because it would allow me to learn more about biomechanics from an engineering perspective. My thesis project studied the neck muscles’ responses to stretching of one of the ligaments in the spine. It was part of a larger project whose goal was to investigate potential mechanisms for how whiplash-related neck pain develops.”

 

How does your work differ from the Clem Burke drumming project in England?

“With respect to the calorie counting case studies I’ve done: they are similar to the Clem Burke Project in that we both documented drummers’ energy expenditure (i.e., calories burned) during live performances. I am using different equipment than they did, and my approach is also different – whereas theirs was a formal research study, I am using this as an exercise in knowledge translation and raising awareness. It’s an interesting and accessible way to demonstrate to the public that playing the drums is a vigorous physical activity that can be used as an alternative to traditional forms of exercise, like going to the gym or playing organized sports.

“The Clem Burke Project was the first to put his idea forward, and they took some important steps in getting this message out to the public. I’m now trying to take it a step further by documenting song-by-song energy expenditures in high-profile drummers. If information on rates of energy expenditure (i.e., calories per kilogram body weight per minute) were available on a song-by-song basis, people who want to play the drums for exercise could customize exercise ‘playlists’ to their preferred intensity levels as well as their favorite songs. This is my long-term objective with this branch of my research – to get enough drummers to do this so I can create a database of calorie burn rates per song.

“The flip side of this work is to make the point, especially to full-time, professional drummers, that they need to start looking at themselves as athletes, and start training as such. The Clem Burke Project showed that drummers’ HR [heart rate] profiles similar to those of professional soccer players. Professional athletes don’t just get on a field or a court and play games/matches – they engage is a significant amount of training, including both skill-specific drills and general strength/conditioning, in order to handle the physical demands of their sport and to deliver their peak performance. Based on what we know about the physical demands of drumming, it’s no different – but I don’t believe many drummers view it this way. Drummers should be training their bodies for the demands of their profession, to be able to perform at their peak and to avoid getting injured.

“My other research on drummers is completely different from the Clem Burke Project. I mentioned earlier that when I started looking into research on the biomechanics of drumming, there was next to nothing on drumming-related pain and injuries. So, I designed a survey that will allow me to document the prevalence and patterns of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders in drummers, and identify some of the playing-related and lifestyle characteristics and/or habits that might either help drummers avoid these injuries/problems, or put them at risk of developing them. The survey results won’t be able to tell me whether these characteristics or habits CAUSE injuries – but it will tell me which characteristics/habits are related to an increased or decreased likelihood of reporting injuries. From there, I can design more studies to study the different risk factors or protective factors in more depth. The survey is available at the following website:”

https://uwindsor.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4SLzudTazCNBWw5

 

Do you have research autonomy, or did you have to convince supervisors about the validity of your present research to make it happen?

“I do have research autonomy, so I didn’t have to convince my dean or department head that the work was valid. My challenge will be to convince the research funding agencies.”

 

When you first began the project, did you find others in your field exploring this subject matter? If not, what did this suggest to you?

“Not at all – there are very few people studying drumming biomechanics, and no one studying playing-related injuries specifically in drummers. Most of the studies I’ve read only include a handful of percussionists, and it’s often not clear whether drummers were included in the study. Most of them also focus on classically-trained percussionists, and don’t consider the differences in the physical demands of playing different music genres. However, we’ve all heard of high-profile drummers who have battled career-threatening injuries – we know it’s a problem, but it hasn’t been systematically studied and documented. I saw a real need for research in this area, so I took it as an opportunity.”

 

How did you choose your first subject, and how did you get introduced to Mike Mangini?

“The calorie counting study wasn’t actually part of my original research plan. It sort of evolved organically – one day, Mike tweeted a guess at how many calories he burns during his shows. We had already been in touch for a few months at that point, so I told him that if he wanted to find out, I had a way to do that. I told Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party) about it, too, and they both thought it would be fun to find out.

“If you mean, how did I make his acquaintance, see the answer to #1 – it was entirely serendipitous. He tweeted about his technique, I took a chance and responded, he wrote back, and the rest is history. If you mean, how was I introduced to him as an artist? I’ve been a fan of Dream Theater since my husband introduced me to them about 19 years ago, so I was ‘introduced’ to him when he joined the band in 2010.

“I’ve also been a fan of The Tea Party for almost 25 years, so I was thrilled when Jeff Burrows offered to get involved. We kept in touch, and an opportunity to collect data on him came up during The Tea Party’s residency at The Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, ON).”

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Dr. Nadia Azar and Mike Mangini – photo credit: Melissa King

 

How did they react to the project? Did they contribute to its structure with any suggestions regarding approach?

“Neither of them really ‘reacted’, so to speak – this entire line of work evolved based on my Twitter interactions with Mike and our first conversation, and Jeff came on board shortly afterwards. So, they have both been involved since the projects’ inception, and their interest and contributions have evolved with the projects as they developed. Aside from being participants in the calorie counting study, both Jeff and Mike were active collaborators in working out the logistics and facilitating collecting the data during live shows. Along the way, they have both provided informal suggestions for this and other studies I am planning, basically being sounding boards for my ideas. Jeff also contributed to the development of the drummer injury survey as a member of the expert review panel, and has been actively promoting my work through social media.”

 

Please describe in layman’s terms the calorie measuring device and technology you use.

“The device I use is the BodyMedia®  FIT armband. It is a small device (about 1.5” square) that is secured to the back of your upper arm using a Velcro strap. The device contains four sensors:

  1. A triaxial accelerometer, which measures motion in 3 planes (up-down, side-side, front-back)
  2. A temperature sensor, to monitor your skin temperature
  3. A heat flux sensor, to monitor the rate at which you are dissipating body heat
  4. A galvanic skin response sensor, which monitors the conductivity of your skin (a value that increases with sweating)

The sensor data are recorded once per minute and stored on the device. After the drumming session, I remove the armbands and download the data to my computer. The software that comes with the armbands contains algorithms that use the sensor data, along with basic participant information (height, weight, age, sex, handedness, and smoking status) to predict energy expenditure (i.e., calories burned).”

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Jeff Burrows – photo credit: David Torbett

 

Please describe in layman’s terms the basic elements of your research approach to calorie burning.

“I chose to collect data during live performances because it is the most convenient way for professional drummers to participate – they don’t have to make a special trip to my my lab, which is located in Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is right across the Canada-USA border from Detroit, Michigan, and Toronto, Ontario is also only a few hours away. So, between those three cities, which are typically stops on most bands’ tours, I can easily travel to wherever the drummer will be.

“Sometime before the start of the show ([which] can be minutes or hours, depending on the drummers’ preferences), I meet with the drummer to put on the armbands and synchronize them. The drummer then goes and plays the show. During the show, I also wear an armband that has been synchronized to theirs, and I use the timestamping feature to record the start and ending of every song. I meet up with them again after the show to remove the bands, then I take them back to my computer to download and analyze the data.

 

What were your goals with this project beyond simply measuring calorie burn? Were you able to correlate separate calorie burn isolation for the individual limbs, or is it only measure collectively?”

“Re: goals beyond measuring calories, please see my answer to #5.

“The drummers wear an armband on each arm, and I take an average of the readouts of the two armbands. Normally, you would have a participant wear only one armband on their non-dominant arm, but since playing the drums has a lot of upper limb movement and both limbs are active nearly equally, I wanted to take measurements using both arms. Interestingly, both Jeff and Mike were pretty symmetrical – the estimates were pretty similar for both arms. However, the numbers don’t represent the calorie burn of each individual arm – they are estimates of whole-body energy expenditure.

 

What were your overall thoughts and observations concerning your results? What does calorie burning data tell you about drumming in general, and why is this of value?

“I was really pleased to see the variation between the songs of different intensities. For Mike, because Dream Theater played the same set list on both data collection nights, I was able to look at the reliability of the estimates for each song, and I was happy (and amazed) to see how consistent he was from night to night. I was also very happy to see that the numbers I was getting were in the same ballpark as those that have been reported in the research literature so far (e.g., the Clem Burke project, and two other studies I’m aware of). Those studies used different methods than I did, so I can’t directly compare my numbers to theirs, but it was good to see that my equipment wasn’t wildly off from the published data.

“As far as what this data tells me about drumming in general and why it’s of value, I think I answered that in #5 already. But to reiterate – it demonstrates that playing the drums is a vigorous physical activity, which is important to know for two reasons:

  1. Playing the drums can be used as an alternative to traditional forms of exercise like going to the gym or playing organized sports. This is good news for people who don’t like these kinds of activities – they can still get in a good workout doing something fun.
  2. Drummers need to be aware of the demands they are placing on their bodies, and engage in strength and endurance training to prepare their bodies to meet these demands.

It’s this final though that serves as a vital stepping off point for the future of drumming physiology research. We are indeed engaging in not only a cerebral and a musical activity, but also a decidedly physical one. Perfecting your technique will not turn you into an automaton, but rather, will hopefully extend your ability to play for many years.


 

To this end, once again, please check out Dr. Azar’s link to her survey on drum-related pain and problems:

https://uwindsor.ca1.qualtrics.com/…/form/SV_4SLzudTazCNBWw5

 

And lastly, it’s worth repeating that one of Dr. Azar’s very interesting research goals is being able to design an exercise program based on the calorie-burn rate of songs in your playlist. It would be very interesting to see how double bass songs, for example, differ in terms of calorie burn from more straight ahead single kick drum beats. These are just the tip of the iceberg of research doors waiting to be opened.


 

I’d like to thank Dr. Azar for taking the time to answer my questions and help make this particular blog possible. She’s headed into unknown territory with great interest and curiosity, and that’s exactly what our drumming world needs to further our knowledge of how performance on our amazing instrument can be improved upon. And you can be sure that as a pioneer of drum set research, Dr. Azar is looking waaaaaay past Oklahoma …

– David R. Aldridge

Bernie Dresel and His Masterful Drumming

Every once in a while, I come across a drummer whose abilities are as intense as they are subtle. This is a pretty accurate definition of the word sublime, and that is a pretty accurate definition of Bernie Dresel.

bernie

I heard Bernie playing the other night with the Emil Richards Big Band, in Santa Monica, California, at the Typhoon restaurant. It’s a very cool jazz hang located on the Santa Monica airport, with an awesome view of the runway and the planes and jets that come and go.

But come nighttime, the attention focuses on a small stage that is well-mic’d and well lit, a very professional yet laid back setting that plays host to some of the best jazz groups in Los Angeles. Watching the legendary Emil Richards perform with amazing precision was a treat in itself, but with great and due respect to his musicianship and that of his band, it was Bernie Dresel’s drumming that drew my very intense interest.

Honestly, I’d never heard him play before. But all it took was about three bars of big band jazz time to recognize a master of the genre, a player who valued the touch and tradition necessary to impart authenticity to this venerable environment. Bernie’s phrasing and fills were just perfect. I mean seriously, you couldn’t have sung better drum parts than the ones he created.

crav

His playing was appropriate, understated, and a pleasure to study. The hour-long set went by way too fast, but it was a lesson in big band drumming as good as I have ever seen. Bernie was playing a Craviotto kit with Zildjian cymbals, and I believe he told me later he was using two K’s for rides. One was a Constantinople and the other was a more traditional K. They sounded perfect for the night.

The up-tempo songs swung just as hard as the slower ones, aided by Dave Stone’s excellent bass playing. He and Bernie formed a solid team, and they drove the band just right. There were so many great lessons being offered that I could not drink them in enough. I didn’t want to turn my back and eat at the bar for fear of missing more perfect moments.

Later, I did a little reading about Bernie, the usual Google stuff. He graduated from Eastman School of Music with a double major in music education and performance, and then came west and landed a wide variety of gigs, from Maynard Ferguson to David Byrne, Chaka Khan, Brian Setzer, the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, and tv/movie studio work.

setzer

studio

Two items that really stand out on his resume are him having played with Ringo Starr on an English tv series called “Dame Edna.” He was also part of the massive collection of drummers used for “Man of Steel.”

man-of-steel

Quite a resume, to say the least. Very impressive stuff. But it gets better… yes is does. He’s got his own big band (BBB, Bernie Dresel Big Band) as well, which I’m looking forward to hearing back at the Typhoon on May 26.

http://typhoon.biz/home-2/event-calendar

If you live in Los Angeles, you really owe it to yourself to check out Bernie Dresell and his eloquent playing. You just don’t see enough of this nowadays. He’s preserving a style with style, and honestly, I can’t get enough of that. No sir, I can’t.

bernie2

Billy Cobham’s Spectrum, A Groundbreaking Album

spectrum

 

My absolute all-time favorite drumming album since the early 70’s is Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. Max Roach, Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey and Tony Williams laid the vital groundwork for Cobham to blow our doors off the hinges, and for this, I am most grateful.

For you drummers under the age of 30, the music world is a very different place than it was even thirty years ago. Now, we all have access to computer-based recording equipment and the technology that lets us capture our ideas and present them without having to be masters of the keyboard.

When Spectrum was released, Cobham basically put the whole world on notice that a new voice was on the scene that would play whatever he wanted to play, however he wanted to play it. Cobham brought drum solos to a composition level inspired by Roach and Bellson, and then he took it many steps further, with sheer and unbridled power.

With no apologies.

And that’s the thing I have loved about Billy Cobham’s for over three decades. Like Tony Williams, who ushered in the true fusion of jazz and rock with his group, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Cobham had an aural vision and pursued it relentlessly. His particular focus was odd meter exploration, continuing the work he’d brought to life playing in the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Cobham made odd meters flow, and he did it like no other drummer before him. He didn’t use a click track, didn’t have Pro Tools to tidy it all up, and it was recorded on something called “tape,”  that suff you only see hanging in museum walls now…

His songs sounded ALIVE, like – no , they were – a live jazz performance. You listen to Spectrum today and it sounds like it’s happening in your living room, right NOW.

That’s the test of music for me. And the thing I REALLY love abut Cobham’s playing is the ferocity. If you’ve read some of my previous posts that reference Tourette Syndrome, you probably realize that drumming has been a tremendous source of therapy for me over the years. When I was  teenager, drumming was the only source of sanity I had. Billy Cobham’s playing was the thing that gave me permission to just UNLEASH the stuff inside and do so in a musical way.

A few years ago, I sent Billy this e-mail to extend my thanks for the inspiration he provided me during those tough teen years:
Dear Billy,

From the time I was 6 until I was 20, I lived with Tourette Syndrome
without knowing what it was. The uncontrollable body movements just about drove me insane, but music kept me on the right side of the fence. Your playing in particularly gave me a voice to model and aspire to, with your intense energy finding an outlet through jazz. I went after that as well,
exploring odd meters and unleashing the energy of Tourette’s on a
musical palette.

Today at 49, I still use the drums to express the now toned-down energy,
and it still keeps me sane. The control I acquired from drumming let me lead a medication-free life and even become a flight instructor. Teaching
in the Los Angeles area is every bit as intense as drumming, believe me.

But the show ain’t over yet, and I still have odd meter funk musical
plans. You have been my drumming inspiration since I was a kid, and I just
wanted to thank you for playing without compromise.

Sincerely,
David Aldridge
Los Angeles, CA

His reply made my day and musical world:

Glad to be of some positive resource in your life.

Bill C.

————————————-

I decided to get back into music and pursue the explorations I’d started years ago because 1) I miss it  2) I think is music is a valuable therapeutic tool for Tourettes, and 3) the drums need to be taken a much higher level, both intellectually and compositionally

Billy Cobham lit the fire for me years ago, and as a drummers, I think we all have a duty to keep carrying that flame and pass the torch. In a little while, I’ll be putting up some videos of current explorations with odd meters and polyrhythms to keep pushing this thing.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading these posts. They inspire me to wake up some sleeping chops and rhythmic madness. I hope you’ll find the results to be equally inspiring, as I did with one drummer’s fearless album and voice a long time ago…

Drummers as Brilliant Musicians

I grew up in Delaware, blue collar, playing mostly rock for many years. In the 70’s, we had little in the way of seeing our heros, not like we have today. All we had was vinyl for the most part.

I was introduced to jazz in 8th grade, and it changed my world. I had no idea how sophisticated drumming could be, which was not to say that rock was unsophisticated… there was just another level out there that I was blown away by. I took jazz drumming lessons, learned how to improve my coordination, and my musical mind was never the same…

In 1979, Vinnie Coliauta blew all our minds with “Joe’s Garage,” and he took polyrhythms to a whole ‘nother stratosphere. We have only on the last ten years or so, really started to get caught up with Vinnie’s ideas to where this level of playing seems “normal.”

Thomas Lang has shown us where Jim Chapin’s four-way coordination seeds can grow, and that level of playing is also becoming more the norm.

Point being: drummers continue to expand the instrument beyond anything our drumming forefathers could have possibly imagined. We have taken the instrument to levels that have expanded our minds considerably, and I feel it is our duty as drummers to continue to do so…

The problem is, and has been for years: we are so relegated to the job of being time keepers that we are not encouraged by and large to leap to new performance levels if it interferes with the beat… and this is absolutely absurd.

The drum set is a musical instrument in its own right; Terry Bozzio has led that development like no one else, and he is to be applauded for that effort. We as drummers are responsible for expanding this instrument’s limits, and we need not wait for anyone else to tell us that it is okay to do so. Thomas Lang’s solo playing may not fit most musical situations when he gets all four limbs going… but on his own, he has created his OWN musical situation, where all of that activity is appropriate, because it is defining a new level of performance.

Short version here? Go for it. Take this instrument and leap off the edge. Make Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Baby Dodds and anyone else who has gone beyond really proud of your leap. Don’t wait for permission.

Just play and see what’s out there… and let your “brilliant” out.

Clem Burke Drumming Project: Studying drumming and the brain

Clem Burke, former drummer for Blondie, has organized a research project in England that will be exploring the interaction between the human brain and drumming activity. They are also developing research focused on Magnetic Resonance Imaging and drumming. Dr. Marcus Smith is an exercise physiology researcher involved with the project.

The site: https://www.chi.ac.uk/department-sport-and-exercise-sciences/research/clem-burke-drumming-project

 

DW Drums has helped sponsor the project, along with several other companies. This is promising, because it demonstrates the awareness that corporations have in the future of music cognition research.

Here’s some perspective for you: when I first began looking into this field (specifically related to the drum set) over twenty years ago, you could count the citation listings in the research publications on ONE HAND.

We’ve come a very long way…