Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Professional Sound Mastery

It has occurred to me after hearing myself play enough times—whether it be on recordings or during practice—that the line between amateur and professional sounds is not always as clear as we would like it to be. The search requires an admirable level of dedication, but beyond that it requires a level of comprehensive understanding. The journey becomes less clear as one ascends into the clouds on a mountain. This being so, the journey should not be taken lightly.

A Zen parable I heard from a friend wasn’t actually a Koan, but it goes something like this:

The parable starts off with the Zen Master telling the student he needs to fetch water and bring it to the top of the tallest mountain where another Zen Master awaits. The student, troubled, pleads to the master, stating that no one has ever climbed the mountain before: he could die trying. Countless attempts reached closer and closer to the top, but not a single individual ever made it. Most have returned defeated. The Zen Master tells the student that this is true. However, there is Zen Master on the mountain waiting atop the mountain. This other master has barely survived all of these years alone. Other attempts haven’t been futile, but have been very important. Sometimes the Zen Master will have enough energy to climb a small way down from the top to retrieve supplies, but he is also taking care of a family and cannot let them leave for long because they are not strong enough yet to climb down or take care of themselves. The student then pleads, “But master, no one can see the top! It is covered by clouds!” The master brushes this off and says, “Do you need eyes to climb with your hands?”

The student reluctantly begins his journey upward carrying a container of water and minimal supplies as to not get bogged down. As he climbs, he finds many things no one has ever discussed: there is a good amount of foliage and plant life for him to eat safely without getting sick. Exhausted after many days, he sees clouds almost within arm’s reach. He begins what he feels is his final ascent. He thinks to himself if he cannot reach the top by the end of a full day of the sun rising and setting and rising again, he will descend down the mountain.

As he feels the air get cooler and cooler deep into the clouds, he begins to fear death. His skin is cold: he is unprepared for this weather. But he knows if he could just see the sun again he would be warm. As though he were aimlessly climbing through a thick fog, he finally sees the fog begin to clear in a small ridge on the mountain that inclines much less than the path before. He only needs to use his legs here and comes upon what appears to be a cave. The cave is not completely dark and as he feels his way through, he begins to see a light at the other end. The ground, still inclined, is damp and warm.  He can see the sun itself as a blinding light. When he emerges from the cave he finds himself looking out in every direction. There is no house and no family. There is no Zen Master waiting for him. He opens the container of water, sits, and drinks. With a sigh of relief, he is enlightened.

Obviously this is a short, non-technical version of the information that I wanted to convey through the rest of this essay/post. When we talk about the masters in music, we are talking about people who have made long journeys through music, sometimes at younger ages than others, sometimes much older. The people we aspire to be often times are not much different than the people that inspire us the most. We might get casually discouraged when we see a young child who has an amazing gift that makes us wonder, “What in the fuck am I trying to do here if Joey Alexander can do this already at 13?” Well, hopefully I have some answers that will encourage you to take your own path and seek your own results. And maybe we’ll all find a gift that we can share with others in the same way.

When we talk about the difference between a master and a student, sometimes these Zen Koans are almost the exact link between what those differences are and how sometimes there is an ambiguity in the ”end.” The conclusion of this story is very telling, as we see that the student succeeding where his/her master claimed all else failed. When the student becomes the teacher, we find out a lot about the art form itself. So it might be a good idea here to look at what constitutes a master.

A master has a clarity and understanding of a set of rules that create music and make music communicable on a social level (I’ll explain this in detail later). I don’t think this necessarily boils down to music theory, but there are certain intrinsic traits of music I think we should look at that might constitute a set of “rules” that musicians abide by whether consciously, unconsciously, or simply physically.

Historically, music has gone through some serious changes in complexity since its inception. Given that we take music that was written down as examples of what could have been performed versus traditional types of music which are inherent to some cultures, these types of music to any degree have changed since their initial birth through performance. In short, music is not the same music it once was. These transformations may have come from yearnings for variable types of expression beyond simply happy or sad music, and often times relayed messages—whether in rhythm or harmony or both—to other people in communicable if not visceral ways. What I’m getting at: I believe music is a language which has grown in complexity the same way as any given language and it is important for us to know how to speak and execute ideas clearly in this language.

If we look at the rules of counterpoint, we might see how very recently these rules have been broken to the Nth degree and no longer apply. But we can also very easily hear the benefits of these rules in terms of consonances when we listen to the composers who abided by these rules or perhaps at least imitated music following these rules. These ideas of rules and mechanics apply to music way beyond the European spectrum, mainly in how we as human beings competently perform in groups. Masters then are the people who have the highest level of not only understanding—whether intellectual or intrinsic—but of execution in a coherent manner. The point being that if we tried to speak a language without knowing anything about the language, it would be pretty offensive the same way imitating an accent and speaking in gibberish would be. I suppose this doesn’t, however, stop people from playing music any more than it would speaking. We often hear this and might not even know it.

I don’t believe any of the great composers—Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Bartok, Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Ellington, Parker, Monk, Coltrane—would have pursued new forms of expression had it not been for some degree of understanding of the music they emulated and pursued initially as students of the music. The same goes for performers who are or were virtuosos. A series of initial imitations and expounding upon those imitations ultimately lead to their real successes as artists. This might be why we remember them: the masters pursued music with a degree of understanding and (ultimately) execution that was clear and concise enough that others were drawn to it on a universal level.

Common traits are what we are after here, so if we appeal to the idea that music is a language, what shared traits can we find in the masters? Below, I have documented some concepts that build off of one another to share and discuss:

·         -Clear vision creates a deliberate sense of performance and a clear enough sound to convey an idea sonically. In laymen’s terms: everything sounds like it is “supposed to happen.”
·         -Definition of the music—that is what is “supposed to happen”—is agreed upon by the performers, which seems to convey the music regardless of cultural background. (We could argue that people don’t hear music the same way, but for the sake of discussion we can agree that when we hear something that sounds like music we’ve heard and enjoy, we can label it as “music” to some degree.)
·         -The sonic appearance of the music has enough shared traits amongst its performers (rhythm, harmony, form) that it does not affect the understanding of the music as music.
·         -All performers pressure themselves towards these common musical goals which somehow are heard as a single musical thought and not as separate events (I’m talking about mastering an instrument in the sense of performance and not so much the ideas behind compositions).
·         -A sense of community among the musicians performing the single work begets the language to be heard as a relatable event by the audience, whether simply in sound, feeling, or emotion.
·         -This fact will transcend cultures and somehow reach human ears simultaneously (with the distance of the sound being produced of course) and be understood if only innately to be music. If we are to communicate these ideas, we have to build upon what came before as viable means of expression.
·         -This all happening in time creates the sense of language being spoken (as opposed to a static event) which creates the art form that can succeed or fail in the same way a conversation can succeed or fail.
·         -Somehow it has to be pleasing enough to the ear to be heard as music (which is the struggle of any artist moving outside of what has been done and into new territory).
·        - Listening, remembering, and reproducing these ideas with accuracy and not making mistakes that take away from the continuity of the story or idea is important.
·         -Learning and knowing how these combinations of music function—if not intellectually then instinctually.
·         -The understanding that some sense of repetition creates order and a lack of it creates a certain disorder (and I suppose the opposite could be true of both given different contexts).
·         -A sense of proportion as it relates to harmony, rhythm, and form that creates a performable idea. (As opposed to randomly generated noise in separate areas being considered performance perfect and conveying a clear message. We could get into the philosophy of how we perceive music, but again, I’m talking more about being a master at playing well with others towards a common, tangible goal.)
·         -Performing within the context of these rules, but not letting a single intellectually understood rule take more weight than the others (i.e. using counterpoint, but not adhering to rhythm or using rhythm but not adhering to a common tempo… again, let’s focus on music where people are performing together).
·        - Knowing these ideas well enough that one can begin to listen to the other ideas being presented by other performers.
·         -Being able to reproduce diverse manners of playing (rhythm, harmony, tempo, form, etc.) on a given or any given instrument consistently.
·         -Quality understood universally (can be improved upon).

So music then, on a master-level, has to be performed with others, and will be done so with a working or sonic knowledge of the other performers’ parts (even if it only means playing in time and in tune and balanced and in the right part of the song at the same tempo). What we’re looking at is a large amount of information being digested by the ear quickly during performance.

How does one become a master then?
I think a comprehensive understanding of the basics of music, including and certainly not limited to rhythm and harmony, would be a great place to start. One might learn the basics of their instrument and how it functions in a group, but it would behoove the student to start understanding how the other instruments work, that is, as a musician. The path is not short.

The professional sound, which is what I’m after, has a lot to do with the following:
      -How deliberate things sound (leads to the next one)
·         -How proportional things sound (is it in tune and in time in a way that other people can consistently play with it?)
·        - How nuanced it is if the above two are there (that is to say, how often it sounds less like notes and rhythms and more like coherent phrases in time)
·       -  Ultimately, how accurate and consistent it is (everyone is human, but the masters sound like themselves more than they sound like someone trying to play music for the first time)

I suppose there are obvious routes to improving upon these things, but the biggest one I heard from Hadrien Feraud and Jean-Michel Pilc was “repetition.” Much like an actor delivering a line that you believe, the listener has to believe what you’re playing is music. The standard gets higher and higher all the time. Understanding that no only what you are trying to play has to be believable and also correct to some degree and not muddled with wrong notes or incorrect rhythms will give you a clearer sense of where things you are playing are functioning correctly or need improvement.

One has to be so incredibly honest with oneself about this process: do you have to think before you play it or have you said it enough times that it is a normal sentence for you? Could you play it while holding a conversation much like being able to talk and drive? Could you openly listen to what is going on around you in the same way (have a conversation with another person—listen—and not just say what you’re saying or, you know, playing in time with the drums)?

This is something I believe I currently lack in my playing and practice: a sense of decisive repetition which alleviates any notion of thought about the act of performing music, especially in certain improvisations. In knowing this, I can see where this change in my practice will improve and add to other elements of my understanding and potential mastery of the instrument, or of music itself. Since this is only one action (being able to repeat one or two ideas is fine, but growing from there is more important) there will come other methods and routes to practice when I see some type of issue in my playing that keeps it from being clear and decisive. With this, I can start climbing the mountain again.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Practice Habits Ep. 1: Knowing Yourself, the Phantom Menace

I'm interrupting my "Rhythm Studies" to post about some thoughts on practice (which, I hate to break it to you, is more rhythm study).

Lately I've found a steady pace in improvement when it comes to practice, rather than hitting a bunch of obvious plateaus. I think this is due in part to a recommendation for practice I found in Matt Garstka's (Animals as Leaders drummer) video for Drumeo:

One thing he mentioned in this video was a troubleshooting method, a lot like "guess and check" in mathematics, in which you're "jammin'" in practice and you find one thing you are not good at, basically working through it as many different ways you can. Essentially what it will boil down to is creating etudes out of a single device. As a bass player, I've encountered several things which have been botching my groove. Using the above method I found the following hiccups in my playing over a single groove:

  • String crossing
  • Chromaticism on one string--quickly
  • The index-to-pinky speed in the left hand
  • Deadening strings 
  • Tension in the right hand at faster tempos
Now, these problems seemed like they could be "easily" solved over the course of a few hours with the metronome over several days. But what I found after sort of breaking down the "vitamin deficiency" in my playing was the core issue that greatly affected the others: string crossing. Now, how might that effect everything else? Well, it involves both hands moving from a static position of movement to suddenly going from moving up and down to the bass to across the bass, in which both hands have to make several motions in time effectively and cleanly. What's the usual solution for all new problems in music?: Slow it down! You don't get better by rushing sixteenths in a sixteenth-note groove. You slow them way down and find where the pocket lies for the whole groove. I found that it was a matter of creating etudes which create independence in both limbs and not a single finger or the other. Tackling the problem will take longer by creating a series of devices to enhance one's abilities (Matt says in the video that eight hours is not enough to practice in a day), but the catch is your playing overall gets better (it should after eight hours!).

What helps one identify these problems? Record with a metronome. I've heard many of my friends who are musical hobbyists mention that the metronome is stifling. Well, the fact to face is that it's not: it's actually quite liberating once you understand what the metronome is truly used for. It's like facing a mirror of one's true conception of time. Without it, we're walking through a valley of darkness. The second (or first part with respect to the statement, "record with a metronome") is to record yourself. One thing that's been super healthy has been recording myself at the beginning of practice, taking a break, listening to the recording, identifying the problem spots, troubleshooting/etude-ing, and recording again to compare the two. The end result: the musician at the end of the session always sounds more professional than the one at the beginning.

So let's break that down into a practice routine:
  1. Jam and record
  2. Take a short break (for coffee if you're me or food if you're me around 12pm)
  3. Listen back
  4. Identify any problem spots
  5. Create solutions and work on them (taking breaks as you see fit)
  6. Re-record
  7. Take a break
  8. Listen to the second recording
  9. Listen to the first recording
Cool, now we have nine steps to a program that'll make you sound better in small chunks. "Practice-rs Anonymous."

What else have I been doing? 

Well, I feel like sometimes my groove is a little pale (no pun intended... being a white male). So I want my groove to pop a little more. What can I change in the above that might do the same for me, but get a little bit deeper into my rhythm?: 
  1. Jam and record
  2. Take a short break
  3. Listen back
  4. Transcribe the groove, note for note
Stop at number 4. If you need any method to work on your ear or your reading, physically understanding on paper where you are at makes you leaps and bounds better than the day before. I did this recently for the Ancient Sun tune "Dance Around It," since there are days this tune doesn't pop as much as I want. So where do you go after 1-4?:
  1. Find your syncopations/accents in the groove
  2. Create etudes based on moving your accents without changing the groove
  3. Create etudes that add to, but don't take away the groove (Stevie Wonder's bass player, Nathan Watts, is an excellent example of this on "Do I Do")
  4. Practice with a click in small to large chunks
  5. Record
  6. Take a break
  7. Revel in glory (at being less pale) 
If there is anything I learned from Cannonball Adderley, it's that you can create a groove with just quarter notes. He walks basslines better than most bass players. Every solo I hear is like looking at a painting of extraordinary rhythms. Besides Parker, Coleman, and Mahanthappa, he's one of my favorite rhythmic alto players. It's good to keep in mind the pulse at all times.

This brings us back to rhythm. 

Pulse is number one! Don't practice anything with a click until you can do it without mistakes. Otherwise you'll quadruple your practice time simply by not knowing the material. Steve Coleman says that you should be able to sing rhythms and feel them internally before you play them. Dizzy Gillespie said he thought of the rhythms first and inserted the notes later. It might be best to start writing things down to know where they are at in the sonic spectrum. Sibelius (the notation software) has this wonderful panorama view of a score when you're working on things. It makes a lot of sense. You can't go backwards in music, only forwards.  

Before I leave you, I will say listen to this band Now Vs Now play "Big Pump." It's a tune in 11/8 that has a real interesting, natural feel. Yet, trying to play it the first time isn't easy (it took me a few good hours of sitting and counting to truly internalize the groove). I'll be looking at this in my next post which I've been working on for  months as I come up with different strategies for practicing and ingraining odd meters and odd note groupings. Happy practicing!:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deceptive Meter

Part 1: Thoughts on Rhythmic Tension, Macro-scale Polyrhythms, and the Art of Counting

It’s not surprising to me when it comes to jazz, you find an artist who not only understands all the rules, but also generally understands how to break them with vigor. Vijay Iyer has become a centralized figure in my study, as his concepts of rhythm have taken me well beyond anything I was taught in school and anything I thought I was capable of moving forward with.

->Side Note:
In any musician’s life, reaching a plateau is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you’ve improved from your previous state of musicianship. On the other, you might find yourself looking out in all directions and asking, “Where do I start?” This listlessness is totally normal, especially if you’re constantly trying new things. Part of my practice routine is what I call “Moving forward to move backwards.” What I do is try to find something modern and break it down into its constituent parts, which usually involves quite a bit of music history and world music study. The search is endless!

<-Back to the Article:
One thing for my current practice that started to become a question was when I happened upon odd meters. How, in my right mind, could I quickly assimilate difficult information in small chunks that would improve my conceptions of these variations from the norm and how could I begin to move towards practicing more interesting rhythms in my straight-ahead playing?

Of course, Vijay Iyer came into the equation (as well as a plethora of other artists). And it wasn’t until I actually sat down and tried to replicate what was on the albums that I noticed something fishy going on.
Iyer’s Tragicomic (2008) nearly ends with the tune “Threnody” which Iyer composed. The live version of this from the Bridgestone Music Festival brought tears to my eyes. I hadn’t heard something so heartfelt and simultaneously complex in a long time.

But where does the complexity start?

Naturally, right at the beginning.

Iyer does something clever in “Threnody,” in that he alludes to the tune being in 4/4 time. The problem with this assumption is when he begins improvising melodic and harmonic content, different in each version of the tune. It seems like his rhythms are loose, all over the place, hard to extract from what should occur as comping. Marcus Gilmore comes in and seems to save the rhythmic day. One realizes that Iyer’s rhythmic pattern hasn’t changed. But Gilmore is playing in 5/4 time. And Iyer… well, Iyer is playing in 5/4… but he isn’t, is he?

And this is where I came up with the term deceptive meter. To untrained ears, the beginning of this tune might sound like a mess. Patience shows that everything is generally A-OK and that Iyer and his team are doing just fine. Damn, I think. Something is still bugging me about the beginning of this tune every time I hear it.

Iyer is very good at this.

What Iyer tends to lean towards is alluding to one type of meter versus the actual, overall underlying pulse. The listener’s ear is imperative here because s/he is not hearing an internalized tempo, but simply what is going on. They are given strictly the visceral options: what can I grab onto that makes the most sense. Then, when the tension becomes obvious, there is a new spectrum of rhythm to play with. So Iyer’s use of the audience’s natural rhythmic tendencies in the brain actually creates another layer of rhythm. Imagine that: music meant for an audience!


Part 2: Rhythmic Cycles--When Traditional “Meter” is no Longer a Factor

Rudresh Mahanthappa gives an amazing master class at the New School of Music.

What I’ve noticed in several types of contemporary music is a trend towards rhythmic cycles (which I tackled a bit in an earlier article) rather than time signatures as an avenue for expression.
Mahanthappa performs “Blackjack” with the New School students, which he explains is a rhythmic cycle of 4-3-2-3-2-3-4, meaning the individual counts of those micro (smaller) phrases. Because the time signature ends up being 21/16, it is quite easier to begin practicing in smaller subdivisions against this macro-phrase.

Marko Djordjevic explains in his master class at PASIC on his tune “Celebration.”

“Celebration” is a rhythmic cycle of 3-2-2-2-2-3-2-2, or 18/16 (9/8 for simplicity, not accuracy) and shows what Mahanthappa is talking about by showing these individual counting structures against groups of 3, 4, and 5 on the high hat. Made into an independence exercise, one can run short rhythmic ideas against the longer phrase in an attempt to land on the top of the cycle, play two bar phrases, and assimilate the information mentioned in both master classes.

Where this gets trickier is when it is a simpler meter, but the harmonic rhythm is adjusted to move around. I was reading up on Radiohead and their discussion of “Pyramid Song” off of Amnesiac in the book Listen to This by Alex Ross. They claimed the song had no time signature. This could be true if we think of things in terms of traditional harmonic rhythms. But Pyramid Song is a two-bar phrase in 4/4. The rhythmic cycle is 3-3-4-3-3 (in eighth notes). It’s just the chords that change in a greater eight-bar phrase which looks something like this:


(Sheet music is available online.)

If we look back at Machine Days by Vijay Iyer, the same science applies to this musical setting.

It might be easier to feel these pulses as such, rather than as meters because of their length. Another Mahanthappa tune which features an extended rhythmic phrase ending up in 12/4 (or something of the sort, perhaps a bar of 7 followed by 5) is “Breakfastlunchanddinner,” which breaks into the cycle of 3-3-2-2-2-2-3-2-2-3.

In my next article, I’ll be tackling ways to practice this and maintain a natural sound. Lots of research ahead and plenty of practice!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Time, Tempo, Metric Modulation, and Polyrhythm

On the subject of all things rhythm, I discovered something in practice the other day. What I discovered was not necessarily new, but what it did was instantly create an exercise which I think, with time, will greatly improve any player’s sense of timing, rhythm, polyrhythm, ability to metrically modulate, and hear tempos that would otherwise be entirely unrelated.

To give you a little background, I started music on the clarinet at the age of ten. For some musical prodigies, this is an extremely old age to start. I did not “really” start playing the bass until I got into college when I was seventeen and realized I neglected to do most of the general education homework I was assigned in college. So my time, naturally, was as natural as it gets. When I say this, there are two types of time: Natural and Perfect. In the same way one has relative pitch, one can have perfect pitch. When I say “Natural,” I literally mean whatever comes first without the advantageous use of the metronome. “Perfect” would mean time/rhythm that could be measured and seen as flawless—a relative term within itself—but some of the greatest musicians we’ve seen have approached having what we might call perfect time—say, Brad Mehldau, Jojo Mayer, or the late Jaco Pastorius. That list is growing incredibly to huge numbers and includes one person I think should be studied well (or at least listened to for some extreme pleasure): Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave. My time is somewhere floating in the middle, but I believe with some foresight, it is easy to see these exercises for what they are: for hearing drummers themselves in a better context, especially as a bassist.
The exercise was to set the metronome at a low tempo, one without a lot of hesitation, which was 60 BPM. I usually always practice lines at this tempo first, then play the same line gradually faster (click-by-click or up by fives), to the point of playing the line again at 60 BPM’s, but twice as fast. Thus, it sounds like you are playing at 120 with the click on every other beat.

Side/Foot Note: I am going to agree with Jeff Berlin on one front—you shouldn’t use a metronome to practice. You should use a metronome as utility for learning things in perfect time in order, much like the use of training wheels, to eventually get away from the metronome. Victor Wooten argues the same thing. The metronome is essentially a visual and aural reminder of where time is happening. One way to do this is to be able to beat steady time on one hand and be able to sing aloud a rhythm or beat the rhythm entirely on the other hand. This way your time becomes organic and not molded to the metronome. If things shift around live (which they shouldn’t, but sometimes they do… fires do happen, lightning does strike) you should be able to shift with them. Joe Hubbard talked about this when I took lessons with him as well as Paul Hindemith in his book Elementary Training for Musicians.
The metronome at 60 I think was perfect because of the relationship to a ticking clock which happens virtually (or I suppose analogously) anywhere. We don’t have to argue about some clocks being faster or slower because, obviously, the timing of the clock would be way off (or for a better argument, it doesn’t really matter).

Thus, the exercise goes like this (in case the introduction bored you):
Metronome set to 60 as the quarter note. Begin to set the metronome at other tempos in order to facilitate the hearing of those other rhythms against it. Eighth notes at 120, sixteenths at 240. Where it gets more heady is eighth-note triplets (180) and quarter note triplets (90), quintuplet eights (300) and quarters (150 over the span of two 60 BPM bars), septuplets eights (420) or quarters (210 over two bars again), and on. We could do this for ridiculous number of beats, but we might slow the metronome down significantly to get numbers like 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 and on, over a single bar or two bars.

You hear the metronome at 60 and begin to count these other time signatures out loud. It may sound crazy, but using two different metronomes (or especially one online) expedites this exercise. In Indian (native to India) rhythm systems, one should be able to count these rhythms independent of a metronome. This obviously takes time (no pun intended). As a general rule: the slower the better. As a secondary rule: repetition equals improvement.

Why do an exercise like this?

Well, the benefits are twofold: on one hand you are personally ingraining the sounds of these rhythms in your ear. On the other hand, you are beginning to open yourself up casually to odd-meter and hearing different rhythms over entireties. The focus and attention of say a group of seven notes over one bar frees you up to hear two notes in the same space, as well as three, four, or five. So you’re pushing your focus.

What good does changing your rhythmic focus? Well, it allows you to play rhythms more freely and to hear bigger pulses generally. One thing I’ve observed from untrained rhythmic ears is that during the drum solo in jazz tunes, coming back in on one or a rhythmic figure seems to be a worry or some sort of impossibility. But does a drummer seem to lose a chord progression? Rarely, because it happens in time.

Why then is harmony and melody put on the forefront if the basic foundation of time is neglected?

Well, that is a serious question to ask.

Further studies with this time-based application would include grouping those notes into individual cross-rhythms within the context of those polyrhythms. I’m looking of course at Vijay Iyer again. His contrafact of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” called “Because of the Guns” shows off this type of performance in practice, entirely. 

What makes it truly difficult? Well, for one it is new. For two, it switches between these concepts seamlessly.
(Check out the PDF, thanks to Joshualopes.com.) One might even look to Steve Schick who worked out the piece “Bone Alphabet” over the course of a year. 

I think subconsciously I got the idea for this exercise from him (Schick/Ferneyhough [the composer]). 

But the truth is in the pudding. Because I think being able to hear all of these rhythms at different tempos and to be able to execute them in succession is one thing, but being able to hear their functions against one another is yet another difficult and pivotal step which would require slowing the metronome down even more. The results are flawless time and essentially a great grasp of playing different types of rhythms.

I am still arguing that it is the age of the drummer. Happy practicing!

Post Script:
A few examples in pop music might be the following:

“Claws” by Son Lux

-The synth part about halfway through the song plays septuplet quarter Notes against the bar, then subdivides them into eighths)

“Turtle Neck” by Bosnian Rainbows

-Deantoni Parks (drums) plays seven notes on the snare against the half note.

“Unluck” by James Blake

-The digital drum part comps quintuplets against the beat and alternates between straight eights, sixteenths, and triplets. 

And a link to the PDF Exercise!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Self-Study For Rhythms: Vijay Iyer's "Machine Days"

The purpose of Konnakol is not unlike being able to sing any given interval and its inverse. When we talk about singing groups of five rhythms--say the syllables “ta-ka-di-mi-tom” for example--we are not just referring to western “quintuplets,” but both macro and micro pulses of five rhythms which repeat  themselves in groups. Thus, when we put spaces between those syllables, say in the sense of making a macro-grouping of seven notes in a group of five (ta „ ta , ta / ka „ ka , ka,/ etc. sung as sixteenth notes in a western 4 pulse in the hands), we begin to see how this applies to phrasing polyrhythms. The reverse of this process, then, would be to count groups of 4 while counting a pulse of 7 in the hands, facilitates odd meters without changing any rhythms, only the emphasis of these rhythms and the “generic” or perhaps “agreement” pulse in which the band feels the music. When listening to an artist like Vijay Iyer, we hear that sometimes these 4 counts are put on top of pulses in groups of four, seven, eleven, or even general mixed meter on top of larger counting structures.

Larger counting structures might be a 32 count form which would be two bars of 4/4 sixteenth notes in which the pulse becomes subtracted (since they are not superimposed upon one another and happen sequentially… 4+4+4+4+4+3+3+3+3=32 or 4+4+4+5+5+5+5=32) constitute smaller phrases which end up in an even larger structure of let’s say 8 of these 32-count forms, giving us 16 bars of 4/4 music.

Let’s look at one of Vijay Iyer’s tunes, “Machine Days,” labeled with the time signature 9/16. If you get a chance to look at the written music wherein the form is taken for the solos (the “B” section of the melody), the 16-bar form of 9/16 is broken into five larger sections of polyrhythms. It consists of what I call the first theme (34 sixteenths) and the second theme (21 sixteenths), given the accents of the chords changing as indicators that these themes are alternating. The easiest way to begin to be able to count a tune like this is to begin to understand the designated pulse of the bass or “agreement” pulse in 9/16 which seems to be 6 and 3 (a dotted quarter followed by a dotted eighth) only variegating by the accents in the melody/rhythmic themes. Those themes are further divided in smaller pulses which I’ll go ahead and write out:
Theme 1:
Theme 2:
If we look at the “A” section, a 16-bar phrase is still divided into smaller sections, this time simply being divided into 7 groups of 4 (+ 6) and 4 groups of 4 (+5) (alternating in a larger block of five of these). Again, the evidence in the score comes with the accents of chords changing.
Thus, 9x16=144. So 34 (x3) + 21 (x2)= 144. Essentially in the piece, he broke down the groups of 34 and 21 into two different counting manifests seen here:
Theme 1 in A and B
A: 4+4+4+4+4+4+4+6=34
B: 4+5+5+5+5+5+5=34
Theme 2 in A and B
A: 4+4+4+4+5= 21
B: 7+7+7=21
Thus, the title of the piece really fits. “Machine Days” does work as a name for the tune.

Last words on VI’s MD: the 3-bar pick-up plays by these same rules.

27 sixteenth notes-> 6+6+5+5+5=27

Lesson learned: counting is everything. The next great innovators will not have something harmonic for us, but something rhythmic.
Watch and listen to "Machine Days" by Vijay Iyer on YouTube:

For further study on Konnakol, please visit the following links:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Personalizing the Young for Old

I guess starting a blog description should come with some sort of disclaimer: my age, my profession, how long I have been doing what I am doing, my esteem (if there is any), and what goals I have.

To let off on some of the personal stresses, I'm a twenty-two year old from Orlando, Florida with a degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Central Florida. I've studied with Richard Drexler, Chuck Archard, Eric Bergeron, Michael Hill, Per Danielsson, and have played with some giants including Lenny Pickett, Michael Philip Mossman, and Antonio Hart. I've performed in masterclasses including the styles of Swing, Bebop, Hard Bop, Free Jazz, the Avant Garde, and more. I've studied composition with Sun Mi Ro, Thad Anderson, and have taken arranging for Big Band with Per Danielsson. I've performed over two hundred dates in the last two years while finishing school and consider myself a working musician (hence the title of the blog).

It wasn't until about a month ago I considered my progress. I've been performing on upright bass for three years, electric bass for about nine now (recently purchasing a six-string), and have some experience playing clarinet, saxophone, and piano.

On the side, I am a writer and take that craft very (if not perilously) seriously. I write non-fiction, fiction, prose, poetry, and the occasional experimental work (though usually pointed out after the fact).

Given my "credentials," what I am trying to display here after talking with Emily, my wonderful girlfriend and fellow author (I consider her a musician as well, a talented and humble singer, but don't tell her I said that), is my change over time. This blog is meant to move from my young (now) self to my older (later) self. I'll present my challenges and questions, most often emphasizing what I value right now: Artistry in Music and Writing.

My next post, which will be my first discussion, will be on the idea of the "Young" musician versus the idea of the "Old" and what that means for experience, performance, and art.

Thank you so much!

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Hello there. My name is Brandon Kyle (Jude) Miller. I am a musician and writer from Orlando, FL. If you're wondering what this blog is about, it is about being an artist and maintaining the "Artistic Mindset" in the modern world, a world of minimum wage, thrown-out gigs, corporate types, and general unrest among the younger generation. I feel positively about the world I live in and hope to explore some of the ideas of being an artist in the 21st Century world without having to sacrifice things like financial security and one's vision for the "greater good" or because "that's the way the world works." What I hope to accomplish here is bringing in my personal philosophies and exploring them, at length, in order to create a clearer vision of what it is to be an artist and a musician, without having to sacrifice one's humanity in order to do so. This blog should be updated at a minimum of once a week.

The idea came from meeting saxophonist Antonio Hart. He asked a group of students after we played through Bill Evan's "Nardis," "What are you trying to say?"