The Compositional Drummer

The Compositional Drummer

Information for the career minded drummer and musician

Life's Most Valuable Lesson

Failing… Life's most valuable lesson

 

Well folks, I'm back after a long time away Happy Holiday to you all. To say that the last six months have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. Anything that could have happened, has (including losing a steady gig that I loved), but I won't focus on the negative. You might be saying, really Warren, because your blog title says otherwise While that might be true a lot of positives can and should be learned from failing and I’ll tell you why.

 

During the summer, as I was being slapped around by life, I figured, let me not get distracted. So, I put together a plan of action. That plan would include rebuilding my teaching roster, getting to the studio to record some new compositions that I've written, looking for production, arranging  and playing opportunities, you know, the stuff musicians do to survive. I would like to say, for the most part, the plan worked but there was one component, that failed and it failed miserably. (my studio recording). The performances were, for the most part, good. However, there would be circumstances that would take place both within and beyond my control.

 

I'm way past the finger pointing age and I don't believe in playing the blame game. As a leader, I shoulder the blame primarily because I chose to turn a blind eye to a few things. Now mind you, this is not my first recording. I've been at it for a while and should have known better but without further adieu… Here's what I've learned

 

- Synergy: Players can have all of the chops in the world but the inability to interject "feel" into the music being played renders your “chops” useless. It only takes one player to change the creative atmosphere and because the creative process is interactive when a player switches on autopilot the feel, groove or message in the music is compromised. Lack of feel and the inability to cooperate musically is like making love to a person that's not actively participating in ‘‘the moment". In an ensemble situation your ability to express yourself through your facility, musicianship accompanied by your signature sound is the component that will make the whole greater that the sum of individual parts.. Your playing has to go beyond the written page and onto a whole other level where the other players "feel" you and become moved by your musical voice on the instrument… It’s always about the music so if you zone out or clock watch while eyeball rolling you jeopardize the synergy.

 

- Personality: Getting a paycheck to play is great. But if you want to be asked back on a gig… I’ll say it again… IF YOU WANT TO BE ASKED BACK... For God Sake, don't be a drag to be around, have a some measure of personality. Barring your eccentricities, sit down, get to know the people you are playing with and the one who hired you. I’m not saying become best friends but, loosen up GEEZ... I was on a high profile gig once hired a couple of days before the hit to sub for another drummer. Afterwards, I made it a point to personally thank the artist whom I provided my talent to and who was, at that moment, my employer.  Now, he may or may not remember me today but it is good customer service just to say those two magical words that mama taught… You know, Thank You;-)

 

- Double Check The Technical Team: It's always a good idea to check up on the technical aspects of the "take" between takes. You don’t have to know anything about the equipment used but let your ears guide you. If something sounds wrong, or off; question it.  Unfortunately, I didn't have my producer in the booth for this recording. I know, I know, Kill me later. Anyway, we rattled off 22 takes of all the material. At the end of the record date several technical disasters and mishaps were uncovered. So lesson learned, stuff can and will go wrong from a technical standpoint... Don't be in a rush for the sake of accommodating someone’s schedule. It’s your record. If you are signing the checks, DOUBLE CHECK

 

- Dealing with Disappointment: Like I said before things can and will go wrong. Am I disappointed with the way things turned out? Ummm Yeah!, I got some great demos, that’s about the size of it. What’s  the best thing I can do?  GET OVER IT! nothing more, It happened, money was lost, I gotta move on. Staying stuck, complaining about should've, could've is not therapeutic. It's downright stressful, counterproductive and not healthy. I’m certain I’ll have better luck next time.

 

You see,  even at this point in my career, I'm still learning. I'm not afraid of failing and you shouldn't be either. That doesn’t mean that I advocate arbitrary “throwing caution to the wind” while planning any big event or recording project. My point is that sometimes the best laid plans just… Fail;-(.  So look at the positives. At the very least, from that failure you would’ve learned what worked and what didn’t.    This recording turned out to be one veeeerrry expensive demo. Actually, it’s the most expensive demo I've ever recorded. But at least I now have great audio to accompany the charts for the re-recording. Which is going to be smashing:-)

 

Finally, going through this ordeal reminded me of a story I was once told. It went like this. A bird spent all of the spring building the best nest he could by choosing the strongest twigs and finest nesting material.  A late summer day storm would come, causing the bird to flee his nest in search of safer surroundings. Once the storm passed the bird returned to find his nest completely destroyed. After spending a brief moment staring in disbelief at the destruction visited upon his home he began gathering twigs and other nesting material and started building a new nest that would be much better and stronger than the former.

 

You see… there’s nothing wrong with failing, embrace it as the gateway to success

 

That's my story. Please share yours with me in the comments below

 

 

 

Great, Good or Not Good

Don't let criticism get to your head...

 

So you've written a piece of music and you think it's the greatest thing ever... Until you let others hear it. Family and friends normally smile, nod in a positive affirming way you then walk away feeling good about yourself... until you hear those dreaded negative words of criticism come from people who owe you no allegiance. 

 

As a writer, when hearing not so nice words about your work you might walk away from such experience feeling hurt and offended and put off by such comments. But, should you?

 

Criticism, whether maliciously hidden in the guise of constructive or not should always be weighed in the careful balance of whom it is coming from.  I will repeat myself. Weigh all criticism in the balance of whom it is coming from. If Quincy Jones says, "Ummm not exactly", chances are you are off the mark. However, musician friends frustrated by their own lack of progress often visit their misery on other fellow musicians in the form of negative criticism. Some musicians might "high-five" you then as soon as you turn your back... talk about you like a dog. Family and friends will always spare your feelings by offering positive affirming words but is that really helpful? Unfortunately, it is a skewed view of reality and just as damming and harmful as the critical, back biting, miserable musician comment.

 

In my experience, criticism coming from an informed individual is best and even better when the person has your best interest at heart.

 

While in college I remember being in music composition class one semester during listening day (the day each composer had to bring in an audio recording of a completed work). The stress level was so highly visible on the faces of the presenters it was borderline comical.  Some pieces were good, some were great, some were not good. But nevertheless the instructor encouraged nothing but constructive criticism. He suggested that we should make only comments aimed at helping someone grow.  On group projects He would pair a strong writer with one not so strong and by the end of the semester the final juries had everyone showing huge improvements in all aspects of their writing.

 

So what's my point? If you are serious about your growth, as a beginning writer avoid playing your music for the overly critical, the miserable musician acquaintances, family and close friends... if possible. Instead try joining an online songwriting community group or find a composition teacher whom specializes in your genre and ask for honest feedback.  Everyone might not like your music and for those who don't you should ask that they explain why in a constructive, open, honest and helpful way. It is only then will leave you feeling good about this musical journey you are on. 

 

Final note, although it might be hard, criticism should NEVER!!! get to your head and don't be afraid of being on the receiving end of criticism. Having attended a master class by Grammy nominated Jazz pianist Fred Hersch,  he said it best after criticizing a performance of a colleague... "It's one man's opinion.” and that it truly is.

 

I promise we’ll get back to the technical aspects of writing shortly. I’m hoping these last few inspirational posts are helping someone. Please tell me what you think in the comments below

 

Legendary Jazz Pianist Fred Hersch

Can Your Music Stand Alone?

Texture: The amount of voices or instruments used in music composition

 

It was believed, a very long time ago might I add, that music possessed the power to move the emotions of people. And, it does. Think about some great songs written throughout the annals of music history that would bring a tear to the eye. You might have yours but mine is “Longer Than” by the late great Dan Fogelberg. 

 

The brand name Muzak, or commonly known as elevator music, is proof of the power of the stripped down composition. Mostly melody with light texture and accompaniment muzak brings the composition back to a barebones state. Have you ever found yourself whistling the melody of elevator music or humming the melody to a familiar piece being played over the background PA while shopping. 

 

So, when it comes to our compositions, as writers we need to ask ourselves one probing question. Can it stand alone? Is the melody singable, void of any complexities that might cause the listener to tune out. Second, the harmony and accompaniment, is it straightforward, or loaded with mounds of production and obtuse chord changes robbing the listener of a true experience.  Remember, the average listener to your music is doing just that… listening. As a popular music writer It’s ones responsibility to write music untrained ears can understand and appreciate.

 

In conclusion I’ve attached an example of a great song with limited production value that can definitely stand on it’s own. Please take care to analyze this song in it’s entirety from lyric to melody and harmony. Simply Beautiful:-)… Do you enjoy music that touches you in a special way?  Share your experiences with me in the comments below. 

 

Lyrics:

Longer than there've been fishes

in the ocean

Higher than any bird ever flew

Longer than there've been stars

up in the heavens

I've been in love with you.

Stronger than any mountain cathedral

Truer than any tree ever grew

Deeper than any forest primeval

I am in love with you.

I'll bring fires in the winters

You'll send showers in the springs

We'll fly through the falls and summers

With love on our wings.

Through the years as the fire

starts to mellow

Burning lines in the book of our lives

Though the binding cracks and the

pages start to yellow

I'll be in love with you.

Longer than there've been fishes

in the ocean

Higher than any bird ever flew

Longer than there've been stars

up in the heavens

I've been in love with you

I am in love with you.

The Setting Sun

Uh Oh...There’s the Plateau

 

A colleague of mine once shared the story of the setting sun. He said “You know, you never see the sun setting but you do notice the darkness.”... We were at a gig just chatting before the performance and he was sharing about the perils of plateauing in our craft. 

 

Plateauing or leveling off or whatever you want to call it can make or break your creativity. It can cause you to put your instrument down for unnecessary long periods of time, not practice, doubt yourself and just all together give up.  Let’s face it, We all go through a drought but during those tough times when the well runs dry what are you doing about it? Or should I ask, What are you not doing? 

 

The one thing about the musician is we are creatures of habit. Much of what we do includes loads of repetition. Think about it. Practicing scales, sight-reading, ear training, memorizing material, going over sections of a composition over and over rewriting parts, rearranging parts… It all screams repetition.  The danger in all of this is that you are digesting the same information day in and day out,  you get into a rut, discouragement sets in, along with self doubt. Aaaaannnd You’re DONE!   A funk like that can last weeks upon end unless you take hold of the situation, recognize the problem and do something about it. The problem is we want instantaneous results without the sacrifice of time and effort. But results OFTEN come on the heels of effort and LOADS of... sacrifice.

 

So back to the metaphor, my friends point was every little bit that we do (The slow setting Sun) in pursuit of perfecting our craft has a long lasting effect… (The Darkness) It was at that point I fully understood the illustration. What’s that they say about slow and steady winning the race in a marathon. While in music school I often heard instructors say, “I’d rather you practice 12 minutes every day than spend one day practicing for an hour.”  It’s so true, if we are committed to what we are doing, (in terms of creating music), then adversity and growing pains are inevitable. 

 

So what to do when the plateau is on the horizon?  Recognize it and change the course early, mix it up, find a new collaborator, find new musicians to play with, take in a concert. listen to music you don’t normally listen to, try a new approach to your writing, try voicing chords differently. Whatever it takes.  It is at this point of recognition that you are slowly adding ability and facility to what you do.  Does it mean that you won’t hit the proverbial plateau again?  Nope! It just means you have a better and more productive way of handling the problem and like that setting sun, the effects of your growth will be heard in the music you produce and perform once you hit your stride again.  So, don’t be discouraged you are not alone.  In the next segment we will discuss more ways to make great music. 

 

In the comments below share your experiences C-YA!

 

The All Important Groove

 

Groove Generation

 

4/4 ||: 1&  2&  3&  4& | 1&  2&  3&  4& :|| repeat intro once…

 

That rhythmic groove was recorded in 1983, The single sold over 6 million copies in over 5 countries making him the "King Of Pop”… If you haven’t guessed by now it is the rhythmic groove to non other than Billie Jean. The song about one particular groupie trying to pen a kid on poor Michael. "He He”

 

Billie Jean, like many other successful Pop songs had the drawing power of “The Groove”.  Think about how many Hit's are groove oriented… Van Halen’s - Jump,  Queen’s - Another One Bites The Dust, The Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams" and many more.  Outside of the Lyric and the Lyric Story the rhythmic groove is another of the most important aspects of songwriting. Why? well in popular music most people like to dance to the rhythm and enjoy the pulse, or commonly know as, “The beat”. So what better place to start the writing process than with rhythm or “Groove”.  It is everywhere in the composition even the melody.  

 

So how do you begin in groove writing? Well, I get my recorder, iPhone or whatever. Set the metronome to a comfortable tempo, and "mouth doddle" around with “bass and drum "motives” (short little rhythmic ideas).  Try to not downplay the importance of what I call “Daily sketching” This might, for some, be a corny process but it is, never-the-less an exercise in developing short ideas that could later be developed into entire songs.  Now as you begin experimenting with these ideas you might get an idea for a melodic “Hook”  that could possibly become the Chorus for the song? If that happens, take care to make sure it is not “Sing Songy” and overly “Rhymie. We will talk about melodic development in future discussions.  Also, play with the dynamics of the groove. Accent certain beats to see if it enhances the feel. The displacement of the beat and time signature changes are EXTREMELY POWERFUL songwriting tools.  

 

While engaging in this process remember a few things. When writing genre specific music stay true to the genre. Rock drum grooves have no place in an R&B tune and vice versa. The feel of the song is just as important. Screamer rock vocal melodies don’t belong in a Pop song. That’s a bit exaggerated but trust me. I have, on occasion seen it all with students. 

 

In conclusion, try not to overthink this entire process. Just flow and be purposeful in your development of genuinely good ideas. Step away from it for a day or two. Bounce the ideas off of co-writers. Development is the key to crafting something great. After all,  what’s that they say about Rome NOT being built in a day.

 

I will leave you with what I think is the best example of what I’m talking about. Michael Jackson explaining how he came up with the Hit song  “Who Is It". Listen for the dynamic articulation of the lyric. The attention he paid to detail is simply incredible. Watch from the 8 minute mark and until next time, keep writing!

 

 

Sometimes You just don't know

The Not So Helpful Help

 

When I was a much younger musician I often followed the advice of my peers. Some were better musically, a few had a deeper theoretic knowledge than I, of music which I suspected was the key to better musicianship (and going to music school confirmed that notion) .  During those years of wandering, wondering and struggling I learned something about myself that might help you. You've got to know what you want from music early on in your musical life and no one can decide that for you. Is it just a hobby? Do you want a career?  These assessments must be made by you, for you and you only. 

 

I've discovered that people you know, who might mean well… or not, are prone to giving blind, vague or less than helpful advice, sometimes disguised as being genuine.  What do I mean? Here's a story or two for you.  A young musician I know was impressed with an organist whom he heard practicing in the church he attended. He approached the organist with one question too many about how to get a particular sound from the instrument.  The organist,  immediately closed the top of the organ and reset all of the drawbars so that the younger musician had no opportunity to "copy" his settings. That's "less than helpful" and extremely selfish. Or how about another young musician whom when impressed by another more advanced musician being told "You just need to practice":-( not what to practice or how and why just… you need to practice.  ummm..."Empty advice". 

 

I was told by one of my mentors "A fool has himself for a teacher". Youtube might do it, but nothing beats sitting at the feet of a person gifted in the art of teaching music. Keyword here is "gifted".  Be familiar with your weaknesses. Embrace them and think of the long term progress you will make by taking just one step at a time.  Find an instructor and absorb as much information as possible. Be very specific and particular about the areas you are trying to improve in. I will repeat that again, BE VERY SPECIFIC AND PARTICULAR ABOUT THE AREAS YOU ARE TRYING TO IMPROVE IN! It will help you in the long run. 

 

One instructor I had once said  "Everything I teach you might or might not benefit you. Each student is different and the needs are unique from one to the next. It's up to you to eat the meat and spit out the bones."  Truer words were never spoken to me in life.   

 

In conclusion, inevitably "it is" up to you to devise a plan for your musical success. A plan that will afford you the best way to navigate that path in effort to attain your goals.  

 

I’ll leave you with this video of gifted music instructor Madame Nadia Boulanger. This woman has taught everyone from Quincy Jones & Leonard Bernstein to Aaron Copeland. She's proven that anyone can hand you a map... It is still up to you to drive the car to your destination.

 

 

 

Share your experiences with me in the comments below

 

 

 

 

 

Hit Song or Your Song?

 

I often come across writers concerned with trends and attempting to latch onto a trend to write a… Hit? As a person who has spent a considerable time in this business I encounter writers and have co-written with a writer or two again concerned with writing a… Hit?:-( or how about the occasional producer I encounter bobbing his head listening to the playback of the track uttering in my ear... "That's a hit."

 

Goals and aspirations are noble. There really is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best that you can be and receiving all of the accolades that come with being loved. But, if your only motivation is writing a “Hit” you need a bit of a reality check. Now believe me, music history is loaded with exceptions to what I'm about to share.  There have been times that a tune will come out and the public flocks to it like flies to… you-know-what. But “Hits” (Like Michael Jacksons 35 million seller Thriller) cost MONEY, timing and the right team of people working endlessly on behalf of the artist. So lets do the math from a real world standpoint.

 

Having a bit of experience in both the marketing of my own personal recordings, a wife that has spent some time at Universal Records in their Pop & Rock marketing division and a friend or two with Gold and Platinum records to their credit, I can assure you the following figures are a “Low Ball” view of reality. So here we go.

 

Possible expenses associated with selling a lot of records.

Publicist retention for at least a year to generate as much buzz about your record to Publications like Rolling Stone, and other magazines in an attempt to land a cover, column story or review of the music.  Approximately: $36,000.00 (12 months at $3000.00 per month)

Radio promoter or video promoter with a track record for getting music played on major music networks: Approximately $24,000.00 (12 months @ $2000)

Music Video done on a shoestring with DSLR’s cheap… but a Broadcast Quality one acceptable by the standards of MTV, VH1 Approximately $20,0000.00+

Regional tour in support of recording (Costs may vary depending on whether your services are retained by a promoter) Food, gas and lodging expenses assuming it’s a "load the van and go" promotional tour covering NE and SE regions for 26 Dates for the year $26,000.00. Remember, promotional tours are just that promotional. You might get paid to play or you might not. The ideal situation is doing festivals and receiving your fee for performance from the concert promoter. The latter not very likely for a new band.   

Ongoing Marketing expenses for the life of the promotion for the record (Ads in Billboard and other Music publications, Website, E-blast marketing, Telephone expenses) $26,000.00.

Total projected "Low Ball" budget $137,000.00

 

So what’s my point. Check your heart. What is the real reason you write? Because the easiest way to get stuck and stay stuck is to ignore the song your heart, deny the talent you are given and follow a trend in an attempt to become the next "Hit Wonder".  Resist the temptation to become a clone. The world needs more great songs and musicians to perform them, and fewer clones. As you begin to build a following with the great music you write everything else falls into place. It's a process. Like saving for a house or car. You need a plan to promote your music and as you grow to the next level you spend a little more climbing higher and higher each time until your piece of the pie gets bigger. 

 

THE LOAD AND GO TOUR!

What do you think? Share in the comments below

Harmony... episodes of tension and release

Anticipation…  

One Monday you try out for the team of your choice. You know you did well, you’ve practiced and hope you impressed those responsible for putting you on the team.  At the end of tryouts Coach advises that he will post the final cuts on Friday outside the locker rooms. All of the days in between are spent with you virtually holding your breath until that day. Friday finally comes and you rush to where the cut list is posted. You arrive and search the list intensely looking for your name... you find out you've made the team and breathe a sigh of relief.

 

Just like this story music composition goes through those periods of tension and release through two scale degrees. They are scale degree one known as Tonic and scale degree five known has Dominant. The balance of contemporary harmony rests on these two scale degrees and their chords. Well written melodies typically start on the tonic note they go to the dominant and head back to tonic as a point of resolution. You may ask why are these two so important, it is because of the seven degrees associated with a Major scale five of the notes reside with the tonic and dominant chords. You can think of it as tonic=home dominant=away then you return home again to the tonic.  Make no mistake, the Tonic and Dominant chords are the most important in the harmonic cycle.  However, like all other rules there are exceptions but the amount of hits written with this formula are endless.  

 

Finally, as an exercise spend some time experimenting with writing a simple song section that features a melody and chords built on just the tonic and dominant. It's great practice and make sure you are at a piano or guitar.  I’ve posted an example for you to listen to. Bill Wither’s tune Lean On Me is a testament to our discussion. 13 million plays on Spotify some 40 years later definitely can’t be argued with. Click the link.

 

 

 

Bill Withers – Lean on Me - Single Version

 

The Lyric story….

Just what heck are you saying?

 

I’m not a huge fan of pop music. I listen to it but by and large not my fave. However, whenever I’m teaching composition to my students I use Pop music as a model. Why? because it’s simple.

 

So much about music can be appreciated if things are kept simple. For instance, I was listening to Beyonce’s song titled Love On Top and thought to myself this is a perfect example of the Lyric story. It addresses all the important information about who, what, and why. As writers how often is the tendency to wander around a topic aimlessly as opposed to carefully and craftily addressing the ever important story. So as an exercise this week write a song paying close attention to the lyric story. Create the song around a simple groove. Remember I-IV-V or V7 are important chords to use in pop music. Make the melody singable and easy to remember. Write and rewrite.

 

In future Monday blogs I will deconstruct and analyze more songs, beginning with this one. It is so brilliantly simple. No wonder it was a hit. Take time to analyze it in detail.  Click the link. Tell me what you think in the comments below

 

Beyoncé – Love On Top

 

Music composition basics

Effective Music composition (Part 2.) The Basics, Rhythmic subdivision 

 

For those who have a bit of talent in the area of creative art it requires cultivating. Just like a newly planted seedling you must cultivate your mind. Feeding it the right information, practicing, writing, studying and revising are par for the course. The average musician approaches their craft as though it is not necessary to go through these deep levels of prep to display their talent. However, if you want longevity and meaning to what you are doing you must study, practice and study and practice more. So where does that take us? To more remediation. I know what you’re thinking, let’s get to the meat and potatoes. We will. I promise. But now I need to bottle feed the basics.

 

It’s my belief that anyone who wants to excel in music, be it performance or composing must have foundational musicianship skills. That is, you already know what a time signature is, you know the value a quarter note receives in 2/4 and 4/4 time.  You have a basic understanding of functional harmony & you can subdivide a whole note to at least the eighth note value. All of this and much more will be covered in the future. For now, we will cover rhythm.  

 

All composed music is linear. It has a beginning a middle and an end.  The movement of the melody within a composition is time based and dictated by the time signature.  You can use any combination of notes to move through time as long as it obeys the beats dictated by the time signature. For example in 4/4 time there are four beats (top number) to a measure and the quarter note (bottom number) receives one of those beats.  Now the quarter note can be further subdivided. You remember your grade school fractions right? When you learned fractions you used the pie example.  With that understood, you should know that the mathematical principles are the same in music when it comes to common time ( 4/4 ).

 

That whole pie can represent a whole note in music which receives ALL four beats. You can cut the pie in half with the pie now receiving two beats. You can take both of those halves and cut them in two to represent the four quarters of the pie. You can take one of those quarters and cut them in two and now you have eighths and so on. That is what is known as subdividing. With each piece cut into two the number of pieces representing the whole doubles. The knowledge of this is very necessary; especially as a rhythm player (drummer / bassist).  Chances are as a Rhythm composer your compositions will be groove oriented. Also, lyricists need this information as well. It is of utmost importance to correctly syllablize the words of their compositions. 

 

See, now was that bad? Take time to review the attachment below. You are definitely on your way to a deeper understanding of music and writing more effectively

 

 

Less Than Inspired? Maybe a change of perspective is due

What’s your Inspiration?

 

Inspiration is a funny thing as a composer. What might inspire you might not necessarily inspire the next person. Though possibly debatable, it’s always possible to find something to write about. That’s why I believe one should attempt to write in their sketch book daily. Outside of personal experiences, inspiration for a song can come from anything we see, touch, hear, smell or taste. So as an exercise this week take the time to use your senses as a point of inspiration. I’m not asking you to compose something musically profound and deep. This is strictly an exercise in finding inspiration. Think it won’t work?  Mr. Calhoun Tubbs will emphatically disagree. Check out this video. He demonstrates the possibility to write a song about anything. Although very funny, much truth is often found in jest. Until Friday, stay creative:-)

 

 

New Songwriters, tired of hitting the brick wall of writers block…

Effective music composition  (Part 1.)

In this segment, which is primarily aimed at beginners, I will discuss what you NEED to know in order to compose music effectively when you are feeling less inspired.

 

I used to think that great songs just were great “just because” of talent, luck, exceptional studio production or any combination of the three. However, after I began my studies in music school I learned that most composers of great music made “educated” choices while composing based on some very basic rules of harmony. For instance, many hits are written with the simple harmonic movement of (I-IV-V-I). Why, because that method has been time tested and is simple to understand from a listeners perspective. Remember, the overarching purpose of writing is to convey a creative musical thought to an audience.

 

Secondly, writing style is often dictated by ones level of compositional facility, creativity and ability. For the beginning writer, if you were like me in the beginning, you might say it doesn’t take all of that. But, it really does, especially when you hit the brick wall of writer’s block. Having a basic understanding of what is termed in academia as, “functional harmony” will open up options for you. As opposed to fiddling around on the piano or guitar fishing for your next idea you can make more intelligent musical choices based on those rules. Moreover, understanding basic rhythmic subdividing to the sixteenth note will aid in your ability to properly syllablize words in your lyric (melodic rhythm).

 

Finally, I know this information may seem daunting to you but it’s not. Learning is a process and if you are willing to dedicate a little bit of time and effort you can and will turn out great music. To aide in your remediation, learning and understanding you will need 1) a cheap keyboard instrument 2) A musicianship program like Musica Practica by Ars Nova or MacGamut 6 (I’ll add links to both on the bottom). 3) A music composition teacher **Hint, Hint**. The goal is to get your musicianship skills up so that when you are stuck in your writing your understanding will give you options. I’m available to talk via Skype or one on one if you are here in New York tristate area. 

 

www.ars-nova.com

www.macgamut.com

 

It Don't Take All of That?... Really?... Think Again!

Talent, Skill, Luck, Preparation

 

I remember transitioning back to Jazz after playing Gospel for many years. I decided I would study with Italian drummer for Bassist John Pattituci Quartet, Paolo Orlandi. Now mind you, I was already a working musician in Gospel so the natural tendency was for me to want demonstrate a bit of talent on my  instrument.

I’ll never forget our first lesson. He was like,"You have talent but you lack skill to play this music”, meaning Jazz.  I was taken back a bit because I though I had demonstrated a bit of aptitude in the genre.  He then proceeded to point out my shortcomings saying "Your bass drum is too heavy, your touch on the snare, too much and your ride cymbal is a bit inconsistent. Afterwards, he sat down at the kit and played how I sounded to him then he demonstrated how it should sound. 

 

Now if I was a proud person I would've walked out of there with the attitude of “what does he know” “It don’t take all of that”. But as I paused for a moment of reflection I realized that there was a ring of truth to what we was saying. Long story short. He has change my approach and renewed my respect for the kit like no other instructor I’ve had. Thanks Paolo:-)

 

I heard Jazz master pianist Ellis Marsalis say "What you lack in talent should always be made up in work ethic". Nothing could be truer in the area of skill development.  Never cast off criticism as someone being a “hater” especially if they’ve been doing it for a while and are doing it well. Take the opportunity to ask for honest opinions of your work from people who owe you no allegiance. Pay your dues in the shed with long hours of study and practice! Work hard, look for results!

 

Finally, Be patient with yourself,  To realize your success simply take one methodical step after another towards achieving your goals; Learn to walk before you run and keep in mind that discipline must be cruel before she is kind in rewarding you for your sacrifices;

 

Wanna compose better music, play better, sing better? Then you better believe... It takes all of That!

 

Songwriting and Composition Where Do We Begin... How about the beginning

I remember reading the John C. Maxwell book, Talent Alone Is Not Enough. It challenged my thinking explaining that just having talent in any given area was not all you needed to succeed. His point was you needed other people and resources to help you perform your best.

Before I began working on my music degree I used to think, "I was good" and it wasn't until I landed on campus, got around musicians with more talent than I that I realized I was just... Okay.  Holding my own but just... Mediocre. Now understand me, I'm not talking about one's ability and facility on an instrument. I'm talking about drummers, singers, guitarists and bassist having a profound understanding on how music worked. With the keyword here being "profound". Drummers who understood basic rules of counterpoint, transcribing for small or large ensemble, vocalists who could Sight sing, Horn players with piano chops, Pianists with perfect pitch to the point where they could tell you what intervals were being played by a guitarist. That was all like voodoo to me. So, being a bit weak in those areas I decided I wanted to get better. I was hungry. I wanted to know what their formula was. That formula was summed up in one word... Study!

I learned early in life that an empty vessel (your mind) is one that can be filled with the most of whatever is being poured in.  So as opposed to being a "Know-it-All" (which obviously I wasn't)  in humility I sat at the feet of my instructors and learned and learned and learned until I became a better Player, Composer, Teacher and Arranger. That only happened because I built up a music library filled with books on arranging, counterpoint, and music theory, harmonic analysis and the like. I listened to ALL genres of music. I went to ALL types of concerts.I soaked it ALL in because I wanted to get better and that desire has not left me to this day.

To encourage my students I remind them that remediation is not a bad thing. The rehearsal room, The shed and your Instructor are supposed to point out shortcomings in what you do. It doesn't mean that you have no talent or "You Suck".  It means that seed of talent planted long ago needs the nurturing words of an encouraging instructor, The labor associated with practicing what you have learned so that you will have the facility to execute without worry or thinking. Therefore, in the next few blogs we will do just that. Remediate! study and remdiate some more.  I welcome your comments. Let's talk

 

 

"Achievement requires teamwork because none of us is as smart as all of us"- John C. Maxwell

Singer songwriter, Songwriter, Composer, Lyricist... What am I?

You can comb the internet for the academic definition of composing music and songwriting. Many answers provide the technical and practical differences. But as a creative, I'll share with you what I tell all my composition students. Composing music, lyrics, and writing songs allows the listener or audience, if you will, to peek inside your world . It tells one what is on your heart, soul and mind. It explains the nature of "you".  Most new songwriters will copy what's current and popular and that's okay but if you truly want to connect with the listener, for the long haul (career), you must share your heart. Make no mistake though, one can't randomly throw words on a page or break away from musical norms that the public is used to. If you are trying to connect with your audience, one must obey the framework and structure of good music composition, as it has been time tested from Bach to the Beatles. So sit down, write what's on your mind, share your heart and let the world peek at your soul. It's beautiful and relatable. Share, share, share.

In closing, as I was taught the academic definition of composer as one who can notate on manuscript paper his or her musical ideas, employing the elements of harmony, melody, rhythm, texture and form. It might be debatable but make no mistake, there's nothing more beautiful that a well documented piece of work on manuscript. Ahhhhh;-)

In Between Time

Change It Up A Bit

The "In between time" blog posts are going to be a short, general topic segments and other stuff. These will occur "In Between" my main blogs on composition.

YAWN******I have found that musicians are easily bored. Think about it. How many times you were in the practice room doing scales, rudiments or going through a composition and your mind wandered to places unknown. In times when that has happened to me I've used it as an alarm or signal to change things up a bit. My practice regimen consists of warmup, timekeeping to a metronome, sight reading exercises and a rudimental warm down. Whenever boredom creeps its head around the corner I reach for my piano books to do sight reading exercises (at the piano of course).  Also, I review books and videos on Latin, Brazilian rhythms or Jazz arranging.  Anything to keep my mind focused and fresh is a remedy for my desire to go on autopilot. Even if it's taking a walk.  I'd like to know what you do to cure your boredom in the practice room. Share in the comments below and look for the next installment on the compositional drummer. 

The Drummer Composer

Why a composer?

My catch word for life as has been legacy. There are many fine drummers in the world. Many are vying for the same position, playing similar genres, copping the same licks often leaving one being compared to the next.  Like most kids learning to play drums I was going to work hard and be in a super band like my favorite group Earth, Wind and Fire.  What I didn't realize is the top of the proverbial pyramid in the music business was very narrow and reserved for only a few so how was I going to have a career in music. Luckily early on I discovered a love for piano. I began writing lead sheets for the garage bands I was in. That led to me studying music composition in college which led to me having a career in music as a drummer, composer and arranger. So why a composer? First, there is a tangibility that comes along with composing music either in the form of a sellable score or CD product. Second, residuals from ASCAP or other performing rights societies. When your music is played on the radio or in film you get paid. Third, another marketable talent as an arranger. Having the ability to be called to write charts or arrange music will fill in the gaps when you are between drumming jobs. My personal reason, I enjoy the exploring and sharing of that side of my musical being. Along with the drums and cymbals I use, my compositions are my voice!

It is easier than ever for musicians to be heard today. You have Youtube, SoundCloud and other digital media services to introduce your "Voice".  Because music is so widely available that doesn't mean that the consumer is ignorant, giving way to one releasing unintelligent uninspired music. Harmony, Melody, Rhythm and Form are still important to the listener and it is the composers job to make sure they leave them with a pleasant experience by incorporating those tools.  So this series is aimed at the drummer that wants to compose music and share his musical ideas and voice with the world in song. To do that effectively you need to apply your music education carefully and effectively. That which lasts long after you are gone is your legacy.  Many players will come and go but your individual voice on the instrument and music composition style you employ is unique to you. It's my Hope you get something from what I share and I hope the world gets something from you…The beautiful music you compose. 

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