Tag Archives: drum

Groove Development Through Stylistic Coordination

By Joe McCarthy
Joe McCarthy

Most drummers with some experience will eventually encounter the situation in which they need to create a groove for a new composition. Sometimes it’s an obvious decision what to play, sometimes not. How do we prepare ourselves for these situations? Listening to and studying as many different styles of music as possible is essential in understanding the effect these different grooves have on any particular style. Physical and mental control of the drumset are also essential components to successful groove development. The result of extensive style analysis and mastery of the drumset is that it allows us to approach grooves more organically, meaning we can play what the tune needs, not just recycle a generic beat we have memorized.

I would like to share an exercise with you from my new DVD, Joe McCarthy’s Afro-Cuban Big Band Play-Along Series, Vol. II. This exercise will help you develop a combination of skills required to internalize the concept of groove development. I refer to this as “stylistic coordination,” simply because it can be utilized to develop whatever style you are studying or wish to play.

For our purposes, we will target a clave-based groove. Here’s the concept: to establish an ostinato and cycle through a series of permutations, focusing on limb alignment, sound quality, overall performance consistency and multi rhythm execution. This process will also target concentration, our most valuable resource, which must be developed just as our limbs are. Playing these exercises for long periods of time with a metronome trains us to “stay in the game” which is essential when we are performing something as basic as a tune, a concert, or even a tour or long-running show. Mastery of this concept allows us to focus on all of the moving parts of the ensemble we are performing with, while sustaining a high level of performance.

Let’s take a look at the components of the exercise:

1. For the ostinato in Exercise 1 we will be using is a 2:3 rumba clave pattern. Put this in the hand you normally use to play your ride pattern. You may play this on any instrument you wish, although a jam block would give you the color of the claves.

2. Hi-hat plays on beats 1 and 3.

3. Bass drum plays the “and” of beat 2, also known as “bombo.”

This exercise will be played in cut time, so we will feel it in two. The hi-hat will be the “big beat.”

Summer Hits

4. The permutations (variations or rearranging) will be played with your other hand in conjunction with the other three voices. Begin on the beat playing the snare drum and orchestrate to the toms as you master the rhythms. Please play each rhythm many times before cycling through all of them in succession. Once you begin cycling through them, start with one measure phrases of each and continue to expand to 4 and 8-measure phrases.

Summer Hits

Take your time and focus on remaining relaxed. Relaxation is the key to control!

Please refer to this segment of the DVD to see and hear the exercise. The play-along montuno track is provided for you to practice with.

This exercise is simply an avenue. These are not “beats,” but are rhythmic possibilities that will enable you to tap into an infinite variety of ideas, instead of being limited to repetitive 1-and-2 bar ideas.

Continue to experiment with any combinations you wish. The result will be a more creative, supportive and interactive approach to musical drumset playing.

Have Fun!

Joe McCarthy is the Grammy Award winning drummer with Afro Bop Alliance. Please visit his website, www.joemcdrum.com

Keeping Your Eyes (and Ears) On the “Prize”

Danny Ursetti
Around this time of year most high school programs are in the thick of their competitive marching season. Rehearsals during the week are intensifying and weekends only exist for Saturday rehearsals and competitions.You’ve spent months preparing for your band’s 12-minute time slot to perform your show for an audience and the judges. The band performs its best show of the year but does not earn the score that you think they deserve. What now?


This happens all too often in this sport called marching band. That’s right, I said it, marching band is a sport. Hours and hours of rehearsal time are spent practicing and perfecting a drill set or a musical run, all for everyone to end up disappointed at the competition. We have to remember why we do marching band or music at all for that matter. It’s not for the thrill of winning a trophy, or taking the top score. Music is fun. It’s fun to listen, dance, sing, and play. And not to mention march to!


Art is subjective
Unlike other sports, where you have more control over whether or not you earn enough points to win, marching band is a judged competition. You can tune every chord, align every form, nail every transition and still not get the score you were hoping for. Music is an art form. Art is not created to be judged and/or critiqued.That being said, I do believe unbiased feedback is essential in getting the best out of your students and staff to help them improve throughout the season. It’s ok not to win. Competition is a great way to motivate students to do their best and to encourage them to learn how to deal with the end results, no matter what the results may be. But the most important thing is: If you perform your best, you win!


Take pride in your work
In a high school setting, playing music for fun isn’t quite enough. We have to help the students take pride in the work they are putting in. Yes, music is fun, but you know what’s even better? Sounding and looking your very best. The hours and hours of rehearsal time should not be geared at winning the competition or beating the cross-town rival. The goal should be to perform the best show of the season every time the band steps on the field. One thing or another will most likely go wrong at a show, but if the band takes everything the staff has given them and plays and marches their very best, that is a successful show and season.


Most students will not remember what score they received, place they took, or what trophy they won (which will most likely be covered in dust on a shelf in the band room), but what they will remember are the times they spent learning, practicing, and performing music with their friends to the best of their ability. That is something to be proud of. So as you are starting to go to competitions this season, and with championships on the not so distant horizon, try to remember why we learn (and teach) music: It’s fun!


Do you have any “fun” ways to motivate your students? In what ways do you motivate younger musicians to do their best? Please share your thoughts and insights below!
Good luck and have a great season!

Danny Ursetti
Music Caption Head, Royal High School
composer/conductor/educator

Magical Travel Tips: Traveling Efficiently

By Elizabeth Geli
Posted June 2011
Courtesy of Marching.com

Traveling with hundreds of marching band students can sometimes be a headache, but with proper preparation and communication, your trip can go smoothly and without hold-ups. Band Director Matt Lovell from the Burlington (Mass.) High School “Red Devil” Marching Band shared some of his tips for efficient and speedy travel.

Evaluate Your Students For smooth travel, a good ratio is to have one adult chaperone for every six to 10 students.

Before he even starts to pick a trip location, Lovell carefully evaluates that year’s band — including the students’ level of maturity, behavioral history and the strength of the student leaders.

“That’s the key to it: the first thing is you have to make sure that the band you go with is a band that can take the responsibility of a trip,” Lovell says. “I know them at their best, and I know them at their worst. The question is not how they are at their best but how will they be at their worst. If I know that they will fulfill their responsibilities even when they’re not ‘on,’ that’s a group that can go.”

Find a Travel Planner

Once Lovell has decided to go ahead and take a trip, he looks for a good travel planner or student tour operator related to the trip location, in this case, one with personal contacts at Walt Disney World and Boston Logan Airport.

“Travel has gotten a lot more complex since 2001,” Lovell says. “We used to be able to be pretty happy with putting the trip together ourselves, but now we go with a travel planner who works specifically with bands, and it was much more successful.”

To read the full article, please visit Marching.com.

Alfred’s Drum Method, Book 1 Celebrates 25 Years of Enduring Success

Alfred's Ledger Lines Blog

Birthdays are always fun to celebrate. It’s the one day of the year that the world gets to revolve around you; people make you a cake, sing to you and give you presents. It’s a wonderful thing.

Even though today might not be your birthday, we’d love to give you a present anyway. (We’d include cake too, but that’s much harder to send through the internet.)

In honor of this special occasion, we are sharing a sample lesson from the book that music teachers and aspiring drummers make a beeline to when they want to teach or learn the basics of drumming. Authors Dave Black and the late Sandy Feldstein paved the way for all future drum authors, devising a drum education method that focuses on teaching specific techniques and following that up with a solo that emphasizes that technique.

Many drummers and teachers alike have found Alfred’s Drum Method to be both incredibly helpful and fun at the same time. To give you a taste for the way the book is organized, you can download this sample lesson and solo on the 5-stroke roll.

Download a sample lesson from this classic >

Joel Leach, Emeritus Professor of Music, California State University, Northridge says about the book, “25 years ago, the authors set out to write what they hoped would be the finest beginning percussion instruction book available. More than 500,000 copies later, it’s obvious they achieved their goal!”

So happy birthday to you Alfred’s Drum Method!

Learn about the history of this great method >

How to Sight-Read 55 Big Band Arrangements in Three Days

By Steve Fidyk

Alfred's Ledger Lines Blog

As a professional big band drummer, I often have the pleasure to record the demo tracks for the newly published jazz ensemble music for the Belwin Jazz catalog. Along with sixteen other excellent musicians, the challenge is to perform these charts with no preparation. That means to sight read everything but it must be accurate, clean and sound like you already have rehearsed the music. What’s the rush? In the music business, like most professions, time is money, so we need to do it right the first time. The Belwin Jazz band leader and session producer, Pete BarenBregge, provides us with clean parts and a simple talk down describing how each arrangement is to be played. The session engineer hits record, Pete counts it off and we are sight–reading. In many instances what becomes the “final take” is actually the band’s first run–through. All solos are live as there is no time for over-dubs. The music difficulty ranges from easy grade 1 to advanced grade 5 or 6. The various musical styles include swing, shuffle, jazz-waltz, Latin, ballad, straight-eighth groove and Afro-Cuban to name a few.

Does this sound like a challenging gig? For most professional musicians, sight-reading on the job is a daily occurrence. The majority of live and recorded jazz, music for films and television that you hear was minimally rehearsed. The performance is executed without fail as a result of the ability of the musicians to sight-read, which includes: playing the written notes, articulations and dynamics, interpreting the musical style, and adding nuance to the music. This skill, I believe, can be developed through education, practice, and experience.

A Macro Approach

There are a number of variables that come into play when sight–reading the drum chair. Below are some big-picture concepts and suggestions that might be of value to aspiring students.

(1)  Form! As you look over the drum part for a big band arrangement, begin by looking for the double bar lines which can help outline the different sections of an arrangement.
(2)  Usually, the first four or eight measures is an introduction.
(3)  Next, the melody is stated which is an opportunity to change texture—for example, moving from brushes to sticks or from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal or vice versa or perhaps some other variation.
(4)  The melody is usually followed by the solo section, which often includes background figures played by a section of the band—saxes, trombones or trumpets. You’ll quickly need to determine who is soloing and temper your volume to suit that soloist and then what section has any background figures.
(5)  After the solo section, many charts develop into a shout chorus for the full ensemble, followed by a restatement of the melody.
(6)  Focus on these larger segments of information as you try to weave the beat patterns, fills, articulations, and dynamics through each macro section of the arrangement.
(7)  Dynamics! Jazz ensemble dynamics are ultimately dictated not only by the written notation, but by the drummer. So, scan the chart for dynamic peaks and valleys, and play accordingly.

The Art of Interpretation

My approach when sight–reading is based on how the band responds to my ideas in the moment. In addition to the written rhythms on my part, I pay close attention to the articulation makings notated above the rhythms. These markings give me a sense of how the phrase is going to swing with the horns in the band, and I apply each “long and short” articulation to a corresponding drum or cymbal. For example, a legato tenuto marking above a note dictates a long sound, and a short sound is indicated with a staccato symbol or a marcato (^) rooftop accent. Sometimes arrangers neglect to put articulations on drumset parts. In that case, it helps to consult the score to be sure that the articulations match with those played by the lead trumpet. Some drum parts have ensemble figures written in the staff and sometimes the figures are notated above the staff in cue-size notes—and sometimes a combination. So, listen, react and always look ahead in the chart.

Why Learn to Read?

As a professional musician, it’s business. Sight-reading is another skill—the more you can do as a musician, the more marketable you become. If you want to be a working player in this economy, it’s essential to take whatever gig comes your way, and being able to sight-read can bring the opportunity for more work. I pride myself on being versatile and sight-reading was a very important part of my development. And I most certainly wouldn’t have gotten the call for this session if I didn’t have strong sight-reading skills.

Have fun and make great music!

–Steve Fidyk