Friday, July 29, 2011

Tuning Drums

So...for the first several years I owned drums I never tuned them. The first time it ever came up was when we recorded the SPB album. The engineer came over to my house to track drums and played them and then had to tune them all. Looking back, he could not have possibly done a thorough job given the amount of time he spent...but it was still the most that had happened to those drums since I bought them (though I HAD replaced all of the heads, so I must have done SOME kind of tuning). Anyway...I proceeded not to touch them again for over a year after that. I remember Diaper Daniels from Cribshitter commenting that he always thought it was hilarious how low I had my snare I was doing that on purpose, for effect. Ha.

So when I started taking lessons with EN we talked a bit about tuning and I brought a snare in and he gave me the basics. I bought a Drum Dial and a ratching key. All good stuff. But I still didn't really know what I was doing in terms of sound. When you ask someone about tuning drums the answer is ALWAYS "it's just personal preference." Well what the hell does that mean?

So after being unhappy with my sound both at the Wisco and at Legends, I started thinking that I ought to take my kit to Drums N Moore and have him teach me to tune it. Then, daunted by this prospect and realizing how stupid I was being, I took my extra 12" black tom (which I don't use) and sat down with it and screwed around. Here's what I learned.

1) When the top head is tighter than the bottom, the sound is sharp and "choked". I never really understood what "choked" meant before...but having heard it now I do. This is how my drums had generally been tuned because I was going by the settings recommended in the brochure that came with my Drum Dial. This was the sound quality I'd been hearing and not liking. Restrained. Not boomy. Not ringing out. Not full. Just dead sounding. Focused, but dead. This seems like the perfect kind of sound for a snare drum...but not what I wanted from my toms.

2) When the top head is looser than the bottom, the sound is flappy. Unfocused. Generally just not good to my ear.

3) When the top head is about the same tension as the bottom, the sound booms. It is full and loud. This is the sound I was looking for from my toms.

4) Generally I had tended to tune toms in the lower range, where sometimes there was even a loose lug still. This makes the tuning hard to control. So now I think it is best to start with all lugs finger tight plus perhaps a quarter turn at least...then tune up from there.

5) I'll have to double check my notes, but I think I have the 12" at 75, the 13" at 73, and the 16" at 70 or so. My maple snare I tuned to 82 on bottom and 88 on top. I'm still figuring out the steel snare. It is hard to make it sound good.

6) The bass drum is tough to tune. I'm still figuring it out. I got the black kit to sound pretty good with equal tension on resonant and batter. I think around 75. I don't have much muffling in this drum and it has a powerstroke 3 on the batter. The red bass drum I still can't get. 75 was way too made my leg hurt to play it at that high of tension. I think I've got it down to more like 65 now. This drum has more muffling and an old coated emperor batter head. With both bass drums it was really hard to get the lugs to all be at the same tension. I don't know if the drums are warped or if the heads don't sit flush or if the port causes uneven tension.

After I tuned the black kit I thought I had it all figured out...but the red kit didn't sound good at the same settings and I'm having to mess with the black one more.

TD, 7/9/2011, Legends and 7/23/2011, Mickey's

I seem to be having trouble remembering to post show summaries these days. Two shows in one post here.

Legends, 7/9
We played a sports bar on the west side as a post-golf outing event. We opened for ska band 4 Aspirin Morning, who rock. We played every Drain song I know on an outdoor stage next to a sand volleyball court. It was hot and bright and threatening to rain. The show got started about a half hour late and that meant way too much free beer was drank. Still, the show went well. I was really unhappy with the tone of my drums, which led to me retuning them before the next show to much better results. We got $150 total and free beer. They were supposed to feed us, but the buffet was put away before we could get to it. The show, as a whole, was far less obnoxious than I'd anticipated.

Legends, 7/9 Setlist
Set One:
Future Song
Bodies A Burnin
Haven't Seen U Lately
It's Alright
Sent It
Show Someone
One Is For Man
Vacuum Man

Set Two:
At the Door
Gotta Tell U
Easy Life
Going Down the Drain
Gun in Your Grave
Better N Better
Kiss U Kill U
Whole Damn World
Movin On

Mickey's, 7/23
We headlined (read: played really late) with Venus In Furs and The Type. It was hot as hell. I didn't drink at all. The show got started late but we got back on track. NH, from Venus In Furs, managed to break not one, but two strings on her bass (her bass and the borrowed backup bass, actually). I've never seen that happen before. Twan replaced both with used strings he had. I was super tired from doing Girls Rock Camp all that week and it being our busy season at work. I'm told we played everything too fast...but I just felt a little my brain and arms weren't quite connecting. All three bands used my drum kit, and since I'd just tuned it, they all thought it sounded great. I was getting close to thinking that I couldn't make that kit sound good, but now I think it is just fine for the foreseeable future. Like an ass, the next day I did GRC showcase and then drove to and back from Chicago to see Kelley Deal play...and it took me about three days to recover from all of that and feel human again, even though I didn't drink for a week.

Mickey's, 7/23 Setlist
At the Door
Gotta Tell U
Going Down the Drain
Easy Life
Better N Better
Sent It
It's Alright
Bodies A Burnin
Movin On

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pixies Update

I haven't really been practicing Pixies much lately. I work on it maybe once every two weeks...and then just the songs that I know give me trouble. We don't have a set list yet for the Sept 9th show, so I don't know what to brush up on really. I suspect we will play the drop D duo Alec Eiffel and Planet of I played those on Sunday. Alec Eiffel is one that has never stuck with me for some reason.

I also decided to play forward into the songs that we haven't learned yet. The remaining list is something like the following 39 songs:

Ain't That Pretty at All
All Over The World
Bailey's Walk

Bam Thwok
Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons
Blown Away

Boom Chicka Boom
Born in Chicago
Brackish Boy (unreleased)
Build High
Cecilia Ann
Dancing The Mantra Ray
Distance Equals Rate Times Time

Evil Hearted You
Hang on to Your Ego
Hang Wire

I Can't Forget
In Heaven
I've Been Waiting For You
Lovely Day
Make Believe
Motorway to Roswell
Navajo Know
Rock A My Soul
Rock Music
Stormy Weather
The Happening

The Thing
Theme from Narc
Velvety Instrumental Version
Wave of Mutilation UK
Weird At My School
Wild Honey Pie

We aren't going to learn all of these, though I'd like to. It's stupid to even bother, though, and I get that. Most of the covers and B-sides aren't worth learning. I've bolded the ones above that I think we ought to learn (looks to be 22 songs)...which is most of the songs off albums (minus Cecilla Ann, a cover, and Navajo Know...cause that song sucks), a few of the cooler B-sides, and a couple of covers they are known for.

I didn't make it through the whole list of potentials yesterday, but I was surprised at how far along I'd left the tab. Most of these are ready to play...and many of them aren't hard. There's only a handful that really need much work at all.

Friday, July 15, 2011


So last night SSW got together after maybe three weeks off. Prior to that we'd had a few rounds of that...long breaks between rehearsals/shows. When we got together last night I was surprised at how well I remembered and played the songs. Even more than general speed and precision seemed improved. I'm not sure if this is because I've been playing TD songs alot or the work I'm going towards Blondie. Either way...there was noticeable improvement that shocked me.

I have a full two day weekend to practice starting tomorrow and it's been a few weeks since that has happened. I'm really hoping to get some significant progress on the Blondie stuff...hopefully nailing down Detroit 442 and 11:59 as well as the solo section of One Way or Another and that pesky drop beat that keeps inexplicably tripping me up when playing with the live band (no trouble at all when playing along to the recording). The progress I'm looking to make in two days time is breaking through to the next level of my playing. It is strange to know this going into the weekend...that if I put the time in it will be a whole new world on Monday. I'm pretty confident it will happen...but it is gonna be a mentally and emotionally painful next 58 hours for sure.

UPDATE, Monday, 7/18: I had hoped to practice drums about 12 hours or so this weekend. I ended up putting in more like 6. I thought that there would be this grand epiphany and all would be clear by today. That I would be able to PLAY EVERYTHING! The reality isn't like that of course. I've definitely progressed. I think that One Way and Heart (drop beat) are ready to roll...just a matter of learning to play with the band and not get thrown off by them. X Offender is also ready to roll. Started to map Rip Her to Shreds. Detroit 442 is getting really close...if I dropped the little snare fills in the chorus I could probably play the song end to end. That will be a fine point to master. Similiarly 11:59 is coming along...I can play THAT end to end if I just leave out the open hi hats. So those two songs really each only have one trouble spot each...a relatively fine point ornament that maybe half the world wouldn't even notice was missing. I'm still gonna try to master those fine points though, cause that's the whole point of this Blondie exercise. doesn't feel like I've progressed much since Friday...but I'm sure I have. I figured out some patterns I didn't know on Friday. And definitely speed is improving. The thing about speed is it takes a long time to I just have to be patient. For sure by Halloween I'm going to have a Popeye style right forearm though...cause that's some long stretches of blazing fast one-handed notes. A big part of me thinks that's why he plays those little snare fills on Detroit 442...because to have to play uninterrupted with the right hand that fast on the floor tom for like 20 measures is just really, really exhausting and hard to maintain. The quick snare fill gives your right hand a second to recover in an odd way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Detroit 442 and 11:59

Two songs are giving me fits. Neither are ones I knew existed prior to a month ago, and so had no idea.

Detroit 442


They've ended up surprising me. As soon as I heard Detroit 442 I knew it was fast and would be tough. I thought 11:59 was gonna be relatively easy though. Turns out that Detroit 442, while fast and full of fills and strange timing actually the easier of the two once you figure out how to play a double stroke roll (which I'm still learning to do).

But's harder than it sounds.

First off, it is faster than it seems. It swings and so seems slow...but over the top of the loping bass drum beat is 8th notes on the hi hat...and man those cook. I think the song comes in around 200 bpm. And then the real open hi hat foot pattern pretty similiar to Heart of Glass (or any number of Blondie songs, I'd say this foot pattern is Clem Burke's signature move). It took me a long time to learn the pattern for Heart of Glass...but now I'm solid on it. But only with a four on the floor bass drum beat. Stick that swinging bass in and it all goes to hell.

I spent a good half hour working this last night. I can play the snare with the bass (with a quarter note hi hat hand and no hi hat foot)...the snare with the hi hat hand 8ths and foot pattern...but putting all four together is a bear. It's one of those things that, if I can ever get it, it will be a revelation...but right now it feels impossible. I know I just gotta keep working it. It's just really, really tough.

Detroit 442, which I thought would be impossible due to the speed of the rolls, ends up being hard for different reasons. The rolls are double strokes, so those go by half as fast as I thought and so are half as hard (once I get the double stroke thing down...particularly on the toms, which have less rebound). My main struggle now is that I can't quite figure out what the pattern is during the choruses. It is a floor tom pattern with quick snare fills. I'm not sure if the snare rolls are two handed or one handed...if they are two handed than the sticking pattern really matters because it is so fast and you're moving back and forth between snare and floor tom. I just can't wrap my head around what is happening, it passes too quickly for my brain to dissect.

It doesn't help, of course, that he rarely seems to play live what he played on the recordings. He takes short cuts and plays easier things live. No fair. You wrote it you ought to have to play it.

UPDATE: Just watched video REALLY carefully. At 1:44 is the part in question. He's definitely playing the snare rolls two handed and doing 8th notes on the floor tom. I can't really tell what the technique is, but it seems like he has the sticks pretty loose between thumb and finger, so he's probably using rebound to get that speed and not wrist motion for every a double. I wonder if he's keeping a constant double stroke with the right hand and a constant single stroke on 2/4 with the left hand and just moving one of the floor tom beats (two notes with one hit) to the snare...or if he plays one than one note of the roll with the left's hard to hear if it is 3 notes or 4. Probably 4.

Floor tom with right hand: 1 + 2 + 3 +
Snare with left hand: 2, e a (on 4th beat)
Snare with right hand: 4 +
So the right hand pattern never changes and it is just the left hand that changes (just a fill, no big deal). Then it is just about the speed and getting between the drums in time. Bass can just play along with whatever comes natural.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Online Bass Simulator

pretty good online bass simulator for figuring things out when away from a bass:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Drummers/Bassists for The Breeders

So, in the back of my mind I have it that some day I'll play in a Breeders tribute band, maybe as a one off. It started as an annoying comment at CJ shows "You should be in a Breeders tribute!" but the more it got said to me the more sense it made. My only problem is that I would want to be the Kim Deal in such a project, but I'm not entirely sure that I play guitar well enough. Maybe well enough is the wrong way to say it. The right way to say it is, I don't know how to play power chords. I don't know much about Kim Deal's guitar playing, but I sense that power chords play a major role. This is not to say that I could not learn to play power chords, because after all they exist because they are easy, but it would be a whole new world to be dealing with. And I've got plenty on my plate. And there's a serious lack of tab out there.

Similiarly I wonder what decent lead guitar player would want to learn Kelley Deal's parts. I mean, I think they are great, but I don't know how a "real" lead guitar player would feel about them. And I worry that I'm not a good enough singer to pull off Kim or Kelley's vocals...though, of course, that hasn't stopped me from singing in a Pixies tribute band.

Anyway, I think about how such a group could work if it ever happened. And this has lead me to wonder about the musicians in the group and looking to learn more about how they play. Hence, this list:

Britt Walford (on Pod)
Jim McPherson (on Last Splash and on Pacer by The Amps)
Jose Medeles (on Title TK, Mountain Battles, and Fate to Fatal)

Josephine Wiggs (on Pod, Last Splash)
Mando Lopez (on Title TK, Mountain Battles, and Fate to Fatal)