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 Back to the Tempo Dispatch Archives  

 Issue #13___\__\__\__\__\__________/__/__/__/__/ January 1998


                        TABLE OF CONTENTS
                     What is in this issue?
               1. Feature Article: NEW YEARS RESOLUTION!
                  Learning to Write & Read drum notation.
               2. Humorous Story of the Month


                        FEATURE  ARTICLE
                    (A New Years Resolution)
       Mastering the Art of Writing & Reading Drum Notation

       A brand new year!  Let's make a resolution to push ahead
  into the unknown . . .
       This month I want to show you still another career possibility
  behind the drumset.  TEACHING!  It all begins the day you learn
  to communicate rhythms in black and white. Today is that day!

       Yes, YOU can teach!  Even if your only student is the cynic
  who scoffs at you in the mirror every day!
       Dump your negative attitudes in the trash, follow along for a
  few minutes and by the time you finish this article, you'll be
  overwhelmed.  It is soooo much easier than you think!

       Get into the habit of writing rhthms daily, even if you aren't
  writing them exactly by the book!  The minor imperfections will
  dissapear in no time!
       Find a friend who has an interest in drums and begin teaching
  them for the sheer fun of it!  Extrodinary things happen as you begin
  to explain what you know to someone else . . . sometimes you will
  learn more than your student!


       I know this sounds like a dumb question to many of you.
  None-the-less, it is amazing how many professionals drop the ball
  and run for cover when the subject of writing and reading comes
       Most of us are seat-of-the-pants jammers!  I am one of those
  myself!  I beleive jamming is the key to everything . . .

       BUT, it is also VERY important to acknowledge the fact that
  our ability to accellerate the learning process will depend on those
  black and white communicating skills.  If you can write and read a
  little, a whole new world will open up.  For one thing, you will
  gain the ability to steal and retain licks from all the competiton.
  Sometimes, stealing is the best way to learn. Likewise, everything
  you steal can be converted into a lesson that might help someone
  else.  These are some pretty good reasons for learning to write
  and read!
       Notation is a learning tool!  Nothing more and nothing less!
  Without the ability to write & read, your learning curve will be
  immeasureably stunted.  So stop groaning and let's get started!

  STEP I:  Thow out all the books!
       We are going to try a whole new concept!  The idea here is
  to make a boring subject fun and easy . . .

       You may have noticed that I keep putting the word 'write'
  before the word 'read'. That is because I have made a few discoveries
  that will help many of you (jammers) forget all your writing/reading
  phobias. In this way, I hope to lead you into an entirely new world
  that will fire your imagintion with literally millions of new rhythmic
  ideas.  These new ideas will hopefully find their way into your jamms
  and you will gain in three ways . . .

           1.  First, you will learn to write . . . which will
               help you to visualize rhythms previously unknown.
           2.  Writing will automatically and effortlessly teach
               you to read . . .
           3.  Those discoveries will lead to better recall and
               more creative jamms!

       So . . . as you digest this lesson, it is my hope that your
  creative improvosational (jamming) abilities will also enjoy a breath
  of new life too!

  WILL ALSO BE ABLE TO READ IT!  Profecient writing will lead to profecient
  reading, almost naturally!

        Reach over to the printer stand and steal a clean white sheet
  of paper from the stack, then scrounge through the desk drawer and
  find a pen or pencil . . .

        Better yet!  If you know the 'Control/Tab' trick on your computer,
  simply open your word processor and use it.  Use the Control/Tab trick
  to switch back and forth between this note and your word processor.
        Whatever you do . . . get ready to write!

        We are going to start real simple but in only a few minutes
  you will discover the ability to write 4.3 billion new rock beats.
  4.3 billion is a hefty number, that's true.  We won't do them all,
  but you will understand how to write & read any of them in only a
  few minutes.
        The first thing we will do is lay out 3 horizontal lines about
  two inches in length.  Like this . . .


        Each end of this little music staff needs a vertical bar
  to designate that this is one whole measure.  It is difficult
  to draw a vertical bar using the computer so we will live without
  it for now.
        Now place 4 evenly spaced Xs on the top line.  We are
  writing the Hi-Hat (or cymbal) line, like this . . .

  _____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH

        There are 256 potential rhythms staring you in the face
  right this minute, but to keep everything on a practical level,
  lets' add a snare note to help diminish the numbers while pointing
  out the most common beat patterns within this framework.

        It will all explode in a minute, but for now
  let's place an S (snare) on the center line, below the third X,
  like this . . .

  _____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH
  _______________S__________  SNARE
  __________________________  BASS

  NOTE:  If you know the 'Select', 'Copy' & 'Paste' trick
  on your computer . . . you can just steal the above
  pattern from here and put it in your word processor.

        Just for kicks, play what you have written!  Pretty lame,
  I know but get ready to think!  We are going to visualize a
  mountain of stuff, then write and play it too!

  STEP 1:  Experimenting with the Bass Possibilities!

        Begin to experiment with bass drum possibilities while
  keeping the snare in its current position . . .under the third
        The bottom line is for the bass drum.  You can
  place a bass note ANYWHERE you wish on the bottom line and it will
  always produce a functional beat pattern.  By functional, I mean that
  all these permutations (variations) will work well with routine 8th rock
  jamms or with the everyday rock songs you hear on the radio.


  _____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH
  _______________S__________  SNARE
  _____B____B_______________  BASS


  _____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH
  _______________S__________  SNARE
  __________B_______________  BASS

      Can you visualize the others? There are 16 total possibilities!
      As you try playing these rhythms, be sure to repeat each one
  several times.

        For now, we aren't concerned with syncopations.  A syncopation
  (or sync) occurs when we drop a note (bass or snare) BETWEEN any
  two cymbal notes.  Syncs get complex in a hurry.  First, just concentrate
  on simple variations.  In other words, line your bass notes up with
  a cymbal note . . . ANY CYMBAL NOTE!  Write a simple example . . . then
  play it.  Then another and another.  You will discover 16 neat rock
  variations if you play with all the possibilities.  Each of these beats
  are fundamental elements of the rock era.  Millions of your
  favorite songs are using these same beat examples right now!

  STEP 2:  Experiment With the Snare
        Let's continue on with the next most logical step.  Place a bass
  note below the first cymbal (on the third horizontal line).  Now we will
  leave that bass note in place while experimenting will all the snare
  possibilities.  You need to visualize, write and play each one.  There
  are 16 of these too!  Can you visualize, write and play all 16? Send
  E-mail if you can't figure them out!
        The same 16 possibilities exist no matter which line we are
  talking about.


  _____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH
  _______________S____S_____  SNARE
  _____B____________________  BASS

        Use your imagination!  Don't give up until you see all 16

  STEP 3:  16 Bass variations X 16 Snare variations

        Now you are ready to play with all 256 possibilities! Pick
  any of the 16 Snare patterns, one at a time and place them with
  any of the 16 Bass patterns, one at a time.


  _____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH
  __________S____S____S_____  SNARE
  _____B____B_______________  BASS

        WARNING:  You are not a spaz . . . some of these more complex
   beat patterns are virtually impossible for all us mono-brained
   humanoids!  Few drummers can actually play all the remaining beat
   patterns.  Playing each one isn't the important thing. Visualization
   is what counts!  Try to write and play a large portion of the 256
   variation possibilities.  Get the picture, then move on.
        Now for a BIGGER explosion . . .

  STEP 4:  Writing Whole Measure 8th-note 4/4 Patterns

         So far, we have been examining 8th note 2/4.  2/4 is simply
  a half measure of 4/4.  Two bars of 8th 2/4 = one bar of
  8th 4/4 . . . Get it?  In other words, if you stretch your music
  staff out a couple more inches and place 8 Xs on the top line, then
  visualize the variation possibilities, you will arrive at a potential
  65,536 individual 8th-note rock beat patterns.  8th note 4/4 is really
  no harder to write than 8th 2/4.

EXAMPLE: (8th note 4/4)

  ____X____X____X____X____X____X____X____X_____  CYMBAL OR HH
  _________S____S______________S____S__________  SNARE
  ____B______________B____B______________B_____  BASS

         If we double everything again as in two bars of 8th note 4/4
  or one bar of 16th 4/4 we will arrive at a total of 4,294,967,296
  (or approx. 4.3 billion) individual beats.  More on that next month
   . . . be thinking about it!  The only real difference between 2 bars
  of 8th note 4/4 and one bar of 16th 4/4 is the placement of the (snare)

        The backbeats will fall on cymbal numbers 3 & 7 in 8th
  4/4. But, when playing or writing 16th 4/4 the backbeats will fall on
  cymbal notes #5 and # 13.  This lends a completely different feel
  to the rhythmic variables.


        In the beginning it is probably best to always place a snare
  on the backbeats.  However, some of the most interesting rhythms
  may often contain a rest on the backbeat.  This can be done, if the beat
  flow doesn't become disrupted.  In other words, it is ok to rest on a
  backbeat but it will confuse the rhythm if you lose track of where
  the backbeat is supposed to fall.  For this reason, we don't want to
  rest too often on the backbeats.  Wait awhile before experimenting
  with patterns that omit the backbeat.

        At the moment we are just placing Xs on paper.  To become a
  profecient writer, you will need a working knowledge of note values
  and corresponding rests, etc.
        Slowly, you will learn to equate the values of the different
  types of notes (note values), then ad stems & flags.  You will be
  amazed at how quickly all this will come together if you just
  continue to doodle with the notation possibilities.

        Each line of music on the music staff is supposed to tally
  with the time signature.  It is math and everything must
  add up.  For example, in the case of 8th note 2/4, we see four
  Xs on the top line.  In actuallity these are four 8th notes.
  Mathmatically, we know that 4/8ths = 2/4.  That adds up just fine!
  But, If we represented three 8ths or five 8ths on that line,
  things just wouldn't add up to 2/4. We would be in 3/8 or 5/8
  time (respectively).  Be thinking about that but don't
  worry if it isn't all that clear yet.  If you just continue to
  write and juggle the notes around on paper, your own natural
  logic will take over and save the day.

        Remember also, that each note value has a corresponding rest.
  Rests allow us to remain silent or skip a note, yet account for the
  time in such a way that everything will still add up and match the time
  signature we are in.

        This stuff is a tad dry but you are going to need it!

        In a minute I will send you to the NOTE VALUE lesson at the
  website.  This will help prepare you for next months continuation
  of this lesson on writing notation.  Before I send you to that lesson
  though, let me point out that many people have a difficult time with
  this area of study.  If you are one of those, take heart!  Just try
  to get a general idea of how the different types of notes are used
  to describe different rhythms within a steady tempo.  If you tend to
  freeze up with all this just keep thinking . . . and DON'T MISS next
  months continuation of the lesson.  It will all come together slowly.

        Visit (and memorize) all the  'Note Values, Symbols & Rests'
  at this website lesson.

        Get what you can from it!  Try to play the various note value
  examples at the bottom of the lesson.  Just kick a STEADY bass pattern
  and try to play all the various notes on the snare as they appear in
  the exercise. Notice how they look when written and how the rhythms
  change as you move from one note value to the next.  Don't concern
  yourself too much with 'Half triplets' or 'Quarter triplets'.  They are
  confusing!  You can go a long way without understanding them.  The same
  goes for '16th triplets' and '32nd notes' too.
       Focus on playing a STEADY stream of bass drum counts while playing
  WHOLE NOTES thru 16TH NOTES on the snare.  If you understand that much,
  next months lesson will be a sanap!  :>)

      Well, you didn't know it but I also sneeked another lesson in on
  you with this lesson.  You just took a peek at 'Permutation' theory
  and I only mentioned the word one time.  It was a trick! :>)
      Grab your dictionary and look up the word 'permutation', just
  for kicks . . . then try to discern what it means to us drummers.

      Permutation theory explains virtually every beat that exists
  within the framework of our current 'Time Signature' system.  When
  you understand permutations completely, it is like a birdseye view of
  all rhythm.  You learn to see the entire forest rather than bouncing off
  one tree at a time.
      It is just the sort of thing that can make writing, reading
  and TEACHING a breeze!


                        HUMOROUS STORY OF THE MONTH
  Supposedly a true story...

  Scene:  A court room in Oklahoma where a person is on trial
  for murder.  There is strong evidence indicating guilt; however,
  there is no corpse.

  In the defense's closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his
  client is guilty and that it looks like he'll probably be
  convicted, resorts to a clever trick.

   "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you
  all," the lawyer says as he looks at his watch.  "Within 1 minute,
  the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this court
  room," he says and he looks toward the courtroom door.

  The jury, somewhat stunned, all look on eagerly.  A minute
  passes.  Nothing happens. Finally the lawyer says:
  "Actually, I made up the previous statement.  But you all looked
  on with anticipation.  I, therefore, put it to you that there is
  reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and
  insist that you return a verdict of not guilty."

   The jury, clearly confused, retires to deliberate. A few minutes
   later, the jury returns and a representative pronounces a
   verdict of guilty.

   "But how?" inquires the lawyer.  "You must have had some doubt;
   I saw all of you stare at the door."

   Answers the representative:  "Oh, we did look.
   But your client didn't."


Your measure of yourself is VERY IMPORTANT! How do you measure up as a person? This may offer a clue!


END OF TEMPO DISPATCH #13 January, 1998
Copyright Bill Powelson 1994 all rights reserved.