10 Ways To Connect With Your Bassist

An undeniably important relationship exists between the drummer and bassist. If we look at a band playing together similarly to how we would look at a recipe, all parts must work together to create the perfect result. While it is the job of every band member to maintain peripheral consciousness of all musicians in the band, it is particularly important from a drummer’s perspective to lock in with the rhythmic elements of the group. Here are 5 tips to focus on:

1. Listen and adapt – It is easy for musicians to become consumed with our own parts, upcoming changes, and mental distractions that, at times, threaten our ability to listen to the other parts going on. Playing music with others is the musical equivalent to having a conversation with them. If I were speaking to you, ideally you would listen to what I have to say and respond with an appropriate answer. The best conversations occur when all parties are in sync and contributing. Have that conversation with your bassist through your instrument and be sure to adapt as needed. Musical collaborations experience peaks, valleys, highs, lows, and as a core contributor to the rhythm section, you need to always be prepared to adapt to any changes, whether they are rhythmic, related to tempo, dynamics, or even technical complications.

2. Focus on key notes – I always look at bass lines as shapes. They all have certain curves, angles, and geometric patterns. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are reacting to every single note, but you do want to locate the notes that are most important to the underlying rhythm. I always try to locate 2 types of notes in the bass line: 1. Key notes – The main notes that form the rhythmic emphasis of the bass line. If you took away every other note, the basic rhythmic idea should be ultimately unaffected. 2. Walking notes – These notes support, lead to, or lead away from key notes. Try to first locate the key notes and form your part around them.

3. Don’t leave the pocket – You may have heard the phrase playing “in the pocket”. This is a musical concept that refers to musicians keeping perfect, consistent time and establishing a groove. What is your hand when its in your pocket? It’s snug, comfy, and we mainly do it to relax our hands. Consider pocket playing as something you do to relax the groove. Make it feel good, not rushed, not dragged, not notey, but SNUG!

4. Play along to recordings – This is a great practice as it will force you to play along with other drummers and listen to the bass lines they are playing with. However, its important to pick the RIGHT musicians to play along with, as plenty of recordings exist that represent examples how NOT to play with a bassist. Consider some of the above tips about playing in the pocket, forming a groove, and seeking key notes to emphasize. If it is a song with a more standard snare emphasis on the 2 and 4 of the measure, make sure you are aligning your backbeat with the one on the recording. Otherwise, you will end up turning the beat around and placing them emphasis on the 1 and 3. Consider the songs below:

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

Chameleon – Herbie Hancock

Hey Nineteen – Steely Dan

5. Record your jam – To a previous point I made, when we are in the moment, we aren’t always hearing the subtle nuances of our playing that could possibly be improved. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I nailed a part, then listened back to it to realize either a) I didn’t, or b) someone else didn’t. So be sure to assess and evaluate your playing by listening back to it. You don’t need a sophisticated recording studio with a ton of post production capabilities but try to access a recording rig that will allow you to clearly hear your part. Low frequencies are typically most difficult to capture on more amateurish recording devices so keep in mind your goal of assessing the connection between the bass and drums and the need to clearly hear all parts. The amazing thing about recordings is that they are sharable. Not only do you want to listen back and form your own assessments but send the recording out to trusted musical cohorts and ask for feedback.

6. Practice in a live setting – For now, I’m referring mainly to a live practice setting. We will get to performances in front of an audience. That old cliche saying your soccer coach always told you – “Practice makes perfect”… Well, they weren’t lying. Be sure to have jam sessions both with a full group and also with just you and a bassist to execute the things were are talking about. Even more, don’t be afraid to mess up. After all, that’s what practice is for. Take some risks, step out of your comfort zone, and learn from your mistakes. Somebody once told me (I forget who but apparently they are pretty important) that it’s a blessing to be the worst player in a band. Now, not to get into egos too much but definitely consider what it takes to improve. If you’re always the best, who are you learning from? Seek out jam sessions and opportunities to practice with players more advanced than you. This is a great opportunity to get some advice and also to record yourself.

7. Consider the melody – Branford Marsalis’ drummer, Justin Faulkner opened my mind to this concept. I played a show with him once and picked his brain afterwards on his playing. I’m not going to pretend like I have a rock solid grasp on this. I may have even perceived the message differently than from what he intended but here’s what I get from it… Certain styles of music have a more loosely defined rhythm. Think about jazz. It’s not accessible to everyone’s ear. It’s frequently challenging the concept of pocket playing, and there is not always an obvious rhythmic backbone to lean on. However, it is a pretty melodic genre. Listen to the head of “Straight, No Chaser” for example. That melody is going to guide your rhythmic intentions. I’m humming it as I write this, locating key notes I would emphasize in my comping, considering dynamic moments, and letting the rhythm almost fall secondary to the melody. In the whacky world of jazz, I almost look it at like a pit bull running wild on a leash with you on the other end, chasing after it. The better you keep up, the more control you will have. Trying being less rhythmic for a moment and see where the melody takes you.

8. Know the time signature – How do you know what beat you are going to play if you don’t know what time signature you are playing in? OK, yes there is such thing as groove and you might be able to follow the patterns without knowing how many beats are in the measures you’re playing but I always prefer to save myself the mental anguish whenever possible and figure out (or ask) what the time signature is, as it’s going to help me form a more appropriate part. I guess I like to decrease the margin of error when I can. If your bassist is playing in 7/8 and you aren’t, I just don’t see how that’s a good thing unless there is something intentional about your rhythmic approach to the song that justifies your part being in a different meter. At any rate, consider some of the more frequent odd timings at practice them with your bassist (3/4, 5/8, 6/8, and 7/8 strike me as the more typical ones but challenging yourself to 11/8 or some other meter is great practice)

9. Play to a metronome – Your job, in most contexts, is to function as a human metronome. A big part of keeping a groove is keeping it consistent at the same tempo. When you drag, the band follows… Now the groove is lost. Playing with a metronome will also help you in recording settings if you are playing along to a click track. I recorded a song without a click in my early days of drumming and have to relive the painful moment where the tempo changed every time I listen to it. This was a great lesson for me, as it helped me understand the importance of keeping consistent time and play along to click tracks with better ease. Metronomes aren’t expensive. If you have a smart phone (and who doesn’t?) download the “pro metronome” app. Be sure to practice sticking combinations, hand-foot patterns, beats, and fills at different tempos and in different meters. It might not be an overnight epiphany but you will definitely notice an improvement over time if you follow a consistent regimen with your metronome.

10. Perform in front of audiences – I used to think my playing should be perfect before getting out in front of a crowd. If you are playing at a big event, supporting another artist, getting paid, or performing on TV/radio, yes, be as close to perfect as you can. But if you’re playing at a local bar or a more casual event, you could actually look at it as great practice. You don’t truly know your limitations until you’re playing in front of an audience. This is when you are most alert and probably more focused on execution. The more you get used to playing in front of a crowd, the easier it gets. Practice your part, aim for confidence, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Music is FUN. If you aren’t having fun, it’s defeating the purpose of why you started playing in the first place. Don’t worry about being judged, learn from your mistakes, and continue seeking ways to improve.

7 Tips on Playing More Creative Drum Fills

One of the most frequent goals I have observed in drum students over the past 5 years is playing more creative drum fills. There is a lot to take into account here but the aim should be to make this second nature, so it’s best to consider this process in phases:

1. Understand how to read music: This is one of the most common things drummers have to revisit if it was something they bypassed in the early stage. No matter what you are playing, your understanding of music notation is invaluable to actually functioning as a musician. While we use our ears to take music in, the visual connection will help you identify the look of a note with the sound it creates or more importantly, the look of a collection of notes with the rhythms they create when played together. I believe this is the first step towards ANYTHING that involves learning an instrument. If you have not yet learned how to read music, please do so. Then proceed to point 2. If you have, let’s move on…

Drum Fill Image from Jon Ardito Music School2. Focus on coordination: Assuming we already have good technique and understand note values, it is important to develop exercises to improve hand-hand and hand-foot coordination. 2 good resources for this are George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control and Marvin Dahlgren’s 4 Way Coordination. In other words, the focus should not immediately be on drum fills. Your body needs to start functioning in a way that will allow you to execute more intricate patterns on the drums. The hand exercises can be done on a drum pad but I would recommend also incorporating them on the drum set so you can practice moving around it, as you would be doing with many fills. The hand-foot patterns should always be done on a drum set but if the specified exercise only consists of a snare and bass part, consider trying the snare part on other drums to practice these combinations around the set in ways that could potentially even become their own drum fills.

3. Work with a metronome: Whether it’s the coordination exercises we discussed above, drum beats, or any other exercise, it is extremely important to work with a metronome on a daily basis. Not only will this improve your ability to play on tempo but it will help you navigate between each section of the songs you play with confidence that you will always land on the 1. When it comes to drum fills specifically, the fill itself is much less important than whether you come out of it still on tempo. I often say that groove is much more important than notes, so if there is any risk that you are not going to land on the 1 following a fill, it is better to not play one at all. Here is a good exercise for this purpose:

  • Plug headphones into a metronome so you can play your drums and clearly hear each metronome click.
  • Set the metronome to a tempo that is comfortable enough for you to play a basic drum beat and the drum fills you will attempt without.
  • Focusing on 2 measure increments in 4/4 time (8 beats total), play 1 1/2 measures of a drum beat and a 1/2 measure fill (6 beats of a drum beat / 2 beat drum fill) – Start with basic beats and basic fills with the primary focus being TEMPO. Hit the crash cymbal on every 1 beat after your drum fill and make sure it lines up with the 1 beat on your metronome. Repeat this process several times, then try another fill and possibly even another beat. If your beats or fills are not staying on tempo, dedicate time to this exercise.
  • You could also modify the increments to play longer or shorter drum fills. Additionally, you could try this at different tempos and playing different fills.

Neil Humphreys Goldenthal4. Practice rudiments: Those 40 drum rudiments you learned at your first drum lesson were not just something your drum teacher was giving you to avoid having to actually teach. I always say, there are 2 elements involved with playing the drums: 1) The theoretical – Theories, patterns, exercises, and other things that are more relevant for practice purposes. 2) The applied – Taking the theoretical and applying them to your playing. A paradiddle for example (RLRR LRLL) would be considered part of the theoretical side but as you take that sticking combination and apply it towards your playing, you will find some very cool possibilities and sounds. I would make it a goal to play through the 40 rudiments and try implementing them with other patterns on the drum set to create drum fills.


5. Play drum fills from your favorite recordings: Whether you find videos on the internet, buy sheet music, or ask your drum teacher to write them out, imitating drum fills in the styles you seek to learn is a great idea. This way you are putting already established ideas into your knowledge base to either use in your playing or adapt to create your own ideas. Think what might happen if you took a John Bonham drum fill and chopped it up a little – Displace a few notes, slow it down, and incorporate the same rhythms using different drums OR added a few accents and buzz strokes OR ___(Fill in the blank)___. Any way you slice it, taking inspiration from the ideas professionals have already put out into the world is a very effective way to grow in any trade.

6. Play drum fills others have written out: Joel Rothman has a very cool book titled Rock with Hand-Foot Drum Breaks. Going back to point 1, it will require an understanding of music notation. This book contains a HUGE collection of drum fills. I have several students working out of this book with notable improvements observed and highly recommend it for any drummer seeking advice on drum fills.

7. Experiment: A lot of aspiring drummers don’t have enough faith in their own creativity. Put it to use. It is the only way you will find out what you are innately capable of. You might surprise yourself and come up with some cool ideas. Or, you might find that you need a drum teacher to help you out. Wherever you land, now you know. I have stumbled upon many cool ideas by experimenting and playing things by accident. The worst thing that could happen is that you will learn what the next step should be.

Hopefully this was helpful. Please drop me a line if I can assist you further or clarify any points in this article. Good luck, and stay resilient!

#DrumStudentTabloids: Avery & Truett Easley

Philadelphia Drum Lessons - Truett_Avery

It’s Ringo, wait… It’s 2 Ringo’s…. Nope, even better… It’s Avery and Truett Easley just sporting very relevant Beatles hair styles. No surprise that The Beatles are actually one of their favorite bands, along with The Beastie Boys. Maybe its something about band names that start with “B”…? I absolutely love teaching group drum lessons and find it to be very helpful for students to learn in a collaborative setting. Not only are students able to learn basic drumming, they are also able to help one another and develop a true ability to interact with “band mates”. In the case of this family band in the making, putting beats together is simply an enjoyable practice and hopefully something that leads to some great musical synergy as they evolve into their stage personas. When they aren’t rocking out on the drums, Avery and Truett love playing with Legos, Minecraft and their dogs Mona and Honeybear.

#DrumStudentTabloids: John Lavin

John LavinTeaching adults is very enjoyable for me. With years of experience behind them and an insightful world view, drum lessons become more than simply learning an instrument. In the case of John Lavin, it’s an exploration of culture and self-identity. John teaches English at Kensington Business High School and orchestrates a drum circle for the students, encouraging a melting pot of self-expression through rhythmic communication. John approaches education with a goal-oriented mentality, which has helped us abide by a curriculum with specific check points to evaluate our progress. My favorite thing about John’s attitude is his open mind for experimentation. It is not uncommon for us to jam on separate drum sets for 10 uninterrupted minutes. It’s amazing what we are able to extract from those jams to apply towards our more focused areas of study, which tend to be on the jazzier side of things. Keep it up John!

5 Reasons to Take Drum Lessons In Philadelphia This Summer

Summer has arrived Philadelphia and as usual, there is no shortage of awesome things to do around town. In the midst of street festivals, concerts, and baseball games, I have another ageless and timeless activity worth pursuing: DRUM LESSONS – But Jon, is drumming really a summertime activity? Well, it’s not limited to summer but here are a few reasons why summer is a great time to get started.

1. Keep your brain active during the summer months

Drum Lessons in Philadelphia 1 - Science

In a previous post, I explained how a brief drumming session can reduce stress, producing feelings of well-being, and increase problem-solving abilities. Drumming is a very cognitive, mathematical, and technical process. We are constantly in reaction mode and always “multi-tasking”. On top of making pleasant sounding music with a band, we apply many dimensions of focus and coordination aimed towards a desired output. These are necessary skills to keep up with or develop during the summer, particularly for young students on summer vacation or professionals with lighter summer work loads.

2. Become part of Philadelphia’s rich musical heritage

The Sound of Philadelphia

Philadelphia maintains a very important position in music history. Music legends such as John Coltrane, Michael Jackson, and The Roots all have Philadelphia….. well, roots. These influential figures, and many more, have paved the way for an incredibly artistic community. Philadelphia is also home of many excellent music festivals including Jam On The River, Xponential Music Festival, and The Philadelphia Folk Fest (to name a few). As the live business have become a primary revenue driver in the music industry, summertime has become the BUSY season. So while you are enjoying the musical fruits our great city has to offer, consider developing an artistic side of your own and join us in the movement. Once you get those drum chops up to par, it just might be you on that summer stage someday.

3. Take up a new hobby or reconnect with an old one

Jon Ardito Drum SchoolWe would love to hear from people of all ages, backgrounds, and genders, interested in considering drum lessons in Philadelphia. It’s amazing how many people take it up as a hobby and find themselves deeply enthralled within a matter of months. I have an awesome mixture of students that are new to drumming and students getting back into it after taking some time off. While summer often permits some extra time on our hands, we may have a few openings in our otherwise busy schedules. This is the perfect opportunity to take up or reconnect with the drums.

4. Out with the old, In with the new

Philadelphia Drum LessonsSummer is the perfect time to switch gears, recharge the batteries, and let go of the winter baggage. At a very early age, we are programmed to start new projects in the month of June. After you get that summer haircut and break out the summer clothes, you might as well pick up some sticks and get ready to rock out in our cool air-conditioned studios!

5. Nothing is more fun

Philadelphia Drum Lessons - Dave GrohlSummer should be full of fun and at the end of the day, that is exactly what drumming is. I understand I am a bit biased, but the enjoyment people get out of drumming is why so many people do it. The key is having good direction, a solid plan, and a good idea of your drumming goals going into it. If you are considering taking drum lessons in Philadelphia or are even just interested in getting some information contact us and we’ll have a conversation to see if it’s the right move for you.

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