A Clinic With Derico Watson

I hail from a small(ish) town called Muskegon, Michigan. We’ve got a few “claims to fame,” but for the drumming community, one of the proudest is being the hometown of Derico Watson.

Derico is a powerhouse of a player with plenty of chops and super deep pocket, but even more importantly, he just exudes joy and passion when he plays. He’s passionate about many things actually, he is a natural medicine advocate, and talks to everyone who will listen about the benefits of alternative medicine over conventional. Not many people consider alternatives when they get sick, but many that have been around him do now because of the wealth of knowledge he has on the subject. If you want to look into this further you can go here to check out alternative medicine.

Perhaps best known for his work with Victor Wooten, Derico has had a huge impact on the drummers hailing from this part of the world, myself included. Even though I missed the opportunity to study with him when I was younger, products of his education exist across our local scene – and his influence (in my humble opinion) has raised the bar for the drummers of West Michigan.

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The Twofold Path – Part 4: Application

Over the last three entries on this here blog, I’ve been trying to cover my current (loose) approach to learning and developing my skillset on the drums. I’m calling it “The Twofold Path” because there are, well, two primary elements – exactly what I looked in Parts 2 and 3 – “chops” and “groove.”

Surely there are plenty of other things to consider in this vast world of percussive music making, but for me… Right now… This is where my head’s at.

In Part 2, the focus was chops and technical facility on the kit, and that should be a pretty major part of everyone’s practice. Really, this side of the coin can be expanded into anything technically oriented – speed, independence, pattern memorization, technique…

The other side (covered in Part 3) can be expanded into everything musical and practical – including things that require the ability and facility mentioned above.

Where one side is physical, the other is mostly mental.

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The Twofold Path – Part 3: The Groove

OKAY – we’ve made it this far into a murky topic… A daunting subject to tackle, but I’ll do my best to keep things on track. This is where we really have to start slogging through the weeds though, because there’s some terminology we might not all agree on, some variation in styles of music… Even some differences in WHY people want to play drums in the first place.

Let’s get a primary definition out of the way.

Here in Part 3, we’re mostly talking about the single MOST important aspect of being a drummer – keeping time. That is first and foremost what I mean by “groove.”

For our purposes, it’s the drummer’s playing within the context of an ensemble or a piece of music that provides pulse and feel. That means both the overall pulse of the music at hand and the spacing of the notes orbiting around it. It’s not just metronomic timekeeping, but that’s a decent place to start.

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The Twofold Path – Part 1: Introduction

Big, sweeping platitudes only carry so much weight… But in the moments when we can put complex ideas into a concise little nugget of wisdom, it’s at least worth hanging onto as an easy reminder.

My first introduction to what I want to unpack in this series comes from an excellent Charlie Parker quote:

“Master your instrument. Master the music, then forget all that shit and just play.”

I’ve been growing this idea in my head for a little while now, and it has continued to gain steam the more podcasts I listen to, the more interviews I read – the more I try to pay attention to the “greats” as it were, or at least the people I think are doing the right things on the kit.

I think Parker is absolutely right, but I’m looking at this as a drum nerd, not just a musician (and not just as an improviser). I also think there’s a ton of value to be had in the idea of striving for mastery, then paring down as much of it as possible for the sake of practicality and effect…

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Simplify To Expand

A little while back, I recounted the slightly silly story of some jams that happened a while back. It wasn’t very “drum specific,” just something that we all may face at one point or another.

I wanted to come back to it from a drummer’s angle, though, and talk about the other (more personal) side of the “challenge” at hand.

When I play with Short Hair Domestics, I go for a very intentionally minimal setup: kick, snare, hats, and a crash – that’s it. It’s a perfect setup for that particular band, and helps me keep the parts simple to fit the straightforward theme of the songs.

For a jam session though, that means no B section on the ride, no tom fills, not even two different crash cymbal sounds to play with… but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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