It's been a while since I mentioned my drumming, but I am still practicing and still getting lessons. I like to think I'm also still improving, and although progress can feel slow there are obvious ways I can tell I am getting better. Being able to play patterns smoothly that I would have got mixed up over is one sign, as well as simply trying the more complex beats and believing I will be able to play them. I'm definitely getting better, even if I'm still only playing solo.
My lessons took a new direction at the end of last year. Rather than playing some basic rhythms and fills, including some more technical if still simple patterns, my tutor started me on some funk drumming. This was all well and good, and there is plenty of interesting drumming in the book that we were using, but I had a different direction I wanted to explore. 'Can I learn some jazz?', I asked, and my tutor said I could. He then pulled out from his bookcase a book titled Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, although I pretty much stopped reading after 'advanced techniques'.
'Advanced'! I didn't think I was quite ready for this. But I opened the book up to its first page of music and set it on the stand, and my tutor started talking me through the basics of jazz, as well as demonstrating the fundamental swing or shuffle beat. It was surprisingly difficult for a beat that sounds so simple, and on top of that I had to add the snare drum with my left hand. Even following the same time signature, albeit with different patterns, was awkward for a while, but I eventually got the hang of it. After that I could try more complicated patterns, and mixtures of time signatures on my left and right hands. It is really difficult, but rewarding when done right.
Although focussing my time on jazz, it wasn't the only style I played. I was still encouraged to play from the other books we were working from, as well as some more general exercises and occasionally playing along to music. It's interesting to see how getting comfortable with jazz has made some different styles easier to return to, as it has increased my coordination and independence considerably, although obviously continued practice would have done that anyway.
I've worked my way through that first jazz book, which my instructor calls an 'introductory' jazz book. I can kind of see why, as it was written by Jim Chapin back in 1948, and although the music definitely was advanced back then the combined experience and musical knowledge has increased significantly, as have expectations of musicians in general. Even so, for an introductory book it was pretty difficult. I've moved on to The Art of Bop Drumming by John Riley, which is giving me new challenges. The writing style, for a start, is streamlined, showing only additions to the basic swing beat and not the beat itself.
Learning jazz is pretty neat, though. I love it when I can almost sit back and let my hands and legs do what they naturally want to do, and hear a comping snare over the top of a smooth beat. I'm now working the kick drum in to my comps, which is proving as difficult to get fluent as the basic beat was when I first opened a jazz book. I'll get it, it will just take practice, and some of it is sounding pretty smooth already. Well, the first exercise in that section, at least.
I'm miles away from playing in a band, if only because I don't know any other musicians and am not exactly bristling with self-confidence. But I can play drums pretty well, and to complement my theory, technical practice, and the jazz I am learning some Nirvana songs, from a book I picked up almost a year ago and tucked away in a corner as being too difficult at about the same time. I can now fairly confidently play Come as You Are and Lithium, and nearly have In Bloom and About a Girl in my repertoire.
I'll pick up another song book soon, to keep my interest in practical drumming going, maybe Coldplay or The Police. And I'll keep practicing my jazz beats, just because it makes me feel cool. I think I'm doing pretty good for someone who got the drumming bug from Guitar Hero.