Shaun Tilburg – The Regimen

There is something very human about a daily routine. While it can be fun to break routine just to make life interesting, our bodies and minds really do function better when we have consistent behavior. Some of these strange routines can even be seen as quirky to others, but they can put you in the right mental or physical state to perform well. Over the years I have collected many books and routines that make up my daily practice sessions outside of learning new music. I wrote a series of blogs about my warm up routines this winter. While my routine was built from multiple resources, assembled together over many years, there is a new resource where you can get a lot of that in one. My old buddy Shaun Tilberg, has written The Regimen for snare drum that is designed to be your “one stop shop” for your daily snare drum needs.

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The book is obviously influenced by a lot of the standard resources the percussion community has used for years. Shaun has blended those together into his own take on many of the standard technical issues we face on snare drum. Some of the more obvious influences to me were Stone’s Stick Control and Accents and Rebounds, Moeller’s The Art of Snare Drumming, Morello’s Master Studies for Snare Drum, and Wilcoxon’s Modern Rudimental Swing Solos for the Advanced Drummer. Shaun obviously has deep roots in rudimental playing. The beginning of his book sets up much like my first snare drum lessons with focus on rudiments and stick control. I believe, no matter what path you take in percussion, a solid rudimental foundation will pay off on any instrument.

After an introduction explaining his philosophy and goals for the book, Shaun starts with single stroke control and accents to establish basic stick movement. Shaun discusses in detail how the arm, wrist, and fingers all have roles and how to use them appropriately when playing these single strokes. A vital concept to understand at the start of one’s technique. Then multiple strokes are added, combining accents and single stroke combinations. He discusses the Moeller stroke and when to use it in these scenarios. Shaun clearly thought about the flow of the book, because it has a logical progression. When you start making permutations of all these elements the options are endless, but this book has a nice sequence.

There is a nice section on flams and variations on how you can practice earlier exercises by adding flams. While Shaun presents a lot of great options (including some new to me!) I wish there was a section on flam placement. I spend a lot of time talking to students about how wide or how closed flams should be, depending on the style. Most of what Shaun is presenting is influenced by rudimental playing, which suggests a more open flam. This is the best place to start in my mind as it is significantly easier to tighten up a flam than to open it up. Beginner students tend to play very flat, or tight flams, and I think this should be pointed out to those approaching flams for the first time.

Shaun touches on basic open and closed roll techniques and then dives right into some exercises. Thanks for the shout out to my book Shaun! Most of the exercises are more advanced exercises for finger and roll control. The types of exercises that don’t work on your roll specifically, but focus on skills that will ultimately make your roll better. After rolls, he has some great exercises on playing soft. The caption at the top of the soft section is “Everyone eventually finds a way to fake it loud, but it’s almost impossible to fake it soft.” I don’t know who said that, but it’s true!!! Once I am warmed up, I would say the majority of my practice time is on my soft playing and on my roll. The two most difficult things to do on snare drum.

The book concludes with two etudes written by the author to encapsulate the various topics covered in the book. The first, Off-beat Kicker, is a very approachable etude with lots of dynamic contrasts. Those dynamic contrasts make the grace notes and rolls rather difficult to control. The next etude, The Stuttering Scott, is much more difficult and will take more than a few hours to perfect. The more complicated rhythms, syncopated rhythms, and metric modulation make this etude really cool. The etude is clearly rudimental but also has influences from the French style and is very similar to the work of Joe Tompkins.

If the book wasn’t enough to help establish a daily routine, Shaun’s website is a great supplemental resource for the book. There are a bunch of explanation videos as well as lot of demonstration videos that will clear up any questions you might have. It is always good to have a visual with technical exercises and Shaun’s website provides that. It is great to see how relaxed his playing is. When people say “Gee, he makes that look easy.” what they should be saying is “Gee, he makes that look efficient.” The music is still hard! But with practice and efficient use of strokes, one can make it appear to look easy. Shaun is definitely doing that!

The biggest point I think all students should take away from Shaun’s book is that technical facility will help your performance. No one practices most of these exercises because they are “fun” or “exciting”. The repertoire and etudes are way more engaging! But, playing grids and repetitive exercises will isolate and fix technical difficulties that will make the repertoire and etudes significantly easier. While I am sure I will still go back to my standard Stick Control, Accents and Rebounds, and other standard method books, The Regimen will be a welcome addition to my music stand.

WJ

Learning the Snare Drum Roll in 3 Minutes

I am taking a week break from my Technique Improvement Series to debut this new video. Next week it will return with tips for four mallet playing.

I have received many questions from percussionists about their roll and I have tried to answer a lot of them. I hope to answer more in this blog post but also in this new video.

I have received questions from students having trouble seeing learning the roll as a process. When you look at an individual chapter in my book it can be tough to understand how it fits into the entire process. You may have noticed I have used the word process a lot. That’s because that’s exactly what learning the roll is. A process. My hope with the video it to give you a very quick, overarching look at how you can build your roll from start to finish. Each step can take a while, and it should. Learning a new technique takes time to train your body. My hope with the book is to understand WHY you are doing something. It is so much easier to trust a process if you understand WHY you are doing something instead of “just because”. This new video is a nice summary of the first third of the book and how to slowly build your new technique into a roll you can start perfecting.

The biggest difference between my method of instruction of some of those historically taught is that my method teaches the roll as a NEW technique. Rather than start with a single stroke technique and change it and modify it until we arrive at a roll, I start with the roll as a completely separate entity. This can be frustrating a first because trying anything for the first time can be daunting. However, I have found time and time again, that ultimately this is a quicker path to success. Disclaimer: it may actually take longer than 3 minutes…

If you have more questions, be sure to leave them in the comment section and I will get back to you. Good luck!

Technique Improvement and Maintenance: My Warm Up Routines – Snare Drum

Snare Drum

I start the forward of my book with the statement “technique is a means to an end.” I firmly believe that. Great musical ideas are not possible without the skills needed to create them but on the flip side all the physical skills in the world don’t count for much if you don’t have great musical ideas. Most of us have good musical ideas but struggle with the physical skills needed to execute them. Each percussion instrument has its own specific issues so I wanted to write a series; spending time on each instrument and explaining what I do both to improve but also maintain. Maintain seems like a bad word because it implies not improving. I think we should always be trying to improve and I see maintenance as a way to improve. As percussionists we have to keep our skills sharp on a lot of different instruments and it’s hard to keep up on the fundamentals of all of them. These maintenance programs I have come up with are ways to keep your skills sharp when you simply don’t have the time to be behind the instrument for multiple hours a day.

I am starting with snare drum because I think it is the most basic instrument we play in a lot of ways and the technique we use on it translates to almost every other instrument. The simple act of striking the drum with a stick in an efficient way is a basic skill that can be applied to mallet instruments, timpani, multi-percussion, bass drum, triangle, and loads of others.

The first thing I do when playing snare drum is George Stone’s Stick Control. Ever since college this has been my ritual and all of my students can attest to my belief in its value. If I am working out a technical issue I will work through the first three pages. However if I am just trying to check my technique and get warmed up, I’ll only play the first page. I will spend about 45 seconds on each exercise and then go back to the beginning and play through the entire page without stopping, repeating each exercise once. This serves as both a physical and mental warm up. It is a way for me to check in every day and make sure I am starting from a good place. If there are issues I will work and correct them but if not, move on.

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As great as Stick Control is, it only address one type of stroke, the full stroke. George Stone’s Accents and Rebounds addresses two more and is next up in my lineup. Accents and Rebounds helps me work on controlling my down stroke and up stroke. After adding those I theoretically can play the entire single stroke repertoire. Those are the only three options for a single stroke: Full Stroke, Down Stroke, and Up Stroke. I generally start at the beginning of the book with the eighth note exercises, then move to the dotted eighth, sixteenths, and finally the triplets. That’s a lot to do in one day so I will slowly work my way through over a few weeks. After 20 minutes or so working out of these 2 Stone books my hands feel nice and warmed up and confident with a full stroke.

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Next I tackle one of the hardest parts of playing all percussion; playing soft. It is an aspect of percussion playing most of us don’t spend enough time focused on. What I have experienced when working on my own soft playing is that the best way to practice your soft playing is… wait for it… to just do it… I can make this a lot more complicated but it’s just that simple. If you don’t spend a lot of time playing soft and learning how to control the sticks at a super low stick height, then chances are you aren’t going to be very comfortable doing it in performance. I accomplish this using multiple books and methods. I like to read beginner to intermediate etudes and ignore all dynamics and just play as soft as possible. The Wilcoxon All American Drummer is a great resource for this. So are the Peters books. Reading through this kind of repertoire will also help your sight reading ability. When working on these etudes and exercises I try to keep the bottom of the stick below the rim at all times. This is VERY difficult to do, but if I can, then I know I am good shape to play just about anything.

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Finally I tackle perhaps the most difficult skill on snare drum; the roll. Coincidentally, I wrote a book The Modern Concert Snare Drum Roll on this very topic because I did not feel there were enough resources out there to both learn the roll but also to maintain it. The second half of my book deals with what we are talking about here; maintenance and improvement. I will start by working on dynamics and my unmetered rolls. Exercises #80-84 are good for this and working on having very smooth dynamic changes. I can also focus on what speed my hands need to move to create an even sound. If I am unhappy with the evenness of my hands I will work on a series of exercises that use accents to help control the smoothness (#98-165). Focusing on the roll before and after the accent will help even out the sound. If I am looking to build some strength and finger control I will work on some exercises that help distinguish between a double stroke and a buzz roll (#237-301). These will really give your fingers, wrist and arm a work out so don’t spend too much time on them. One of my favorite exercises that I almost always finish with is controlling my soft double stroke roll. This helps my double stroke roll, my ruffs and grace note control, as well as my soft buzz roll. Reading and writing exercises to work on this skills helped my playing immensely. I started by reading etudes and rolling all the 16ths. I then decided to write some of my own including this one (#398) from my book.

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The idea behind this routine is I am actively working on all of the most basic skills needed to play snare drum:

Controlling the 3 different kinds of single strokes at a full dynamic

Controlling those same strokes at a very soft dynamic

Controlling the roll.

If you boil down the entire repertoire, that’s kind of it. Granted that is a massive over simplification, but it’s still true. This kind of thought process is how I came up with all of my “routines” that I do to stay in shape on all of the instruments. Please leave your comments on what you like to do and what keeps your hands in shape. I look forward to hearing what helps you sound your best!

Stay tuned for more posts about how to improve your technique and give you some great routines to use.

Rob Knopper – douze etudes Review

This year at PASIC I finally met Rob Knopper. We have many mutual friends in common as well as both being at New World at different times so it was odd we had not crossed paths. It was great to get to know Rob and as we left I gave him a copy of my book and he gave me a copy of his recording of the douze etudes. I figured it was time to give them a listen. Here is what I thought…

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#1

What immediately jumps out to me is the relaxed way Rob plays Delecluse. Our brains are spinning out of control trying to keep time and play these complicated rhythms but we don’t want it to sound that way. Rob doesn’t sound that way at all. The style and feel is very laid back and relaxed. The DVD helps as you can watch his body language as he plays. The tempo is slightly slower than printed (around 72) but as Delecluse himself says in Rob’s interview with him the details, and excitement are more important than the tempo. The only detail I play differently than Rob is I play the flams slightly more open. Rob and I both play the ruffs slightly closed but with an audible difference between 3 and 4 stroke ruffs.

#2

I have given this etude to a lot of students to learn as I think it is a nice intro to the douze etudes. The sudden dynamic changes are a challenge in this one and Rob handles them great. He is clearly playing #2 in the context of all 12 as the f and p are not extreme. Meaning the f is not extremely loud and the p is not as soft as he can play. In an audition I would probably advise expanding the dynamic range more if played as an isolated work. Rob’s ability to crescendo and decrescendo without it affecting his time are on display here big time and all of the grace notes are unbelievably crisp.

#3

# 3 starts to explore some more complicated rhythms and the players ability to subdivide is tested. Rob’s ability to keep the style and feel relaxed like in #1 is also impressive here. The details and time are important but the flow and style of the piece are what make the work “listenable”. Rob’s playing is very listenable… The rhythmic accuracy is also very impressive. I work out of Albright’s Polyrhythmic Studies for Snare Drum to work on this and after about half an hour I’m pretty sure my brain is mush. I like Rob’s solution for the flam on the ff roll 2/3rds of the way through. He is almost playing a 16th note to really show separation.

#4

The feel of this etude is a change from the first 3. This etude isn’t relaxed. It’s almost agitated. Rob does a good job of capturing this nervous energy in his playing. All of the dynamics are consistent with each other which really starts to become important as we go along in these 12. My only criticism so far is that a couple of the rests might be clipped a little in this etude which I don’t mind as much as this etude needs that front side of the beat feel. I particularly like the transition through the ritard and back into the a tempo. That timing is perfect.

#5

I’ll be honest this is probably the etude of the 12 I am least familiar with. It is very apparent though that rhythmic precision and smooth rolls are a must for this etude. Rob clearly has both. The p dynamic is within the context of all 12 etudes similar to #2 as well as the f. The rolls are particularly impressive in this etude as they are incredibly smooth and show great dynamic control. There are lots of opportunities to crescendo and diminuendo within these rolls and show nice dynamic shapes. Rob does this very well.

#6

I really love this etude. Very under performed in my opinion. Although this is still a French etude it is the closest to the Wilcoxon swing solos I grew up with. It is remarkable how rhythms can be played straight and yet feel like they swing. Something someone smarter than me should analyze. In #6 all of the grace notes need to be clear, consistent, and controlled. Rob has a great laid back feel in this one and has an enviable touch on the drum. All of the grace notes are remarkably consistent, especially the flams. Even the flams before the rolls are exactly the same as the rest of the etude.

#7

This etude seems rather innocent at first glance but as it goes on it becomes much more complex. The waltz feel is well set up early as the rhythms are not as complex and the listener can get a good sense of the tempo. Dynamics and quick dynamic changes start to complicate things until finally the rhythms get much more disjointed and intricate. Rob is very clear in navigating this treacherous water and keeps the pulse very steady throughout. Like previous etudes Rob’s pacing is excellent at the ritard and a tempo for a recap of the beginning material.

#8

Similar to #1 Rob chooses to take this etude slightly slower than written and I think this is very wise. The devil is in the details once again and even if played accurately it is very easy for those details to get lost. I love how Rob tackles the dotted eighth, sixteenth rhythms versus the triplets. There is a very clear difference between the two but not so over exaggerated that it loses its forward momentum. This would not be as enjoyable at a faster tempo. The ending stuck out to me on this one as being very well paced. The slow crescendo to the end was well timed to peak right on the last note.

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Anyone who has played an orchestral audition in the last 20-30 years knows this etude inside and out. as with #8 the devil is very much in the details. What I love about #9 is that it combines complexity with an elegant waltz. If the feel is tight and stiff it doesn’t work. However, if you play too loose then the details aren’t exact enough. A great balance to try and reach. Rob does a fantastic job of striking this balance. All of the details are there for those looking to hear exactly what those rhythms are supposed to sound like. Ironically what I like the most are the rests. Our brain is processing things so fast in this etude we tend to rush the rests and destroy the waltz feel. Rob maintains a steady, relaxed pulse throughout, striking a great balance between precision and style.

#10

For those of you curious, yes there are three more etudes after #9. I know for a while in my early twenties I was unaware of these last three. #10 is a great study in subdividing and dynamic control. I always had trouble saving the ff and pp until the end so I could show a different extreme. Rob does a great job of saving these extremes until the end while still giving sufficient contrast between the dynamic levels up until this point. Again, I have to point out that the pacing at the transition during the ritard is excellent. Something beginners should really take notice of.

#11

For some reason this etude reminds me of some of the Keiskleiriana etudes I have learned out of both book 1 and 2. This etude uses lots of the same rhythms but repeated in different ways and displaced over different beats. Subdividing is key to maintain a steady pulse as well as great dynamic control. I have had sympathy for the recording engineer for this project. Snare drum is one of the most difficult instruments to record and have dynamic range. Shout out to Brandon Johnson! This would be one etude I would really be interested to see Rob’s Starter Stickings as some of the quick dynamic changes require create solutions to pull off. Rob’s dynamic control is great and very consistent throughout.

#12

Rhythmically this etude is rather intimidating. It takes a while to get comfortable with the subdivisions and mixed meters before even coming close to playing at tempo. Rob does a nice job of balancing the details without sounding tense (similar to #9). #12 really brings all of the elements of the previous 11 into a nice conclusion. For me dynamic control, tempo, grace note consistency, rhythmically accuracy, and roll control are fundamentally what these etudes are meant to challenge. Rob does a tremendous job not only in #12, but throughout, of addressing all of these concerns and still sounding musical. On a snare drum no less!

This resource has been long awaited. I’m sure others have thought of recording these etudes, surely 1 and 9, but none have attempted. Rob Knopper gave all of us a resource for years to come in not only audio form but video. The video component is huge for young players to see how relaxed and efficient Rob is in his playing and movement. I’m glad I have my copy!

WJ