Category: World

My New Cajón aka “Ass Box”

Via Wikipedia: A cajón (Spanish pronunciation: [ka’xon], ‘crate’, ‘drawer’, or ‘ass box’) is a kind of box drum played by slapping the front face (generally thin plywood) with the hands.

This year for my birthday, my wife gave me a card with a picture of a cajón inside of it. This is a drum that I’ve talked about getting for years, but never got around to buying for myself. Knowing that I’m very particular about the sound of my instruments, she figured it would be best to let me be the one to pick out the actual drum. This picture entitled me to one trip to my favorite place in the world, Guitar Center, where I could select the cajón of my choice.

Yesterday I went to cash in on my gift, strolling passed the kids shredding on 7 string Ibanez guitars and into the drum department, where there were three different cajóns waiting for me to sit on. Two of them were made by Meinl and the other was manufactured by the maker of my first “real” drumset, Pearl.

Pearl Jingle Cajón

I first tried out the least expensive of the bunch, the oak Meinl.. From the first slap, I could tell it wouldn’t make the cut. There was hardly any bass, let alone high end. It sounded just as the price tag suggested: cheap. It was then on to the priciest of the three, the bubinga Meinl. While this one had great low end and a cool pedal to control the wires inside of the box, it was still missing that “snap” I was looking for when playing the outer edges of the drum.

Finally, it was on to the Pearl Jingle cajón. After playing this box for ten seconds, I knew it was the clear winner. With deep, full bass frequencies and a crisp, high end “crack”, this drum possessed the full range of tone I was looking for. After a swift swipe of my wife’s credit card, I got the hell out of that godforsaken store and headed straight for my studio.

Loop #133

I must have skipped the Cajón 101 class at Berklee because honestly, I had no idea how you’re actually supposed to play one. I mean, it’s just a box that you sit on and slap with your hands… how hard can it be? After watching a few YouTube videos featuring cajón solos by Alex Acuña and Efrain Toro, I soon had enough technique to accurately translate the rhythms I heard in my head and perform them on the instrument (complete with the foot-on-the drum pitch bending). Today’s loop is just a two measure snippet from an entire session of Ass Box grooves, soon to be released by The Loop Loft.

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102 BPM

Bring On The Soca

It’s another cold and snowy day in Boston. I love living in New England because I really get to experience all four seasons, but I also hate this time of year. Three months into winter, late February is when I usually start perusing various travel websites, looking for an escape from the daily routine of scraping ice off of my windshield.

I have a rather vivid imagination, so rather than dropping a few grand on a trip to the Caribbean, sometimes I’ll just crank up the heat in my studio to about 95°F, crack open a few Coronas, and play some grooves indigenous to tropical regions. Reggae, calypso, samba… anything to feel like I’m within a 500 mile radius of the equator. My wife doesn’t seem to agree that this is the same as lounging around in a beach chair, somewhere on a white sandy beach. My response to this is usually a snap of the fingers, and a request for more guacamole.

Traditional Soca Dancing - Thanks Google Images!

Loop #124

Today’s “take me away” groove is Soca. An offshoot of Calypso music, Soca originates from the islands of Tobago and Trinidad and is usually based around a heavy drum and percussion ostinato. Some examples of Soca grooves in popular music are Buster Poindexter’s 1987 hit, “Hot, Hot, Hot” and Kevin Lyttle’s “Turn Me On”. This particular loop is a four bar phrase consisting of just kick and snare. With an almost march-like quality, this groove makes for an ideal drum break on any Caribbean dance floor. Look for more Soca grooves in the upcoming and highly anticipated release of Gruss Loops Volume X.

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108 BPM

The Return of The Frame Drum

Loop #122

Yep, it’s still completely freezing in Boston. This makes two things certain:

1. my gas bill will be higher than my car payment.
2. my frame drum will sound awesome.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculously cold winter, the dry air combined with the heat pumping out of my furnace provides for ideal frame drum conditions. The calf skin head naturally tightens up and lends itself to some nice overtones and extra resonance.

This was especially true today, as I was cleaning up my studio and realized my prized frame drum was sitting directly on top of one of the heating vents. Oh shit. The hot air had tightened to the drum to a pitch that I’ve never heard it produce. If you listen back to the recording from October, you’ll hear that the drum is practically an octave lower from the state in which I picked it up today.

Rather than freak out and detune the drum to avoid any tearing of the head, I decided to fire up some mics and capture this unique tone the drum was creating. Before it was all over, I recorded a set of 25 different loops (a mix of hand, finger and brush playing), which will be released next month to all of my loyal subscribers. For the rest of you cheap bastards, here’s just a one measure taste of the session:

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86 BPM

Framed!

When I heard the heater click on in my house today, I knew it was finally time to play my Eckerman frame drum. You see, this particular drum has a calfskin head and during the more humid months of the year, the head loosens so much that the drum is practically unplayable. Now, with the air crisp and dry, and my furnace cranking out some heat, the drum has naturally tightened up to its optimal tuning range.

Eckerman Frame Drum
Eckerman Frame Drum

Loop #100

For today’s loop, I used a brush-in-the-left-hand technique that I learned while studying with Jamey Haddad. This allows me to achieve a high pitched, snare-like effect with one hand while pulling out the lower bass frequencies with the other. This groove is a pretty straight forward 4/4 pulse but I also recorded a bunch of South Indian inspired beats for the subscribers. Ta Di Gi Na Thom anyone?

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99 BPM

Quintuple the Pleasure, Quintuple the Fun

While cleaning up my studio and preparing for the big move, I stumbled across a folder of notes and lesson materials from my Berklee days. Inside this folder was everything from Max Roach solo transcriptions, to South Indian rhythmic cycles, to 4-way independence studies. Flipping through the pages of sheet music was like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the grimey, unventilated practice studios on Mass Ave. Awh, the good old days.

Casey Scheuerell - Teacher of Odd Things
Casey Scheuerell

While taking a closer look at the contents of the folder, one page of handwritten transcriptions jumped out at me. Quintuplet based grooves?? It took me a few minutes, but I finally remembered the source of the music. It was from one of my lessons with the great, Casey Scheuerell. I studied with Casey during my last two years of college and learned a tremendous amount from him. Not just about drumming, but also about the music business as a whole. We spent just as much time talking during our lessons as we did playing on the two kits he had set up in his office.

From the archives
From the archives

Loop #85

You Zappa Heads and prog-rockers will enjoy today’s loop. It’s geek funk to the fullest and should probably never leave the confines of your own studio. Loosely based on the above transcription from my lessons with Casey, it’s a 4/4 groove with quintuplets on the hi-hat and a 2+3 rhythmic phrasing. To make things easier for tracking to a click, I actually recorded this as a halftime groove in 5/4… just listen to the shaker for the 8th note pulse. Anyway, I’d like to see someone try to dance to it. Let the math rock begin.

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158 BPM

Backwords Bembe

Loop #82

Well, not totally backwards… but I did displace the traditional bembe bell pattern by two eighth note triplets. Does this really matter? Nope. I think the Afro-Cuban police will let it slide.

It’s one of those grooves that can be felt in 3, 4 or 6/8. Throw this under your next arrangement of “Afro Blue” or “My Favorite Things” and let the 20 minute modal improvisation begin. If this groove has you foaming at the mouthpiece for more, you can get the complete set of fills and groove variations in the upcoming release of Gruss Loops Vol III.

John Coltrane - Bembe Fan
John Coltrane - Bembe Fan

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136 BPM

Mambo!

Apparently I drank something over the 4th of July weekend that inspired me to play nothing but jazz grooves from the late 50’s. Every time I sit down at the kit, all I want to do is put on my trashy, old ride cymbal and pretend I’m Elvin Jones or Art Blakey. Who knew Colt 45 would have that effect?

Speaking of Art Blakey, today I wanted to talk about one of the grooves he’s best known for: The mambo. I first learned how to play this groove after hearing Art lay it down on his 1957 classic, A Night In Tunisia.

Stop whatever it is you’re doing (besides reading this blog, of course) and focus on this track for the next 11 minutes and 17 seconds:

If that didn’t inspire you, then you should probably check your pulse. You may have been prescribed something by one of Michael Jackson’s doctors.

Art Blakey - Mambo Master
Art Blakey - Mambo Master

Loop #79

Today’s loop takes Art’s patented mambo pattern and chills things out just a bit… all the way down to 240bpm. You’ll have to add your own percussion section and 3:2 clave (sorry, I was out of limbs), but you should be able to get that hard bop sound you’ve been looking for.

The rest of the grooves and fills from this session will be available in the highly anticipated release of Gruss Loops – Volume III.

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240 BPM

Zeibekiko to The Max.

Have you heard a Zeibekiko groove before? I hadn’t… until this morning when I received this email from one of my readers in France:

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Hello Ryan!

First I do appreciate your blog, it’s fun to read, well written (even if, being a french reader, I’m not the best judge…), with nice loops… My drumming moment of the day (I’m not a drummer).

I would like to share a rhythm that fascinates me. No reason for that, but it does… Some years ago, a greek friend of mine lent me some greek music : pop singers, traditional from islands… and a CD of rebetiki songs. One rhythm caught my hear : straight, firm, slow, but kind of unstable, in a pleasant way. It’s called zeibekiko, and it’s a 9/4, 60bpm, divided as follows : eqe qq eqe qqq (e=eighth, q=quarter), in a 4+5 division… I love this 9th beat.
If you want to listen some :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx0svccdWSI (at 1:00)

Just wanted to share…

Old Skool Zeibekiko
Old Skool Zeibekiko

Loop #75

Firm, slow and unstable? Sounds like a job for me. I’m always up for a challenge (especially when it’s an odd meter), so I decided to take a stab at laying down a Zeibekiko groove. After listening to a few songs online and eating three pounds of baklava, I figured I’d approach it from a more contemporary angle. I used the kick and snare to outline the basic rhythmic cadence and filled in the rest with sixteenth notes on the hi hat. If you’re having trouble identifying the downbeat, just listen for the shaker. If you’re still having trouble, have a few shots of ouzo.

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60 BPM