Tagged: 7/8

Kenwood Dennard

Revisiting Mr. Kenwood Dennard

This past weekend, while clearing out one of the bedrooms in my house to make way for a nursery (yes folks, there’s a little Gruss set to drop in December), I stumbled upon an old shoebox containing dozens of old cassette tapes from my years at Berklee. A literal time capsule back to 1996-2000, these tapes captured everything from late night jam sessions in 150 Mass Ave, board tapes from various gigs with Jonah Smith, instrumental funk tracks featuring a classmate named John, and most importantly, recordings of my drum lessons with the legendary, Kenwood Dennard.

The Lost Tapes

When I was in high school, Kenwood’s drumming on Maceo Parker’s “Life on Planet Groove” was without doubt, the most influential of all of the CDs I owned. I must have listened to that album thousands of times, learning every funky ghost note and fill that Kenwood laid down on that record. My love for that CD practically bordered on obsession, which is probably why I was so estatic when I found out that Kenwood would be joining the Berklee faculty during my freshman year of college. It’s not often that someone gets to meet one of their biggest musical heros, let alone be mentored by them.

During my junior year, I performed in Kenwood’s “Music of James Brown” ensemble as well as studied privately with him. This was a great combination because he would have the chance to hear me play every week in a live setting with other musicians, and then we would break it all down in my lessons and tweak certain elements of my drumming.

Kenwood always had two drum kits set up in his office, so the majority of lessons were spent with the two of us playing together, refining various grooves and bouncing rhythmic phrases back and forth. Not wanting to forget a single note of our sessions, I always had a tape recorder running so I could analyze everything afterwards. It was humbling enough just playing with Kenwood, it was even MORE humbling listening to a recording of yourself playing with Kenwood.

Kenwood Dennard
Kenwood Dennard

At the beginning of one particular lesson in 1998, I was showing Kenwood some grooves in 7/8 I was working on. Nothing fancy, just some vanilla funk groove with a lot of emphasis on the “1”. What Kenwood laid on me next was something that would forever change my playing:

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You can totally reconstruct the entire DNA of a groove by NOT emphasising the “1”. And when doing this in an odd meter, things can get really interesting. Find the weak part of beats and try turning them into the dominate ones. And this doesn’t only apply to odd meters… it can be just as effective in 4/4.

A few of my favorite moments of this lesson:
– 1:30 Kenwood and I trying to find the “e” of 4
– 6:59 Kenwood asking ME how to play the groove to Super Bad
– 9:35 “You can do that for the next 10 years.” He was right.

Here’s a quick transcription I did of the concept we were working on in that lesson (pardon the unattached 8th note stems). Notice, there is nothing on the downbeat of 1 (other than the hi hat), with the kick drum anticipating each bar by falling on the “e” of 4. Any snare note that isn’t a back beat is to be ghosted.

Practicing with loops

When most people think of loops, they often think of them as something only used in the production of songs. However, loops can also be used as great practice tools. To me, there is nothing more uninspiring than practicing to the traditional “tick, tick, tick, tick” of a metronome or click track.

Whenever possible, I’ll practice various drum beats along with guitar or bass loops, or record drum tracks on top of percussion loops. One exercise that I’ve found is great for accurately internalizing my time is playing to a 16 measure loop that has the last 8 measures muted. When the “1” of the loop comes around each time, you can easily tell if you’ve pushed or pulled too much on the time. I’ve even rigged up Logic, an old car battery, and some rusty clamps to send strong, electric shocks to my body anytime my tempo strays.

In the video below, Bob Reynolds takes the concept of practicing with loops and puts a twist on it. No, he doesn’t increase the voltage on his nipple clamps. In this case, he practices improvising over the jazz standard, “Out of Nowhere”, (a song normally performed in 4/4) using a drum loop in 7/8. The live drums provide a much more natural foundation to improvise over, while still supplying the consistent tempo of a metronome.

7 Days

I’m not referring to the lame Sting song (ok ok, I admit I like it… relax), I’m talking about the seven days I just spent on vacation in Mexico. Without going into too many details (most of which, I can’t really remember anyway), my wife and I just returned from a much needed getaway to Tulum. A place where the sun is hot, the beer is cold and the tacos are cheap. In other words, my Heaven.

Watch out for the Green Fairy

Loop #126

To celebrate the return from my seven day vacation, I decided it would be appropriate to record a series of loops in 7/8. Here’s a two measure snippet from today’s session, the rest of which, will be made available to my loyal and extremely good-looking subscribers on April 1st (not a joke).

Preview Here:

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Get the .wav file here.

Get the .rx2 file here.

Get the .aiff file here.

135 BPM

Odd Meter Freakout

My love affair with odd meters started back when I was in high school. Sparks flew the first time I heard “The Inner Mounting Flame” by The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Billy Cobham’s drumming was the perfect combination of technique, musicality and intensity. I was fifteen years old and immediately became fascinated with learning how to play in time signatures like 7/8, 5/4 and 9/8. Suddenly, all of those INXS albums seemed so boring.

Billy Cobham
Billy Cobham

I went out and bought the subsequent Mahavishnu albums including “Birds of Fire” and “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, but it was Billy Cobham’s 1973 solo album, “Spectrum”, that ultimately made the biggest impression on me. From the album’s opening track, “Quardrant 4″ (a double bass shuffle that makes the intro to “Hot for Teacher” seem like a walk in the park), to the ultra laid back closer, “Red Baron”, Spectrum is the ultimate study in fusion drumming. Billy’s playing is both both virtuosic and inspiring, while always remaining musical.

Loop #24

Big Hats
Big Hats

In honor of Billy, here’s my first odd meter loop (in 7/8). For this very special occasion, I decided to pull out my “big” hi hats, which are essentially a 17″ K dark crash on the top and an A Custom on the bottom. The sheer size of these cymbals tend to add some extra weight to the feel, while the hand hammered tonalities of the K keep things nice and dark. I invited Jan Hammer to come jam on some keytar but unfortunately, he was already hangin’ with Crockett and Tubs. Maybe next time?

Preview Here:

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Download the Logic session here. (78MB)

Get the .wav file here.

89 BPM