Thursday, April 30, 2009

Give Your Left Foot a Chance!

It's been a couple months now since I decided I wanted to change the tension on my hi-hat pedal. It's been the exact same amout of time since I realized my hi-hat stand was probably the worst piece of gear I owned. My tension adjustment seemed to have 3 settings: Sluggish, too weak to do much of anything, and completely locked up. I wandered into Fork's a couple days later and put my foot on a few of the pedals. I was astonished at how far these things had come since the last time I shopped for one. I had been left behind and I suspect I'm not alone. After all, hardware is easily the least exciting part of a drumset. I had the hi-hat stand lumped into the 'hardware' category in my head and neglected the device that controls everything that one of my 4 limbs does on the kit.

A little bit of attention to what the market has to offer now was enough to convince me to upgrade. I liked what Yamaha had out, but DW and Pearl stood out to me, much like they do in the realm of kick pedals. They're both really responsive and the DW had a slightly lighter feel. Pearl had a few more customization options and felt a little heavier, which I like so I ended up with the H2000. This thing has really improved my playing and my options with my left foot. I'm not suggesting that everyone run out and buy a new pedal, I'm saying that the Hi-Hat stand is easy to neglect and forget. Take a stroll through your local shop and put your feet on a few of them and see if you notice any major differences from what your foot is used to.

For me, it wasn't just the hardware either, it was great inspiration to put some real work into the precision and independence of my left foot (which also tends to get neglected). Coincidently, I saw John 'JR' Robinson do a clinic in Nashville last week which was a fantastic display of the kind of precision I'm talking about. Take a listen to JR on the chorus of 'Ain't Nobody' by Rufus and Chaka Kahn and you'll hear what I'm talking about in the Hi-Hat department (You can look it up and hear the whole song free on Grooveshark). Now that's some clean left foot-work!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Know your Late Show Drummers: Anton Fig

Anton is the guy that I hear the most late at night, because Letterman is my go-to late show. That said, I didn't know as much about him as I should have and I've found out some pretty cool things in researching him. What I do know is that he's an ultra-precise rock drummer and has the touch of a jazz drummer when he needs to, and that's what I've always enjoyed about him. I learned that he has a signature snare drum which I haven't heard, but the specs sure look good. He was born in South Africa and has been playing with Paul Schaffer for David Letterman since 1986, which makes me think that late night drumming really is as cool a gig as I suspected. Not only that, Anton put out a "Late Night Drumming" video in 1996 for any of you who aspire to be a late show drummer and still have a VHS player. More recently, he put out a record that he put more than 3 years of work into, cleverly titled 'Figments' which, upon previewing it in itunes, sounds pretty good! I bring up these things, not just to make Anton's work accessible, but also to say that he is prolific; A drummers drummer who's serious about his craft, education, and playing every chance he gets.

And then there's the video on Fig's Vic Firth Artist Page. Kurt and I are working to give you some insight into the drummers of late night, but nothing we can say will come close to the information in this video. Anton talks about moving to New York, subbing for Steve Jordan (more on him later) on Letterman, getting the gig, and working for Paul Shaffer. He says the band has a backlog of 100s of songs and that they practice for 15 or 20 minutes a day to learn theme music for the show's guests for that night. Other than that they rarely have an outside practice but occasionally get together to learn a group of new songs. One of the cooler parts of the gig and the interview is that they often back up the show's guests, such as Bon Jovi, James Taylor, and Miles Davis just to name a few. Anton talks about backing these great artists and the musicianship involved in making it sound like they're the band that's been on the road backing the artists for months. Quite a challenge if you ask me. Most of these things are found in chapter 3 of the video (all 4 are about 20 or 30 minutes total). The whole thing is a really insightful look at the life of a drummer with one of the most coveted gigs in the industry. I highly recommend checking it out!

At the very end of the video Anton gives some simple yet insightful advice on practicing. He mentions that a large part of practice is finding confidence. If you know you can practice and sound good and you get your own energy feeling good behind the drums, you can transfer that to the stage. He also mentions that improvements in your playing happen in very small increments during practice. This can be frustrating for me at times and it's good to hear those words from somebody like Anton. One small coincidental side note on the guy: I noticed him playing red drums the other night, and they've been green for years. Looks like he got a new kit. If new gear is as inspiring to him as it is to me, it seems like a great time to tune in and check out his playing.