Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A little wisdom from Benny Greb

I was lucky enough to get to see Benny Greb in clinic in Nashville this past Monday evening. The recent floods in our city threatened the clinics feasibility and once they worked that out, it was by a chance cancellation of a practice that I was able to make it out. Thanks to Fork's Drum Closet for hosting the clinic and relocating it, and good luck to Sound Check Nashville (the typical clinic location) as they clean up from the flood waters.

The clinic was really my first introduction to Benny. I have seen the trailer for his DVD, the Language of Drumming and I've seen a couple clips on YouTube, but that's about it. He struck me as a genuine guy and a great educator which makes him a perfect fit for a clinic tour. His playing is really clean and creative and his explanations were understandable and thorough. He had a couple key phrases and examples that stuck with me.

It's not always about what you play, rather it is about how you play. He talked about instructional videos and clinics and drummers that learn new things to play and how too often the approach is "I can play this and that, and go this fast, etc" and the 'how' is neglected. I immediately thought of 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, one of my favorite Steve Gadd grooves. It didn't take me long to learn the notes and the pattern, but I'm still working to capture the groove and the feel that Gadd has on that tune. I think this approach to fine tuning one's sound is often overlooked and Benny made a great point.

Less is More. Naturally, as drummers we hear the less is more theory with regard to notes and fills on a regular basis. Benny was talking specifically about how you hold the sticks and strike the drum though. He did a fantastic demonstration of how to strike a drum, but more importantly, how the sound is affected when you don't strike a drum properly. Try this on your floor tom: Strike the drum with your whole hand gripping the stick, and then with a loose grip on the stick. Less contact with the stick allows the stick to fly freely, so the tip of the stick spends less time in contact with the drum head and you get a more open, deeper, fuller sound out of your tom. He also pointed out that hitting a drum harder actually raises it's pitch and robs it of some of that fullness. The harder you hit the farther the head depresses, which means it stretches more and the pitch is raised. The difference is really quite astonishing when you try this on your own. He also used the Less is More phrase in regard to how you hold your stick and how that allows it to bounce. Of course one stroke can equal two notes and take less work if you hold the stick properly and loosely and control the bounce. Less contact with the stick and less effort for you results in a better sound and a faster stroke.

Lastly, he talked a little bit about practicing in a way that teaches your limbs to be able to do anything that you hear in your head. Benny explained that our hands and feet need to have different rhythms stored in muscle memory for us to be able to execute the rhythms that we want them to play. His suggestion was to pick a groove that you like to play and then change one thing...the placement of a ghost note, or the bass drum hit, or where you open the hi hat. Benny has narrowed down the possibilities for note placement to 24 options (and I need to see the DVD, but I believe he goes much more in depth about this on video). His suggestion is to pick one thing (say, the kick drum) and then systematically move that thing to all of the possible rhythmic combination options. I drew up a quick chart for what I understand to be those 24 possible options within a 4 beat phrase so you can run through them yourself. Enjoy!