Saturday, December 21, 2019

when drumming is therapy: drummitation (drum meditation)

This week, plans were upturned when we got the news that my father-in-law had entered into home hospice care. His cancer treatments have been unsuccessful in stemming the growth of the disease and he is preparing for the end of his life, which we're told could come in weeks or even less time.
We leave for California on Monday to spend the remaining time with family.

As you can imagine, this is a stressful time as we rush to make travel arrangements, figure out pet care, and cancel holiday plans.

And when things get intense and our nerves get frazzled, as has happened repeatedly in the last few days, Sweetie advises me to go into the other room and drum.

Yes, really.

Drumming is something I've often done throughout my life to relieve stress. Today has been especially difficult as we juggle various details of our need to rush to be with family. So more than once, I've retreated to the back room in our little house and chopped out.

In the morning it's been as simple as playing slow and steady eighth notes to a metronome, gradually increasing speed and continuing until my hands get tense, then backing off of that a little and hanging out at the fastest comfortable tempo for several minutes. This is usually enough to calm me down and clear my head.

If after that I feel a desire to chop out on random stuff I can do that too, like in the videos below.
This "drummitation," as I like to call it, has helped repeatedly in my quest for calm during tense times. I recommend it highly.

Numerous studies have shown that repeated drumming can calm the fight-or-flight response in the brain, can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, and can help to relieve stress in much the same way that gentle exercise does. I must have known all that instinctively before I'd ever read about it, when I was a kid; my childhood was filled with a great deal of stress and drumming was something I could always do to calm down. About eighteen months ago I began to turn it into a morning meditative practice, with a metronome and a rubber pad (to avoid disturbing Sweetie, who worked in the dining room and asked me not to meditate on an actual drum while she was home).
It has become a regular part of my meditative practice and a cherished part of how I wake up and come to "full density" in the morning.

Wherever your drumming takes you this season, I hope it's enjoyable and fulfilling.
Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Things I want in my drumming world

They say if you name things they can become more real over time.

So here's my list of things that I want to materialize in my drumming world.

1. A community band that isn't only about playing at protests. While I love hanging with UBB, lately a vocal minority of the most active members have voiced their reluctance to participate in Honk! festivals and other "less political" events, preferring to play at actual protests (like the Proud Boys actions of last summer, for example). They want the band to be a political activist entity first, and then a musical organization. I respect that but don't share their enthusiasm for hurling myself into the fray. The White supremacists love to tangle with Antifa, the police love to stand on the sidelines and watch, then move in where there are enough potential arrests to keep them busy. Some previous events have been potentially dangerous. One recent event at the end of the summer was apparently successful for the band (they showed up in banana suits and deflected attention away from the violence, though the violence still happened). But overall, I play in a band to make music more than to put my body on the line for a political cause.

So I would love to find a Honk!-style band that wants to do Honk!-type events along with the protests.

2. In my humble little community band, the other drummers are mostly beginners. I showed up and immediately it was clear that I could play for real, and suddenly, the other drummers were respectful but not especially chummy. Like I was playing so far above them that I was a welcome addition to the band but not someone they'd necessarily go have a beer with after an event.

While I appreciate the existence and purpose of UBB, I desperately want to find drummers to play with who are into rudimental drumming and want to chop out together, say, once a month. In a crowd like that I'd very likely be the least experienced player and it would raise my playing a lot. But I feel a little sheepish about putting it out there -- a middle-aged woman drumming alone in Portland, Oregon sounds kind of pathetic in a way.

(Relax. That's just the clinical depression talking. I'm fine, really.)

3. It would be nice to be able to drum on actual drums a little more often. For that, I need to arrange a schedule with my Sweetie that gets her out of the house more often so I have it to myself. This one's actually more doable.

So mostly I enjoy drumming, but have grown tired of doing it mostly alone. I'd like to find some other folks to drum with now and then to challenge myself and change things up.

Portland, Oregon drummers -- anyone out there into old-school rudimental chopping?
Hit me up here by responding to this post. Thanks!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

wilcoxon rudimental challenge 2019

No photo description available.A tip o' the hat to Kevin Lehman for setting up the Wilcoxon Rudimental Challenge on Facebook.
Rudimental drummers from around the world are posting videos of themselves playing one of the solos from the seminal collection "All-American Drummer: 150 Rudimental Solos" by Charley Wilcoxon.

This book is filled with intermediate to advanced rudimental solos that assume a knowledge of at least the first thirteen traditional drum rudiments (based on the 26 original rudiments as designated by the founders of NARD back in the 1930s -- NOT the 40 rudiments designated much later by Percussive Arts Society).

I wasn't challenged to join the group by another drummer, so I worked up a solo of my choice, joined the group and tossed my hat in the ring. It took several days to work up the solo to a reasonable temp, and another hour to play it through several times with the repeat without screwing up, before I felt ready to make a video of myself. Then it took another ten takes or so to get a clean take from start to finish. Even then, it was hairy going, and I could've done the end of the repeat better; but it was fun to challenge myself like this.

I'll totally do it again very soon.

(Here's my attempt for posterity, played in the new drum which still needs some gradual fine-tuning and tightening over the next week or so. NOTE: I chose to play the rolls timed and wide open, rather than to rush the drags and risk blowing the timing and tempo. It's an individual choice, and up to each drummer what to do with the rolls.)

Enjoy! And if you think you'd like to give this a try, contact Kevin Lehman at the Facebook group to learn more. The group has grown rapidly so that there are now a few repeats of solos but that's probably not a huge deal if most of the solos in the book are spoken for. Check with Kevin.

If you don't own this book, it's available at multiple book stores, including Powell's Books in Portland, and also from Reverb online.

Here's Solo No. 1 if you're so inclined to dive into the collection. I think it's worth owning a copy of the whole collection. Happy drumming!

Friday, November 1, 2019

new drum day, updated: 2000's Pearl ST "shorty" marching snare

I got this a few weeks ago, for a song. It needed work, cleaning and new heads.

Last night I installed the new heads -- Mylar top and bottom, and tuned it up.
The gut snares still need to be tuned individually but they're in good shape.
The carrier bracket that came installed on the drum is damaged (possibly in shipping? Don't know, don't care). It will make a nice paper weight once I find a workable replacement and carrier.

I may need to wait on the carrier until I get pad for another gig in late November. But I've got my eye on one that I think would work. meanwhile, it will be fine to sit on a stand and play at home.

Floating drum hardware basically allows the shell to "float" freely while the hardware holds the structure of the entire drum in place. When I installed the snare side head, I took the shell out to show my partner how the whole thing works; then, of course, I couldn't get the shell back in without disaligning the badge. I may try to straighten it if I can do so without totally removing the snare side head and rim again.

Pearl ST Shorty, 13" x 9"
Batter: Remo Powerstroke 4
Snare: Remo Ambassador snare

I'm looking forward to some quiet time at home so I can really play this thing.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

a sneak-peek through my brain: decisions, decisions

At my other music blog, I go into detail about the decision-making process behind how I record and what I record, as a singer-songwriter who self-produces her own albums.

I did all the writing over there, and you can check it out if you're interested.

At the risk of being real and warty, I've posted myself playing percussion accompaniment to roughly the same section of one of my songs, four times, each with a different instrumentation. I wanted to get a sense of how each might work.

I was limited by my technology and by lack of practice time from my hand injury, but whatever.
Warts and all, here they are.

Drum kit. (Suitcase bass drum):


Drum pad (a la BYOS, but way, WAY simpler):

Bucket drum:

Standup Cajon:

In the end, I will probably just go with vocal and guitar. Because the whole percussion accompaniment thing isn't fully formed enough for me to be happy with any of these options, I'll let them go for now, and maybe I'll come back to them later.
But it was fun to mess around with all these options.

Anyway, there it is. Feel free to read the other blog to get the complete picture.

I promise that when I'm past all the recording details, I'll post something here again about vintage drums. Cheers!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

drumming and hand injuries: an experience

For several weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, my left hand was giving me more and more trouble. I developed a locking action in my middle finger that made it difficult -- and increasingly painful -- to uncurl my hand from a fist. My thumb was also sore in the joint connecting it to my hand. I powered through guitar playing all the way through a few days after Yom Kippur, but last Monday morning I hit a wall and could not move my left hand without pain.

That evening, after calling my doctor, I was squeezed into the schedule at my local urgent care center to get a cortisone shot for what had been diagnosed as "trigger finger" in my middle finger. The shot itself was incredibly painful -- levels of sharp and dull pain alternating in waves across my hand that made me yowl in reaction -- not once, but twice.

After the shot, my hard hurt quite a lot for two days, during which I alternated icing and resting at room temperature. I also purchased some compression gloves, recommended by my sister; she told me they make a difference in living with arthritis. I found them to be surprisingly constricting at first, but with subsequent wearings they loosened and softened up a little and I found them to be helpful if I wore them for periods of time.

Today, six days after the shot, I tentatively tried some slow double strokes on a rubber pad to see how it felt. As long as I did not push, and focused on keeping things as slow and relaxed as possible, I could play without pain.  I was thrilled.

I recorded myself so I could look at my hands.

While transitioning from one tempo to a slightly faster one, things got a little rough; but overall I was able to stay relaxed and grounded. Encouraged, I shared my video with friends on the Marching Percussion 101 Facebook group, and their response was very positive.

What did I learn from this experience? A few things.

First, injuries happen. Sometimes they're caused by an impact, other times they're the result of wear and tear and/or overuse. I have osteoarthritis, so I know that I walk a fuzzy line between staying active enough and using my hands too much. Still, I play multiple instruments professionally and I practice almost daily, so overuse is a real risk for me. So is living in a climate where winters are cold and very damp. Still, I make the most of what I have and try to pace myself as much as I can.

I also try to listen to my body, so that when the first signs of "something's not right" appear, I can take time, pay attention and try to tell the difference between a mere strain or bad hand position and something more intense like overuse. When something's truly not right, I can stop and seek help.

After treatment, I listen to my doctor and follow her instructions. In this case, that meant rest. Rest meant a total cessation of activities, including making the bed or washing pots and pans along with playing any of my instruments. And while it was challenging, I did it. And it made a difference.

I'm happy to say that I'm feeling much better, and hope not to repeat the experience of a cortisone shot anytime soon.

Friday, October 4, 2019

play outside

During this week, my partner and I are both serving congregations as cantorial soloists.
But we're serving different communities and have to practice different music and/or settings.
In our very small house, that sometimes means we take turns practicing and the other goes somewhere else for an hour ot two to give each other some space and time alone in the house.

It was my turn the other day, so I took sticks and a pad over to the park and chopped out a little.

Since hanging out on the Marching Percussion Group on Facebook, I've learned quite a lot and have gotten exercises, advice and encouragement from some very experienced drummers, including a few rockstars who marched in drum corps in the 1960s and early 70s. Since my drumming in town is limited to to the community band I play with now and then, where the musical challenges are more ensemble based than rudimentally based, My rudimental chops are developing slowly after my eight-year hiatus in the late 90s-early 2000s; and I am slowly making up for some of the lost time.

My flams STILL suck, mostly because of my arthritic left hand; and I can play more easily only after soaking my hands in hot water in the mornings before I play. But my rolls and diddle exercises are smoother now, and I enjoy playing more than I did when I started back up again.

If time and logistics permitted, I would love to find a rudimentally-based drumline to chop out with, even if just for fun once a month.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

drum plotting for the studio, part two

So I tried to set up and VERY lo-fi sort of testing situation with one of my songs from the upcoming album, using the few resources I have at hand -- my laptop with a rough vocal-guitar demo of the song, an iPhone to take video of me adding experimental drum beats, and a couple of od Xymox pads to get the snare sound I'm looking for to hear what it will all sound like.

It went something like this.

The challenges of living low-budget mean that I don't have lots of fancy recording equipment at my disposal. The challenge of having grown up playing concert and marching percussion before electronic amplification for those disciplines was in use means that I lack a lot of basic knowledge about electronics.
The result is that I have to cobble together potential studio scenarios using lo-fi, low-equipment approaches like the one above.
It's good for learning purposes, but perhaps not something I'd employ in the studio.
Still, it's good to try and expand my ears this way because it helps me clarify exactly how I want to play and sing a particular song when it's time to go into the studio -- where I'm paying an hourly rate and cannot afford to waste time. Experimentation happens before I record for real, just like it happens before I perform in public for real.

Signing off now until after the Jewish High Holy Days, which start tonight. Cheers!
(And if you're an MOT, Shanah Tovah!)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

drum plotting for the studio

When you record an album and you're playing all the parts, you have to plan ahead.
In between rehearsals and services for the High Holy Days, I'm also preparing songs that I plan to record for my next solo album. Recording is taking place the week after Yom Kippur, roughly mid-October! So today during errands I stopped at a coffee shop and spent some time with one of my songs for the album.

In the studio, I normally prefer to play everything live, in real time; but when I have to accompany my voice with a guitar and a drum, the only way to do it is to multi-track.
In order to preserve some spontaneity for the guitar and vocal parts, I'll play them live, and then I'll go back and add a soft drum track afterwards.
In this case, the drum is fully a second "voice" with something to say, so I have to plot out the time signatures and basically where I'll keep things simple and where I'll play something more complex.

Rather than writing out a multi-staved full sheet of music, I sometimes do something called a drum plot, sort of like the old "Trip Ticks" AAA used to prepare for your cross-country drive.
This is a basic Trip Tick for the drum part, in the process of being created. Today I just wrote out the road map, playing measures to make sure I knew when the time signature needed to change.

When it's done I'll have added in markings for complex measures and/or short solo breaks.And then I'll have a road map with just enough detail to use in the studio when I'm ready to lay down the drum track.

 It's become a point of some pleasure that I know how to sing and also to play every instrument I plan to use on a recording. (It's also fortunate that my personal taste -- keeping things really stripped down -- is aligned with the instruments I know how to play well enough to record!)

For more info on my upcoming recording, check out my music web site.

Back after High Holy Days with some more drum-specific fun.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The small but mighty band: UBB plays at the Climate Strike, PDX

From the Climate March on Friday. We were small buy mighty.

Unpresidented brass Band playing at Terry Schrunk Plaza, Portland:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Undergrads don't get published in peer-review journals!

I wanted to let readers know that a copy of my article, "Percussion Instruments in 16th Century Ottoman Empire" is now available on
I originally wrote this as a term paper for a course in Ottoman History that I'd been invited to take by Dr. Jon Mandaville, my Middle East Studies Certificate advisor and a great guy. Since it was a graduate course, he allowed me to take it as a 499 and assigned a term paper that was, at 25 pages typed, half the length of what his grad students in history were required to turn in.
I had never written so thorough or long a paper in my life, with footnotes and everything.

When I turned it in, I also had to give the class an oral presentation that summarized my research. That part was fun, because I basically wheeled a large cart from the band room, piled high with percussion instruments, into the History department and gave a talk with demonstrations for the class, who were all grad students. It was a difficult and ultimately fun assignment.

During my research, the editor of Percussive Notes, the quarterly journal of the Percussive Arts Society, responded to my request for assistance (he said he couldn't really offer any as the topic was not in his wheelhouse) and invited me to submit my paper when it was finished. I promised him I would, but only if I got an A on the paper.

I got an A-minus. The editor urged me to send it.

So I sent him the paper. Since I could not afford membership in the PAS at the time (and since I was only a term away from graduating and wouldn't need a PAS membership in Cantorial school), I asked if he would send me two copies of the issue when it came out. One would be for my advisor, and the other for my father.

About two months before graduation, I got my copies in the mail, and brought one to my advisor as my way of thanking him for challenging me.

He hadn't known that I was submitting my paper anywhere. He was thrilled.
He cut the article out of the magazine and posted it outside his office, with a sticky-note that said, "written by PSU's Beth Hamon for HST 499" -- and circled my photo with a yellow highlight pen.

His graduate assistant Aaron, who'd taken the class with me and had submitted a 50-page paper (on his chosen topic, trade routes throughout the Ottoman Empire) was astonished, and more than a little jealous.
When I asked why he was so shocked, he told me, "Because Percussive Notes is a peer-review journal!" Seeing my confusion, he added,  "Undergrads don't get published in peer-review journals!"
To add insult to injury, I had to ask him what a peer-review journal was. I'd never heard the term before.
Aaron didn't know whether to hate me or take me out for a beer. He ultimately chose the latter, and urged me to keep writing.

My father was also very proud (he didn't know what a peer-review journal was, either, since he'd never gone to college). He told me to keep the second copy of the magazine for my files.
I'm glad I did.

In order to get free content from I had to buy a membership, or share something I'd written in exchange.

Enjoy reading it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Shuffling along with LIDO (vintage sticks)

No photo description available. 
A recent find, these Lido 2B drumsticks date from probably the early 1960s.
                                            No photo description available. 
No photo description available.
No photo description available.Lido was a brand used on drums and sticks made in Japan during the late 1950s/early 1960s. But the catch -- and what makes it harder to research -- is the fact that one Japanese plant manufactured sticks and drums for Lido and a host of other budget-level brands, simply stamping the product with whatever brand was ordered.

For a model 2B the sticks feel rather lightweight, but the grain still suggests some kind of hickory.
There's a lovely patina to them, and only a tiny bit of wood has been worn away from one of the tips. They're decently balanced as a pair, and they play nicely on my vintage Slingerland pad.
They feel more like a large-tipped orchestral stick than a concert band stick.
Eventually, Lido and a few other budget brands from this Japanese plant would be subsumed into the Pearl Drum Company.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

happy hands

As I've explained here before, I have some kind of arthritis, which may or may not be related to also having auto-immune issues. On difficult mornings, my hands are stiff and sore. On better mornings, like today, they're still stiff and my left middle finger still locks up but they don't hurt nearly as much.
So when I have a good hand day, I play whatever I can.

Today it's an old cadence I taught back in the Bronze Age of my pageantry arts teaching career, called El Mondo Groovo (drum cadences aren't generally known for their thoughtful titles). I also tossed in a basic "halt" at the end.

Sticks: Vic Firth, Jeff Queen solo model)
Pad: Vic Firth Slimpad

Sunday, September 1, 2019

suitcase kick drum: a project on the cheap

I've been wanting one of these for ages, but it had to wait until I had some downtime in the summer to actually make it reality.
First, a cheap suitcase. I got this one on craigslist for ten bucks. I measured and cut holes for front (sound hole) and back (beater head). Then I poked holes for the tension bolts, which didn't go as well as I'd hoped. I fixed it later.
Next, drum bits:
-- the mini-snare drum which I'd originally repurposed as a sort of practice drum. I removed one head and rim, and then cut out that head's counterhoop to raise the height of the remaining head before applying the rim. This turned out rather sloppy and hard to install.
Then, I had to figure out how to make it stay where I wanted.
So I used spray foam insulation on the inside. It grew and grew overnight -- !! -- and it was ugly and weird-looking, but it got the job done and added some nice muffling qualities to boot.

-- wood blocks on all four corners in order to keep the rounded bottom of the suitcase stable. I went with whatever I could find for free, which meant leftovers from a nearby constructions site and some thin wood sheets from cigar boxes for angles. Again, it's definitely sort of ugly, but it's holding steady and I think it will be fine.

-- A bass pedal found at the Lincoln City, OR Goodwill for seven bucks, less five percent because we got there on a Wednesday and I could claim a senior discount (55+, which seems generous).  I used bolt cutters and a file to shorten the beater arm so the beater would connect with the upper part of the head's sweet spot. Shortening the beater arm doesn't seem to have affected the way the pedal handles under my foot.

-- a cymbal arm, which I scored on the cheap from Keary at Revival Drum Shop. I installed this using another thin wood sheet on the backside to stabilize the somewhat flexible suitcase material, and it definitely helps.

I may add bass drum spur arms on the sides, but Keary doesn't think I need them. We'll see.

I won't have a lot of time to play it at home between now and Rosh Hashanah, but I hope to sneak in some time here and there. If I like what I've come up with I may haul it down to the Marp Room when I lay down drum tracks for my album next month.
We'll see.

I already have most of the rest of what I need for this stripped-down kit, including the snare drum I borrowed back in 2013 to record Ten Miles (and never returned, but by then that band director had retired and the school closed down its band program, so I've got this snare drum just sitting here. I fxed it up, replaced the heads and the snares and now it actually sounds like something). I also have a cymbal stand for a crash or splah cymbal (got those too, they suck but at least I have them). I really want to find a decent ride cymbal that isn't super-huge, but I may have to settle for an 18" crash-ride and just not play it too aggressively. Video later when I get things up and running.

Next up: Making a drum throne from spare parts and a huge overstuffed bicycle saddle. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Vintage Drums vs. Vintage Pads: challenges for collectors

I've been collecting vintage drum pads for awhile, over a decade. In my efforts to learn as much as I can about them, I've taken it upon myself to research each pad that comes into my humble little collection. Collectors of vintage drums do this too; in fact, there are a number of books published with histories of each major drum company and photos of significant drum models throughout their histories. Books are now available for Ludwig, Slingerland, Gretsch, and many more.

These histories seldom, if ever, offer photos of practice pads. This is largely because Pads hold little interest for a collector who has room to store and display full-sized drums -- and drum kits -- at home.

In fact, I am the only person I know of who has made it a point to focus on pads and, to a lesser extent, vintage sticks.

The primary reason most collectors focus on drums is that they're sexy. Like vintage cars, each make and model from a certain age has its own distinctive markings and style. They look as beautiful as they sound. And if you find one in poor condition, it's a fun challenge to try and restore it, just like a classic car. Parts are out there for the swapping.

A secondary, but no less important reason for the lack of attention given to pads, is that, unlike many drums, they are not date-stamped or utilize a serial number in the manufacture process. Taking it farther, a number of manufacturers had their pads all made by one or two factories, and simply embossed with the appropriate brand name and logo. Practice pads from the 1940s through 70s were a low-profit item, cheap and easy to make and sell, and they were never intended to be sexy. A practice pad was, and is, a simple tool that aids in drummer development.
With one or two factories cranking out cheap practice pads for mutliple companies, it was common to see the exact same photos or illustrations of a pad design in the catalogs of multiple drum companies.

1. Slingerland, circa 1938. Note the design of the bottom three pads in the photo.

2. George Way, circa 1950. Note the design of the top three pads shown here. There is virtually NO difference in design or construction of these pads from those in the Slingerland catalog of 13 years earlier. That's because there was no real change in standard pad designs during these years.

3. Here's another example. Ludwig Drum catalog, circa 1957. Note the standard rubber-on-wood pad designs shown along the top of the page. Now look at the all-rubber Porto-Pad at the far upper left, and the rubber-on-metal design just to the right of it. The "All-Metal" pad is a design that was adapted from one appearing in the 1950 George Way catalog (which had a round rubber pad instead of a square one). The rubber pad is a design first marketed by the WFL Drum Company, which was absorbed into Ludwig during a consolidation in the 1950's.

The upshot of these examples is that, with so many manufacturers offering practice pads of similar (if not identical) size and design, and with the buyout and consolidation of drum companies throughout this "golden" age of rudimental drumming, it's very hard to determine whose design came first. It's even harder to determine the exact age of a vintage pad because along with this reality, there were no serial numbers applied to pads.

The only pads I've been able to approximate an age on are two with unusual identifying characteristics and/or short shelf lives. The first was my Slingerland Radio King practice pad, which dates from the late 1940's. I was able to date this because of the unusual badge design, which was only used on Radio King practice pads for a few years after WWII and went out of production by 1950-51. The other pad is my recently-acquired Timpette, which was easy to date because of its very limited production run in the late 40s -- information which I was able to research on Google Patents.

If you collect drums and have not yet used Google Patents to aid in your historical research, I strongly urge you to check it out. Though it's generally more useful for researching innovations in design rather than researching by model and year, this site has been invaluable as I've researched the age and design of each of my vintage practice pads -- and in two cases, specialty practice sticks.

Other resources which are more helpful for researching model and year include vintage drum catalogs and individual advertisements, school music educator magazines and the occasional peer review journal (such as PASIC's Percussive Notes). Peer review journals for most musical topics can be found with the help of your public library.
You can sometimes find ads in the back pages of specialty publications like Drum Corps World, which may help you to approximate the age and model of marching percussion instruments.
Finally, always check photographs taken during the era in which you think your drum dates from, as close-ups can reveal small but important differences in the design of lugs, snare strainers and more.

As ever, I am always interested in vintage pads and hearing about what you have. Contact me through the CONTACT link at right. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

practice tools and why they matter

I collect vintage practice pads (and sometimes sticks) because they are the tools I've used more often than anything as a drummer and percussionist.
The fact is that I didn't own my first drumkit until I was sixteen, and I never fell in love with driving or owning a car. So when I went car-free in 1990, I knew it would change my approach to drumming.
I kept my drumkit for a few years but eventually I lost interest in staying up playing till 2am, and sold it. After that, I mostly taught marching drum lines until 1997, when my bike crash changed my hand and my musical life forever.

Since returning to drumming on a daily basis, I've found that it's all I can manage to play on a rubber pad most mornings. My partner appreciates the muted, quiet sound of rubber; and I don't really have room for a full-sized drumkit where I live anymore.

So mostly, it's just me, some sticks and a pad.

In the mornings, I start with some eights and sixteens, slowly and with a metronome. After awhile, I open up my dog-eared copy of Stick Control (the book every single drummer should own) and play my way slowly through a page, or maybe two. The opening pages of eighth notes are great for morning meditation and also for warming up my arthritic hands and wrists very gently.

Finally, I'll switch to some easy corps-style warmups and street beats, and then if I have time I'll cool down with a few eights and sixteens again.

My regular tools for this:

Sticks -- Vic Firth Jeff Queen model -- my go-to stick most of the time. If I'm preparing for an indoor gig I'll switch to a 2B or maybe even a 5B on a muted snare drum.

Pad -- My primary pad is an Offworld Invader. On days when the arthritis gets too intense I'll switch to a homemade pad with 1/4"-thick gum rubber; or a Real Feel rubber pad.

Books -- I don't have a ton of these that I use often (though my rudimental drum library is pretty extensive). Here are my favorites:

-- Stick Control for the Snare Drummer (G. L. Stone)
-- Accents and Rebounds (G. L. Stone)
-- Syncopation for the Modern Drummer
-- America's NARD Solos (ed. W. Ludwig)
-- 128 Rudimental Street Beats (John S. Pratt)

I also like the warmups from Donka Drums. Kevin Donka is a world champion rudimental drummer who marched with the Blue Stars, currently marches each summer with Pacific Alliance, and went on to create an online resource of snare drum music for students at all levels. He also offers online coaching.

Metronome -- this is an absolute necessity for any drummer. Regular practice with a metronome improves timing and forces you to slow down when learning a new skill (drummers are notorious for rushing the beat, especially as they grow more confident with a musical passage. That's not necessarily a good thing.)
There are so many kinds of metronomes on the market that there is no one "best" model. Modern metronomes in use by marching drum lines utilize complex patterns of multiple pitches, and most drum lines swear by them. I continue to use the simple, reliable Seiko metronome I've had since college. It gives a single pitch at a variety of tempi, gives a concert "A" tuning pitch, and offers a light-only option for those who want to try keeping time visually.
Various versions of this type are available used on eBay starting at less than ten bucks. They take a 9V battery, can be used with a earbud, and they work just fine.

Even if you are blessed with room to store and play a full drumkit, it's good to get back to basics and woodshed on a pad regularly. Happy drumming!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Timpette: an odd little practice pad kit

This is my most recent find. It's a little practice pad kit from the late 1940s called a Timpette.

It's not designed to be anything except a practice aid.

The manufacturer and sole distributor was a small company Called General Music Company in Los Angeles, owned by Lee Lockhart and created to market his pad design.

Mine came in virtually mint condition in its original box, complete with drum sticks and a little instruction book.

Below: the label inside the box, showing a class of students all learning together on their Timpettes, and a folio-sized instruction booklet.

 The glass bowl gives a tremendous amount of resonance for the size, which is part of the pad's uniqueness. I imagine breaking it would be a disaster; there's no indication that replacement glass bowls were made available, and the bowl in mine looks like it could've served as a candy dish first.

The other interesting feature is a small hole drilled near the edge of the underside, which then accepts a small wooden dowel (provided) to til the pad for practicing as if it were a tiny snare drum either resting on your leg or situated behind a drum kit.

It works pretty well and provides enough stability for the pad to be played at soft to medium volume, which is all it's meant for anyway. And if you lost the wooden dowel, another could easily be made in your garage. This was back in a time when most Americans still knew how to do their own small odd jobs around the house. Even whittling a twig into the desired size and length could be done easily with a pocket knife.

The pad was meant as strictly an instructional tool, not a replacement for an actual instrument; and the maker recommends buying multiples for use in a class setting for beginning drummers.

Here's a little video of the pad, with the original sticks that came in the kit.

It was patented by Lee Lockhart in 1943. I was unable to find any sale history on this item abut I'm still researching that. The initial patent expired in the 1960s and according records an extension was not applied for. I would guess that this was owing in part to the fact that by the mid-60's, Remo Belli had all but sewn up the practice pad market with his tuneable, Mylar-headed drum pad, and there was no point in extending the patent on something that was by then obsolete (and nowhere near as durable).

I would also venture a guess that making the Timpette was not inexpensive. If the glass bowl was actually manufactured to spec, that had to be a costly component; and heaven help the student who dropped a Timpette and broke the glass bowl. This does not look like it would have been a promising desgin in the long term.

The description in the patent records suggests that a strap could be inserted through the wooden frame to allow the student to tie the pad to his/her leg, but no strap was ever commercially patented or released by Lockhart or his music company.
All in all, this was a really cool find of a practice pad that probably didn't go very far in terms of marketing or manufacture. The fact that I have yet to find it distributed outside of the Los Angeles area suggests it was a short-lived enterprise.

Still, I'm very happy to have added this to my collection, especially n near-mint condition with all the original pieces.
It's an odd, quirky little thing that's like nothing else I've ever seen.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

from junk to funk: DIY percussion

I taught this class Sunday evening at the NewCAJE conference, a gathering of Jewish educators from around the country. We made modern-day versions of rattles, shakers and sistrums that were in use in the ancient near east. Then we tried playing them together, to see what kind of music we could make.
It was super-fun, and I love teaching this workshop because everyone is so surprised at how good it all sounds.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

the pad fairy brings more interestingness

A few days ago I took delivery on a homemade quad practice pad.

New, factory-made versions sell for $150 and up. This one cost me a total of $30 including shipping.
All I wanted was something to fart around on, when my snare drumming got stale and/or I felt like switching things up for fun.
(I played a single tenor drum in high school band, and it was nothing like today's multi-tenor outfits.)

So far I've been having a great time with it. I'm going to download some free beginning exercises from the web and see what I can learn on my own.

Will I carry a set of actual tenors one day? Doubtful. A set of quads weighs almost as much as the smallest fiberglass timpani I carried in Drum corps, and I'm not up for damaging my back that way again. But as something to knock about with, this is an interesting and nice addition to my practice pad collection.

Friday, July 5, 2019

VIntage pad: 1960s Pep Pad

This is a recent find, a vintage Pep Pad from the mid 1960s, which I found in the original box.

Pep Drum Products, based in Kankakee IL, produced the pad for what seems to be a limited period of time.

A patent from 1963 is on file, and shows an anticipated expiration date of 1982. There doesn't appear to be any follow-up on file, and the patent permanently expired this year.

The pad is unremarkable in design, though the angle of the tilt seems to be good.

The pad I found came in its original box, which is rare and cool. The box has been repaired with clear packing tape, which I don't mind at all as I'm not fussy about condition issues in my collection.

The pad itself is a solid piece of rubber and is still lively and offers good bounce for its age.

Playing the pad proved easy. There was plenty of rebound, but not so much as to take away some work from my hands -- which is generally how I like my rubber practice pads to feel.

A little video below gives you an idea of how well the pads works for its size and design.

(Apologies for the camera holder obscuring my right hand)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Xymox, Melissa and the happy ending: an epilogue

Here's what I hope will be the final word on my Xymox pad order.

First of all, Melissa at Xymox deserves a raise, a double end-of year bonus, and a month's paid vacation for fortitude in the line of fire. The fact is that, while Xymoz has become a juggernaut of popularity among the modern marching community, they operate a very small front office consisting of basically one person, who is handling basically every email and phone call of inquiry (most of which begin, "dude, where's my pad?" and grow more irate from there).

I ordered my pad last September and forgot about it for awhile. That is basically what I'd advise anyone ordering a Xymox product to do. If you can handle that, then you can handle ordering from Xymox.

When my 12" reserve snare pad arrived in late spring, I noticed it had an issue that I could not fix myself.
So I contacted Melissa, sent her photos and together we concluded that what really needed to happen was for me to send it back for repair or replacement. However, I had a big tour coming up and was not prepared to pay return shipping on this heavy an item; so I suggested the best course would be for Xymox to send me a return postage label and I'd ship it back in its original box.

By a few days before my tour, and after several emails to check up on it, the return postage label never came. plus, I was still waiting for the other product I'd ordered, a small travel pad which I'd hoped to take on tour. That wasn't going to happen, so I was worried.

Melissa came through again. Go on tour, she said, and keep the old pad to give as a gift or resell; and by the time you get home a new replacement pad, plus your travel pad, will have arrived at your home free of charge.

And that is exactly how it went down. I arrived home very late last night after a 18-hour travel day, to find a Xymox box waiting on the dining room table. I slept in, woke in time for lunch, and after putting in the laundry I checked it all out.

Below are photos of the old pad, along side photos of the new replacement pad. The small differences seem very interesting, and because of the volume of manufacture I cannot be sure which features are actually newer or older. In addition, you'll notice that the laminate is white, not gray, but really that is a tiny quibble I won't worry about.

1. The original pad, which I received in early May. Note the smaller non-skid pads on the bottom, and the fact that the "lug bolts" (which don't actually affect the sound at all) do not show on the bottom:

2. The replacement pad, which has go-through "lug" hardware and larger, thicker non-skid padding on bottom. The snare panel is also a different color, but again, whatever.

The new pad sounds actually totally fine and great. The increased bounce that comes with the older-style laminate feels much better to my hands and offers slightly more "give" than the newer, fine-weave style. It plays exactly as it should, and the issue with the snare mechanism in the original pad does not exist here.

Bonus: My not-quite-matching travel pad arrived in the same box, and it is every bit as intriguing and useful as I'd imagined it might be. While I'm sorry I didn't have it in time for this tour, it will fit easily in my bag on future trips, and will serve my purpose well. It's a fine-weave laminate glued/epoxied to a 1/8" rubber surface, which makes for an interesting playng surface. While not an ideal every day pad (these little travel models generally never are), it's fine for a handy drumming companion while I'm on one of my singing tours, or when I have bike errands to run and want to take a little chopping break on the park.

The truth is twofold: If you want to but Xymox producst, recognize that they're made Somewhere Else, and that the tiny office staff of one is doing her level best to provide answers and information as fast as she can obtain it. Secondly, the best advice for how to deal with the Xymox wierdness is to order it and then forget it for many months; find another pad to see you through in the meantime. Finally -- and I cannot stress this enough -- when you deal with an office staff of one, mind your manners, even when you have a complaint or concern. As my mother of blessed memory often reminded me, there's no excuse for bad manners because good ones cost nothing to learn.
In this case, that's sage advice. And so, if Xymox ever comes out with a new product that really, really piques my interest, I will order it and forget it -- perhaps for up to a year -- and amuse myself with other things in the meantime.

Happy chopping!

Monday, June 10, 2019

chopping on tour: all you need is a pad

Heading out very early in the morning for my singer-songwriter thing, on tour back east.
I have to pack light since I'm lugging a guitar. So my carryon bag will be just a basic messenger bag, and it has to hold everything that I'll ned to access quickly, including my sheet music, meds, electronics and, well, a pad and sticks.

So I'll be bringing my basic homemade pad with me on this trip.
It's smaller than a full-sized pad, but big enough to sit still on a table top.
And it fits nicely inside my messenger bag with a pair of sticks.
See you when I'm back, kids! Happy chopping!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Scenes from HONK!Fest West, Seattle

Last weekend, I went up to Seattle for two days with the Unpresidented Brass Band, to join with dozens of other street/DIY cmmunity bands for the Honk! Festival.

It was my introduction to the worldwide Honk! network of bands, and I had a marvelous time.

Friday night. My drum was locked in my friend's trunk so I started things off by playing on a fire hydrant. It sounded interesting and sort of cool, but playing on iron was hard on my hands after awhile.
I was glad to get my drum out eventually.

The entire festival was filled with the sounds of music from over two dozen community bands from throughout the Pacific Northwest, coming from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The repertoire choices varied greatly, and each ensemble had its own unique visual style. Held up alongside some of the more punk-influenced outfits, were were definitely leaning towards the old fart side of things, but people genuinely enjoy every set we played.

Above: Bass drummers from two different bands had no difficulty agreeing on a beat.
Below: A slightly more fleshed-out drum line. Three different grip styles. No judgment.

Below: My favorite band at Honk! - Chaotic Noise Marching Corps, Seattle. Rough, raw and loud, the way a punk marching band ought to be. Drum Corps geeks: note the homemade ISO on the right. It sounds kinda crappy but you definitely hear the snare.

Saturday afternoon, last of three sets we played that day. With the sun going down, things had cooled off enough for me to don my band jacket in the shade, though the shako was still too hot and heavy to wear.

I had a fabulous time and cannot wait for the opportunity to go to another Honk! event.
Thanks to friends of the band, we got a little video while we performed at the festival. I'm gonna toss these up here and let folks pick and choose and enjoy.
Friday night. No warm-up, some members got there with about five minutes to spare.
Adrenaline helped:

Saturday afternoon, first set. It was too hot and unshaded for me to wear anything but my band t-shirt.
Still, we survived. And we made people dance and laugh, which means success:

If UBB has an opportunity to go back to Honk! next year I definitely want to go. It's a great celebration of music, community and can-do spirit that can inspire us all in so many positive ways.
Honk! is a worldwide network of bands and festivals and I knew nothing about it until this spring when one of our members suggested we go. I'm very glad she did.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

the ritual: taping up new sticks, and more

It's early summer, and the beginning of the marching season for so many of us.
Whether you march with an uber-modern DCI corps or your community band, summer is the time to play outside!
And so I've been readying myself and my gear.

1.  The heads that came with my Ludwig drum were, along with the snare hardware, pretty beat. The snare-side head had a hole almost as big as my pinky finger. It wasn't too close to the edge of the shell or I would've replaced it sooner. Still, when I noticed a split forming in the batter head -- a CS black dot that was almost as old as the drum -- I decided to bite the bullet and replace both heads.

2. While I was at it, the original strainer mechanism was beginning to fall apart. The tensioning screws for each individual snare had fallen out, and a few snares were missing. The remainder were showing a little surface rust. So after pondering my options, I replaced the entire thing with something simple and more modern (Gibraltar, for all its plainness, sells excellent, serviceable parts that stand up well to daily use). After all, this was never going to be a showpiece. I bought it as a player and the random scratches in the finish never bothered me. I got some trade-in on the parts at Revival, and the new hardware went on fairly easily. I only had to drill new holes for the butt plate.

3. I finally managed to re-shape the steel leg rest I'd scored, so that it would fit my older, larger thigh. (Don't blame that on weight-gain; my quads are a lot bigger now from all that cycling then they were when I was fourteen, and the platform had to be spread a little.)

 Early 1970s Ludwig 10 x 14" marching snare, with angle bar and new heads and strainer.

 With only eight lugs, there is no point in putting a super-high-tension head on this drum. It was meant to have Mylar heads and that's what it's got. I opted for the Power Stroke, which is what my marching snare drum had my senior year of high school. A tad later than the drum, but it sounds crisp and clean.

Mylar heads are tuned lower, meaning that the player has to do a little of the rebound work themselves. But if you tune the batter head a little high than the snare head, you'll get a crisp, dark sound that those of us of a certain age still know and love.

4. Next up: Sticks. After trying several different makes and models, I finally took my friend Mary's advice and went with the Vic Firth Jeff Queen signature model. Although Jeff designed it as a "solo" stick, honestly it's a fine ensemble stick, especially for smaller hands and for use on Mylar heads. With my arthritis, it's the stick I've kept coming back to. So when I pulled out my sticks after my last band practice and saw the telltale ridge (see photos), I knew it was time to buy new sticks and wrap them in fresh tape.

The ritual used to go like this: I'd go to the music shop, spend about half an hour finding two sticks of the same model that matched in pitch (in those days I'd settle for 1/4 to 1/2-step apart if I had to); then begging the shop owner for a quantity break on 4 pairs (he almost always said no, unless he'd just smoked a bowl), and then taking them home and setting out the stuff I'd need to wrap each pair in a fresh layer of white electrical tape. In high school, this would be trimmed in thin stripes of royal blue tape at both ends to make the sticks match our school colors. (In corps we didn't bother with trim, because the snare line went through sticks too quickly on tour. I swear, sometimes they'd tape up new show sticks every two to three days.)

This is something of a tiny ritual for me, and taping up new sticks always takes me back to my teen years as a marching member, in a sweet way.

I'm mostly packed for Honk! weekend, and looking forward to a great time playing live in the streets of South Seattle this weekend. I'm playing with the Unpresidented Brass Band. If you read this blog and come to the festival, find our band and say hello.


Above: a little vid. I'm just farting around, playing whatever I feel like. Sometimes it's nice not to have a plan. Cheers!