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.