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The Tree we cut from
Posted On 09/15/2008 01:03:01

The Trees we Cut From, By David Blampied

A modern theory attributes tree growth during a time of unusually low solar activity during the Maunder Minimum "Little Ice Age" from 1645 to 1750 for temperatures throughout Europe to be much cooler causing stunting and slower tree growth with unusually dense wood. The wood harvested from the forests of northern Croatia Antonio Stradivari used to make his violins.

an image of the Croatia forest in Europe

The Chances are good that when you get your first drum set (or Violin) the last thing you think of is what kind of wood there made of. It's more about look, how cool do the drums look? That's the real concern. But you reach a point when you start to consider what gives a voice to the instument you play. The instrument you have become to know so well from hours of practice.

I have drums made from wood, maple, birch, mahogany. I also have drums made of steel, plastic, and copper. They all sound good or pretty good for what they are. But what is it that really seperates the sound from a maple shell, from a birch shell. If you really want to know, go to your local music store, and play them. Hear for yourself what the difference is. The difference can really be heard in toms. Find a 14" x 12" tom made of each wood and play them both side by side. If you shop at the same music store I do chances are good neither drum will be tuned at all and they with both sound like a wet sock being thrown at a concrete wall so bring your drum key with you.

We've all heard terms like basswood, luaan, maple, birch, beech, falkata, Philippine mahogany, African mahogany, etc. Most of us can relate to common woods like maple, birch, beech, and we even have an idea of what "color" mahogany is. But do we really understand why these are used? We (drummers) really don't put the role of the wood in perspective.
Sound is subjective. The marketing concept used by manufacturers, coupled with finish and function leads all of us to believe that more expensive is better. In reality the manufacture puts together a package designed to being a drum to market at a price point.

Having already owned drums made from maple, birch, and every other wood as well as "wood like" drums the idea of having a great quality maple kit just seemed to be the most sensible and sound choice. The idea of having a birch drum set was temping given the woods reputation for recording, a maple kit just seemed to be more diverse in its performance. (Birch is often referred to as a naturally "EQ'd" drum set. This came from its popularity when used in recording studios where the attack portion of the sound was an important ingredient in recordings dating back to the late 60's. It made it easier to get the drums to cut through the mix with minimal effort).

100 % Maple shells. With a thickness of less than 1/4" (5.5mm), 8-ply maple shells produce a deep and resonant note. Considered the "industry standard" for professional level drums, their full-bodied response is accompanied by lasting sustain. In addition, 100% Maple shells provide a great blend of attack and low end which is favored by many of today's top drummers.

a maple drum shell

Here's the real kicker, after spending hours researching drums, and the woods they make them from, and what suits your needs the best. Finally making an intelligent decision. You'll end up in a recording studio where the engineer will insist on using a new "fantastic" drum plug in for pro tools. And blending 80% of your actual drum sound out of the mix and his "plug in" in it's place. Making all of it quite moot. All of my recordings are my real drums, no "plug in"! If it was good enough way of recording for The Who, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles…then it's good enough for me.

Tags: Wood Shells

Playing Like Keith Moon By David Blampied
Posted On 09/15/2008 01:00:55
Playing Like Keith Moon, By David Blampied

I have always liked the Who, great songs powerful rock anthems driving drums and some of the best rock bass lines ever played as well as powerful vocals. As a drummer I never gave Keith's drum playing a lot of thought. I reserved my "top" drummer list for guys like Neil Peart, John Bonham, Steve Gadd, Cozy Powell….guys like that.

But it wasn't until I was recently hired to play in a "Who" tribute show that I really started to put some of these Who songs under my microscope. And to be honest what I found was really amazing, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at what I found. I almost really feel embarrassed to admit that after playing drums for over thirty years just now am I really appreciating Keith Moon. Ok that's not really fair like I said before; I always liked the Who, and I liked Keith's drumming. But it's different when you learn the songs note for note. Keeping the "purest" fan's in mind I didn't want anyone to doubt for a minute I didn't do my homework. I do take pride in my work.

What I found looking deep into the music of the who was a dynamic drummer with taste and flare and emotion. For someone who never formally studied he had an amazing intuition and how his parts should be played.

The story of Keith Moon is a story of a man with many sides; a lot of what we've heard about Keith's short life is funny, scary, dark, inspiring and sad. During his life he earned a reputation as an out of control rock star. Perhaps Keith felt the need to live up to his reputation for too long; longer than his body could take physically and eventually causing his death. The real tragedy is by all accounts at the end of his life it seemed as if he was finally turning things around for himself.

His Drumming

Keith Moon's style was unique, the whole time throwing all the rules and discipline of a drummer out the window. Although not the most technical of drummers, he made up for his lack of time keeping skills with speed and power, often filling tiny gaps with elaborate and explosive rolls.
The one thing that has to be clearly identified about the Moon's drumming is that he was completely self taught – he had no tutoring or almost none. He was a complete original with absolutely no knowledge of drum rudiments. That was both Moon's strength and weakness.
Moon joined the Who simply because he was different and loud. He fitted into Townshend's concept and added a rhythmic variety that there other drummers didn't. His kit at these times was standard: 22" bass,14" snare, 12x8" tom, 16x16" floor tom, hi-hat, 2 crashes and a ride cymbal. They were initially Ludwig then a Premier. With the move to the Premier he adopted 2 top toms, as used by Dave Clark. The actual configuration varied as it depended on the damage wrought by the auto-destruction display.

The high mortality rate of Moon's kits meant that he was continuously replacing/upgrading. A loose sponsorship with Premier evolved into a long-term arrangement that benefited Moon in terms of replacement drums and also the company as they developed reinforced drums to meet Moon's playing demands. Sometime around May/June 1966, Moon emerged with a fully customized Premier double kit. Whether Ginger Baker or Moon had the idea first is unknown and neither of them has ever laid any claim. It's reasonable to say that both were heading in that direction and the both jumped together.
This Premier kit was huge: 2 x 22" bass drums (bracketed together), 3 14x8" top toms, 3 16x18" floor toms (arrayed 2 on his right and one on his left) and a Ludwig 5.5" Supra-phonic snare. Cymbals were very modest: 18", 20" and 22" crashes plus 22" crash/ride and no hi-hat. Again the configuration would vary based on the damage from the previous performance.

Premier Custom Built (mahogany)
1. Two 22″ bass drums
2. Two timbales
3. 16″ single-headed tom
4. 15″ single-headed tom
5. 18″ floor tom
6. Two 16″ x 18″ floor tom
7. 14″ single-headed tom
8. 13″ single-headed tom
9. 12″ single-headed tom
10. 10″ single-headed tom
11. 14″ mounted tom
12. 13″ mounted tom (more likely a 14″ x 10″ mounted tom)
13. 12″ mounted tom (more likely a 14″ x 10″ mounted tom)
14. 14″ x 6½″ or 5½″ snare
15. One or two Premier 22 1/2 timpani

Likely Paiste 2002 series
a. 22″ ride
b. 20″ crash
c. 14″splash
d. 18″ crash
e. 14″ hi-hat
f. One or two Paiste gongs (1x30″, 1x36″)

Moon was never as quadrapedal as today's modern double bass players, and he was never able to maintain a dialogue between all his limbs. This is especially evident in his use of the hi-hat, which was very limited and was overwhelmingly used as a crash/ride cymbal, even in the studio (there are a few examples of using it in the foot operated mode). Live, he usually locked it slightly open and pounded it. With the double kit he disposed of it all together and even replaced it with a ride cymbal. It did reappear from time-to-time, but again as a crash/ride. The bass drums were played in unison, there are few examples of broken patterns. The bass drums laid down a unison pounding triplet beat over which Moon flailed the rest of the kit.

The key to Moon's drumming is his arms and especially the way he would lead with the left. Most drummers build patterns beginning with their right, leaving the left on the snare to follow. Moon would explode with his left and often match it with his right but each going in different directions – thus the layout of the drums with the middle mounted tom tuned higher and then the left and right lower plus the left floor tom. Or often the right would be crashing cymbals while the left would pound the snare/toms. The long, fast runs around the toms, and sometimes back as well, are the stuff of legends.

Moon used light sticks with matched grip, plus some unusual grips at times, and the mallet end often. He can be classed as a fast drummer as well as a showman – throwing the sticks and catching them without missing a beat (on a good night). He never took a solo except for some quick fills of a bar or two in length. Brushes were never used though felts and tympani were used in the studio.

Moon's lack of training increasingly became a liability as his legendary lifestyle dragged him down. John Entwhistle: "The weird thing about Keith was that he didn't know how he played the drums. If we took a year or two off we'd go into a rehearsal situation and he'd have to learn how he played again. We'd have to play something he already new so he could re-teach himself how to be Keith Moon."

The Songs, why Keith is a legend

Baba O'Riley
For example, during "Baba O'Riley" what on the outward appearances seems like a simple drum part, (a basic snare on two and four, bass on one and three/&), if you really listen close to what he's doing you will hear a world of tasteful little parts. Small and light snare accents between two and three, lightly playing triplets between bass and snare hits. Another thing I found interesting about Keith's drumming was he did not accenting all of Pete's power chords. Hypothetically, if you gave Baba O'Riley to 10 regular drummers that never heard that song before, the instinct is to play every power chord a guitarist pulls out with an accent crash. And you would have all 10 drummers playing every accent with a crash. Keith doesn't do that, I'm not sure how he derived at this decision but it really makes the drum part interesting.

Going Mobile
This could quite possibly be one of the finest examples of how fantastic Moon was. I can guarantee that no other drummer would have been able to invent this part. If you play this song for any drummer and he's not impressed…punch him square in the face and tell him to start playing the flute as soon as he picks up his teeth.
Again, the little things he has going on in this song really take over the regular beat most guys would have played for this song. The little snare fills, sharp and precise, the snare/tom triplets, the cymbal crashes, all over the place. All over the place but everything he does just works, kind of like controlled kayos. No two measures are the same. How he goes to just playing the bass drum and the snare during the" going mobile" in the verses. The double time at the end of the song and those amazing fills. Somewhere around 2min.:30sec in the song he starts to really turn up the heat and the groove just catch's on fire. Nobody at any time told Moon to play bass drum on one and three and snare on two and four; even if they did I doubt he would have listened. Thankfully not because this song just plain rocks and the drum part Moon plays makes it.

Can You See the Real Me?

Like "5:15", "Going Mobile", "Can you see the real me" just drives a hard groove from beginning to end. The one thing about this song it's Keith's endurance like "Won't get Fooled Again" it's basically a long drum fill throughout the entire song. The accents at the end of this song are just over the top. When I listen to this song I get a sense that Keith Moon was paving the way for drummers like Carter Bruford. A good example of Moon's power and drive as one of the most celebrated rock drummers.

Keith's life, his humor and charismatic personality, his unusual but yet powerful and creative drum playing will continue to fascinate and inspire generations of drummers and musicians to come. There never was, nor will their ever be another like him.

Tags: Keith Moon

The Evolution of a Drum Kit, By David Blampied
Posted On 09/15/2008 00:49:58

The Evolution of a Drum Kit, By David Blampied

Generally speaking, any incarnation of my drum set is based on one foundation: the four piece drum set, snare drum, bass drum a rack and a floor tom. Ride cymbal on the right and a couple of crash's on either side. Something as close to Buddy Rich's or Gene Krupa's (Two of my earliest idols) set up as I could get. The reasons for this are simple; this was the way I was taught to set up my drums by a teacher at the age of 7 or 8, and this is the kit I learned to play on. Any other drum I add to this foundation tends to be just extra stuff, sort of.
Although this may seem a bit old school but in many ways it's beneficial. For the most part there are few things I can't play on a small basic four piece drum set that I can play on a large complex and elaborate kit, or at least a scaled down version of the same drum part. Of coarse the logistics of this of this philosophy are limited, you can't play the flight of the bumble bee on a tuba, or can you?
I have seen drummers with complicated drum set that spun on risers, rows and rows of toms that some poor drum tech spent all day setting up so this guy could come out and play eighth notes on. Then on the other hand I have seen drummer with little tiny four piece kits totally blow me away. I recall seeing a drummer playing for a blues band in New York, (I wish I could recall his name) play with nothing more than a bass drum, a snare and a high hat. This guy was just grooving! I have too admit; I was a bit taken back. How full of a sound he was getting, his bass drum /snare combinations were funky and smart. No big drum fills needed. I would feel naked behind a drum set with NO toms! Regardless it was impressive. Then on the other side of the coin, to watch Neil Peart, or Terry Bozzio, or Mike Portnoy play giant drum kits is amazing also.
This is Terry Bozzio's Chromatically tuned drum set...and diatonic.
Point being, you can do a lot with a little, or a little with a lot, or vice versa. I suppose some people are just impressed with a large complicated drum set…..wow he was good, did you see all the drums he was playing! Something I could hear my pot smoking non-musician friend would say. Explaining to him that all that the drummer was playing was quarter notes is how I got the reputation as a music snob. Maybe if I walk around with a space suite on people will think I'm an astronaut.

Drummers are lazy; well I am a drummer who is lazy. All of my drums and cymbals are as close as they can be so I can get to them. If I have to reach out for it, I'll get tiered playing it. Thinking of seeing Steve Jordan playing on the early Late Night with David Letterman playing with his cymbals way up high, thinking that can't be right. Not to put Steve Down, he's a fantastic drummer; he just must have really long arms. Drum "set up" is personal. Everyone is different. It all matters on what your doing and what you like. I have brought small kits to gigs just because I didn't feel like carrying a lot of crap to and from my car. I like the fact that I can change my set up around, and go back to my old regular five piece set up and feel right at home. But that's why I'm a drummer and not a tuba player
Me playing my custom maple Spaun drum set during a Swan Song concert, a tribute to Led Zeppelin.

Tags: Drum Sets

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