About Drumming (2014)
by Chris Quinlan 12th March 2014

About drumming

by Chris Quinlan f.dip.a

I seem to be using drum triggers a lot but not for the typical extra drum set sounds, I have a computer interface that has twenty presets and twenty channels (two to each of its ten inputs), they are set to modes and scales and one or two that are specially set for the sounds in my computer.

The drumset I use for my television show is really a seven piece set with an "orchestral percussion" setup to my left which somewhat mirrors the orchestral percussion setup used by Anthony Cirone of "Portraits in Rhythm" fame. A standard in the classical world.

So in my head, the idea is pretty simple, a sort of screwed up piano. Terry Bozzio is the the main culprit with this idea of melodic drumming and Akira Jimbo is the dude who has really taken triggers to a song idea. Neither of these ideas are new.

Melodic music for percussion has been around for a millennia, and Carl Palmer really was the first trailblazer with drum "synthesisers", on the track Toccata on ELP's Brain Salad Surgery 1973.

So really, the only thing new comes from what's been forgotten.

Lately, I've been following down orchestral percussion music again and can't help following the influences of people like Shostakovich and Stravinsky when it comes to writing music on the drum set.

When I hit a drum these days, it's not because it's a floor tom, it's because it an Eb. It's not because I want to belt out the fastest double kick drums of oblivion nor do I want to crack Buddy Rich's fastest single stroke roll speed.

I try not to use chops just for chops sake, we drummers have to play long rolls to make a semibreve the actual four beats, I said on the show once that a keyboard player can keep his or her finger on Bb for a minute whilst eating a ham sandwich, for us drummers to keep a long single stroke roll at 32nd notes for that length would most likely leave us in a ball of sweat, to me, chops are only there to be a servant to the music.

It's just that the kind of music I like is the overlaid complex polyrhythmic stuff that I grew up with, Celtic music, Zappa, Jethro Tull, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer along with the Irish Music in dad's pub and the aforementioned musical gods Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

So good technique (chops) are deadly important. I wouldn't still be a FULL TIME musician at 54 if I couldn't read music. I slowly die a little as a musician when I hear someone sprook proudly that they can't read music, It's like someone proudly yelling that they can't read or write.

Who could ever be proud of being an illiterate?

Having said that, quite a few of my musical heroes couldn't read music, probably the most mentioned drummer on my show has been John Bonham, who apparently couldn't read music, but getting into a band like Led Zeppelin (and that being his only recorded product to my knowledge) is like saying that you win Tattslotto for a living. One in a million.

I suppose it's because I grew up in an Irish pub surrounded in Irish music that the first inkling of the power of music hit me. Given that the late 1960's and into the early 1970's was the time of the "Troubles" in Ireland at the time, I was witness to how sacred some folk songs were to the people at the time. A hush would come over the pub when some songs were sung.

Listening to Midnight Oil's catalog, No time for games and Beds are Burning packing a punch and becoming anthems for street kids and the Indigenous, "One" by Metallica being one of the strongest anti-war songs I know. Seeing how sacred "The Last Post" was during my stint with brass bands on ANZAC and Remembrance days.

These days, songs about naughty girls doesn't seem to rate too highly with me even though I've played plenty of them when I played all things Zappa through the 90's.

I've actually come to think a solo guitarist sobbing over his lost dating site love whilst strumming badly over a G and C chord is more pretentious than a solid metal band playing at a 1000 m.ph. could ever be or for that matter any progressive rock band from the 70's.

So when I write, I use number sequences, graphic scores, simple melodies and various song structures like Rondo form. All of this is used to send a message, when themes are overlapped, it's polyrhythm city so sometimes I need to find a way to play them without having to count to 42!

I could never fully understand that guitar players are expected to solo and shred away sailing over a blues or crazy fast metal piece yet if a drummer took the same Hendrix like lines, transcribed the notes for snare drum, it would be considered ridiculously complex, hence shit would be hung.

Anyway, I've added a piece of music to this essay called

"When the whips crack."

In my head I used all of the above to get my message across in an orchestral kind of way, through the drumset. The lines I play are what I've studied in classical music. It's just that it's on drum and not violins.

The trigger patches are set to voices/choirs. "The Whips" are the clicking of the sticks in the beginning to the rim shots as the piece progresses. In the background the patches are set to an African Choir.

I was thinking about all the troubles right here right now. A civil war on the other side of the world, a big country rolling its army into a smaller other, racism and refugees closer to home, the "I'm all right Jack" attitude until the plant closes down and how are we going to pay for the mortgage now?

So I hope that gives anyone still reading a clue about what I do.

Hope you like it

all the best



Chris Quinlan f.dip.a is a musician, drum and guitar teacher, and producer of Melbourne Musos - The Drum TV Show and author of the MMDC Drumset examination syllabus used throughout Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. He has written for Beat, Mixdown and Drummer Magazines. He was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards in 2013.