Album Prep: inner pulse

I’m gearing up for my first of many recording sessions for my upcoming album Katana of Choice: New Works for Drumset Soloist. On May 6th I’ll join David Cossin at his home studio in New York City to record the drumset duetLakoni in Kazonnde” by composer, Lukas Ligeti.

David and I have performed this work twice – the premiere at the Bang On A Can Marathon in 2013 (short clip here) and more recently at the Lukas Ligeti birthday concert. This past week, while practicing in  preparation for the recording, I came to the realization (or allowed myself to admit) that I really had not learned some sections of the piece properly. As a result, I was struggling to play a few of the more complex moments with any consistency.

Considering why this was the case, where I had gone wrong, the solution was almost embarrassingly obvious… I hadn’t taken my own advice. For years I have been telling students, from beginning kit players to Master’s level contemporary percussionists that they have to develop and rely on their inner pulse. Maintaining our inner pulse, that ability to feel a constant, steady beat, no matter how complex the music is, should be at the core of everything we play.

This probably seems really obvious, especially to drummers. It is the foundation of what we do. Yet I have found that in the world of contemporary percussion performance, when a player finds themselves in a multi-percussion setup or behind a 5 octave marimba, basic principles of the inner pulse can be forgotten. No matter how complex the music, no matter how many layers upon layers of polyrhythms we are confronted with, if you can’t feel an inner pulse while playing, you don’t really know the material. Can you tap your foot to that? Can you physically feel the pulse while playing? If not, there is still work to do.

Ok, so back to me in the practice room with “Lakoni in Kazonnde”. There is a section where hands are playing quintuplets between cymbals, toms and a melodic cowbell pattern, while the right foot is accenting different parts of each quint on the bass drum. Now my left foot isn’t doing anything in this section… and that was the problem. The music was so complex that I couldn’t naturally beat the quartet pulse, which is something I was doing in the measures before and after this particular section. I was ignoring the importance of the inner pulse and there was clearly still work to do.

So I slowed everything down, started from scratch and trained my left foot to feel the pulse again. This section went from being a moment where I held my breath and hoped for the best, to being really fun to play and actually feeling kind of easy. Yes!

You can check out a video of this section below.

If you are interested in developing you inner pulse, I highly recommend the “rhythm scale” exercises from Marc Atkinson’s book “The Unreel Drum Book”. These changed my life… and if you want to hear about my own variations of these, send me a message or email.

That’s all for now. Stayed tuned for more posts as I prepared for and record my drumset album in the coming months.

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