Marco Noto

Groove Management

Are We Having Fun Yet?

“Have fun!” or “Did you have fun?” is something I used to hear quite a bit from the kind and wonderful ladies in my home on my way down to the basement to practice, when I left for a gig, or when I returned home from playing (see how even the term “playing” insidiously invokes the idea of fun?). Mind you, I’m not complaining. On the contrary, I consider myself very lucky to have their support and encouragement. My response used to be something like “it’s not fun, it’s work” or “the fun comes later.” These responses triggered some odd looks, so now I generally hear “I know it won’t be fun, but try to make the best of it” or “hope you don’t suffer too much” as I head out the door to some musical activity. Funny people, these….

I’ve thought a bit about the idea of “fun” in relationship to “music” and realize that, to the people who watch us, it sure must look like fun. And in my case it’s a hobby, not the way I earn a living. Invoke the idea of a hobby and it sure seems like some damn fun should be involved! But...I’ve always felt that the term “fun” seemed so frivolous. Something better suited for hobbies like brewing beer or playing club soccer, or maybe drinking lots of beer and playing club soccer at the same time.

There are moments when I have fun playing the drums, but they are moments. Most of the time I am working at music, consciously seeking to improve my playing and critiquing my performance (sometimes in the very act of performing). On occasion, after the hard work is done, and when everything is clicking and I’m able to hit the “flow” stage, I have a fleeting encounter with “fun.” I try to hold on to the feeling for as long as I can to help justify the practicing, packing up and loading out, setting up and tearing down, and all the other things that are involved in my chosen hobby.

I’m interested in hearing from other musicians on the concept of fun in your musical life. Do you enjoy practicing? Anyone especially fond of the other pre and post-gig activities I mentioned above? Do we have to suffer for our art? Do I need therapy?  :)

Why I Love Fender Guitars and "Picking"

A quick post for Friday afternoon. I've always been a Fender fan. I don't really play guitar, but if I did it would be a Fender. Probably a Strat, but there's a place in my heart for the Telecaster too. Heck, who am I kidding, I'd want a vintage Esquire as well.

Last night, during pack up and load out from a gig I had a flash of Satori (enlightenment) and I realized why I've always been partial to the "Fender Sound." It's those bright, thin single coils! Most of my guitarist friends are obsessed with getting a full, thick sound from their amp and guitar, but I have a different take--go thinner!

There's a lot going on from a sonic perspective on a stage, and sometimes rhythm instruments (thinking keys, guitar and bass here) step on each other and create a smeary, sonic mess. That nice full, thick sounding guitar can sit in the same sonic space as the keys, and the keyboard's left hand can conflict with what the bass player is doing. The standard Fender single coil has a decided advantage in this situation--besides being able to take the paint off of stuff with its percussive attack, the sound naturally sits in a vacant slot in most mixes.

And, while we're on this topic, maybe less is more when playing rhythm guitar? I love guitar players who pick rhythm instead of always strumming. There's little better in this world then when I get to play with a guitarist who interacts with my drumming in a percussive way--couple this with a great bass player and it's a peak life experience.

I suspect my Gibson-playing friends may disagree with me on this, but I think the sound of a Fender guitar works better for bands that have a keyboard player or who aren't doing guitar-based, power trio material. Guitar allegiances aside, musicians need to be very conscious of how they "sit" in the overall mix when performing live--especially when there's no sound man to work the EQ to help clean things up.

Listen, listen and listen some more. The best musical advice I've ever been given.

What's your opinion?

Tama Hat Stack (CSH5) Review

Tama’s new product, the CSH5 Hat Stack, is a great example of an idea that seems so obvious that you wonder why it took so long for it to surface.

The Idea

Tama’s Hat Stack is a minimalist approach to splash/effect cymbal mounting. Weighing in at 1.095oz, it is far lighter than other mounting options, and it takes advantage of space above your hi-hat. It fits hi-hat rods up to 7mm in diameter (in my research this appears to be a standard diameter). While I can’t provide confirmation that the device will work on your hi-hat, I can confirm that the unit works with my DW and Sakae hi-hat stands. The device is based on a substantial metal collar (sporting a plastic cover to help protect your cymbal from direct contact with metal) with a short tension rod that can be tightened with a standard drum key. Two felts and a plastic nut round out the components. Clever little piece of “kit” as my British friends would say.

Hat Stack in Use

I demoed the Hat Stack on my DW 6500 Ultralight hi-hat stand. To get the best idea of potential clearance issues I used 13 inch hi hats, figuring this size to be the smallest in general use by gigging drummers. For the splash I used a 10 inch cymbal mounted about 8 inches above the hi-hats. I had no issues with the splash getting in the way of my hi-hat use. A few observations:

  • You need to mount the Hat Stack on your hi-hat rod before you mount a cymbal on it as there’s not enough clearance to tighten the tension rod with a standard drum key once the cymbal is mounted
  • Of all the components, the plastic nut used to tighten down the cymbal might be subject to failure if you like to torque things down like Godzilla. Hopefully this isn’t a standard practice for you as it puts unnecessary stress on thin splash and effects cymbals. A metal version would add considerable weight, and I would expect that Tama’s engineers have made that trade off decision using high quality materials
  • You could use another hi-hat clutch to obtain a similar effect as the Hat Stack, but most clutches are more expensive and weigh a good deal more--I prefer the minimal effect the Hat Stack has on pedal feel and spring tension, not to mention the fact that it has a sleeve to prevent metal-to-metal contact

Putting a splash cymbal right over the hi-hats proved to be interesting from a playing perspective. I was able to execute some interesting stickings between my snare, hats and splash. Not having to get my hands to a standard splash mounting position like the area between my rack toms meant improved economy of motion (translating into better stick control and more speed). Big wins all the way around.

Bottom Line

With an MSRP of $13.50, and a street price hovering around $10, there’s really no reason not to give the Tama Hat Stack a try if you want to maximize the use of "dead" space, cut down on setup time at gigs and shed a little more weight from your hardware bag.

If you decide to try the Hat Stack, please consider sharing your experience here.


Give the Drummer Some!

I was listening to an episode of The Drummer's Resource Podcast the other day--great podcast in case you don't already listen, Nick Ruffini is doing outstanding work! The episode was an interview with Homer Steinweiss, and the issue of drummers getting writing credits came up. He made some excellent points about how some of the most recognizable music contains unique drum parts--think early James Brown. Got me to thinking about how there seems to be a bias towards the value of creating chord structure and melody in our culture. You could say "but that's just a drum beat, heard it before..." but I'll come back and remind you that a great number of songs are based on the same chordal pattern and there are only so many melodies to be had. It's time to stop thinking that the creation of drum parts is not songwriting--as JB said (but apparently failed to do with songwriting credits for Jabo and Clyde), "Give the drummer some!"

Got an opinion--share it.

Sheddin' not Shreddin'

Finding the need to head back to the shed to work on a few things--ha ha, maybe a bit more than a few. Progress is slow and steady as I work on hand/foot combinations and my bass drum technique. Never spent much time on this earlier in life--in fact, what I did and called practice wasn't really what passes for deliberate practice these days. Deliberate practice...not playing what comes naturally, but working on that stuff you really don't want to face. The kind of stuff that reminds you of all the previous corners cut and work deferred. This week's rehearsals and gigs got in the way of significant progress, but I should be hitting it hard this coming week. By the end of the week I should have the GoPro set up so I can start reviewing my playing (and perhaps posting some things). Have a great work week!