Research Methods

I have finished my research essay and portfolio and should hand it in at some point today. I think the module has been an eye opener. I’ve learnt that research is an ongoing process. Once you think you have answered your question, you find that you have inadvertently asked yourself another! When writing the essay especially, I found myself backtracking, challenging what I had initially written – which is great when you’re exploring ideas and thinking, but not when you are trying to write an essay! I got there in the end though. The portfolio was a great help too, especially in terms of helping me get into a more academic frame of mind.  This was great for me as I returned to study after taking a year out to fund the course.

So what have I learnt and understood about research? As Allan Owens said to us, it is a “systematic enquiry”. I’ve always been fascinated by performance and especially music, and I think this module has extended my skill set – enabling me to investigate economically and research properly. I think research is something which carries beyond this module, and even beyond my study. As long as the desire is there to learn, to investigate and to improve my understanding, then research will have a prominent role to play.

Focussed Practice

I thought I’d share one final post before Christmas. During my instrumental lessons I’ve been looking at some of the pieces that I’ll be performing and also looking a lot at technique. After looking at this, we began to explore how I actually practice and develop my technique whilst studying alone. Bryan introduced me to a system which I have found extremely useful, and I’m sure it would help many other musicians.

The principal is simple and as long as you have a goal that can be broken down, the system could in theory be applied to pretty much any discipline. [I’ve drawn a diagram below to help explain].

Draw a circle and then split that circle into four sections [Diagram 1]. Each section represents 15 minutes of practice. What you want to do is decide on a goal, and think of four elements you need to consider, or four steps you need to take in order to complete that goal. For example, I wanted to improve my general drum set hand technique. [Diagram 2] So I’ve divided my sections into ‘single strokes’, ‘double strokes’, ‘finger technique’ and ‘rudiments’ – you can apply this to your own instrument / needs and tailor the sections to suit your own goals.

As I mentioned each section signifies 15 minutes of practice, so this system is designed for 1 hour practice per day. Having said that, I could also introduce another circle to work on, for example, Funk drumming, foot technique etc, and run these one after the other.

Looking at the diagram, I’d practice single strokes for 15 minutes, and then draw a little line in the circle [Diagram 3]. I’d then move onto the next section, complete 15 minutes on that and draw another line in that section, and so on. Eventually you will have 4 lines signifying an hour of practice [Diagram 4]. Once I’ve done an hour on each section, I draw a larger line to mark that an hour’s worth has been done [Diagram 5]. Finally, diagram 6 shows 5 hours of practice on each section; a total of 20 hours practice on hand technique.

So why do this? What is the point? Well I’ve seen quite a few benefits already, and I haven’t been using this system for very long. First of all it is a very visual concept. When practicing something like this, it is hard to keep track of how much real practice you have [or haven’t] done. You can clearly see your own progress, and personally this spurs me on to get cracking and get some more done.

Secondly, the system can be changed at any point, and transformed to suit your own needs. For example, I could be going through my practice circle and decide that ‘my double strokes are sounding good now; I don’t need to do as much practice on those. I do really need to work on tap strokes though’. I could then replace ‘double strokes’ with ‘tap strokes’ and get to focus on a weaker aspect of my technique.

I think the final and most attractive reason for using this system is the amount of practice you can do on something quite monotonous. For example, if I tried to practice 5 hours of single strokes, one hit of the drum with proper technique over and over for 5 hours, I’d struggle to maintain a good level of concentration. In doing this, I know I’m going to get a good 5 hours of solid practice on my single strokes. Bryan explained that after about 15 minutes of practice on a single thing, generally speaking we tend to ‘switch off’, and take less information in. With this system, you’ve got an hour’s worth of intense and focussed practice and the possibilities seem endless. I just thought I’d share that, as it is really helping me with my own practice, and it is helping me concentrate a lot more. I hope it can help others just as much as it has helped me.

Alexander Technique

We had a great workshop on the Alexander Technique with Niamh Dowling. I was a little sceptical at first as I had no experience of this whatsoever, but it really has made me realise the importance of good posture, relaxation and movement. The more I look into it, the more critical it seems to be in terms of performance, and especially drumming in my case. I’ve been working on it quite a lot, and have been trying to improve my posture. I wrote up my experience of the Alexander Technique, and how I have tried to incorporate it into my performance and every day life. Here is a segment of my write up, showing some of my thoughts:

… I have also tried to improve my posture when sat at the drum kit. I felt that if I was hunched forward then I’d be restricting arm and muscle movements that should be natural and unforced. Again, like when I was walking around after the initial workshop, I felt a good few inches taller. This made me feel as if I was playing on top of the drums, rather than into them. However, I have a few dilemmas with the Alexander technique. For example, in certain scenarios, I feel as if I should be hunched over to play a certain feel or groove. I have noticed that I do not intentionally do it, but I just slip into these different positions and postures throughout my performances. I think ideally, I would be sat upright with good posture to allow full freedom of movement. However, I find that performance and drumming for me can at times become consuming to the point where you are unable to think. Of course throughout a performance, I am constantly thinking about where I am in the music, whether or not there is a chorus coming up and so forth. But a lot of the time, I feel like an audience member who is hearing the music just how they personally think it should be heard. I have heard many performers describing being ‘in the moment’, and for me that is exactly it. I have noticed that my posture will rise and fall with the dynamics of the music for example, and the type of song naturally changes my posture. I think for me, it is a case of keeping that self control and proper technique, without hindering performance and creativity, and I also wish to ascertain to what extent this is possible.

I feel as if this new way of thinking has opened some additional doors for me, and for the first time ever I have started to consciously think about my posture when performing. So far, I have found that when applying the technique I can generate more energy when required, and also conserve energy throughout a performance. This is all new to me, and I hope that as I explore the potential of this technique I’ll eventually reap the benefits. I’ve also managed to find lots of articles, journals and things on the web relating to the technique within drumming. You can find more information on the Alexander Technique here.

Drumming & Learning

I’ve been down at Blueprint studios with Bryan working on a few more ideas and concepts. The other week, we were looking at the system demonstrated by Gary Chaffee in his book “Sticking Patterns” to work on independence, tightening the groove, polyrhythms and stick control. My technique has been at the forefront of these lessons, and it is gradually getting better. I’m trying to eliminate the bad habits and just become a better drummer. On Tuesday, we were working on my left hand technique a little more, and playing through the Sting track that I had been looking at. My tutor also thinks it would be good for me to play a track and sing some backing harmonies over the top. Nervous at the thought, as it is unexplored territory for me, but it could be good. Food for thought..

One Month In

It was exactly month ago today that I started this blog, two days after officially starting the MA course. What have I learnt over this month? Well I’ve started to take a step back and analyse my playing and my practice. This has been helped tenfold by the reintroduction of instrumental lessons with a great teacher. I know where my own strengths and weaknesses are, and I know what I need to do in order to improve on those. But sometimes I think it takes someone else to look at your playing and show you the bigger picture. What I have come to realise in learning to play an instrument proficiently, is that the further along the learning path you walk, the bigger and harder the steps become to take. Progressing through graded exams, there is always a clear focus on what the next step is. But once you get past that, you realise on drums for example, the smallest change in articulation or stick technique can change the groove from sounding good to great. I think I’ve known this for a good while, but it is only when you really try and do something about it that you actually realise it. I think that I have made good progress for a month’s hard work, and I’m sure that I’ll progress throughout the year. All in all, I’m chuffed with how it is all going, and I’m enjoying researching, working academically and trying to improve what will ultimately take me a lifetime to master.

Jazz, Swing, Rehearsing

Since the last update I’ve been quite busy. I’ve been finding my feet again in terms of writing and referencing correctly in APA. One of the tasks set was to review a journal article, and I found a great one that I thought would help with my studies:

Butterfield, W, M (2010) Butterfield, Race and Rhythm: The Social Component of the Swing Groove. Jazz Perspectives, 4(3),301-335.

An interesting read, and gave me a good few things to think about. The article aimed to analyse the correlation between the swing groove and race, and it also broke down the actual mechanics of the swing groove. Very interesting and worth reading, but it still leaves the question ‘What is Swing?’ wide open.

I also looked at the performance aspect of Joshua Redman’s ‘Jazz Crimes’ within a compositional context. I managed to pull most of the chords off the internet, which seem ok, work some out and notate a chord sheet for the two main vamps. It’s a great song with a lot of chromatic phrases within the chord changes, melody and improvisational sections. The track itself is very groovy from the drums, whilst still keeping that loose jazz feel within the solo / breakdown section. Below is the transcription I pulled together and worked out:

Other than that, I’ve been away rehearsing and also going through ideas with Bryan during my instrumental lessons. One thing I’m now starting to consciously think about and develop is my ability to actually think about ‘points’ within a piece of music, and use them as a reference for keeping time and consistency within my playing. That, and my actual technique are things I’d never really thought about before I started having instrumental lessons again. As a musician when listening to a piece of music that I want to play, I analyse what is actually going on and think about what tools I need to use in order for me to play that piece. I feel that now, I’m trying to extend that ‘toolbox’ and arsenal of techniques to improve my playing. I can see that the way I think about music is changing, and this seems to be helping my playing a lot. All I can do really is keep heading in that direction, and I see no reason why I wouldn’t be a better musician at the end of it.

Lesson Two

Yesterday was my second drum lesson with Bryan, and I can feel my playing improving. We touched upon the ideas from the previous week and also focussed on some new exercises to work on my stick technique and independence. Below are a few examples of ideas that we were working on. I didn’t have much trouble playing those ideas straight off, but the focus was on applying correct technique and stick control throughout.

There were many variations of the examples, moving accents, changing bass drum patterns etc. The final bar is a groove we worked on, with the hi hat accents creating a bossa feel.

For the research methods module this week, we had a task of using an archive and posting our experiences. I used JSTOR which is an academic resource, containing journals and articles. You can read my thoughts on JSTOR in the Word document here: JSTOR.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to recover from a cold. Currently listening to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – “Moaning”, Art Blakey & Theolonious Monk and Miles Davis – “Kind Of Blue”.

Rehearsing

Today I’ve spent a lot of time working on some of the ideas and techniques shown to me by Bryan, and already I can hear a lot more consistency in my strokes. It hasn’t been a case of scrapping what I already know and starting again, but it has been a case of taking what I already know and enhancing that. I’m self taught on drums for the most of it. I have had lessons here and there which have always helped, but I got to university level the same way that a lot of other drummers and musicians have; picking up the sticks, bashing some drums, hoping for the best and learning along the way. So as you can imagine I was a little worried when we discussed technique, thinking that I may need to go back to square one. But this hasn’t been the case.  So I’ve been trying a few different things technique wise on the pads (see below) and playing along to a lot of music, but most importantly, just having fun with it.

The Start

So the purpose of this blog is to merely display my research and document my ideas as I progress throughout post graduate study. Hopefully by the time I finish, I’ll have a collection of various bits and pieces and more importantly, a map depicting how I got from A to B, in a musical context. The main area of study will be focussed on performance, research and I’ll also be looking at approaches to learning.

Performance wise? I’ll begin at looking at some possible pieces for drum kit. I’ve no doubt there will be some notation, recordings etc floating around as I go and I’ll upload what I can to try best to show my ‘train of thought’.

Anyway! That’s all I really wanted to say before I start this, so here it goes!