Listening To Learn

Hudson Music is pleased to offer a series of educational articles in conjunction with Modern Drummer Magazine and the Modern Drummer Digital Archive.

This article originally appeared in the January 2002 issue of Modern Drummer Magazine.

Listening to Learn

by Dave Miele

Learning to play different styles of music is an important part of studying to be a professional drummer. And the best way to learn the nuances of a particular style of music—jazz, for instance—is to listen to recordings. For players coming from a pop or rock background, certain styles are more accessible than others. Most beginners would find it easier to play along to a CD by Aerosmith or Matchbox Twenty than a Miles Davis or John Coltrane album. Yet there are several jazz recordings, by those legends and others, that lend themselves to helping a new student of jazz find his way. One such album is Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet.

The album starts with an arrangement of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” The form is AABA (thirty-two bars), and you’re sure to know the melody. The tempo is moderate, making this a perfect tune to play along with. There’s a standard “tag” rhythm, which appears (repeated three times) at the beginning of the tune and then at the end of each solo, followed each time by a two-bar break.

The head is played “in two,” with the B sections switching to four. This is a standard concept in jazz. Listen also for the inverted quarter-note-triplet ideas Philly Joe Jo es plays against the ride pattern during John Coltrane’s sax solo.


Next up is Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts.” There are three words to describe the tempo of this standard: up, up, and up. Listen to the arrangement, with the drums implying the melody during the “salt peanuts” sections. Work on developing uptempo studies by playing the ride cymbal pattern (mixed with quarter notes for relief) with the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4.

An inspiring drum solo finishes the tune. One idea Philly Joe employs towards the end of the solo is triplets and 16th notes played on the snare with random accents. This kind of technique can be developed by using any number of reading texts (such as Ted Reed’s Syncopation), and playing the accented notes as rimshots.

“Something I Dreamed Last Night” provides ample opportunity for the student to practice his brushwork. Notice how Philly Joe goes in and out of double time, in support of the soloists. Listen for these changes while playing along. Also listen for the double-time straight-8th-note vibe, which the rhythm section alternates with straight time four bars at a time.

The next tune, “Diane,” is a medium tempo that starts with brushes. Philly Joe swings without playing busy or complicated. Some of the same quarter-note-triplet ideas as in “Surrey” are present, as is the two-bar tag rhythm. This time it ends the tune, again played three times, with one extra final bar, a standard ending. (Also listen for the curve of the dynamics from the rhythm section, in reaction to the soloists.)

Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” (another standard) follows. The head is interestingly arranged, and the last sixteen bars are played in a canon, with the melodic lines staggered so as to end one after another. Philly Joe even joins in during the last A section, imitating the last two melody notes of the phrases, after the horns and piano. This is a great tempo to play along with while reading independence exercises.

The last cut is a beautiful version of “When I Fall In Love,” another ballad perfect for working on your brush technique. Playing brushes on a slow ballad is not nearly as easy as the idea might suggest, so be sure not to skip this one.

Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet makes an excellent addition to any jazz fan’s CD collection, and it’s a great album to practice with and listen to. Be sure to spend plenty of time listening without playing along. For one thing, most of the ideas discussed above won’t make much sense if you don’t. And for another, each time you listen to any legendary jazz recording, it’s a lesson learned.

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