Jojo Mayer is a master of musicality, time, drum technique and philosophy. I'll never forget the first time I saw a video of him playing. His overall sound was just captivating and his technical facility was just amazing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had seen a lot of great drum set players, but I had never seen anything like this, except for Buddy Rich. If you haven't seen him perform, it's definitely worth the YouTube search. I bought both of his drum technique DVD's and I have to say, I am the musician I am today because of them. I learned so much from them, like relearning my basic technique and developing new stroke types for playing quickly and easily. You also can see his clapping exercise in my Uproxx mini documentary: 800-1,600 claps a day.
I recently came across a trailer for a new documentary: "The Jojo Mayer-Changing Time"! I wanted to share it here to get more traction for him and just to support this in general. With the likes of the movies Drumline and Whiplash, there are very few honest and realistic accounts of what musicians like us are actually about and what we go through to develop/present our craft to an audience. It comes out in Switzerland September 28th and a television premier in October. I will definitely post any and all information that I find on it. I am very very very excited to watch it when it finally comes out!
Almost four months ago I posted my summer routine for people to look at and use, because, after the documentary came out, a lot of people were wondering how I practiced for so long and what I did to fill in the time. Honestly, it's been a while since I've been able to do that exact plan during the summer, because of festivals or summer jobs/gigs, but in college, and even high school, I did go through everything on that list each summer. I won't say that people have to work specifically on that blueprint, but there are elements within it that are always a must in practice: time and phrasing.
My process of how I came up with that list was based primarily on wanting to achieve musical effects through a technical means. What did I have to learn to do in order to make the sounds I wanted? First of all, time and rhythm have to be solid, or else the phrasing, colors and technical facility don't matter. Constant work with a metronome on different rhythmic combinations are always in my daily routine. There's not really a specific page of a book or pattern, but some sort of work with developing my time and rhythm is present. I personally play quarters, sixteenths, triplets and dotted rhythms everyday during my warm up, not just to warm my hands but my ears to the time and placement within it.
Time is the easy part, but phrasing has a lot more to it. We have to think about style, color, dynamic contrasts and ease of executing all of that, in time. For percussionists, all three can be accomplished at some level through changing our stroke. Generally, full strokes give you a fuller sound, down strokes give you a darker sound with more attack, and up strokes give you a brighter sound with less attack. Developing fluidity between these will already put you in a good position to create colors suitable for your piece, and experimenting with subtle changes within each will help expand it. I think style often will dictate the color, so those two problems can be solved with a simple tweak of the stroke type. Dynamics within that style and color are where we have to practice the most.
I personally take my warm up and practice different rhythms, with different stroke types, at different dynamics. Doing each one alone at separate volumes is relatively easy, but going between or through different dynamics is the tricky part. Take for instance if you were to go from piano to forte using up strokes. The tendency is to get heavier as we get louder, which makes the color change, so we have to practice going up through the dynamics, making sure that our stroke stays the same, relative to both the height of the sticks and the velocity with which we're striking the drum. Generally, the louder we want a lighter sound, the more we have to lift upwards after the stroke. With down strokes, getting louder means more bounce at the point of contact along with a slower speed when the sticks are higher. And full stroke have to be an balance of speed, height and lift, both going up and coming down. Practicing subito dynamic changes introduce another element as well, and working these ideas into your practice will definitely give you more options in your musicality.
Everyday during my warm up, I turn on Pandora and just do whatever stick control that comes to my mind. More often than not, it's the eight on a hand routine, but I try to play it the way the music sounds. I'm basically improvising on whatever is playing at the time, and doing this tackles time, rhythm, color and style at the same time because I'm matching the character and tempo of the song. After that, I can choose to do dynamics if I want, but generally I keep my warm up simple, so I'm just playing at a comfortable dynamic to get my hands relaxed and my creative juices flowing. I realized early on that warming up isn't just for your hands, but also your mind. How do the sounds I'm making actually sound? Am I in time? How's my rhythm? How's my fluidity from loud to soft? Can I make the color changes easy after I've warmed up?
Eventually, all you will have to do is simply just warm up your hands and afterwards you'll be able to do all of the above, but even though I can somewhat do that now, I still take the time to work on them during my warm up and practice time. We can always keep developing our technical facility to make music, even in those simple ways, so why take them for granted? Being aware of the sounds you're making and how you are getting them makes for a more musical interpretation of anything you play. So rather than work on a specific measure, hopefully through practicing with this in mind, you'll come to a bar and already know how to execute the phrasing you want. What's even more enticing about this is that you can change on a whim if these techniques and options are readily available to you. So rather than mapping it out, or having to go group by group, you'll be able to go, "Oh, this note sounded different, let me make sure my stroke stays the consistent through the phrase while I crescendo/decrescendo." This makes you more aware of what you're doing while also making the time you spend on pieces more efficient.
I often look for new ways and techniques to accomplish sounds because I'm a geek, and I love technique. I think it's similar to why body builders love going to the gym, there's something about working towards that new level or that new muscle you didn't know existed until you saw someone else doing it. All of the techniques we learn have a musical application and rooting our practice in that foundation of our playing will make our lives easier when we go to play new or old music. Why work on one piece when the technique work will tackle all pieces we come across. Of course there will be specific things in the pieces that are tricky, but staying grounded in the basics will lessen those instances in for sure. So don't forget your base techniques, develop the fluidity of their execution and experiment with changing their styles and colors, and that by itself will make you ready to take anything on in the future. Happy Practicing!