Amsterdam producer, guitarist and singer Robert Mathijs is the man behind The Quest For Groove, a website and YouTube channel devoted to helping users become expert finger drummers. Over a series of courses and videos, Rob combines his experience with live performance, studio production, finger drumming, web design and teaching into approachable steps and processes for understanding his three stages of musical mastery. Stage one: What to play (what pads to hit). Stage two: How to play it (loud, soft, laid-back, energetic etc.) Stage three: Why do I play this and not something else?
For Rob, his engagement with finger drumming grew out of a desire to record his own groovy rhythm parts in studio sessions without hiring a session drummer. From there, he began exploring the creative possibilities of pad controllers and other new ways of bridging that musical gap between humans and computers. Given this, he was a natural lesson partner for Melodics. Below, Rob walks us through some of the challenges he sees new finger drummers facing, and his thoughts around the art of practice.
What are some of the common challenges you see new finger drummers coming up against?
I noticed a lot of beginning finger drummers struggle with picking the right gear, the right software and setting everything up. There are a lot of options available on the hardware and software front, and unfortunately, a lot of those options don’t work if you want to play the way I play. Either the pads aren’t sensitive enough, or the sensitivity varies too much between pads, or the software that comes with the pads doesn’t provide you with the right sounds.
My preferred setup currently involves putting a Maschine MK3 in midi mode, completely ditching the Maschine software and then triggering Addictive Drums 2 with it. That’s not a very straightforward thing to do and takes a lot of messing around with midi learn and stuff, but it’s necessary for me to get both that great pad sensitivity and that hyper-realistic drum sound.
What are your thoughts around the roles finger-drumming can play within modern music paradigms?
I think now that digital has basically absorbed analog (I believe we’re at a point were digital can ’emulate’ most analog behaviour) it’s time to start developing ways to get the same amount of precise and subtle control over our digital environments as ‘traditional’ musicians have over their instruments. The computer is the studio now, or the instrument, or the orchestra for that matter.
As humans, we want to make it truly understand what’s in our hearts and one of the ways to do this is finger drumming. It’s one of the most direct ways to communicate the grooves we feel to the computer instead of playing by the rules of the computer and going out of our way to speak the computer’s language (which is how I feel when I have to program a beat).
Do you have any advice for users on how to create a regular practice routine and keep at it?
The most important thing is to have your music setup ready to go whenever you are. It’s a bit silly, but one of the main reasons I’ve been playing more guitar lately is because I put it in a stand next to the couch instead of keeping it in its suitcase. All it takes is the reach of an arm to start playing.
For finger drumming or anything electronic it’ll usually take booting up your computer and firing up the software, but you can at least make sure all your music making stuff is hooked up to one USB hub so you can plug it into your laptop and everything works right away. Have shortcuts to all your favourite music making programs ready on your desktop and preferably create standard templates for those programs, so they boot up with your favourite drum kit loaded and your favourite songs ready to go in a Spotify playlist or something.
Another trick is to attach practicing to something that’s already part of your daily routine. Breakfast? Brushing your teeth? Watching The Late Show? Attach your practice sessions to one of those things.
Now that you’ve been involved in creating Melodics lessons, what sort of initial suggestions would you have for Melodics users around finger drumming?
I think the most important thing when doing a melodics lesson is to realise that it’ll help you learn what pads to hit when. Once you know what to do, maybe close your eyes, don’t look at your hands, don’t look at a screen but just listen to what you’re playing and how that feels. In the end that’s what it’s all about.
Do you have any other thoughts on Melodics, and how it can mesh in with users personal interests in playing and creating music?
One of the first things I was extremely jealous of was how easy it was to start playing. Melodics app makes it so easy to set up your pad controller. No explanation video could ever beat that! Secondly, something I also noticed with some of my guitar students who played ‘Rocksmith’ (basically the guitar version of melodics on a PlayStation) is that this gamification of practice is so incredibly helpful in nudging people towards practicing the right way. Like slowing it down, focusing your attention on certain weaknesses and stuff like that. It also creates this nice crossover between reading sheet music and doing everything by ear.
Try a lesson from The Quest For Groove here.