The answer is that they all feature the ‘Straight Four Snare Rhythm’, a drum beat characterized by having a snare hit on EACH quarter note of a 4/4 bar.
Comparing ‘Straight 4′, ‘4 to the floor’, and ‘half time’ rhythms
The snare’s sharp, attacking sound (aka “staccato”) along with the punch of the kick drum, are often one of the core defining features of a given rhythm. Snare hits can be considered rhythmic anchors that a groove can be built around.
A typical 4/4 drum beat, such as your classic rock beat, or a disco style ‘4 to the floor’ will typically feature two snare hits — usually on the 2 and 4. ‘Half time‘ rhythms will often contain only a single snare on the 3. The snare’s prominent role within the rhythm means that with only half as many snare hits within the bar, it feels as if it’s playing in half time, even if the tempo is technically the same.
The ‘straight four‘ snare rhythm, on the other hand, mimics what the kick drum does in a disco ‘four to the floor beat’, and emphasizes every single down beat of the bar, with snare hits occuring on 1, 2, 3, AND 4.
How to give your music more (or less) energy when you need it.
Now, given this, what is the purpose of having a snare hit on every beat? In what ways does this rhythm feel different from the more typical rhythms you find in modern 4/4 music?
In the same way that decreasing the amount of snare hits in a bar makes a groove feel ‘slower’ and more relaxed with half time beats — increasing the amount of snare hits using straight 4’s increases the energy of the rhythm, giving it a driving momentum that adds tension and excitement to the music.
Straight 4 Snare rhythms are often used as a way to add tension and energy in the moments before a section change in a piece of music. Alternatively, the rhythm might be used to add a sense of contrast, creating a difference between the sections that occur before or after it — listen to our straight 4’s playlist to hear it in action and train your ears.
The straight 4 snare rhythm’s presence as a rhythm played on a drum kit has been around for ages, but in the way that we are talking about today as a musical device in modern songwriting is now closely associated with soul and motown music.
Take ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough‘, for example. At about 1:22 in, the Straight Four rhythm makes an appearance for four bars just before a change of section. It’s a lovely moment that adds a little bit of tension immediately before launching into the next verse
This tendency for the rhythm to appear in soul and motown music isn’t just relegated to music from the 60s – more modern interpretations of the style retain the usage of this rhythm as well – as can be seen in Silk Sonic’s ‘Leave the Door Open.’
This time the rhythm appears in the final iteration of the chorus of the song, occurring about 2:40. Up until this point of the song, the chorus has a more typical rhythm accompanying it, with a snare on the 2 and 4, but for the final chorus, the straight four snare rhythm is played instead, which provides a vitality and energy that wasn’t present before – elevating it to a fitting climax near the conclusion of the song.
But MoTown and soul are not by any means the only places where this rhythm finds a home either – Muse’s ‘Starlight‘ is a great example of the Straight Four rhythm being incorporated into a modern rock context. In Starlight, the rhythm appears during the pre-chorus where it helps creates an evocative build-up towards the Chorus itself. The chorus features a more stripped back instrumentation, with no drums at all, so having a high intensity snare rhythm leading into this section creates an effective contrast, adding to the drama of the piece.
Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna My Way’ is another hit that uses this rhythmic device. This time, a variation of the rhythm that features flams instead of singular snare hits is a key component of the intro of the song. It’s a boisterous and attention grabbing technique that draws focus right out of the gate. It’s a bold and in-your-face moment that provides a perfect jumping off point for a high-energy rock hit.
Learn to play Straight 4 in popular music
The straight four rhythm is a flexible drum technique that can be used over many genres and in many different contexts.
Or keen to explore the fundamental beat? Try Melodics’ essential ‘Motown Rhythms’ course for drums, which covers the must-know Motown grooves from the 60s, 70s & 80s — of course including the iconic straight 4.
One of the core beliefs here at Melodics is that focused, consistent and regular practice — even if it is just 5 minutes a day — is hugely beneficial to your growth as a musician.
We believe that putting aside time for regular practice in small increments is a better approach for gaining lasting skills and knowledge when compared to long, unfocused or infrequent practice sessions. As such, in Melodics we have included mechanics that emphasise aiming for 5 minutes practice per day — and give rewards that celebrate the frequency with which you achieve that 5 minute daily goal.
One of those mechanics that we have used to reward regular practice is Streaks, which tracks how many days in a row a user has reached that 5 minute daily goal in Melodics. This has functioned as a great motivator for a lot of you – seeing that Streak number keep ticking up is a fantastic way to keep you on your practice journey every day.
However – even the most dedicated musicians need days off sometimes!
This is why we are introducing Trophies.
Trophies, like Streaks, reward you for putting in that 5 minutes a day, but instead of starting back at square one when you miss a day, you are rewarded for your cumulative practice efforts.
Every practice session brings you closer to your goals as a musician, so you will receive Trophies for reaching milestones such as 7 days of practice, or 50 days, 100 days, or even more. You will be awarded these Trophies whenever you reach those milestones, whether it takes 100 days or 150. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill – but they didn’t say you had to do those 10,000 hours all in one go!
But for those dedicated Streakers, don’t worry, Streaks aren’t going anywhere.
You can still see your current Streak and your highest ever Streak right there in the progress screen where you have always been able to see it.
The calendar still keeps track of your sessions in Melodics so you can see how regularly you have been practicing. We still encourage trying to practice every day you can, because that’s the quickest way to improve.
However, for those that struggle to make time every day to practice on Melodics, losing a Streak can be a bit of a demotivator, so we want to include something in Melodics that celebrates all of the effort that you are still putting in.
“One night at midnight, I realised that I had forgotten to practice that day. I was so bummed that I didn’t practice for a month! Then I realized that while a streak is amazing, it’s more about putting in the work and enjoying the process. I quickly got back on track again.”
It’s one thing to decide to learn an instrument, it’s another to stick with the process until you’re skilled enough that you can play without thinking. There are plenty of reasons our enthusiasm can start to wane – and sometimes there are very real, practical reasons we put our instruments aside.
Here are some reasons we commonly hear from our users as to why they’re struggling to stay motivated. We’ve faced all of these personally too, so it’s important to feel that you’re not alone in this.
Combating these is the only real barrier to you shooting for the musical stars, staying on your learning journey, and above all having a fun and rewarding experience.
Life can get busy, and it’s easy to feel like learning music is a luxury – which quite often means it’s the first to drop off a person’s to-do list. But even five minutes per day can lead to progress. In fact, frequent chunks of deliberate practice can be more effective than infrequent but lengthy practice sessions.
Daily warm-ups, short exercises, practicing a small loop, or even attempting just the first step in a lesson are easy ways to dip into Melodics for quickfire sessions, regardless of how busy you are. It’s good to remember too that giving your creative self some time to flex can make for better energy and focus when juggling those real-life priorities.
We get it, no one likes the sound of a bum note – and watching those little Melodics icons turn every colour but green can be a defeating feeling! But mistakes are a natural part of learning, no matter how long you’ve been playing or how much of a pro (or newbie) you are.
Continuing to challenge yourself in new ways is essential if you want to keep levelling up. Melodics’ live feedback function makes it easy, by highlighting the small adjustments that will help you hone your game.
Flipping the narrative so that you associate mistakes and challenges with growth – and address them rather than shrink away from them – will free you up to enjoy the learning process and stick with it.
Failure isn’t a thing at Melodics, rather, there’s an opportunity to identify areas to work on with laser-like accuracy, and help you reset and sharpen your approach. Knowing where you mistakes are is a blessing, so, embrace them, and consider them part of discovering a clear path to progress.
There’s no finish line in the learning journey and that’s a great thing.
I don’t know where to start
Self-directed learning can be a daunting process, especially if you’re used to learning from a human teacher. If you’re struggling to find a place to start within Melodics, try one of our courses.
Check out our Courses page, which features clearly themed groups of lessons based around related learning objectives, and focus on things like specific skills, iconic sounds, and basic theory.
Taking it a step further, the Melodics Guided Path provides a curated walkthrough of some of our fundamental courses, ensuring you’ve built a solid foundation for pads, keys or drums for you to be more comfortable exploring by yourself afterwards.
For more tips on getting started with Melodics, have a read of this.
My practice sessions are inefficient and unproductive
Do you find you default to the familiar, and repeat the same activity every time you sit down to practice?
Making a plan beforehand and keeping a progress journal can help to keep you moving forward and maximising the time you have to devote to learning. Write a list of things you’d like to achieve within a certain timeframe, and keep notes about your progress, including any blocks. Spend some time focussing on addressing these – rather than skipping ahead before you’re ready just because it’s more fun in the short term.
If you find you keep getting distracted, make use of your ‘favourite’ button, which you can use to save lessons that appeal to you to a playlist. Come back to them later and you’ll dive in and engage with the task at hand with far less kerfuffle.
I spend too much time getting my environment ‘just right’, and run out of time to actually practice
The obvious answer to this one is to dedicate a spot in your home or office to music, and leave your gear set up just how you like it so that you can dip in for any length of practice time.
But let’s be honest: having a dedicated music-space isn’t possible for everyone!
So we suggest a simple shift of perspective: rather than feeling like you have to be totally in the zone to practice, occasionally allow yourself to think of practice as something to tick off the to-do list, like doing some exercise or having a shower. Sit down, plug in and play for however long you can – even if the room’s a mess, and the lighting isn’t quite right. You might find you end up in your flow state anyway 😉
We’ve designed Melodics so you can easily plug in and play, and we’re always working to remove any barriers (both in- or out-of-app) that might slow our users down – such as growing our ever-expanding list of supported instruments, releasing our app for iPad. Got any suggestions? Share it with us here.
I keep overcomplicating it
It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds when learning music; we get deep in the theory, and intellectualise something that should be feeding and feeding from our creative energy. Don’t get us wrong, theory is important – and learning the ‘rules’ of music can help free you up to play with, or break, them later on.
But if you’re finding your learning journey is getting a bit dry, letting yourself have a good old fashioned muck-around can help bring the joy back.
Make a playlist of tunes you love, and play along to them for the sheer joy of it –and don’t worry whether you’re doing it perfectly. Remember, music is supposed to be fun, and reminds you why you’ve picked up an instrument in the first place. Playing for fun keeps you in the game.
I love performing, but find it hard to motivate myself to practice
It’s easy to get caught up in the enigma of music and forget that, actually, the greatest performers work really hard to make it look easy when they’re on stage. If you take the time to practice you’ll be more confident and relaxed when performing, and your audiences will notice the difference. Sure, it’s way more fun enjoying the fruits of your labour, than doing the labour itself, but Melodics offers a sweet in-between: you get to practice by playing along with tunes you enjoy, and we’re adding new lessons all the time so it never gets boring.
For more on achieving your musical goals, check out this great piece on Habit Hacking.
Being told to practice your scales can seem like the dentist telling you to floss… We think there’s a better way.
Introducing exercises for Melodics, repeatable drills that focus on developing muscle memory and orientation to musical patterns such as modes, scales and intervals. Exercises are a zen-like contrast to our error focussed and feedback driven lesson experience. One that instead rewards patience, taking your time and repetition.
You can’t fail!
Exercises are rep based, and help you to focus on what’s right – not what you’re getting wrong. There’s no scoring and zero focus on errors. It’s all about positive reinforcement through rep based practice.
Play at your own pace with full control over the tempo and speed of your practice. Start it slow to learn the correct fingering and get comfortable. Then speed it up to see how fast you can play. Just hit those reps!
Built into courses
Exercises are built into courses, and develop your muscle memory and familiarity with scales, modes and intervals used in the lessons you’ll be trying to pass. Discover the underlying musical concepts of songs and lessons through playable exercises.
The idea is to keep practicing the exercise until you feel confident and ready for the next lesson in the course. The best way to get past those progress plateaus!
Learn the theory behind what you’re playing
Exercises also relate to the wider world of written music. You may notice that the design hints at the bass and treble clef of piano sheet music. This is designed to sub-consciously develop your spatial recognition of key interval structures and make it easier for you to transfer your learning between different contexts.
Full control over the tempo and speed. You can play at your own pace with no accompaniment, the metronome or a choice of different backing drum tracks.
Orientation with no rush. Get the fingering right and get comfortable.
Exercises dig deeper into the wider world of music education through a recognisable piano sheet music like display.
Rep based, not error focussed. See how many reps you’ve done, and how many you need to do to move on to your next lesson.
You might want to set aside more practice time this week. We’ve made some improvements to courses, and there’s loads of fresh material to fuel your next session. From courses on learning ornamentation and arpeggios for keyboard, to new drums courses on sub-divisions and finding the funk – there’s plenty to dig into!
We’ve updated the learning screen in Melodics, and you’ll now see that courses look a little different. We’ve had plenty of feedback since we’ve released Melodics and we know that these updates will make your practice sessions much smoother.
Check out these new courses you might have missed
Building Arpeggios – In today’s musical landscape, it’s pretty hard to listen to anything without coming across arpeggios. Whether you’re into funk, classical music, or witch house, arpeggios serve as a key part of arranging, producing, and composing. Arpeggios are a crucial technique for arranging, producing, and composing. But what are they exactly, and how can you play them?
Ornaments – In performing, ornamentation can help you add detail, expression, and new layers of creativity to your melodic structures. In this course, we’ll be taking a look at ornaments, and not the kind you see around the holidays! We’ll practice adding ornamentation so that you’ll feel comfortable trying it out in your own music!
Subdivisons by Push4Life – Push4Life presents ‘Subdivisions’, a series of lessons that focus on performing changes in subdivisions from 8th notes right through to 16th note triplets. Explore how changes in subdivision can create dramatic, engaging arrangements.
Ain’t it Funky – Expand on a basic Funk beat with a series of variations in the style of Clyde Stubblefield. The variations will focus on kick, snare, open hi-hat placements and tom fills. Structure what you’ve learned into a song format to complete the course.
And if you’re interested to know what’s on the release radar. Here’s a sneak peak at some forthcoming courses!
Music Theory – Explore and demystify some of the fundamental concepts and terminology of music theory through play.
Hand Independence – Develop your ability to perform with both hands at the same time through these simple exercises and challenging lessons.
Extending Arpeggios – Develop your performance and understanding of arpeggios across a further range of musical styles.
Ultimate Arpeggios – Challenge yourself with this collection of more advanced arpeggio lessons.
Cinematic Chords – Chords can help shape emotion and feelings for an audience. Learn how to perform basic chord structures that achieve this in film scores.
On the Go – Why wait to create? Explore how you can perform music with extreme limitations. These lessons are all playable with just your computer keyboard.
We checked in with producer Mark de Clive-Lowe to get the info on his new course.
How would you describe your new course Bassline Bootcamp?
I’ve made a range of bassline examples over different style and tempo beats. They all look at applying different ideas to take you from a simple single note vibe to bringing in fills and embellishments that you can apply in your own creations. Basslines are little melodies themselves so it’s a great way to learn multiple skills at the same time.
How would you recommend Melodics users approach your course to get the most out of it?
Some of the lessons have challenging aspects so I’d definitely recommend using the practice mode to loop up those bars or sections that are harder and slowing them down. Slowing down whatever you’re practicing is the magic trick to mastering something – it might not seem as fun, but it’s definitely the tried and true method.
What will Melodics users be able to do after finishing this course? How will it help in regards to their overall music production?
If you go deep and really nail it as well as taking note of the associated information – like what key something is in and what technique it’s applying – you should be able to build basslines around any chord progression, create fills and make alternate versions of your main idea.
Are there any other comments or things you want users to know about this course and the new Melodics lessons?
Practice makes perfect!
To try Mark’s course in the Melodics App simply download and head to courses in the LEARNING tab.
Music and rhythm have taken Eshan Khadaroo a.k.a Push4Life on an amazing journey over the past few decades. Transfixed by drums and self-expression at a young age, Eshan has made a career out of his passion. This has seen him tour the world as a professional drummer and more recently become an educator for the next generation. In this week’s interview we explore how he has made this progression as well as discuss his brand new course on Melodics “The Road To Rhythmic Mastery”.
Please explain how a Bruce Lee video inspired you to become a drummer?
Before I ever started drumming Bruce Lee was my biggest inspiration. Towards the end of this scene below, Bruce uses two fairly large sticks to defend himself. When I was 11 and my mother asked me what instrument I would like to learn, I said drums, not so much because I wanted to learn the instrument but rather because I thought I would be able to do what Bruce Lee did. It was only in my late 20’s that I saw his infamous interview where he talks about expressing oneself authentically as a human being that I realised that it was this message that resonated so deeply within me and I then went on to study his ideas and how they related to expression through drums and ultimately through music.
You said in a previous interview you moved to London at 18 years of age to kickstart your music career. When did you make the decision to pursue music professionally? How long was it until you got established?
I decided I wanted to be a professional musician around 8 years of age whilst still learning the piano. Chopin was my musical hero and I planned on being a classical pianist. But I moved to Germany when I was 10 so I had to stop piano lessons. By the time I could speak the language well enough to start back up with music lessons, the drums seemed way cooler for the above-mentioned reasons. Once I moved to London at age 18 it took me about 4 years to establish myself professionally and get booked for studio sessions and live tours.
Your career has had many highlights which include drumming for Cirque Du Soleil. Tell us about this experience. How did it come about? Do you have any crazy stories from touring?
From 2006 to 2008 I performed with Blue Man Group. As my time with them was coming to an end I just decided to surf around online to see if there were any interesting opportunities out there and stumbled upon Cirque Du Soleils casting website. I decided to send them an email regarding a position that was opening up for their show Kooza in 2009. They got back to me within days and had me do an online audition where I had to record videos of myself performing to a number of their songs from different shows. Within a few months of this process I was signed up to do their North American leg of the tour. The most exciting part of this tour was spending 10 weeks performing on the beach in our big top next to the Santa Monica Pier. At almost every show there were celebrities checking out the performance including the likes of Steven Spielberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Neil Patrick Harris to name a few. My favourite moment though was getting to hang out with one of my biggest drumming idols, Tools drummer Danny Carey.
You had a setback with your health that prevented you from continuing as a touring musician. Are you able to explain how this experience lead you to wanting to become an educator for the next generation?
I had already decided before going on the road with Cirque Du Soleil that this was to be my last major tour and that after that I was going to focus on education. I was very lucky throughout my career to to have had some great mentors in Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick and Guy Sigsworth – both major producers and unbelievable musicians. And they had always been so generous to me in helping not only in my career but also in deepening my understanding of music. It was my wish to “pay it forward” and do my part in helping the next generation fall in love with music. When I got seriously ill towards the end of the Cirque Du Soleil tour I felt all the more compelled to act on this desire to share what I had learned sooner rather than later – a brush with the grim reaper tends to have that kind of effect on you!
You had a Youtube video that went viral which is titled ‘Top 5 things every Push 2 user should know’. What inspired this video? Were you surprised by how well it was received?
I had only had my Push 2 for a few months when a good friend of mine in England also bought one. She was having a lot of difficulty understanding how to use it. As I live in Germany and couldn’t just pop over to her house I decided to record a video with her in mind to show her how simple it really was. I decided to make it for the general public too and so uploaded it to youtube and just sent her a link. To be honest I still can’t believe how many people have not only seen it and benefited from it but also the positive feedback has been nothing short of overwhelming.
Did this successful video get the wheels in motion for your Push4Life project? What were your next moves after you released there was interest?
At the time that I released this particular video I was focused on putting together drum related content. But the immediate popularity of this PUSH 2 video really inspired me to drop everything else and focus on creating more PUSH videos for my growing audience. The next big video that I put out that I am still very proud of is “10 Practical Ideas to Take Your PUSH Skills to the Next Level” which really is all about how I see making music and how thankful we should be for technology like the Ableton PUSH 2. And at the beginning you can also see how things come full circle again when I talk about expressing yourself as inspired by Bruce Lee. Shortly after that I also started releasing PREMIUM Ableton Push 2 content for people who want to dive deeper into the PUSH experience. The feedback has been awesome so far!
How would you describe your new course ‘The Road To Rhythmic Mastery’?
This course was conceived specifically for people who want to go from playing beats with one finger at a time to playing more complex patterns where you use both hands independently. The exercises were inspired by one of the great drumming educators – Gary Chaffee – but with my own twist to them. Most modern music is based on what is know as the 16th note grid and when you make modern day beats most of the time you are working within this grid. Believe it or not though, there are only 15 patterns you need to master in order to play anything within this 16th note grid. These 15 patterns form what I like to think of as a rhythmic alphabet and I take you through each of these patterns one by one in lessons 1 through 15.
How would you recommend Melodics users approach this course to get the most out of it?
To really benefit from this course, you need to work through all of the lessons – specifically lessons 1 through 15. Ultimately you want to be able to get at least 3 stars on all lessons (100% would be even better). The best way to do this is to slow the exercise down in PRACTICE MODE until you can play it as precisely as possible. Precision is key and that is really where Melodics excels at helping you in my opinion. Once you can play a given exercise precisely at a slow speed, then you can start upping the speed 5 bpm at a time using auto bpm until you hit the target speed of the exercise. Every 16th note pattern is equally important to master. Just like when you learn to count to 10, each number is equally important to understand and if you miss one out there will be a significant hole in your understanding. It is the same with each of these 16th note patterns. You will only ever be as strong as your weakest link and if you want to be really great, you will need to master all 15. The most important exercise of the whole course though is exercise 16 where you have to play each exercise for a bar consecutively. Once you have mastered this exercise you can rest assured that you have a very solid foundation to work with.
Talk about the background of making this course? How much time has gone into it? What was your process to creating it?
I made a similar course for my drum students back in 2012 when I set up my teaching studios here in Germany. I started working on the Melodics version of this course in January 2017 after meeting the Melodics team on my trip to New Zealand. The bulk of the work was done in the last 3 months where I had been working on both production and post-production. It’s been a lot of work and a challenge to do all of the jobs including video editing and sound engineering but at the end of the day it was a lot of fun because I am doing something I love and to know that it will be online for a global audience is a real privilege.
What will Melodics users be able to do after finishing this course? How will it help in regards to their finger drumming and overall music production?
If Melodics users put in the time and effort to not only get through the levels but to master them (3 stars to 100%) they will have a solid foundation for playing the bulk of beats in modern styles of popular music, from Hip Hop to Rock, from Pop to R&B. And above all it will give them confidence in themselves to know that they have what it takes to take their finger drumming to the next level. And as far as music production is concerned it will show them the basic building blocks out of which most beats are put together and hopefully inspire them to create beats they weren’t even aware that they could do.
Are there any other comments or things you want users to know about this course and the new Melodics lessons?
As with all things, if you really want to learn something properly it requires discipline, concentration and above all patience. This course is no different. But I guarantee that if Melodics users put in the necessary work, they will greatly benefit from these exercises. And best of all they can then take advantage of the more intermediate and advanced levels Melodics has to offer that may have been to complex beforehand.
Have you played your lessons much in Melodics yet? How have you got on?
I have played them all multiple times and it even took me a while to get 100% on all of the lessons. It just takes a microsecond of your mind drifting and before you know it you have missed a beat enough for it to be too early or too late and then you have to start all over again. But I am a person who loves a good challenge and I didn’t give up until every single lesson was played at 100% as you can see in all of the video tutorials on youtube.
What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you? Any big plans or other projects?
I have been working on various online courses solidly for the past 13 months and definitely need a break. But a break in my world just means working on fun projects. I have recently discovered modular synthesis and Reaktor Blocks so I am going to use my free time to dive into that rabbit hole. The final major project I hope to get off the ground in 2017 though is to start my own podcast and get a handful of episodes out by the end of the year. So watch this space…!
In early March Stro Elliot was kind enough to come into Melodics HQ while on tour down under. In just one afternoon Stro created a new Melodics lesson from scratch named ‘Eggs on Toast’ and even spared some time to do an interview with us. The conversation was full of amazing insights as Stro delved into his life as a musician and his unique approach to music production.
Tell us the story of how listening to Pete Rock growing up turned you into a finger drummer by accident?
When I started making and listening to beats I assumed that producers played all their drums at once. I thought this particularly when listening to how Pete Rock’s music sounded. He had such a loose feel, it sounded like a drummer was playing the drums even though I knew they were samples. So I’m listening to what he is doing and I’m assuming that he sat there and played through the whole track. Like a drummer would on a drum kit but on pads. So I taught myself how to play drums on pads. This is the way that many people see me play drums on pads now during my live shows. I later saw a video of him (Pete Rock) in the studio and watched him program drums one finger at a time, one sound at a time. I then realised how he really did it and was like ‘you have got to be kidding me’.
Fast forward to a show I had the honour of doing with him about a month or two ago. When I met him we did the set and he watched me perform and he said “yo that is really bugged out the way you play the drums with your fingers”. I then told him the story. He said “oh that is really crazy, but now you have this great tool that is in your favour and you can use”. So all in all it was a headache in the beginning but at the end of the day I guess it was all worth it.
That is pretty incredible how you went from listening to Pete Rock to performing with him. Who are some other heroes of yours, that you have had the honour of working with?
I was in a hip hop group called The Procussions and we had a chance to open for a lot of our heroes. A Tribe Called Quest being one of them as well as Redman, Methodman, De la Soul, The Roots. We almost checked off everyone in terms of people we wanted to open for. In the last year or two I have had the honour of getting to meet these people and have spent a considerable amount of time with them. Working with The Roots in the studio for a week and Electric Lady out in New York. Meeting the guys from De La Soul, Jazzy Jeff and a few others. It has been a real blessing to be able to collaborate and pick the brains of some of my heroes.
Has spending time with your heroes become a new normal for you?
I don’t know if it is normal. I tell my friends that I have known for years, that there are these moments when you are around people who you revere and you forget that they are super heroes. I have a couple friends at home, that I will spend time with. We’ll hang out, watch sports, go out to eat and it’s not until I’m in the studio with them or a show, that I remember that oh yeah this guy is Superman. I’ve been hanging around Clark Kent all day, but I forget that he can fly and can see through walls.
Do you think that learning to play live gives you a better understanding of how to make beats than sequencing?
I don’t know if it gives me more of an understanding than it does inspiration and ideas. The same way a live band will improvise a song they play a million times live, I will do the same when performing in a live set. You know I may have created some piece of music, but when I’m performing it, I might get a different idea. Like this would have been cool if I did this in the original recording. So it gives me ideas if I want to go back and change some things if I haven’t released the track, or provide ideas of things I can apply the the next time I make something with a similar feel. So whether it be a little fill in here or a little switch up there, I can now apply this to the track I’m making. That way I think it’s more about being inspired and motivated to expand on what I’ve already done.
So through playing live you are able to generate a catalogue of ideas in your mind faster that can be applied to future tracks?
How does finger drumming affect your workflow in the studio?
For me it definitely enables me to get the idea out faster. You don’t have to stop every four bars or every eight bars. You can kind of just do what I call have a ‘jam session with yourself’. I will play around and be like okay that’s a cool sequence or chord structure, lets add a bass line to it, then I will just have a jam to it (on the pads), until something feels right or good over that track. Otherwise it would take me longer as I would have to sit there with a kick, a snare, a hi hat and if I do not like it I would have to repeat that process. As opposed to being able to play to it, until something feels good.
When I watched you ‘jam with yourself’ I saw the Ableton Session had three minutes worth of MIDI from you playing drums. From there is it a matter of going through what you played and taking the best four to eight bars?
Yeah exactly that. I will find a section that fits. Sometimes it will not be exact but it will be close. Then it will a matter of me replaying it or physically drawing or shifting things around until it feels the way I want it to feel. Technology.
I read in a past interview that you know how to play piano, guitar, trumpet & drums. Is that true?
The first instrument I was actually taught to play was the trumpet. Which was in middle school. This was because it was less noisy than drums for my parents. However my parents probably regretted that as trumpet is not very quiet either. I played it for 4-5 years. My father being in the military meant we moved to Germany for a while. Due to moving around a lot I did not have all my papers at the school. So they had no record of the instruments I played previously. So when the teacher asked me what I played I said ‘drums’. I figured this would be my chance to finally play the drums. By the time he figured out that I played trumpet he gave me the choice between drums or trumpet. At first I chose trumpet but eventually went back to drumming after more of the other students left. After this my mother bought me a keyboard when I was 16. I was self taught with that instrument. I learned primarily through first learning a few chords and then learning by ear. I liked Jazz Fusion stuff and early soul, from their I would analyse the songs I liked and pick apart the chords that I wanted to play. The guitar I was given by Granddad at around the same time. I spent a summer with him in the Midwest and found his guitar in the basement, he never used it but said it was a gift from a friend. I kept picking away at it, but it only had three strings. So to this day, what I know on Guitar is very basic. But I feel like I can thumb around on the guitar enough to get the idea out if needed. As a kid that was what I was into, I just wanted to get my hands on anything that made noise. Anything music related.
What influenced your passion for music at a young age? Was it a certain moment or person?
There was just something about music. I come from a family that is not musical. No one in my family played anything or sang. There are members of my family who are tone deaf, and can’t dance. So I was definitely the odd ball that came out of nowhere. However my parents knew I liked music and continued to play music as I grew up. But it was probably not until I was much older that they realised how serious I was about it. I’ve always felt like, without getting too deep that there must be a God because there is no reason for me to have this strong a desire to make music without anyone in my family playing music. I’ve always found this interesting as most of the musicians I’ve met come from pretty musical backgrounds, either their parents played or had a group friends they came up with that played.
So you have a big interest in music, you are learning a lot of different instruments. What happens next?
Because I was such an introvert as a kid, my parents and family did not recognise my passion for music until a lot later. I didn’t share it with anyone. They knew I liked it and would ask them for instruments, however they didn’t initially realise it was something that I would want to turn into a career. It was not until high school that I got active about it and found other people to play with and started doing things in talent shows. Those opportunities came from people I met at school or summer jobs. We would get together and jam, which kind of set a trend for me to find people that were artistic or created music and try to create a vibe from that standpoint.
So how long was it until you went from playing music at high school to touring with The Procussions?
It did take a minute. It was about three years until I met the initial members of Procussions. We had met before that but it was more of a hobby. They knew I messed around but it was not something we started to take serious until about 98/99. We came up with the name and started doing shows together and that has snowballed into a career.
And you have been on that trajectory since?
Absolutely that has been my whole life every since. I have never really had a Plan B for myself. Much to the worry of my mother. She is very happy and proud of what I am doing now but there was a period where her and my father did worry. No one wants to have the Bohemian kid that bounces from couch to couch and any doesn’t have any sure income and that whole scenario. But I think for myself knowing that I had no Plan B, forced me to find a way to make it work. This was the reason why I connected so much with another member of the group (The Procussions) Mr Jay, who is doing the same thing now and has many different outlets. I think we were the two people in the group that did not plan for anything else. This made me take things more serious and be grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.
Did you ever doubt?
Yeah. There was a time I had really huge hair, soul patch hanging from my chin. After the group disbanded initially I was down and out. I cut my hair and got a real 9 to 5 for a minute. I worked for GUESS Jeans in Los Angeles. It was more or less a customer service type role, I answered phones and helped people with their orders. However the odd thing was I got fired during my training. I was like “who gets fired during their training. I’m learning to do the job and how could you get fired for learning”. But afterwards I had a very interesting conversation with my brother, I remember ranting and raving “I can’t believe they fired me. Here I am trying to do the right thing, trying to get my life together, getting a legitimate job, cut my hair and this happens”. Interestingly my brother was actually really mad at me he said “I don’t feel like that is what you are put here for, this is not was your calling. Everyone else can get 9 to 5’s but you are made for something more than that. So whether that means you got to work harder on the music thing or create a different circle of people around you. There needs to be something more you can do.” It turns out he was right.
Did you switch up your approach after this?
I did. It happened slowly. But the way I did it was treat my passion for music as a 9-5 job if you will. Making sure there was a certain level of productivity everyday, whether it turned into something or not. I went through the motions of making music and hitting certain targets. In relation to finding the right people, that happened more organically. I decided to go out in LA more, meeting more musicians and participating in different circles. The Procussions would eventually start working again and put out another album, but even in with that happening I would continue to be a working musician and connect with other like minded people as much as possible. They say a lot of the time in the industry that ‘who you know’ is more valuable than how talented you are, and I would say that has served me well. I’ve got a lot of opportunities based on my relationships with people and that is something I continue to do. I feel like I continue to create these opportunities to meet people who are influential but also just good people. So we can hang out outside of music as well.
What would you say to someone who has been inspired by your videos, bought a controller and are just starting?
I would be honest and tell him that the biggest thing in music for me was being a really big listener. I was nerdy in the essence I would read every line and note, I would watch people. Now days that is a lot easier than it was back in the day. There are a lot more resources with Youtube at people’s disposal to do this. So I would probably start there. Watch the people who are doing what it is that inspires you. But it is important to start from the standpoint of listening. Because as much as I would be honoured that someone would like to make music like me, it is also much more important that people develop their own style and sound. Just as I was influenced by someone and took it to a different place, I would hope this person starting out would do the same.
Today you made your first Melodics lesson. I was privileged enough to watch you make it from scratch. Can you tell us about the lesson and give some pointers on how to play the lesson?
Well it was good that I was given guidance on the tempo. Because I often feel I would struggle to be a teacher. I tend to start at Level 5 without releasing I need to teach Level 1-4 first. Initially I was like I would make something in odd meter time and just go nuts. But being given the number of 100 BPM was helpful as it gave me a vibe to start. While working through it chord wise I knew I wanted to make something that was simple to follow, but still felt good and that allowed me to be open with the drums and the way they are played. I knew going into it that if I made something a bit too muddled up, a lot can be lost in translation about what is going on with the drums and the rest of the music. With that said the overall process centered around making something in my own style that was simple but still interesting for people to play.
Could you give a brief description of the way that you layout your drums on the pads?
Well it is interesting in this particular lesson you get to see where I came from and where I am at now. In the live video you will see I have a lot tighter set up, with everything bunched together. Which came from the fact that I used to use the MPD pads from Akai that only had 16 pads. The pads were much bigger so it did not feel as tight. So with the initial part of the video the pads are arranged in this much tighter set. You know you have the kick right next to the snare, hi hat next to the snare, a clap above that and maybe what I call a snare ghost note under the snare. Now what I have found is that I have been able to open up my set up. On my live kit, you will see that I have the hi-hats on the outside of the pads. The kicks and snares are all below that as well as the toms and the cymbals and all the other bells and whistles on top. It kind of mimics the way I play the drum kit, you know having things in a open flow, even though it is me using two limbs instead of four. I like being comfortable and having a flow of feeling like I can go anywhere from the hi hat standpoint. So my set up being hi hats on the outside, kicks and snares below allows me to sort of have a natural flow with my two fingers.
Do your finger drumming skills help with other instruments when you are producing tracks in the studio?
I had an instance about a week ago. Where I was helping a friend of mine by laying down some guitar. I noticed that I did feel a little bit looser, than the previous times I had played on guitar. I remember there were a couple licks, where I was like that’s surprising, I couldn’t do that before. So maybe unconsciously there could be a benefit to me utilising my fingers more through playing with the pads. This could be potentially opening up the way I play keys as well as guitar. So there may be a connection there.
What does the rest of 2017 have install for you?
I hope there’s more music ahead in terms of creating it and playing it live. As of now that seems to be the case. I have always liked travelling and there’s already plans for more shows stateside and potentially overseas, so I am really excited to be doing that. Hopefully I will be releasing a new project by the end of 2017 as well which would be cool.
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