Topic: “Top-Heavy” Playing  (Read 5297 times)

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Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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“Top-Heavy” Playing
« on: July 10, 2008, 01:46 PM »
Something Steve Smith (my namesake) discusses on his Drumset Technique: History Of The US Beat DVD has been rattling around my head as of late.  Steve mentions how he used to direct a disproportionate amount of mental and physical energy into his right arm and as a result play too hard on the hi-hats and ride cymbal.  He later learned to focus his energy on the kick and snare and, as a result, play lighter on the hi-hat and ride cymbal. He rightly points out that the kick and snare should be the foundation, not the ride or hats. I’m really working on incorporating Steve’s advice.  My energies have been too focused on my “leading limb” (my right arm) to the detriment of the kick-snare foundation.


Online Bart Elliott

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2008, 01:54 PM »
This is true of Rock/Pop drumming ... the Kick/Snare are the foundation of the groove ... that's the voices that may you want to dance. This would not necessarily be true for most Jazz oriented music genres.

I think the key is listening to the groove and feel of what you are playing. Balancing the voices in the drumkit to create the composition that you need or want.

You, the drummer, are the conductor ... the drumkit is the choir/orchestra. You've got to direct each voice/instrument to perform their parts at the levels they need to be at in order to provide the perfect mix. For the drummer in a Pop/Rock genre, the Kick/Snare are typically providing the melody (if you will) ... so the other voices/instruments in the drumset need to accompany and support the melody ...  not overshadow it.

I like Steve's approach by the way; I was just giving my philosophy which is saying the same thing but in a different way.

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2008, 02:02 PM »
Thanks for expanding on the topic!

Yes, I believe Steve was disussing this in the context of pop/rock drumming.  That's an important point. It seems to me that in jazz drumming, the ride cymbal is the foundation.

Also, it occurs to me that some of my endurance problems may spring from my overemphasis on the ride/hi-hat limb.  Of course, the fact that I'm an old man playing fast punk rock might have something to do with it as well!  :D

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2008, 02:26 PM »
Yes, I believe Steve was disussing this in the context of pop/rock drumming.  That's an important point. It seems to me that in jazz drumming, the ride cymbal is the foundation.

I get what you are saying, but I don't think I would word it like that. Jazz drumming is more than just cymbals (I.e. Ride/HiHat), which I'm sure you are fully aware.

For clarification purposes, for those that may not be as familiar with Jazz, I would prefer to say that Jazz drumming tends to start from the top (I.e. cymbals) and work its way down (I.e. Kick/Snare). Rock drumming tends to start at the bottom (I.e. Kick/Snare) and work its way up (I.e. Ride/HiHat). There's no hard/fast rules to this, but it is common and a general approach taken with each of these music genres.

Rock/Pop time keeping that lacks the Kick/Snare foundation sounds weak. Jazz time keeping that over emphasizes the Kick/Snare over everything else sounds bombastic (over the top). I think a good rule of thumb is to understand these two approaches to these two very different music genres, then go from there. You can do whatever you want based on what the song/music calls for ... as long as you understand the aural perception is very different depending on who gets the "melody" of your groove.

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2008, 02:34 PM »
Makes sense to me.  :)

Offline Jim R.

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2008, 04:10 PM »
I think I've always been a top/down player and have had to focus on my bottom end more to make it more of a foundation, rather than my hands. I used to notice how when doing fills or going into solos, some drummers always start pounding the BD during the fill or solo, like its their foundation to build on, or its the only way they can play. I never would do that and rarely do it now. It's powerful to do that and can sound great, but I think for some drummers it stems from a self taught approach.

Also, I agree with Bart, and I remember something Carmine Appice said at a recent clinic, Bart you may remember. He said nowadays he rarely plays straight right hand ride over his BD/SD beats. He's always mixing it up with different pattersn, while keeping the strong foundation going. Nothing new, but it was cool and more musical.
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Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2008, 04:49 PM »
As Bart says, it's about two slightly different approaches to the kit.
The top way derives from jazz, but can still be heard in other forms of music, sometimes funk, even early pop/rock (Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker).
The bottom heavy approach kind of came out of the evolution of rock and really made it big when John Bonham came along.
The latter technique focuses on groove, especially between the bass drum and snare. The hi-hat and cymbals tend to be time keepers.
The top kit way, is fluid, with an emphasis on creativity between the snare, hi-hat and cymbals. the bass drum is either used as an accent or gently 'feathers' time in quarter notes.
Drummers tend not to be good at both, although some are.
Even though we often say 'there are no rules', it can sound quite inappropriate to play a pop song with a lot of improvisation between the snare and ride, and virtually no audible bass drum. Likewise, jazz doesn't sound quite right with a heavy bass drum and a steady backbeat.

Offline Tim van de Ven

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2008, 04:57 PM »
A great example of mixing "heavy top" with "heavy bottom" (which sounds like I'm about to go off on a tnagent about hi-hats, doesn't it?) would be "Fool in the Rain" or "Rosanna". The shuffling, triplet-feel top over a heavy bass drum, complete with solid snare hits are great examples of "musically busy" drumming in a rock context.

Actually, Steve Smith also used to do some interesting stuff with Journey sa well; incorporating quarter notes on the ride cymbal bell whilst playing eight notes on the hats (with his left hand) in "Don't Stop Believin' " along with well placed tom hits. 

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2008, 05:21 PM »
This is all excellent info and insight.  And while I think we’re all talking about the same thing, I think Steve Smith was really emphasizing purely volume/force issues – not so much what parts of the kit you chose to emphasize (e.g., cymbals and toms vs. kick and snare).  For example, when playing a basic rock beat on kick, hi-hat, and snare, Steve emphasized that your mental/physical focus should be primarily on the kick and snare and the eighths on the hi-hat should be subordinate to that kick/snare foundation – rather than the kick and snare being “pulled along” by your laser-like physical/mental focus on the eighth-note hi-hat sticking. 

In other words, as I interpreted it, it was more of a internal drumkit dynamics issue than a stylistic issue.

But maybe that's what you guys are talking about too --- with some extra spice! :D

Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2008, 05:40 PM »
Yes, it comes with the territory.
Learning drummers tend to hammer away with their strongest limb.
It rarely becomes an issue for them until they start to record.
laying off the brighter. harsh sounds (hi-hat and cymbal) and laying into the darker lower sounds (bass drum and toms) makes for a nicer sounding, professional drum performance on tape (so to speak).
As we've said, the focus of rock and pop is often the lower pitched sounds (a foundation).
They are harder to get to speak. If a drummer is pounding the top of the kit, it becomes impossible for the lower part of the kit to balance properly, even if the recording engineer has used a lot of mics.
In jazz, it still pays not to pound the cymbals out of balance with the rest of the kit.
Drummers should ideally internally balance, and this comes with experience.
So it's a combo of two things.
Not over playing the cymbals in any genre, and emphasising the foundation sounds (bass drum and snare) in rock and pop.

Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2008, 05:44 PM »
For recording in the rock/pop genre I typically balance my playing thusly (out of 100):
90 = bass drum
85 = toms
75 = snare
50 = hi-hat
40 = crashes
35 = ride

As my dynamics go up and down, the relationship between the individual elements stays the same.

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2008, 05:48 PM »
Learning drummers tend to hammer away with their strongest limb.

That, in a nutshell, is what I believe Steve Smith was saying.  My problem is I hung on to that definciency too long.  There's one huge reason for getting with a teacher.  

Hmmmm, I think I have an idea for another topic.

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2008, 06:28 PM »
For recording in the rock/pop genre I typically balance my playing thusly (out of 100):
90 = bass drum
85 = toms
75 = snare
50 = hi-hat
40 = crashes
35 = ride

As my dynamics go up and down, the relationship between the individual elements stays the same.

Chris: Are you a cyborg?   ;D

Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2008, 07:19 PM »
Ha, ha.
No, it's not an exact thing, but making a numerical chart gives others a rough idea what I aim for.

Offline Tim van de Ven

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2008, 10:11 PM »
If you find that your strong limb is causing your hi hat and ride to dominate your sounds, try playing left hand lead (for right handed drummers). It might feel very odd at first, but it makes you think differently.

Offline David Crigger

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #15 on: July 11, 2008, 12:31 AM »
Tim - I think the strong limb thing is only part of it. The fact that most of us internally use the HH - Ride part (at least at first) as a sort of "common denominator" type glue that the rest of the pattern is played against gives the part more importance in our head than it serves musically.

And while with some grooves (I'm still talking pop/rock here) that "glue" may be an essential part, it is rarely, if ever, the most important part. And never as important as it is for us. To run with the glue analogy, a piece of furniture, the glue may hold it together, but still really want to mainly see the wood of piece.

Add to this the reality of how much cymbals and hats can acoustically cut and how un-obvious that can be from behind the kit. And it is real easy for the less experienced player to be quite unaware that their balance is as out of whack as it may be.

A little recording experience can help with this - as cymbals and hats seem to cut through on mic even more than they do acoustically - so the problem of overplaying them can be pretty obvious.

BTW I love Chris' chart - because it is not so much that you are looking to perceive the kick being nearly twice as loud as the hats, but rather for them to come out musically equal or balanced that's how much more energy you need to put into the BD.

It's about how they speak and the fact they don't speak equally. To get the toms to speak through the music the same as the snare, you have play them harder (or play the snare softer) relatively. Because the toms just don't cut through like the snare does.

Great chart, Chris.

dc

Offline eardrum

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #16 on: July 11, 2008, 01:33 AM »
For recording in the rock/pop genre I typically balance my playing thusly (out of 100):
90 = bass drum
85 = toms
75 = snare
50 = hi-hat
40 = crashes
35 = ride

As my dynamics go up and down, the relationship between the individual elements stays the same.

.............
Add to this the reality of how much cymbals and hats can acoustically cut and how un-obvious that can be from behind the kit. And it is real easy for the less experienced player to be quite unaware that their balance is as out of whack as it may be.

A little recording experience can help with this - as cymbals and hats seem to cut through on mic even more than they do acoustically - so the problem of overplaying them can be pretty obvious.
.................................

OK, what would you guys recommend for developing a better balanced sound for those of us that don't get to record much and don't have producers with trained ears listening and providing feedback.  I've been disappointed several times at our live recordings (not professionally done) where the hihat cuts through everything at the 100% level and the bass or toms are around 10%.  I can't tell if this is my playing or simply a function of the recording setup (typically drums are not mic'd in my case).  Do I simply believe the recording and adjust?

Offline David Crigger

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #17 on: July 11, 2008, 02:17 AM »
OK, what would you guys recommend for developing a better balanced sound for those of us that don't get to record much and don't have producers with trained ears listening and providing feedback.  I've been disappointed several times at our live recordings (not professionally done) where the hihat cuts through everything at the 100% level and the bass or toms are around 10%.  I can't tell if this is my playing or simply a function of the recording setup (typically drums are not mic'd in my case).  Do I simply believe the recording and adjust?

Probably.

Well that was the short response. And not one meaning to be flippant. It is just so common and has probably been a struggle for all of us. For me, it is something I fight to keep myself constantly aware of.

And sure it is would be more of a problem on a less than pro live recording than on one with engineer doing all they can to make it better as well. But you know the funny thinig here - engineers have a 10th of the power that we have to make this better. Because almost everything they can do to make it better comes with compromises that diminishes something else. While if the drummer does it - voila! Stick up a couple of mics and there's the sound.

There's nothing better in recording that having it "right" at the source.

As for who to turn to for advice - really the same places I've turned to. Other players, the less than pro recordings, etc - all the sources you have now. Because honestly the whole producer thing isn't much of a providing feedback sort of relationship in this regard.

And rightfully so, as this balance thing isn't something your just going to adjust overnight, or "on the fly" at a session.  It really does take a while to work and really does affect your (or least it does mine) perception of the groove, etc.

All I can suggest is play with it and see what reaction you get.

David

Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #18 on: July 11, 2008, 03:27 AM »
OK, as david obviously understood, but I didn't make clear, my chart is not about the volume you hear, it's about the effort I put in. So I play my bass drum nearly twice as hard as the hi-hats, but they should end up sounding about right together for the reasons DC went on to explain.  ;)

Just to add something of my own to David's excellent answers.
I've taught myself to hear the kit a certain way.
So for example I try to focus my ears on the bass drum and snare, and dial out the hi-hat and cymbals a bit. I know they are going to cut through, and I also know the bass drum is going to struggle to be heard.
Therefore, in most acoustic environments I can't help but hear the snare loud, it's right below my head, but I try to bring the bass drum up to that level (by playing it quite hard and the snare less so). If the hi-hats blend in there somewhere, I know I'm doing something right. If they sound loud in my ears compared to the snare, I know I'm over playing them.
As David said, it's a continuous battle. I get over excited and start overplaying the metalwork at times.
Also, knowing about all this, I've purposely chosen quiet cymbals.
In my case, current K Zildjians for the most part.
Thinner and older cymbals will usually work, and all the major makers offer darker, quieter cymbals. IMO, only the weakest of players need a 'rock' crash, or 'projection' crash. I avoid them myself.
The biggest thing I took away from my last drum teacher (1979) was staying relaxed.
You need to learn what it feels like in yourself to play loud drums, but remain relaxed.
Once you know how that feels, you can recognise any tension that sneaks in.
If you aren't relaxed, your playing will sound stiff and you'll often overplay with your strongest hand, which is usually hitting the hi-hats or ride.
So, if you take all that on board you'll be golden.
 ;D



Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #19 on: July 11, 2008, 11:01 AM »
IMO, only the weakest of players need a 'rock' crash, or 'projection' crash. I avoid them myself.

That's a very interesting point, and so contrary to the perception (and practice) of heavy crashes as the preference of the hard rock, muscular players.  What struck me immediately was my memory of attending a Kenny Aronoff clinic (and incredible private lesson) a few years back in which he was raving about his Zildjian Projection Crashes.  I think Kenny Aronoff is the last person we’d describe as a weak player.  But I agree that it makes sense that a strong player should not necessarily need heavy crashes.  Maybe it’s an durability thing.

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #20 on: July 11, 2008, 11:06 AM »
The fact that most of us internally use the HH - Ride part (at least at first) as a sort of "common denominator" type glue that the rest of the pattern is played against gives the part more importance in our head than it serves musically.

That's me.

And Chris, despite my cyborg joke (I was just ribbing ya'), your chart has been in my head since yesterday.  It's a great approach for describing and analyzing one's internal kit dynamics.

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #21 on: July 11, 2008, 11:07 AM »
Maybe it’s an durability thing.

And maybe, just maybe ... a little marketing?

Offline Steve "Smitty" Smith

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #22 on: July 11, 2008, 11:16 AM »
And maybe, just maybe ... a little marketing?

Well, yes!  But he does actualy use the cymbals -- or said he does.

BTW: Kenny hits extremely hard!  Not exactly a newsflash, I know, but I was pretty amazed.  He uses huge sticks and holds them very low on the shaft.

Offline NY Frank

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #23 on: July 11, 2008, 11:23 AM »
IMO, only the weakest of players need a 'rock' crash, or 'projection' crash.

I nominate this for quote of the month.    :)

I happen to agree, although I have at least one drummer friend who would want
to hurt me if I said that to him.    :)

No doubt some players migrate towards this notion that
Very Hard and Very Loud = Very Good.

I personally would have zero desire to play a Projection crash. 
+
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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #24 on: July 11, 2008, 01:13 PM »
Very informative chart Chrisso.  Actually, it's one of the most useful bits I've seen here at the cafe in quite some time.  Obvious to some maybe; learned the hard way in my case and golden information for those not hip already.

It only makes sense, as lower frequencies require more power to generate as well as to stop.

Good thread.  We had a drummer come in about a year ago that was going to fill in for me a few gigs.  And he played just flat out LOUD with his arms but had no power on his kick.  I play pretty much the direct opposite of that- not that I'm a gifted genius on the drums by any stretch, but I do indeed like to mix myself as I play-  Try to anyways.

What happened was the groove suffered, vocals and guitar get buried and the sweet effects get muddied up.

So the moral of the story is "Don't play top heavy!"


Offline Mark Schlipper

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #25 on: July 11, 2008, 03:47 PM »
The band I play guitar in had to find a new drummer a while back. 

At first, before we'd written any material with the new guy, we worked on old stuff.  It soon became very evident that our first drummer was a bottom up player, while the new guy was a top down player.  And it made some of the old material sound so drastically different that it was pretty much pointless to bother with.  In fact only one of our old songs survived the transition. 

Now that we've been working a while, we have plenty of new material, and while it still sounds like 'us', his playing has steered us into a new direction to be sure.
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Offline eardrum

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #26 on: July 11, 2008, 03:58 PM »
Mr. Crigger and Mr. Whitten...  those responses are golden! Smitty - thanks for starting this one and thanks to everyone else.  I feel like better drummer already ;D (ok, yeah, I better go put it into practice darnit).  I'm going to print out this whole post and cover my music stand with it....

Offline Nathan Cartier

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #27 on: July 11, 2008, 04:30 PM »
I have an 18" "Saturation Crash", does that make me a bad person?

Seriously, are we really basing our opinion of a player on the type of cymbal they buy?  Didn't Bermuda just do an entire interview talking about why he can't wait to try out the Sabian APX Solids?

Steve's comment is more about playing balanced than it is about the overall volume of your drumming.  If you play loud rock music, you might need loud crashes.  You will also need to make sure that you are paying attention to your hands and feet.  If I'm slugging out heavy rock, say a Rage Against the Machine song, I want my cymbals to match the intensity of my hands and feet. 

That doesn't mean that I beat the tar out of them, it just means I want them to fit the style of music that I'm playing.

Nate

Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #28 on: July 11, 2008, 07:15 PM »
I have an 18" "Saturation Crash", does that make me a bad person?

Seriously, are we really basing our opinion of a player on the type of cymbal they buy? 

No, not at all.
When I said 'weak' I meant someone whose cymbal playing doesn't project and therefore needs all the help they can get.
I wasn't using the American-English term - weak meaning not very good.
Regarding the Aronoff quote....
I presume if he records with the projection cymbals, he loves the sound of them, not so much the volume. Volume from a cymbal is something you rarely need.
Don't forget Kenny is one of the very best and most experienced studio players in the world. I'm confident he can handle those loud crashes properly and not over play them.
For the majority of the rest of us, I don't think loud cymbals help us when we struggle to control our dynamics.
Ask any live sound engineer, or record producer. I'm sure their biggest bugbear is drummers with loud cymbals.


Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #29 on: July 11, 2008, 07:22 PM »
If I'm slugging out heavy rock, say a Rage Against the Machine song, I want my cymbals to match the intensity of my hands and feet. 
That doesn't mean that I beat the tar out of them, it just means I want them to fit the style of music that I'm playing.
Nate

Intensity doesn't necessarily equal volume.
That's exactly my point.
And your bit about the cymbals matching the intensity of your hands and feet sounds slightly off too. You want your cymbals to match the intensity of your snare and bass drum, without over powering them.
If you rock out hard on your brand of loud cymbals, you'll often be drowning out the bass drum (the root of all rock).
You can rock out on quieter cymbals with intensity, and guard against over playing the harsh, bright sounds on your kit.
That's the core of my advice, take it on board if you wish.
 ;)


Offline Nathan Cartier

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #30 on: July 12, 2008, 12:51 PM »
Chris - I understand you better now.  I'll post more tonight, I gotta get moving.  Block Party gig this afternoon, on the beach.  8)

Offline Eskil Sæter

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #31 on: July 13, 2008, 06:08 AM »
This thread has been bookmarked  ;D

I must admit that overpowering my hihat hand is something I've never given any thought in the past, at least not in such an analytical way. I have noted on several occasions that my kick has disappeared in the mix, so to speak, but I must (shamefully) admit that I haven't put in the effort to analyse why.

I've got all A Customs on my kit, and while I absolutely love the sound of them, they are definitely pretty loud (the hihat in particular can be deafening). Keeping my hihat/ride hand in check is most certainly something I'll try to do. As a very groove-oriented rock player, the kick and snare are definitely where my power should lie, and I think that subconsciously I've just tried to get them to match the hihat, instead of making the hihat match the kick and snare. I'm guessing this might be a dominant hand issue.
- Eskil

Offline Nathan Cartier

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #32 on: July 13, 2008, 01:26 PM »
No, not at all.
When I said 'weak' I meant someone whose cymbal playing doesn't project and therefore needs all the help they can get.
I wasn't using the American-English term - weak meaning not very good.


Okay, that was my misunderstanding.  You make much more sense to me, now.

Offline Chris Whitten

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #33 on: July 13, 2008, 04:28 PM »
It was only a throw away line anyway.  ;)

My advice still remains though, check out some quieter cymbals, especially if and when you record.
But it's only advice, not a rule.

Offline Nathan Cartier

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #34 on: July 14, 2008, 07:05 AM »
Yeah, that's advice I DO take to heart.  I've been slowly collecting a set of quieter, more expressive cymbals, and they usually don't come out to gigs with me. 


Offline Robyn

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Re: “Top-Heavy” Playing
« Reply #35 on: July 19, 2008, 11:03 PM »
Wow--great thread--thanks!

Larry Lawless was here visiting this past Tuesday (brought a passle of kids--we all had a great time!)  and we of course talked drums. One positive that I told him that I'd learned from playing an e-kit, was that I was hitting the hihat pad too hard, and this caused a LOT of pad noise, which is pretty annoying to other band members, and even audible among the listeners.  So to help remedy this, since I was hitting harder b/c I couldn't hear the hihat, was to put the hihat/ride on another channel, so I could turn those up in my headphones. The louder they sounded to me, the softer I hit those pads, which has helped me to learn not to strike them as hard. That's transferred over to the acoustic set as well.
 I also like Chris's chart, and the discussion that the kick and snare are the focal point of rock/pop drumming. I will feel freer about really laying into the kick drum now! ;D And I sure do like my massive kick---whooom whooom!

robyn
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.  Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too, can become great.           ~Mark Twain

 

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