A Progression of Percussion

Egyptian stone motif c. 3000 BCE

How far can time be broken down?  How many different tempos can be part of one tempo?  There may be a few viewers unable to fully appreciate this drumming journey as much as a fanatical drummer will.  Hopefully, my tribe-of-the-skins will!  Send any of your drumming friends by!  They like me, who are instantly moved from ear,  to arms, to fingers, to the heartbeat, then to the hips and finally to the feet… there is no cure for rhythmic-addiction, especially if it took hold of your body and soul at the age of six.  Don’t bother finding me a RA support group (Rhythmics Anonymous) because I am an energized kinetic-lifer!

Written in an earlier post In My Tribe, there is a spiritual connection between a drum’s membrane or the drumhead, the various sound waves it produces, and the conduit it travels to the heart, soul and the rest of the body.  Former drummer of the Grateful Dead and now a professor of percussion’s ancient roots, Micky Hart joins the greater cosmic rhythms symbiotically into our body’s natural rhythms; he describes:

We live on a planet of rhythm and time.  A planet that completes its cycle around the sun every 365 days, with a moon that cycles around us every 28 days, and we rotate around our own axis every 24 hours.  These cosmic cycles and our bodily ones, all connected to the circadian dance of day and night.  The mystery of rhythm and time found for a moment in the soul’s drum.  When it is right, you feel it with all your senses, every thread of your being.  It is the ‘sweet spot’ of connection.

As many parents do with their kids, I was enrolled in instrumental lessons of some sort; Mom named me after her favorite guitarist, so naturally I was going to learn the guitar.  But as fate would have it inside my practice room at the nearby Brook Mays Music Store, I heard the pounding of my calling next door in their practice room not mine.  Done.  Once Mom realized that she could not get me back over to the guitar, she gave in and scheduled my first drum lesson!  As a boy, the first step in becoming a percussionist is learning the basic rudiments.  Boring?  At that time yes, but in hindsight it was most assuredly the right move.  To drummers-percussionists, precise syncopated rhythms are not just important, indeed they are sacred — holy, transfusing sound pushing us to a Greater High.  By high school marching band, I was playing the Quads.  I wished our percussion line was an eighth as good as this drumline and flag corp below from Basel, Switzerland or the more laid-back Hip Hop drumline after.  Notice the near infinite various independent rhythms all simultaneously woven into one primal tempo.

More liberal and not as ‘formal’ as drum corps is the no less exquisite tempos of the drum kits and their Masters.  Growing up my Lord of Percussion was the renown Neil Peart of the Canadian rock band, Rush.  Not only is Neil a phenomenal drummer like Swiss clockwork, but an even more accomplished lyricist.  When one of my soccer teammates first introduced Rush to me, like candy or ice cream to a child,  I could not get enough!  Neil’s unworldly precision and syncopation between his two hands and two feet, all four beating out hypnotic sound, I thought “Wow, so this is what drum-heaven is like!” — to this very day La Villa Strangiato is regarded as one of Peart’s eternal creations.  The following video is not Neil Peart but another excellent drummer demonstrating the beautiful complexity of the 1978 song.  It is not the full 9:30 minute version of the song, but a highlight of the most advanced rhythms perhaps Neil ever created.  If you would like to listen to the entire song click here.  The full version has a mind-blowing amount of time changes, tempo changes, mood changes, and several music genres mixed in that would challenge Mozart’s comprehension!  But this video grabs the highlights…

Percussion is not limited to corporate designed and manufactured musical cylinders and heads.  Many everyday items lying around the home or office, inside and out can be instantly turned into a drum or percussion instrument.  Perhaps you’ve heard of The Blue Man Group or another theatrical show named Stomp.  Watch how the latter use almost anything imaginable to turn mundane objects into an industrial orchestra…

Finally, I arrive at a most aggressive form of drumming that seizes my beast-of-rhythm just as equally as drum and bugle corps shows.  I had a very difficult decision between ending this blog with my 2nd most favorite drummer, Danny Carey of the metal band Tool…or the live drum kit duel between Sulley Erna and Shannon Larkin, both of Godsmack.  Erna and Larkin won out, but needless to say searching Danny Carey of Tool on YouTube is in my drumming opinion definitely worth a look.  Not to mention that many famous drummers in jazz, blues, rock, and metal started as percussionists either in high school marching bands, or in the nationally and internationally competitive Drum & Bugle Corps championships.  Drawing the curtain on this post, I hope I have opened up a tiny view into the emotion, force, and spirit of percussion, at least as it comes from inside my soul.  Enjoy…

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