Time, time, time, is on your side (yes it is)

Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress. ~ Bruce Barton

And I like messing around in the engine room of music. Seeing what happens in the rhythm section area. Bill Bruford


Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

If you’re interested in playing music, you’ve gotta have rhythm. If you think you don’t “have it,” consider the words of Taylor, a teacher, djembe-player, and all around good guy. Taylor has students feel their heartbeats. It’s a rhythm we all have. But it’s an internal rhythm, an unconscious rhythmic ability, a legacy we all get when we receive a heartbeat from our parents. We may have trouble making that natural rhythm come out consciously under control. But that, too, can be practiced. One of the most rewarding ways to practice rhythm is to learn a percussion instrument. Latin music is a great place to start. You’ve got cajon, shakers, the all-important clave, and my favorite, the conga.

Dizzy Gillespie began experimenting with Afro-Cuban rhythm and using it in his music, but of course he was not the first; Jelly Roll Morton liked to insert what he called, “That Latin tinge,” in his music, too. From this interest came Manteca and many other great Latin-influenced tunes from Dizzy. Because of this interest, he began to learn to play the conga. If you listen to him talk on the Marian McPartland show Piano Jazz, you’ll hear him do a cool rhythmic thing with his hands.Another excellent trumpeter and conga player (better at conga than Diz, for sure), is Jerry Gonzales, one of the musicians in an excellent documentary, Calle 54.

Not only is playing percussion a great way to help your own rhythmic ability, it’s a real kick. Although many percussion instruments are easy to make a sound on, like any other instrument, it takes some serious focus if you want to really master the techniques, and make music with rhythm. But even at a beginning level, playing a percussion instrument will help your rhythm. Many of the instruments are fairly inexpensive, too, like egg shakers, which cost only a few dollars.

I’ve been interested in percussion for a long time and own many percussion instruments (conga, tabla, cajon, talking drum, djembe, def, shekere, shakers, etc. etc.). I’m a dabbler, though, a dilettante percussionist and can only sort-of play most of them (especially tabla!). Conga is my main focus lately, and I’m still learning to evoke great tone from my conga (especially the slap).  I can play a pretty mean egg shaker, though.

Taking a class in any of these instruments is a great idea. In Chicago we’re lucky to have The Old Town School of Folk Music, where you can learn all kinds of fun instruments from great players; people like Taylor, Carlos Cornier, and a host of others. If you don’t have such a resource, there’s always YouTube, or you can likely find a local player who is willing to teach. This is a fun way to increase your skills.

Here are some thoughts on rhythm from one of my favorite jazz drummers, Ed Thigpen, a jazz veteran who played with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald. I was so sad to learn that he passed away at age 79 in mid-January. Here’s a clip from the 2009 documentary Ed Thigpen: Master of Time, Rhythm and Taste. If you’d like to listen to his magic, check out The Oscar Peterson trio, Ella Fitzgerald or one of my personal faves,  Mr. Taste.

RIP, Mr. Taste. Infinite thanks for your music and teachings.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

Have fun and good luck with your practice.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Helga Stemp says:

    found your site on stumbleupon today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

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