SKF NOTE: Excerpted from my interview with Freddie Gruber in late 1983 or early 1984. I don’t know how much of this excerpt is in that MD Focus on Teachers interview, but this excerpt differs in one respect. These are Freddie’s words verbatim. The MD interview was somewhat edited. // This exchange took place at Buddy Rich’s kitchen table in Buddy’s New York City apartment.
Freddie Gruber: First of all, the growth pattern is forever. We’re all forever changing. But at the particular moment that a student walks through my door and plays some basic or fundamental things for me, I can hear right away how he phrases.
How he phrases is indicative of how he’s hearing. That tells you what he’s hearing at that moment on that day. Now, you have to take into account that he’s nervous, he’s possibly mildly apprehensive, or he could be the reverse! He could be terribly aggressive in defense of the fact that he’s very nervous.
But the bottom line is actually what he’s saying when he’s illustrating these things that you ask him to perform by virtue of how he phrases.
Technically, he might not come to see me at all if he’s thoroughly thrilled with himself in every area of his playing. By just picking up the sticks or any other instrument, the minute you start to make some sounds you’re automatically phrasing. There isn’t any other way to go about it. Good, bad or indifferent.
You can’t ask a person walking through your door to sit down and play World War VI. It’s just out of line.
SF: Some teachers do.
FG: Well, that’s really foolish and it’s not required. You’re a teacher. You’re not on a competitive level with someone who’s coming to you with their hand out asking you for help. If you’re trying to help you don’t get into a competitive situation because it’s adolescent.
It only takes so many taps before you see where the guy’s coming from.
First, you ask him if he’s acquainted with some of the scales of our instrument; the rudiments.
You pick out some of the more elementary rudiments and see how — and this is a very key word to what we’re talking about — you see how he approaches it. The key word is approach. In essence it’s technical.
The phrasing is something else. That’s the hearing process.
He starts to play and at that point I am able to estimate what he’s doing and assess at that moment how he’s hearing.
Then you might asking him, Invent something on what you just played. Very simple. Don’t try to play fast. Just relax and invent something rhythmically based on what you just played.
I’m getting an opportunity to view what you’re doing at that moment.
Then I’d try to instill some confidence. I’d try to point out some bad habits, if they were in existence, where I could show you, very quickly that you are not utilizing some fundamentally correct principles. I’d make you aware that you could do what you’re doing, possibly better, and certainly easier.
When people ask you, How’d you do that?, the best answer you can give them is, Easily.
So overall, that’s how I’d approach a first meeting , without getting too complicated.
Then I’d go on to have a student play the drum set. And according to what type of music he’s into, I’d have him play something he’s comfortable with. Perhaps a rock pattern. And I’d tell him not to get complicated, so I could see how he phrases, how he moves, and what it is that might be prohibiting him from accomplishing what he might or might not be hearing.
This way I can see where I have to go with this person to help him make the best music he can on his drums.
SF: You spoke about time in relation to rhythm, harmony and melody.