Freddie Gruber: In the Final Analysis, You Are the Instrument

SKF NOTE: I post this, with hesitation, because it is a glimpse at Freddie Gruber as drum teacher. As such, it probably belongs in the public square. But it doesn’t show my drumming skill in the best light. Oh well.

I spent part of several days with Freddie Gruber in New York City. A fascinating, non-stop talker, I enjoyed our time together. But our prime goal was to have me interview Freddie for Modern Drummer. Much easier said than done. The back story is here

In brief, on our last day together I was able to persuade Freddie to let me tape our conversation, which became the basis for his MD article. At one point I asked Freddie, “Let’s say I come to you for a drum lesson. I walk in your door and introduce myself. Where does it go from there?”

After talking for a few minutes about how he’d approach our first drum lesson, I asked Freddie to show me. And he did.

We were sitting across from each other at a formica top kitchen table in Buddy Rich’s New York City apartment. Was I nervous? You bet. I played a double-stroke roll on a magazine placed on the kitchen table. Then, at Freddie’s request, I played a double-stroke roll on the formica table top.

I wish I could say Freddie’s reaction was, “Wow!” It wasn’t. Here is exactly what Freddie Gruber said during my “first drum lesson.” He instructed me to relax and not think about what I was doing.

glry28-093Freddie Gruber: Okay. You responded differently to this harder surface with another sound than you were playing on the magazine.

You’re the instrument. In the final analysis you are the instrument. The instrument you are sitting behind is just an extension of you and what you hear and feel.

Something changed when you played on another surface.

Let’s do it again.

[SKF NOTE: I again play a double-stroke roll on the table top.]

Freddie Gruber: Okay. You can hear that the strokes are not as even as they were on the magazine. You’ve backed off a little because the sound of the table is harder. In other words, it discloses more of what you’re doing. It hides less.

So you’ve backed off a little, which only means that you got mildly apprehensive. So we dismiss that. It doesn’t really count. We’ll try to get relaxed and we’ll do it again.

[SKF NOTE: Again I play a double-stroke roll on the table top.]

Freddie Gruber: Okay. On the left hand, the first stroke of the double-stroke was much louder, and the second one came down as a rebound.

The right hand was following the left hand. It was just hanging there limp and just playing a little rebound. Whereas, the left hand was actually playing the more aggressive lead.

So in technical terms it means, simply, that it’s uneven. One hand is different than the other. And if we’re talking technically, one hand should be able to do what the other can do.

Freddie-Gruber3We’re not talking about sitting down and playing music now. We’re not talking about swinging. We’re not talking about phrasing.

Technically speaking, that means that one of your hands is not matched to the other. And there’s a slim possibility that, sometime in your playing life, you might want to express something you’re hearing that might not come out because of the technical deficiency. And you find yourself saying, “I can’t get it out!”

Now this may or may not be relevant, because we’re sitting together for the first time, and you might not be doing what you can actually do. But I’m getting an opportunity to view what you’re doing at that moment, which gives me the opportunity to estimate where you’re at.

[SKF NOTE: I didn’t play again. Freddie finished up by explaining what his next step would be if I were actually a student sitting with him for the first time.]

Freddie Gruber: Then I’d try to instill some confidence and have him [play] again. 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 natural principles.

I’d make you aware that you could do what you’re doing, possibly better, and certainly alot easier. So when people ask you, “How’d you do that?” the best answer is “Easily.”


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