Joe Morello: Technique is Expressing What’s In Your Mind

SKF NOTE: This segment from my early 1980’s Modern Drummer interview with Joe Morello is explained here. In this part, my friend and fellow drummer, Chris Conrade and I, are asking Joe about the classic drum book, Stick Control.

joemorellopractScott K Fish: We wanted to ask your feelings about the Stick Control book, the value of that book to drummers.

Joe Morello: Well, technique to me is…. Like working out on a practice pad. It’s like working out with a punching bag. You can work on that all day and get knocked on your ass when you get in the ring.

It’s the same thing here. You get on a drumset and you can get knocked on your ass because they hit back, y’know?

So the more facility you have, the more it broadens your mind because there’s more things you can do.

Like, a lot of guys say, “Man, I can hear all that, but I can’t play it.” That’s all that technique is. It’s to play what’s in your mind.

Now, you take Mel Lewis for example. Mel sounds good. Sounds real good. I could never think of Mel playing [Joe plays fast single-stroke licks on his drum pad.] It’s not Mel.

stick_controlHe told me years ago, “I heard Buddy Rich years ago and I figure I could never play that good, so I want to be a good service drummer.” That’s what he wanted to be. That’s what he is. He plays good with his band. [Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Big Band.] He plays the shit out of that band. You know, reads anything. Does just what he has to do. Doesn’t overplay anything. So, that’s where he set his mind. That’s what he wanted to do.

If Mel wanted to work up these chops he’d still be playing as good as he plays — only he’d have more to work with. He’d be able to do more with it. If Mel had chops you’d see a great deal of difference in his playing. ‘Cause he’d still be able to do that same feel with more facility. And more colors he could use — using more sounds.

Technique is just a matter of expressing what’s in your mind. That’s how I feel about it.

Stick Control…. I went through it with [author George Lawrence] Stone, naturally, and I teach it. But I changed a lot of it through the years with Stone. I got bored.

Some teachers teach a paradiddle [Demonstrates on pad] with no accents. Doing this for, like, two hours would be ridiculous. So I have to play [Demonstrates on pad various paradiddle accents]. Now it’s more musical. Mix it up. Now it’s rhythmic.

Or else I’ll take it in triplets. You can take that first page of Stick Control and you can play it about 20 ways. That might sound silly to you.

accents_reboundsSKF & Chris Conrade: No.

JM: If you know how to use that book you can teach Rock out of that book. You can teach anything out of the book. See, if you just take the book and play it down the way it was written…. That book was written in 1929, I think,* and Stone wanted me to change it because I use to change all the exercises.

SKF: Did you help put together Stone’s Accents & Rebounds book?

JM: Yeah. The first part is dedicated to me because that’s the kind of things I’d do with [Stick Control], see? And you can use it with the bass drum. You can throw in substitutions. Whatever you want to do.

But when you get on a set you don’t say, “Well, I think I’ll play exercise 12, page nine.” Because someday you’re gonna run out of pages! Now what do you play?

* Stick Control is copyrighted 1935


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