SKF NOTE: Is it time to retire ding-dinga-ding-dinga?
Jon McCaslin’s drumming blog, Four On The Floor, is among my favorites. Dr. McCaslin posts unique drum videos that say something. A recent video is from new-to-me drummer Joe Farnsworth‘s master class in Italy.
At one point in the video, Mr. Farnsworth tells attendees it is important to practice keeping steady time on the ride cymbal with quarter notes. Only when drummers can do that, says Farnsworth, can they keep steady time playing the standard jazz ride rhythm ding-dinga-ding-dinga.
That brought to mind a couple of my drumming ideas. (And this is not a dig at Mr. Farnsworth. Watching his video simply triggered a memory. It could have been any drummer’s video.) I think it may be time to retire ding-dinga-ding as the foundation of modern jazz drumming.
When I play the drumset, when I listen to others playing the drumset — I hear melodies, musical lines, musical sounds. I don’t hear stand alone rhythm. When trying to imitate a drum beat or concept — I first try to imitate the sound(s). I don’t dash for pencil and staff paper to musically notate what the drummer is doing with his right hand, left hand, left foot, right foot — and then try to duplicate the sound from my written notation.
Is that a long way of saying I play by ear? No. I think we’ve all grown up with the idea that drummers who play by ear are never quite as good as drummers who read/write music. People who can’t read or write their native language are illiterate. Drummers who can’t read or write music are…musically illiterate? I think the stigma holds true. It is the root of most drummer jokes.
Yet, Max Roach told me of a Ghanian drummer who teaches separated from his students by a curtain. The teacher, said Max, does not want students imitating how he, the teacher, makes sounds. He wants them to listen and discover their own way of making the sounds.
Max, Alan Dawson, and Roy Haynes are a few great drummers who spoke with me about hearing Papa Jo Jones’s hi-hat playing on radio or record. They had no way of seeing Papa Jo unless Count Basie came to town. But they wanted to play their hi-hats like Jo Jones. So they worked at making the sound they heard.
Which brings me to my second point. Ding-dinga-ding on the ride cymbal hasn’t always been with us. It was preceded by press rolls on the snare drum. Indeed, ride cymbals weren’t always with us. They too were preceded by snare drum press rolls. Press roll timekeeping transferred to the hi-hit, then to the ride cymbal. And each transition kept the press roll rhythm Baby Dodds used.
Plus, even the early great jazz drummers — Baby Dodds, Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa — didn’t play slavish ding-dinga-ding.
Meanwhile, most of the great drummers I listen to don’t play locked in to ding-dinga-ding. I hear them — on the whole drumset, not just their ride cymbals — playing melodies, musical lines. And what about the rock and latin cymbal beats that are part of the modern jazz drummer’s language?
Are there times ding-dinga-ding is appropriate? Yes. Is ding-dinga-ding valid for drum student use in developing independence and coordination? Yes. But I think it is time drum teachers stop insisting students always play ding-dinga-ding as the one right way to play jazz. Really? Ding-dinga-ding is a right way to play some styles of jazz — but all styles of jazz?
“Not everything I play has a name,” said Roy Haynes. I love that idea. It reminds me that we, as drummers, might better serve upcoming drummers by giving more emphasis to the drumset as a musical instrument; using the drumset not just to play beats and licks, but to play music.
Brian Blade might agree with me.
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