Friday, June 19, 2015

Insanity Single Kick Drum Program

Before I start this thing I’ve got a confession to make.  Nobody asked me to write down my insanity single kick drum program, No request was made by a publisher, nor did any of my students ask me.  This is purely my own idea.  I just think it’s really important to have a kick-ass solid bass drum technique.  And I now know how to get it.

The two secrets to the insanity program are: 1. Always practice at a tempo that is slow enough that you can master the material right away, then very gradually increase the tempo so that you are always challenged somewhat, but not too much.  2.   Switch books once you get tired with practicing one set of exercises.  

I recommend five books for developing the kick drum.  The first is Bass Drum Control by Colin Bailey.  This is the best book on kick drum technique out there.    The exercises look ridiculously easy.  They are physically challenging.    They are simple but if you do even half of them they will radically  improve your coordination. At first, I found I was exhausted just practicing more than two pages from this book.  Building up your strength, keeping solid time, and building up your speed is a gradual thing, It can’t be rushed.  

Do read the page where Colin talks about right foot technique.  He says very little but it’s worth remembering everything.  You can catch you tube videos of  Colin Bailey.  He has incredibly fast technique.  Basically, he keeps his heel down for slow strokes and rests, and lifts his heel about half an inch for fast repeating strokes. His stroke never leaves the beater on the head but always lets it rebound.  

Don’t burn out on Bass Drum Control.  Before that happens get a copy of Syncopation by Ted Reed. If  you are a drummer you should already have this book.  You should have gone through the entire book playing quarter notes on the kick and alternating RL on the snare.  Now go over the entire book again substituting the kick for the snare line, letting your hihat play the quarter notes, one hand playing the ride and the other playing back beats on the snare or rim on 2 and 4, on 3, or on 4.  Make sure to do all the eighth note sections in both  rock feel and  in shuffle feel

You may want to skip the multiple sixteenth note sections.  Most of us will not be able to play solid lines of sixteenth notes on  one kick but you may be able to play up to four to eight sixteenth notes in a row, using Bailey’s method. .  

When you get to the accented eighth, triplets, and sixteenth note section at the end of the book go back to alternating R and L on the snare but play the hihat on quarter notes and play  only the accents on the kick drum.  
But for a real flowing single kick technique I recommend some of the eighth note triplet exercises in Double Bass Drumming  by Joe Franco.  I’m sure Joe does not approve, but I practice his exercises using a single kick , with my right hand playing bass drum number two’s line on the low tom, and my left hand playing quarter notes on the hihat and the backbeat (either 2&4, 3 or 4) on the snare.  Doing it this way makes a very good double bass simulation.  Most people will not be able to tell the difference between this technique and real double bass.  Start on pg 22 and do ex.  1 to 80.  Should take a couple of weeks or a month if you are not practicing every day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

I find that Colin Bailey has better sixteenth note exercises for the bass drum than Franco.  But I really love Franco’s eighth note triplet fill exercises, p43 ex 1 to 108.  I substitute R kick for both bass drum 1 and bass drum 2,  and if there is more than four eighth note triplets  in a row for the bass drum to play I alternate R hand on the Low tom for bass drum 2.  Doing Franco’s triplet exercises has really improved the flowing quality of my  single bass technique.  But it only works if you practice enough to play the exercises really fast.  

After you get tired of those exercises, it’s time to learn a different style of kick playing called the linear style.  Glenn W. Meyer has put out a lot of material on this style.  It is playing by alternating hands and foot, so that you produce polyrhythms.  Beyond Stick Control is a comprehensive look at different ways that you can incorporate the bass drum into rudiments.  It covers ostinato bass drum , linear style, and linear jazz style.  It goes beyond the books Stick Control  and Syncopation because it shows you how to improvise with the bass drum.  Colin Bailey also does a great job of incorporating linear style and stick rudiments, but Meyer is better at showing how to improvise and how linear style works with Latin and Jazz.  

If you only have one book, it should be Ted Reed’s book Syncopation.  To learn the linear style, start with Lesson three on page 8 and play exactly as written.  It doesn’t get any simpler or easier than this, so it is really worth mastering.   Keep practicing until you can play it very fast.  Now go to the back of the book, where he deals with accented notes.  Start with Lesson One P47, on accented eighth notes.  Here are four ways to do these exercises for the kick drum.    The last  two ways will demonstrate the linear style.  

First, play the entire snare drum pattern on the kick drum, including the accents.  One hand plays eighths on the hi-hat or ride, the other plays a back beat on the snare, it can be 2 and 4, on the three, or on every quarter.

Second method:  play alternating RL on the snare, but instead of playing the bass drum on the quarter notes, just use it to play the accents.

Third method: Play accents on the kick but only play the unaccented notes on the snare. This will sound very similar to Colin Bailey's method.

 Fourth Method:  play the accents on the kick drum but play the unaccented notes one hand playing the snare alternating with the other hand playing the cymbal, or play a pattern of your choice with the same hand playing the cymbal and the other hand playing the snare.  You will be blown away by the grooves that you can get with this method.  Build up speed slowly.  It is a real pleasure to be able to play these patterns in a relaxed manner.  This is where you can really improvise using different hand patterns, making it sound like funk, latin, or middle eastern.

Now repeat these last three methods for accented dotted eighths, accented triplets, and accented sixteenth notes.  If you play the hihat with your left hand, you can simulate a double bass sound by playing the right on the low tom.   

For a comprehensive guide to linear style for rock drumming I recommend the exercises in Jungle/drum’n’bass  by Johnny Rabb.  Keep practicing these babies until you can play them at lightning speed and the effect on kick and hand coordination will astonish you.  

That’s my insanity program.  When I get tired of practicing from one of these books, I go back to the next one.  That way I keep getting better and I never burn out.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Mystery of Capital

“In medieval latin “capital” appears to have denoted head of cattle or other livestock which has always been important sources of wealth beyond the basic meat that they provide. Livestock are low maintenance possessions. They are mobile and can be moved away from danger. They are also easy to count and measure. But most important, from livestock you can obtain additional wealth, of surplus value, by setting in motion other industries including milk, hides, wool, meat and fuel. Livestock also have the useful attribute of being able to reproduce themselves. Thus the term capital begins to do two jobs. Simultaneously capturing the physical dimension of assets (livestock) as well as their potential to generate surplus value.”
What a wonderful way to put so abstract a concept. That’s from Peruvian social scientist Hernando DeSoto’s brilliant book, The Mystery of Capital.

Let’s be Ubercapitalist and see everything in terms of capital.
Life is like capital. In nature all living organisms are able to make use of raw materials to transform them into useful energy and functions.
Living things make surplus value out of materials and other life in a continuous ongoing process. Grass grows from the soil, the sun, and the rain. Cows eat grass and feed themselves and produce milk for their young. We make and consume dairy products and meat products. Bacteria live in our guts and make use of our waste products.

We need to understand that the nature of capital has a continuity that encompasses our human existence but goes beyond it to take in a larger circle. Life itself maintains and thrives by taking in raw materials and processing them into food and structural materials.

One of the commonalities of life processes and capital is ability to generate new things: descendants in the case of life, and income flows, in the case of humans.

But why stop at the living world why not consider the solar system? Starts out as a cloud of hydrogen and bits of flotsam and jetsam from a previous supernova. Then coalesces by the force of gravity into one big solar furnace called the sun; and the planets circling around the sun, so much smaller than the sun, were made from accretions of asteroid and comet bergy bits, created by gravity and sheer impact.

The sun: surplus value, a lot more useful energy than a cloud of hydrogen molecules. And the planets: the existence of life, human society, and property could not exist without them.

Why stop at the solar system?  What about the universe?  Big bang gives birth to the Universe – talk about surplus value:  everything from nothing.

Is it magic?? Of course in nature, only humans agree to divide land and things into property and have this property available to exchange for sums of money. Remember those qualities of cattle that de Soto talked about: the cattle were countable, movable, exchangable, and they gave surplus value. This is what drives human economics.

Think of mathematics. Mathematicians can generate beautiful geometric solids, wonderful infinite number series, entire worlds of imaginary objects. All from ideas.

But not just ideas. It’s our mind’s ability to convert space and time into equal units and then to manipulate those units by adding, dividing and multiplying them into forms and objects of wondrous variety. These objects do not exist in reality as some ideal forms, they are created and maintained by the collective acts of humans from all around the world.
What humans can do that the rest of nature cannot is to use collective agreement to create a system of property rights that propels capital forward.

Like mathematics, our economy exists and grows by virtue of collective agreements between humans to abstract out of reality certain features that allow for countability, transformability, and lower transaction costs. This is the role of property in most places where people make exchanges, but most dramatically in our modern economic system of Global Capitalism.

Suppose we organize a system of exchange where anyone can buy or sell units of property.  But how do we organize this market?  First we have to define a unit of account that will be used to measure the value of each property.  The property will have been surveyed as to its location and dimensions, or identified through description or serial number if it is an object.  

In order to make such units of account, descriptions, official surveys, etc. recognizable and acceptable there needs to be a legal system that describes property in a systematic way, and handles disputes between property-rights holders.  In order for this system to work there must be a government and the institutions of courts, schools, some sort of technology such as print, electronic files, etc..  that records transactions.  

Also, in order for the system to work the government needs adequate force and authority.  If marauding Vikings can plunder and pillage towns along the coast with impunity then communities lack an effective central government.  

Perhaps even more importantly there needs to be adequate trust within and between groups of people. All agreements require trust. Without trust commerce and trade diminish severely.  

The inculcation of trust requires complex social coordination that is enabled by the raising and schooling of children,  and the passing on  of recognizable customs, procedures, cultural habits and expectations from generation to generation.  

Trust also depends on perceived fairness in society.  The more inequality in a society, the more perceived unfairness, and the more likely that generalized trust in government, institutions, and other people will break down.

Social coordination and cooperation are at the beginnings and end of the story of capital and the real source of surplus value.  Capital is really social capital. Surplus value comes from the human ability to cooperate and make lasting agreements.

If we don’t begin to understand both human nature and social capital we will vastly accelerate our downfall.   By coming to understand this we can build economic systems from the ground up to be fair and  sustainable.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Birth of Reason

The use of a common measure makes it possible for one to cooperate with many  other people to lay foundations and to  build a house.  It facilitates  agreement on the size and dimensions of the house, the size of the materials that go into its construction, and  its location relative to the boundaries between one’s property and  one’s neighbour’s.  This is not possible without an agreed upon measure based on a template that can be used over and over again.  This template we call a foot, a meter, an inch or a centimeter.    

Similarly we can only build organizations and social institutions that depend upon high degrees of cooperation by using a more general template and one that not only makes common measures possible but vastly predates them.  This is a template we call ‘reason’.  By our collective ability to adopt and replicate  common standards of evidence, discourse, accuracy, logic, conduct, equality, and fairness we make it possible to create and sustain social institutions like schools, governments,  law courts, monetary and financial systems,  and public health systems.    

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher whose writing influenced both European Christendom and Islamic civilization in the middle ages,  called humans the rational animal, thus marking reason as  the ability that distinguishes us from all other animals.   But it is interesting how little we have advanced in our understanding of human nature since Aristotle’s time twenty-four hundred years ago.  It’s only in the last fifty years that archaeological discoveries have accumulated enough evidence to suggest a deeper concept of human nature.  

Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, identified reason with only part of humanity.  Plato’s idea is that there is a kind of natural division of labour amongst humans, and only those people who have the advanced capacity to learn mathematics and have been taught to transcend their appetites possess reason.  This led to Plato’s political theory that there should be a special class of guardians who are kept separate from everyone else and raised and educated based on the principles of reason.  

I tend to side with Aristotle but not with Plato.  I think reason is a commons available to everyone. Humans  really are the rational animal.  But now that we have more scientific knowledge of animals, and of our evolutionary past I think it’s time to take a new look at our origins, at just what it is that made us into human beings, and so distinct from other animals.  

How did we get from violence to reason?  How did we get from animal to human?  It couldn’t have happened through the use of reason, because we didn’t have it before we were human.  Nor is it likely to have happened through altruism because altruism is not rewarded by better chances for survival in ape societies.  We didn’t reason our way into using reason.  We can thus rule out the idea that the greater good was  our original motivation for adopting reason.

If we can trust Plato’s account of his teacher Socrates in The Symposium, Socrates argued that the way to knowledge of the good was through eros.  Love of beauty led us to love of moral goodness in a process that at the end, involves the taming of the passions.  This is a remarkable passage, which I believe points to a fundamental truth of human nature.  We achieved reason by first using passion to guide us and later putting controls on our passions.  

We can consider that our day-to-day emotions are evidence of the struggles in our ancient past.  Humans could have been far more violent and less cooperative, but we have psychological, social, and political mechanisms for controlling violent behaviour and we use all of them all of the time.   

I believe that the urge to dominate others is instinctive and predates all human society.  Our childhood is largely a socialization process where we learn a panoply of  emotional responses that act to control our urge to dominate.  Consider the power of feeling embarrassment, shame or guilt.  Those who lack these feelings have largely been eliminated from the gene pool, but they still  exist as a small minority that we label - psychopath or sociopath.   As far as we know, apes don’t have these feelings either.

Chimpanzees are humans closest relatives.  We share 99% of the same DNA.   Male chimps have bigger arms and shoulders than humans.  They are strong enough to literally tear one of us apart, something they sometimes do to their own kind.  Chimp society is a lot more violent than human society is. Chimpanzees  live in  a male dominant hierarchy similar to what we see in  human gangs.

Chimpanzees do not  pair-bond.  The norm in chimp society is a kind of hierarchical promiscuity.  Most human societies are predominantly monogamous, and this goes for nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, the simplest of human societies and the closest to  the way our ancient ancestors lived.

Why would the first human group choose monogamy when they could have more pleasure from sleeping around, and wouldn’t this fatally undermine a monogamous system?

The answer is not obvious but it is supported by some key facts.  The  self-organizing state of alpha dominance hierarchy was the default state.  In this state, the majority of males had slim pickings, and would have been better off with monogamy but they were prevented from getting there by the alpha male.  This situation would be stable unless some change could tip the balance permanently in favour of  the majority of males because otherwise every time the alpha male was eliminated, someone new filled his place.  

As much as we think we observe plenty of instinctual behaviour in contemporary politics and social life,  we can also observe that most leaders are not alpha males.  They are leading because of their intelligence and abilities, and because groups of us collectively choose them as leaders.

Most of the time, we don’t need to assassinate or physically subdue our leaders to replace them,  Humans hold their societies together through internalizing moral precepts, through social peer pressure, and through building cooperative social institutions.  This is not self-organizing.  It is not possible through people acting from  their self-interest alone.   It takes continuous effort and conscious decision making. It requires the use of reason, and the conscious adherence to impersonal rules, sometimes in opposition to our own interests.    

This is a messy bother if you don’t need it.  To live in a small isolated group under the shadow of an alpha male is to live in a stable hierarchy, at least until the alpha is toppled.  But, when homo habilis, an early hominin, invented stone tools sometime around two million years ago it   suddenly   gave anyone the means to overthrow the alpha male.  This set the stage for homo erectus, the first monogamous human.

Stone-age technology created a niche for monogamy by making monogamy a more stable alternative to dominance hierarchies.  This is the conclusion of Canadian Anthropologist Bernard Chapais as I have understood from his book  Primeval Kinship.  Homo Erectus is the more gracile tall hominin, the first hominin to spread out of Africa into the Continents of Asia and Europe, and the first of our ancestors to control fire.  The sexual dimorphism (size difference)  between male and female in homo erectus is very similar to sapiens dimorphism.  Chapais argues that this dimorphism, which is smaller in chimps and larger in gorillas, corresponds to a species that pair-bonds.

 The large size difference between the dominant male silverback gorilla and the gorilla female is associated with  a polygamous society in gorillas.  One male controls a harem of females, and there is no pair-bonding.  According to Chapais, homo habilis and australopithecus, the probable ancestors of homo erectus had a greater sexual dimorphism than humans, one that was closer to that of gorillas.

Once homo habilis invented stone weapons, it became too easy for subordinates to kill the alpha, and so the hierarchy became unstable.  As long as there were males with no mates and males with more than one, there was more potential for violence.  The greater size and strength of the alpha, which  had kept this violence in check before, would have failed to maintain stability in the face of the new technology.  

What distinguishes humans from other species is our ability to cooperate and connect with each other.  For tens of thousands of years  we have covered the globe in a myriad of different societies speaking different languages and yet we are still all part of the same species.

In the stone age, two million years ago, monogamy created more kinship connections and greater group coherence, as well as allowing competition and cooperation on a larger scale. This is the basis for monogamous groups having greater fitness for survival.

Monogamy is not something that can be instituted by individuals pursuing their own self-interest.  Suppose I choose a mate.  What is to stop a stronger male, with more testosterone, from killing me and taking my mate? There must be a collective agreement to establish or maintain monogamy.  In other words, monogamy may have been the first instance of conscious, non-self-organizing system maintained over sustained lengths of time.

In order to maintain monogamy we needed to police our group as a whole, to actively detect and suppress public alpha behaviour, and this  is how we would have begun the collective establishment of  standards of conduct and evidence.  

Reason  is fundamentally collective. Standards of accuracy, sincerity, truth, objectivity,  fairness, and good or bad behaviour all stand or fall by collective agreement. They are irreducibly social because part of what it means  to believe and follow them, is our belief and trust that others will adhere to the  same standards.

In other words, adhering to rules and standards is partly contagious.  If we see everyone else doing it we will do the same.  But if we see no-one else doing it, we won’t do it either.

When we follow a standard we are abandoning pure self-interest.  There will be times when no-one else is around and we can get away with not following the standard but we choose to follow the rule even in those times. This works as long as we believe that most others are likely to do the same.  When we stop believing this we usually act accordingly.  

Reason was a consequence of our becoming monogamous it was not something that we imagined that we needed. Nor was it a faculty that was magically given to us by a god. The decision to go monogamous, because it meant conscious organizing rather than staying with a self-organizing system,  is the original challenge that led to the development of human reason.

The special thing about reason is that by agreeing to and following standards we make human society possible. Yet, it is not that the first humans planned to create a society.  They just fell into being human by collectively choosing monogamy.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Power of Walking

You may be surprised to learn that walking could be the most effective exercise for maintaining lifetime physical fitness, good balance, and  a healthy mind. We take walking for granted, but there is a considerable amount of muscle coordination that goes into  those alternating movements of the body:  the swinging of the arms, the gentle twisting of our torso, the weight bearing and lifting of each leg.

In the developed Western world we are experiencing an epidemic of chronic back pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression.  It is no coincidence that all  of these diseases are  largely caused by inactivity.

 People have become less active because of the automobile, TV and computers.  We spend more time sitting at work and at home than we used to. The irony is that if we just spent at least  thirty minutes a day walking we could all be in better physical shape.  

All the chronic diseases I’ve mentioned cost our health systems plenty.  Yet they are preventable.   And walking is the easiest and most cost-effective form of activity.     It is appropriate for all ages, it is safer than other kinds of exercise  and it can be done in graduated  ‘steps’ from baby steps all the way to aerobic ‘exercise walking’ and ‘nordic walking’ with poles.

A year ago, after suffering two bouts of back seizures I discovered the benefits of walking for gently increasing my back’s  range of motion and have been going on regular walks ever since, in spite of my usual preference for cycling.

They say the best things in life are free. To go for a walk with an old friend, and along the way, have a relaxed unhurried conversation - what could be a greater pleasure?

Some of the great English poets like Wordsworth and Byron were serious walkers and there is something to be said for taking a walk in order to think deep thoughts or to mull over something in your mind.

If nothing else, a brisk walk can do wonders to improve one’s  mood and lower stress levels.   It works faster than antidepressants, with mood improvements in minutes instead of weeks, and unlike the pills, all the side effects are beneficial.

People used to walk out of necessity. Then the automobile was invented and you know the rest.   But now that we don’t need to walk to get places we can think of walking in a different way. When I go for my daily walk in Prince Rupert I hear the mysterious and mischievous cries and squawks of the ravens, see them canoodling in pairs and wheeling and diving for the sheer fun of it.   It’s a way to take in the fresh air and to see our natural surroundings.  Walking can do a lot to  strengthen our sense of place.  

And walking doesn’t just have psychological and physical benefits.  It also has social benefits.  It is a very effective community builder.  The more people out walking, the more people are visible outside, bringing the street and the sidewalk back to life.  Walkable cities are more attractive cities, cities that younger millennials want to live and work in.  

Making cities more human-scale and walkable can be done partly by inexpensive changes such as improving and enlarging sidewalks, installing pedestrian lights and traffic calming devices.  

We ought to prioritize walking in city and in public health planning.  The more people walking the less traffic congestion, the healthier and fitter the general public, the safer and pleasanter our neighbourhoods.  Unlike motor vehicles, walking does not lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere.  There are, in fact, no downsides to walking.

If we consider quality of life, walking should be right up there as a top priority.  Chronic illnesses erode the  quality of life.  There is probably  no activity that can do more to prevent and reverse chronic disease for more people than walking. To learn more about the benefits, visit my facebook site Rupertwalks. It's full of fun videos and articles that will help to motivate and inspire.