The Rudimental Electronic Percussion Artists

To my knowledge, no one else performs solo percussion in venues as diverse as fine dining restaurants, wine bars, weddings, golf and country clubs, dance clubs, city wide municipal festivals and lakeside taverns.

To sell this act takes solo coordination and speed, field composition history, competition stick control, endurance and creativity only rudimental patterns and texturing afford to answer the current diverse cultural and economic environment. Solo performance marketing possibilities are born by an advanced skill set and ambient technology (or future technology). The reduced rudimental libraries of today’s drum corps competitors has them repeating old creativity or producing new creativity no one cares about, reflecting the negative influence of visual designers that run them around destroying their competition skills. Simple orchestra 16th note variations and thin buzz rolls do not sell in the real world as a soloist. It gleans no interest. It creates no nuance. Soloists don’t read newspapers at the back of the room while the orchestra practices. Soloists need more. Unique and skilled sells. The future in percussion performance is the plethora of creative sound choices electronic percussion instruments afford and manipulation of those choices quickly. Proven rudimental techniques need not be altered. Rudimental drummers are trained soloists. Orchestra players are helpful accompaniment. Rudimental musicians can take advantage of both. Considering limited performance set up space, weight and transportation cost, one 8” electronic pad is the equivalent of a 40” gong and 32” muffled bass drum. This article is my answer to Jeff Prosperie of DCI influence, who stated rudimental drummers are “musical animals” that do not have skills to make money in the music business. Some people lack the creative DNA to use rudimental skills in the modern economy, dinosaurs tied to an advanced college degree that stagnates as the world quickly changes using meandering technology that chooses a path of musical and economic efficiency. We can provide entertainment as rudimental soloists that other instrumentalists, duos and trios can’t. People dance to the beat of the drums.

Beginning with one 40 song “jazzy house” set, my rudimental electronic percussion act has grown to 1100 songs in many music genre over seven years competing with it in the music business. Two-Time DCI World Champion Steve Chorazy stated years ago that I should use electronics. Steve uses an electronic kit with big bands in New York. The vice presidents of Roland and Yamaha were cornered for over an hour each at a Columbus P.A.S. convention. Steve was correct. Electronic percussion instruments also are better for travel space and weight. The only disadvantage has been some musicians and dancers like the “thump” of real bass drums. However, thousands of clearly amplified electronic pre-set instruments are a better poker hand, rudimental skill the trump card. Using a well-practiced rudimental coordination library and breakdown procedures helps immensely for control at all tempos and dynamic levels, especially when teamed with a DJ that might not consider musical phrasing. Transitions from song to song, especially genre to genre, can be rough. Having the control and thought process to cleanly play through (or even hide) their mistakes makes one genius instead of fool. I do not compete against other drummers, choosing instead to send the saxophone player to McDonald’s, the singer to BK and piano player to Jack-In-The-Box. Their use of simple repetitive “background percussion tracks” cannot compete artistically when the rudimental creativity, musicianship and physical prowess of solo drumming combines with electronics.

Diverse one-man acts gain favor marketing into a severe worldwide recession that may end in the collapse of the dollar or unpredictable financial mayhem. Musicians need to be much more diverse to make money in coming years due to ambient economic failures and cultural preferences that remain in place. My act has replaced duos, trios and full bands that do not carry a 1100 song repertoire. (I have no creative arguments with myself. Bands have had fistfights on stage over which song to play next). Bongo and conga players have become an alternative for dance clubs and weddings. They tend to play 35 minutes and take long breaks possibly due to fatigue and repetition of similar patterns due to the limited number of instruments they can use due to space. Glassmen/Cavalier multiple tenor drummer Todd Ohme was doing nightclubs as a multiple tenor drummer about ten years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (He has directed the Detroit Pistons Drumline for pro basketball games). That solution is adaptable for travel. Similar to the musical balance of conga and bongo players, the voices tend to repeat too much during long sets. In a bad economy, hundreds of mid-level acoustic guitarists and keyboard players have cut prices to $50 and a free beer. They group together once a week for “open mic night” trying to create business and might last four months, their audience slowly dwindling to the same repeated music. The market is saturated. Stock traders now must have diverse skills in trading, client affairs and derivative knowledge to remain employed. Margins have shrunk due to computer trading. Music profits have shrunk due to computerized DJ’s who can pack 150,000 songs on an external drive regardless of a homemade skill set. Moore’s Law is still at work with respect to miniaturization. People will pay for intelligent creativity and a more interesting “experience”. It doesn’t have to be conventional – just smart.

The better DJ’s that I have worked with know their music extremely well. They might not have entire songs memorized but connect rhythms and vocals. They have MC skills, can handle a wedding party from India or Malaysia, and pull charts from chilled house to hiphop and rap. The problem with sound as a creative vehicle is that technology allows “fads” or “trends” to change faster. The Billboard Top 100 changes constantly. Popularity is manipulated by people who are not musicians. (Similar to “visual people” in drum corps and band who have no artistic skills or credentials, then award themselves judging contracts by controlling the score sheets of high school children.)

Zack Daniels is a rare DJ with inherent musical skills, comfortable from wedding itinerary to mixing modern alternative dance into the latest “house”. I auditioned for him one Saturday afternoon for a regular nightclub/dance gig. Zack: “I had already tried out 3 or 4 drummers and saw Ken setting up an electronic kit. I really didn’t know what to expect. I hired him after 5 minutes but kept the audition going to see what he could do. Ken played 5 hours without a break causing me to wonder what planet he came from. We went through everything. Uptempo – downtempo…. House. Latin, you name it. We just kept giving him Cokes to drink. No one plays that fast. I called the owner at home and told him to drop what he was doing and get over to the dance floor pronto. The owner’s jaw dropped. I tried messing with him changing tempos quickly and increasing then decreasing speeds but he was always right there with it, like he had a sixth sense or something. He says it's the special sense of timing guys get from playing in a good drumline group. And the sounds he got out of that electronic kit were awesome. He had an answer for any genre. He can play the original parts or make all kinds of neat additions. Crowds love it. When I go into the Hip Hop stuff, that’s when he takes his break!”

Hi-end establishments pay well if you offer something unique as both rudimental performer and DJ. Rudimental stick control allows performance of fast passages cleanly with endurance at nightclubs and lower volume levels in intimate dinner settings. Breakdown training is a huge advantage controlling inherent sounds in tempo or briefly bending time. Real drums packed into a small wine bar does not work. Only with electronics can sound be quickly and adequately controlled.


As your own DJ, you handle two responsibilities simultaneously: the art of percussion and the art of reading an audience to select music, an intelligent back and forth of nuance and genre. DJ’s can give more time to their transitions and blend their way out of mistakes. Many of my songs are preblended for dance clubs using a program called Sound Studio that can change tempos and fade songs into another. There are ample software packages that manipulate music. One trick is to cut the song a few milliseconds before the actual marker at each end to avoid clipping and weird transitions when cutting or adding sections. With greater detail comes higher price. Expensive software can take out individual instruments and vocals.

Software Can Change Tempos Without Changing Pitch

Tempos are usually accelerated 2 to 5 percent to add energy because one-man acts do not have the advantage of 4 or 5 live soloists to feature. Live tracks often have more instrumentation and background syncopation and can be spliced into studio tracks via audio volume equalization and tempo manipulation. An entire set of music needs to be equalized for consistent volume. All songs are cleansed of unnecessary repeats or superfluous passages that introduce no new voice or repeat. House music is famous for adding one percussion instrument every 8 measures for a few minutes. Unless at a dance club gig, cut it down to 2 measures 4 times and move on. Dance music can be accelerated to climax using tempo controls. It is best to keep selections between 3 and 4 1/2 minutes long. Medleys can be effective in the same genre with shorter sequences. One of my Latin Big Band medleys has entries of 1:15 2:35 2:05 2:35 and 2:45 (11:15 total) from an original 16 minutes. Keep the evening moving by pre-mixing spots for accent patterns, syncopations and instrument timbre. Songs can be changed to add blank measures for solos or cutting out the original drum solo. Throw yourself many predetermined softballs using music software programs.

Music Set Strategy

• Vary syncopation from straight 4 to paradiddle sync, Swiss sync, dotteds, etc. and use accent pattern counterpoint poetically in A B A C or similar patterns (Latin rhythms a good example)
• Vary note bases from 6th, 8th, 12th, 16th, 18th, 24th, 32nd , 36th, 40th, 48th.
• Change tempo and the pace of the set. (Ballads are acceptable, even late evening in dance clubs.)
• Vary Major and Minor key structure. Vary consonance and dissonance (augmented and diminished chords, suspensions, 7ths and 9ths) especially at ends of songs. Augmented “spice” chords help maintain interest if there are many repeats. Latin music always has different rhythms and can change when melody and chorus change from minor to major chords. Modulations help interest.
• Ends of songs do not have to always be a dynamic taper (though most are tapered or blended for dancing.) A fine dining restaurant requires more use of phrased endings and chord structure changes.
• Phrase properly. Interpretation differs from Cuban Jazz to Ibiza Ballads. Original percussion tracks can be “ahead of the beat” or “behind the beat.”
• Older music is most always shorter (2:40 to 3:20) with simple structure (AABA, ABAC, etc). Drum tuning was much lower and wider, the snare drum almost raspy. This tuning can break up a set, attract attention and transition to new ideas especially if an older group of people fills a nearby table.
• Vary the lead instruments: metals to woods to threads (like a towel over a drum) – bright to dull.
• Vary the lead instrument from snare/bass to tenor, cymbal choke and bell, temple blocks, gogo bells/cowbells, timpani, etc
• Manipulate pitch and length of decay. I use 16 different snare drums (3 involve high, medium and low tuned brushes), 8 tenor timbres, Large Pot Drums (long deep resonant decay) to High Pitch Logs (tight short decay), preferring to manipulate real hi-hat cymbals and a 20” ride.

Like any good painting, the focus must move around the art, not stagnate. One doctor at a very expensive restaurant said he would call management to have me come back (which he did). “My wife really enjoyed it tonight. It’s her birthday. You are giving us a concert aren’t you?” Sets and mini-sets are arranged like a concert leading the listener around a sound painting with attention to speed, movement (chokes), different mathematics (texture), different sounds and syncopations, tempos, volume, timbre, meter and accent patterns. The drum corps arranging technique of implied melodic line (1968 forward) using tenor and bass timbres attracts attention because it “forces the ear to move” and is foreign to most listeners. Modern corps and bands have deleted this technique due to high tempos.

With a DJ packing 10,000 songs on a small flash-drive, show business has become cheap. Few DJ’s are musicians and fewer have musical skills, but brides pick DJ’s over musicians 10 to 1 in some markets. A one-man music act costs more than a DJ. A small band costs more then me. Being solo creates a price point many people consider. DJ’s have the ability to read an audience and play the songs they like. A big band might take few modern song requests and cost a lot, but commands audience respect. You don’t need requests with a big band. They dominate audience reactions. For them it’s more about what they can’t play which can be good when both young and old make up the audience. For my act, its more about what I won’t play, trying to stay away from requests that I know are bad music or an improper fit to the style of music that was purchased for the evening. My advantage is the ability to switch genres for extended periods of time with the touch of a button and still be a performer. DJ’s don’t bring that ability. (There was the CEO who stated he hated hiphop and wanted “none of that stuff” for the company Christmas party, probably 200 people. After my Christmas set concluded at the end of dinner he came up and said, “Our kids are here. They want some hiphop music to dance. Have any?”… and I hit the “Rap-Hiphop” button.) The ability to perform makes a difference. Many DJ’s have friends that will come to the gig, get drunk and spend money watching them stand, push faders and turn knobs, kind of like the self important orchestral snare drummer playing a buzz roll and ending it with a flourishing lift of the sticks to feel important, doing something extra but not necessary. People relate the movement of drumming while seeing patterns develop right in front of them. They gawk at speed and feel the power. It can be a bit perplexing. One dance club owner said what I have observed, “ Guys will always follow what the girls are doing to get on the dance floor with them…. But the girls don't know what they want either!” My drum set instructor, Johnny Wallace, stated that he could stand in the dining room, listen to the people and background noise and tell you what kind of evening his big
band was going to have. His motto: “I hate the music business!”

Learning Curves

1) Repertoire. Learn many different genre - from House to Trance, R&B and Hip Hop, Jazz to Oldies, Alternative to Country, Irish Tunes to Southern Rock, with at least 4 hours of continuous music for each.
2) Memorize the performance using 8 ½ x 11 cheat sheets on a music stand. I have developed a musical shorthand using one line per song written in short symbolic code similar to the rudimental code taught to me by Jay Tuomey and used by countless fife and drum corps champions as rudimental shorthand since the Civil War. Each song has the timbre tuning on the brain (a number), how to perform the intro of the song, the syncopation of the main melody and what the outro does. The code can be somewhat transferred using computer symbols to carry performance information after song titles on the computer screen using timbre settings and phrasings.

Shorthand Symbols for Tuning Entry, Syncopation and Ending

3) Learn to read an audiences age, race and culture. Many times the only white person in a venue, I can say with certainty R & B and Latin cultures did not grow up listening to “country” or “rock n roll”. When 55 year-old grandma’s are swinging in their seats to Hip Hop, accommodate their preferences. Rock music is very “downbeatish” and repetitious with minimal phrasing usually in 2/4. Changing instruments helps (or just play a lot of Steely Dan Material). Jazz, R&B or Funk is held together by syncopation having more complex phrasing allowing numerous counter phrasings and usually has opportunity for many more voices without clutter.
4) It is very time consuming to go through one song and take out all the percussion tracks. Adding 10 or 15 percent to the percussion fader will knock out or minimalize most weakly mixed existing drum tracks. Existing drum solos can be easily eliminated with blank measures added as solo time - just don’t speed up. I sometimes pre-set 40 seconds or more of blank time to ritard a double stroke roll breakdown as a transition into a new dance music tempos. Higher pitched tenors and low notes cut through. You have to listen to the original to make sure middle voices do not get cluttered similar to drum corps arrangement techniques of the 1970s and 1980s (vocals, tenors, timpani, bass drums). Where drums are prominent (Latin music or modern funky rhythm & blues) you can play the original part, add to it, make a counter rhythm, or switch voices. There is always an alternative. I use a set of tuned timbale rims mixed with Latin percussion that fits most any song and pack 5 congas and 2 slap tones at the flip of a button.

Rudimental Psychology

A patron should come in at days’ end and think: “I worked my butt off all week. I WANT THIS GUY TO WORK HIS BUTT OFF!” Sweat your skills. Tacets do not work. Mediocrity will not get you rehired. Marching bands and drum corps do members a disservice eliminating difficult rudimental competition passages, relying on simple 16th note dynamics, short fragmented phrasing and stacked writing. It is too small a skill set. I don’t know how, but common everyday non-musicians understand clean – the perfectly placed notes of breakdown training. Drum and Bass dance club music is from 160 to 172bpm. Clean 32nd rolls and 24th accented singles at that speed fit the idiom but can physically wipe you out if you don’t pace yourself. They did not market the movie “pit”. They marketed the movie “DRUMLINE”. Clean speed sells. Endurance sells. Power sells when mixed with poetic accent patterns.

Rudimental drumming affords energy efficient stickings that give speed with endurance. Historical examples include Bill Reamer’s use of “troublemakers” for the McCall Bluebird’s off the line in 1956. The “Tap Six Stroke Roll” caused him trouble at critiques, the most energy efficient sticking combination ever invented having speed, accent power and physical longevity. The first solos that combined many energy efficient rudiments was Reilly Raiders “The Gray Ghost” in 1959, named after drum Sgt. Jimmy Giles having consecutive Tap Five Stroke Rolls, One Handed Tap Seven Stroke Rolls, lesson 25’s and Drags. Drum and bugle corps people no longer believe Ratamacues are “musical.” They are not energy efficient, but have a “triplet with a tap” 4 note ruff sound that fits many songs. You can go hand to hand to different tenor drums effortlessly creating an implied melodic line or break the rudiment up between hands and feet, another “creative library” to recall. The 1958 solo of the Air Force Quartet was the invention of backsticking, but also used One Handed drags, 32nd Paradiddles and Paradiddle Diddles, Single Nine Stroke Rolls and dotted figures. This at a time Swiss interpretations were just being introduced. The Backward Flam Swiss Army Sextuplet is a musical favorite as the right hand (or left) can move around tenors (the grace note now a soft accent) and fits well trading off with Tap Six Stroke Rolls, especially dotted figures. Paradiddle diddles in 24th and 32nd base also can trade off with there other stickings depending what melody is chosen for the tenors and where the pitches need to go (more often left the left side the kit and right the right side.) The heavily integral writing of Fred Sanford at Santa Clara in the early 1970’s placed quick tonal trades between voices using accent patterns as a base with tenors as the lead instrument. While that solution was more timing oriented, Marty Hurley did same in the late 70’s using the snare voice as the base, integrating tenors and bass voices around rudimental accent patterns. There are countless “kool sounding” rudimental accent and textural combinations for drum set in rudimental field competition history.

On the difficult side are left hand lead 24th note tenor runs that ascend the drums to finish on the rim of the first tenor pad with a RLL R - the last note being an entirely different instrument sound. Single accented 24th notes are one of the more physically tiring passages due to holding the accent rebound down to execute clean note spacings around the drums. Breaking rudiments up between bass, snare and cymbals is also taxing as the notes have to be placed clean using two techniques at once – foot technique (heel-toe using the weight of the leg in my case) and snare technique (grip strength at center of gravity using the weight of the arm).

The “transfer argument” using rudimental chops and coordination to play drum set is still valid but not taught. Much of drum corps, band and indoor drumline writing has been reduced to brief snare/tenor/bass metric modulations that mimic keyboard parts. The proverbial 4 vs. 3 soon becomes tiresome, the same phrases played over and over again. Modern writing uses very few sticking coordinations and flams, relying on bounce rudiments. A basket of 10 or 15 rudiments is not enough to create a paycheck. Modern marching percussion arrangements are very limited in demand and musical texture choices because of stacked vertical writing (snares on top of tenors on top of bass) very similar to 1950s arrangements producing a mathematical “drone.” The judging argument is “simultaneous responsibility” at 200 beats per minute. No one in the real world cares if you can run and play 16th notes at 200bpm. Such tempos have little relevance in real world performance. Ideas need time to develop. The writing techniques of accent pattern counterpoint and implied melodic line (short or extended) have been lost due to high speed running. These techniques are my sales tool. To add interest to modern arrangements, a plethora of unmusical rim shots, over stated dynamics, ultra-high pitched snares and unnecessary double-stops are added. These simple minded writing solutions are the result of orchestral influenced people who do not have the rudimental skill level to create musically using solo based mathematics - “shock music” - where influencing an audience is cause to “rim shot it.” They have lost the ability to use rudimental texturing in an artistic and pleasing manner. This will get you fired in my line of work and is the reason drum corps are going out of business. Rudimental texturing is understood by audiences. They don’t know what is being played but understand small tasteful sound and mathematical differences that attract attention. The drum corps target market has become children who pay $5000 to join. Their audience is that of a state high school football playoff game - extremely brief and insular. My target market is adults. It is the world. Adults don’t want unmusical orchestral “shock percussion”. They want pleasing accent patterns, rudimental texturing and intuitive dynamics that lead the ear around to different voices with intelligence.

Instrumentation Differences

People do not like the hi-hat cymbal sound especially when eating an expensive dinner inches away. The instruments’ volume and length of decay has more control with both cymbals very close together especially for hi-hat barks. Passages between snare and hi-hat can be acoustically controlled with custom cut mouse pad material.

Hi-Hat Dampening

Foot pedal pressure changes the “wideness of sound” depending on placement of guests and architectural acoustics. Accents can be louder or softer using pedal pressure (looser is louder). Interior notes can vanish with only the accents coming through. Syncopation sensitive music to requires adept foot maneuvering between hi-hat pedal and left bass pedal without getting above mf. The best results are from an old beat up pair of small, dry hi-hats that sound a bit dull with short decay. Acoustic cymbals offer more timbre choices than electronics as long as speakers are in close proximity to create a sonoric ensemble. Ride cymbals carry sound and need much less volume, especially when using the bell. People appreciate and understand muffling techniques. Temple blocks project too well indoors. A covering towel deadens initial attacks and mellows the sound indoors; hard felt mallets or the biting initial attack of wood are appropriate outdoors yet dissipate with distance. Tenor sounds need to be dampened more at the low end and widened more for high pitches. The brain has tunings for this in gain and frequency for each instrument. All electronic instruments can be “panned” in descending order so that sound moves (right to left as one observes) across the speakers as if moving on a real drum kit. Roland representatives were helpful on basic questions when the brain was purchased, but for more detailed tuning you are on your own. It takes months to tune properly. Tune to the speaker sound the audience hears, not headphones.

Percussion faders control individual instruments on the brain and mixer board. Carpeting allows more percussion in the mix. Marble and wood floors reflect sound, a problem because you usually can’t do a sound check on yourself having someone else sit in and play a few notes on each pad. High ceilings or ones that undulate from low to high are treacherous for some instruments. You don’t know which ones until the owner tells you to “tone that thing down.” There was the Mother’s Day performance far out into the sticks with farms and silos; a southern rock crowd. I told the owner, “I thought you said jazz.” She said, “It will be fine.” Country people enjoy different kinds of music. In a very sleek, marbled, high-ceiling restaurant, I was warned about being “too loud.” “You’re scaring me with that thing,” said the owner when the kit was mostly assembled. Before a sound check she came over, “Now you’re really scaring me! Are you sure about this?” “Done it a hundred times. Relax. If by chance it’s too loud, give me hand signals.” “If you are too loud I will tell you to stop!” Admittedly, it was at the lower edge of my sound range but I’ve played there numerous times. Respect the owners’ wishes. Sometimes you are warned about “wood blocks sounding like a shot gun” while setting up or comments from staff about “weird acoustics”. Outdoor bar areas (tiki bars) usually attract smokers who enjoy their music louder. Patrons who don’t opt indoors. Tell the wait staff to seat the table closest to you last. Owners and managers constantly tell stories about bands that come into their establishments and chase customers away being too loud. With faders turned low on electronic pads, I can send the message I am working hard with softer sounds coming from the speakers. A smart one-man act has a larger repertoire, better sound control and costs less than a band.


The Roland TD-20 module allows 14 dual trigger and 1 (bass drum) pad - 29 instruments at one time.

Roland Brain

(The new TD-30 looks to have the same number of outputs). Roland’s brain had better response when tested side by side with Yamaha’s best. Their product processes signals faster, handling flam grace notes very well. (Rolands’ brain was tested with Yamaha pads and vice versa. Yamaha seemed to have a greater variety of sound choices but not quite as defined). Yamaha introduced pads having triple instruments right, left and center but you have to use their electronic brain. My solution mixes 6 Yamaha 8-inch pads in an upper row and 4 Rolands’ in a lower row, the top overlapping the bottom slightly less than half way, resulting in 20 instrument voices within a 130 degree turning radius excluding the snare. Three electronic cymbals, one acoustic ride and hi-hat cymbals are within this arc increasing the number to 28. The range of sound is much greater than real drums: from 40” gong to 15 timpani and full racks of bongos, congas, mongas, jongas, yongas and timbales with tuned rim notes. A 6-pound pad gets the same sound as a 20-pound 10-ply 18-inch floor tom or a 10-inch electronic pad. Two mono cables come from the back of the unit to the mixer. Dual “Y” right and left mono tips at both cable ends saves set up/tear down time. (Cheaper brands produce slight static around 100 degrees in the sun.) The Yamaha pads cost more to fix than buy new, expendable when the signal distorts or quits. (False triggering can occur around 40 degrees outdoors on the instruments, with the outer zone response refusing to trigger above “p” at 36 degrees.) Roland Pads have a separate rubber rim enclosure for the piezo-electric sensors. They split apart on top after a few years. The life of these rubber rims can be extended attaching soft felt with a glued backing and also reduces ambient sounds to the audience.

Chemicals in glue destroy rubber. A fine dust covering of spent black rubber particles exists after a 3 or 4 hour practice covering my snare pad. The cymbals have gone through 7 years of intense work by a drum corps arm drummer transferring bone weight through a strong grip, but Roland representatives stated hard playing could not be the problem. Stick tape shrinks in the first two weeks after applied exposing the glue underneath. There would be opportunity for glue to react with the Roland rubber cymbal pads when practicing with opposite ends for weight training. Other electronic instrument companies might use the same rubber composition.

Electronic pads are much smaller than acoustic drums with far greater tuning possibilities. Individual pads can be quickly tuned between songs but it is best to have tunings pre-set. If needed, small graphic cards used in cameras fit into the brain and can hold 8 different tunings of 50 drum sets (400 on one chip). It takes to button push those extra instrument sounds up. I might use 5 different settings in a song with a one or two second window to switch. The different pad sizes of electronic kits – small to large to mimic real cymbals and drums - are not necessary. Smaller pads place more instruments within reach. Anything bigger than an 8-inch pad is a waste of space and performance energy. There is no reason to have an electronic kit look similar to an acoustic one. Audiences do not care. The want different textures and sounds. For speed and stick placement, a 6-inch pad would be optimum but that size seems to be a universal “beginners” model. To my knowledge Hart Dynamics, Alesis, Pintech, Simmons, Pearl, Roland and Yamaha do not manufacture anything that small having the professional construction of their top line models. Anything smaller and stick placement with speed becomes an issue. A 4’ x 5 ½ ‘ set up area with mixer behind can get you into most small establishments seating as few as 40 patrons using one speaker.

Smaller Pads Shorten The Range Of Motion

Playing at ppp limits the performance library. Playing mf with the mixer volume faders turned down is acceptable as long as the sound of striking the pads does not project far. I have had the entire Board of Directors of municipal organizations a few feet from my instruments sitting at white linen covered tables and had a fine evening with people dining 8 inches from my instruments. Being unique does not hurt business if people know they are buying skill. Rudimental stick control is an advantage when it counts especially when people “who do not like drums” try to find some little negative, maybe criticizing the length of your breaks. Play straight through or have songs to use as fillers for uninterrupted sound while on break.

Relaxing Music For Jazz Brunch

A 1 ½ inch diameter metal rack can take the punishment of the road. Gibraltar works fine. Plastic hardware on aluminum racks might last a month, less if set ups are on uneven ground stressing main connector points and considering the friction of individual pad mounts. Shear forces build the farther away a pad is from the rack support. Gibraltar clamps would break plastic connections. I keep my rack mounts tightened in position then replace all the instrument stems setting up. The advantage of aluminum is being able to lift the rack and stems together through a doorway, saving set up time. Vibrations can cause an electronic pad to trigger twice (or more). National home hardware companies carry “Good Stuff”. The spray cans come with an 8-inch nozzle for hard to reach areas. Spray the expanding foam inside the connecting poles or the rack itself to deaden these vibrations. Test the expansion properties first. It hardens in an expanded state and can crack whatever it is in so use sparingly. Carbon fiber is an expensive option. The price of 1 ½ inch outside diameter poles (the product must be grated down with diamond cutters) was about $20,000, but most the weight is in the individual hardware supporting the pads. Until someone makes a carbon fiber rack clamp for less than $1,000 …….

The mixer needs to handle 15 inch powered speakers. (12-inch speakers sound a bit tinny producing fewer low end frequencies). I recommend 8 channels minimum because you never know if a DJ might hook into your mixer or what equipment has been brought (or is somehow missing). An extra channel is needed for mic announcements. If more musicians are hired they will probably go through your mixer. Besides, with your own mixer, you have control of percussion to ensemble balance. When solo, keep the speakers within the distance of a 10-foot cord. Headphones give a false dynamic read. If you prefer using them try the Ear Equation RP-15MC. Only about $50, they allow you to hear what is being said around (or about) you yet keep sound clear. I travel with two pairs. Damage to the light plastic retractable part can be fixed with Gorilla Glue. For the money, they have been far more reliable then heavier, more expensive models that press around your ear to the point of discomfort after a few hours.

Small Mixers Give Good Sound Quality

Keep the mixer close to adjust the master volume fader quickly. Most bands and DJ’s tend to “get louder” as the evening progresses destroying the original percussion balance. A master fader handles that balance problem making everything louder or softer. Don’t let anyone move that fader. DJ’s usually do not have a feel for a musicians’ balance ending with ear-splitting decibels having the drums tuned out. Without a soundman, someone has to make balance decisions.

The EQ is control of different frequencies. The “thump” of a nightclub (very low end 80hz) is not the upper range of trumpets (2000k). I usually trim my very low frequencies up 4 or 5 decibels the, 80Hz up 5 to 7 decibels and vocals (1000 to 2000hz) up same. The very high end doesn’t make much difference in EQ. You want low notes (bass drum/bass guitar) to have a bit of width with a rich decay (a bit longer to release). A mild low “thump” gives noticeable presence. Smaller mixers do not have an EQ bar to get this rich sound on the low end, but high quality mixers like the Mackie VLZ series are designed for studio work. This series has special pre amps giving a richer low end without the frequency EQ bars. The 1202 VLZ-3 weighs 8 pounds with a soft case. Larger mixers (12 channel Mackie Pro-FX mid-range price) have an EQ bar where the different frequency ranges can be controlled manually but with a hard case weighs 35 pounds. I have tested both in front of other musicians and found both Mackie series about equal in sound quality. EQ controls can create the same sound and give a bit more variety, probably more important for vocalists.

Brands matter. The older 15-inch 51 pound powered Mackie SRM-450s powered speakers were constructed with a good sound chamber in Italy or Europe. They can take a beating. The newer model Mackie 450 is 39 pounds made in China with a carbon fiber sound chamber. When testing the two side by side, it took 20 seconds to determine the inferior China made product in front of a group of musicians. JBL has a very nice powered 15-inch speaker for about $200 more at 40 pounds, slightly larger than the Mackie’s with slightly sharper sound quality. Both brands are clean and crisp on the low end. There is a low end to Mackie and JBL 15-inch speakers that makes a sub-woof unnecessary except in large rooms. Dance clubs usually keep one or more on site. Sub-woofers are for the floor, not mounted. At 70 pounds, my choice is to pass but technology is shrinking these devices. Bose has a tall tower product that disperses sound equally around a small or medium sized room. It lacks the sound power of a powered speaker horn for large rooms or outdoors. Peavey is said to have excellent hifrequency tweeters but percussion needs more low-end definition. They tested a little fuzzy down low. High and sharp is good for snare and cowbells. For a cheap lightweight 31 pound monitor, the Tapco speaker sold at Guitar and Drum Centers for about $279 has a medium and low end not quite as good as Mackie (a bit wide and swishy) but acceptable for the money. Bands use them as a cheap substitute. Avoid the TH-12 and TH-15 low-end Mackie speaker. It has a poor low-end sound. Bass guitar players say it clips notes (when an amplifier reaches its operating capacity on a loud note distorting the sound wave) causing a loud “pop”, possibly damaging the speaker. The Yamaha MSR 400 speaker is close to Mackie in weight but did not seem quite as clear on the low frequencies. The “Line 6” brand bridges the gap from Mackie and JBL to hi-end speakers. In the $1200 range, they carry 2 low frequency subwoofers and one horn up top in a 3-foot high platform with 1400 watts of power. Hi-end brands with column design include Meyer Sound Systems, EAW, KLA and QSC if you have the space and your roadie can carry the weight. QSC has the K12 powered speaker, slightly smaller than Mackie’s SRM 450, at 41 pounds and worth considering.

Avoid damaging “pops” on speakers by turning on equipment in order: computer, mixer, brain, speakers. Turn them off in opposite order. Carry at least one six-receptacle power strip. Unless the receptacle is hanging out of the wall (it’s happened a few times) you have the power strip and the other receptacle making room for 7 plugs.

Old cords can affect sound quality. The “Hosa” brand is available but cheaper and tends to break much quicker than more expensive, thicker custom made cords. Poor input contact into the delicate little hole on the side of a computer can cause static. Damaging that fit can put pressure on the internal mechanism. If you bought your Apple laptop anywhere but at an Apple store, it could be weeks to fix your machine due to the fine print in the initial contract. They will ship it out.

There is no need for heavy hard cases except for the electronic brain and maybe the mixer. Switching from hard to soft cases reduced my travel weight from 540 to 420 pounds. Soft cases fold into each other quickly on site and store much smaller. Zippers on the bags should be reinforced and high quality. Cheap sewing tears out. A seamstress can reinforce them. New products seem to have profit - not durability - in mind. Buy old soft cases off the internet that have better zippers.

Lighting has changed from hot awkward bulbs to lighter LED’s that need much less energy and stay cool. Chinese-made brands are cheaply made. Gorilla gluing loose plastic pieces of Chinese made products in front of an owner or general manager is not a good first impression. Small LED spotlights are reliable and cheap, just find out who made them. Light patterns can be customized in series or just a few spot colors. Two lights should suffice. Circular lenses produce more interesting moving elliptical light pattern close to a wall and nearby ceiling. Small pieces of wood or plastic can raise and lower the beam. Dance clubs have their own lighting. One small spotlight for intimate settings, something more elaborate for large bars with a dance floor.

To save sticks, put two coats of Gorilla Glue on beads and ends about every fifth use. Roll the bead in the glue on a strong paper towel to a rounded thick coat. Allow to dry and repeat. This stops that first chip from developing which begins the process of destroying the bead. Using electronic pads and glued tips, it is not uncommon for one pair of sticks to last over two years. The American dollar is not appreciating any time soon. Commodities – wood – will appreciate in price.


The music business is a strange emotional landscape. (There is reason Los Angeles is referred to as “La-La Land.”) Income based on the emotional reactions of others does not necessarily need skill. Consider the Nazi Show at WGI finals one year with someone screaming the names of Jewish war dead for 6 minutes and shooting a little girl in the back of the head with a cap gun for dramatic finale. Soliciting raw animal reactions in humans is shock art, alive and well in most Hip Hop and Rap offerings. Rap “music” is a display of “attitude” not intellectual creativity, especially when “music” is worth more when the rapper has been shot, giving more “street cred”, respect and sales. There is usually some infantile ostinato background part with a flute or similar timbre like a childhood taunt. Never give legitimacy to those who cheat their skills. The phrase “It’s all good” is a lie. It is NOT “all good”. Creativity has different levels of expertise and its rules are fairly constant for different media: art, music, authorship, movies, sculpting, architecture, etc. It takes about 10,000 hours of intense rehearsal to master any performance art. The less skilled people are, the more they treat competition as a threat. As an Electronic Percussion Artist breaking new marketing ground, I have found more open-minded opportunity with middle-aged people. The young are suspect. The old are set in their ways. Always tell the truth about other musicians or acts in private business conversations. In public, smile and walk away or change the subject, but never compliment fake. You may have to some day perform with fake and it will reflect upon your business. Like water, skill seeks its own level. Patting the back someone you believe to be terrible to make connections will only introduce you to more terrible. Quality attracts quality. Trash attracts trash.

Accommodate your price to clients’ cash flow. Do not let an employer dictate both time and price unless you need the gig to build your resume. Owners sometimes read industry magazines then spout knowledge that entertainment should never cost more than 3.5% of sales or something similar. If the restaurant has bad food, music will not improve the bottom line. A small restaurant might not be able to afford more than $100. Ask for a meal saying you have friends in the area. (They will throw you something already on the stove. Rarely do you get to choose….) A busy marina restaurant might do 500 dinners on a Friday night and can afford triple that or more. DJ’s and dance clubs are entirely different. Sometimes, skill is not prerequisite and the evening depends on how many “friends” show up to build the bar tab. Reputable DJs already have a following but their choice of music and skill level varies widely. Some owners hire a country or rock band that brings their wives and friends for a larger bar tab even though they are terrible. Weddings pay the most on a consistent basis with corporate events and municipal festivals usually a distant second. There are exceptions if you make the phone calls to find them. It is wise to call potential clients twice per year.

Inexperienced owners and general managers might ask, “How many people can you bring me? We need a following.” To this I ask, “What if I am a bad act? Do you still want me to come in with my people and chase your regulars away?” A good restaurant does not need a musician marketing their food. That is the job of the chef. I always explain, “A good musician becomes part of your brand image, an extension of your business reflecting managements professionalism and detail to the entire experience (wait staff, barkeep, chef, cooks, ambient music, lighting, etc.) People compare experiences then pick where they will frequent. It is my job to influence them enough to pick your front door more of the time. There might not be immediate results tonight or next week. Music is an investment over time. Patrons need to think, “The food is good, the music is good, the ambience is good, I think I will go back and next time invite friends. I can recommend this place to everyone at work!” Always keep performing when guests arrive a minute before you finish for the evening. It is bad business when new patrons sit and have music suddenly stop with someone disrespectfully packing cases in front of them. Extend the set another ten minutes and if someone from management complains (they usually don’t) explain you consider happy patrons good business thus winning points by sending a message you are considering management’s bottom line.

Get to the site with ample time to check plug-ins to amps, mixers and brain. Hunting in the dark for the one plug out of 42 that is not quite locked in takes a few. Carry a 50-foot extension cord in case you must plug into the soffit of an ice cream store down the street. (Art fairs pay well and are fun but treacherous.) Wind can knock your entire kit to the ground. At one huge rural community festival (people can come from a 50 mile radius), there was a stage on wheels that sank 6 inches as my cases were brought on. (They forgot to inflate the tires). Use at least a 20-inch length of pipe at each pole end for wind and uneven set up spaces. For municipal festivals or art fairs on city streets, point the left speaker to the far right and the right speaker to the far left avoiding a volume cone across the street where the artist is trying to sell a sculpture with an eye ball hanging out the side (a George Hopkins special edition piece with little intelligence and no artistic merit). If another act does not show up, take their slot and test new music. Constantly learn. Test your chops. Play through your break. Bring shower curtains for the unexpected thunderstorm or rain shower that you didn’t see come up behind you. It is about 45 seconds from first raindrop to drenching. One time at a very expensive restaurant, the entire staff pulled my equipment off the deck in less than a minute. (Save the electronic brain. Pads these days are throw away.) Do not take long breaks but do chat briefly with patrons. Ask their names, where they are from and what music they listen to jotting down artists you might never have heard before. Constantly learn. Add to your repertoire. Take requests. In a fine dining restaurant, people should be able to hear each other talk comfortably.

Breaks should be informative. One had Seth, country guitar player, come up to me with a story. “Hey man your percussion parts are better than the original. I follow music. That’s some heavy stuff you’re playin.’ Those electronic drums man? You know me and my brother were in Colorado for the Bluegrass Festival. We’re standing there and this guy comes over. He was scraggly, a saddle tramp if there ever was one. So he asks us for a beer. He was particularly interested in music. He said, “Ya know, a guitarist can pick all night and play unbelievable stuff. But without the drummer we are nothing. The guy behind the skins makes the music work. I can play anything but without his beat I am nothing. Drums make the song go.” He finishes his beer. A few minutes later there is an announcement on the PA system…… Would Willie Nelson please report to the grand stand immediately.” This guy looks at us and says, “Sorry guys, gotta go.”

Owners and patrons come in all types, shapes and sizes. People who live in my architectural designs show respect walking in the door. They will live in the art 40 years or need resale value. People might live in my music designs for 40 minutes. There is much less respect. The plethora of DJ’s has reduced respect for performance art. (Hey pal… play me some Michael Jackson! And hurry up about it!) One owner rushed to help me pack my gear and close shop only to trip and throw my mixer 6 feet in the air 10 feet downrange. Nothing can protect you from the tipsy lady who is backing into your electronic brain dropping water onto your computer, or some type of dating club wanting to use your mic and setting their props up on stage almost in front of you. (I turned my equipment off). Then there was the young punk who sat on my stool while on a break. (First - firm verbal warning. Second – eye to eye warning. Third – a Malcolm X quote, “By whatever means necessary…..”

Observe what is played on the jukebox or sound system. Some establishments have digital readouts that display song titles on cable channels or satellite radio. When hired to do a New Years Eve Party the owner wanted ethnic music from Ecuador. One month is not a long time to learn 70 Bachata, Merengue and Salsa songs including his wife’s’ favorites. It was also her birthday. (The food was excellent). One major hotel chain had a large group of people take tables directly in front of me. They loved brassy Latin Jazz and made me write down their favorite for next time called “Guantanamera”, a Cuban mainstay. They couldn’t speak English well, but understood 32nd note bongo rolls and kool conga parts, dancing the night away.

Contemporary Outdoor Sounds

Classic Rock To Top 40


Music for The Corporate Event

Many major hires have come over the years by former or current drummers. One chef came out and gave congratulations on using the correct ambient jazz for the evening. The barkeep said, “That's the owner. You did well for us tonight.” He told the rather curt unfriendly female manager to book me three more times. (The music business does have payback.) Turns out he was in a competition band drumline. “Dude, you can really play.” I have had nights where no one says anything and been given a tip by the owner, then received tips from guests to be told the owner doesn’t like drums – “you won’t be back”. One manager asked, “Do you give drum lessons?”

Rudimental Set Coordination

Rudimental drummers and drum set players think through cymbal/left hand independence differently. Set people play the coordination as double stops or “flat”. Rudimentalists play it as flams (Windmill example with right hand on cymbal, left on snare: RL,RR LR,LL) There is a slight difference between a double stop and a flam when phrased. No one will notice. My favorite use is the Swiss Army Sextuplet raising the right hand grace note above the left accent (and transferring the volume with left above right) setting up a backward flam (a “malf” these days) that can be used to play implied melodic runs around the drum set. Another difference is that double stroke rudiments are softer than single hand to hand notes. Single sticking has the weight of the arm bone and hand. A diddle has less sound because the first note must be softer to control the rebound for execution of the second note. This second note volume is physically less powerful, decreasing the volume and breathing more in time. It is a noticeable difference. I use diddles more for ballads and slower passages, singles for aggressively accented patterns such as 24th note singles, which are dynamically heavy having more weight behind the style.

Rubber electronic pads bounce more than plastic heads but much less than Kevlar. Roland mesh heads mimic the return bounce of plastic fairly well. I use soft rubber topped Yamaha pads because the stem mounting mechanism allows me to put six of them in an arched row within my turning and playing radius. Their hard rubber pads need a few towels over them to stop the upward pressure into my tissues and bones. Kevlar trained drummers have limited control. Professionals rarely use Kevlar. They don’t need the extra bounce to get fast notes out cleanly. To hold accents down when the stick wants to hurl upwards with force is injury over time. Practicing opposite ends adds 5% more weight and is useful for drum set arm motion training. A good work out is to do arm motions to the drums but just miss the pads with the beads forcing muscles into more control. It is 30% more difficult than normal practice.

The most likely places for performance errors are the first 32nd diddle after an accent and the last note before an accent. The 32nd diddle is a problem because instead of one note setting the distance between notes 1 and 2 (repeated 32 times or in mathematical proportion), now there are two notes and the second note of the diddle has no thought process. The last note before an accent tends to be forgotten about allowing the hand to relax and drop slightly allowing the bead to come up making it late. This note can also have less volume than those previous ones, the player concentrating on the accent and not thinking through the coordination. This also works with drumline instruction.

Musicianship is granted easily on electric pads with one pair of snare sticks, soft mallets and hard mallets making travel and set up much easier. Spray paint mallet ends white to be seen. Electronic cymbal sounds tend to read “darker” at low volume without higher frequencies coming through. The softer touch looks better with fluffy puffs doing sophisticated jazz or ballads. With inflation ramping up the cost of goods and services, lean and mean wins. Technology makes less more, especially when
considering travelling space, expenses and set up time.


Ken Mazur © Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved