ProTips Blog.

Please scroll through the many thoughts I've posted.

31 July

Some CD Recommendations
Thanks for your emails, requesting some favorite CDs to listen to. Here's a list I put together a few years ago where you can find some really good Afro-Caribbean music. Most of these CDs can be found at and

1. The Sun of Latin Music-Eddie Palmieri This was the first latin album I owned, a gift from the great Cuban pianist Paquito Hechevarria. On first listen I had everything turned upside down, but little by little the timbale mastery of Nicky Marrero proved to be a wonderful introduction into the world of clave.
2. Jam Session #2-Cachao I remember driving all over Miami looking for these Descarga albums. When you found one, it was like finding a treasure. The solo and ensemble playing, itÛs like the University of Cuban Music! A must!
3. Jam Session with Feeling-Cachao Both of these albums have stood the test of time. There is magic in these songs, played by the likes of Cachao, Guillermo Barraett, Tata Guines, Walfredo Reyes Sr., et al. These are true classics and an absolute must.
4. Indestructible-Ray Barretto Whenever a friend or student wants to know what salsa is, thi is the album I recommend. Little Ray Romero absolutle smokes and the piano artistry of is second to none. Great tunes, solos, coros and inspiraciones.
5. Latest CD-Los Papines ItÛs so difficult to pick out any one CD from Los Papines. They have had quite an influence on me, as a drummer, and as a lover of Afro-Cuban music. This CD is one of their best. Funky, comical, musical, roots, and just plain great. Check it out!!
6. Top Percussion-Tito Puente One of the first albums I owned and what a good thing for me. A mountain of wonderful music featuring Tito, Mongo, Willie Bobo, and other important musicians. A must for the Afro-Cuban percussionist.
7. La Leyenda-Tito Puente Which albums of Tito to recommend? Well over a hundred have been recorded and, even though IÛve heard less than half, IÛm quite sure that they all swing. But this one is something special to me. The singing is sweet and lyrical, the band is swinging hard, and Tito... another must.
8. Tipica 73-Album with ìXiomaraî Nicky Marrero was a major influence on my playing. I recently met up with him in Europe and told hom how much his playing has affected so many drummers. He continues to burn.
9. Mejor Que Nunca-Conjunto Libre Conjunto Libre has consistently been a band to turn to for non-stop funk. Who compares to Manny Oquendo for driving a band (well, thereÛs Kako, Tito, Enrique Pl·...). ThereÛs wonderful writing here; sure to make you want to forget about the arroz can pollo, grab the one you love and start dancinÛ!
10. New Libre-Conjunto Libre Manny OquendoÛs one of my alltime favorites. Always swinginÛ, always soulful. MannyÛs always surrounded himself with the finest musicians, and this disc is no different. ItÛs Libre at itÛs grooving best.
11. Grupo Experimental Nuevayorquino The beginning of Conjunto Libre and the roots are strong! Great tunes, solos, and all the fixinÛs make this one of my most well worn classics!
12. Best of Eddie Palmieri Once again, too many great Eddie Palmieri albums to recommend so go for the best of. And it truly is a best of album. To my ears, if Eddie PalmieriÛs anything heÛs a consistent taker of challenges which is something attractive to this drummer.
13. Hoy y MaÒana-Los Kimbos A very funky band featuring Orestes Vilato, another one in the line of influential drummers in my life. OrestesÛ solos are a wonder to behold and this band is highly recommended.
15. La M·quina y El Motor-Kako , Totico y El Tabuco I like funky things and Kako fills the bill. The tracks are filled with grooves that will thrill the dancer in you. Totico sings his butt off and the sum of it all is a great album.
16. Patato y Totico What am I going to say that hasnÛt been said before? A true classic which we are lucky to be able to participate in as listeners and learners.
17.Songo-Los Van Van This was a hard choice so I picked one of my favorite Van Van sides. Changito is one of my major influences and his artwork is featured on a majority of the work.
18. Our Man in Havana-Mongo Santamaria A rare album featuring my good friend Paquito Hechevarria. In the mold of the Cachao descargas this side features a lot of jamming and great playing.
19. Haciendo Bailar Al Pueblo and Pre-Edicion, Varadero 81-Orquesta Aliamen Aliamen is one of my ultimate favorites. The groove of charanga, Cuban charanga, is something basic like air or water. ItÛs one of lifeÛs necessities and it just makes you dance.
20. Son 14 Led by Adalberto Alvarez, Son14 is one of my favorite Cuban groups. Sure theyÛre no longer operating as a group but their music lives on. Wonderful sones with great playing will insure many hours of listening and dancing.
20 alternate Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son After Son 14 broke up, Adalberto put together this great group. Like many of the other fine Cuban groups, Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son grooves with all the best of them. I heard this group in Cuba and the club was alive with fire and passion. A great band.
21. Puros Como el Son Cubano-Maravillas de Florida I love this album. It swings with the real style of Cuban music. ItÛs like a good cup of cafe cubano, hot, sweet, and strong.
22. En la Calle-NG LA Banda I first heard this band and said ìyesî this is it. A new blend of Afro-Cuban roots with the wonderful drummer blazing some new trails. A great grooving CD featuring ìLos Metales del Terror!î Great music.
23. Echale Limon-NG la Banda One of the great pop bands of Cuba, NG La Banda is a wonderful mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms and melodies and American funk, the crossover is dynamic and awesome.
24. Super Tipica de Estrellas A rare album but one of my very favorites. It is pura charanga with full string section that absolutle transports you back to Cuba. There vrsion of La Negra Tomasa is an absolute classic.
25. 30 AÒos-Ritmo Oriental Once again, a dilemma. Which albums to recommend. Ritmo Oriental has just released two ìbest ofî compilations which may be your best bet to check out these trailblazers in the world of music. A must!
26. Aquellos Tiempos del Septeto Nacional One of my favorite albums just for its shear roots. Classic songs. For the serious or casual listener I highly recommend this album.
27. Eddie Palmieri -La Perfecta (album w/ ìTema de Apolloî and/or album with ìSabroso Guaguancoî) I go for the funk and this band defines the word. As IÛve stated here, Manny OquendoÛs one of my all time favorite percussionists and he doesnÛt let me down on this CD. ItÛs classic NY salsa from a bygone era. A real must for every afficionado.

30 May

Monday I had a very intense test for cardiac (heart) function. It's called an exercise stress echocardiogram. Before, during and after intense exercise (on a recumbent bike), my heart's function was monitored for heart and valve activity. It's really amazing, the advanced technology used for this test. The most important thing being measured in this particular test Monday was the function and pressures in the hearts chambers, the atria and ventricles. (I already know that I have MPV (mitral valve prolapse) which showed up bright and clear during the test.)
I have to say, thank goodness I've been an active participant at the gym for almost thirty years. This tolerance to intense exercise certainly has paid off for me. Two cardiologists were present during and post stress echo and both concurred that my heart is in more than excellent shape, as am I, physically. The pressures exhibited by the heart's chambers under stress were normal. I know that eventually I'll have to have a valve repair surgery but the cardiologist said that this won't have to happen for a while. Extreme relief!
The chief cardiologist cleared me to travel to Cuba. She even said I could drink coffee. I will not, I repeat, will not overdo any caffeine intake!
This isn't the end of this saga, which began in early April. But, it's a very good start to a recovery from some harrowing and anxiety provoling days and nights. Thanks to all for allowing me to share my thoughts here. And a very sincere and heartfelt Thank You to all who have sent their thoughts and prayers.



25 May
Yesterday I went to my cardiologist and was told that, although I eventually will need heart surgery to repair my faulty mitral valve, that surgery is not imminent. I will continue taking the prescription meds for the two symptoms of tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and continue to monitor my heart rhythms. I am very relieved as I thought that he would suggest surgery either right away or very soon. I am going to have the ablation procedure for the SVT symptoms, probably in September to see if I can stop taking one of the prescriptions, metropolol.
The thing about my heart disease, it's just difficult to diagnose exactly what the problem is and exactly what course of action to take. I just cannot drink coffee (yet!) and, when in Cuba, cannot....drink...rum. Oh NO!!
Thanks to everyone who has written me and prayed for me. Your support has meant so very much.


17 May
Thanks to everyone who has written with the love and support.

Today I made the decision to postpone the ablation procedure scheduled for 19 May. Monday, 24 May, I have an appointment with a cardiologist who is recommending what is called minimally invasive mitral valve repair. Now, doesn't that sound just so joyful. Yes, that's said with tongue firmly embedded in cheek. Yes, it's heart surgery. I'm taking meds right to control any symptoms caused by my mitral valve prolapse. That's a whole other story.

And that's the story until now. It's frustrating but I am planning on being back to my normal self soon!

12 May
Most unfotunately I am writing this from Tarzana Hospital in Tarzana California. Two nights ago I had an attack called Atrial Fibrilation. Had to rush to the ER and then be admitted to the hospital. I'm feeling much better today, having been administered some meds to control the out of contol beating of the top part of my heart, called the atria. I hope to be home later today. In one week I'll be having a procedure to control another cardiac issue which I've written about here. Then I'll go to another cardiologist to discuss some other measures which will help me even more.

I may have mentioned this before, but, I've been very active in the gym for over thirty years now. I have a small gym at home too, with a Bowlfex Revolution machine and a Lifecycle. One reason I really believe that I will fully recover from all of this is due to the fact of my exercise regimen. I'm not crazy in the gym, but I'm there a lot. I mix things up and have always made sure to remember what a physiology professor once told my class. "You must sweat every day." (I believe he meant exercise!).

I'm hoping that this upcoming procedure and the prescription drugs I am now taking will help to stop these life altering problems. Thanks to my loved ones and great friends for your love and constant support.

Chuck name

26 April 2010

I just returned from a cardiac specialist and I am going to be scheduled for a treatment which will have me in the hospital for one day with one to two day recovery. It's quite an intense procedure but one, thank goodness, for which I am a candidate. There is a 95% cure rate for the symptoms which I am experiencing. I'll take it!

If you want to know about the treatment, the info can be found here.

I will have his procedure done in May. The doctor told me I may be able to leave the hospital the same day (amazing) and resume my normal life in 24-48 hours. Again, amazing.

I appreciate so much those who have written me and given me their support. I'll keep updating this blog as more information comes in. In the meantime, life, music and drumming go on.

Chuck name

23 April 2010

Had an excellent week back at the Musicians Institute. Thanks for all the love and support from the staff and students. It's nice feeling normal again. I'm still, as you can imagine, stressed at the prospects of this possible ablation therapy which maybe happening soon. Monday I go to a specilaist to see if I'm a candidate for the procedure. I am hoping that I am a candidate. The cure rate is 90-98%. My docs all tell me my heart is in great shape except for the mitral valve problem and this electrical problem. Oh joy! OK...well, thanks for reading and I'll update here as news comes in.

Chuck name

18 April 2010

Well, I thought it may be therapeutic to post something here about my recent health issues. For those of you who know me, you know I'm a very health concscious person. I've been working out since I was 30. At that age I had my first attack, what is called SupraVentricular Tachycardia. In my case, the SVT is brought on by a heart disease called Mitral Valve Prolapse. Briefly, this valve does not close correctly and allows blood to reenter the left atria, where it was just pumped out of. This causes an enlargening of the heart which seems to be causing the SVT. It's an electrical issue within the heart. The SVT causes my heart to race between 155 and 180 bpm. Not fun at all.

At that time, when I was 30, I smoked cigarettes heavily and drank a lot of coffee. My doctor told me to give up one or both or, basically, be dead within five years. I quit cigarettes cold turkey and pretty much immediately started an exercise program. (Never did give up coffee. I have now.) The doctor also prescribed Inderal, a beta blocker drug. This drug blocks the adrenalin receptors in your heart and blood vessels. I took the drug, hated the effects, and with the doctor's blessing, stopped the drug. I've been able to keep the disease under control by daily exercise and a good diet.

Just in the last month I've had two very intense SVT episodes. One put me in a 911 ambulance; the other in the Emergency Room. Whereas sometime the SVT can be "converted" back to a normal heart rhythm by doing some physical maneuvers, these last two times I had to be converted with a drug, adenosine. It's frightening. As a result of this, I haven't been able to sleep much at all in the past three weeks. Very stressful indeed.

My primary cardiologist has put me back on metropolol, a beta blocker. The second cardiologist I just went to a couple of days ago has recommended a procedure which is called Ablation therapy. A catheter is inserted into the heart, threaded up through the femoral artery. Once the offending tissues are found, they are destroyed using radiofrequency, cryotherapy, or ultrasound energy. In many cases this stops the reoccurence of the SVTs

I go, very soon, to a cardiac electrophysiologist to see if I am a candidate for a successful ablation therapy. I hope I am. The process has its risks, and I am sure the doctors will inform me fully of all of them.

Thank you to all my friends for your thoughts and prayers. You all mean so much. I'll keep everyone who is interested informed of the progress. And I really, really, want to be back teaching at Musicians Institute soon!

Chuck name


Learning to read music is important. Learning to be able to "sight read" is even more important. (Sightreading is the ability to read musical passages on sight.) This lesson might be very basic for some of you. But there are definitely some of you who may benefit from this information. This is a notation table which shows how quarter notes are divided into eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and thirty-second notes. Next lesson will explain triplets.


Learning to Read.2

I've Got You Under My Skins...Book/CD by drumming great Irv Cotler. People, this book will help you to read band figures. I've been using this book with many of my students, with really good success. Just listening to Irv Cotler play is lesson enough. The way he plays the ride cymbal is pure art. Nothing fancy in this production. Easy ways to set up section figures . I recommend this book highly. Thanks!


Lately, especially with my students at MI, I have been concentrating on basic information in our private lessons: Groove, Hands, Reading. Just this last week, I began to explore some creative avenues with my students, as they begin to investigate jazz and the more creative aspects of drumming. I really enjoy this type of "work" as it involves more risk taking then just reading from books or doing exercises. This requires my students and myself to trust our skills as musicians and our ability to take risks as individuals. I've heard some really nice musical efforts from many of my students and it has inspired me to search in my own musical experiences for more creative avenues. I've asked my students to create four bar solo phrases so we can "trade fours" for our next lesson(s). Good luck!

Learning to Read

Come on people, let's get your sight reading chops together! Sight reading is the ability to read rhythmic patterns on sight. Modern Reading Text in Common Time, by Louis Bellson and Gil Breines, is a great book to use to develop sight reading. I've been using a technique recommened by Peter Erskine, to help my students. What Peter suggests is to take a page from this book (or Syncopation, another great reading resource) and learn to read it at a very fast tempo. In this way, you cannot actually take the time to read the passage slowly. Your brain must develop the ability to recognize note groupings as sounds or patterns. Another skill I've found lacking in some of my students is the ability to set up figures with simple, effective fills. I'll put some information about this on my lessons page soon. I'll share more ideas, concepts, lessons, etc. in many ways here on my site.

Advice from a Student

Thanks to David Flores, PIT student who, after just sitting and listening to me practice and play to a favorite song, suggested that we, the teachers at MI ( should teach students how we learned how to play. What a concept! That immediately made so much sense to me. After all, it really is what I do with my students. And now, thanks to the re-focusing offered by David, I'm even more apt to concentrate my teaching efforts to share with students how I came up on the drums. The many lessons on this site are great examples of how I learned to play. As many of you have seen and played (!!), I've been greatly influenced by forms of "latin" music as well as jazz, funk and R&B. I share these influences with my students as grooves, coordination exercises, hand patterns and creative endeavors. Check out my lessons for ideas about this. I'll share more ideas, concepts, lessons, etc. in many ways here on my site.

Keeping Yourself Open

The Mars Volta. Oh yeah. Brian Perry, a student at PIT brought in their second CD in order to transcribe a wicked groove. I immediately got into the track. I think it's #1. A quarter before, another student brought in the first Volta CD and I got into it equally as intense. Jon Theodore got to me. But...I missed their concert in L.A.!! Next time. The thing is, you gotta keep yourself open to many opportunities to learn and grow. The Mars Volta is kinda far removed from "salsa" music and/or Brasilian grooves. Wellll....not really! See, if you know some things about other styles of music, then when you're ears pick up something vaguely resembling that music, you're ready to "ingest" it. Antonio Tomassi, another student at PIT, brought in a 311 tune with a samba-ish jam at the end of the song. This gave me the opportunity to show Antonio about samba. Yes! He is keeping himself open to other possibilities. And Phillip, my 15 year old student, outta the blue, asked me "What's a bossa nova". He had heard Travis Barker on his MTV show, Meet the Barkers, say he got inspiration from Bossa Nova! Great. Phillip's keeping himself open to other musical experiences. Nice, huh??

Uncomfortable Situations at Gigs

Ah yes, the bassist who rushes or plays too many notes. The horn section that can't read. The lead singer who insists on banging on a cowbell, and who has less than perfect time. Shall I go on? If you haven't encountered anything like this in your musical career, you will. I can (but won't) site many occasions where it was just plain uncomfortable to work and perform to 100% of my capabilities. My playing suffers, the gig goes on for what seems like 8 hours, and, well, it's just not fun. What do you do? I'd like to tell you to "grin and bear it". So, I will!! There are a lot worse things you could be doing that don't involve playing your instrument. Complaining will not get it done, believe me. Complaining to band mates, well, what happens if you comment to the bassist on how the horn players really are not cutting it, and one of the horn players is the bassist's best friend? Two friends gone and with them go job and performance opportunities. Complain to the band leader and you may be seen as someone who is not pulling with the rest of the band, a non-team player. Once again, lost opportunities. What positive steps can you take? When this type of situation arises in my career, I take the attitiude that I am blessed to be working as a drummer, making money playing music. I silently say, "Thank you for the opportunity to do this and thank you for the opportunity to make a living doing so". You can choose, when the opportunity arises to work with the same band, same bassist, or whomever, to not take the job and spend your time in other pursuits, i.e. making more contacts by going to a club, making phone calls, practicing, or spending time with loved ones. Take the opportunity to act positively and proactively. Turn a negative situation into a positive one. It can be more difficult than just letting off steam, but you never know where that steam may end up! Above all.......Be Positive!

Being On Time

This is an important subject because it can mean survival. It's thatt basic. A long time ago I was told, Being early is being On Time Being on time was being Late Being Late meant getting Fired This maxim has stuck with me for a long time now. I try to be relatively early to every appointment I have, be it a gig, session, doctor's apppointment, lesson, everything. What's the worse that can happen if you're early. You have to wait a little bit. So bring a CD or cassette player, a good book, some correspondence that needs being taken care of. When you're early you have time to relax a little. If you're early to a gig, you have more time to set up, making sure everything's in the right place, that you're comfortable. Also, the leader is relaxed that the most important mujsician, you, is there! Ever been late to a gig? Or, better yet, with just enough time to set up before the downbeat. Had to rush setting up? Wouldn't have been better to be 15-30 minutes early, so you could set up and relax? Have you ever been late to a gig? Honestly, I remember one gog to which I was late. I was embarassed. It wasn't good and the leader on that particular gig told me so. It hasn't happened since! An extra added bonus to leaving early for an appointment is that, if you're driving, you don't have to rush. Living in Los Angeles, you never know when the traffic will be bad. Leaving home early almost assures me that if the traffic is bad, I have time to find another route or just tough out the traffic. I feel it's a good idea to at least make the effort to be early. Sure, it's difficult to be eally all the time. There are many times when you'll just be on time. Fine. But, you;ll find that when you have that extra 15-30 minutes, the time can be spent in ensuring that everyone else involved in whatever the situation is will not be put out by your being late. This makes for good relationships and more chances for work and playing drums!

What It Is

What is a Mambo? What is a Son Montuno? Some information about terms used in Afro Caribbean Music. Thanks to the group for these responses to my questions. A lot of my students ask me "what is a mambo"? Here are a couple of answers.

*Son* Most influential Cuban style initiated in the second half of the nineteenth century in the eastern province of Oriente. It combines Spanish elements of the Canción style and instruments with African rhythm and percussion. Early forms were interpreted by the Campesinos and developed by the Changui groups.

*Son montuno* Style emanating from the Son tradition, with richer rhythm. *Mambo* Umbrella term for popular dance and hybrid music style, developed in the 40's and 50's. 1. The musical section that evolved in the late 1930's and 1940's from the Nuevo Ritmo of the Danzóón. 2. An up tempo Afro-Cuban musical style that evolved in the 1940's and 50's as a blending of the Mambo section, elements of the Son and some influences of American Jazz orchestras. 3. A section of an arrangement usually following or developing from the Montuno section featuring new arranged (or sometimes improvised) material such as Moññas in the horn section. 4. The Afro-Cuban dance of the same name popularized in New York and sometimes called Salsa.

From Son Montuno There are several hybrids of Son, including Son-montuno, Afro-son and Guajira-son. Son montuno is a son that begins on the coro section, so there is no largo or "verse" to it. According to musicologist Andres Alen and his brother Olavo, the verse section shows the influence of European music. The coro/soneo section shows the African influence. Latin American Folk Intitute It offers classes on afro-cuban drumming, folklorico, bata; dance, song, and the drums.


Here's some amazing info on tuning.

Tuning - Courtesy of Dick Markus A while ago I wrote to my good friend Richard Markus to ask about tuning. He used to work at Remo and knows so much about tuning drums. Here's his reply. Essentially:

  • 1) Place drum on a padded surface to dampen one of the heads-Otherwise as you hit one side the other head is also 'activated.'
  • 2) Press into the head to assure it is seated to the bearing edge of the drum
  • 3) Lightly place your finger in the center of the head to stop full motion of the head
  • 4) Tap the head at the lug area (in about an inch) to assure all lugs are the same pitch.
  • 5) Pres head as above and repeat until the drum'sings.'
  • 6) Reverse drum and repeat procedure. == On toms I prefer having the bottom head 1/2 step higher than the batter---more projection

On SDS-You can actually tune the drum to a 'G'. Snare side lower than batter. Very important that the lugs at the snare bed are pitched the same as the rest of the snare side. Do not over tighten the snares themselves. On BD's-The front being lower acts as a natural mute. Also be sure the front hoop is off the ground to allow the shell to vibrate. Ideally put dense foam, etc. under the BD pedal to free up the back of the BD-more fundemental pitch and projection. Please take toms off the BD. Bob Gadsen has an excellent video on DCI about all of this.

Your Teacher's Real Job

This "lesson" is very basic. It's main message is to give you something to think about. What should be the focus of your teacher. It should be to Teach you How to Teach Yourself. This is a message I share with all of my students. It's the most effective way that I used and continue to use to learn about drums and drumming. You can visit the ProTips section of my site to learn techniques about transcribing, listening,and other ways to teach yourself. This is very important. Please think about this and utilize some of the ideas we share here.

What a Teacher Teaches

I've been teaching a lot lately. Between my fine students at the Musicians Institute and those I teach at my house, I've learned some very important things. Wait...I've learned much? That's right! Something very important I can share with you is that I've learned a very important thing that a teacher needs to teach: confidence. How did this occur to me? Some of my students at PIT audtioned for an up and coming act. A couple of students felt they didn't do as well as they could have. Upon inquiring and then thinking what could I do to help prepare them, I realized that it was not really just technical ability that was missing. It was confidence that they could just go and nail it all. So, how does a teacher teach confidence? Now I had a good question which needed to be answered. So far, the best answer I can come up with is to teach what I learned in order to perform with confidence. Luckily, through teachers that I've had and my own investigations, I believe I have some important information from which each of my students can develop their own confident style of percussion performance. These lessons can be found in these pages, at my home in Los Angeles, and in various locations around the World.

What a great resource! Thanks to Charity Dell. OK, these aren't Hot Links, but just cut and paste into your browser window and you're on your way! ENJOY!

BASIC SPANISH LANGUAGE LESSONS http://www.fsu.educ/modlang/sp-cai/coursesite/GrammarExplanations.htm GRAMMAR, VERBS AND ASSORTED TOPICS








Sore Back :-(

Uh Oh! Woke up with a sore back. You know the kind, kind of tweaked. Well, the first thing I'm doing is performing these stretches that I learned from a friend who also gives wonderful massages. I'll come back here in a while and give a better description of the stretches. No pictures! (ha ha :-)

A lot of people think that you need to stretch out only your lower back, when there's pain. I've found that you really need to work on your hamstrings (back of the legs, called the biceps femoralis), and the sides of your legs as well, both inner and outer. Stretching there seems to really help.

1. Lie on your back, knees bent. Cross one leg over the other at more or less a right angle. Now. bring the leg who's foot is on the floor off the floor and towards your chest. You can place your hands under your leg in order to pull your legs back. Feel the stretch in the lower back. Gently stretch, lower, and then do the other leg.

2. Get a towel, then lie on your back, knees bent. Straighten one leg out, pointing towards the ceiling. Drape the towel over that foot and hold both ends with your hands. Gently pull back on that leg, keeping the other one on the floor (foot flat on the floor). You're stretching your ham strings at this time.

Many think that a painful lower back is concentrated in the lower back muscles. I've definitely found that by stretching the legs, specifically the quads (front) and hamstrings (biceps femoralis, back of leg), I get a lot of relief.

Listening to Music for the Purpose of Learning

Recently I've had some good experiences with private students. One of my students is learning to lay congas. She's getting qute good actually! We've been using the Conga Cookbook and also lessons that I've taken in Cuba. Our last lesson we started listening to Ray Barretto's Indestructible record. (It's available on CD and highly recommend it!) The purpose of our listening was to really dg into what Ray B. was playing on congas. My student had never really listened to music this way; trying to focus on a particular instrument or part. It reminded me of the many hours I spend and used to spend listening to great musicians and trying to understand how they do what they do. My student was nnot at all familiar with this style of listening. Her assignent is to just listen to the recordings in this new way. Perhaps you could try this too! Then you cn try transcribing.

Thanks to my friend Eric

I've learned....

That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

I've learned....

That we should be glad God doesn't give us everything we ask for.

I've learned....

That money doesn't buy class.

I've learned....

That it's those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.

I've learned...

That under everyone's hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

I've learned....

That the Lord didn't do it all in one day. What makes me think I can?

I've learned....

That to ignore the facts does not change the facts.

I've learned....

That when you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you.

I've learned....

That love, not time, heals all wounds.

I've learned....

That the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.

I've learned....

That everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile.

I've learned....

That there's nothing sweeter than sleeping with your babies and feeling their breath on your cheeks.

I've learned....

That no one is perfect until you fall in love with them.

I've learned....

That life is tough, but I'm tougher.

I've learned....

That opportunities are never lost; someone will take the ones you miss.

I've learned....

That when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.

I've learned...

That I wish I could have told my Dad that I love him one more time before he passed away.

I've learned....

That one should keep his words both soft and tender, because tomorrow he may have to eat them.

I've learned....

That a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

I've learned....

That I can't choose how I feel, but I can choose what I do about it.

I've learned....

That when your newly born child holds your little finger in his little fist, that you're hooked for life.

I've learned....

That everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it.

I've learned ...

That it is best to give advice in only two circumstances; when it is requested and when it is a life threatening situation.

I've learned....

That the less time I have to work with, the more things I get done.


Recently I had the opportunity to teach at BlueStarMusicCamp. It was, as always, a great experience. The camp, held in California, is in San Anselmo, north of San Francisco, in beautiful Marin County. Please do check out their site for more information!

Well, I was teaching my drummers at BlueStar, Sean, Raffie, Will, Hanna, and Josh. I was trying to explain to Sean about how and why to really hit the snare on 2 and 4. I finally figured out that it all comes down to INTENT. What do you want your backbeat, your groove, to actually DO. Now, some of you might imagine that this is a difficult subject to explain to a 14 year old. And you'd be right.

What it really comes down to is...SOUL. You have to play with soul. There's no other way to explain it. Pure and Simple. You must listen to players who play from the heart, whether they're playing metal, hellbilly, straight ahead rock, funk, whatever. Try and catch their fire. Try and understand how their fire is lit and how they maintain it, feed it, stoke it, and in turn feed the music

The Important Stuff thanks to Kevin Franciosi

You don't actually have to take the quiz.

Just read this straight through, and you will get the point (an awesome one) that it is trying to make! Think about it. 1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world 2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. 3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest 4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize. 5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress. 6. Name the last decades worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one: 1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. 2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. 3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. 4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. 5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with. 6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you. Easier?

The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care. You may want to pass this on to those people who have made a difference in your life .

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia." Charles Schultz

Encyclopedic Discography of Cuban Music 1925-1960   Cristobal Diaz-Ayala 

How To Practice Using Your Time Efficiently

Paying Attention I've just finished some performances and teaching in Antigonish and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It's been great. One thing I talked with students about, especially at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, was how to practice. It's been my experience that this very important subject is not discussed enough between teacher and student. Students want to know about the methods used to most effiiciently use your time to become the best you can be.

WATCH Watch your body as it goes through the motions of learning a new groove, fill, or rhythm. Actually watch how your limbs interact, or fail to interact. By noting the interaction you can best see where you may be having problems with coordination. I've learned to appreciate the beautiful way the body works together to make the rhythms of drumming and music. Take your time to make sure that everything "lines up" correctly. Watch the way your right hand works with your right foot, etc. Take your time! The Slower You Practice The Faster You Learn!

LISTEN Train yourself to listen intently to what you are trying to create. Listen for the minute differences in note values that can make or break the groove. Don't let mistakes in note values slip by. If you listen to what you are playing there is a better chance for the rhythms to mesh smoothly, giving you the feeling you are looking for. Murray Spivack and Richard Wilson, two of my teachers, always stressed the importance of listening to the sticks on the practice pad. Is the sound equal? Do both sticks make the same sound on the pad? This trained me to use this principle when I practiced and played drumset.

FEEL Feel what you are practicing. Is there tension in your body when you attempt a certain movement around the drums? Why is that there? Are your drums set up in a way to maximize a relaxed approach? (A relaxed approach does not have to mean a soft attack. You can be relaxed and really SLAM!) Take the time to really feel where there is tension, so you can then attack the problem efficiently, reducing tension and enabling a great feel! If you are learning a particualr groove, determine where the tension lies within the groove. Practice this part of the phrase slowly and methodically, until the tension melts away. If you can do two of these three things while you practice, you are

PAYING ATTENTION, the most important thing you can do.

Balance and Posture

Many students come to me with either questions about balance and posture or with posture that doesn't seem to be helping them play as well as they could. This subject was made more apparent to me this past weekend with one of my students. He has the habit of sitting way back on the drum throne and then having to really reach to play the toms and cymbals. hmmm...not very comfortable.

A while ago I had the great opportunity to see and hear Harvey Mason perform, almost every Tuesday night, for many weeks. This was at the Baked Potato nightclub in Los Angeles. What amazed me, aside from Harvery's incredible artistry, was how he attacked the drums! He reminded me of a runner always moving forward. I could see where he sat on the throne, on the front 3/4 of the seat. (He sat really low as well. I sit with my thighs parallel to the floor.)

Later, when I studied with Richard Wilson here in LA, we learned how to put te weight of your body on the balls of your feet, so your feet are "glued" to the footboard. This makes you kind of lean forward, into the drums. The way I see it, you become part of the geometry of the drum set, an actual part of the drums, when you are using your weight by sitting on the front 3/4 of the seat.


Adversity has a way of showing itself at the most inopportune times. What do you do when things happen that can have a negative, even devastating, effect on your life? It is your choice how to handle these tough times. At these times you may be powerless, and in fact you often are powerless to influence the thoughts and actions of others. Their minds and hearts are not under your control. Most often, this is the case. You can control the way you perceive things, the way your heart feels and reacts, and most importantly the way you act and respond to the adverse situation at hand. You will create the environment for change, no one else. Your deeds make the difference.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to mount the effort to deal with adverse situations in a positive, growth-oriented way. It is much easier to blame others, try and influence others. It is music more difficult to look inside yourself, see the strengths and weaknesses that lie within, and work work work on these things. You must call forth your strengths, face your weaknesses, take measure of yourself and then prepare to deal with the adversity at hand.

At this time friends can play a large role in your life. Are your friends ready and able and willing to stand by you and with you in these tough times. Can you count on your friends to be there for you? This is when you can tell who are your real friends. This is the time when many of your relationships are in the crucible of fire. Who will step to the fore and be there for you? It's great to be there when things are positive. Who will be there when the times are tough?

Believe that your actions will effect change. Positive acts work in so many situations. Perhaps these actions will resolve the situation, and the people who are contributing to the adversity will see your changes and react positively. Or perhaps the positive acts on your part will only affect you. They can show you that yes, you have the power to affect great changes. This power is strong and effective and can be life changing.

What To Practice

I have found some amazing things to practice, from my trips to Cuba. Of course, I knew I would! But this doesn't mean that you have to practice Afro-Cuban patterns. What do you practice to get better on the drum set? Here's what I've done with most of my time spent practicing.

  • 1. I always include exercises for my hands. I learned from my teachers that daily practice of singles, doubles, and one from the other rudimental strokes (diddles, flams, drag strokes) is a good regimen to develop and stick to. In essence, one day I would do a singles exercises, a doubles exercises (some roll strokes) and then maybe "diddle" exercises.
  • 2. Then I enjoy practicing double bass exercises. I've found several great patterns within the Afro-Cuban realm, such as conga and bell patterns. These patterns translate well to double bass, believe it or not! I also practice from the book I co-wrote with Dave Lombardo, Power Grooves. There's so much out there to find and utilize.
  • 3. New grooves developed from inspirations of African influenced rhythms are next. These could be from Afro-Arabian music, Afro Uruguayan, Afro-Brasilian, or Afro-Cuban music. 4. Have fun and just play. Very important!!


Transcribing taught me how to read music. I remember some of the first drum parts I transcribed. They were James Brown grooves like Sex Machine and Papa's Got a Brand New Bag. (OK, I also had a copy of the great book, Modern Reading Text in 4/4 by Bellson/Breines.) I wanted to learn these James Brown grooves and I think I knew I had to write them out.

What I do when I transcribe drum set parts is to concentrate on one element of the sound, usually the "ride" pattern (if it's a groove). This could be hi hat, cymbal, cowbell, or other ride surfaces. Once this part is written out, I then go on to snare parts, concentrating solely on that part. Ans so it goes, until I have the whole part written. I've usually stayed with transcribing grooves, writing out less solos. I did try and transcribe some Elvin Jones solos. Difficult! Transcribing can teach you a lot about drums and about yourself! If you really admire a certain drummer or percussionist, writing out some of their grooves and learning them well can lead you to some of your own applications and patterns. You build on what you love. Transcribing can also teach you about reading notation. You must be able to translate the sounds you hear to the written note. It can be a wonderful learning situation.


I probably receive 10 emails a month and about as many phone calls about endorsments: How do I get one? What do I need to do? Can you help me? Who do I call? And so on...

I've been blessed, and I mean it when I say it, to have great relations within the percussion products industry. I've been working in this industry for 30 years now, mainly as a drummer, sometimes as percussionist, as writer and producer. It's been great. And along the way I've met some really wonderful people. Now, some of these people were in bands I worked in, some worked in music stores, some were producers, agents, etc. Along the way, some of these people got more involved in the industry side of things, the manufacturing side of things. They started working for the percussion companies. And, because our relationships were strong, they carried right on through to this new part of their life. Other times, I was introduced to those already in the business, for example at trade shows. These shows are important because it's there that you meet many people in the industry. It's important to attend PASIC or NAMM or other shows and events. Days of Percussion, sponsored by PAS are great events where you can hear great music and meet good people. After all, it's about music and people.

You must have the contacts and the chops. Very importantly, you should keep in touch with people you meet in the industry. Now, this means that there is another "level" of contacts that you must keep track of and, respectfully, keep in touch with. Let people know, in an uninvasive way, what you're doing musically, professionally. Develop good relationships and work to keep them in good shape. So, you're meeting all the right people, you feel confident about your abilities. Now what? How are your "people skills"? Do you relate well to others? Does your confidence come through as a positive energy, not a pushy one? Can you carry on a decent conversation, keeping the flow alive in an interesting way?

Hey, it's all about relating to others. This is true in music and in business. Never forget, it's the percussion products industry. You want to endorse someone's great products, you need to be able to relate to people on many levels: musically, socially, verbally, non-verbally. They are all pieces of the pie.

You need a portfolio including a good 8x10 photo, CDs of your recent work, a professional looking resume, reviews of previous work (gigs, sessions, concerts, books, articles, clinics, etc.) This package is essential. You need one. If you send tapes or CDs, Artist Relations people will lisen to maybe a minute or two of some of the cuts. Make them your best work. Then you need to call the A&R person and ask if they are receiving endorsement requests. Be polite, not pushy. Don't sell yourself too hard. Let your work speak for you. Where are you playing and with whom? Any tours? How often are you seen performing in public? These are questions that the A&R people want answers to. These people are very busy. If the answer is "yes" to your question about endorsements, then ask for the correct address to the company and send in your package. Do not call in one day, two days, three days, maybe not in a week. Relax. When you do call, be polite and to the point. Take minutes to say what you need to say. You'll know very soon if it's a "go". So, you need the chops...all different kinds of chops, in order to secure an endorsement. Musical and people skills are a must. Learn how to use the phone well. Know when to call, how much to call, and how to maximize your time with these important and very busy people. Above all.......Be Positive!