Photo by Scott Pickering

Saturday, July 24, 2010


  • Strike it.      
  • Scrape it.
  • Shake it.
  • Tap it for staccato.
  • Slide the beads for legato.  

       Lots of possibilities with the cabasa!

     Experiment with these patterns:

Saturday, July 17, 2010


"Do you have a box?"

When Robert (a Peruvian) asked that question, I knew that he was referring to the cajon.  Simple, portable, and possessing a variety of timbres, the cajon is a great choice for the "no drumset" situation.  With bass tones produced in the center of the main playing surface (front panel) and crisp highs at the upper corners, you can coax a pretty meaty groove out of the box.

  • Most cajons have screws near the corners of the front panel. Loosen the screws to raise the corners for better slap.  I insert thin cardstock to soup up the slap.
  • Mike the sound hole for good bass tones.  A desktop mike stand comes in handy.
  • A piece of foam rubber resting on the bottom (inside) may help absorb some unwanted ring.
  • Experiment with the cajon for a variety of sounds.  Use the sides.   Play with different areas of your hands, knuckles, fist, etc...  Strike and scrape it with brushes.
  • I prefer a traditional cajon sound (without the snares).  You can obtain the snare effect by placing a snare drum on its side just behind the cajon sound hole.  Face the snare (bottom) head toward the cajon. 
One Good Lick For Cajon:

This pattern outlines the 3:2 son clave.   Start on beat 3 and proceed to beats 4, 1, & 2 and you can get the 2:3  feel.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Looping Pedal / Practice Tool

Play it again…and again…and again…

Back in my grad school days in electronic comp class, we composed using loops. Those loops were actual magnetic tape loops that we recorded and spliced. We’ve come a long way!

Looping is a frequent feature in my solo percussion work and I have also used a looping device in drum circle facilitation.

A looping device is also a handy practicing tool. I use the Boss RC-20 Phrase Recorder Loop Station which is a foot-operated looping device.
  • A foot operated looper allows you to record, stop, play, and erase without using your hands. No fumbling for a button while holding a stick or mallet!
  • Easily record and play a part and practice playing over the recorded part. Example: Loop the son clave and practice playing the cascara bell part over the clave.
  • Record a loop of metronome click and record a part that you are practicing. You can listen over and over to check your timing accuracy.

  • The RC-20 has memory capability so you can store your practice loops.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Expression In Music

How to play musically…only $5 !

“Definite and specific instructions on the playing of music with expression are always needed, and such information should be sought after continually by every serious-minded player as well as by every teacher and director.”

That is the powerful (and truthful) opening sentence from Expression in Music.

Given to me by a mentor years ago, my copy of Expression in Music carries a price marking of $2. The cost has more than doubled yet this inexpensive tome contains a wealth of information on musical phrasing. Famed cornetist, composer, and educator, H.A. Vandercook gives specific directions on emphasis, interpretation, ornamental notes, syncopation, and more. Though published in the 1920’s, the ideas in the book are timeless and can be applied whether playing the lead line or accompaniment.

From Chapter Two:

“With all the high-sounding titles that may be given to it, and no matter how poetically it may be described, expression in music consists of well-placed and intelligent accent or emphasis.”

I recommend investing half a sawbuck and studying the 59 pages of musical wisdom.