What rhythms for rock?

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What rhythms for rock?

Postby Robin » Sat Jan 12, 2019 1:22 pm

I am a 63 year old drummer (retired) that bought a set of Meinl Headliner congas 4 days ago. I absolutely love them---I practriced 4 hours the first day, 6 hours the second, 5 the third... I am amazed at the variety of sounds that come out of one drum.

My current practice routine
For the past 4 days, I worked on my strokes, practiced a salsa rhythm, then jammed along with whatever random song came up on Pandora music (to throw some curves at me).

My question
I randomly picked salsa as my first beat to learn. Eventually I will be sitting in with rock or country rock bands, and not latin. After I get the salsa rhythm down, what rhythms would be best to learn that I may be able to apply to rock music? Any other suggestions for a drummer learning congas for rock applications?
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby jorge » Sat Jan 12, 2019 2:28 pm

As a retired set drummer, your main challenge in learning congas will be mastering your hand technique. Learning new rhythms will be the easy part. Excellent playing technique will make the difference between being heard and not (even with mics), sounding great or just ok, your hands hurting a little or a lot, low or high risk of hand injury, and most importantly, how much fun you have playing.
I suggest starting out by taking a few lessons with a master conga player if that is possible. My preference for teachers is elderly Cuban percussionists who have played their whole lives without damaging their hands, who know all the folkloric and popular rhythms, and who can get great sound out of any drum. This may or may not be possible in your setting, you may have to travel to do it. Where are you located?
You want to learn how to play a clear and beautiful sounding tone, bass and slap with each hand using minimal effort, while projecting the sound. This is not easy but is doable for most people who commit to dedicating time to studying and learning it. This is analogous to sax, trumpet or french horn players or violinists learning to get the best sounds from their instruments.
A salsa marcha (tumbao) is a great place to start, excellent choice, I doubt it was random.
My favorite marcha sound is Tata Guines playing on Cachao's Descargas Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature. Start with Malanga Amarilla but listen to and play along with all the moderate tempo songs on this LP.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THWEuXL ... 8wv6T_YNvE
This is the cleanest version of this LP I have found, sounds like it was digitally mastered off the original masters not recorded from the vinyl LP. Just came out and would be worth buying but its all on YT for now if you don't mind going online every time.
Focus on the slower songs not the real fast guaguanco and marcha and forget about the variations, fill-ins and solos for now. Play straight marcha every day for the first few months, lock in with the cascara of the timbal, guiro and bell. Try to make it sound as tasty and clean as Tata. It doesn't get better than this. Don't even think about the phrasing of the fill-ins and learning parts of the solos until your marcha sounds as clean as Tata's, with distinct clear and beautiful sounding tones and slaps, and without hurting your hands. It helps to sit there with one conga and just work on your sound for part of your practice session every day, preferably when everyone else is out of the house or apartment! Let your drum teach you and let one hand teach the other.
This particular record is where many of the conga players who developed salsa in the 60s and 70s learned to play marcha. Many conga players come close, sound great and develop all kinds of variations, but I have never heard anyone completely master Tata's marcha taste and feeling so I could not tell it was not Tata playing, including the late Miguel Anga Diaz, Tata's star student.
Have fun. And I want to see those 28 YT views of Malanga Amarilla up to 100 by the end of the month! You can do it.
While you are learning the basic techniques, Marc Quinones is a really good conga player who played rock with the Allman Brothers Band for years, a lot of what he played was based on marcha and variations. Just one example album:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRHy036_H4I
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Robin » Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:34 pm

Jorge, I appreciate your numerous comments. I am in the Poconos (northeatern Pennsylvania). I listened to Tata Guines---can't wait until I can interpret the sounds and hand movements more. It is hard right now.

Although I am doing this more for fun in retirement, if I can pick up a few paying gigs that would be a hoot. I plan to approach it seriously, and try to get in 3 hours of practice/jamming each day. I was pretty much self taught on the drum kit, but I understand the need for an instructor for the hand techniques, and will see if there are any in the area.

Luckily, I know old friends who will likely let me sit in with congas when their band duo/single play out, and a local club 5 minutes away has a jam night every Friday where I can take them. So I plan to be playing live, and I want to be heard.

I did have quite a bit of pain the first day, but suceeding says almost none. I am concentrating on hand technique rather than volume right now. Watching numerous Youtube videos on basic strokes, and finding what is comfortable for me.

I can practice out in my heated unattached garage whenever i want without bothering anyone. At this point, the wife can't hear them in the house.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Chtimulato » Sun Jan 13, 2019 1:37 pm

Hello.

As Jorge said, try to find a teacher.

If you can't find one "in the flesh", "in real life", Johnny Conga, forum member, gives lessons worldwide on Skype.
The man know what he's talking about.

Meanwhile, you can check out these guys on Youtube (while keeping on practising "Malanga amarilla") : Michael de Miranda, Eric Pérez, Edgardo Cambon. There are many others online, but these three ones at least are serious guys, no charlatans.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby jorge » Sun Jan 13, 2019 8:39 pm

First 1:40 of this video clip will help. Forget about the rest of the video for now.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaEjEzI ... 52&index=1
Do listen to all the great conga players you can and see what styles you like, while you are learning the basics. That said, I would stay away from the numerous YT instructional videos for now, focus on learning to play marcha clean, clear and relaxed. Your drum and your ears will teach you the most, and if one hand sounds better than the other, let the better hand teach the worse one. Since you are a musician, Tata Guines with Cachao and that video clip should be all you need to learn the basics. Once you can get nice clean, clear tones, slaps and bass in your marcha without hurting your tendons or joints, you can pick up lots of great stuff from YT videos, CongaMasterClass.com, and watching the greats like Giovanni Hidalgo, Joaquin Pozo, Eliel Lazo, El Panga, Adonis Panter Calderon/Timba Encendia/Osain del Monte, Mongo Santamaria, and others. Loudness will come after you learn to play clear and clean tones and slaps.
I would also hold off on playing out with amplified groups until you can play a few basic beats and a few variations/fill-ins with good projection and without hurting your hands. At our age, hurting a tendon or joint can take weeks or months to get better so prevention (technique) is key. Also, you need a good mic like Shure SM57 to play with an amplified band.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Robin » Mon Jan 14, 2019 11:32 pm

Thanks for your comments and feel free to post more. i am reading and learning.

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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby burke » Wed Jan 16, 2019 3:18 pm

Robin wrote:
My question
I randomly picked salsa as my first beat to learn. Eventually I will be sitting in with rock or country rock bands, and not latin. After I get the salsa rhythm down, what rhythms would be best to learn that I may be able to apply to rock music? Any other suggestions for a drummer learning congas for rock applications?


Everything I'm about to say is based on opinion and without any authority so take it with a large grain of salt.

What has been offered is great, but I note no one has addressed the latter part of your post. I was teenager in the 70's and had no exposure [culturally speaking] to the deep traditions discussed in a forum like this. But I heard the drums played in Santana, Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, some Steely Dan and a bit later Funk ... so I wanted to play them. Bought some, banged mindlessly on them for years. Much later found a teacher and learned everything I was doing was wrong and spend lots of time unlearning/relearning. Some of the earlier listening I did was based [to greater and lesser degrees] in actual traditional rhythms and technique, but I think a lot was just 'invented'.

So that is a long way to say that IMHO there likely are no accepted rhythms for a lot of the music you may end up playing in those types of bands UNLESS the tunes have a latin root to start with [Santana or certain songs by some bands 'Do it again' -Steely Dan, "Rosalinda's Eyes" - Billy Joel etc]. Of course there are tunes that a tumbao fits into [or other trad rhythms].

There is also an accepted tradition of 'swung tumbao' which fits into a lot more situations than a traditional tumbao ... there used to be a video up of Spiro showing that. And there are more or less accepted funk patterns out there as well [Spiro again and others].

So depending on the tune ... you may have to make shit up after you've tried to stick more traditional stuff in the tune.

I think at that point you may be better off trying hand percussion instead. That's a whole other world of mastery that is sometimes looked down on but should not be. I'm on a bit of a kick now revisiting, guiro, bongo bell, marachas and agogo and loving it.

I look forward to someone else chiming in on the part of the question concerning playing rock, country rock and invented playing in certain cases.

Cheers
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Chtimulato » Thu Jan 17, 2019 9:47 pm

Hello.

Burke's right, I should have read and considered the end of your post too.

I've been playing percussion in several bands for several years, latin and non-latin music (rock, soul, jazz, funk, bossa nova, « chanson française », Caribbean music).

At my humble level, I think the 'classic' tumbao fits in a lot of situations, either 'straight' and classic like in Santana's Evil ways or Steely Dan's Do it again, or 'doubled' like in the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the devil or the Doobie Brothers' Long train running (please excuse my lack of vocabulary, but you'll all understand what I mean here by 'doubled' since you certainly all know these tunes).

But you'll certainly get tired and bored (and your band mates too) if you play only tumbao along.

You can play other stuff, according to the song played, to diversify and enrich the playing. Another rhythm (the conga part in Marvin Gaye's Inner city blues) works great for soul or funk tunes for instance.

I try sometimes to play some batá patterns on 2 or 3 congas if it fits with the tune we're playing.

A bolero on congas or a martillo on the bongó are efficient on slow tunes and ballads. I play the bolero for instance on 2 Pink Floyd songs we cover (Wish you were here and Comfortably numb). I like to play the martillo on this tune : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1J04ugcdi8.

I sometimes invent my own patterns too if I think they fit to the music. As long as my band mates (some of them being very long time friends, and good musicians) keep smiling while playing and don't glare at me, I know it's allright... :D

As Burke suggested, also use some other instruments : a bar chimes is very useful. Shakers, triangle and bells too. You can make you own shakers, which brings more fun than buying some from big companies. Shakers and triangle bring a lot of swing in a tune, either emphasizing the beat or the secong eighth note of every beat (the « and »). Or the upbeats only. Make some effects with the instruments (without showing off, of course), vary the instruments on a same tune to create some different atmospheres, etc.

Listen to the others, borrow some ideas from others. That's how you'll become inventive.

Just my 2 cents, hope it helps.
Last edited by Chtimulato on Fri Jan 18, 2019 2:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby burke » Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:52 am

"I like to play the martillo on this tune : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1J04ugcdi8.
Definitely! Great tune ... made me want to grab my bongos right away.

A little elaboration on the 'swung tumbao'

I found the Spiro video online ... it says its about playing funk, but the clip on Youtube is only half the lesson. The part online is just about swinging the tumbao ... its totally cool!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHEYss29dwg
And here is a tune that shows it really well [and a favorite of mine to play along with]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGFAyZtI-YM
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby burke » Fri Jan 18, 2019 5:07 am

Sorry - digressing like crazy [its late].

I never looked up who the conga player on that Tom Waits album was till just now when I grabbed the record.

Bobbye Hall ... never heard of her.

Google has a wikipedia entry for her ... WOW ... respect
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobbye_Hall

But nothing about her when I searched on the forum ... well now there is I guess.

Sorry for the hijack - will shut up now.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Psych1 » Sat Jan 19, 2019 1:41 am

I've got nothing to add. Just nice to see some action around here.

Robin, you are getting some great advice - you brought out some of pros!
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby jorge » Sat Jan 19, 2019 7:11 am

burke wrote:
Robin wrote:What has been offered is great, but I note no one has addressed the latter part of your post.

Robin, there have been some great suggestions for future reference, but I would hold of on some of them for the time being. To reiterate, my point was that since you are a retired drummer and already know a lot of rhythms and timing, learning rhythms on congas will be pretty easy. We can give you lots more suggestions for different rhythms to learn when the time comes. Given you will be playing rock and trying to be heard over amplified instruments, in my opinion it is premature to focus on learning a lot of rhythms on congas until you have learned hand technique to the point where you can get clear, clean and reasonably loud sound from a conga without hurting your hands. That is not a trivial task, and would be expected to take at least a few months of dedicated practice. Many years ago I have experienced hand injuries playing too hard trying to project sound over amplified instruments without learning good hand technique first. I have seen this happen to others as well. If you already know how to get good sound from a conga without hurting your hands, please tell us so and we will give you more suggestions for rhythms. For starters, a simple marcha (tumbao) and a few variations will take you a long way in rock and will serve as a solid foundation for lots of different rhythms in the future. That is why I think it was an excellent choice you made to start by learning that.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Robin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 10:22 pm

(Original Poster) I continue to love these drums more and more. So many sound and rhythm possibilities. I have so many rhythms in my head I want to get out, I feel like it will explode. Last week I practiced 6-8 hours most days (it's great to be retired), and felt my hands were strong enough to play out. I sat in for a 3 hour set last Friday at jam nite at a local club. I learned a lot about what sounds work with a band, and how much stronger I had to hit to hear myself. I found it very easy to put a beat and some fills behind just about any song (they kept my mic up so it couldn't have been too bad). I did buy a Shure SM57 as recommended and it worked out well. I just had so much fun.

I did hurt my left middle finger's first knuckle (you're allowed to say I told you so), and will continue to work hard on hand technique. I took a couple days off, then practiced with some tight gloves on for hand protection as I worked on the tumbao all week. The gloves worked well. My finger is feeling pretty good today, so I plan to tape it up and go out to jam nite tonite. I plan to wear earplugs this week to cut down on overtones on stage, hopefully I can hear myself better and be able to play a bit softer to save my hands. I wore earplugs my last 5 years playing drum kits professionally manly for ear protection, but became to like wearing them to eliminate the on stage overtones.

Again, I appreciate all the comments and have read them numerous times.
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby Chtimulato » Sat Feb 09, 2019 3:17 pm

Well. Keep on keeping on, my friend. :)
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Re: What rhythms for rock?

Postby jorge » Sat Feb 09, 2019 5:13 pm

Your enthusiasm and dedication are impressive. Since you have committed to dedicating a lot of time to learning and playing congas, and are already a percussionist, I expect you will get up to speed rapidly. I have two suggestions.

First, dedicate a piece of your practice time every day to focus solely on your sound and hand technique. Given your background and rapid rate of learning, you may want to start with about a half hour a day, you will figure it out. With just one drum, slowly play a tone with each hand, hitting relatively softly, aiming to get the clearest, prettiest sounding tone with each hit, so it sounds exactly the same with each hand, trying to minimize the harmonics or overtones that naturally come from the drum. Aim for maximum projection of sound with a soft to moderate hit. Don't hit hard yet. Experiment with hand position and form, moving your hands around a little, fingers together, fingers apart, more wrist, less wrist, etc and find the sweet spot on your drum and the best hand position for clear, pretty sounding tones. Every drum and every hand is slightly different. Then do the same for slaps. First work on open slaps, allowing the drum to ring. I and many others don't use open slaps much because we don't really like the sound, but it does have its places and lets you experiment to find the best place and way to hit the skin. Then work on closed slaps, trying to get the driest and sweetest sound out of the drum with light effort. Don't muffle the slap with the other hand yet, just work on each hand one at a time. These are the slaps you will use the most. Then work on bass, hitting mainly with the palm of each hand, in the middle of the drum, to get the fundamental not a harmonic. You will be surprised how much bass sound you can get if you just let your hand fall with its own weight on the drum, don't actively hit the bass. Tip the drum slightly so the bass resonates. The drum and your ears will teach you. If you can't get the bass to sound good, check the drum for open holes (eg, for mounting screws that are missing) or cracks. The shell needs to be completely sealed to get the max bass. Investing time in your sound will pay off both in improved sound and in lower risk of injuring your hands. I have been playing congas 47 years and I still dedicate a few minutes in each practice session to working on my sound. Also, be very aware of any pain you are experiencing and try to find the hand positions and playing techniques that cause the least pain. In my experience, stinging of your fingertips is unavoidable by the end of a gig, but joint pains, palm pain, numbness/tingling of fingers, wrist pain are all signs that you are doing something wrong that needs to be corrected. I am not a big fan of taping or bandaids unless absolutely unavoidable for a specific gig.

The second suggestion, after perfecting your technique, is to use a good mic. You already have gotten one of my favorite conga mics, the Shure SM57. I like to use one on each drum but you could potentially use one between 2 drums if you find the right position but that does make balancing the loudness of the 2 drums a little harder. Play with the distance, angle, location until you get the sound you want. If they only give you one mic input channel at a gig, get yourself a small mixer with 3 or 4 mic inputs and mix your 2 or 3 mics down to one mono out, and plug that into a line input in the house mixer. Just don't do a John Henry and try to be heard with no mic over an amplified band, especially a rock band with a drummer who doesn't leave a lot of space for conga parts. Have fun and take really good care of your hands, moisturizing cream in the winter, avoid hand cuts, injuries and infections, keep your hands warm, wear gloves when it is cold out, warm up your hands before you play (wash them in warm water if available).
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