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DVD review – Billy Ward’s Voices In My Head

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Billy Ward follows up “Big Time” with “Voices In My Head.” I’ve gotta give Billy props right here right now. I thought big time was an odd title for a drum instructional but he surpassed himself with this one. Never in a million years would I have thought “voices in my head… sounds like a drum vid.

“That’s enough slamming on the title, so lets get to it!

I gotta say that if you own Big Time, some of this stuff is going to seem like an refresher course. He might have wanted to make the assumption that you hadn’t seen Big Time so he rehashed some of the same stuff. On the other hand, on some of the old stuff he goes over you’ll probably think “why didn’t he explain it this well in Big Time?” I kinda wish that there wasn’t so much overlap between the two dvds. There’s a few too many “I already know this” moments. That being said, even with the rehash factor, it’s still very very good.

His first work Big Time was centered on grooving and improving your time. Voices went in the opposite direction, jazz. Or more accurately, jazziness. Big Time wasn’t a stylistic training manual and Voices really isn’t one either. This aim of this dvd isn’t to teach you how to play jazz as much as it is to teach you some of the elements that makes jazz sound jazzy. Elements like: the triplet or swing feel, driving ride and hats, and drums that just comment on the music as opposed lay down a back beat. The idea being that if you can master the elements of jazz, you can jazz up music in any situation. Right off the bat he goes through a bunch of his favorite jazz drummers. From Baby Dodds to Tony Williams, he talks about each drummer and how they differed in the way they played. He then does his best imitation of each and really exaggerates their stylistic tendencies so you have a musical idea to attach to the description he gives.

From there he moves to lesson to lesson giving tidbits and nuggets of wisdom. In every lesson there is tons of different lessons going on at once, and Billy doesn’t fight that. Many drum/music instructors try to teach one concept in a vacuum independent of all other musical reality. While all of this specificity is actually what we shoot for in music theory, it doesn’t work so well in teaching how actually make use of those concepts in music. Seeing the concepts used in a musical setting makes the learning process much easier and more holistic because you aren’t ignoring the relationship of one lesson to another. It also adds vast amounts of replay value because you pick up different lessons with in the lesson each viewing. Definitely a trademark Billy thing as far as his teaching style goes.

The most unique aspect of this dvd is that it comes with the new album from the Billy Ward Trio. Later in the dvd Billy goes through all of the tracks and gives some of the ideas that went though his mind when he came up with his parts for the songs. For example he talks about how there was allot of Tony Williams stuff in the way he played on the track, Bordertown. Lots of paradiddles and swiss army triplets for that song because Tony used allot of those when he played. The album itself is a jazzy album though I would probably hesitate to call it jazz. I should tell you all that I am by no stretch of the imagination a jazz aficionado. I’m just a dude who knows what he likes. I’m gonna give the album itself 4 out of 5 stars. It’s pretty darn good stuff in my opinion. It didn’t blow me away, but if I were an easy critic I wouldn’t be doing this job.

I would love to hear what someone who is a jazz freak has to say about the album and dvd, because I’m just not qualified to speak about jazz in-depth from an educated standpoint.

Anyways, after he covers the album he moves on to a round table discussion on drumming and jazz with his three students, And the whole thing ends with them busting out an impromptu composition on a wooden table. Main feature = Solid. Voices is produced by DW dvd (Yes DW now has a hand in the instructional video market) some of the charm and intimacy of Big Time doesn’t exist in Voices. Though Billy is still teaching to students in the dvd it feels less intimate because the student’s just watch instead of actually getting behind the kit like they did in Big Time. The students also happen to be a not-so-well-disguised Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, and Gary Novak… though in the video their pseudonyms are Jason, Yngwie, and Chazz… respectively.

Ok so it doesn’t have the semi-professional charm that Big Time has, but it does have being shot in high definition and Dolby 5.1 surround sound going for it. Visually this is the best looking drum dvd I’ve ever seen… it’s just downright sexy. I don’t have a surround sound system so I can’t tell you how good it sounds when coming from a quality stereo system… sorry.

Voices beats any other instructional dvd that i’ve come across in the area of special features and extras. TONS of extra footage including in-depth gear talk, (something that Big Time was a little light on) half speed segments of some of the more complex stuff, full length commentary track, A FREE ALBUM, and if that’s not enough you can go to billyward.com and download the charts for all the songs on the album and videos of Billy discussing the charts with his guitarist.

I’m gonna give voices 4 of 5 stars. It falls short of its predecessor, but not by much.

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The problem is that Voices rehashes some of the same stuff Big Time had covered. Some of it was better done Voices, some of it was better in Big Time. Either way there just wasn’t enough new territory covered. If you own Big Time then it may or may not be worth buying, depending on if you like the original and how much you care for jazz and jazzy music.

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