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DVD review – Steve Smith’s Drum-set Technique/History of the U.S. Beat

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This dvd is kind odd in the sense that it accomplishes two very distinct goals as opposed to one vague one. The first dvd in the set is like a clinic with general drum technique in mind. The second one is like a themed showcase concert, the theme being the history and development of the U.S. beat. I’m extremely satisfied with the set as a whole but the second dvd is the thing that makes me glad I bought it. I personally think people of all sorts need to know at least something about their history, drummers are no exception. So I’d like to thank Steve and the guys at Hudson for making this a two disk, two subject set. I say this because they very well could have just shot the first disk and sold it for half price. The first disk can stand on its own but I don’t think that the second one would sell by itself. Good thinking, Hudson.

The first disk is the drum technique clinic of the double feature The first segment of the first disc is hand technique. I must say that I own Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer and after comparing the two dvds I gotta say that Steve just flat out doesn’t cover hand technique as well as Jojo does. There are some small things in this section that Jojo doesn’t cover, but if you own Secret Weapons this section won’t be worth re-watching more than twice. That being said, it’s still very good and until Secret Weapons, it was the best you guide to hand technique that you could find. It covers grip and finding the fulcrum in both matched and traditional. He then moves on to the Moller Technique and some cool variations that he uses. Admittedly there is a lot of ground not covered between holding the stick and the Moller technique but, oh well. After that he goes over some other non-Moller techniques that he uses to get other textures and dynamics. He then sums up the hand technique segment with a demonstration of moving seamlessly through all the techniques he displayed from biggest, slowest and loudest, to smallest, fastest, and most quiet. Demonstrating that there isn’t one single technique that’s equally effective in all scenarios, also demonstrates the huge musical spectrum one drummer can cover if he masters many techniques.

After hand technique, Steve moves on to foot technique for bass drum and hi-hat. Drum-set foot technique hasn’t been pursued and developed to the extent that hand technique has because it’s younger and for along time it was much ignored. Only recently has foot and hand equality become a pervasive concept in the drumming community. Even now, technique for the bass pedal vastly overshadows that for the hi-hat in terms of attention among drummers. That being said, this dvd does a VERY good job at covering some of the best foot technique developed thus far. In my opinion this video is still the one to beat as a comprehensive and effective guide to developing great foot technique. His approach to the most basic bass drum stroke is similar to the Gladstone Stroke (which isn’t covered in the hand technique section.) The driving idea being, letting the stick/beater come off of the head produces a much bigger sound and wastes less energy. He then expands this idea into different foot positions and ranges of motion. All this comes to a head with the constant release technique (the best I can describe it is as the foot’s answer to the drop-bounce technique.)

The focus then shifts to foot technique for the oft neglected hi-hat. Steve shows how you can get a wide variety of sounds out of the hi-hat using only your foot. The great thing about this section is that most of these techniques are very simple. As in “why didn’t I think of that?” simple. Basic hi-hat technique is much simpler than basic bass pedal technique, so if you’re looking for something that you can apply next to immediately after seeing it, jump to this section. Steve demonstrates one technique that is unique to the hi-hat and is cool visually and sonically, though it’s a bit of a pain to get down. I’m not sure if it has a name so I call it the rocking hat technique… Tony Williams made this one famous (sorta.) Anyways it creates a a loud sloshy background noise that I’d compare to riding on the crash. There’s a minimum speed requirement so you need to be playing some pretty fast and loose for it to fit in. Uptempo Jazz and Fusion come to mind, though it’s great in a drum solo too laugh.gif. It’s really rare to see it in action and it’s one of my favorites so I figured I’d promote it a little bit.

We then move into the art of practice, where Steve gives his thoughts on practicing. In this section he also covers some exercises and breaks down some of his favorite fills and licks… there’s really not much to say about this section. Not to say that it’s bad or not worthy of note, it’s just that it can pretty much be summed up with just that.

Moving to the second disk, Steve takes us through the development of the U.S. beat, from Ragtime all the way to Fusion. Steve demonstrates his musical versatility as he goes style by style and performs each with other musicians. He also only uses drum-set technology that was available during the era that each style was in its heyday. No cheating or lack of detail in this half of the dvd. When he reaches fusion music, He performs a set of tunes from his band Vital Information. This is the section that really earns the dvd my affection. The drum-set is the percussion instrument of modern U.S. music and it deserves it’s own chronicling, which is easy because It’s also a fairly new instrument. I also firmly believe that knowing your history gives you a better perspective on the present. This section is one that you just need to pop some popcorn, sit back, and prepare to get you some knowledge.

All of the Performances are great stuff but the Vital Information section really takes the cake. In my mind Vital Information is THE band for music aimed at other musicians, and each member of the band gets his time to shine in this dvd. This is the place where you get to see Steve in his element, so take the time to analyze what he does in the context of live performance. There is no shortage of Steve playing music in this dvd and during the first dvd, each section ends with steve doing a mind blowing solo. The cool thing about the solos he does, is that they are pretty much songs in and of themselves. Seriously, I could throw this stuff in my Ipod and listen to it straight up, no band required. The whole second disk is nothing but performance after performance and watching Steve adapt his role in the band to fit the music in each style is really a demonstration in truly serving the music. He’s definitely a musician worth keeping your eye on.

Special features? Oh yeah! There is tons of bonus footage including a really great section that pays tribute to John Bohnam and some of his best grooves. There is a tour of the drum gear that was used in the shoot, A clip of the Mr. Hi-Hat solo, alternate takes of some of the performances in the dvd, pdfs, a photo gallery, alternate camera angles, and a commentary track for select performances. Best of all… there is a “play all music” and a “play all drum solos” feature. So you can just get to the good stuff without all the talking in between.

As a whole the dvd gets 4.5 out of 5 stars. The reason doesn’t get that other half star is that Steve doesn’t make a very good host when he’s just talking to the camera and not demonstrating anything. I’ve seen video of him in clinic and he’s a better host in that setting. Steve is very cool and calm, and I like my drum DVD host’s to be a little more exciting.

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Nevertheless, this dvd is something that you should just own. The content is just way too good to pass up.

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