DVD Review – Benny Greb: The Language of Drumming: A System for Musical Expression
Benny Greb’s new DVD is somewhere between Big Time and the Thomas Lang DVDs. To me this makes sense because I tend to think of Benny Greb’s drumming style as a blend of those two drummers. Thomas Langesq chops with a Billy Ward like sense of creativity. In this DVD Benny Greb teaches you how to “speak drum” There isn’t anything revolutionary in terms of what he’s teaching, it’s how he’s teaching it that is the real selling point. This isn’t one huge system it’s actually 3 or 4 smaller ones that he’s teaching you by relating them to something very intuitive to humans, language.
Because of the title of the movie you might be expecting to learn a variety of things from this DVD that you aren’t actually going to. So here are somethings that you aren’t going to get out of this DVD. You aren’t going to learn beatboxing or that crazy tabla speak, nor will you use them as learning tools; you aren’t going to learn anything similar to Buck Nelson’s Fillmetics system; you won’t get a crash course on drumming jargon, you won’t learn anything similar to morse code, you won’t learn how to encrypt or decrypt messages war drum style; and finally you won’t learn how to speak to your drums in such a way that they will talk back in any recognized human language.
What’s being taught here is a different way of communicating systems & ideas we already have. The idea is that these systems are easier to digest and integrate into your playing when they are taught this way. That and the fact that you don’t have to hunt down each system’s traditional counterpart separately. The thing is that I have no idea if this is truly a more effective way of teaching these concepts. In order to find out it would probably take years of scientific research if teaching music in the language oriented context is THAT much different from teaching it in a numerically oriented context.
In other words he’s teaching you about odd groupings, rhythmic phrases, improvisation, time internalization, and a few other topics through this linguistic lens. The best example of this is the alphabet system he created using 16th notes and triplets. He took every permutation of a single beat split up into a sixteenth note and triplets and assigned a letter of the alphabet to it. In my opinion his system is much easier to apply and make sound more musical then Thomas Lang’s matrix system… you don’t need the bachelors in mathematics to understand the former, unlike the latter.
That’s one example where I found the linguistic approach to be a plus… but there were also places where I didn’t like it very much. For instance on his section on odd groupings and splitting the meter into more manageable chunks that were represented by words I found to be very unintuitive. I love the splitting big numbers like eleven into manageable groups of 2s and 3s but replacing the numbers with words just didn’t agree with me.
Content: this DVD offers an in-depth look into how Benny Greb views and processes the various aspects of drumming. The first disc he covers some of the more traditional topics like independence, odd groupings, and rudiments as well as some not so traditional topics such as his rhythmic alphabet. In the second disc he goes through some general ideas of improving your musicianship and about a zillion different ideas for getting sounds of your kit. The second half is a strong finish for the DVD and it closes out with a solo. If nothing else check out the second disc because it has some of the most interesting and least complicated tidbits in the whole shebang. Oh, definitely print out the PDFs on the second disc as well.
Presentation: Dave asked for the guys at Hudson Music to use some place other then Bear-tracks studios and they listened apparently. Almost everything is in nature or in a nice spacious cabin. It’s actually quite nice because they change places in different sections so you do to look at something new throughout the DVD. There are very few musical examples and I actually would have liked some more because there aren’t many breaks spacing the lessons out. Benny is a pretty decent host and like all big Hudson productions, the camera work is excellent.
Extras: This one isn’t quite what I would call “jam-packed” with extras but it’s got enough for a feature of its size. Footage of his world tour, two factory tours, a bit of gear talk and a few other odds and ends it should keep you happy in the extras department.
I’d definitely recommend this a rent/buy. Especially if Thomas Lang’s DVD’s didn’t do it for you then this provides a pretty good alternative. Either way you should watch at least once and download the PDFs.
Until the next time I get something in my mitts to review… See Yah
Oct 16, 2009 @ 10:29:52
Why do you think that Benny doesn’t mention using a metronome when studying his letter system. Could that have been intentional so that you are forced to improve your internal clock by counting the quarter notes but playing the subdivisions?
Thank you for your reviews.
Oct 16, 2009 @ 11:04:23
That’s probably why but I still think that practice with a metronome should be a part of your practice routine though.
Having consistent time is a necessity but so is being able to work with a reference like a metronome.
Oct 25, 2009 @ 12:40:34
My initial impression of the video is positive, though it’s readily apparent that his linguistic / numeric system receives short shrift. It’s akin to learning to speak 2s and 3s in Tabla and then nothing on how to apply that to a drum or drum set. Imagine, you can speak taka-taka-ta till blue in the face but then the teacher walks away! Some guidance for the student on applying the system conceptually would help.
The scene with the tabla master and Greb on the mountain top was interesting (I enjoyed it), but more time spent w/application of the ‘Language of Drumming’ preceding it would have been time better spent.
The segment on how to more sounds out of your kit was fun and informative, but some of it was a bit silly (eg water bottles).
Working with a click was a good section, especially the in/out click tracking (it’s audibly on and then off so you can gauge your internal clock) . So many drummers are never exposed to the methods of playing with a click presented on the DVD. A grade material here.
A well produced DVD that, as many are now days, would benefit from more applicable content and planning to that end. Instructional DVDs would be better served structured as a story: beginning, middle, end; and in a logical progression that sticks to the thesis. In this case, Mr Greb’s “Language of Drumming” concept. Disk two is very nearly a non-sequitur to disk one in this regard. It play as an afterthought to his concept for the DVD.
Still, a very good video worth adding to anyone’s library.
Jan 14, 2010 @ 17:50:25
I have only watched the 1st disc and I really like what I’ve seen. I think the exercises etc are fantastic.
His tranisition from the letters to the odd groupings jumps too quickly imho but maybe that’s just me. I am an intermediate player (20yrs exp.) and had to watch this section a few times before I picked up what he was doing. I guess I’m more of a visual person and like to see those polyrhythmic phrases written down so I can where they resolve. This is obviiously the opposite of what Beeny is trying to demonstrate and I did find that using the his phrases, ‘university’ etc away from the kit good fun to practise too.
What I found very hard was trying to do this at a different tempo. I quickly became used to feelin’ the time only at that tempo. As soon as I tried to do it a little bit faster I found myself using the syllabifications of ‘radio, university’ etc too fast.
Sorry that my response has been more about what I have been practising as a result of watching the DVD and not more about the DVD per se. I guess I was sharing what I have already gotten from the DVD after a quick run through and also watching one of the sections repeatedly.
I really liked the exercises at the beginning and are currently using these as daily practice on the pad. Can’t wait to get on the kit (hard with kids around!!) and give the bass drum exercises a try as well.
I wish there were more examples of his playing along to songs etc as I think he is a GREAT drummer from what I saw on this DVD and will definitely be chasing down some of his work.