Double Stroke Roll – Lessons from Rudiment Rock-It

August 1st, 2014

double-stroke-rollIn percussion technique, a double stroke is two rapid taps in a row from one hand. The double stroke roll is two rapid taps from each hand consecutively, back and forth. This can yield a much faster speed than the single stroke roll, but only when done cleanly and correctly. Two problems have to be overcome. The weaker hand needs to be able to perform a double stroke roll as quickly as the dominant hand. Then, the second tap from each hand needs to sound just as strong as the first tap. While there are some tricks to be learned with sticks, the most important part of the technique is the raw ability to tap like a machine! The second pattern in Rudiment Rock-It develops this skill in a unique and entertaining way.

Buddy Rich knew how it’s done! Skip to 1:00 in the video.

The game measures the amount of time taken between each tap. It then penalizes inconsistency by making the rocket off course. Going too far off course results in the rocket leaving the screen and the player loses. Also, the amount of displacement differs depending on whether the first or the second tap is being performed. Otherwise only the first tap from each hand would need to be consistent. The game forces the player to be steady all around.

As for the problem of the strength of each tap, the game keeps the player honest by touch screen limitations. If a tap isn’t strong enough it is generally because the stick or hand didn’t come far enough off of the drum to make a good sound. It’s the same when tapping a mobile device. If the player’s hand doesn’t get enough distance from the screen to detect a release, it will not respond the second time. The rocket will quickly begin to go off course. But the player has the opportunity to slow down and regroup before they lose entirely. This is extremely useful for getting overconfident students to slow down and practice correctly!

Single Stroke Roll – Lessons From Rudiment Rock-It

July 30th, 2014

The Single Stroke Roll is deceptive because it’s very easy to learn but takes years to master. Everyone has done it before at some point. A drum roll to prepare for an announcement. Tapping along to a sweet song. Nervously waiting for something. It’s just tapping back and forth. Easy. Until you’re forced to do it evenly and quickly. Us right handers hastily realize how stupid our left hands are, and left handers gloat over their obvious (but not complete) dominance o’re our lesser evolved species.

Evelyn Glennie knows how it’s done! Skip to 4:00 in the video.

A problem I’ve encountered as a teacher is that students genuinely perceive that they are even and steady. Even with a metronome! And yet the student is obviously executing a perfectly swung 32nd note and just doesn’t know the difference. Rudiment Rock-it will quickly drive this from a student of percussion (or music in general). Any unevenness in tapping each side of the mobile device will be met with losing the game very quickly.

Single Stroke Roll – Slowly and Correctly


The object of the game is to get the rocket to the top of the screen without allowing it to touch the sides of the screen. The game keeps track of the time between the right and left taps. If the time is unequal, the player is penalized by going off course. If the player notices that they are off course, they have the opportunity to slow down and regain control before going off of the screen. They can then make another attempt at playing the single stroke roll quickly and evenly enough to win at the selected difficulty (levels 1-99).

Initially, only the first 20 difficulty levels are available. If the player wins, higher difficulties and new patterns are unlocked. This gives the game a challenge that encourages the player to continue becoming proficient at the selected pattern. There has never been a better way to get a student to practice the single stroke roll!

Android – Upbeat Bird and Beyond – Kickstarter

July 26th, 2014

upbeat-bird-for-androidWho’s pumped for Upbeat Bird on Android!?

Our 2048 Infinite Kickstarter broke $500 today, so we are giving all “$10 or more” backers magnets in addition to stickers! But that was just stretch goal number one. We need $198 more dollars in the next 8 days to meet our next stretch goal, which is Upbeat Bird and all future games to be published on Android! If you want this to happen (and I know a lot of you guys do) this Kickstarter getting to $700 is the fastest way. This will also include Rudiment Rock-It and a tuning game I’m going to start working on next week.

New, Improved, and for Android

2048-infinite-for-iphoneWith this, we’ll also optimize Upbeat Bird to run more smoothly. While making Rudiment Rock-It, we learned a lot about optimization. We plan to take what we learned and reapply it in this game. Upbeat Bird will be less offbeat than ever!

But even if we don’t meet our second stretch goal, we are still very excited to get started on the iPhone version of 2048 Infinite – The Circle of Fifths.

Offbeat or Upbeat? – An Ambiguous Disambiguation

July 24th, 2014

When talking about the adjective versions of each word, it quite obvious what the difference is. When something is offbeat, its strange or unseemly. A search for the word yields synonyms such as “funny” and “weird.” Upbeat is peppy and cheerful! Ambiguity of either makes for some cheeky musical humor.

Musically the two words are actually related to their respective adjective forms. Offbeat is most often a criticism of accuracy. It’s a very broad musical term that literally means “off the beat”. You can refer to a specific one in some cases: the second sixteenth note in beat three would be considered an offbeat. But really, an offbeat can mean any part of the beat that’s not on the beat. This includes all of the wrong places to play a note. So when your music instructor says that you are offbeat, it’s probably not a good thing. Or even worse (or better for some of us), you’re just an odd creature who’s also inaccurate. But don’t take it too personally. Everyone’s offbeat in both ways at the same time at some point in their life. Just check out this trombonist’s sneeze. Offbeat and offbeat. It happens to the best of us. (Cheeky, yeah?)

upbeat-bird-is-not-offbeatUpbeat is more specific. An upbeat is always an offbeat, an offbeat is not necessarily an upbeat, an upbeat is never offbeat, and offbeats are rarely upbeat. Upbeat refers to a moment as far away from two downbeats as possible. Tap your foot. Clap. Tap again. Clap. Tap. You’re clapping upbeats (unless you’re offbeat). Sometimes upbeat can also refer to the imaginary offbeat an upbeat conductor gives to give his offbeat musical group to come in on the downbeat (or sometimes the next upbeat if the offbeat group is playing very upbeat music).

On that note, take a look at Upbeat Bird which is only as off the beat as you make it.

Counterclockwise – Circle of Fifths or Fourths?

July 20th, 2014

counterclockwise-2048-infinite2048 Infinite – The Circle of Fifths is soon going to have a counterclockwise mode if the Kickstarter is funded. It’s going to sound very different, and here is why:

Going up a fifth repeatedly yields the clockwise circle of fifths. But what about down a fifth? Counterclockwise, of course, but can we really call it the circle of fifths at that point? It really depends on how you look at it. Taking cognition into account really messes the whole thing up.

Whenever we’re working with the raw materials of sounds, music theory should be looked at with a blank slate. No style in mind. Just air reverberating at certain frequencies. Get past all of your personal bias and look at sound the same way a machine would. Pure and cold objectivity (hey, that’s a great description of Stockhausen!).

This is sound we’re talking about! So, let’s listen to the circle of fifths counterclockwise:

Like I said before, I know that an inverted fifth is a fourth, and that there are fourths in the example. But remember; pure and cold objectivity. This means interval classes, not intervals. No tonicization means no hierarchy.

Just because it’s pretty sweet, here’s the tone row in fifths straight down in literal fifths:

Since I’m on a tangent anyway, serialism (the logical conclusion to 12-tone music) is the attempt at eliminating the hierarchy of pitches in music. It is to balance the sonic spectrum. The previous example does not do this. It makes the C at the end the most important note and the note we remember. This does not give us an accurate impression of what the circle of fifths sounds like.

Back to the circle of fifths! Compare the counterclockwise circle of fifths to the clockwise circle of fifths:

Presented in this pure and unbiased form, they sound very similar. Comparable harmonic material results. For all practical theoretical purposes, the counterclockwise circle of fifths is still the same circle of fifths. Just in retrograde.

But then we make music out of it and everything changes. Particularly the bass…which it why everything changes. Here is the Berg style tone row from last time…backwards!  And I mean really really backwards; I forgot to save the MIDI and only had the mp3 file to work with:

Here it is forwards for comparison:

Hear how the middle is a lot crunchier than it is when it’s backwards?

The Counterclockwise Circle of Fifths and Perceived Bass

The bass is quite literally the harmonic foundation and context for everything else you hear in a musical texture. So, the dissonance made out of a counterclockwise circle is welcome because the perceived bass is constantly changing to meet the new sounds. We don’t have to change the bass because our ears do the work or us.

Why do our ears do this? The ratio of the frequencies caused by the notes that make a fifth are 2:3. In other words, the sound waves line up every three oscillations of the higher note. This ratio is easier to understand than the 3:4 ratio of the fourth. Since the fifth’s ratio is simpler, our brains are more drawn to that sound and automatically rearrange any fourth they hear into the simplest ratio. This is possible because the octave above any given note is actually present in the sound via the harmonic series. Our brains reorchestrate sounds into their simplest ratio, and this changes the perceived bass as we go backwards in the circle.

We can also approach it from tonal theory when we are thinking melodically. An ascending melodic fifth (clockwise) ends on the note the ear perceives as least important. This means it sounds unresolved as opposed to the descending fifth (counterclockwise) which ends on the important sounding note (tonic). Here it as ascending:

And now descending, which is the one that sounds resolved and therefore less dissonant (Isn’t the Xylophone sweet):

CounterclockwiseSo counterclockwise fifths are persistently resolving to each other. It puts the music in a state of perpetual resolution. As opposed to clockwise which puts the music in a state of perpetual tension.

Basically, fifths are actually fourths because of some crazy cognition stuff, and going backwards in the circle fixes all dissonance.

So, is it fifths or fourths? If you take cognition into account, it’s fifths. In fact, it’s even more fifths than clockwise. Clockwise is really the awkward direction.

Here is that cool improvisation from last time–backwards! And therefore more resolved:

If all of this stuff sounds jazzy, you are correct. Now listen to Bill Evans.