“Q: What is The Dark Arts of Percussion, and should I report you for being a part of it?
A: No, calm down.”
Jeff Willet Music is back with a new series of albums called The Dark Arts of Percussion. There will be a few albums in this series, starting with Volume I: “The Wind Gongs of Willow Grove,” followed by another album currently in the works with big and epic arrangements! I won’t let too much out of the bag at this point, but many more updates are soon to come. Click HERE to jump over to The Dark Arts of Percussion page on this site to read more details about the first album of the series.
As I sit here listening to some new kalimba tracks I’m working on, I’d like to bring to the attention of all of the drummers & percussionists who read this that there is a golden opportunity to get your hands on the fully custom drum set of your dreams! Steve Weiss Music now offers custom drums in four brands – Gretsch, Yamaha, Pearl, and Ludwig – all with some pretty sweet options, click around through them all!
When you build your own custom drum set, you have complete control over things like wood type, drum & hardware finish, bearing edges, and obviously the sizes of the drums and the configuration. Too much to choose from? They’ll even help you along the way to make sure you’re getting what you want from it if you call or fill out the short form on their page. ***You are no longer limited to the standard 4 and 5-piece drum sets that you see at music stores!*** If you’ve ever said anything like, “well that one’s nice, but I’d like a bigger bass drum size with those same toms,” or “that finish would jump out better with black or gold hardware,” then … make it happen! There are some wild and crazy possibilities with this – the conventional idea of what a drum set is could soon become obsolete if this really takes off!
I’m actually bringing you all this great news as a custom drum set owner myself – below is a picture of what I came up with – it’s unique, not sold like this in stores, but it is possible to get something similar (or completely different!) through SWM’s new custom drums builder:
My custom drum set
22″ x 18″ bass drum (birch) – 8″ x 7″, 10″ x 8″ , 12″ x 9″, 13″ x 11″, 14″ x 12″ toms (birch) – 6.5″ x 14″ metal snare – but the Sabian Cymbals bring it all to life!
Jeff Willet playing an E minor pentatonic HAPI Drum
Getting back into showcasing some of the different percussion instruments that I play, I definitely feel that the HAPI Drums deserve some recognition. They have brought some of my pieces to life with their unique melodic and percussive qualities, and captured audiences’ eyes and ears for a few years now, hopefully not just because they look like waffle-makers (although that would a be great selling point – “Free Waffles with Purchase of CDs!” – I’ll consider it). As for their percussive and melodic capabilities, they are precision-tuned steel tongue drums in a set key, played with fingers or mallets (I prefer fingers), with a sound somewhere between a Hang Drum/HandPan and a vibraphone. The different pitches come from the different sized cut outs on the top of the instrument, and the percussive tones can be achieved by hitting in between those notes or in the center of the drum on the logo.
A Brief Description
The HAPI Drum is another example of an “idiophone” – you hit it, it resonates, and thats where the sound comes from – very simple design (in the same family as my Udu Drums). The notes are strategically positioned around the top of the instrument so that when you hit one note, the other notes around it ring sympathetically to create its unique timbre, which I can only describe as “colorful” and packed with overtones, yet when you hit one note and mute all the others, it has a very dry/dull sound – go figure, you sneaky ears!
Tuning, Usage and Design
As I mentioned before, each HAPI drum is in a set key. There are plenty of options available as to which key, but choose carefully to pick the one that appeals most to you. I first went with the E minor pentatonic tuning because of how well it would go with my Kalimbas (in A minor), and then I added the D minor pentatonic to have a full octave and a half of the D Dorian scale between both of them. This continuous series of notes in a scale (each drum has 8 notes total, these two have 4 overlapping notes) allows for some nice melodic applications in a few pieces, while sometimes I’ll take a more rhythmic approach – I’ve even used them for bass lines occasionally.
Playing and Recording Techniques
Mic position for a HAPI Drum
As far as the playing technique goes, there really is no right or wrong way to play a HAPI Drum! I often use something similar to tabla techniques with them for more precision and speed. Because the instrument has such a long sustain, muting techniques are a nice contrasting touch to use also. For more recent recordings, I’ve been treating them like guitar tracks, and “doubling” the tracks – playing it twice, each on mono tracks panned hard right & left to fill up the stereo image a bit more. To record these wonderful instruments, I’ve had the best luck with a large-diaphragm condenser mic positioned about 12 inches/30cm directly over the center of the drum, in a cardioid pickup pattern. For recording two HAPI Drums at the same time, place the mic at the same height, centered between the two drums (or just use two mics). Any other positioning will affect how present certain notes will be (closer notes to the mic will be louder, and those further away won’t be heard as well).
See And Hear For Yourself
For anyone curious as to what HAPI Drums actually look and sound like, here are a few examples of pieces featuring them from The Gathering Mist’s albums. They always seem to interact well with any other instrument too:
“From The Four Winds”
My ONLY critique about this instrument is its name, which isn’t really a major concern. HAPI stands for Hand Activated Percussion Instrument, which doesn’t describe what it specifically is at all. Most percussion instruments are hand-activated, and these even also include mallets to “activate” the sound with as well. But that being said, they’re incredible instruments and I appreciate everyone who’s checked them out! For more info on Hapi Drums, check out the blog that I wrote to introduce them at Steve Weiss Music, where they can now be purchased too!
“my, what nice 8th notes you have…”<— Nope, not even close:
Instead of showcasing a specific instrument for this blog post, I want to explain a little bit about a layering concept that I often use as a compositional tool and when I perform live to “beef up” the rhythmic nature of a piece. I haven’t heard any other names for it, so I’ll refer to it as the process of “Rhythmic Complementing.”
Strategic Rhythm Placement to Fill Up the Groove in Your Music
Different from rhythmic counterpoint and polyrhythms, rhythmic complementing (or, … rhythomplementing?) is a way to thicken up the rhythmic texture of a piece of music by filling in the gaps created by the main rhythm. Once applied, the result is a measure of all 16th notes (in the example I’ll give), or just a busier groove than what you started out with, regardless of the meter. There is no exact formula for how to do this, other than this simple set of instructions:
1. Write out the main rhythm of the piece.
2. Write another rhythm above or below the first one, making sure to place a note where there was a rest or held-out note in the first one, to fill in the gaps or “complement” it.
3.a.) Keep in mind this second rhythm should make sense on its own, too. Notes in the second rhythm can certainly overlap and/or double those in the first rhythm in order to make it all flow better together AND separately.
b.) Or, leave some gaps and fill in only strategically, sparingly, or wherever it makes the most sense or feels right for you and for the piece (although this could be considered rhythmic counterpoint).
4. Expand rhythms out into melody/notation for your instruments of choice.
Intro to “Ceramics” by The Gathering Mist
Keep in mind that not every piece calls for this, so listen for the context of when to use it and when not to. This works well in live music settings also! Its easiest in a group with a drummer and a percussionist, but experiment with other instrumentations too!
A clear example of this is in a piece I did called “Ceramics” from The Gathering Mist’s album, “Reservoir” (notated above – follow along!), which starts off with a jembe playing a syncopated rhythm in 11/8, panned to one side. After four bars a dumbek enters, panned to the other side, playing a complementary rhythm to the jembe, still in 11/8. Four bars later at measure 9, the jembe and dumbek switch parts but the same principle still applies. Once the dumbek enters on the first beat of measure 5, the rest of that beginning section to the piece sounds like straight 16th notes because of this rhythmic complementing process. Enjoy!
There are a couple subtle hints of this technique sprinkled throughout other tracks I did for both of The Gathering Mist’s albums. And keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily confined to only percussion instruments…