The Process of Rhythmic Complementing

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

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…


The Future of The Gathering Mist

Jeff w/HAPI Drum

Jeff with an E minor pentatonic HAPI Drum, used often in The Gathering Mist's music!

I am officially wrapping up The Gathering Mist project at this point.

To explain a bit of background on this project, it was all written consecutively over about two and a half years, from the summer of 2008 when I first had the idea for the project until the release of the 2nd full length album, “Reservoir,” on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010. It was a LOT of fun to see my ideas come to life in the form of those pieces of music, and while yes they could always be improved upon, I’m proud of what I accomplished with them. My technique on a lot of instruments was pushed in order to play those parts, and a lot of new ground was explored compositionally for me as well, not to mention all of the practical audio engineering experience!

I think of The Gathering Mist’s music as one continuous thought across both albums, since I wrote it all consecutively. Because of this, I plan to remove both of my albums from iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon, etc and then combine them into one double album simply named, “The Gathering Mist.” Most likely available as a download only, it will feature all 33 original compositions across both albums currently available. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback and recognition from the music, so I want to keep it in rotation and see what happens.

From here on out, any new material that I write will be under a different name. What name, I have no idea right now. But everything I’ve written over the past year and a half since releasing “Reservoir” has had a slightly different sound thanks to new influences, new instruments, new equipment, and a few personal changes in my life (for the better) – just everything moving forward and progressing to the next step. Expect BIG things from my next album, there is a lot of interest in it already! Some very exciting well-known guest artists are in the works, and the music is so intense with such a great groove!

Exciting things are brewing, and I’ll be sure to keep you all updated the entire way! As of right now my main focus is a project called Illusionarium with my very talented girlfriend, Jen Mitlas. She always impresses the hell out of me with everything she writes, and its a privilege and an honor (and a lot of fun!) to make a concept album like this with her!

Again, thank you for your continued interest and support of the music that I thoroughly enjoy making and sharing with you all.

Check out Jen’s announcement of Illusionarium for some awesome new music from us!

Do You Udu?

The Udu drum is another favorite percussion instrument of mine. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and I really enjoy the variety of sounds it can make and the many applications for those sounds in different musical settings. Originally a Nigerian instrument, I have also heard it played in a Latin music setting as part of a Jazziz Magazine CD, gently providing a groove for an acoustic guitar and female singer.

The Udu drum is a unique combination of an idiophone (opposite of a smartphone, try to keep up) and an aerophone. The sound comes from hitting the exterior (usually made of clay) and controlling the air within the resonating chamber(s) by covering or uncovering either of its two characteristic holes. It looks like a water jug/pot with an extra hole in the side (“Udu” translates to “pot” in the Igbo language, I’m told).

Because of the overall teardrop shape of this instrument, the Helmholtz principle of acoustics kicks in and produces a deep low earthy sound when one of its holes are hit and covered by your hand, (forcing the air into the resonating chamber, and out thru the open hole) with the ability to bend the pitch up from there as you release your hand. How low does it go? The larger the resonating chamber, the lower the pitch, and believe me these things could easily pass for an 808/bass drop effect!

The way I use Udu drums in my music varies depending on which kind(s) I believe would fit best with the piece. I am working on a piece now called “Footprints” which features all three Udus playing back and forth and “complimenting” each other’s rhythms and pitches to make it sound like its played all on one instrument. After that, the piece develops and picks up speed which calls for an adaptation of Indian tabla techniques to be played on the Udus – first on one drum, then doubled on another, and then switched up a bit to bring in the third Udu for a more straight-ahead groove to bring the piece to a fiery close. A demo with scratch tracks was previously released of this piece, but I have reworked much of it with only a bit more to go at this point. Look for the final version soon!

I have also featured the Udu drums in a few pieces with The Gathering Mist – see if you can pick out their unique sounds:



About “Ceramics”

In “Ceramics,” I used the Udu pictured below to bring in some low-end to support the tuned flower pots, shekere, tambourine, and melodic HAPI Drums for much of the middle section.
Lots of very interesting layering combinations and rhythmic/melodic concepts in this piece…

…as well as little subtle parts in many other pieces across both albums – bonus points for recognizing those too!

My Experiences With The Marimba

Paul Orsulak and me practicing for our percussion recital, late 2009 - this same instrument heard on The Gathering Mist albums!

The marimba used to be a sore subject for me until a couple years ago. The high school I went to is well known for their show-style band and drum line, aka no pit band/front ensemble/indoor drum line/weekend tournaments. Friday night is game night – and you won’t be able to hear much afterwards. Our drum line was always right around 25-30 deep, usually with 8 snares, 6-8 bass drums, 3-4 “squints,” and 6-8 cymbal players. Like I said, no mallets. More on the Rolling Thunder Drumline later though…

Concert season would include mallet parts for most pieces – and as I was one of the few percussionists there who could read music, I would sometimes play these parts while everyone else would get the cool drum parts. I would try to make the best of it though, especially on Robert W. Smith’s epic piece for concert band, “Africa,” for which I was on chimes with 2 mallets – a difficult part in itself with 8th note triplets while the rest of the band played with a straight 8th feel. I remember a couple other pieces where I was “stuck on bells” or some other “lame mallet instrument.” Great. But then I went to college…

To audition for the college I would eventually graduate from, I needed to perform a snare drum piece, a timpani piece, and a mallet piece, along with whatever else was involved (sight-singing, yada yada yada). I spoke with Nancy Zeltsman (before I really knew who she was) and she gave me a 2-mallet marimba solo called “Hegira” for my audition that one of her students, Carrie Magin, had composed, along with a CD for reference which helped a lot (Thanks Nancy!). I spent every night in a practice room learning that piece in addition to the famous timpani piece “March” by Elliot Carter – turns out its a really fun piece with stick-flipping, quintuplet and septuplet phrasing, and polyrhythms – my favorites!

These were the most difficult pieces for those instruments I had ever done, and I was really on my own learning them for an audition. But long story short it went well. Got in, did my time, graduated, here we all are. Studying with the percussion teacher there was very beneficial to my own playing as well as for my solo project The Gathering Mist. I had written a piece which I wanted to feature fingerstyle acoustic guitar on, but it was a difficult part. The rest of the album was just about finished when I remembered that the one track still had programmed MIDI guitar scratch tracks on it – unacceptable for the finished product after so much work on everything else. Since my fingerstyle acoustic guitarist search came up dry, I said “screw it, I’ll just play it myself on marimba.”

At that point I was comfortable enough playing with 4 mallets, and the recording went pretty smoothly after a bit of practice. Hearing the playback of the two tracks on my first solo album, Rhythmic Epiphany and then on the one track from my second album Reservoir that feature the marimba, it made me a little more self-confident with my mallet playing. Proof that the best way to improve is to (practice a lot first) record yourself, listen back, and be your own biggest critic with regard to timing, tone, etc. The way I think about it is similar to voice-leading on 4-part choral-style music – Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass – you have 4 mallets, two in each hand – yes there’s 5 octaves worth of possible notes to play, but wherever your next note is, one of those four mallets is going to be closest to it, so you don’t have to work as hard as you would with only two mallets (this goes for linear playing only – thicker chordal textures have more notes, so yes more mallets.)

So I got more and more used to it, and ended up playing the huge 5-octave marimba with 4-mallets for two pieces in my senior recital (another piece only required 2 mallets but was WAY more difficult, go figure), as well as a few other pieces for other recitals here and there. My experience with the marimba happened at a good time too – right as I was getting into other forms of melodic percussion – especially the Kalimba and HAPI Drums.

Anyway, why I’m posting this: I ended up overcoming some difficulties I guess and now I’m proud enough of the results to include it on a few tracks for The Gathering Mist – Enjoy!




Kalimba Techniques

Iʼd like to start off this blog series with the lighter side of my percussion arsenal, so this post will focus on one of my favorite little instruments, the Kalimba. Iʼve been playing kalimba for about five years now and I own four of them, each different in some way. The kalimba is classified as a “lamellophone” (a type of idiophone) – raised metal notes (tines) are attached to a piece of wood or a gourd, and vary in pitch by the length of the tines. Itʼs played by plucking downwards on the tines with your thumbs and in some cases other fingers.

A Few Different Kalimba Techniques

I’ve also been using three other main techniques in my playing – they just come naturally when I pick it up, and then I developed them further from there.

 1. The 3-Finger Style

In addition to the downward plucking by your thumbs, try plucking upwards with your right index/pointer finger. While that finger is limited to the right half of the instrument, it unlocks SO many more possibilities:

– Covers greater distances across the range of the instrument without having to strain your thumbs to work twice as fast.
-Allows for wider intervals like 5ths and 7ths to be played with one hand, leaving your other hand free to fill in the rest of a chord or polyrhythm.
-Opens up new possibilities with the instrument as far as arpeggios and faster playing, although Joe Zawinul’s track “Zanza II” with Paco Sery on kalimba hurts my thumbs just to listen to, haha:’s only thumbing it tho!).

2. What I’ll Call “Sliding”

-This is a thumbs-only technique, where you play one note by sliding off of that note to then pluck the next highest note adjacent to it (on a standard diatonically-tuned kalimba, the interval will be a third).

-I often use this technique to play neighboring notes together or in a rapid succession.
I find this takes less thumb movement than plucking one tine and then lifting it back up to pluck the tine right next to it (one sideways motion rather than two up & down’s).

3. The Percussive Qualities of the Kalimba

-The way you naturally hold and play the kalimba leaves your middle, ring, and pinky fingers available to help your palms hold the instrument while your thumbs play it. But since it’s already resting comfortably in your palms, try using your middle, ring, and pinky fingers to hit the bottom of the kalimba.

-This could be used for time keeping, setting up a groove to base the rest of the piece on, or even part of the overall groove/melody.

-Because its an idiophone, you’ll hear the tines vibrating as well as get a nice percussive slap from the bottom of the instrument.

…So by utilizing the percussive qualities of a melodic instrument you’re basically unstoppable now, especially with a live-loop pedal or layering within your recording software.

Applications in My Music

Combining these three different techniques, I have been able to play passages like these (with a bit of practice!) in pieces for both albums from The Gathering Mist, shown in this video:

Also, here are two tracks displaying how I use kalimba. I have other ones if you’re interested:

I’d also like to hear your stories/techniques with the Kalimba also!  Don’t be shy 🙂

My history with the kalimba

I stumbled upon this instrument at an interesting time in my life, as I was starting to write my first solo CD (The Gathering Mist – Rhythmic Epiphany), and it became a big part of the CD and how I would continue to compose music in general. I was on a family vacation to South Dakota and Wyoming, and I found a beautiful Catania 12-Note Flatboard Kalimba in the musical instrument section of a Cheyenne/Lakota cultural store. Being that the kalimba is traditionally an African instrument, I figured that if I bought it from them that I’d be helping myself out musically as well as making them more of an authentic store 

That first night with it, I wrote part of what later turned into “MyriaD Minor,” track 11 on Rhythmic Epiphany. I think I still have the hotel notepad with the melody scribbled on it, and I know I still have that hotel’s pen…

Brand New Blog!!

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