Saturday, May 31, 2014


By Mauricio Zottarelli 

(text originally published on the magazine Modern Drummer Brazil- May 2014)

Hello, my dear friends! On this post I would like to talk about some ideas that have been intriguing me for a while. Let me explain…. Some recent situations made ​​me think about how we all (including the new generation of musicians and artists coming up now) listen to music. How, where, in which way, how often, and obviously how all that influences our way of playing and expressing our art and our voice. 
So let's leave aside the technical exercises, musical scores, our instruments and practice rooms. Let's analyze for a bit how we are hearing and assimilating the music today. Firstly, here are some of the situations to which I refer above: 

1 ) In a recent conversation with a friend who teaches high school students in a school in the state of Massachusetts, US, he told me the following: some of his students (almost daily) gather in groups in the hall of school with an old turntable (yes , LP !). They bring LPs borrowed from their parents, and also rare things that they find out there, and they listen to this music as a group during their breaks. While I was making my "completely amused" face and was processing this fact, my friend said that he thought perhaps these students were a little "tired" of listening to music on their cell phones and all the distractions that this new medium provides.
2 ) When I was studying at Berklee College of Music, one of my professors talked about certain records that I had to listen to. Following my ever-increasing interest in jazz, and in order to broaden my horizons and assimilate the vocabulary relevant to the style, he recommended me to buy some of these recordings. It took months of analysis and many repetitions of certain tracks and certain moments of these classic recordings - where, more often that not, the goal was to not pay close attention solely on drums, necessarily . I'll explain this in further detail below. 
3 ) During the past few years, we all have been following the emergence of a large number of videos of "shredding" where drummers get together to play/jam/exchange solos, etc… In many conversations with other drummers, students, friends and colleagues in the music scene of New York and also in Brazil , I have noticed how many of these musicians are "obsessed" with videos of drum solos - amazing demonstrations of extreme technical prowess and ease in the kit, made ​​by phenomenal drummers.

I have several friends who teach music to young people and adults , both individually or in schools and universities, and the feeling and response I get from them is pretty much the same ... In general , young drummers today are highly technical, and have fantastic command of their instruments, and do amazing things on the drums etc. . etc. . But on the other hand, many do not know anything about harmony, about ear training, they cannot " hear" and/or recognize a chord or even sing a note accompanied by piano/guitar. They don't understand what song "forms" are (to them, AABA seems to be a strange secret code), and hence they cannot play with bands in a musical and effective way. Many of them want to play traditional jazz and learn the language and everything, but they don't know who some of the major artists are and/or their most important works ...

I think you know where I'm going with this, right? By drawing a parallel with our own lives, schedules, our work and our daily crazy routines, I feel we need to take a break and reflect on our habit of listening to music, and how it is going - what we are listening to, how we are listening to it and assimilating it, how often and how attentively. Today it is very common to have our songs/playlists (our music collection !) in our cell phones (just imagine, readers who were born and remember the 70s and 80s… what a difference !), and everything has become extremely convenient and easy. But on the other hand, the philosophy of "multitasking" is so predominant in our culture and daily lives that most of the time we are not even paying attention to what we are hearing, since we are doing a thousand other things at the same time. In reference to the 80s, I remember buying a vinyl LP in the record store and running home to listen to it; and I would do it many times from beginning to end, with my eyes closed . I would attempt to memorize the lyrics and arrangements , read the liner notes a thousand times. I imagined to be present in one show of this certain artist or band, and I listened closely to the different instruments and different orchestrations in each recording. Every record was an experience, a dream, a journey that could last for days, months ... If we talk to older folks who remember and lived in the age of radio, imagine that! Without TV, audio was their mean of "transportation ", the way by which people traveled, dreamed and had fun. The music had giant power! 

Unfortunately, nowadays I believe that due to the tremendous ease of access to so much music (Internet, social media, streaming, etc. . ), the high technology of cell phones, computers, tablets - all of that coupled with so much hyperactivity in our lives and our impending difficulty to concentrate on one thing only - these things eventually obstruct and/or impede our experience to hear music, they affect our assimilation of any artistic content, and in general, they make our habit of listening to music very superficial and vague.

In our case, dear readers, as passionate fans of music - be it as a professional artist or not - the situation is even more bizarre . Consider, for example, when was the last time you heard a CD or a playlist, an MP3, or even a live show fully concentrated on its content? A song or artist that we like, playing "exclusively" in our headphone sets, or our favorite band performing at a football stadium. How often do we hear this with total commitment and attention? Eyes closed? Without picking up our phone to check our email, update our Twitter , Facebook or to look on Instagram - which are things that we probably did 30 seconds ago anyway?
Or do we try to "film" the show "to watch it later" or to share on social media so your friends "see it"? (while you are missing it!)

I would like to propose an experiment, an attempt to shut down a little from this frantic reality we live in, and just relax. Let's choose an album that we like, maybe something we haven't heard in a long time, or something that is on our "check-it-out" list , but we haven't had time to do. It can also be a playlist on your iTunes or MP3s on your phone . Take some time off for you - no distractions, turn off your home phone, set the phone in airplane mode etc , etc. . . During the next hour , it's just you and your music. Press play and have a nice trip.
( Take your time, that's ok ! ... I'll wait right here. )

So how was it? Did you listen to the entire playlist? The entire CD ? Without interruption? Were you concentrated? Relaxed ? Or did you fall asleep and didn't hear anything? No problem . The important thing is to reserve that time for you. With some regularity, you will get used to these "breaks" from reality, and you will be increasingly focused on the music , and you will let it carry you away . The goal is to relax and travel within ourselves, almost like meditation - but the difference is that in this exercise, the main objective is to focus on music, on the recording.
Let's try to mentally visualize the studio, the musicians playing, and the music being created for the first time. Let's check out the different parts, the different instruments… The arrangement, the soloists, the interaction among the musicians. The rhythm section, the rhythm . Think about what each track feels like to us, what it reminds us, the emotion that each composition brings us. Let's investigate what it is that moves us, and what we like and don't like about a certain song, track or performance.
Create the habit of doing this a few times during the week, and take note of everything you find interesting. I have done this a few times recently, and the result is always fascinating . Suddenly , I hear parts of the arrangement of certain songs that I had never noticed before, or solos, or melodies that suddenly "pop". Certain textures, or sounds, timbres and instrumentation. The lyrics and the interpretation of the melody by singer/soloist. The grooves, and the choices that drummers make in relation to what to play, and where. What would we have done in their place? Details of each track and the sound of each production. Mixing, and the balance of the different instruments in the track. Who are the musicians who are playing ? Do they combine effectively as a group ? Do they play well together ? Or sometimes, does it look like a contest to see who "speaks" louder and faster?
Anyway, things like that will probably come up during a more careful listening experience.
I imagine some of you could be thinking, "But this is very technical, very analytical, music has to be more instinctive . Music is supposed to make us dance… " .
Sure, I'm not saying that you will always listen to music this way, or that any style of music will stimulate your interest and curiosity in such a way. There's a lot of stuff out there that is done very carelessly, and with almost zero quality in their content. In that case, what are you going to carefully hear? Analyze what? The proposal here is to give ourselves a chance to assimilate all the good things and to learn. I personally believe that in order to play drums well, and also to play well with other musicians, one needs to do more than just being locked into a room practicing for ten hours a day. Of course this is very important, and will give you a very high level of technical proficiency in your instrument , but is it just that? Is music only about us studying by ourselves, alone ? In my humble opinion, music is listening. To be able to play and to execute comes in right after , but listening is paramount - listen to the history, listen to our teachers/masters, listen to different styles, culture and art that are out there at our disposal . Assimilate all this with a lot of patience and perseverance. No distractions, and with total commitment. We are what we listen to, but obviously , how we listen is an extremely important factor in our walk and our relentless and never-ending pursuit of improvement as professionals and art lovers.
Until next time….. mz

I am a drummer - percussionist - composer - artist based in New York City, NY. Please visit my website: