Acoustics Education and Research

As of Fall 2018, I’ll be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, working toward’s my masters in Architectural Acoustics. For me, studying acoustics is a natural extension of my work in mechanical engineering and music and my curiosity about the human experience of sound.

More about Acoustics at RPI.






Image from Wikimedia Commons. February 14, 2015 from Radio-Electronic Engineering magazine, Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., New York, Vol. 20, No. 5, May 1949 , p. 99 on

The $200 Backing Tracks Rig

This is probably the simplest way to run backing tracks at any gig with a minimal amount of equipment.  Although an iPhone is pictured, you can use any device capable of playing any digital stereo music file.  I’ve used this setup everywhere, from small clubs, to live performances on national TV.  Although it’s not ideal for bigger venues with stereo PA systems, it works great in a pinch when you have to deal with budget, setup time, or equipment size limitations.

If you’re new to this world of backing tracks, you can check out this article for a quick overview: Backing Tracks Rigs – An Introduction


Playback: Mono, limited by device’s built-in digital-to-analog converter

Audio Fidelity: depends on the file type (mp3, wav, AIFF, etc.)

Ease of Setup: *****

Portability: *****

Reliability: ***

Ease of Editing: *



  • (1) iOS or other device with a headphone jack capable of stereo audio playback (not included in price estimate)
  • (1) DI box
  • (1) Personal mixer with at least 3 mono line level channels
  • (1) Stereo Y-cable or splitter cable
  • (1) ¼” cable, balanced or unbalanced
  • (1) Headphone extender (optional)


  1. Prepare your backing tracks so that the Left side of the stereo mix is just click track/cues and the Right side is just backing track. In other words, when you bounce down your backing track to mp3, put everything you don’t want the audience to hear on the Left side and everything you do want the audience to hear on the Right side.
  2. Plug Y-cable into 1/8” headphone jack on your iPhone, iPod, iPad, or other device capable of mp3 playback.
  3. Plug the (Right) ¼” end of Y-cable into DI box input jack.
  4. Plug the (Left) ¼” end of Y-cable into a channel on your mixer. Label this channel “Click” on your mixer
  5. Run the ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from the “thru port” on your DI box to a second channel on your mixer. Label this channel “Trax” on your mixer.
  6. Introduce yourself to the sound guy/gal or monitor engineer and politely ask for a feed to plug into a third channel on your mixer labeled “Mon”.   Make him/her aware of your mono DI for Front of House playback.
  7. Connect your in-ear monitors or headphones to the headphone jack on your mixer using the optional headphone extender.


  • If you’re using a smart phone for playback, unless you want the crowd to hear that phone call from your mom, make sure you turn off the “phone” functions during your performance. On an iPhone this is accomplished by putting your phone in Airplane Mode.
  • If you’re using an iOS device, your iTunes app will automatically advance to the next song in your playlist. I recommend using a backing tracks app such as BackTraxTM by Aisle Pro Software or LiveTrax ProTM by Monakrome. These apps will stop playback at the end of each track and automatically cue up the next track. They also include very large buttons for playing, stopping, and advancing through your setlist.
  • Leave your device plugged into a power supply so you don’t have to rely on your device’s battery life.

All About Groove – Demonstrating 5 Different Types Of Swing


Along with beat placement, dynamics, and tones, the amount of swing in a groove is an element that has a tremendous affect on how a groove sounds and feels. When we first learn about swing, we tend to categorize a feel as either “swing” or “straight”, where a “straight” feel means all 8th notes or 16th notes (depending on the groove) have an equal space between them, and a “swing” feel means the notes that land on the &’s should line up with the 3rd note of the triplet subdivision. I think a lot of us learn swing this way because, truly, it’s a great way to teach that feel. However, as you advance as a player it’s crucial to understand there are actually different types of swing, and you should be able to recognize how they each impart a different vibe.  While 8th note swing is crucial to jazz swing and blues shuffles, 16th note swing really shines in backbeat-based grooves.  I chose to focus on the often overlooked 16th note swing groove.

I’m going to demonstrate 5 different swing feels, from straightest to swingest and point to some songs you can check out to hear these feels in context.  Below each feel category is a YouTube playlist with some of my favorite songs and drummers demonstrating different 16th note feels.

Here’s the basic groove I’m using in the video.  There’s an 8th note hi hat pattern in the first 4 bars, then a short fill into a 16th-note hi hat pattern.  Aside from some embellishments, the kick and snare stay the same throughout.  Notice how the 8th notes on the hi hat in the first 4 bars don’t reveal the swing feel.  This is because the 16th notes define the feel in this groove.  Only the kick and snare notes that land on 16th note subdivisions (“e” and “a”) reveal the swing feel until the hi hat only goes to 16th notes.  The key is to develop consistency through practice and really get comfortable with a feel before you bust it out on a gig. If you can’t hold these feels consistently throughout a song, you run the risk of sounding like you don’t know what you’re doing.  Believe me, I’ve been there.



1.  No Swing

This is pretty self-explanatory. The spacing between the 16th notes is perfectly even or very close to even.

Note, however, that a human drummer playing a straight 16th groove can still feel a lot different than a drum machine playing the same groove.  Compare the drum machine groove on The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” with Jeff Porcaro’s groove on Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown”, and you’ll appreciate the differences.  Although the patterns are almost identical, the two grooves feel very different.  There’s a stiffness to the hi hat 16ths that works in “Don’t You Want Me”, but probably wouldn’t work as well in “Lowdown”.  The kick and snare in “Don’t You Wan’t Me” are right on the beat, while Porcaro lays the snare back for a wider pocket.  The point is, there’s more to the concept of feel than simply the amount of swing.  Fun fact, “Don’t You Want Me” was actually the first song featuring the Linn LM-1 drum machine to go to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.



2.  Loose Straight

This particular feel fascinates me, and drummers don’t seem to talk about it much. I call it Loose Straight because it’s useful when you want to loosen your straight groove with a little hint of swing. You want to play a 16th groove, but put a little sauce on it, so to speak. The result is a mostly straight feel that doesn’t come across as stiff. It can be useful in the folk/Americana/classic RnB world where there usually aren’t as many programmed elements in the music and more room for a human feel.  It’s also all over classic rock thanks to drummers like Ringo Starr, Levon Helm, Jim Keltner, and Jim Gordon.

If you just listen to one song from the playlist below, check out Jim Keltner’s playing on John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”.  I’ll deviate here from the 16th note discussion because it’s such a good example of Loose Straight.  The tambourine is playing an 8th note pattern that defines the feel of the track – not quite swing, definitely not straight, and grooving as hell!

The conga part in “What’s Goin On” is another great demonstration of Loose Straight.  In the live version I posted in the playlist, there’s a piano and conga breakdown between 4:00 and 6:30 where you can really hear the Loose Straight 16th note subdivisions in Eddie “Bongo” Brown’s conga part.



3.  In The Crack

This type of feel on a drumset, at least in a funk context, may have originated in New Orleans, with drummers like Zigaboo Modeliste and Johnny Vidacovich, fusing parade beats and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms with jazz. The result is a super greasy, dirty sounding groove.  It’s a little looser than James Brown or Motown funk, but it’s not quite a triplet shuffle.  People also use words like “swampy” and “slinky” to describe this feel.



4.  Triplet Swing

As I touched on above, Triplet Swing is the type of swing most of us learn first, albeit in an 8th note context.  If you play an 8th note shuffle, but put the backbeat on 3, you get a half-time shuffle, also called a 16th note shuffle.  Notes that land on the “e” and “a” beats should line up with the 3rd note of an imaginary 16th note triplet.  If you fill in the middle triplet subdivisions with ghost notes on the snare you get what’s known as the Purdie Shuffle, played by Bernard Purdie on Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” and “Babylon Sisters”.  Variations of the Purdie shuffle were played by John Bonham on “Fool In The Rain” and Jeff Porcaro on “Rosanna”.  The evenness of the triplet subdivisions gives this feel a rolling quality.  Check out how triplet fills always work in this feel because the groove is based on triplets.  Mitch Mitchell’s playing on “Little Wing” is a great example.



5.  Tight Swing

Lastly, if you take Triplet Swing and compress the shuffle a little bit, you get what I call Tight Swing.  In other words, the “e” and “a” beats are pushed closer to the next downbeat.  The pattern approaches a doted 16th note, followed by a 32nd note, but it’s not quite that tight.  Check out the skip beats on the bass drum in Questlove’s groove on D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” and Brian McLeod’s groove on Ziggy Marley’s “True To Myself”.


In my next post, I’ll go into detail about how I practice these different swing feels.  Stay tuned!

Interview on the Drummer’s Resource Podcast

I had the pleasure of talking to Nick Ruffini, host of the Drummer’s Resource podcast on the topic of transitioning from your day job to playing drums full time. Nick has been creating a dialog about different ways of getting into this business and redefining what it means to be a professional drummer, a topic I feel is really important in our community.


Also, I recommend subscribing and checking out some of the other interviews with everyone from Keith Carlock to Steve Ferrone.

Practice Technique Inspired by Mark Guiliana

I was surfing YouTube for some practice inspiration and came across Nate Smith’s videos. Nate, who goes by The 80/20 Drummer, has loads of great videos where he analyzes other drummers and sort of dissects unique aspects of their playing that us drummers can put to use in our practice. That’s exactly what he does in the video below on Mark Guiliana and, specifically, Mark’s approach to practicing metric modulation. Mark is one of my favorite drummers, and I think a big piece of Mark’s originality comes from his phrasing as he moves between different time feels and subdivisions.

To sum up Nate’s exercise, you take a bar of ¾ time and subdivide it with 16th notes so that you have 12 16th notes per bar. From that bar of 12 16th notes you can derive different time feels or pulses just by grouping those 16th notes into groups of 6, groups of 4, and groups of 3. Groups of 6 feels like 2 pulses per bar; groups of 4 feels like 3 pulses per bar; and groups of 3 feels like 4 pulses per bar. If that explanation gives you nightmare flashbacks of middle school math, just watch Nate’s demonstration. If you prefer to think about it in terms of actual note values, groups of 6 are dotted quarter notes, groups of 4 are quarter notes, and groups of 3 are dotted eighth notes.  The point is, these different groupings give the illusion of a pulse that speeds up and slows down, but the underlying time is constant.

Nate’s exercise is a 4-bar phrase in ¾ time, with each bar divided into groups of 6, groups of 4, groups of 3, then back to groups of 4. You can play a simple pattern on the kick/snare/hihat at the speed of each grouping pulse. The challenge comes when switching between grouping pulses. When I tried practicing this, I found it difficult at first to feel the pulses without counting. So I used Ableton Live to program some loops to help me out.

The first metronome in the playlist below is a 2-minute loop of Nate’s 4-bar phrase, with accented notes defining the pulse groupings and unaccented 16th notes in between. The graphic is what it looks like programmed in Ableton. Each vertical line is a 16th note. The second metronome is a 2-minute loop of the 4-bar phrase, with only the accented notes. I made versions of both metronomes at 90 and 130 BPM which is why there are 4 videos in the playlist.

These two metronomes are like training wheels. Use them to gauge where you’re pulling ahead and where you’re lagging behind as you transition between pulses. Ideally, after a little practice you’ll be able to feel the pulses internally. I think it’s a good idea to start with the first metronome. Then, when you’re comfortable with that at both tempos try the second. Then, you can transition to a basic 16th note metronome like the one Nate uses, eventually improvising in each pulse grouping for extended periods.

Anyway, props to Nate for coming up with this methodical approach to understanding this aspect of Mark Guiliana’s playing! Check out the 80/20 Drummer YouTube channel for more great stuff.

(And listen to Mark Guiliana)

KCRW Live Session

Between Coachella weekends, we went to Santa Monica to play a 6-song set live on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.  I’m a fan of this series.  Their videos are great whenever you want to really geek out on a band you like, so it was fun to finally be a part of it. Thanks to DDrum and Roland for helping me put together this crazy hybrid kit you’re hearing.


Audio and video of the full set here:


2017 Tour Dates

I’ll be touring this year with the British artist and producer, SOHN in support of his new album Rennen. Here are some initial 2017 Europe and North America dates.  More info HERE.

13 February – VIENNA, Arena
14 February – MUNICH, Technikum
15 February – MILAN, Magnolia
16 February – GRAZ, PPC
17 February – BERLIN, Astra Kulturhaus
18 February – COLOGNE, Kantine
20 February – STOCKHOLM, Debaser Strand
21 February – OSLO, Parkteatret
22 February – COPENHAGEN, Koncertuset Studio 2
23 February – HAMBURG, MOJO
25 February – AMSTERDAM, Melkweg
26 February – BRUSSELS, Botanique
27 February – PARIS, La Maroquinerie
1 March – LONDON, Electric Brixton
19 March – DALLAS, TX, Trees
20 March – HOUSTON, TX, White Oak Music Hall (Downstairs)
22 March – ATLANTA, GA, Terminal West
23 March – CARRBORO, NC, Cat’s Cradle
24 March – WASHINGTON, DC, 9.30 Club
25 March – NEW YORK, NY, Warsaw
26 March – NEW YORK, NY, Irving Plaza
29 March – PHILADELPHIA, PA, Union Transfer
30 March – BOSTON, MA, The Sinclair
31 March – MONTREAL, QC, Fairmount Theatre
1 April – TORONTO, ON, Danforth Music Hall
3 April – CHICAGO, IL, Thalia Hall
4 April – MADISON, WI, Majestic Theatre
5 April – MINNEAPOLIS, MN, Triple Rock
8 April – VANCOUVER, BC, Rickshaw Theater
9 April – SEATTLE, WA, Neptune Theater
10 April – PORTLAND, OR, Wonder Ballroom
12 April – SAN FRANCISCO, The Regency
13 April – LOS ANGELES, Fonda Theater
14 April – COACHELLA
21 April – COACHELLA

20 May VALLE DE BRAVO, MEXICO, Bravo Festival
6/16/17 MANNHEIM, GERMANY, Maifeld Derby Festival
6/17/17 BARCELONA, SPAIN, Sonar by Day
6/24/17 BEUNINGEN, NETHERLANDS, Down the Rabbit Hole Festival
6/25/17 MOSCOW, RUSSIA, Bosco Fresh Festival
7/1/17 WERCHTER, BELGIUM, Rock Werchter Festival
7/5/17 CESENA, ITALY, Acieloaperto at Rocca Malatestiana
7/7/17 PADOVA, ITALY, Just Like Heaven at Anfiteatro del Venda
7/8/17 KATOWICE, POLAND, Festival Tauron Nowa Muzyka
7/13/17 CLUJ, ROMANIA, Electric Castle Festival
7/15/17 SOUTHWOLD, UK, Latitude Festival
7/16/17 FERROPOLIS, GERMANY, Melt Festival
7/22/17 WEISEN, AUSTRIA, Out of The Woods
7/27/17 WASHINGTON, DC, Merriweather Post Pavilion
7/28/17 BOSTON, MA  Blue Hills Bank Pavilion   
8/1/17 CLEVELAND, OH Jacobs Pavilio
8/3/17 KANSAS CITY, MO Starlight Theatre
8/6/17 MONTREAL, QC Osheaga Festival
8/7/17 DENVER, CO Red Rocks Amphitheatre
8/9/17 LOS ANGELES, CA, Shrine Auditorium
8/10/17LOS ANGELES, CA, Shrine Auditorium
8/11/17 SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Outside Lands Festival
8/19/17 BOCHUM, GERMANY, Ritournelle Festival
8/20/17 HAMBURG, GERMANY, Dockville Festival
9/30/17 SAN DIEGO, CA, CRSSD Festival
10/15/17 MIAMI, FL, II Points Festival

Thoughts on Faking It – How to Get Through a Song You Don’t Know

I know, I know. Ideally, you would never put yourself in a situation that makes you or anyone else look less than perfect on stage. Ideally, you’re so prepared you never have to think about the next song. Ideally, you know every standard in your genre or every B-side from the bandleader’s discography that he hasn’t played in 20 years. Ideally, I’d be playing drums for U2. But the reality is no matter how well you prepare, sometimes you just have to fake it. Here are my thoughts on making the best of a less than ideal situation.

If you’ve been playing contemporary music on stages long enough, odds are you’ve encountered some version of this.

You’re in the middle of a set and someone yells out a song request, or, maybe the crowd is demanding an encore that wasn’t planned. Before the bandleader obliges, he looks at the musicians one by one with a face that says, “Please tell me you know this song.” By the time his eyes make the rounds and land on yours, you’re already sweating, your heart’s racing. You saw the guitar player and bass player nod. You know the keyboard player toured with the artist who originally recorded the song, so he knows it. Sure, you’ve heard the song on the radio a couple times, but you’re not sure about the kick drum pattern and if the breakdown happens before the bridge or after the guitar solo. What do you do? You could be completely honest and forthright about your level of confidence in your ability to crush this tune, but there’s no time for negotiation. In this moment you either know it or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re the one person standing in the way of a fan or a client hearing their favorite song. You don’t want to be that guy. While you weigh all this in your head, you feel the eager gaze of your band mates and the energy of the impatient sea of eyeballs in the crowd converging into one giant Imperial death ray that’s going to blast through your drum set and make what happened to that Spinal Tap drummer look like a sunburn (Mick Shrimpton, R.I.P.). So you give the nod.

The first thing is, don’t panic or telegraph that you’re not confident. You don’t want to send the message that the foundation is cracked before you even start building the house. Worse, the hesitation could come out in your playing. If you’re unsure about basics like the tempo, feel, or form, take a few seconds to ask someone. The bass player is a valuable resource because, like you, she’s clued in to these elements and will know how to communicate them. “Medium shuffle with a half time reggae bridge, end on beat 4.” She just saved your butt.

But what if it’s too late to ask anyone because the guitar player has already started the intro? Here’s something I’ve learned the hard way. You’re going to have to nail the tempo and the feel even if someone else starts the song at the wrong tempo. If it’s too slow or too fast, the singer won’t be comfortable. It’s the drummer’s responsibility to find that magic tempo and keep it there. Even if the singer starts the song on guitar and realizes it’s too fast when he comes in with the verse, it’s your job to help everyone slow down to a better tempo without letting the audience know what’s going on. So, as one of my drum buddies says, use your big eyes and big ears. You can tell a lot from the singer’s body language. Is his heel moving up and down to the tempo he’s feeling? If he’s playing guitar can you see his strumming hand or at least his strumming elbow? Can you hear the singer pulling ahead or laying back with his timing? Usually, the vocals dictate the tempo, and the rhythm guitar, a percussive keyboard instrument like piano, or any other instrument playing a syncopated pattern will indicate the feel. Often, the strumming pattern on a rhythm guitar or the bass line will dictate where the kick notes should land. The clues are yours if you know where to look.

Another thing you’ll have to nail is the form. Your dynamics, fills, and instrument choices within the kit depend on your knowledge of the form. Lucky for us, there are only so many different song forms and harmonic progressions that get used over and over again in popular music. This type of ear training can take some practice, but it basically comes down to listening for repeating patterns in the chords and musical tension. Is it a 4-bar chord progression or 12-bar? Let the harmonic tension indicate transitions from a pre-chorus to a chorus or from a bridge to a breakdown.

When it comes to fills, I would keep it on the safe side. Try to put your fills in the transitions between sections and remember it’s usually better to not do a fill than to do one in the wrong place.

Here’s how I would navigate my way through the song.

  • Intro – Assuming the drums don’t start the song, use this time to search for clues about tempo, feel, and even the pattern of the groove you’ll play. Listen carefully and come in strong.
  • Verses – Play confidently, but stay out of the way of the vocals, and keep it relatively light and simple. You can do some subtle groove variations between vocal phrases.
  • Pre Choruses – Build the intensity a little. Maybe you open up the hi hat slightly, or make the kick pattern a little busier.
  • Choruses – Ride or open hi hat, louder, but not necessarily peak volume. Save your peak intensity for the final chorus or outro.
  • Re-Intro – Whatever you played during the intro, there’s a good chance you’ll have a chance to play it again over a short instrumental section after the first chorus.
  • Bridge – Play something different, and again, let your ears guide you. Sometimes all you need to do is change the kick pattern slightly to communicate a change. Or, you could change the sound source your right hand is playing to the floor tom or the edge or bell of the ride.
  • Breakdown – Not all songs have them, but if they do it’s either a loud breakdown or a soft breakdown. In a loud breakdown, you usually can’t go wrong with a build on the toms (think “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”). In a soft breakdown, you might want to keep time on the hi hat or add some light cymbal color (think “Whole Lotta Love”).
  • Solo – Play something the same. If there’s a solo section in the song, it will usually be over the chord progression from either the chorus or the verse. Let that dictate what you play. For example, if you played a 4-on-the-floor groove through the Chorus, and you notice the chords under the solo sound like the chorus, keep playing that 4-on-the-floor groove over the guitar solo.
  • Out Chorus – Often a double chorus is played at the end, or a tag line that gets repeated. You should be at peak intensity here. Use visual cues for the ending.
  • Ending – Visual cues are crucial, but also rely on your knowledge of genre cliches. If it’s a classic country song, be ready to end on beat 3; a blues, be ready for the “and” of 2. If it’s a rock song, you might ritard into a big held-out ending on beat 1.

The more we play and listen to music, the more this all becomes part of our musical intuition. When we’re performing music we don’t want to be thinking too much about what we’re doing. Rather, we want to be able to instantly and subconsciously draw from our experience, especially when we get thrown a curveball like an unfamiliar song.

Shows with SOHN

I recently had the opportunity to play drums for SOHN on five intimate shows in Europe and the US to preview some songs from his upcoming record. It was an honor to work with such a fantastic Vienna-based band and crew and to play for sold out crowds that were not only super excited about the new music, but also seemed to really appreciate the addition of live drums to the show.

Also had a lot of fun putting together this mad scientist kit with the help of Roland and DDrum.

P.S. It was my first time in Vienna. What a beauty, that city!