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INTERVIEW WITH DEAN STEVENS – DRUMMER / AUTHOR
AW When did you first show interest in playing the drums?
D.S I actually played the piano from a very young age (maybe around 7or 8 years old) but struggled to practice each day as my heart just was not in it. My Dad played drums and had an old Ajax kit set up in the house. I honestly believe that my initial motivation to play the drums was to escape playing the piano but my Dad was onto me! He told me that he would only allow me to switch instruments if I promised to have lessons and learned how to read music. Following my very first drum lesson, I practised for hours and hours every day and was rarely parted from my sticks.
AW Do you have any influential drum books that really assisted you in your learning and amazing independence?
D.S Many of my early lessons were spent studying ‘The Art of the Drummer’ by John Savage. I would choose a basic groove, set a tempo on the old, mechanical metronome and play that pattern for days! My sticking practice (usually on an old Tama drum pad) would come from George Laurence Stone’s book ‘Stick Control’ and later I spent many years studying independence from Gary Chester’s book ‘The New Breed’. However, things really changed for me when I began working on ‘Modern Reading Text in 4/4’ by Louis Bellson and Gil Breines. I spent a great deal of my early adult life in ‘Green rooms’ back stage and in band busses and vans and this book went everywhere with me! I believed that those syncopation ideas were there to trick me and I was fascinated with the concept. I was also a big fan of Rick Latham’s book ‘Advanced Funk Studies.
AW Who were some of your earliest influences?
D.S I remember an old VHS cassette that my Dad had of a televised drum clinic held by Billy Cobham. That was the first time I had seen someone play polyrhythms around the drums and I spent many hours playing around with some of those ideas. A few years later I came across ‘Back to Basics’ by Dave Weckl and was blown away by his technique, feel and musicality. I was also a huge fan of Jeff Porcaro and Vinnie Colaiuta. I believe that these drummers posses a totally unique groove.
AW You have a new book, that drummers should know about – The Progressive Rhythm Method is this your first book, and where did this come from?
D.S This is my first book and I remember talking about writing it around 15 years ago but never managed to start. At that time I was working as a private and peripatetic teacher and had some very advanced students. These students would work through grades 1 to 8 on a standard 5 piece drum kit with a single pedal and then discovered that in order to proceed to the diploma level, much of the available material required something very new. For example, a double pedal, additional toms, cymbals or percussion instruments played with multiple pedals. My plan was to write an advanced, post grade 8 book that could be played on a standard 5 piece kit. I found out recently that all 6 tracks from the book have been approved for the FTCL Masters level diploma at Trinity College London so I was really pleased with that.
AW What made you write about odd times your charts are excellent?
D.S Thank you. I have always been obsessed with music theory and drum transcriptions and have piles and piles of manuscript with groove and fill ideas that I have written over the years (as well as many charts that I’ve written for gigs and sessions). The majority of my initial ideas are written in 4/4 and are then adapted into various time signatures later by simply adding or subtracting notes. I tend to steer away from the classical way of thinking of odd time-note groupings and approach all of them as if they were based in 4/4. For example; in Classical music, a bar of 7/8 might be written (in quavers) emphasising the pattern 2,2,3 or 3,2,2 but I try to create a more contemporary Rock/Pop feel using 2,2,2,1. Odd time semiquaver grooves also follow this 4/4 concept with 17/16 simply written as a bar of 4/4 with an additional 16th note and 15/16 written as a bar of 4/4 with a semiquaver removed and so on.
AW Besides writing are you teaching?
D.S I do still teach and now live and work in the South West (I am originally from the North East of England). I teach drums in Community Colleges and Academies part-time, I also teach Music Technology and still tour the U.K playing drums. I feel very fortunate to be able to do the things that I feel passionate about on a daily basis.
AW When did you start writing/producing music and where did you learn this craft?
D.S In 2005, I completed an honours degree in Jazz Studies at Leeds College of Music where I studied (amongst other things) music composition. Writing music for melodic instruments can be a daunting challenge for a drummer so that was a steep learning curve. In 2014 I completed my second honours degree in Music Technology at Plymouth University (yes, I am a perpetual student!). I have always been interested in recording techniques and I learned how to compose music using software such as Apple’s Logic and Avid’s Sibelius. From September 2018 to January of this year, I used this software to create my book.
AW Are you working on any new projects?
D.S Yes, I always try and stay busy with various music projects and I have been working with some amazing musicians here in Devon writing original music. I’m also looking forward to hearing what drummers think of my book (fingers crossed they like it!) and maybe I can start thinking about writing book 2 in the future, you never know!
AW In this ever changing world do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation?
D.S Yes. Study hard, listen to as much music as possible, play live with other musicians and find the best teacher that you can! Things are very different these days to when I started out and I guess it would be easy to stay home and try and learn everything from the internet but this will only take you so far when it comes to developing as a musician. As much as technology plays a huge part in our everyday lives (and there’s a YouTube video on everything nowadays!), there is no substitute for human interaction in music: from 1-to-1 instrumental tuition to live performances. I was extremely lucky when I was a child as I was surrounded by a musical family and their “muso” friends and I was sent to a phenomenal drum teacher Ashley Wardell in Middlesbrough, but if you are not as lucky as I was then try your best to seek out people that can help you achieve your goals.
Check out Deans book – The Progressive Rhythm Method on What's New page.
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