COVID Warmup / Stone Killer Redux


Thanks to homeschool and spousal work schedules, I have minimal time to warm up. On tour, I had enough downtime to do various hand and technique exercises and stretches for 2 hours if I wanted to. Of late, I have about 15 mins during the current COVID moment. Here’s what I’ve been doing and why.


I’ve always come back to various Stick Control based exercises, as they offer a blunt reality check about your hands and sound. Joe Morello was one of George L. Stone’s more notable students, and a lot of what you find in his book Master Studies is derived from Stick Control. The Stone Killer isn’t directly in Stick Control, but I think as a drum set specialist it’s a good way to get your hands ready for playing repetitive figures.


I turn on an NPR news podcast that’s generally 15 minutes long. I play the first written portion of the Stone Killer, stroked only from the wrist, with some heavy Vic Firth pipe band sticks of an unknown signature, at about half note = 60-72bpm… with a metronome of course, because ain’t nobody got perfect time. (That’s 4 strokes on a hand, then 8 on a hand, 12 on a hand, and 16 on a hand) This is on the soft side of a Reflexx pad. If that’s all I do for 15 minutes, and the podcast is over and I have to move on with my day, I can handle whatever sessions or lessons I have throughout the day and not feel or sound like garbage for the most part.


Usually, I realize I forgot to do any stretches and step away from the pad 3 minutes in to do a few, shaking out wrists regularly. I don’t know where I originally picked up this stretch, but Yogi Horton explains it 51′ into my all-time favorite drum video.

Have you ever googled “Yogi” and “stretching” without considering how many yoga videos might populate? It’s a lot, just follow that link.


If I’m keeping track of time, I’ll flip the pad over to the side without rebound and pick one of the accent variations. That means you’re accenting 1 beat of each 4 note grouping, like these, and looping them until you feel like moving on:


Some other variations:


-play different counts per hand, ie 3/5/7/10 or whatever beats per hand. I just play it until I feel like switching back to an even count on a downbeat, but if you wanna go full math-rock you can figure out where it lines up with specific counts.


-when you’ve had enough of 16 beats on a hand, play a clave as a tap/accent exercise, but continue to stroke everything from the wrist. That’s approximately a 12″ accent and a 3″ or less tap. Wanna get nerdy? Tape a ruler to a mirror and be vigilant about the stick heights like the drumline kids do. Something like these:


I stroke all of these from the wrist as my current manner of thinking is that as it’s the muscle group at the center of everything, other muscle groups you may use (fingers, elbow, shoulder) will warm up sympathetically, as they end up in motion sympathetically…next time you’re in a car, stick your hand out the window and make that up/down wavy motion, you’ll see what I mean. This is not to say that I don’t use fingers, elbow, or shoulder, but I’m trying to think from the wrists first if that makes sense. Feel free to email me and tell me how I may have that all wrong.


The point of this isn’t to work on chops or hot licks. (I have neither) The point is to get the blood flowing in my hands and make sure I can sit down and play whatever comes at me for the rest of the day. If I have a busy day, I should probably have a cool down as well. I have recently read that Jeff Porcaro, while on tour, had a post-show routine that was similar to a major league baseball pitcher: 1. ice bath for hands and wrists 2. hot shower 3. cold shower 4. hot shower. I’m of the mind that the sooner you start treating yourself like a professional athlete like this, the longer you’ll be able to play…I don’t know about y’all but I plan on gigging at 80.



Gaylord Birch

I love/hate the feeling of getting forced to reckon with and study a band or musician I’ve somehow overlooked. Pleasant surprises are nice and all, but that feeling of “WHY HAVE I NOT HEARD OF THIS UNTIL NOW.” kinda sucks. This COVID sojourn has been very rewarding with these kinds of gifts. One player in particular has turned out to be the missing brother in a holy fellowship of Oakland drummers. Funk comes from a lot of places, but you’re not really doing all your coursework if you ain’t dealt with Oakland. I have studied David Garibaldi and Mike Clark for years, and I owe Greg Errico’s work a deep dive I guess, but how in the world have I nearly miss Gaylord Birch? Here’s a playlist I started.

I was told, by Charlie Hunter (let me pick that name up off the floor), in the green room of Brooklyn Bowl sometime last year, that Birch played in an early version of The Pointer Sisters and was by some accounts the baddest of all the Oakland drummers of that era. It was a name I knew, but clearly I had some homework to do. There’s an easy starting point, you can find the first Pointer Sisters LP for $2 at most record stores with a good used section. I knew from watching old Soul Train performances that they were more than the ladies who brought you “Neutron Dance” and “Jump”. (I’m an 80s kid y’all). Seriously, go find that record, they could play standards, and show tunes, and probably hold down any manner of casino/hotel gigs…half the record is very-much-swinging vocal jazz with tight harmonies. Birch has a great straight-ahead jazz concept, but it’s the funky ones where you really catch what he had going on. He also lived in a time where you could play a really tasty drum solo over an Allen Toussaint song on live television.

Prior to this, or maybe simultaneously, Gaylord was in a band called Cold Blood. I don’t know how I missed this band, they funk way hard at times.

Does he not sound like the best moments of Harvey Mason and Mike Clark of this era? He did play with Herbie Hancock later on, but spent a lot of the 70s in Graham Central Station.

He played on quite a few solid blues albums, notably with John Lee Hooker and Charles Brown. He played straight ahead jazz with Eddie Harris, a handful of solid gospel sessions, and even briefly in an actually listenable Jerry Garcia collab.

If you’re some kind of fusion head, please check that Roger Glenn record in the playlist, I believe it features appearances from at least one of the Escovedo family. He may not dip into the linear funk concept as much as Mike Clark or David Garibaldi at the time, but he grooves just as hard if not more.

Birch also did some time in Santana’s band, both in the late 70s and the early 90s.

Sadly he lost a battle to cancer at age 50, but he left a pretty deep discography if you go digging. I went kind of funk-centric on the playlist above, but he had a mess of mean shuffles and some great samba ideas if you go down the rabbit hole.


As always if I missed some really dope record or misattributed any recordings, please email me!
If you like what I do, feel free to randomly Venmo monies to @hardproof with “insulin is expensive” as the description, so I know it’s for me…or find me on Patreon while I figure out how that works.