PlayCajon Podcast with Paul Jennings

In December 2015 I launched the PlayCajon Podcast, (conversations with drummers and percussionist from around the world). The aim of the podcast is to bring you fascinating stories and perspectives from some of the most interesting and sometimes well known drummers and percussionists in the world.

Over the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to talk to some of the top people in the percussion world including Munyungo Jackson (Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis), Luis Conte (Madonna, James Taylor), Pete Lockett, Heidi Joubert, David Mortara, Steven Black, Jaron Mossman, and Mark Powers. With many more great people set to be on the PlayCajon Podcast.

To hear the current episodes go to: http://playcajon.org/category/podcast/

Subscribe on iTunes to get the latest episodes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/playcajon-with-paul-jennings/id1067020894?mt=2&ls=1

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Amazing hang drum solo by Daniel Waples

This Hang solo by Daniel Waples is very cool indeed:

Ever since the hang drum hit the scene back in 2000, people have been drawn in by its hypnotizing sound. Originally created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in BernSwitzerland, the instrument, that looks like a UFO, is constructed from two half-shells of deep drawnnitrided steel sheet and fixed together leaving the inside hollow. The hang is then hammered to create the notes in a similar way that you would create a  steelpan, but modified in such a way as to act as a Helmholtz resonator. The top side of the hang has a center ‘note’ called the “Ding” hammered into it and seven or eight ‘tone fields’ hammered out around the center. The bottom of the hang which is called the “Gu” is a plain surface that has a rolled hole in the center with a tuned note that is created when the rim is struck. The name Hang comes from the Bernese German word for hand. 

Daniel’s website: http://www.hanginbalance.com

Daniel’s Facebook page: http://facebook.com/hanginbalance

Summer NAMM Show 2013

I am back home now after spending a week in one of the greatest cities in America: Nashville, TN. The reason I was there was for the Summer NAMM Show, an annual event that sees some of the worlds premier musical instrument manufacturers, retailers, & artists gather under one roof.

It was my first time at the show and as the U.S distributor for Sela Cajons, we were there to bring the word of Sela to the American market.

The NAMM staff were always there to help with what ever we needed and most people who came to our booth over the weekend were very friendly and interested in what we were showing.

We managed to gain a lot of media attention while we were there, including a spots on ABC morning news in Nashville, Balcony TV, Drummer Cafe, & Drum! This was most unexpected and added an air of excitement and exposure to the show that brought even more interest our way.

One of the coolest things that happened at the show began at the Wells Fargo bank on Music Row, Nashville. While in there I met a man by the name of Christian Wolf who is the drummer with Angel Mary & the Tennessee Werewolves, a Nashville country band who are fast gaining some major attention.

I met Christian later that weekend at NAMM and we ended up endorsing Christian as a Sela Cajon artist. Christian is excited to use the cajon for smaller acoustic shows as well as on radio and TV appearances.

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Angel Mary & the Tennessee Werewolves will release their new single July 30th.

We were also honored to be recorded for Balcony TV Nashville and after meeting with the shows host Crow Lee Belcher who plays with Nashville folk/rock/hip hop band IIIRD Class, we decided to sign Crow to the Sela artist roster too. What a top man!

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In the booth at NAMM with Crow

Another highlight for me was meeting Bart Elliot from Drummer Cafe. Bart asked me if I would come to his studio to record an interview for his up coming show. We spoke about everything from cajons to Shetland Sheep. It was a pleasure to hang out. Stay tuned for the episode.

I must say that having been fortunate to travel to many American cities, Nashville now sits as one of my favorite. I am sure there is an underside as there is with any place, but over all people were genuinely friendly, it was clean, had a great vibe, and there was music every where you turned. We will be back.

PJ

Jamming with Crow & Christian Wolf at NAMM

Hybridize: 5 things to use with your cajon

The cajon is one of the most versatile hand drums on the planet. You can use it in a wide range of settings across many genres. The cajon stands alone very well but if you are looking to add more scope to your sounds here are a some options for you.

1. Hi Hat

Using a hi hat along with your cajon really is perfect. I would recommend using some kind of brush on the hi hat as it will compliment the sound of the cajon very well. You can use one hand for the cajon to punch out your bass and snare tones and one for the hats to play your quarter notes, eighths, sixteenths or what ever. You could also just use the foot on the hi hat to chip out the off beat or on beat. The possibilities are many.

2. Cajon Bass Pedal

The cajon bass pedal is a relatively new accessory. It uses a cable mechanism activated by the foot with the beater hitting the cajon to produce a bass tone. The beater is made extra soft so that a deeper tone can be produced from the wood surface. The addition of a cajon bass pedal can really open up a world of new groove possibilities.

3. Snare Drum

Using a snare drum along with the cajon will give it a nice drum kit feel. Again, like the hi hat, I would recommend using a brush to play the snare with. This will compliment the sound of the cajon very well. When using a snare, I usually play the cajon with my right hand (I am right handed) and the snare with my left. It’s just feels natural to do it that way for me. There is no standard way, whatever you feel comfortable with.

4. Cymbals

Having a cymbal or two to play with your cajon is something I could not recommend enough. Not only can you crash it with your hand but you can also use it as a ride to play your subdivisions like eighth notes. Again, a brush works well and the cymbal does not need to be a ride cymbal to ride on either. I find that a medium crash works just fine and that means its easier to crash too. Along with a crash, a splash cymbal works great with cajon.

5. A skinned hand drum

For many years I have experimented with using all kinds of hand drums with cajon. From congas to djembes, bongos to tabla and even all of the above at the same time. Using a drum like this with the cajon will really expand your sonic range. I like using high- pitched drums like tabla or a high tuned djembe as I think it sounds great with the sound of the cajon and really pops over the top of the wood sound. I have even turned the snare off on a snare drum and played it with my hand along with the cajon and it also sounds great.

There are all kinds of possibilities with percussion in general. These are just a couple of suggestions to help get you started. Remember, don’t let anyone tell you you are doing it the wrong way, the wrong way doesn’t exist.

PJ

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Teaching cajon hybrid lesson on playcajon.org

Drummer Girls: The ladies who are taking over♀

Like many things throughout history it is unfortunate that drumming has traditionally been a male dominated activity. Not any more!

When I saw Dumpstaphunk in Denver, CO on new years eve 2012 nothing could prepare me for the power and groove that was about to hit. I had bearly heard of Dumpstaphunk at that time and I had no idea that the bands drummer: Nikki Glaspie was about to have me dancing the hight of my self in excitment every time she hit the snare drum. Nikki’s groove was so in the pocket, it put a hole in it. The whole band put on quite a show that night but for me, it was Glaspie who stole the show. A few days later I decided to check out some of her other work, I found out that she had played with Beyonce on her 2007 world tour and after checking out some videos on YouTube I began discovering some other incredible female drummers who I had not heard of before. I suddenly realized that the girls were taking over and drumming’s age of women was truly upon us.

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Sheila E who is regarded as one of the most iconic female drummers of all time.

Of course Nikki Glaspy was not the first great female drummer. There are a long line of greats who came before such as Cindy Blackman-Santana who’s career spanning 3 decades has seen her play with greats including: Pharoah SandersLenny Kravitz, and of couse her husband: Carlos Santana. Grammy nominated Sheila E  is probably one of the most well know female drummers who is best known for her long career with Prince. Her wide percussive ability on drum set, congas, timbales, and dosens of other instruments has seen her play with greats such as: Lionel RichieGeorge DukeRingo Starr, & Gloria EstefanKaren Carpenter who was the lead singer and drummer for the Carpenters, who scored a string of Top 10 hits in the early ’70s probably influenced hundreds of women to pick up the sticks over the years. These great drummers amongst others have led the way for a new age of female drummers who are now taking the gigs from the boys and deservedly so.

Girls to watch out for

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Nikki Glaspie who has performed with Dumpstaphunk, BeyonceChaka Kahn, Jay-Z, Kanye West

After attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, Nikki Glaspie has gone on to play with some of the worlds biggest artists including being chosen to be part or Beyonce’s all girl band in 2006 taking her on a world tour in 2007. Glaspie’s style is very much in the gospel funk tradition with a technical ability to rival anyone who dares. Check out Nikki playing

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Hannah Ford who’s band 3rd Eye Girl are now performing as the backing band for Prince.

Ford has taken influence from drummers like Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Sheila E & Cindy Blackman. Her short career has already led to her playing drums with Prince, not an easy seat to fill after drummers like Bobby ZJohn Blackwell, Kirk Johnson & Sheila E have been there before. Check out Hannah Ford playing

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Cora Coleman-Dunham has performed with Prince, Yusef LateefFrank McComb

After Prince attended one of her performances with Frank McComb he took an interest and upon her return from a Japanese tour, Prince put together a new Band with Cora on drums and her husband, Joshua Dunham on bass. Cora is a power house of a drummer winning Guitar Center’s Annual National Drum-Off competition in 2003. Check out Cora Coleman playing

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Samantha Maloney has performed with HoleMötley CrüeEagles of Death Metal

In 1998 Maloney auditioned for Hole after the departure of Patty Schemel. She got the job and at the age of 22 Maloney was on the road with Hole at the hight of their success. In 2000 she joined Mötley Crüe to fill in for Randy Castillo who was ill at the time. After Castillo died in 2002 Maloney went on to play with the band until 2004. Maloney now tours with Brother Clyde an alt rock band formed by Billy Ray Cyrus. Check out Samantha Maloney playing

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Kim Thompson has performed with Kelly Rowland, George Michael, Destiny’s Child

Kim Thompson is origionaly from LA but grew up in St Louis, MO. Like Nikki Glaspie Thompson was part of Beyonce’s all girl live band in 2007. She has toured in over 33 countrys and endorses Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Vater sticks. Check out Kim Thompson playing

PJ

10 things for beginning cajon

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These days there are many lessons & videos out there for the cajon but most people are really just looking for a starting point. Here are 10 things to get you going as a beginner cajon player.

1. Find yourself the right cajon. 

There are literally hundreds of cajon makers out there today. Some are big names in percussion like LP or  Meinl. Some are lesser known specialist cajon makers like Kopf or Sela. It can be daunting figuring out which one is right for you and a lot of it can come down to budget. Beginner models start usually around $70 – $120USD, mid-range: $130 – $300 with pro cajons being $300 – $500 and upwards. Do some looking around there can be some amazing deals out there especially with the lesser known names. Here’s some more info on choosing the right cajon.

2. Find a teacher

When I say find a teacher I am not talking only of a one-on-one human encounter. Your teacher may well come in the form of YouTube or some other video platform for lessons. There are lots of them out there and the internet has made it very easy to access a wealth of knowledge for all manner of subjects including cajon lessons. Some sites you may want to check out include: playcajon.org (shamless plug!) Heidi Joubert’s cajonbox.com and Ross McCallum’s Cajon Groove Guide.

3. Posture

With the nature of the cajon and the way it is played, it is of the highest importance that you are not only sitting right but also playing without straining your self. Make sure you are sitting with your back straight for the most part, not hunched over but relaxed. It is not necessary to play much further than 8″ down the front of the cajon. All tones including the bass tone can be achieved right there. Paying close attention to this particularly in the beginning will greatly help your playing technique, speed & agility, and will also reduce fatigue and back pain.

4. Stretch

This is very important. If you dont stretch there is a good chance you will do yourself an injury and that will be a major setback. Here are some basic hand stretches.

5. Tones

Your first practice sessions with your new cajon should focus heavily on finding the basic tones of the cajon. The bass tone & the slap tone are the main two. I also teach a mid tone which is achieved mostly with the tips of the fingers while the hand is in a long cupping form and a high slap tone, achieved with the tips of the fingers on the top edge of the cajon. Through out your whole career as a cajon player or percussionist you will want to improve and refine your tone on your instrument.

6. Use a metronome

Practicing with a metronome will greatly improve your accuracy in timing  & speed. This may annoy the hell out of you at first with the mind numbing click but as you go on you will grow to love it as you can throw all kinds of timings off and all over the click of the metronome. Here’s a free online metronome.

7. Create a practice schedule

You will advance greatly if you work on the same things every day so make sure you repeat the same exercises on a daily basis. Do your stretches and warm-ups then take time on each thing that you are working on. Once you feel you are comfortable on those techniques, move on to new ones.

8. Develop your speed

It is very tempting to try to push the speed envelope as soon as possible. We are drummers so we have this burning desire deep inside to be fast at our chops. This is great but if we don’t take our time to achieve that speed in a gradual way or speedy fast licks will be sloppy and disapointing to us and all our friends. Take your time to develop your speed in a measured way. Noch up your metronome only when you feel that you can go on forever playing what your playing. Also, make sure to notch up the speed gradually maybe 5 BPM at a time. This will ensure your success are becoming the fastest cajon player there ever was.

9. Discover new styles

The most hired drummers & percussionists today are those of us who can play different styles. If you are in a super successful rock band making millions skip to number 10.  The cajon was invented in the Afro-Peruvian tradition so I would highly recommend learning some of it. Not only do we all owe it to the Afro-Peruvians for inventing the cajon but it is also a very cool style of music with all kinds of great grooves to learn. Flamenco is a huge one and very fun to play on cajon. You could start by learning some basic rumba patterns and work your way up to Bulerias.  Learning diferent styles as a percussionist is invalubal and along the way you will learn all about new cultures and traditions. I can’t recommend enough.

10. Get out there

One of the most important ways to further your musicianship is to play with others. You will learn much faster when you can bounce ideas off others and get a feel for playing in a group. If you don’t know where to start look into local drumming groups. There are some in every town these days or if you know some other drummers or musicians, start something yourself. Playing music with others is why we do it. It’s a great way to have a lot of fun and build community.

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The world record for the most cajon players at one time  in Lima, Peru 2012

Rise of the Cajon

In the mid 1970’s a Brazilian percussionist called Rubem Dantas was on tour in South America performing with flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia. While in Peru Dantas was given a box drum by a local drummer. This instrument was a cajon and although he did not know it yet Dantas was about to spark a movement that would later see the cajon becoming one of the worlds most popular percussion instruments.

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The CaSela Cajon by Sela is one of the worlds most popular modern cajons. 

After returning from Peru Dantas began using the Cajon with De Lucia and word of this new instrument soon spread with flamenco musicians all across Spain wanting to get their hands on one. The sound of the cajon was a great accompaniment to the flamenco sound but it was not yet perfect. The traditional Peruvian cajon has no snare sound at all, it is simply a wooden box with a very open and resonant sound which is great for the traditional Afro-Peruvian music of coastal Peru but something was missing for the flamenco players. Soon after the cajon was introduced to flamenco, guitar strings were added to the inside and placed on the back side of the playing surface. The addition of the guitar strings resulted in a vibrant rattle effect which added a new dimension to the sound of the cajon. The flamenco players were now happy with the way the cajon complimented their music and the cajon went on to become one of the main instruments in flamenco music, in fact it would be hard to find a flamenco ensamble today that did not use the cajon in their performance.

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Flamenco musicians use the cajon widely in their performances

The addition of the guitar strings on the cajon not only made it fit into flamenco music easier but had also turned it into a drum that sounded a lot like another instrument, the drum set. This revolution in sound made it possible to have one very portable drum that sounded like a bass drum & snare drum with many more tones in between. When people began realizing that in this one box, which also doubled as your drum stool, was an entire drum set, drummers around the world began using the cajon in all kinds of musical genres from rock to traditional Scottish music.

Many cajon makers have now added a multitude of snare systems to cajons and new inovations like cable bass pedals made spesificly for the cajon are coming out all the time. Sales for cajons have increased dramatically in the past 10 years and there is no sign of that slowing down anytime soon. The cajon is now hugely popular in asian countrys like Indonesia, Japan & Singapore and sales in Germany alone almost surpassed that of guitars last year. The cajon revolution is now growing in America too with tens-of-thousands sold each year and dosens of brands to choose from.

Today artists such as Maroon 5, Stevie Wonder, Shakira, & Zac Brown Band use the cajon in their live shows and the cajon can regularly be seen on TV shows such as American Idol, The X Factor, & The Voice. So how did this simple box drum which was invented by slave musicians in Peru in the early 1800’s become such a hit with musicians across the world in 2013? The answer to the question lies probably in its drum set like sound and portability, but maybe its just that people are simply awestruck by the scope of sound that is possible from a simple wooden box.

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Singapore cajon player Arthur Choo taking the cajon to a new level in Asia. (Photo by Purple Lambs)