RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Subdivide and Conquer: Rhythm Literacy Using Subdivision by Robert W. Miller

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jun 20, 2022

    Many students struggle with rhythmic reading, evidenced by many who are unable to figure out rhythms independently. Some play along with other students, some guess at note lengths based on spatial notational distance, and some play patterns they already know, incorrectly approximating the notation. Using a subdivision-based approach can be helpful.

    Because many students have good aural rhythmic memories, the prevalence of poor rhythm reading practices is often underestimated, especially in large ensemble settings. To help identify rhythmic reading habits, students should individually be asked to sightread (play or clap) rhythm etudes or excerpts they have not learned before (consisting of familiar note and rest types) to determine if they can figure out the patterns accurately. They should also be individually asked to sightread (play or clap) rhythms that are incorrectly spaced to determine if the students are measuring the lengths of the notes based on temporal note relationships or guessing them based on spatial notational distance.

    Development of a rhythmic subdivision approach will help many students sightread better, learn new music more quickly and accurately, and develop an increased ability to learn music independently. They will be learning to analyze rhythms using a relatively concrete and systematic approach. They should be aware, however, that developing the abilities to execute rhythms while subdividing requires effort, whether one is a beginner or has been using another method to decode rhythms. As fundamental skills are developed, the benefits will become increasingly obvious.

    A foundational skill needed for the subdivision method to be effective is the ability to feel a beat. The understanding of rhythms is merely theoretical unless the rhythms are applied to a steady beat. The beat is felt, not intellectualized. Also of great importance is the ability to play or clap upbeats, which is challenging for many students. Without the ability to feel downbeats and execute upbeats, the placement of notes when performing will be left to musical approximation. Meanwhile, the ability to execute upbeats accurately is a prerequisite to the accurate performance of syncopated rhythms. 

    Tapping one’s foot can be a significant aid in developing the ability to feel a beat; students who tap unsteadily and don’t realize it should be encouraged to tap on something that makes noise. An added benefit to foot tapping is that an unsteadiness in tapping serves to alert the student that something is wrong. The use of a metronome can be helpful, especially for the development of the execution of upbeats, as long as students are able to tell if they are tapping accurately to the metronome. A metronome should not be used all of the time, though, so students do not become dependent on it.

    Once these foundational time sensibilities have been developed, they can be applied to measure the lengths of notes by subdividing. An abbreviated sample pedagogical procedure follows:

    STEP 1: Check the time signature.

    STEP 2: Determine the counting syllables.

    Count using the syllables of the shortest note in the music, since the shortest note will fit into itself as well as into the longer notes. (For a general example, if there are sixteenth notes or rests in a piece, count all notes and rests using sixteenth-note subdivided syllables, which essentially become units of measurement). 

    STEP 3: Analyze each part of the given rhythm.

    What kind of note is it? How many syllables will it get? What are those syllables for each note? Using an example in 3/4 time with four sixteenth notes followed by two quarter notes, each sixteenth note will get one syllable (1, e, &, a) and each quarter note will get four syllables (2 e & a and 3 e & a).


    Subdivide and Conquer Rhythm by Robert Miller


    If presented this rhythm without the subdivided counting syllables, many students will mistakenly play the quarter notes as eighth notes but count “1 e & a 2  3,” thus labeling correctly but measuring and performing incorrectly.

    Generally, the following syllables are fairly standard and work well:

    Divisions of 1: 1, 2, 3, 4…
    Divisions of 2: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &…
    Divisions of 3: 1 & a 2 & a 3 & a 4 & a…
    Divisions of 4: 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a…

    They enable counting at fast tempos and enable specific notes/rests to be located (e.g., the “e of 3”).

    Counting up to three or four subdivisions of the beat tends to be a practical limit; beyond that, subdivision syllables can be divided. For example, rhythms with thirty-second notes in 4/4 can be executed by counting “1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a” and playing two even thirty-second notes in each sixteenth-note syllable (one on a syllable, and the other halfway between that syllable and the next).

    The skills involved in this counting/tapping method require some time to develop, which will occur more quickly for some students than for others. However, almost all students can learn to decipher rhythms by using rhythmic subdivision. Once students are comfortable with the framework of steady foot tapping and subdivided counting to that tapping, they tend to progress more rapidly in all rhythmic reading. The skills developed can be helpful to students who do and who do not intuit rhythm. Additionally, subdivided counting can enhance musicality when students are executing rallentandos, accelerandos, rubatos, etc. 

    Use of the rhythmic subdivision approach becomes much like using a rhythm number line that, once internalized, runs on autopilot but is present when needed. Students working out rhythms should also be reminded to start slowly and gradually speed up, and to practice challenging sections separately. The investment of time needed to teach rhythmic subdivision can result in future dividends that will enable all students to learn music more quickly, accurately, and independently

    Robert MillerRobert W. Miller directed bands at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in Howard County, Maryland, before retiring from his 34-year public school teaching career. He has taught private percussion students for the past 47 years, many of whom have participated in all-state bands and orchestras. Robert is the author of Subdivide and Conquer, available from Hudson Music and He has been a percussion adjudicator at county solo-and-ensemble festivals and all-state band/orchestra auditions, as well as an adjudicator at county and state band assessments. Robert has a B.S. in Music Education, a B.S. in Psychology, and an M.Ed. in Music Education, all from the University of Maryland, College Park.

  • PAS Playlist: Hal Blaine by Eric C. Hughes

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jun 13, 2022

    Hal Blaine Hughes

    There are two versions of The Great American Songbook: the pop and jazz standards that became musical canon from late-1920s to the late-1950s, and the collection of every song that Hal Blaine ever played on. Hal’s legacy and contributions to American pop music in the days of the Wrecking Crew (and beyond) are nothing short of remarkable. No other drummer had such a string of hits, and we sometimes forget that he also played on hundreds of other songs and albums that never made the Top 40, and he was a touring drummer for The Carpenters and John Denver when he could find the time to get out of the studio. Here you’ll find an extremely short list of some of Hal’s greatest performances with a little history attached.

    “Be My Baby”
    The Ronettes
    This is my favorite song. EVER. Of all the songs ever written, or will be written, “Be My Baby” is truly my number-one. This may be one of the most perfect pop songs ever written and Hal’s performance is a big reason why. From that Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” comes the greatest intro of all time: boom… boom-boom, whack! Between the lyrics, the background vocals, and Ronnie Spector’s voice, I get emotional every time I hear it. Those fills at the end of the song top it all off! Next time you hear this track, turn up the volume during the fade. Hal’s trademark was playing big triplet fills at the end when he knew they had the take. It was his way of saying “We got it.”

    “Hurting Each Other”
    The Carpenters
    Karen’s voice is smoother than a butter sandwich on this track. Here is a great example of how Hal could shape a tune from the beginning to the end with a sparse opening and then cutting loose on the choruses, packing them with fills. Hal claims he was the one who “discovered” Karen as a singer when The Carpenters first came to record in the studio. Being told by the parents that Richard was the talent and Karen was just the drummer, Hal said they should give her a shot at the mic. The rest is history. 

    “A Little Less Conversation”
    Elvis Presley
    This track and “Strangers in The Night” show the diversity and professionalism that the Wrecking Crew had. In addition to recording the majority of the pop hits during that time they proved they could hang with musical royalty. Starting with Hal’s drum solo intro, he lays down a groove that exemplifies the vibe and feel of the late 1960s (recorded in 1968). Elvis’s voice never sounded better, and the climax is as chaotic as Elvis’s life was at that time. The remix version released in 2002 is fun, but not as fun as the original.

    “Strangers in the Night”
    Frank Sinatra
    Someone had the brilliant idea to record this iconic Sinatra tune with many of the Wrecking Crew regulars along with a miniature orchestra. Was it daughter Nancy who worked with the Crew regularly? Reportedly recorded in a midnight session (and the band dressed up to show respect), this is a piece of American pop music gold. Sinatra hated the song and made no qualms about telling everyone about it even when he later sang it live in concerts. However, the proof is in the pudding. Hal recreates his “Be My Baby” groove for the verses, but the highlight is the two-handed drum fill going into the tutti solo section and in the outro. Oh, and the song was number-one on Billboard, the album became Sinatra’s most successful album ever, and the song won three Grammys; two of them going to Sinatra himself. Not too shabby for a song he hated.

    “The Poor Side of Town”
    Johnny Rivers
    What do you do when the record company says they won’t pay for you to record this song? You pay for it yourself, own the publishing, and have a number-one hit. Recorded with the Crew in 1966, this is a straight-ahead ballad with a classic Hal “cocktail” fill, which he plays every time, minus the big triplets in the bridge and at the end. This sort of restraint shows exactly what was needed to make a number-one hit and how to play for the song.

    “MacArthur Park”
    Richard Harris
    This epic and sprawling song is very reminiscent of a symphonic piece with four different sections, with tempo and feel changes expertly performed by Hal and the Crew augmented with an orchestra. My favorite fill is around 6:38, which happens in sort of a weird place but propels the song into the climax. While the song may seem nonsensical, I strongly encourage you to check out what composer Jimmy Webb has to say about this song and the inspiration behind it.

    Paul Revere & The Raiders
    Hal shines on this track with his snare pounding quarter notes and filling in all the spaces with “Hal-isms.” The song really opens up on the bridge section where he plays a funky little groove with the overdriven bass playing eighth notes. And that scream by Mark Lindsay? Rock and Roll, baby! Oh, and if you’re not a fan of Paul Revere & The Raiders, I don’t know if we can be friends.

    “Ventura Highway”
    One of America’s best-known tunes opens with Hal playing a quasi-bossa nova feel, but quickly moves to the full kit for what seems like a series of two choruses. The pattern repeats itself for the rest of the tune; subtle fills move the track along, and listening to this tune makes you feel like you are driving up PCH 1 to Ventura. It would be easy to play along with the syncopated vocal/guitar rhythms, but Hal keeps it simple because he knew a hit when he heard it.

    “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
    Darlene Love
    A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector should be required listening every holiday season. Despite the sheer sonic enormity of the track, Darlene Love’s impeccable vocal take is one of the best from this era. This track contains everything you need to know about Hal Blaine, the drummer: his relaxed feel, his double-handed triplet fills between sections, and, of course, the ending when he gets to cut loose. This cut could, and should, be played any time of the year.

    “God Only Knows”
    The Beach Boys
    We cannot discuss Hal Blaine without discussing The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson and Hal had a very close relationship and Hal played on dozens and dozens of Beach Boys hits as well as deeper cuts. So, why this track? While Hal played drums and some percussion on the whole of Pet Sounds, there are no real drums on “God Only Knows.” Hal had previously said he played the bottom of Coke bottles to get the signature “clip-clop” percussion sound on the track; others have said it was orange juice bottles. Whatever the beverage of choice was, this track shows Hal’s ability to work with a producer and a songwriter he admired and believed in to try literally anything, and everything, to make one of the greatest songs ever written. 

    Eric C HughesEric C Hughes is chair advisor for the PAS Drum Set Committee. He lives in Houston, Texas, where he is an active percussion teacher for in-person and online lessons. A full-time musician, Eric drums for Blaggards and The Allen Oldies Band. You can find his schedule at

  • Impressions of Art Blakey: A Conversation with Carl Allen by Ryan Bond

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | May 20, 2022

    Art Blakey

    Legendary drummer, mentor, and bandleader Art Blakey, born under the name James Edward Blakey on October 11, 1919 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, influenced drumming and jazz communities for many generations. In 1955 Blakey and Horace Silver co-founded the Jazz Messengers; the following year, Silver left the band, leaving it to Blakey, who led the Messengers until his passing on October 16, 1990.

    Art Blakey played with Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Wayne Shorter, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Watson, and many others. He was awarded the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame Readers’ Choice Award in 1981, the Best Instrumental Jazz Performance Grammy in 1984, the 1985 Gold Disc from Japan’s Swing Journal in 2001, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, awarded posthumously. He was inducted into the Newport Jazz Festival Hall of Fame in 1976, the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1991, the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and 2001, and the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2014. 

    This article will discuss Blakey’s influence as a band leader and sideman and his mentorship and influence on drummer Carl Allen and his generation of musicians. Stories and all quotes herein are shared from interviews this author conducted with Blakey’s mentee Carl Allen on November 7, 2021.

    Milwaukee-born drummer, bandleader, entrepreneur, and educator Carl Allen is credited with more than 225 recordings. Allen grew up listening to multiple musical genres. After hearing Benny Carter play the saxophone, jazz became his focus. “When I understood how the music communicated and changed, it was jazz for me from then on,” Allen says. “This sense of curiosity has, to a great degree, governed my life.” Allen’s tours have taken him all over the world and he has nearly 70 credits as a producer. Allen’s teaching career includes 12 years at the Juilliard School from 2001–13. The last six of those years he served as the Artistic Director of Jazz Studies. He has given countless masterclasses and clinics at major institutions such as Berklee College of Music, University of Southern California, Northwestern University, Oberlin Conservatory, University of North Texas, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and in Australia, Holland, and New Zealand. Allen received an honorary doctorate in 2012 from Snow College (Ephraim, Utah), and later taught there as Adjunct Faculty. He accepted a faculty position in the Fall of 2021 as the William D. and Mary Grant/Endowed Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

    I first met Allen in 2012 at a Juilliard Jazz Workshop in Ephraim, Utah. Allen continued to visit Snow College each semester, teaching and mentoring students during my undergraduate studies until I graduated in 2019. Throughout that time, our friendship grew through performing, teaching, and long drives to and from the airport.

    Ryan Bond: Art Blakey had a great sense of humor, and there were always a few mysteries about him. What can you tell us about that?

    Carl Allen: First of all, Art was a genius of a musician. There are so many things that are still a mystery about him. Freddie Hubbard and Benny Golson and many others said that nobody really knows when Art was born. On record, it says October 11, 1919. But the reason it was a mystery is because he was adopted. I hate this word, but he was an orphan, and Art used to use that term all the time. There was still some ambiguity about when he was actually born.

    RB: You celebrated several of Blakey’s birthdays with him, correct?

    CA: I remember hanging out with Art on his birthday at one of the famed clubs in New York called Sweet Basils. I said, “Art, Happy Birthday! So how old are you now?” Art said, “I’m 65 years old.” I said, “Oh man, that’s beautiful.” So, the following year I’m hanging out with Art again on his birthday at Sweet Basils and of course I said, “Art, Happy Birthday! So how old are you now?” Art replied, “I’m 65 years old.” I said, “Hmm, that’s interesting math.” So later I called Freddie Hubbard at home, and I said, “Hey listen man, I was just hanging with Bu, it’s his birthday and he says he’s 65” Freddie responded, “Man, he says 65? He was 65 when I was in the band.” So, who really knows how old Art really was?

    Blakey started his musical career as a pianist, and he had to make a quick transition. Art was playing piano at a club in Pittsburgh, and some gangsters entered the club. Erroll Garner came into the club and the gangsters told Art, “Get off the piano so this man can play. You go over and sit behind the drums.” Art wasn't a drummer, but that started his drumming career.

    Allen met Blakey for the first time in 1979 at the Jazz Gallery club in Milwaukee. In 1982 when Allen joined Freddie Hubbard’s group, Allen shares “That’s when Art and I really developed a relationship.” At the age of 63, Art began his big influence on Allen, who was 21, and his musical career. Not only was Blakey a role model and a great mentor, he taught life lessons and gave opportunities to many musicians.

    CA: Art looks at me and he says, “Come here. Let's see. Yeah, Terrance here tells me you're playing with Freddie now.” I said, “Yeah, I’ve been playing with him for about six months or so.” Art said, “You know, Fred is a former Jazz Messenger.” He kind of looked around, then says, “Well, you know, since he's a former Messenger, and you're playing with him, you're now a Jazz Messenger.” I thought I was going to pass out!

    RB: You credit many of your early gigs and first record deal to Blakey?

    CA: I was on tour in Japan my very first time, 1987, with Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison. We were in Tokyo after the concert. This gentleman comes to me in the dressing room, introduced himself, and said, “My name is Makoto Kimata. I'm with Alpha records, and I’ve produced records for Art Blakey. I'm friends with Art, and he told me that I should give you a record deal.”

    Allen thought that the other band members were playing a joke on him, so he checked the hallway, and no one was there.

    CA: I made a deal with Kimata and did five records with him as a leader and produced over 50 more with him.

    Blakey didn’t just influence drummers; he also had an influence on many musicians. Allen shares that he feels many musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Jackie McLean, and more tend to have a similar personality to Art. “When you spend significant time around a person, they become a part of you,” Allen says. Other musicians started to dress nicer, learn all the details of the music, and present themselves to be more like Blakey. Most of the musicians in Allen’s generation either played with Art Blakey or they played with someone who played with Art Blakey. Ray Brown once told Allen, “At some point all of the musicians, younger and older, were influenced by Art.”

    In Allen’s early years, he would be at the jazz club every night when he wasn’t working. He would see Blakey play all the time, but he wasn’t the only drummer there watching for inspiration.

    CA: There would be about 15 to 17 drummers just kind of hanging in the corner. These drummers would often include Cindy Blackman, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Ralph Peterson, Billy Drummond, Kenny Washington, Lewis Nash, and more. It wasn't until after Art died that people like Devon Jackson and Donald Harrison and others would tell me, “Yeah, Carl, you were probably one of the more consistent younger drummers who were always there watching Art.”

    Blakey is one of the great musical mentors, due to his long leadership of over 30 years with the Jazz Messengers and his influence on musicians. Allen had a great relationship with Blakey and considers Blakey a mentor. The impact of having a great mentor can change someone’s life.

    CA:  You know, sometimes a mentor is not trying to be your friend. I think younger musicians need mentors. Not only do they need mentors, they need to want to have a mentor. You can't force yourself on someone to be their mentor, and a mentor is not someone who's always going to tell you what you want to hear. They're not someone who's going to be concerned about if your feelings are hurt or not. Art would tell me some stuff sometimes, and I would just look at them like, “I thought you cared for me. How could you talk to me like that?” One of the great lessons that I learned from Art is that this is a community that you have to earn your way into. Art told me, “Just because you play drums, it don't make you one of us.bDon't get it twisted. We're not equal.” I was like, “Whoa.” He said, “You know, you're my competition.” I started laughing. I'm like, “Art, what are you talking about?” He says, “You don't see me as competition because you look up to me and you respect me and blah blah blah, but what do you do for a living?” I said, “I play drums.” Art says, “What do I do?” I said, “You play drums.” He said, “Yeah, essentially at the end of the day, we're both dependent on our phone ringing and for us to be able to work. And we both do the same thing. You're my competition.”

    This conversation instilled a sense of urgency in Allen that continued to drive his success in music and in life.

    Blakey’s playing has many significant characteristics such as his famous press roll, left-hand shuffle, bossa nova with a boogaloo-like pattern on the ride cymbal, “dropping bombs,” and more. Allen relates the story that “Igor Stravinsky wrote a piece and he wanted Art Blakey to play his press roll in it. I don’t remember what piece it was, but it speaks to how legendary Art’s press roll was. I would liken it to somebody maybe taking the phone book and ripping it in half. That's what it sounded like listening to Art play a press roll, it was that thunderous. I mean, the press roll sometimes would get so loud you would feel the stage shaking. It was unbelievable.”

    Blakey’s left-hand shuffle pattern can be heard in many recordings, the most noteworthy being “Blues March.” His shuffle pattern and feel were unlike any drummer before. Benny Golson convinced Blakey to write a blues and that he should play it in a march style. Blakey didn’t think it was going to turn into anything special, but it became one of his most performed pieces. Allen shares, “I was trying to figure out how Art got his left hand to play that shuffle. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

    Blakey and the Jazz Messengers play a version of the song “Pensativa” by Clare Fischer on their Free for All album. Blakey plays a bossa nova with a boogaloo-like groove pattern on the ride cymbal. “It became so much a part of Art’s signature that people ask drummers to play “Pensativa” like Art. Something as simple as that conceptually is how he created a whole new kind of dance.”

    Blakey’s playing style was consistent throughout the years; it didn’t change much with different bandmates. Drummers tend to adapt their playing style to fit the size of group they are playing with. It didn’t matter if Blakey played with a trio or a big band, he was consistent.

    CA: Art played in a small group like it was the condensed big band. I'm talking about how he orchestrated and set up the band. Listen to any of those Jazz Messengers records; he wasn't playing like he was with a sextet. He was playing like there was a full trombone section, trumpet section, saxophones; it’s just how he heard the music. As a drummer, there are certain ways that one would typically set up a large ensemble versus a small ensemble. Art played in a small group like it was a big band. He set up a figure three and a half beats before the figure.

    Blakey was a colossal influence on jazz and drumming communities and will remain a legend forever. His music, playing, presence, and mentorship affected many people’s lives and continues to do so today. Here are a few songs and albums that Blakey plays on that Carl Allen considers essential listening: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Free for All, Buhaina’s Delight, “Blues March,” Hank Mobley’s Soul Station, Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else, and Meet the Magical Trio with James Williams, Art Blakey, and Ray Brown that was released in the late ‘80s.

    Ryan BondRyan Bond is a percussionist in Las Vegas, Nevada where he is completing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Percussion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) under the mentorship of Dr. Dean Gronemeier and Dr. Timothy Jones. Prior to completing a Master of Music degree at UNLV, he completed his Bachelor of Music at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah with an emphasis in Commercial Music. Ryan has performed with Opera Las Vegas among other notable ensembles, and with such artists as John Patitucci and Bernie Dressel while serving as the principal percussionist of the Grammy-nominated UNLV Wind Orchestra under the direction of Thomas G. Leslie. Along with his work as a performer, Ryan actively does clinics and teaches privately in the Vegas and Utah valleys. For more information about Ryan, visit his profile at

Contact Us

Percussive Arts Society
110 W. Washington Street Suite A 
Indianapolis, IN 46204
T: (317) 974-4488
F: (317) 974-4499