The Conscious, Unconscious and Your Instincts, Part I

Having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations, and thoughts.

The aspect of the mind of which we are not directly aware.

A natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.

I started on leather suitcases, pots & pans, and cardboard boxes when I was 6 years old. My first drumsticks were the hard, little cardboard rolls that were attached to wire hangers for hanging suit pants. It was 1964 and we had just seen RINGO on ED SULLIVAN.

This consciously set me on the warpath with my parents to supply me with a drum set. The drum set didn’t come until I was in 7th grade, but before that, I was in the concert band/orchestra/choir soaking up as much drumming related “stuff” as I could.

All of that conscious effort seeped into my unconscious psyche when I broke into my neighbor’s garage during the summer of 1968. Lee Fanberg owned a Ludwig blue sparkle, four-piece kit and in the three years he had it, I heard him play it TWICE! In my mind, it was going to waste. Their family was on vacation and I decided to make use of his idle drums. It was the first time I’d ever sat behind a kit but instinctively I knew what to do. The hours of unconsciously logging mental images of drummers was about to kick in. My adrenaline was pumping. The combination of fear and ecstasy was coursing through my veins as I pounded out a basic beat.


I remember that first session lasting about a half an hour before I heard the Fanbergs pull up in front of the garage. I slid out the back without being noticed… my body tingling from the thrill.

I still had not had any formal drum set training, but I knew this was the direction for me. Something inside was guiding me and it just felt right.

The end of my freshman year in high school was the magic moment that sealed the deal (Spring 1973). I had a STEWART gold sparkle, 5-piece kit (I still have that snare drum) and I was playing drums/percussion in the pit orchestra for the Spring musical, “OKLAHOMA.” The experience of following a conductor and keeping my place in the score was a monumental accomplishment for me, but the “coupe de gras” was at the cast party. I so desperately wanted to be in a band, but I was the freshman and there were no other guys that wanted to do that in my class. All the “cool” band guys were juniors or seniors who, understandably, wouldn’t fraternize with a lowly freshman. But at a pivotal moment, two worlds would collide.

I was in the backyard doing some heavy petting with a girl I had fallen hard for. All of a sudden, back in the house, the band of older “cats” started to call out for me over the PA. “Where’s Norton? Our drummer is M.I.A., we need Norton to sit in!” I’m hearing this as my lips are literally locked with this beautiful girl and all of a sudden my brain/body had to make a decision: 1st girlfriend VS. band.

Well, it ended up that I sat in with the older “cats” which led to me being in my first band APOSTROPHE (after the Zappa album title) and the beautiful girl never spoke to me again. The first girlfriend came a year later. And as bummed as I was about the girl thing, the universe and my conscious decision correctly guided me down the right path.

All of these decisions, choices, and happenstances were instigated by me, consciously and unconsciously. All of us have had similar experiences.

Soon after my first band got going, I started to realize it was time to get serious and start studying. I took from the local teachers and got my “chops and licks” together. I concentrated on my lessons and learning the rules of the trade. Out of high school, I decided to forego college. I worked a slew of day jobs (mailroom, waiter, bill collector, bus driver) while playing in the club/bar scene 6 nights a week. All the rock, pop, top forty type of stuff that was danceable in 1976 thru 1979.

I realized I needed to find some deeper meaning to drumming, so I attended CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS where I met JOHN BERGAMO. I put the kit on hold for about four years while I soaked up a whole new world of percussion, sounds, and ideas. It was at this time that the concept of “ANYTHING & EVERYTHING HAS/IS A SOUND. HOW YOU PRODUCE OR MANIPULATE THAT SOUND IS LIMITLESS AND IS AS INDIVIDUAL AS THE ENTITY CREATING IT” became an important concept in my world. I started to review and dissect all of my methods, decisions, and abilities. One of my goals was to understand where the conscious and unconscious played a role in my development and how to tap into those streams at will. How could I heighten my awareness, and in turn, relate this concept to others?

I noticed that all of my previous lessons were from books and based on copious amounts of repetition, which is necessary, but that none of my learning dealt with tapping into this unconscious stream that was so valuable when I was younger. Don’t get me wrong, emulating is a key ingredient to furthering one’s progress, but I wanted to explore and get back to this free-flowing aspect. It is something that I explore to this day.

In my last BUTCH’S BLOCK article (“Two Who Play Drums”), I discussed one technique I use, called: VERBATIM, ADDING ON, SOLO/EMBELLISH. It’s a great exercise to incorporate three different aspects of discovery when working with pre-recorded music or tracks.

Another exercise is the COUNTER-CLOCKWISE vs. CLOCKWISE. Right handed drummers tend to move, predominantly, in a clockwise motion and lefties vice versa. After a short warm-up of STICK CONTROL patterns on the snare drum, I’ll have the student do a run around the kit (RH player/clockwise). Starting on the snare (a basic four-piece kit w/hat, crash, ride) doing four 16th notes with the basic sticking of RLRL (bpm 60), leading with your right hand and moving to the hat. then crash, rack tom, ride cymbal, and floor tom. Keeping the BD on the ¼ note pulse and the hi-hat closed. All the while, I make sure the student is cognizant of the even flow, stickings, and body movement. We keep going around the kit in a clockwise motion until it is smooth and even then, we increase the bpm. After we’ve gone through a few speed changes, we move to the COUNTER CLOCKWISE exercise. Starting on the snare, we lead with our LH (using the LRLR sticking) moving first to the floor tom, ride cymbal, rack tom, crash, hat, and back to the snare. All with the same BD ¼ note pulse and hat closed. A few speed changes and attention to the same flow considerations. This is the CONSCIOUS exercise: I’ve given direction and you know where you’re going and what the outcome will be. An even flowing motion of sound, control, and movement at varying tempos.

The next concept that I introduce is the UNCONSCIOUS NO SPECIFIC PATTERN INSTINCT exercise. I demonstrate the idea first. Using the same BD on the ¼ note, closed hi-hat, and four 16th note sticking idea, I start at about 65 bpm. I clear my mind of any preconceived movement and start to let my hands go where they want to. Combining clockwise and counter-clockwise motion, I might do a ride cymbal, to hat, to rack tom, to snare, to crash cymbal, to floor tom. There are no rules here and, at first, it is awkward. The attention must still be on a consistent flow but to keep moving through the awkwardness. Ultimately, this is about coming up with something YOU’VE NEVER DONE BEFORE. LET GO. LET YOUR NATURAL INSTINCTS TAKE OVER. I do this for about three minutes until I’ve locked into a pattern I’ve never done before. I don’t think of time signatures. I get to a place where a pattern unconsciously appears and I stay in it until it feels good and has a good flow. I then let the student take their turn. Three minutes to explore. There is no right or wrong here, you will instinctually know when you’ve found something. The more you do this exercise the quicker you can tap into that “well”… and new ideas will be revealed to you.









And finally… make sure you have a recording device of some type capturing these moments, because inevitably you are so in the moment, a piece of brilliance can vanish into thin air.
There are many different ways to augment, explore, and expand on this exercise:
Use different sticks, mallets, brushes. Try mismatching a pair for a completely bizarre concoction (I’ll do a wire brush in my left hand with a thin maple timbale stick in my right hand).

Instead of a metronome, play to a pre-existing track or a popular recorded tune (I start with the classic STAN GETZ/JOAO GILBERTO album from 1963, “Girl From Ipanema,” among other rock, jazz, pop, ethnic albums).

Change the foot patterns.

Change the sticking patterns.

Be conscious of DYNAMICS. Don’t always play at a MF (mezzo forte/medium) to F (forte/loud) volume. Play super quiet to super loud and everything in between, always working on your touch and feel.

In “PART 2” I will lay some other CONSCIOUS, UNCONSCIOUS, and INSTINCTUAL exercises on you and suggest some unusual instrument ideas to get you tapping into that child-like, free thinking stream of consciousness that lives vibrantly in all of us.

As always, you can hate me, love me, or communicate with me at: WWW.BUTCHDRUMS.COM

The Conscious, Unconscious and Your Instincts: Part II