Category Archives: Reflections

=729= Word: Does Gear Matter?

I was watching Adam Neely’s videos again. One of it discusses, does gear matter, found it interesting, so gonna talk about it here.

I think many teachers would discourage young players to buy expensive new gear because learning how to play and learning proper techniques is far more important. I may own expensive gear now, but if you track my progress, the period of time that I grew the most as a musician was when I did not have such gear. I simply worked my way through my practice gear, my church’s drum set and Leb’s gear. Those days, I had to make do with G2’s paiste cymbals. They aren’t bad, just not the sound I like for church.

I was often told that I crash on the ride too hard and that it was too loud. The cymbal was just so dry and ringy. I really found it too harsh.

When I finally got my cymbals, it was when I really started to understand and really pick the sounds I want to use.

The first dream cymbal I bought, the 20 inch dream vintage bliss crash ride, was such a beautiful cymbal, till this day, I still love how crazy dark that cymbal is. In the store, I loved how it reacted. Super expressive. However, I realised that it doesn’t exactly fit what I need for a ride in a church setting. It was just too washy and dark, hence it really doesn’t cut at all. Cymbals reacts differently when you hit it with different strengths. The cymbal that sounds clear when hit soft, might sound very washy when hit hard. I realised that even though I play in church, I actually hit rather hard and need something that reacts better at the strength I hit it at.

Eventually, I slowly refined the cymbal setup I own and now the setup that I have is really good for what I do in church.

Does gear matter? I think for a percussionist, it really does. Something that is really quite necessary in church playing is swelling. There is literally no set that I have played for that I didn’t have to swell for a worship set. Zero. Every set requires me to swell. If I use bright cymbals for the job, swelling sounds too bright, jarring and harsh. If I use too dry a cymbal, swelling sounds really metallic and the role as a cushion the song is lost. It is like giving me a thick marker and telling me to draw a thin line. Is it possible? Perhaps after tilting the marker slightly, it could be possible, but it is certainly easier to draw the thin line with a thin marker instead.

I guess that is why, so many of us drummers are so into gear and owning our own cymbals and snares. It is because beyond our playing, the sounds that we choose are very much part of our job as a percussionist; to choose the right sounds for the job. I might say that the sounds we choose is part of our identity.

I must say this though, I am sure if you put Leb with cymbals that he is unfamiliar with, his playing will still sound like him. Musicianship in a person won’t disappear once you strip him/her of the instrument that he/she is comfortable with. However, I am certain that you will hear Leb sound better when he plays with instruments he is comfortable with.

We as musicians are affected by the sounds we play. For example, I recall for a recording, we tuned the floor tom rather high and Leb was really uncomfortable with it. He used it nevertheless, but he would have used it more if he was more comfortable with the sound. It is perhaps like playing with a broken string. You can still play the same chords, but it will sound different, despite being the same musician.

We will definitely be affected when we play a badly tuned/spoiled instrument. Perhaps what you hear may still sound good, but it is really a depressing feeling when you hit the snare and it sounds really bad.we as musicians are very emotional beings. Being limited by the gear is really quite an annoying feeling. Imagine a keyboardist being limited by a shitty sounding patch that sounds like a xylophone for the entire set because the keyboard could only load that sound. Trust me, the keyboardist will get annoyed. We know that we can still make music with the bad sounding sound, but we get annoyed that we are limited by it.

Please don’t throw the, “this musician plays this sound and it sounds amazing!” Card. When a musician gets obsessed with a sound, he will find means and ways to play it. He isn’t limited by the instrument, he enjoys it. Like I said, every job has its needs. If a metal drummer uses a jazz drummer’s drum set, I like to see how he gets clarity with his sizzling ride while doing blast beats. I love Benny Greb and JoJo Mayer, but if I ever use their drum sets, meant for Jazz/Fusion/electronica, for church, I would find a hard time playing too. If I ever use Chad Smith’s drum set for church, you will find me cringing every time I swell.

I don’t see people using a big screwdriver to screw open a small tiny screw, so why use cymbals not meant for the job?

Don’t get me wrong though, I am not saying that expensive gear is definitely better. If you see my cymbals, I use dream and pantheon cymbals, both brands’ prices on cymbals aren’t that bad. For a cymbal that sound as good as they do, I think the prices are really reasonable. Expensive doesn’t mean good. Use your ears to find gear that you want. Not the brand that your idol uses, not the model that people recommend, use your ears to find the exact sound you want. Don’t think, oh man, it is made in China/Taiwan, it won’t sound good. Trust me, finding a musical instrument is like mining. You go through plenty of coal to find one gem. Does it matter if that gem is from which country? What matters is that the gem is a gem.

Does gear matter? No if you are trying to practice. Yes if you are trying to do a job properly. I am sure you will be able to make wonderful music even with the wrong gear, but having the right gear for the job just makes you comfortable to do the job properly.



=728= Word: Numbers 11

I will just put the link to it here.

I read about God giving the Israelites quail recently and I realised something, I actually really sympathise with the Israelites. (Oh yes, the story about quail in Numbers is actually very sad)

Before I expound on my point, I want to clarify certain things. I am aware that the quail provision was mentioned in Exodus before. So there is a narrative contradiction right here. The one in Exodus 16 was before Sinai, while the one in Numbers 11 was after Sinai. So there are some problems with the recordings of history in Exodus vs Numbers. Possibly due to the way humans write history. So if you would bear with me, I am going to make certain assumptions here just to share my revelation of the passage in numbers.

  1. I am going to assume that the quail provision in Exodus and Numbers are the same event and that the timeline of the event is after Sinai.
  2. I am going to assume that the Israelites were indeed saying the truth. That they did not have meat since leaving Egypt. (Though, it is possible that the Israelites were exaggerating things, noting that when they left Egypt, they left with flock)
  3. I am going to assume that manna came as providence first, before Sinai. Then quail came, after Sinai.
  4. I am going to assume that they only thing they had for food was manna.

If what the Israelites claim was true. At this point, the Israelites has been out of Egypt for more than a year. The only food they have is manna. Which is this thin flake like frost, which they would grind down to make flour then make thin cakes and bread.

If anyone shames the Israelites for complaining even though they have food, should consider that they have been eating more than a year of manna. Considering that Egypt to Sinai took 44 days. They received Manna on the 15th day of the second month according to Exodus 16. The account in Numbers 10 was the 2nd year, 20th day of the second month. Meaning it is safe to say that the Israelites had eaten manna for one whole year. (One year five days, if you want to nitpick) There is a very good resource on the timeline and how the Israelites traveled here.

Can you imagine eating only bread for a whole year?

Like seriously. Currently I am on a liquid diet and I am sick of it already, not to mention that my mum has been amazing at trying to make me all my meals different. I am drinking milk, Milo, soy milk, different kinds of soup everyday, porridge, different kinds of juice, etc etc. Even with so much variety, I still got sick of liquids.

Much less the Israelites. They only had Manna. Surely the Israelites have creative people and I am sure through the year, there are people that try to prepare manna differently. Surely some would think, “maybe I should boil/BBQ/grill manna!”

Who knows, perhaps the Israelites even came up with all kinds of fun delicacies with manna. Can you imagine? Manna Mee Hoon Kuey? Even so, I still understand where they are coming from.

The Israelites has been out of Egypt for a year. A year of constant moving and living in tents. Their only sustenance is manna. The healthy had to take care of the old, perhaps even having to carry them when they get too weak to move forward with the camp.

For those that has went through Army, imagine field camp for a year. We complain about food even though we get different kinds of variety each day. We get more than enough food, drinks and fruits and yet we still complain. Much less the Israelites, they have to do everything out in the wilderness and their food was only manna. Of course they will complain.

However, I thought about it, I think it wasn’t the act of complaining that angered God. It was the act of saying that, “why did we ever leave Egypt? the Lord should have killed us in Egypt.”

Why I say so is because Moses also complained. He complained about his responsibility as a leader to Israel. “Did I give birth to them? Why must I take care of them?”

The Lord’s reaction to Moses’ complain was to appoint seventy leaders to share the burden with Moses. Far less harsh than to give quail with plaque or burn with anger.

So why the difference in God’s action?

I think it is because Moses complained about what God had planned for him, while Israel complained about following God at all.

“We should never have left Israel! God should have killed us then”

That is an equivalent of telling your Mum, “Ma, I rather Auntie Suzy be my mother than you, you never give me what I want! Auntie Suzy is horrible, but at least she gives me candy! You only give me those soups, never candy!”

Perhaps, little did you know, you have dabeties and your mum is just trying to save your life.

It is extremely rude isn’t it? If anyone dare say this to their mothers I will have such a strong desire to hit and scold you. Your mother knows what she is doing. She loves you and is doing her best for you, how dare you say this kind of hurtful things to your mum?

Much less the almighty God that has personally brought these people out of Egypt, an impossible feat for men, with miracles upon miracles, given laws to them and even given them mercy after mercy and these people still dare say this kind of words. Horrible. How dare the Israelites say those words?

I guess the point of my post hasn’t been too clear. So is Israel in the right or wrong?

I personally think Israel complaining about food is normal of a human to do so. However, there is a different between complaining about food and saying that they wish someone else is their mother. There is a difference between saying, “huhhh, again? :(” And “Ma, I want her to be my mum.”

I will complain about my diet constantly. There are times my mum makes this blended porridge thing and I just show a sick face because I am sick of starchy mess, but never would I tell my mum that I rather have someone else as my mum because she can cook better. NO WAY. I love my mum and no one else cares for me in the way she does.

So this post has two points.

  1. Don’t dehumanise the Israelites. They were humans like you and me and they had it rough ok!
  2. There is a clear difference between complaining and declaring that they rather have someone else as their master.

Hope that you learned something!


PS: Sidenote, I read somewhere that the plaque after providing quail, could be disease that came with the quail. To teach Israel that what they want, isn’t always the best the thing. Pretty cool.

=727= Music Talk: On Reading Music

So welcome to my first post after the surgery, HAHA, I shall refrain from complaining about liquid diet for the moment. Perhaps when I am finally out of it, then I will talk about the experience. Quite fast ah, almost one week already.

I recently stumbled on this great YouTube channel of this Jazz Bassist. I like how he talks about music and how he discusses certain issues that I am sure we as musicians like to know. I first saw his Whiplash video here. Very interesting stuff, especially about the practicing and musicians liking to share certain videos. YES! I then watched his video on reading here. He talked about the book Syncopation by Ted Reed and I ordered it almost the next hour.

I think reading for me has always been my foundation for my drumming. For those that still remember my first few rehearsals in CAMY, would remember that I was very uncomfortable playing with the band without seeing any scores. I used to count bars, play a certain way, etc etc, after 5 bars, do a fill in here. I remember Josh told me that he can tell that I learn from school from the way I play. I only play certain rigid fills, etc etc.

Over the years, as I continue to play in church and gotten confident on how to play by ear, I kinda lost all discipline to read. Most of the time in church, you are able to get by with improvising. I am able to improvise whatever I want for the song on the fly for most songs because of how much I have been playing in church. Tempo didn’t need to be totally accurate etc etc. What forced me to learn how to transcribe and write out and read was when I had new drummers under me for probation.

Before that, my prep for rehearsal has been simply to hear the tracks, air drum a bit, try to figure out the rest during rehearsal. However, when I had new drummers under me, my rehearsal time got cut by more than half, I simply cannot maintain this sloppy prep if I want to play well. Rehearsals became really difficult because I was unable to play well enough for the set and I keep feeling disappointed with my playing.

As a result, a great habit got forced out of me. I would now sit down, write down on a piece of paper, the tempo, song form, beats, transition, etc etc. This good habit has helped me got a whole lot more accurate over the years. I now purposely hear every note played and write down how I should play, even for the simple songs. (In fact, the more you play the more you realise that simple is such a discipline. You will lose the feel of the song very easily)

My point back then was simply to help my rehearsal to be more productive. Instead of sitting aside while the junior plays, I sit in and write down what is being said, hence, I will be on the same page when I take over from him, making it easier. Even if I don’t listen, when I take over, I will have a guide to follow during rehearsal.

Now with buying books, I decided it is good to do so, because it will be great to practice certain things. Having it comprehensively in a book is very good. It just means that I can use the book objectively like a work book. Very often, when we practice we just practice and play whatever that comes to our mind. That is good and all because it will sound natural and nice, but you will miss certain important things.

Let me give you an analogy. Imagine a kid learning math, you teach the kid, 1+2=3. After teaching him that, if you ask him what is 2+1, he will be confused. He has no idea that 1+2 has the same answer as 2+1. If we always play 1+2 in drums, what about our 2+1? It may be the same pattern, but the question is different.

Having an objective breakdown of patterns is a specialty of notation. Writing notes down helps in a very binary thought process. Be it 1 rest 11 or rest 111, writing can give you all kinds of combinations.

Being able to read is a great in this sense for it can help me learn things note for note without a teacher. I remember when I need help figuring out songs and my teacher would help by sending the notes. Be it Rosanna by Toto, or 5/6 by Jason Mraz, I was able to learn the song accurately by reading.

Perhaps to be a better musician, one should play more with people, to hone a sense of feel. However, to be a more proficient musician, one should learn how to read and play accurately. Why be limited to one way of learning when you have so many ways of learning? Why just be a ear drummer when you can be both a ear and an eye drummer?

When learning a language, many people can hold a conversation without knowing how to read. I can speak Chinese rather ok, but I am horrible at reading. Sure it doesn’t affect me much in Singapore, but I am sure it would be easier if I knew how to read Chinese better.

Being able to know theory and read music may not be as an important skill now, but it surely is a useful skill. It is like trying to find your way around by asking for instructions vs reading a map. If you are able to do both, it will be easier to navigate.

Hopefully when I work on reading this book, I will be a more proficient drummer and hence be a better musician.


=726= Word: Plans

Indeed Lord, our human plans are nothing like your plans.

I have been pondering about how much I have learned and I am amazed that God had done so much for me. I never would have thought that my dream to become a drummer that plays on stage would develop into learning how to be a sound engineer and song writing.

Perhaps I have been dreaming too little.

I sometimes struggle to reconcile that God’s decision is better than mine. I sometimes regret making the wise choices in my life because I see other people having the things I want while neglecting the wisdom in it.

Now that I envy such things, there is a need to stop. Stop regretting in the decisions you have made. God has given you wisdom so why are you complaining? He knows better. He knows that having those things is not going to help you in your walk. Stop. Remember the things He has given you. Remember the troubles that He has gotten you out of. Stop. Trust in the one that knows your heart and your life.

When life don’t go the way you want it to. Remember that you have someone that directs your life. That He knows your heart and loves you.

God loves you. How can you forget?

Why run to things that don’t last when you have someone that will never change?

Be still my heart. God loves you more than you think.


=724= Gear I Own: Setup 2019

So yeah, I think I have refined my cymbal set up once again. Now I am pretty happy with how they sound.

So what was wrong with the previous set up? Actually nothing, they sound wonderful! However, as I continued to use them, I realised that the sound of the dreams I own were too dull. It became way too clear after my recording of “I will survive” back in school. Only my splash sounded modern and nice, the rest were so dull and washy.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love washy cymbals. If you ask me bright and clear vs dark and washy, I would choose dark and washy any day! However, it cannot be so dark that in the higher dynamics it still doesn’t cut and give the sound I want with the song!

So I started my journey of refining my set up!

I think before I go into more details with the cymbals, let’s talk about the snare!

The snare is one 13×5.75 Pantheon Custom Birch snare. It is finished in red, with a mag throw off and 3 position butt plate. Beautiful snare! I actually spent quite a bit on this snare! Totally worth it though! The sound is fantastic! It isn’t way too fat like a 14×6.5, yet it still has a lot of body. It has such a focused tone and yet it cuts very well! Such a fantastic snare! I named it May after the main lead in That Girl In Pinafore! Crazy nice!

Now to the cymbals! Left to right!

Hihats: 14 inch Dream Bliss HiHats!
Beautiful hats! If you read the previous gear post, you would know that this hats was a special one. I went through 6-8 different hats. Tried 3 of the same line of hats and finally picked this one. It was the highest pitched one, because I wanted something with more cut and yet because it is bliss, it has that fatness I want from hats. 14 not 15 because I still want my hats to cut and not be dull! I named it Lin Truly from the Taiwan movie Our Times.

Splash: 10 inch Zildjian K Brilliant Splash
I love it that they stopped producing this splash already. This splash is amazing! It cuts so well and yet it isn’t harsh! It is a perfect blend of clarity and tone. This splash inspired me to refine my cymbal sound! You should know how beautiful it sounds! I named it Mary from the movie About Time.

Crash: 17 inch Dream Contact Crash
Meet the latest addition to the family. The main crash has always been my greatest headache. I want it to sound full and pleasing and yet when I reach the higher dynamics I still want it to cut. Previously with my 18 or 20 Dream Vintage Bliss crashes, they don’t achieve that at all! That led me to try quite a few different options. I eve. Thought about getting my old Zildjian 18 thin crash sandblasted to get a more pleasant tone. I know that the industry is going bigger and bigger with cymbals, but I think there is a reason why 16 has been an industry size for so long. However, I don’t really like a 16 crash. Doesn’t feel as good. So I just went back to Musicgear to find another cymbal again. I went through quite a few other crash options and when I struck this crash with my hand, oh my, I was blown away! CRAZY NICE! Not only was it full, it was bright! It was very reactive too! So I may have to restraint myself a little when hitting this, because it cuts so well! Even though it is bright and it cuts, it is still washy enough to sound pleasant! It checked so many boxes, I must have it! Once again, I tried 3 of the same line, only this crash sounded good to me. The rest had really funny frequencies. This particular crash is the most pleasant sounding one! Not only that, this cymbal is a B23 cymbal! WHOOHOO! More Tin in my cymbals please! As a reactive and lively cymbal, I named it Liv after the TV series, IZombie.

Ride Cymbal: 20 inch Pantheon Percussion Apex Prototype ride cymbal
I am not too sure if I ever talked about this ride on this platform before. I was visiting Pantheon Percussion’s workshop over at Aljunied there and I was just trying out some cymbals. When I hit this cymbal, I was interested! I was expecting something totally bright and jarring, but oh no, it was SOOO warm! It was bright, washy and warm! How could it be? Such a perfect ride sound! It is the kind of sound that makes you feel that it is such a heartfelt sound! Extremely beautiful. I think I must have gotten so in love with it that I purchased it on the spot! CRAZY nice! I named it Yafang after the Singapore TV series Crescendo.

Crash cymbal: 18 inch Pantheon Percussion Argent Jazz Trash Crash
This cymbal was actually paired with the prototype when I was there. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it when I first played it, but I really enjoy the tone. During the whole period of finding new crashes, I went through a lot of crash cymbals before finally settling on this crash. When I hit it after playing so many other crashes, I knew that it was what I was looking for. Something trashy and yet light. It slowly became a regular cymbal that I would put on my set, favouring it over the vintage bliss crashes. When I lend it to my friends in church, many told me that they really like this trash crash. I named this Pia, after the female lead in The Three Idiots.

Right now, you are looking at the most refined set of cymbals that I have. Every cymbal fulfils the role that they are supposed to and yet they are specially handpicked to sound great alone as well! I quite like that I don’t have a cymbal from the same line. All cymbals are from different line of cymbals. I guess that is what happens when you use your ears to refine it! You end up with cymbals that are very different and yet works beautifully together!

May these cymbals define the sound of my playing! Thank you Lord for blessing me with beautiful sounding instruments to play!

May I use them for you!


=723= Words Of Melancholy: My Soul

Oh my soul, stop this anxiousness now.

Haven’t you been through more? Haven’t you seen that God could do miracles?

Stop looking at the problem and look to God.

Isn’t your God stronger, bigger, mightier than all the opposing forces?

For indeed, when they see the glory of the Lord, they will all cower in fear, begging for their lives.

Stop this wallowing. Stop the self blame. Remember that your worth isn’t in the things you said or the things you have done. Stop this right now Kelvin.

God loves you.

Hold your head up, you are a child of God.

Thank you O Lord, still my heart and my soul.