The multi percussion piece to rule them all! XY was the challenge of a lifetime and sort of like a movie where the character has to endure through a hard task to find that afterwards everything makes sense. Only in a movie it takes a montage and in real life it takes a lot of time!
XY is a multi percussion composition by Michael Gordon for 5 drums which focuses on the phasing in volume between your left and right hands. A simple idea, though this is done while playing polyrhythms that become increasingly more difficult to play.
For example, a basic polyrhtyhm would be the left hand playing 6 notes in a beat and the right playing 5. This piece takes it a step further. At a certain point, the left hand will change drums every 2 notes and the right hand will change every 3, meaning that it is essentially a polyrhythm on top of a polyrhythm. Not the simplest thing to explain and pretty hard to execute without your brain feeling like mush.
The constant rhythmic movement creates a rolling wave of sound that is constantly shifting.
The focus for me was developing independence between my hands and building endurance. It was definitely a learning experience and made me appreciate that drum kit players have to develop independence between all four limbs, not just their hands. Some polyrhythms took a long time to learn and execute and applying the dynamic change to them was specifically a challenge. I definitely underestimate this piece, still, I feel like I stepped up to the challenge and am very proud to have learnt it.
Side note – In the past couple of weeks, during teaching, I’ve come across students who are able to play exceptional polyrhtyhms without knowing how hard what they’re doing is. I’m always amazed by it and think it’s really hilarious that they’re not playing the simple thing they’re required to play but rather a complex polyrhtyhm that for some very capable people is a challenge!
I would like to thank my teacher Vanessa Tomlinson for encouraging and pushing me to play this monster of a multi percussion piece despite my struggles and occasional lack of practice 🙂 I would also like to thank my cycle class at the gym for pushing me to cycle specific polyrhtyhms in time with the music. This just goes to show that you really can practice anywhere!