Review: Master Studies by Joe Morello

Posted on April 9, 2023

 Master Studies

Today, let’s do another book review by continuing with another unofficial sequel to GL Stone’s Stick Control. Last time, I talked about Accents and Rebounds, but today let’s do Master Studies by Joe Morello. 

Joe Morello is probably one of the most famous authors I’ll talk about on my site. Many writers aren’t known outside of their books, but Joe is a pretty esteemed jazzer, most famous for his time with the Dave Brubeck Quartet during its heyday from the late 50s to 60s. 

Joe has also spent some time in education, publishing several books and a few videos throughout his career — his most notable project is definitely 1983’s Master Studies. I regard this book as an ostensible sequel to Stick Control because Joe is considered to have been a ghostwriter on Stone’s later book Accents and Rebounds. It makes sense since Joe was a student of GL Stone, and dedicated Master Studies to his late teacher.

Unsurprisingly, Master Studies is all about snare drum and hand technique, and it has Joe’s own take on many of the ideas from Stone’s two earlier books; you’ll spend a lot of time going through sticking drills, most of them with accents (the first big section is called “Accent Studies”).

I often talk about the spectrum of drum books, i.e. books that either have a haphazard hodgepodge of licks or explore variations of the same idea to tedious effect. Master Studies walks a fine line, and comes very close to the former. Check out this expert: 

In the order they’re presented here, they just seem kind of… random.

Now, you can tell that they’re similar, and it’s only when compared to a very systematic book like Stick Control that these ones feel a bit disorganized. While it didn’t annoy me nearly as much as Advanced Funk Studies, it still made me scratch my head. 

When you do an exercise that’s heavy on the right hand, you kind of expect the next pattern to be the same thing with the stickings swapped. I do think that the book has that symmetry overall, it’s just jumbled up. Maybe Joe thought it would make the book less monotonous, but it can be tough to keep track of your progress as you chug through the text. It makes me wonder where Joe got these drills from — I think many of them were developed in his own playing and teaching, instead of following any mathematical approach. 

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk more about the specific content, because there’s a tremendous amount of material in Master Studies. After the accents studies, there’s a section about buzz rolls. I keep saying that I’ll write a post about buzz rolls, and… I still haven’t written the post, but as I always say, buzz rolls just aren’t a big part of drumset playing these days. It’s one thing to know how to play a crescendoing roll, but knowing how to do this… 

…it’s just not necessary for anyone who isn’t an orchestral snare drummer. 

So the buzz roll section kind of feels like a waste of time if you’re a drum set player, although you could try to play them as open rolls, which I did. Afterward, there’s a chapter about playing different short rolls as singles, doubles, and then buzzes, all as a sequence. It’s… interesting, and a bit far removed from any skill you would need on the kit.

At this point, we’re about halfway through Master Studies, and the second chunk of the text starts with some short, niche chapters. There’s a gnarly timing drill that has you playing a measure of quarter notes, then quarter note triplets, then 8ths, eventually working your way to a bar of 32nd note 12–lets. Then there are some endurance exercises, some more challenging accent control, and drills with crescendos and diminuendos.

The next long section is “Fill–In Studies” — playing steady notes on one hand and filling in the blanks with the other:

Some of these are a little intense: 

The penultimate section concerns “Ostinato Studies”. These are basically repeats of earlier accent drills, meant to be played with one hand to give “total freedom with the other hand.” Personally... I don’t really get it.

This section continues with the instruction to play an ostinato repeatedly with one hand, playing different rhythms against it with your other hand. And then, swap. It’s supposed to be a sort of independence kind of thing, and you could spend a considerable amount of time on these two pages. It might be nice to get your money’s worth, but staring at the same two pages for hours can make you feel like you’re in a time warp.

Master Studies closes with flams, their first appearance in the book. We actually start with flat flam exercises, which eventually (and oddly) turn into polyrhythm patterns that are a little annoying to do on a practice pad. After that is a section with proper flams. Pretty similar to what you’d do in Stick Control, just turbocharged. 

So overall, there’s a lot of content in Master Studies. It is a long book — nearly 100 pages! It’s definitely worth going through, even if it does feel a little scatterbrained. Some of those short chapters could be expanded into full–fledged books with their respective topics. In fact, I think some of them have been. The funny thing is that Joe wrote a follow–up, Master Studies II, although this wasn’t until 2006. We’ll get to that one eventually...

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