Clayton Cameron: Can Math Make You A Better Musician? Drummer Clayton Cameron tells a story about how his math skills helped him impress the godfather of soul, James Brown.
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Can Math Make You A Better Musician?

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Can Math Make You A Better Musician?

Can Math Make You A Better Musician?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Finally this hour, that idea from Galileo that math is a language? Well, it doesn't really matter whether you're a mathematician or a musician.

CLAYTON CAMERON: Knowing the language, now feel like I just - my vocabulary increased. And so, therefore, I'm able to communicate my ideas even better.

RAZ: Drummer Clayton Cameron. He says studying math, actually gave him a new confidence in how he played music.

CAMERON: And I'm going to share a story. It's just about my conference and sitting down knowing if I do a certain thing, it's going evoke a certain feeling...

RAZ: Yeah.

CAMERON: ...If done right. So I'm playing at the Hollywood Bowl with James Brown, and I've been told that by the music director, Christian McBride - he said, look, you know, Clayton, James is a drummer, you know, Mr. Brown's a drummer and, you know, he created this genre of music. So the chances are he may not like anything you play. And I said well, you know, I'm a professional, I've been around and, you know, I understand that. So I talked to a couple of drummers, friends of mine that had played with James, just to get some insight, listened to the record that James Brown had done. It was a jazz record called "Soul On Top," 1969, but he never performed any of them. So I - there was one song called "September Song" that had a boogaloo beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER SONG")

JAMES BROWN: (Singing) Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December.

CAMERON: That was kind of, like, what was happening at the time when jazz guys would sit down. So I said well, you know, I'm going - I'm going to bring it up a little bit. I'm going to kind of do a little different beat on it. And I had, you know, I put a special snare up and then I worked on this little groove (imitates beat). So that was the groove. So we get to the rehearsal, we're playing. And Christian McBride calls off the song, and the - James Brown has the pick-up, and the lyric is

(Singing) oh, it's a - dance.

And then we're into the groove. I'm into my groove.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER SONG")

BROWN: (Singing) From May to December.

Now remember, it's been told to me, it's been embedded in my head, that James Brown is not going to like anything you play.

RAZ: Yeah.

CAMERON: After we played that groove, James Brown turned around and said, now that was funky.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER SONG")

BROWN: (Singing) Yeah.

RAZ: Wow.

CAMERON: You know. So - anyway so that kind of stuff, you know, once you get into the numbers and you understand, that gave me the confidence to sit down and go, oh, I know what that is. The numbers are there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKY DRUMMER")

BROWN: You don't have to do no solo.

RAZ: Clayton Cameron, you can watch his talk at ted.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKY DRUMMER")

BROWN: 'Cause it's a mother. When I count to four, I want everybody to lay off and let the drummer go. And when I count to four, I want you to come back in. One, two, three, four. Get it.

RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to our show this week solving for X, how numbers shape the world. Our production staff at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Brent Bachman, Megan Cain, Neva Grant and Chris Benderev, with help from Daniel Shuchman. Barton Girdwood is our intern. In the front office, Eric Newsome and Portia Robertson-Migas. Our partners at TED are Chris Anderson, June Cohen, Deron Triff and Janet Lee. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKY DRUMMER")

BROWN: The name of this tune is "The Funky Drummer."

(Singing) The funky drummer, the funky drummer, the funky drummer, the funky drummer.

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