People spend their whole lives instinctively coordinating the actions of their arms and legs. Just try patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.
Elliot Fine pulled the string on that human condition and co-wrote an instructional book that revolutionized how drummers performed behind the drum kit.
Fine, a lifelong drummer who spent more than 40 years with the Minnesota Orchestra, died from cancer on May 4. He grew up in north Minneapolis, lived his adult years in Bloomington and died three days shy of his 87th birthday.
Fine, along with Marv Dahlgren and with an inspirational nod to the late jazz drummer Elvin Jones, nearly 50 years ago wrote "4-Way Coordination: A Method Book for the Development of Complete Independence on the Drum Set."
The book became "a means for developing independence of the four limbs, hence four-way coordination," said Milo Fine, Elliot's son and also a drummer since his youth.
"When drumming started out, the hands did most of the drumming," Milo Fine added. Formalizing the concept of "treating all four limbs equally ... that was a breakthrough in terms of drum literature at the time."
In typical modesty, Milo Fine said, Elliot Fine shrugged off what he and Dahlgren did, saying, "We were just the first to put it on paper."
And while this drum coordination was difficult to master, Fine and Dahlgren found a simple way to write the music for it. Four lines were stacked horizontally, one for each limb and accompanied with a code for what to play, Milo Fine said.
Now, this way of reading music for drummers "is pretty much" the standard, his son said.
Bart Elliott, a drummer and percussionist in Nashville, has been an admirer of Fine's and has interviewed him for his drummercafe.com website.
Elliott said that four-way coordination "evolved the art of drumming so far ... but it's still very difficult" to master.
"The drum set is like an orchestra in and of itself," Elliott added. "This allows one person to cover many parts ... using all four limbs to achieve that end. ... This pushes people beyond what they would do on a day-to-day basis.
"Modern-day drumming can definitely thank Elliot Fine and Marv Dahlgren. There are a lot of drummers who don't know who Elliot Fine is, but they've been affected without even knowing him."
In an interview for drummercafe.com, recorded at a recent Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Indianapolis, Elliot Fine said he encouraged his students to just "sit down and play; forget every damn thing you learned and just play ... what you naturally feel. First imitate and then create."
"A book, what's a book?" he said with a shrug. "If you've got your own mind, how can I use this? That's the important thing. Teachers should give you your leeway of becoming yourself."
Along with Milo Fine, Elliot Fine is survived by a brother, Leo, and was preceded in death by his wife, Agnes. At Elliot Fine's request, there were no services.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482