In my last post we looked at context as it relates to effective practicing. This time I want to look at context as it applies to creating drum parts, primarily as it pertains to the creation of original parts and/or reworking our repertoire of tried and true standard grooves. There are two ways to look at this, the most common being when we are asked to create a drum part for a new composition. The second is when we create a drum groove and use it as a primary context for the writing of a new tune or in the creation of a new arrangement for a standard or existing tune. In all cases the success of the part that we come up with will be to a large extent dependent on how well we understand the context within which we are working.
Let me be clear, the creation of a great drum part has very little to do with how well we play the drums. However, our ability to successfully play the drum part we create is entirely a function of how well we play the drums. This is a subject we will deal with in future posts.
The first thing we need to know about creating drum parts is that it is composition and as such is almost entirely dependent on our depth of knowledge of the style of music and to a lesser extent–but not insignificantly–to the experience we’ve had playing in that style. The key to the success of this process is, “listening” primarily but not exclusively listening to the music that we wish to create. At the very least we have to be knowledgeable of the standard repertoire of the genre within which we will be working and of course the more diverse our listening the better. What the listening provides is historical context within which to work. We get to hear the great performances by legendary players who in some cases were instrumental in creating the style of music to which we are listening. Also, once we have spent some time listening we begin to become aware of not only what is being played but why it is being played. That is to say, all the elements of a great drum part have a function, the tempo, the feel, the various patterns, the fills and the sounds selected all contribute to the creation of a drum part that can mean the success or failure of an arrangement.
While we are on the topic of listening and at the risk of stating the obvious it should be noted that listening is also the first step in developing a drum set part or any other rhythm section part. Whether the composer gives you a well produced demo of the tune or plays it for you on the piano, the basic information you need is in what you are hearing. Listen closely not only to what the music is telling you but also to any instructions from the composer. The writer of the tune may wish to arrange the tune in a style that is entirely different from the style in which it was written. Pay attention and ask questions.
At this point it may be wise of me to define the two basic concepts that we will use to describe the process of creating drum parts, that of composition and arrangement. When I refer to the “composition”, I am talking about the elements of the piece of music, the melody, harmony, basic rhythmic structure and initial form. When referring to the “arrangement”, I am talking about how the tune will be played, the tempo, the feel and final form, etc. In some case the arrangement will closely resemble the original composition but very often the arrangement will be the secondary compositional process that will reveal the full potential of the writers vision.
Now let’s look at a number of practical short cuts that can help us start to create a structural context within which to begin the process of creating a complete drum part. Let me give you a few examples. If the composer tells you that she is looking for a solid rock feel for her tune she is describing the basic time feel of the arrangement and it is our knowledge of rock music that will help us get started. We can make a few useful assumptions to begin with. It is a good bet that we will be working in 4/4 time (4 beats to a bar) and at a medium tempo (not too fast, not too slow). It is also fair to assume that the feel will be based on a quarter note pulse and an eight note subdivision. With what we now know we can safely predict that there will be a back beat (snare drum on beats 2 & 4) and an 1/8th note ride pattern. Also, starting this process with the bass drum on beats 1 & 3 completes our initial time feel pattern. We now have a basic drum pattern that we can use to start the next step in the process, working with the rest of the rhythm section to create a drum set performance that supports all the various parts that will eventually be developed.
An other very common situation where a new drum part is required is when an artist wants to breathe new life into an old standard. Often the starting point for this process is finding a new time/feel that works for the composition. This is not entirely different than the process described in the first example except for one major difference, unlike working with original material a standard is by definition a very well known tune and as such can be more demanding. Tunes become standards because they are timeless compositions and this requires we be aware that what we are creating is a new context for those core qualities that have made this piece of music a standard in the first place. This is one of my favorite arranging tasks because of how it challenges my creativity. In a situation where an artist wants to re-work a jazz standard in a more contemporary style I look to the melody and lyrics to get me started. These two elements best inform me about the original composition’s rhythmic structure and as such provides me with a solid starting point. The time/feel of the original was integral to its success and the more the new rhythmic approach to the tune supports those intrinsic rhythmic qualities of the original the greater likelihood of success. A good rule of thumb is that if the melody has a complex rhythmic structure a simpler drum part is often the way to go whereas if the melody is rhythmically simple the space in that melody provides an opportunity to creates and added layer of rhythmic interest.
There are no hard and fast rules for this type of work but if you keep both your ears and your mind open to the endless possibilities of the creative process, you can’t go far wrong. Not all of your ideas will work but you will be surprised at how many work very well.
A lot of times a drummer has no choice, drum sticks are the only tool that will work but often alternate ideas can enhance...
At HeadHunters we believe that we have created an essential premium drumstick using world renowned Canadian Rock Maple, a wood that is noted for its beauty, strength, and acoustical qualities. All Headhunters drumstick tips are rounded, allowing for warm and articulate cymbal tones.