It was a breakthrough for me when I realized that great beats don’t all have to contain busy hi hat and snare notes. The drums are not the only instrument in a band that supplies rhythm to a song! This is one reason why I believe too much time alone on the drum set, without band mates, can turn your playing toward destructive tendencies. I am a rock. I am an island. Well, nobody will want to play with you if you force too many notes on them. It’s like a pianist who plays bass with his left hand on the piano, he sure sounds great playing alone during cocktail hour, but his bass player hates him because he is playing all the notes. There is also a bit of danger in playing with recordings. The recordings are in stone – their timing won’t change and your playing will not influence the feel of the song. When I play to tracks at clinics I always feel like I am simulating sex. Honestly, I’m trying to regurgitate a moment that happened previously. You think your timing is good based on playing with recordings? Playing with human beings who are perhaps not as experienced or more experienced is more of the test, and playing with people teaches you lessons that last a lifetime. Find people to play with! Doesn’t matter what the music is. I played “oompah beats” in odd time sigs when I gigged at a Greek restaurant a long time ago. You hate the music that is available to you? Well, if it disturbs you so much that you deny yourself a learning experience (and one that will likely be a fun one too) then maybe you should move away from drumming. Maybe you really don’t have the natural instincts to push forward no matter what. Playing too often alone when you are in the process of discovering who and what you are is insane. Push yourself to socialize with other musicians. Play with anyone and everyone!
One thing to get into when alone? Of course this is shown quite a bit in my instructional “Big Time”. Study patterns with displaced backbeats. Then record yourself and listen harshly. Also record the same WITH metronome and then listen. An obvious example is Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” Liberty’s famous pattern shows that each of his notes is a part of another bigger pattern played by the entire band. (Just like ourselves, we are all beings in the universe and so are our notes.)
Advanced players: Learn to lean into a bass, guitar or piano note that you are NOT playing, as if you yourself played that note. Get it? I’ll try to explain more. In the Billy Joel song I mentioned, the push on the snare going into “4”. In the studio, many of us commonly call a note that arrives before a downbeat a “push.” The push is completed with the bass drum, which is playing what the snare normally would be playing - the “4”.
Also, in the same song, the piano lick at top and throughout the song pushes into “2”. So the piano pushes into “2” and the snare joins the push into “4”. All the same! When playing that song, treat the piano (in your ears) as if you are playing it. In other words, make it part of your pattern just as the bass drum and snare are part of the pattern on “4”. The groove will be stronger then.
Playing grooves with fewer notes is only going to be great if you are also listening to the other instruments playing contrasting rhythms. This is how you get simple and more beautiful in music, by listening and absorbing. I confess, I have been bad and I know you have also. You see, as much as I’ve listened to James Brown and the Meters, it has not been enough.
James Brown. The (picking) guitars are mostly playing congas and the ones playing chords are playing snare drums! Is the hi-hat covering the “chirpy” role in the funk groove, or is it guitars – or keyboards. Possibly it’s the brass doing the syncopation and the hats are simply offering a backdrop to the funk.
The Meters. How is it that we feel that backbeat but the snare is not playing it? Ziggy treats the hat like a drum. Yay! Can I get that swampy in my feel when I play the notes? Record yourself.
In general, when listening to music, play the game of “WHO’S PLAYING DRUMS? It isn’t always the drummer offering the most exciting rhythms. Let me know your thoughts. Join my forum at billyward.com. It is being reborn from a long time ago. We would like to know you.