Negative ghostrider, the pattern is full
November 14, 2007 1:57 AM   Subscribe

When I drum, I throw patterns and caution to the wind...

I've been playing drums for about 10 years now, pretty consistently. I grew up through concert band and never got into drumline, but learned enough chops and rudiments to know what I'm doing. I know how to play set.

But I've always played in low-pressure/laid back scenarios.

And now that I'm with a (prog rock/indie rock/alt/whatever) band and we're trying to lay down some tracks, I'm finding that I shift a given bass/snare/hat pattern throughout a song. I play what feels good, but I lack consistency.

I know it can be good at times, but I'm listening to a *ton* of music right now across *all* genres and drummers stick to their patterns throughout entire songs.

They may layer them, they may make them very long and involved, they may switch to alternate patterns, but they've clearly written one and stuck with it.

Now that I'm aware of the "problem," I'm going to do my best to write a solid pattern and stick to it, instead of just feeling it out throughout the song, but do you have any advice on locking this stuff down better? I can play complex, graceful fills that work well where they land, simple fills that add just enough texture, and anywhere in between, but I'm struggling with the simple idea of committing my own ideas to memory.

Ironic, since I tend to memorize every single track of any given song in just a few plays.

Any tips on focusing and locking down? My thoughts are to write out what I want to play, record it and just ingrain it, over and over... Anything else? Also, how the hell do I get myself to lay off the damn bass drum and let the silence speak?

Cheers and thanks.
posted by disillusioned to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Try recording the wild stuff that you normally play. As you listen to the playback, isolate your 2 or 3 favorite 1-2 measure segments. Practice just playing each of them 16 times in a row.
If you're handy with editing on a computer, you can make loops out of them, and then play along with the loops.

Don't do any fills and try to get a strong feel for these patterns. Once you've played them for a few days, do it with the band and try to stick to your guns. Then, later when you record, you can let the fills and tangents slip back in here and there.

(This is similar to what I use to put together guitar solos, since I have trouble spotting and repeating good phrases while I'm improvising.)
posted by ignignokt at 2:13 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: I'm very similar, but since I'm not in a band I've got no pressure to change.

Perhaps you could try playing with just one other member of the band- get them to play a song and have you accompany them. They could tell you which of your particular bars or phrases work best, and then you could practice playing those bars along with them.

As for the silence, you could just force yourself to go light on the bass. Forbid yourself to play quaver or semiquaver bass beats, try and get some rhythm across using only crotchet bass beats (either on or off the beat).
posted by twirlypen at 3:14 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: Lock your bass drum to the bass player. Notice how everything suddenly sounds a lot more 3D?

Want to sound good? First groove real hard. Strip it to the minimum and then build some fills in at logical points in the song — typically the vocals will be your first guide, then whatever soloist.

Song first, drums second.

I really hope this doesn't sound condescending. I say this as a bass player who has been known to overplay.
posted by Wolof at 4:32 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good answers, all.

Wolof, I frequently lock in to the bass player as a matter of habit. I just need to not try to capture everything he does in bass drum form. :-)

I'm just going to do what I can and what you guys suggest to fully reinforce the patterns I like the most and *only* stick to those.

Much appreciated, thanks!
posted by disillusioned at 5:47 AM on November 14, 2007

Practice a lot. I'm assuming this is an asethetic decision and you aren't deciding to do it this way because its somehow "wrong." The way you are playing now is a possible choice in the universe of playing drums.

'course it would drive me fucking insane if I was in your band, but some people might be able to take it.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:15 AM on November 14, 2007

I am with ignignokt. I would carry on playing a variety of beats and record them. Then review them with your band and find the ones that goes best with the song, and then make them the standard pattern(s) for your song.
posted by kaizen at 7:33 AM on November 14, 2007

It sounds to me like you have a short attention span. You need to learn how to find the beauty in subtle nuances and not shifts of emphasis. When you keep changing the kick/snare/hi hat patterns, you are changing the feel of the song and that gets distracting. A little variation goes a loooong way. Learn restraint.

Listen to some Beatles albums and notice how Ringo plays what is necessary for the song and not a beat more. Paul was all over the place with his bass playing and hardly ever repeated the same phrase within a song. For the bass that works, if Ringo did the same thing it would quickly become a mess.

Also, listen to the first Strokes album. I don't think there's a single fill anywhere on that album. That's probably a little too much restraint, but try to play along and see if you can handle the monotony.

I heard somewhere that when writing the drum parts for a song, come up with your fills and where to place them in the song. Once you feel like you've got it down, remove 2/3 of the fills. That will keep you from overplaying. Good luck!
posted by fletchmuy at 7:54 AM on November 14, 2007

I think you need to spend a lot of time listening to really amazing drummers. I've found I've gotten better at listening to music over the years. I can listen to a track and just listen to the drums, then the bass. The listen again and listen to the drums working with the bass. Then again, this time the drums against the singer. Then the two guitar players working together.

That's if it's a great band.

I think you need to check out a lot of Charlie Watts. Check out the first 2 minutes of Can't You Hear Me Knocking.

I'm a frustrated musician, definitely, but I'm pretty sure that music is about 40% really intense listening to the greats who came before you.

I hate to say this because I know I'll get slagged but I think Phil Collins drumming on Face Value is pretty spectacular. As is the drummer on Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story.

But best of all is the Motown Rhythm Section. Buy a best of The Four Tops compilation, and just check out James Jamerson with whatever drummer is playing. I don't think it's ever been better than that.

One thing that bugs me is that I hear people always talking about John Bonham. I'm not convinced that he's in the pantheon of great drummers. The reason it bugs me is because there is a much greater need for non-flashy, non-loud drummers in the world but he gets a lot of press.

Anyway, I'm not a drummer, I'm a former bass player turned fiddle player so feel free to disregard all of this. I do think you'll get all of your answers from deep and concentrated listening to great drummers in great bands.
posted by sully75 at 8:24 AM on November 14, 2007

I agree with Wolof. Lock in your kick with the bass player. I'm not sure in what order you guys are laying down tracks, but if you're the last to lay down yours (and you're not under a time crunch if you're paying for studio time), take the demo home, plug it in and just play the same pattern the entire song. Then after you've got your pattern down, start to maybe add a fill as you hit the chorus or the bridge of the song, etc.

Do you have a Neil Peart-esque set-up for your kit? One thing that helped me was to pare down my kit to a hi-tom and a floor-tom, the snare, kick. Maybe if you have fewer toys to play with it will make your drumming less frenetic?
posted by po822000 at 8:27 AM on November 14, 2007

Learn your favorite tunes. That's what us guitar players and other harmonic musicians do (or, at least, what we should do). Drum grooves are as integral to the composition as chord changes - and can be as unique, particularly if you take into consideration beat-placement, not simply "snare on two and four, eighths on the hi-hat", etc.

I've noticed lately that the bands that impress me the most have VERY arranged rhythm sections - you never hear the bass player do something that isn't somehow reflected by the drummer also. This doesn't just happen by accident - you have to be very deliberate and communicative about what you are going to play.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:07 AM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: disillusioned: I frequently lock in to the bass player as a matter of habit. I just need to not try to capture everything he does in bass drum form.

Sure, but especially if you're playing prog, you DO need to play consistently so that the bass guitarist can develop a part that makes sense with yours. And the little details that you're locked-in on make the difference between "a tight rhythm section" and just "a decent drummer + decent bassist playing together".

I think this (usually) applies to fills, too, incidentally. The bass (and guitar, if he's paying attention, which he isn't..) needs to be able to count on you doing the same basic fills if they're going to sync their fills with yours. As a bass player, it's not possible to lock in with a drummer if you don't know what he's going to play. I say "usually" because there ought to be some predefined spaces where you can go do your own thing without sticking to the script, as it were.

Of course, you don't *have* to go for tight. You could go for improvisational fun. My last band was a progressive metal affair, but we were too lazy to expend the effort to write and lock down every part of every song. So we were playing these really complex songs, but the drummer improvised, the bass improvised, and the guitar improvised a whole hell of a lot -- even when he and I (bass) were *supposed* to be doing crazy unison runs. (not that I'm bitter.) It was fun, but it wasn't "tight". It was actually kinda sloppy. It ended up sounding more like progressive punk than ultra-tight prog rock ala Rush, Dream Theater, etc. If that's what you're shooting for, rock on!

But to answer your question, I think you're on the right track: Record your songs, refine your drums to one "correct" way to play the song, and play it the same way -- over, and over, and over. This consistency will also help the bass player who is probably still working out exactly what he should be playing.
posted by LordSludge at 10:30 AM on November 14, 2007

would care to record something and put it up in mefimusic for hearing and further critique? Those of who play, and or studied may be able to hear something going on, or not going on.
Pairing your kit down is great advice...don't tempt yourself with more to hit.
I always felt the upbeat/backbeat is what my responsibility was - to always know where it was and play it. Downbeat obviously is going to be the bassists job, and keyboards if you have them. That upbeat falls directly on your shoulders...everyone else is playing melody so if you don't have it, nobody has it.
posted by greenskpr at 10:21 AM on November 15, 2007

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