New writer for The Beat Project here. I’m a percussionist, so I hope I understand this thing called “the beat”. Oh and just so you know, I don’t march to the beat of a different drummer, I am the different drummer!
So I thought I’d start off this writing/musical journey with you beginning with what I know: how to play drums. Alright…most people think drum solos are all about being fast. Yeah, being fast helps but I think being only fast is uninteresting. After awhile straight-up speed drumming just gets old. Might as well listen to noise because that’s all it is.
So, here are three tips that will boost anybody’s game (not just drummers!!!):
1. Get in the pocket.
“In the pocket” is basically just drummer slang for “getting in the groove.” Check out Joe Morello as he plays awesomely in 5/4 metre. He’s right there in the pocket. It’s all about the beat and getting into the rhythm. Music is about flow. Machine guns are not.
2. Play dynamically.
Don’t play loud. Any fool can play loud. Play dynamically! For those of you classically-trained musicians out there, dynamics are an essential part of any music score. So what do I mean by playing dynamically? Well, besides flow, good music is about tension and release. This can mean resolving notes or a cadence of a chord progression, but for drummers and everyone else, there’s also dynamics.
Knowing when to play down low in the groove, when to kick it up and when to let it ride are all things that come with experience. The important thing is to try because a lot of musicians don’t bother and don’t know what they’re missing.
Looking for some spice? Add accents! I don’t mean play loud and then intermittently play louder. I mean, get into the pocket (I cannot stress this enough), play at an appropriate volume level and bring the important beats to the front. Suddenly your blah sixteenth note patterns are muy caliente!
Want to kick up a notch? Once you get the dynamics and accents down pat, try throwing in some ghost notes. Sort of the opposite of an accent, ghost notes are felt more than heard. Really adds another layer to your beat that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
3. Don’t be afraid to step out there and try something new.
Stepping out is a big part of music. You’re putting a piece of yourself out there for others to experience. This advice means different things to different people. To some it may mean breaking down cultural barriers (Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project). To others it may be experimenting with your style and instrument to play something new. Maybe it means expressing yourself in a way you’ve never done before. Whatever it means or whatever you do, music is a creative, evolving process. There are always new horizons and walls to come crashing down.