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How to play a drum solo that doesn’t suck

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Let's take a look at the drum solo. In my opinion drum solos are completely over-rated and in most cases are boring and unnecessary unless they are played melodically or with a band playing behind them.

There are many factors to playing a drum solo that actually has more merit than showcasing how many chops a drummer has or how fast they can play. The best way to explain this is to examine this question —
why does a band quit playing when it comes time for a drum solo. The answer is, there is usually not any musical merit or melodic overtones for the rest of the musicians to enhance or accompany. The reason for this is most drummers do not think melodically especially when it comes to their solos. I do not blame other band members for leaving during a drum solo. Let me digress for a second.

This is just a thought I have sometimes. Can you imagine if during a song when it came time for a  guitar solo you, as the drummer, just quit playing and left the stage. HMMMMM. Sometimes though, during a tune it is very effective to lay out  for a chorus during a guitar or piano solo. It makes for a great diversion and is excellent use of space but is not recommended very often.


Back to our focus. I know we all have played behind a solo player who was just playing as many notes as they could with no care given to melody or emotion. How many times have you just wanted to stop playing and just let the solo player take one more chorus of schlock so your arm will not fall off. This is a horrible feeling.


It is this feeling that you have that other players in your band get when it comes time for a drum solo.
Hopefully this is a good parallel to demonstrate why a drum solo not played melodically is just as boring and obnoxious as accompanying a solo player who is just playing a ton of notes. With these thoughts in mind and as a backdrop for this column, I would like to touch on three styles of drum solos. They are the “look at me, I can play fast and a ton of notes solo,” “the melodic solo” and the “playing while the band plays the chords of the song solo.”

First let's examine the “look at me, I can play fast and a ton of notes” solo. These kind of solos, although it seems to be entertaining for some, usually quickly become very boring for those listening. Sure there is
initial excitement when you start but quickly it becomes very boring. In a rock and roll setting these solos seem to be more effective. I do think we all can agree if the non-melodic drum solo went away it would not be a very big loss. I would agree these type of solos can be very impressive and do showcase a drummer’s ability and understanding of chops. In this respect I guess we should appreciate them.

Though sometimes entertaining, as I said before and will say again to get my point across, these are very boring, have little merit and can be played by almost any drummer with a good amount of angst, an ego the size of Mars, and a limited amount of chops. In summary there is some merit to these type of solos but very little when it comes down to nuts and bolts of being an accomplished drummer and performer.


Next, let's look at the “melodic” drum solo. This type of solo is by far the best kind of drum solo. It is not easily played, requires some musicality and is a great canvas for expression. It still involves showing of your chops but provides for a much more interesting solo than just playing a ton of notes in a non-structured way. The way to execute this type of drum solo is to play your solo based on the chord structure or melody line of the song you are playing at the time of the solo.


For instance take the melody line of the jazz standard "So What". This melody line has some nice melodies with some syncopated notes and rests mixed in. This creates a perfect backdrop to play a musically creative drum solo. Play the melody line by playing different drums rhythmically as the melody line is played in the song. You will have to use your imagination and creativity to make it work. When it comes to the parts of the melody line where there are rests or silent spaces, do the same while playing.

The same goes for the syncopated notes. Play the syncopated notes on the drums. It is really a simple concept to grasp but not necessarily easy to execute. In this style of solo playing you are able to build intensity, have a platform for creativity other than just playing a ton of notes, can help eliminate note clutter and can create something musical instead of just noise. If you think you get a great crowd reaction by playing a solo with a ton of notes, play a melodic solo and you will witness a crowd reaction that will blow you away.

Lastly a great and fun way to take a solo is to play over the chords of a song just like a guitar player would solo. Have the band keep playing the chords and play over them. This type of solo is fun, fun, fun. You can basically combine the elements of the two types of solos already discussed. You can play melody lines as well as play a load of notes if you desire. It also makes for a very exciting solo for the audience because the whole band is still playing. Have you ever noticed how many people become disinterested when the drummer starts to solo. This eliminates that issue. It keeps the band on the stage and paces the overall show.

The best example of this is Latin music. There are many times when the drums and percussion are soloing by themselves in Latin music but for the most part solos are played with the band playing the chords as the backdrop for the solo.
I could listen to these types of solos for hours.


In summary there are many ways to play a drum solo. Keep the atmosphere, the audience and the style of music in mind when deciding what kind of solo to play. Most of all though, have fun when soloing. It is finally your chance to musically express yourself rather than being the steady rhythm maker that you are.
Until the next column, take it easy.

— By Stanley Jackson, Special To L.A. Beat
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