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L.A. Beat

Drum Beat #14 — four concepts of a drummer’s thought

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I get asked this question quite often. What is going on in your mind when you are playing? There are several things but let’s keep to the music. I have four basic areas of concentration going on at the same time. They are the tempo, the melody line, the dynamics and the overall structure of the song being performed. Once these factors are humming along you can then be free to interpret and create music rather than just executing it.

The first area of concentration and most important is of course the tempo. Keeping the correct tempo steady throughout a song is what separates a good drummer from a bad one. It is obvious a song that unintentionally is dragging and then rushing will lead to incontinuity and sound wrong if not just bad. In your mind it is a good idea to constantly count. This can be different for all players. Some have to count all of the beats and some can just count the one of every measure to keep great  time. Find out what works for you. Counting the tempo also helps you not get lost where you are at in a tune. Lots of drummers get lost where they are at in a song especially jazz guys during a solo. By counting you are continually keeping track of the measures and tempo with a side effect being you inadvertently are keeping track of where you are at in the song.

It is amazing to me how many drummers actually do not count during a song. Again try many different ways to enable yourself to execute this concentration without inhibiting your musicality. Find a balance that suits you. One quick tip for counting odd time signatures is to count them in sections. Say you are playing in 11. Instead of counting 1 through 11 each measure, first relax, then count it 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2.

The second area of concentration is the melody line. The melody line should always be playing in your mind so to speak. For me I hum the melody line. This can be distracting if you do it too loud as I used to do. I learned to hum it silently in my mind. You will be amazed when you do this how much easier it becomes to play musically. You also will never get lost in a song. This really helps in keeping you focused on the song you are playing in many different ways. I have found that it has made me a better player, a better musician and a better performer. I am not sure why but it seems to have many benefits for doing such a simple concentration during a song.

The third area of concentration is the dynamics. How you interpret a song dynamically is the difference between a good or bad performance. Dynamics can be achieved many ways. First, playing hard or soft or loud and quiet are the most obvious ways to achieve dynamics. When playing I am thinking of how to create a background or canvas for the band or singer.

I think is this a loud rock singer then hi-hat and bell of the cymbal are going to be used to create some grit. Say if playing in a Jazz piano  trio I would use for the most part brushes and the ride cymbal to create the dynamics. Also, hitting the drums in different ways and the implements you use can as well help create effective dynamics. Try rim-shots, different areas of cymbals, and the sides of  your drums to create different sounds that you can use during playing. Make sure and explore the brushes, mallets, blasticks, or anything you can imagine as hitting implements to create different sounds to use dynamically within a song. Many drummers can play a drum beat. The question is can they play it perfectly quietly as they can loudly and with different implements.

The fourth area of concentration is the overall structure of the song. There is not much to say on this concentration other than if you are lost in a song then you obviously cannot play it effectively. It would be impossible to play it with any dynamics or with a good tempo if you do not know where you are at in the song. When I play I always use the ABCD method. Before a song begins I assign each section a letter. The verse being A,  the chorus being B, the bridge being C, and so on for each different section. Then I will spell a word from the structure.
For example a song goes verse, chorus, chorus, verse. It would be ABBA. Just think of the word when playing the song and you will not get lost. (One thought, try and avoid songs with ABBA as the structure or you might start playing bad pop tunes.)

When I am playing these areas of concentration they are all combining into one cohesive execution of the song. This is what I am thinking when I am playing. I am sure many players are thinking different things but for the most part it is these four areas of concentration that they are thinking about, or at least should be.

Until next time enjoy the fall.

— By Stanley Jackson, special to L.A. Beat

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