How to learn to think in phrases?

sciomako

Silver Member
Many great drummers say they think in phrases. But I don't know where to start. Being a beginner, I think mostly in stickings and where the downbeats are. But apparently, interesting musical phrases don't always start at the downbeats and don't always correspond to well-known stickings.

One thing I can think of is: listen to other music instruments and borrow their melodies as a starting point of my phrases. Does this make sense?

What else can do I to break away from focusing on the sticking and the subdivision grid?
 

madgolfer

Senior Member
A simple introduction to this might be to play your favorite 4-bar melodies on drums, as you say. Many jazz drummers, for example (albeit an advanced one), take transcriptions of Charlie Parker's alto saxophone solos and try to reproduce them on the drums. I know many more who don't solo over forms unless they can first play the melody of a given song on drums. This can work in any genre. Drummers can't play real melodies, but we can recreate the contour, rhythm, articulation and dynamics and approximate the phrase. This is a good way to learn form and be really expressive in terms of your phrasing, because you are tapping into musical ideas originally meant to be played by other instruments.

To get a feel of this, start with simple melodies. Blues or blues/rock works very well for this. I have many of my students take stickings right out of the picture. If we start with simple melodies and play either single-handed lines (a la Roy Haynes) or compound stickings (hands together, a la Max Roach), you can focus on expression and getting the "feel" for the length of phrases.

Max Roach was among the first drummers to align his soloing/phrasing to the dominant soloist of his genre (i.e. Charlie Parker). Depending on your musical preference, you could do the same. Who is the major instrumentalist/vocalist in your genre of preference? Isolate 4-bar phrasing they play or sing and see how well you can reproduce them on drums.
 
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Hedon

Senior Member
A simple introduction to this might be to play your favorite 4-bar melodies on drums, as you say. Many jazz drummers, for example (albeit an advanced one), take transcriptions of Charlie Parker's alto saxophone solos and try to reproduce them on the drums. I know many more who don't solo over forms unless they can first play the melody of a given song on drums. This can work in any genre. Drummers can't play real melodies, but we can recreate the contour, rhythm, articulation and dynamics and approximate the phrase. This is a good way to learn form and be really expressive in terms of your phrasing, because you are tapping into musical ideas originally meant to be played by other instruments.

To get a feel of this, start with simple melodies. Blues or blues/rock works very well for this. I have many of my students take stickings right out of the picture. If we start with simple melodies and play either single-handed lines (a la Roy Haynes) or compound stickings (hands together, a la Max Roach), you can focus on expression and getting the "feel" for the length of phrases.

Max Roach was among the first drummers to align his soloing/phrasing to the dominant soloist of his genre (i.e. Charlie Parker). Depending on your musical preference, you could do the same. Who is the major instrumentalist/vocalist in your genre of preference? Isolate 4-bar phrasing they play or sing and see how well you can reproduce them on drums.
great advice here
i would add that you might wanna tap quarters and 8th notes with your foot while playing these melodies, so that you fix in your head where every note is in relation to the beat.
 

Big Foot

Silver Member
Thanks Madgolfer, that was a 30$ an hour lesson right there... that's exactly the type of idea I need to focus on.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
Many great drummers say they think in phrases. But I don't know where to start. Being a beginner, I think mostly in stickings and where the downbeats are. But apparently, interesting musical phrases don't always start at the downbeats and don't always correspond to well-known stickings.

One thing I can think of is: listen to other music instruments and borrow their melodies as a starting point of my phrases. Does this make sense?

What else can do I to break away from focusing on the sticking and the subdivision grid?
If I understand you right, you want to start playing things that aren't reliant purely on sticking etc. for their musical direction?

You'll see me say it all over the place: SING!. If you want to get a lyrical, melodic feeling into your playing, sing your ideas and then play them the same way you sing them. This latter point is so important, because often we sing a phrase or groove a certain way and then play it differently. When we sing, we will naturally accent certain notes, but we often don't play them like that, especially when we're reading.

So, start trying to sing short musical ideas and playing them back to yourself. Try to make them logical and "musical". For instance, the ol' cliche "Shave and a Hair Cut. Two Bits!" is a logical, musical rhythm utliising call and response. Start very simply - perhaps just two notes - leave lots of space (rests) and gradually add bits on that make rhythmic and musical sense to you. Take the same two notes and place them every which way you can think of: starting on every beat of the bar, using different voices, stretching the time or compressing it. Pay attention to the way you use dynamics, pitch and voicing in your sung examples, and see if you can get your hands and feet to mimic those as closely as possible given your current technical abilities.

A neat way to do this is to set up either a metronome or, better yet, a repeating rhythmic/harmonic/melodic loop on a drum machine or synthesizer of some kind then play your sung "melodies" over top. Play along music can be used the same way. Let the track run and try to play your phrases over top. This can help because it takes away some of your responsibility for keeping time - for the time being - so you're free to experiment.

Or - create your own ostinato and play over it. The simplest thing is just to play 4 on the floor with your BD and try singing and playing ideas over it. Again, keep them simple at first and leave lots of space. Add gradually.

The advice above to play known melodies or your own suggestion to cop what you hear other players doing are very good ideas. I once had a great compliment on a solo I took in a jazz setting from a player I respect. We both had a laugh when I told him I had been simply playing the lyrical rhythm from Paid In Full by Eric B. and Rakim (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7t8eoA_1jQ It starts at about 1:08 on the video.) I merely took the rhythm of the lyrics and played it using different voicings, etc. It inspired me at the time and I ran with it. Something simple like that can be an endless source of inspiration.
 
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sciomako

Silver Member
Many thanks, madgolfer, Hedon and Boomka!!

All you said make sense. I think I need to learn an elementary form of beatboxing, right?
 
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Bo Eder

Platinum Member
To give you a non-drumistic answer to your question, start thinking the same way you do with words. When you talk, it's in complete phrases, or nobody will understand what you're saying.

What you're doing with your drumming now is the equivalent of spending alot of time studying each word you might be saying, which means you're not saying anything because you're too focused on individual words. You want to be focused and making complete sentences. That's how you communicate!
 

sciomako

Silver Member
To give you a non-drumistic answer to your question, start thinking the same way you do with words. When you talk, it's in complete phrases, or nobody will understand what you're saying.

What you're doing with your drumming now is the equivalent of spending alot of time studying each word you might be saying, which means you're not saying anything because you're too focused on individual words. You want to be focused and making complete sentences. That's how you communicate!
Hi Bo,

Not too sure how this analogy works, because we speak, we don't rap. i.e. we don't have underlying quarter note pulses going on... Do you follow me?
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I think I said, "non-drumistic". When you talk to somebody, is it one word at a time? Or is it a collection of words phrased to make a sentences?

Musically, that's what you're trying to do, to communicate with phrases of words, and not one word at a time. Dig?
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
In addition to all the other great advice being offered: A lot of listening and a lot of playing with others can help you develop your ear for what the music is doing. Most music derives from some simple formulas, like the 12 bar blues for instance. If you listen to the verse of Brubeck's "Take Five" the influence of the 12 bar blues progression is there; even though the notes of the song certainly don't correspond to the blues progression, the phrasing does, giving everyone a good idea what's next and where each phrase should fall. This is where I learned, was a lot of listening to music, then applying it as I played with others.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Many great drummers say they think in phrases. But I don't know where to start. Being a beginner, I think mostly in stickings and where the downbeats are. But apparently, interesting musical phrases don't always start at the downbeats and don't always correspond to well-known stickings.

One thing I can think of is: listen to other music instruments and borrow their melodies as a starting point of my phrases. Does this make sense?

What else can do I to break away from focusing on the sticking and the subdivision grid?
Benny Greb has a part of his video where he talks about this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XI2aHSBTnU

And you're right about the stickings. I remember a Dave Weckl video where he talks of playing 8ths and dotted 8ths melodically with the right hand (around the snare, toms, and crashes), and filling in the spaces with left hand ghost notes on the snare, and occasionally a bass drum. Play mostly combinations of R l and R l l. Playing 3 ghost notes evenly and quickly with the left hand gets really difficult at higher tempos, so don't play R l l l. You should repeat this process with the left hand leading, and the right hand filling in the gaps on the snare.

As far as listening to other instruments, I once went so far as to transcribe the rhythm of a Coltrane solo (32 bars took a long time and a lot of listens). I don't think it helped much really, because it was so crazy! Lots of shifting subdivisions, and big open spaces between phrases, which will get you nothing but funny looks and a train wreck from most ensembles if you tried it on drumset.

Check out Studio and Big Band Drumming by Steve Houghton. He teaches the same idea about conceiving a "rhythm" as a series of accents, and then filling in the spaces with a logical and practical sticking (not paradiddles and double paradiddles, usually). Useful stuff for melodic playing.
 
when i was in school, they'd have me and all the drummers PLAY THE MELODY on the drums! This was a great drill to learn phrasing. To FEEL the length of phrases in particular.
 

sciomako

Silver Member
Check out Studio and Big Band Drumming by Steve Houghton. He teaches the same idea about conceiving a "rhythm" as a series of accents, and then filling in the spaces with a logical and practical sticking (not paradiddles and double paradiddles, usually). Useful stuff for melodic playing.
That's great idea. Thanks.

p.s. I think Steve Houghton's book is out of print... :-(
 

ChipJohns

Senior Member
This is what Benny Greb's DVD is about. You should check it out.

He starts out with an analogy of the alphabet which is kind of interesting, but what he is leading up to is what he refers to as words and then groupings . It is a good introduction to phrasing. That's really all he is doing.
 

michael h

Member
Like my man here said, MELODIES....Even vsomething simpler like Mary Had A Little Lamb to start with or Pop Goes The Weasel....I think Ari Hoenig does that one on one of his solo drum recordings...GREAT question btw..The fact the you even ask something like this is a good indication that you'll get it eventually and play musical..More drummers need to get more with this kind of thinking as opposed to getting something like faster singles or something of the like..Good luck and have fun, melodies are fun and very challenging to play...

A simple introduction to this might be to play your favorite 4-bar melodies on drums, as you say. Many jazz drummers, for example (albeit an advanced one), take transcriptions of Charlie Parker's alto saxophone solos and try to reproduce them on the drums. I know many more who don't solo over forms unless they can first play the melody of a given song on drums. This can work in any genre. Drummers can't play real melodies, but we can recreate the contour, rhythm, articulation and dynamics and approximate the phrase. This is a good way to learn form and be really expressive in terms of your phrasing, because you are tapping into musical ideas originally meant to be played by other instruments.

To get a feel of this, start with simple melodies. Blues or blues/rock works very well for this. I have many of my students take stickings right out of the picture. If we start with simple melodies and play either single-handed lines (a la Roy Haynes) or compound stickings (hands together, a la Max Roach), you can focus on expression and getting the "feel" for the length of phrases.

Max Roach was among the first drummers to align his soloing/phrasing to the dominant soloist of his genre (i.e. Charlie Parker). Depending on your musical preference, you could do the same. Who is the major instrumentalist/vocalist in your genre of preference? Isolate 4-bar phrasing they play or sing and see how well you can reproduce them on drums.
 
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