How to compose a drum solo?

soopadook

Junior Member
Hello everyone.

So I've been playing for about 2 years and and 9 months (I'm 15) and would like to do a drum solo for a talent show at school...but my question is, how in the world do i compose a drum solo?

I know this question sounds a bit odd, as the typical answer would be "just do what sounds best to you, let your hands compose it". The problem with that answer is, to me, nothing I do sounds good...I see drummers like Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, Buddy Rich, Thomas Lang, etc. etc. do crazy drum solos that sound awesome and they change the time signature and stuff...but every time I try to do a drum solo, I have no idea where to start. I have no idea what to do and what sounds good...do you guys have any advice for me?
 

Fox622003

Gold Member
Well, for starters, I think NONE of the guys you mentioned change time signatures during solos. Second, the way I see it, there's two basic types of solos: Those mainly oriented towards drummers/musicians (because of either their musicality or technical aspect), and those which are mainly show-off/trick based. Most drummers usually play a mix of those. However, I personally hate drum solos - they are terribly boring. I'd much rather see a drummer play to a track, and do some whacky stuff (perhaps stuff they wouldn't do during a performance with other musicians). Something like THIS; impressive playing, and keeps everyone entertained, since there's some background music, and a natural flow.
There are exceptions to just drums being entertaining, but it's got to be either kept very musical, very technical, or very, very entertaining, perhaps a well rounded mix. And it's got to be short. Something like THIS.
I just don't suggest trying to tackle either of those performances; but in case you do, good luck.


Fox.
 
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brentcn

Platinum Member
Hello everyone.

So I've been playing for about 2 years and and 9 months (I'm 15) and would like to do a drum solo for a talent show at school...but my question is, how in the world do i compose a drum solo?

I know this question sounds a bit odd, as the typical answer would be "just do what sounds best to you, let your hands compose it". The problem with that answer is, to me, nothing I do sounds good...I see drummers like Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, Buddy Rich, Thomas Lang, etc. etc. do crazy drum solos that sound awesome and they change the time signature and stuff...but every time I try to do a drum solo, I have no idea where to start. I have no idea what to do and what sounds good...do you guys have any advice for me?

If your goal is to play a cool drum solo, give yourself a break! Think about a guitarist who has been playing for 3 years: they are just starting to learn guitar solos, having already spent lots of time practicing scales, riffs, chords, etc. Most students at your level are not yet learning to improvise. Before you learn to do that, you'll need to learn about theme and variation, call and response, and other compositional ideas. A good teacher can take you through exercises to develop these areas of your playing. On it's most basic level, a drum solo can be a drum beat or phrase, with a new fill or variation every 2 or 4 bars. You can hear this type of playing in Fox's second video link (if you're not too distracted by the stick tricks).

If your goal is to win the talent show (or simply to receive lots of applause), it's OK to copy some famous drummer's licks or even songs. I saw a drummer on YouTube who played along to a medley of songs at a talent show, which is cool because it engages the audience, and was packed full of impressive "drummer moments". And it will certainly help to learn some stick tricks (which are more impressive if you can play while executing the tricks).
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Create a groove, create a theme. Here's a musical approach, admittedly with three players: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VT2J1Ot9N5c

See how they create a real vibe?

It's a little journey with a few themes that appear - in a musical way. It makes sense, rather than just being an abstract mess. Obviously you'll need to stretch more than that as a single player.

Work it out so you know where you are. Have an intro, verses, choruses (call / response), and a climax. Keep to the groove as much as possible (no need to hop around time sigs all the time). Don't go too long and overstay your welcome. Leave them wanting more.

My 2c
 

SgtThump

Platinum Member
I'm MUCH more of a lead guitarist than a drummer, but my thoughts on creating a solo still applies (in my opinion.)

Ease into it... Start off with something in which everyone can relate. Maybe a beat, maybe a snare and kick thing, maybe a slower simple tribal thing on the toms, etc... Get everyones attention in the beginning, but save the tricky stuff for later.

After you've spent 30 seconds or whatever grabbing everyone, then start adding tricks. Don't overstay your welcome, though! Maybe do some tricks, go back to the simple intro, do more tricks, etc...

Know when enough is enough. Personally, I wouldn't go for more than 1-2 minutes. Otherwise, you start losing people.

I guess I'm trying to say "don't shoot your wad before you get started." LOL
 

dcrigger

Senior Member
I think you might be much better served in the long run to think of it not so much as composing a drum solo, but rather learning how to improvise drum solos.

While you'll see the occasional player (even a few big names - shame on them IMO) playing "composed solos", most drum solos you hear are at least in part improvised.

My take on how to learn to improvise solos is this -

Though the overall solo may be improvised, it's component parts usually aren't. So it's really about building a vocabulary of licks, patterns, fills, etc that you can spontaneously build whatever kind of solo you want out of.

For me, this was a long term vocabulary building process that continues even still today.

Take a short fill, pattern or solo idea fragment - play it, repeat it, come up with a slightly different variation of it, connect the two versions together, repeat that, then find a different pattern or idea that sort of "goes" with the first pair, connect all that together, repeat it and play with the dynamics, come up with simpler versions of the above, then maybe more complex versions - now try to play a short music "story" using just this material, and on and on.

As you work on this, you'll likely start to hear the solos you hear on recordings a bit differently. You'll probably start to see the seams in the fabric of how the recorded solo is constructed. How the player strings one idea to another.

So then - from a working on soloing standpoint - listening to CD's becomes not just borrowing (stealing) licks and patterns, but also general forms and solo structure ideas. Always working both on building vocabulary, followed by working on your ability to stitch that vocabulary into any number of different solos for different musical settings.

If I'm making this sound like a big chore, it's absolutely not. A huge undertaking, for sure. But really a joyous, fun and very expressive one.

Have fun,

David
 

David Floegel

Silver Member
I'm in the same situation dude!!
I wanna join the DOT (Drummer of Tomorrow) contest here in Germany...


And I really like the ideas Pollyanna mentioned (as I had the same ideas).
A drumsolo can(!) be much more then just bashing the drums and doing the crazy sticktricks..
I don't say that at least because I can't do any sticktrick and I don't like bashing my drums... haha :D

Anyway:
What you need imho is tension!
Start very low and muted, doing some "mystic" things with brushes or mallets on your cymbals and start to add drums and volume!
You have to keep tension so don't rush with adding volume. And do not stay at the volume you reached.

I disagree with SgtThump.. You can go for more than 1-2 minutes if you make it interesting..

But as dcrigger mentioned, you need some vocabular which you can use free, without(!) thinking about.
I think it's the biggest death-trap if you have to think about what to play. Like "Oh, oh oh... damn.. I have to play a paradiddlediddle first and then.. an accented roll with accents on ..." you know? It will make you look and feel uncomfortable.


Personally I don't like drumsolos as well but most people always wanna see them! :-/

Good luck, let us know or hear(!!!) what you got :)
 

humphrey

Junior Member
as simple as this may sound, i think the best drum solo's are ones that are musical. by musical i mean they have some sort of build up and theme to them rather than just being chops galore everywhere. the old saying has always been "tension and release" with everything to do with music and in a drum solo this is no different. some of the things you could look into for writing a solo are the following,

dynamics - it's amazing what you can do with these! hard hit accented notes in low ghost dynamics can create tension and an element of surprise, especially when you have your snare turned off.
familiar rhythmic patterns - because people who aren't drummers are more amazed by a drummer ability to play within a pulse.
linear phrasing - because these "gospel chops" are what's hot at the moment.
rudiments - a strong arsenal of rudiments means more options and as some are in odd groupings mixing them to fill a bar of 4 can have great results. paradiddles, flams and stroke rolls are especially good.
odd groupings - an example of this is a group of five. 3 16th notes on the hand and 2 on the feet.
shifting gears - an exercise is to go from eight notes to triplets to sixteenth notes to sextuplets to 32nd notes with whatever combination you want. make sure all the notes are precise.

hope this helps!
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry" - Administrator
Staff member
Instead of an unaccompanied solo, why don't you make a medley type backing track, with maybe 30 seconds of about 8 songs you know and love, that are selected to feature you as a drummer. That way you have a guideline to follow, your audience will have something to latch onto because they know the songs (assuming here) and you won't have to worry about making stuff up or remembering what you wanted to do.

If you don't opt for that and you would rather do an unaccompanied solo, think of it in terms of a beginning, a middle and an end.

Sometimes the end can be the same as, or similar to, the beginning.
 

drumr_102

Senior Member
You should already have a good answer out of here, but from personal experience I started doing cool fills on all the rims of my drums, then went into a groove and then went into an actual fill and then did the groove a bit differently then I counted the band back in.
That was my senior year in high school and it was a really simple solo that lasted about 3 minutes and the audience loved it... But like it was said on here before, drum solos can be boring and not everyone understands drums or even notices them so keep in mind that they may relate to a good beat more then they would to awesome rudiments.
 

ozfree79

Junior Member
I can't say that I'm a strong soloist but I agree with some of the posts that non drummers and those in the audience can relate and get into a groove if you do just that. Create a groove. Think Godsmack's VOODOO as a baseline and try variations with something like that. I was thinking of adding a drum solo to our album as the bonus track. I have yet to record it and have been thinking the exact same thing. All answers provided are good! Take what advice you can use and feel comfortable with, and leave the rest.

Jam well!
 

SgtThump

Platinum Member
...I disagree with SgtThump.. You can go for more than 1-2 minutes if you make it interesting...

Yeah, I guess it depends on the audience. I've been gigging for 20+ years and I can tell you that your average bar patron that's there to dance and/or hear music isn't going to be entertained for too long hearing a drum solo.

Now drummers or other musicians is a different story...

Then again, there will ALWAYS be one drunk dude in the back loving it. LOL
 

JesusMySavior

Silver Member
You could compose a drum solo, but the truth is, unless you were totally dedicated to comitting it to memory, you'd probably improvise with it anyways.

Because I play a variety of instruments, I can tell you I enjoy drumming the most. Drums are a lot more free-form, IMHO. To me it's like painting. I can throw a dash here, a splash there, add some color here, make it abstract or make it glaringly obvious. I create as I play. It's just an incredible experience.

Pertaining to solos, I personally can't recall a time I have written or performed a traditional one. But I have played instrumental breaks, and if you are IN THE GROOVE (this is the key) you will start throwing things around that represent your character but also will be musically "appropriate" (as they say). There's so many variances to what can go in there, and it varies as widely as each drummer out there.

For example, my main influence is Jimmy Chamberlain of The Smashing Pumpkins. So when I hit an instrumental break, I usually end up flying that hi hat around with my left foot and doing a lot of jungle drum styles with accents and speedy snare rimshots. Yet it still sounds groovy, and it also sounds like me.

If you're upset with how you sound, ask fellow musicians how they think you sound - it could be a self esteem issue; or, it could be that you need to develop your chops more. It's great incentive to say, hey - I really want to sound like this, let's make it happen.

And...don't think too hard about what you're doing, otherwise if you're like me, you will get self-conscious and tend to screw things up!

Just let your mind fly, man...and as Joe Perry says, let the music do the talking.
 
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hunterde

Senior Member
The last time I played a drum solo I was 17 and the only reason I did was because we didn't know enough songs the fill the night, That said, even though I grew up a rock drummer my favorite solo would be Joe Morello on take five. You Tube has video but I like the solo on the recording the best. It just grooves
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
how in the world do i compose a drum solo?

Foret about crazy solos with diferent time signitues. You aren't buddy Rich (yet) :)

My advice is to use edrums and find a setting with loads of reverb. If you are playing acoustic, stick with the toms and tune them way down. It will give you a lot of slack.

If you have some licks you can do on the snare, do those for a while, Even a simple alternating single stroke, double stroke, paradiddle sounds good.

Keep it simple. You are not playing for any trained professionals. The untrained masses are happy with anything repeatitive, ryhthmic and fast. You would impress them by moving around a bit with simple double bounce strokes.

Find a few things you can do competently and string them together. All you need to do is find a way to make the transitions. If you can do any kind of hand foot rolls, that will work for half your solo.


When I was younger, I never played any solo stuff because the stuff I knew wasn't technically challanging. In retrospect, it probably sounded good.
 

mattsmith

Platinum Member
I think you might be much better served in the long run to think of it not so much as composing a drum solo, but rather learning how to improvise drum solos.

While you'll see the occasional player (even a few big names - shame on them IMO) playing "composed solos", most drum solos you hear are at least in part improvised.

My take on how to learn to improvise solos is this -

Though the overall solo may be improvised, it's component parts usually aren't. So it's really about building a vocabulary of licks, patterns, fills, etc that you can spontaneously build whatever kind of solo you want out of.

For me, this was a long term vocabulary building process that continues even still today.

Take a short fill, pattern or solo idea fragment - play it, repeat it, come up with a slightly different variation of it, connect the two versions together, repeat that, then find a different pattern or idea that sort of "goes" with the first pair, connect all that together, repeat it and play with the dynamics, come up with simpler versions of the above, then maybe more complex versions - now try to play a short music "story" using just this material, and on and on.

As you work on this, you'll likely start to hear the solos you hear on recordings a bit differently. You'll probably start to see the seams in the fabric of how the recorded solo is constructed. How the player strings one idea to another.

So then - from a working on soloing standpoint - listening to CD's becomes not just borrowing (stealing) licks and patterns, but also general forms and solo structure ideas. Always working both on building vocabulary, followed by working on your ability to stitch that vocabulary into any number of different solos for different musical settings.

If I'm making this sound like a big chore, it's absolutely not. A huge undertaking, for sure. But really a joyous, fun and very expressive one.

Have fun,

David
I kind of felt this post got lost in the shuffle. Everything said here is great, and the guy saying it is a top end pro. For you guys obsessed with meter change issues...this guy was a drummer for Don Ellis...a composer who specialized in all that on the highest possible level...and with extremely high musicianship.
 

Duckenheimer

Senior Member
I kind of felt this post got lost in the shuffle. Everything said here is great, and the guy saying it is a top end pro. For you guys obsessed with meter change issues...this guy was a drummer for Don Ellis...a composer who specialized in all that on the highest possible level...and with extremely high musicianship.

Very cool. Thanks for pointing this out.
 

haredrums

Silver Member
One useful approach to soloing is the idea of the melodic drum solo. If you are interested in the concept of melodic drumming, I have a post on my blog that analyzes some Max Roach's solo techniques. Here is the link:

http://haredrums.blogspot.com/2011/09/max-roach-melodic-architecture-and.html

Three of the big phrasing techniques that Max and others use to make their solos interesting are repetition, use of space, and call and response. Speaking of space, I don't want to take up too much space here, but check out the article for more ideas.
 
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