Playing More Musically

brentcn

Platinum Member
That's the version we base our cover on. Were you referring to the cool little fill he does at the end of the 4th bar or just the general relationship between drums & guitar?

TBH I never thought of the drum track as special, just appropriate and played with nice feel. You're obviously seeing something there that I'm not.
No, you're seeing it, it's just that it's hard to verbalize. I was referring to the relationship between bass drum and guitar riff, in every bar of the intro, except maybe right at the beginning, on the 1 (because it's the very start of the song). Notice how the bass drum doesn't play on the 1, right where the guitar riff plays. It's like the drummer is cutting out a hole in the beat, for the guitar riff to lie in.

 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Cheers Brent, big effort.

I see now ... that kind of Ringo-esque flexibility, where the player's ears trump the standard approach of resolving some tension every 4 / 8 / 16 bars. That's a really big part of playing musically and I personally have trouble thinking on my feet at speed (in conversation too) to achieve that. Any inspiration I have in my drum arrangements comes on those rare days when I'm right in the zone and come up with something.
 
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Boomka

Platinum Member
What can you all suggest for playing more musically. I guess this means, how can I approach playing songs live and in the studio, with or without preparation, better?
Some approaches I've used.

1. Take your cues from what the other musicians are playing. Steal motifs and thematic ideas from the other parts. E.g. if you're going to play a fill, perhaps your rhythmic/melodic inspiration could be a guitar/piano/bass line elsewhere in the piece.

a) Think about form. If the tune is AABA, does your playing reflect that? What does each section mean to the piece as a whole and how can you support that AND effect transitions from one section to another?

b) How does your part support the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic content of the piece? You hear big band drummers like Mel Lewis talking about selecting their cymbals for the way they support particular sections of the band because of the tonal range and timbre of those instruments - i.e. saxes, trombones, trumpets. How do you use the instruments in your setup to support particular members of the band? For instance, you can take another approach sometimes used by big band players that anything above Middle C needs to be supported/reflected in what your snare and cymbals are doing while anything below Middle C gets supported by the bass drum. This approach works in pop as much as big band, in my experience.

2. Learn the melody and the lyrics. Sing them over and over. You have to have the tune in mind while playing. I was just reading an interview in Modern Drummer with Marcus Miller, and here's how he describes Steve Gadd's approach in the studio:

Steve Gadd is a beautiful person. He is so interested in you, whoever you are. When we did sessions, before Steve even pulled out his sticks he would ask for the demo to played twenty times. He'd order coffee and just sit there and listen to the demo. By the time he pulled out sticks and played, he knew the song. He didn't know the music, he knew the song. What he played was always so appropriate and so beautiful and supportive to the music -- as opposed to drummers who hear the demo and play along the first time. They think they've got it down. That is a guy who's insecure and wants to show how bad he is.
 
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larryace

"Uncle Larry"
In a perfect world, you would base your next note, phrase, beat, fill, stab, whatever, on whatever the music needs the most at that time, as judged by what you just listened to. I think to summarize Boomka's post, your ears and your own musical sensibilities are your best friends. I rely on the mood of the song as to the musical choices I make, so it's something that has to come from inside of you. If I was playing a sad remorseful song, (as judged by the lyrics) I'd want to play it so it sounds sad and remorseful. How you do that...not sure I could explain it other than to imagine being sad and remorseful and making a drum part that makes you feel that way.
 

Midnite Zephyr

Platinum Member
As you know, many great songs were re-done by other groups with a completely different feel and vibe, but the bands that pull it off successfully are the ones that "own" the song. Look what the Talking Heads did with Satisfaction.

I play Dreams by Fleetwood Mac on guitar in a reggae style because that's the way I feel it. When I develop a beat for a song, it has to complement all the instruments and especially the singing. I don't step on people and I share the spaces in between with the bass and guitar; sometimes letting the empty spaces speak for themselves. I do some of my best fill work during the guitar solo. That's where it belongs, but not all the time. It's hard to say what a song really needs and sometimes we get it wrong and somebody comes along and makes it better. I've had guitar players suggest stuff that I never thought of, and it works great!
 

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
I have always looked at in on two levels:

1. "Internal": What you are playing has to make sense internally for the style of music you are playing. This includes relative dynamics and lead and supporting voice roles. A common mistake of this variety is playing the hi hat too loud and not playing the backbeat authoritatively in a rock setting. Or playing the snare too loud in a jazz setting. It requires you listen to yourself and how you sound.


2. External: By far, the harder task. What you are playing has to SERVE THE MUSIC. This requires stepping out of the pure "drummer" role and stepping into the role of both listener and composer. It requires you listen to how the band sounds as a whole and how you fit within that.

Practically, I have found reading to open my ears up tremendously. Bellson, Chester, any and all of it. After going through all this, my ability to recognize and respond to patterns increased dramatically because I had already heard and worked through them before.

This action tremendously opened my ears yet I resisted it for years. Im telling you, it will be worth it if you do it.
 

unfunkyfooted

Silver Member
1. Set The Pace
2. Stay Out Of The Way
3. Fill Good
4. Feel Good
5. Interact
6. Be A Rock
7. All At The Same Time.

pay me no mind. i just wanted to use the pun feel good / fill good.

actually i couldn't have said it better than this:

In a perfect world, you would base your next note, phrase, beat, fill, stab, whatever, on whatever the music needs the most at that time, as judged by what you just listened to. I think to summarize Boomka's post, your ears and your own musical sensibilities are your best friends. I rely on the mood of the song as to the musical choices I make, so it's something that has to come from inside of you. If I was playing a sad remorseful song, (as judged by the lyrics) I'd want to play it so it sounds sad and remorseful. How you do that...not sure I could explain it other than to imagine being sad and remorseful and making a drum part that makes you feel that way.
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
Whoo, let's see, off the top of my head:

- Play less. Forget about being amazing.
- Use your ears.
- Know the tune.
- Understand the musical effect of the things you play, or don't play.
- Track the dynamics of the piece. Don't just slam it at the same volume all the way through a section. If you listen closely to older pop tunes- like from the 60's and 70's- the dynamics often change from measure to measure, following the vocal part.
- Use the negative space: play with the melody, or play the breaks in the melody.
- Know what playing musically sounds like. Listen to a lot of Jim Keltner, Billy Higgins, Ringo Starr, Peter Erskine, Ben Riley- whoever fits your idea of a consummate "musical" drummer.

This should really be a blog post... let me see what I can do about that...
"Play less" does not equal musical playing necessarily. Nothing is more boring than music rendered in an overly simple manner, except simple music rendered in a complex manner. Play just enough to suit the music. Don't underplay and don't overplay. This requires impeccable judgment, earned through experience.

Oh, and pitch the double pedals. They are a distraction to playing musically.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
"Play less" does not equal musical playing necessarily.
DMC, by saying "play less" Todd's just advocating that we don't play so much that it interferes with our listening. Like talking so much in a conversation that we don't know what anyone else is saying.

Steve Gadd says that he tends to start with the minimum and then builds, which makes sense to me. That way, what you build upon the bare bones relates more to what the other musicians are playing than that cool lick you heard that you just have to slip in somewhere.

I'm sure you already know that that's what he meant ... you're just playing Devil's Advocate with "less is more" again. Since this is one of your hobby horses, let's parse it a little and gain a common understanding :)

Yes, less can be less. No doubt. However, when people have a set of drums in front of them the basic instinct is to go gangbusters. So "less is more" is designed to tone that instinct down so we can work with the others rather than just go off on a drum bender.

Generally a song will have a basic design and from there we work out how much ornamentation to add. The amount of ornamentation added should fit the general theme.

It's a similar principle in graphic design - adding a few painterly flourishes would ruin a De Stilj painting but the right block colour would be perfect. By the same token, adding a block colour to a Rembrandt portrait would ruin it.

Horses for courses. But you already know that too ...
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
"Play less" does not equal musical playing necessarily. Nothing is more boring than music rendered in an overly simple manner, except simple music rendered in a complex manner. Play just enough to suit the music. Don't underplay and don't overplay. This requires impeccable judgment, earned through experience.
Yes, but "have impeccable judgement" isn't very helpful advice for someone wanting to know how to play musically. You might as well say "be a genius." I guess the point of these little rules of thumb is not to be the literal final word on everything, forever; they're more of a crude instrument for encouraging people to go in another direction from what they're prone to do naturally.
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
Yes, but "have impeccable judgement" isn't very helpful advice for someone wanting to know how to play musically. You might as well say "be a genius." I guess the point of these little rules of thumb is not to be the literal final word on everything, forever; they're more of a crude instrument for encouraging people to go in another direction from what they're prone to do naturally.
Anyone can develop good enough judgment to play well musically but not everyone can develop genius. Having a good vocabulary of technical skills is another important component of playing musically and that, too, takes time and effort to build up. I do think playing with others is a good way to acquire the judgment necessary to play musically. Personally, I don't care much for overly simple music.

As for how helpful my advice is, that is totally in the opinion of the recipient.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Anyone can develop good enough judgment to play well musically but not everyone can develop genius. Having a good vocabulary of technical skills is another important component of playing musically and that, too, takes time and effort to build up. I do think playing with others is a good way to acquire the judgment necessary to play musically. Personally, I don't care much for overly simple music.

As for how helpful my advice is, that is totally in the opinion of the recipient.
We're not communicating here. Let's go back to the beginning: when I said "Play less. Forget about being amazing" what I meant was something like "overplaying is such a common problem among ambitious young players that I feel confident in saying that as a general rule, their musicality would be improved by playing fewer notes." Am I being clear now?
 

Too Many Songs

Senior Member
Well if it helps to resolve the disagreement between Todd and DMC, I was taught to aim to make everyone else in the ensemble sound good. That encompasses pretty much everything that has been mentioned: listening, dynamics, spaces, melodic form and so on.

It's a good rule of thumb and of course, you hope that the rest of the group are doing the same for you.
 

witchcraftery

Senior Member
The only true way to play more musically, is to feel the music more musically. Anything else falls short.
People can tell you how they did it, but it's the same for everyone: it comes from within(read: practice). The best drumming in my humble opinion comes from those who, in the context of music, feel rather than think. I hope that makes sense.
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
We're not communicating here. Let's go back to the beginning: when I said "Play less. Forget about being amazing" what I meant was something like "overplaying is such a common problem among ambitious young players that I feel confident in saying that as a general rule, their musicality would be improved by playing fewer notes." Am I being clear now?
Yes, I understand what you are saying. But I do not agree that overplaying is necessarily a problem among ambitious young players. You have more students so maybe you have some more observation behind your beliefs. But when I hear people play, I so often become bored with the timidness of their playing, the lack of notes they could play to add to the music in what I think would be a positive way. To me, timidness doesn't build musical playing.

I do not worship at the altar of "less is more." Less is less. More is more. Sometimes music needs more and sometimes less.
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
Well if it helps to resolve the disagreement between Todd and DMC, I was taught to aim to make everyone else in the ensemble sound good. That encompasses pretty much everything that has been mentioned: listening, dynamics, spaces, melodic form and so on.

It's a good rule of thumb and of course, you hope that the rest of the group are doing the same for you.
Yes, that's a really good approach to add to the array of approaches when playing.
 

Richard.J

Member
All these are good points, knowing the music, not over playing, playing with purpose, etc.
One thing I'd like to bring up is "sound". I've heard more than a few good to great drummers who have skills I would kill for BUT who are tone deaf, ignorant or unable to tune their drums. Drums should sound like a musical instrument (each drum to a pitch/tone/note) and not a bunch of wet cardboard boxes or garbage cans. Tuning should not be left to the sound engineer. Like a violinist or guitarist they are taught and learn to tune their instrument, why isn't that the case with drums? Cymbals should comp the drums, together you have a full range of sound and color.

Now play that groove with the slick fills.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
But I do not agree that overplaying is necessarily a problem among ambitious young players. You have more students so maybe you have some more observation behind your beliefs. But when I hear people play, I so often become bored with the timidness of their playing, the lack of notes they could play to add to the music in what I think would be a positive way. To me, timidness doesn't build musical playing.
Maybe you're right. I could be projecting too much of myself, or of people like me into my comments. Certainly playing out anything of timidness is not good.

I do not worship at the altar of "less is more." Less is less. More is more. Sometimes music needs more and sometimes less.
Well, it's not an altar, it's a universal principle of art. It applies across many disciplines. That doesn't mean it's true in 100% of situations 100% of the time, but it is a guide.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
Yes, I understand what you are saying. But I do not agree that overplaying is necessarily a problem among ambitious young players.
I'm not saying you're wrong, but that would seem to fly in the face of centuries of accepted wisdom and experience, including my own. Usually the problems I hear - and have experienced - in people's musical judgement involve playing notes that don't work - i.e. playing too much.
 
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