Super-simple drumming

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
There's long been controversy about Meg White's primitive approach to drumming.

Meg's playing style and sound appear to be mostly Jack White's brainchild. He came from the punk scene and was obviously attracted to playing that didn't aim to impress, and even sometimes actively tried not to be impressive.

It was a clever experiment. Get his ex, Meg, who is totally untrained to play drums ultra-simply, under his guidance. Anyone could program it into a drum machine but few drummers would have the patience for it. But Meg's amateur technique gives the music an organic feel with plenty of push and pull.

Generally we get our rhythms to groove by making them sound as simple as possible, even complex patterns. So with Meg-style the only thing you lose is the detail; the bare bones of what's needed are still there. For instance, in Icky Thump Meg sounds a helluva lot like John Bonham at times - for a few bars when she smashes back into the song after the refrains (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5roz5-wdjBg).

The only other hard-rocking bands I can think of where the drumming is even close to as simple as Meg's are The Stones and ACDC.

I see it like this. Super-simple drumming works if you have a strong singer or soloist because it pushes a listener's attention to the music's front line. After a few bars a listener realises the drumming isn't going to do anything new so their attention is immediately deflected to the stars. Either that, or the drumming can be enjoyed on a visceral level ... boom - pow!

What role does simplicity play in your drumming, if any? Or are you more attracted to complexity? What keeps you from playing more simply or more complex than you do now?
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
What role does simplicity play in your drumming, if any? Or are you more attracted to complexity? What keeps you from playing more simply or more complex than you do now?
I, for the most part, keep it simple. I listen to the song, try to figure out what I can do, as a drummer, to best compliment the song, and see if it flies. And adjust, if necessary. If I find a particular song (original) sounds familiar (example: Stone Temple Pilots), then I might ask myself, what would Eric Kretz do here? If a song sounds Beatle-esque, then I pull out my Ringo alter-persona. I never try to be Mike Portnoy.....when the songwritter sounds like Crosby, Stills and Nash. On the "other" hand, if 13/8 is what the guitarist wrote the verses in, then 13/8 it shall be. As long as the groove swings.
 

TTNW

Pioneer Member
What role does simplicity play in your drumming, if any? Or are you more attracted to complexity? What keeps you from playing more simply or more complex than you do now?
Simplicity is the foundation of my drumming. Song wise, I usually start in real stripped down (especially with jams) build it up from there. When I see heads bobbing and or people are dancing, I make sure to keep it simple. Nothing worse than watching everybody in the audience stop moving because the space gets all filled up with too many notes.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I think you can take a wild guess at my response to this. I like to start with questions to myself; what part do the drums play in this, what is their purpose? In most popular genres, the drums main role is to tap into that primeval human response to rhythm. The primary rhythm as I call it, should be delivered with power, authority and reserve. Anything more than fulfilling that role is flavour. Nothing wrong with flavour, but just like cooking, the dish often delivers more impact with few ingredients, beautifully prepared.

Now I can happily eat a bowl of Jersey Royal new potatoes with a little butter & chopped chives all day long. Superb dish so that is, I might get bored of that after a while. Drumming's the same. I'll typically structure a drum track such that the primary beat is dominant & naked but I'll introduce just a little flavour to keep the audience interest. Even more than that, to please myself, I'll occasionally drop a tiny chops snippet in there just the once.

I take Polly's point though. Simple drum parts shift the attention to other artists, usually the singer. This, after all, is the main purpose of a backing band. As our singer is yet to gel fully with the band and find his inner power, I may have to add a bit more pepper to the mix. Typical drummer, any excuse.
 

RogerLudwig

Senior Member
All of my favorite drummers keep it simple, construct remarkable grooves, and play for the song..Charlie Watts, Kenny Arnoff, Billy Kreuzmann, Ringo. Everytime I hear myself on tape I think, how can I play fewer notes and be more effective at the same time. I'm not a big fan of 16th note descending tom fills, but I use 'em if I think it works.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Great thread. If you think you are the main attraction, then you need a reality check. Drummers are the lowest member of the food chain, but soooo vital to a great sounding song. If you are they type that needs the spotlight, good luck finding guitar players and singers who want that. In their minds a good drummer is a person who knows their place, and doesn't cut in on their territory, ever.
 

Ainulindale

Gold Member
say whatever else you would like to about Jack White, but the man understands the one thing that seperates the great artists from the mass of average musician's through time - groove

The Beatle's, AC/DC, and Johnny Cash are three of my favorites, their music is as simple as apple pie, but the groove, the feel, the rythem - the heartbeat of any good music - they could all put their finger squarely on it - and i believe Jack White can do this as well, regardless of which musician's he works with...
 

JT1

Silver Member
There's long been controversy about Meg White's primitive approach to drumming.

Meg's playing style and sound appear to be mostly Jack White's brainchild. He came from the punk scene and was obviously attracted to playing that didn't aim to impress, and even sometimes actively tried not to be impressive.

It was a clever experiment. Get his ex, Meg, who is totally untrained to play drums ultra-simply, under his guidance. Anyone could program it into a drum machine but few drummers would have the patience for it. But Meg's amateur technique gives the music an organic feel with plenty of push and pull.

Generally we get our rhythms to groove by making them sound as simple as possible, even complex patterns. So with Meg-style the only thing you lose is the detail; the bare bones of what's needed are still there. For instance, in Icky Thump Meg sounds a helluva lot like John Bonham at times - for a few bars when she smashes back into the song after the refrains (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5roz5-wdjBg).

The only other hard-rocking bands I can think of where the drumming is even close to as simple as Meg's are The Stones and ACDC.

I see it like this. Super-simple drumming works if you have a strong singer or soloist because it pushes a listener's attention to the music's front line. After a few bars a listener realises the drumming isn't going to do anything new so their attention is immediately deflected to the stars. Either that, or the drumming can be enjoyed on a visceral level ... boom - pow!

What role does simplicity play in your drumming, if any? Or are you more attracted to complexity? What keeps you from playing more simply or more complex than you do now?
Keeping it simple is great for the White Stripes it works and most of their music is really good. However i must say that i do not think that Meg is a good drummer i hear a lot of people trying to disguise this by saying she holds back and doesn't play more than is needed and she is great for that etc etc. I honestly believe that Meg is not a good drummer yeah what she does fits the music but man honestly it's like she has learned the basics and nothing more. If i came on here and played something like Meg White and then announced i had been playing as long as she has, people here would say get some lessons lol. But anyhow if she had some hidden talent not even massively complicated but enough to make you go 'COOL!' i might think different but she does not wow me in any way.

As for playing. I'm a fan of making something sound cool and making it work with the guitars etc. If that requires a standard 4/4 beat then so be it, if it requires more groove and more fills then so be it. I used to think playing lots of fills etc was the key to being good. Complicated is good (now i know the error of my ways). I recently recorded a drum track for my band and i thought when i played it, it sounded too basic with not enough character to it but when i heard it back i was shocked at how good it actually sounded. Sometimes less is definitely more but even if i play simple stuff i will add in small parts to make it sound cool but i don't overdo it.
 

cantstandyourfunk

Senior Member
say whatever else you would like to about Jack White, but the man understands the one thing that seperates the great artists from the mass of average musician's through time - groove

The Beatle's, AC/DC, and Johnny Cash are three of my favorites, their music is as simple as apple pie, but the groove, the feel, the rythem - the heartbeat of any good music - they could all put their finger squarely on it - and i believe Jack White can do this as well, regardless of which musician's he works with...
It's always about the song. Always. And that's all that there really is.
Apart from my opinion that I don't really think that The Beatles' music is "simple". Find us another band which has an oeuvre of songs that just never leave your consciousness, and I might change that statement.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
JT, yep. On a technical level Meg isn't a good drummer. If being a good drummer means playing in such a way that it makes the music sound great, then Meg's a good drummer.

Apart from anything else, she's not supposed to be technically strong. Jack doesn't want her to practice because he wants what she plays as is. A pretty bold creative vision IMO - an experiment that worked.

Like most experiments, the results tell us something - as per KIS's apt food analogy - that playing the bare bones clean and solid can sound outstanding. Just as a guy like Billy Cobham introduced us to a new level of complexity and virtuosity in the 70s, Meg and Jack stretched our conception the other way. We now know that extreme simplicity can sound great.

What really works IMO is the idea of making bold and clear musical statements. I've spent much of my drumming life focusing on the spices - the little hi-hat swishes, the ghost notes, ruffs, fills so as to avoid what I'd thought was an unacceptable level of unsophistication. Too often the spices came at the expense of not only the groove but also my broader vision.

Often I hear players fiddling around at the edges. I see our guitarist playing all the way through every song but never making an impact. I see good pro guitarists sit out altogether for a number of bars - leaving the floor to the others - and then when they come back in they pack a real punch that adds to the total song. That approach works with any instrument. Miles and Jeff Beck made their careers out of leaving space and then ... POW!

I enjoy killer drummers like Billy C and Dave W and Bonzo and Ian and Aaron Spears and Ron Bruner taking an equal and sometimes dominant role in the music with their bands. There is no one formula, but dozens of them. This thread is about just one forumula.

At the moment my mission is to get rid of the notion that any drum line can be too simple per se or that drumming must be impressive. My focus at present is on more clarity and catchiness and trying to play with good feel.

I've found that it's harder than it looks. It's easier to get away with mistakes if you play a lot of notes because when you mess up it just sounds like the band is not in the pocket but when you play simply and mess up there's nowhere to hide!
 
W

wy yung

Guest
At the moment my mission is to get rid of the notion that any drum line can be too simple per se or that drumming must be impressive. My focus at present is on more clarity and catchiness and trying to play with good feel.
Mine too. I liked the way Questlove played on a tune on Al Green's latest album. He played the hi hat with his foot on 2 & 4. That was it. And it worked perfectly.

So many drummers want to crowed the music with notes and it often does not work in the big picture of the song. Yet they do not hear it. They effectively impose themselve on the music and many other musicians do not appreciate it. Myself included.

There is a drummer I like to use here in Sydney. He has a wonderful philosophy. He told me: "I like to play with a band for months before they realise I have chops."

He puts the music before his ego. This is why I call him and recomend him.

By the way, Pol has her own feel and it is nice to play with.
 

Spreggy

Silver Member
I like the concept of simplicity, but this WS lady looks like someone looks when they have to playu a drummer on camera, not an actual drummer. You know how it is, you watch a movie and the fake musicians jump right out at you. That's how I read the White Stripes player.
 
W

wy yung

Guest
I like the concept of simplicity, but this WS lady looks like someone looks when they have to playu a drummer on camera, not an actual drummer. You know how it is, you watch a movie and the fake musicians jump right out at you. That's how I read the White Stripes player.
Good enough for a Simpsons episode. Her playing has sold many records. She's not Buddy, but I think she is okay.
 

zzdrummer

Senior Member
I am all for simplicity when it fits the song, but I believe that a little more is better for the music then what she plays.

I know the White Stripes are a fairly popular band, but I personally cannot listen to their music for a long time because it all starts to blend in and sound the same to me. No real depth or a lot to keep me interested. This could be because I am biased, and as a drummer I always listen to the drum part in a song, but I also think it's the band as a whole, with no bass player and only Jack and a very limited Meg.

Personally, I enjoy to listen to one of Jack's other band's more, the Raconteurs, who are also fairly popular, but not as quite. While the drummer (whose name escapes me at the moment but he was in Modern Drummer and played with the Greenhorns) is no Cobham, he plays simply but enough for what the song calls for, and does not try to be overly simple. I think this makes the music more interesting while still being simple at the same time. I find his playing very tasteful and the music more cohesive and groovin'.

So I guess I am for simplicity in playing, while still keeping it interesting, which is how I personally try to play.
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
The only other hard-rocking bands I can think of where the drumming is even close to as simple as Meg's are The Stones and ACDC.
I prefer not to be that simple...

I understand your reasons but I reject that. If you can play a money beat...that can be replaced by a drum machine so much more easily than if you can at least be a bit more creative than those people who tell you to play a money beat. Chops, flourishes, groove patterns and making it musical can make a difference with-out being what you would call "too complicated".

Ask Chad Smith, Stewart Copeland, Dennis Chambers, John Dolmayan, Zoro and those kind of drummers and they'll tell you something along those lines. (I'm just using examples here!)

There are some who break away from that tradition eg. Mike Portnoy, Danny Carey, Niel Peart, Thomas Haake etc. but they are very good because they can give that complexity significance, make it musical and still suit the style of their bands.

...but in this cruel world, the difference is how many gigs you can get.

...and...

"Please...complexity in moderation"...take that whatever way you want, but must always have balance to make it musical.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Spreggy, Meg isn't a fake musician but a component of Jack's stylistic approach. I doubt that she can play paradiddles but she doesn't need to when playing packed stadiums or appearing on The Simpsons :)

Dunno about you guys but I think Meg's drum track on Icky Thump sounds fantastic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5roz5-wdj

The kit sounds great and she plays clean and with good energy. She's simple so it deflect listeners towards Jack's writing, vocals and guitar playing - which is great if you like the WS. If he was less talented then he'd need more action from the drummer.

Bassdriver, Meg couldn't be replaced by a drum machine because she sounds organic and a machine doesn't.

I like simple drumming. It heps me focus on the groove and gives the other musos more options.

In the 80s I had a call from a pro band to help them in a songwriting rehearsal. They were much better players than me - the bassist was doing all these Jaco-type licks FFS! All I could think is, "Don't stuff up!" so I played dead simple, keeping things steady while the bassist was flying all over the place. At the end the bassist complimented me on my drumming.

It's like the writer who had a conversation with a stranger. He mostly he just listened. At the end, the guy who did all the talking complimented the writer for being a great conversationalist. Music can be like that. If I was a great "conversationalist" like Chad Smith, Stewart Copeland, Dennis Chambers etc, then I'd seek to play with a more upfront style.

Interesting approach, Wy - "I like to play with a band for months before they realise I have chops". I guess he was reminding himself to stay tasteful. It takes willpower to lay back like your friend does. First we have to overcome the basic human urge to beat the tripe out of the drums (starting with pots and pans :) and then there's the urge to play all those cool things we heard people play AND the natural wish to have credibility amongst our peers.

But just grooving along sounds and feels so good ..
 

Pachikara-Tharakan

Silver Member
I see it like this. Super-simple drumming works if you have a strong singer or soloist because it pushes a listener's attention to the music's front line. After a few bars a listener realises the drumming isn't going to do anything new so their attention is immediately deflected to the stars. Either that, or the drumming can be enjoyed on a visceral level ... boom - pow!
I agree with you... but I am a Who fan!
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
It's like the writer who had a conversation with a stranger. He mostly he just listened. At the end, the guy who did all the talking complimented the writer for being a great conversationalist. Music can be like that...
Great analogy! It definitely pertains to most of the stuff I play.
 

Pachikara-Tharakan

Silver Member
Every breath you take- The Police

Actually Stewart Copeland wanted more than just basic time keeping but Sting was opposed to that. Reviewers may say, the drumming is simple, excellent,..Copelend left space for other things, no overdrumming etc.. etc... This is just because the song has only one version.

If this song were released only with the way Stewart wanted to play, it could have been a hit as well but the point is we dont know what we missed!! and we dont what Stewart had in mind.

..my honest thought.
 

sqadan

Senior Member
I'm a huge fan of simplicity... What you are not playing is just as important as what you do play. Space in music is sometimes a hard concept for people to understand but I think space and simplicity are what make a lot of great music swing and breathe.
 
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