Switching from Rock to Blues: Advice?

TMe

Senior Member
For any Blues drummers out there, or any drummers who at least take Blues seriously, what advice would you give to a Rock drummer who wants to retool as a Blues drummer?

I'm thinking about Chicago Blues or Blues that leans more toward Jazz or Country than Rock.

Can you make any suggestions about books or videos or particular drummers I should study?
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
^^good advice right there. I remember chuckling when I read an interview of some blues artist who also said you had to have had your heart broken several times before you could be convincing at the blues, but I later discovered he was partially right. That's why they call it the blues - you bring your life experience to the genre. So if you've experienced nothing, or everything in your life is happy, you might be a little too uppity about really laying down the blues.
 

newoldie

Silver Member
Watch old school blues performances (Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, Bobby Blue Bland, Howlin Wolf, Junior Wells, etc.) as well as more contemporary blues drummers with main stream blues musicians (Government Mule, Joe Bonnamossa, Rod Piazza, Stevie Ray Vaughn to name a few) on YouTube to get an intimate feel for the flavors in the blues genre. Some blues styles demand more variety, while the old school blues can live with keeping the shuffle beats almost entirely with minimal fills. Definitely spend the time to research this first hand--assimilate and feel what's being conveyed by the song and match that. This prep work will pay off when you need to impart the correct grooves to a certain style of blues.
 
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Spend time on triplets! Slow 12-8 grooves with 8ths on the hi hat or shuffle on the hi hat where you can comfortably hear the triplet subdivision. Songs like this one for example:

Listen to the chord progression and how other musicians phrase depending on where they are in the song. If you're looking to play Country, Blues and early Jazz, most progressions will be 8, 12 or 16 bars long. In a 12 bar-Blues, the first 8 bars are often similar, while the turnaround in the last four bars often has more variation of the phrases. That will help you with supporting the music (when to fill or keep playing, when to heighten/lower the intensity, when to pause and so on). When practicing variations of the main groove, keep it simple and nice.

Also learn to keep time on the snare with sticks and brushes. Many classic Blues and Jazz recordings have no or barely audible drum set playing:
 
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MattPD

New member
I’ve been going through this process myself over the last couple of years from straight 8 rock playing to blues/shuffle vibes. To mirror what Swissward says start to think about everything in groups of 3 and 6, that gives the groove and pulse that lovely rolling feeling that you need to have a good driving shuffle.

Practicing quietly is also really beneficial as (I feel) blues drums are very much a supporting role for the main band. Going to blues jam nights has helped me enormously with this, as well as form and structure, you learn to communicate and anticipate what the rest of the band will do and this will deeply ingrain all of the above.

I can also highly recommend the book “The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming” by Daniel Glass, not only does it have tons of exercises around shuffle and blues feel, but is also an encyclopaedic account of how blues drumming developed. That really helped me understand the what and why of how I was playing when approaching blues.

Hope that’s useful, good luck!
 
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SmoothOperator

Gold Member
It helps to think of songs in terms of shuffle patterns. Its kind of like learning jazz independence, and being able to comp or the rock snare & bass patterns. the basic idea is that you can think of the comps for the different blues songs as different patterns of shuffles so for example, internet notation is so so, but B=bass, S=snare, and forward slash / is a triplet feel grace note and a straight bar | is a straight eight and a period is a sixteenth.

Then you can think of it as patterns like
B/S|B/S|B
-or-
B/S/B|S|B
-or-
B.S.B|SB
Notice the last one has sixteenths. Also, I used triplets eighths, and sixteenths, they don't exactly have to be those notes, but the idea is to be able to consistently move those rhythmic intervals around to fit the song, you might find some other sweet intervals in-between.

See how it is going back and forth between a straight eight and a swung eight. In blues these things aren't random, they fit the song. You can through these swung notes into your rock also.

I've been thinking about putting together a proper musical lesson for it. Does anyone of anything like that on the Net that compiles different blues shuffle patterns?
 
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larryace

"Uncle Larry"
OK so apologies in advance for the long post, but this IS my wheelhouse, and this is 100% my opinion!

The biggest change will be your approach to the drum part. You don't get to look cool in the ways you are used to as a rock drummer. But you are still cool, as long as you drop any hot dogging. Blues drumming is the polar opposite of hot dogging. It's more about complete, strict control of yourself and the drum part.

The rock drummer has MUCH more leeway than a blues drummer. A blues drummer...blues came from slavery. Slavery is very restrictive. So is blues drumming. We have to find a way to bloom in spite of all the restrictions. It takes a completely opposite approach from in your face rock drums where there is much more musical freedom.

As much as people may not want to accept this, blues sounds the best when the drummer Just. Keeps. The. Time. Keeping time allows the OTHER players to actually create the audible landscape that makes blues. Drums make rock music, they give it that emotional drive, but guitars make blues music. The guitars and the vocal ARE the emotional content in blues. NOT THE DRUMS. So in order for the emotional content of the vocal and the guitar to work best...the drums must create a stark, non emotional contrast to be effective. We play the straight guy.

That creates the sweet/salty contrast that makes blues work so well. We HAVE to give the guitar players what they need, which ain't much.. A good steady beat at the right tempo is All. We. Have. To. Do. This is MUCH harder than it sounds. The hard part is resisting the urge to fill and Just. Keep. Time. It's a mental thing, totally. If I am playing a song and a part comes up where I could fill...I have to keep strict control of myself and the time through the fill area. (if I want to build tension) Because just the thought of doing a fill...pulls me away from the groove for a second. Which is detrimental. I had to condition myself to STOP THINKING OF FILLS and push through that area. The hard part for me was LETTING GO of the notion that I had to carry the song. The others get to do that. We just relax and provide the time. We just relax and provide the time. We just relax and provide the time. It's a great exercise in humility and humbleness, that's what it really is. And boy does this mindset carry over successfully into almost every other genre. It carries over into actual life and relationships too.

Rock drummers can get away with big tom fills, blues drummers don't do the big fills generally speaking. Blues drumming sounds best...WITH NO FILLS (basically speaking) Effective blues drummers decorate the beat in subtle ways with nuance. Ghosties. Maybe a single well placed tom hit. Anything you can think of that supports and does not make the drummer stick out. This really can't be fully comprehended until the whole rock drummer mindset is completely gone. Not filling...OMG it's so powerful...That's why lots of hit songs have no fills. It's all about building tension and sometimes not releasing that tension...for songs on end. So when a release does happen, it's like this great, carefully built up orgasm lol.

I will say that long tones like press rolls and double stroke rolls can work really well where a rock drummer would insert a tom fill. But stay away from the alternating hand single stroke tom fills in blues. Just forget about them and think beat right through the fill area. Any "fills" are best kept OFF the toms. Any time you absolutely have to play a fill....play it on a closed hi hat or just the snare. Tom fills kill blues. They really do. One can't understand how good it sounds, ditching the fills, until one experiences the full effect of not releasing. It's a powerful tool. It's like dynamite.

You don't put rock drums in a blues song, and a rock style guitar in a blues song ruins it for me too IMO.

Blues (not blues rock) is very disciplined and restrictive to the drummer. But the drummer sounds so good in blues when they just do what's required and not try to impress anyone. It's backwards. Endings are where a drummer can cut loose with blues, if the song allows for the big ending. Nothing worse for me than seeing a drummer in a blues band who blows chops all over the song and wimps out on an ending where it's OK to show off just a little. That's completely backwards.

Blues drummers have to be more aware of their dynamics. Songs need to start normal and build. I treat the first solo exactly like a verse. I come down for it. Then I slowly build the intensity. This is how a blues drummer has to think. As the song goes on, the intensity builds, drops, starts over, builds and drops more, and finally builds to a climax. Since fills are pretty much 98% off the table, the drummer creates interest with their volume sensibilities, nuances, feel and time control. In a word, maturity. Big volume drops work so well...like the transition from the loud peak of a guitar lead, to the much softer verse, employing a snare drag on beat 1 of the verse..Blues drummers secret weapon. Big dynamic drops from solo to verse...They KILL. People really react to it. So volume manipulation, nuance, feel, maturity, and ghost notes are your new tom fills. Don't mourn the loss of fills. The effect that is gained by cutting the fills out FAR outweighs any stupid tom fill designed to placate the drummers need to "be creative" lol. There are drum figures in blues that I don't consider fills that we do get to play. A rising dynamic triplet buildup with unisons on the snare, bass drum and floor tom for instance. It's all in service to the others.

So the biggest change is the mindshift. You have to go from being a drum god to being a drum servant.

The payoff is in having the knowledge that being a drum servant in blues, makes you a drum god in blues. It's backwards.

My suggestion is to immerse yourself in just listening to blues. It takes a lot of exposure to cop the feel. It's both easier and harder than rock drums.
 
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danondrums

Well-known member
The biggest challenge will be going from the straight ahead feel of rock to shuffly/swingy where you need to imply the triplets all the way through.
If you like books, getting on Advanced Techniques by Jim Chapin will get you on that swingy path and will prepare you for some jazz down the road too.

It all depends on how authentic you want to get. If you want to go deep you have to learn Texas Shuffle, New Orleans, Chicago, etc., but you can take your default swing and shuffle and make it work on most blues tunes without necessarily going too deep. Learning all those shuffles is really hard when your left hand is particularly trained in backbeats/2+4. If you're right hand shuffling isn't strong, then that's another obstacle to over come, but in my mind going from rock to blues is all about converting your inherent straight feel and learning to imply triplets throughout.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I sat down and figured out that in the blues music I play, there are only 6 or 7 different basic rhythms.

1. The shuffle and all it's variations.
2. Straight money beat 4/4 and it's variations
3. Songs written in 2/4 which includes the train beats
4. Songs written in 3/4 (not as common)
5. Songs written in 12/8 (slow blues)
6. The Bo Diddley beat
7. The Rhumba. (This could be included in the 4/4 thing, but I thought it deserved it's own category)

Like Dan said, the shuffle could be the hardest feel to cop.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
This is hilarious.

You're all making this so much more complicated than it really is.

Step 1) Acquire Rayban Wayfarers
Step 2) Get up on stage, apply raybans to face.
Step 3) Play the blues.

That's it. Wear your sunglasses and just pretend you're playing rock.
 

GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
The blues is about "Feelings" (wo-oh-oh Feelings) so obviously about "feel" and well placed notes in that regard-as Larry mentioned you don't need a killer fill but you do need to have a killer "feel". And Rayban Wayfarers might get you in the mood-maybe think about a lost pet or an old girlfriend that broke your heart-or the time you got drunk and ran around on your ex-girlfriend-the reason she left you and. broke your heart. Then the child support from said interactions and you really got the blues..
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
- Get your left hand shuffled 8ths happening on snare, with consistent accents on 2 & 4.
- Also learn to reliably control the subdivision of each shuffle beat, starting with a true triplet feel but then moving the 2nd note earlier or later for a more relaxed or tighter sound.
These are the two things I had to work on most.
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
Step 1) Acquire Rayban Wayfarers
Step 2) Get up on stage, apply raybans to face.
Step 3) Play the blues.

That's it. Wear your sunglasses and just pretend you're playing rock.
In my town you need an old style hat and a black waistcoat.
And some shaped facial hair, typically huge sideburns or a goatie beard. The shaved head/long beard combo seems popular too.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
The blues is about "Feelings"
Agreed that blues is about feeling...Blues drumming is about contrast so that feeling can pop through.

I see it like this:

A red object on a red background doesn't pop.

But a red object on a black background pops.

The guitars are the red object, and the drums are the black background.
 

TMe

Senior Member
Thanks for all the advice. Helpful stuff.

I play with matched grip. Do you think it would be worthwhile to start working on traditional grip? Somehow it seems trad grip is better for quiet, swung playing, but I don't really know that, since I haven't spent much time with it.
 

johnwesley

Silver Member
OK so apologies in advance for the long post, but this IS my wheelhouse, and this is 100% my opinion!

The biggest change will be your approach to the drum part. You don't get to look cool in the ways you are used to as a rock drummer. But you are still cool, as long as you drop any hot dogging. Blues drumming is the polar opposite of hot dogging. It's more about complete, strict control of yourself and the drum part.

The rock drummer has MUCH more leeway than a blues drummer. A blues drummer...blues came from slavery. Slavery is very restrictive. So is blues drumming. We have to find a way to bloom in spite of all the restrictions. It takes a completely opposite approach from in your face rock drums where there is much more musical freedom.

As much as people may not want to accept this, blues sounds the best when the drummer Just. Keeps. The. Time. Keeping time allows the OTHER players to actually create the audible landscape that makes blues. Drums make rock music, they give it that emotional drive, but guitars make blues music. The guitars and the vocal ARE the emotional content in blues. NOT THE DRUMS. So in order for the emotional content of the vocal and the guitar to work best...the drums must create a stark, non emotional contrast to be effective. We play the straight guy.

That creates the sweet/salty contrast that makes blues work so well. We HAVE to give the guitar players what they need, which ain't much.. A good steady beat at the right tempo is All. We. Have. To. Do. This is MUCH harder than it sounds. The hard part is resisting the urge to fill and Just. Keep. Time. It's a mental thing, totally. If I am playing a song and a part comes up where I could fill...I have to keep strict control of myself and the time through the fill area. (if I want to build tension) Because just the thought of doing a fill...pulls me away from the groove for a second. Which is detrimental. I had to condition myself to STOP THINKING OF FILLS and push through that area. The hard part for me was LETTING GO of the notion that I had to carry the song. The others get to do that. We just relax and provide the time. We just relax and provide the time. We just relax and provide the time. It's a great exercise in humility and humbleness, that's what it really is. And boy does this mindset carry over successfully into almost every other genre. It carries over into actual life and relationships too.

Rock drummers can get away with big tom fills, blues drummers don't do the big fills generally speaking. Blues drumming sounds best...WITH NO FILLS (basically speaking) Effective blues drummers decorate the beat in subtle ways with nuance. Ghosties. Maybe a single well placed tom hit. Anything you can think of that supports and does not make the drummer stick out. This really can't be fully comprehended until the whole rock drummer mindset is completely gone. Not filling...OMG it's so powerful...That's why lots of hit songs have no fills. It's all about building tension and sometimes not releasing that tension...for songs on end. So when a release does happen, it's like this great, carefully built up orgasm lol.

I will say that long tones like press rolls and double stroke rolls can work really well where a rock drummer would insert a tom fill. But stay away from the alternating hand single stroke tom fills in blues. Just forget about them and think beat right through the fill area. Any "fills" are best kept OFF the toms. Any time you absolutely have to play a fill....play it on a closed hi hat or just the snare. Tom fills kill blues. They really do. One can't understand how good it sounds, ditching the fills, until one experiences the full effect of not releasing. It's a powerful tool. It's like dynamite.

You don't put rock drums in a blues song, and a rock style guitar in a blues song ruins it for me too IMO.

Blues (not blues rock) is very disciplined and restrictive to the drummer. But the drummer sounds so good in blues when they just do what's required and not try to impress anyone. It's backwards. Endings are where a drummer can cut loose with blues, if the song allows for the big ending. Nothing worse for me than seeing a drummer in a blues band who blows chops all over the song and wimps out on an ending where it's OK to show off just a little. That's completely backwards.

Blues drummers have to be more aware of their dynamics. Songs need to start normal and build. I treat the first solo exactly like a verse. I come down for it. Then I slowly build the intensity. This is how a blues drummer has to think. As the song goes on, the intensity builds, drops, starts over, builds and drops more, and finally builds to a climax. Since fills are pretty much 98% off the table, the drummer creates interest with their volume sensibilities, nuances, feel and time control. In a word, maturity. Big volume drops work so well...like the transition from the loud peak of a guitar lead, to the much softer verse, employing a snare drag on beat 1 of the verse..Blues drummers secret weapon. Big dynamic drops from solo to verse...They KILL. People really react to it. So volume manipulation, nuance, feel, maturity, and ghost notes are your new tom fills. Don't mourn the loss of fills. The effect that is gained by cutting the fills out FAR outweighs any stupid tom fill designed to placate the drummers need to "be creative" lol. There are drum figures in blues that I don't consider fills that we do get to play. A rising dynamic triplet buildup with unisons on the snare, bass drum and floor tom for instance. It's all in service to the others.

So the biggest change is the mindshift. You have to go from being a drum god to being a drum servant.

The payoff is in having the knowledge that being a drum servant in blues, makes you a drum god in blues. It's backwards.

My suggestion is to immerse yourself in just listening to blues. It takes a lot of exposure to cop the feel. It's both easier and harder than rock drums.
If you're not a carpenter by trade you should be. YOU NAILED IT.
 
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