Switching from Rock to Blues: Advice?

brentcn

Platinum Member
At the school where I teach, there are adult students who are grouped into rock bands, and there is also an adult blues band. The blues band is more demanding on the drummer, by good amount. Rock bands require that you learn a song with a specific structure and part, but in the blues band, song forms are cyclical, and solos may vary in length and dynamic.

“Play fewer fills” or “less is more” — this is hollow advice. Rock fills tend to happen during transitional moments, or at the end of a musical phrase. In the blues, where song forms are cyclical, fills tend to sound appropriate at the end of the form. Fills that mimic the rhythms and accents played by other instruments can be used to add excitement and tension; you don’t often hear this sort of thing in rock, outside of jam bands. When you find a fill in a blues song, listen for the other instrument whose rhythm it’s copying/accenting/responding. Even the crazier Mitch Mitchell type drummers are usually going along with something that’s already there, not just playing more notes for the hell of it.

The shuffle feel is widely discussed of course. Most beginners tend to space the “and”s too far away from the downbeats. So work on squeezing those notes together. Often, a triplet spacing isn’t close enough.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: TMe

MrTheOne

Member
I’m in a touring blues/blues-rock act myself. Most of the posters are right and have added a lot.
What I can say is definitely relax in fills. Keep as deep a pocket and as reliable time as you can. I don’t think you have to be straight and non-emotional, leaving the emotional component to the guitars and vocals. You definitely shouldn’t play OVER them, but drummers in the blues can play with plenty feeling. The emotions you impart should come in the form of more dynamic awareness and keying in to the rest of the ensemble rather than through fills. A drummer, strictly speaking, isn’t really necessary in the blues. But if you are the drummer in a blues act, you can help to intensify the emotion that the vocals and guitar are delivering.
That’s my perspective anyway
And learn shuffles. 😁
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: TMe

brentcn

Platinum 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.
Either grip will work. Pull-out accents (which you’ll use when you play a Texas shuffle) take a while to get together in either grip, but they’re especially difficult to develop in traditional, if you haven’t already been trained in traditional.

If you want to get better at quiet, swung playing, then simply practice quiet, swung playing. Changing your grip will makes things more, not less, difficult.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
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.
I don't think the techniques in blues have any special relationship to slavery, most of the world has been in forced labor. Taj Majal does a similar analysis in a blues documentary, where he discusses the other places with slavery such as Cuba, Brazil most of the Caribbean...,

He concludes that the traditions were broken, by the mixing of the African tribes forming a pidgeon. I think there is more too it, you have cold for example, which African culture was ill equipped to deal with and would have had to adapt. Also, North America was a larger and wilder place, and there were many runaways that picked up Native American Creole influences early on.
 
  • Like
Reactions: TMe

brady

Platinum Member
I opened this thread to see if Larry had chimed in yet. Yep, he's got you covered.

I will add that traditional blues drumming is more about touch. If you're back there slamming away like a rock drummer, it won't sound right--or good--at all. Think of a lighter jazz touch. Blues shuffles are not rock shuffles; none of that thundering bass drum stuff.

You're more of a metronome, a drum machine here... Your job is to lay down a solid groove so everyone else can do THEIR thing. That's how YOU get noticed...by not standing out. Now go get your shuffle on!

Check out as much old blues as you can. Little Walter, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, the 3 Kings (BB, Albert, Freddie), Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush, etc.
 
  • Like
Reactions: TMe

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I don't think any drumming technique came from slavery either. It's more of the oppressed attitude that I think probably shaped things. Just an opinion.

And yea, the touch thing. Blues drummers are never the loudest instrument onstage. We don't "cut through". If anything we peek through here and there.

Generally speaking it sounds better to lay back than try hard in blues. Easy does it.

A favorite quote of mine...Great art is born out of great pain - Gomez Addams.
 
Last edited:

mrfingers

Senior Member
I think it’s funny that discussions about “technique” for country drumming doesn’t include the drummers’ need to have lost a love, ruined a truck or lost a dog and must wear a certain hat and boots; rock drummers to really appreciate rock should “party” every night and ruin hotel rooms and crash motorcycles; church drummers must read bibles and pray very day....why do blues drummers need to “channel ” blues before playing?
 

MrTheOne

Member
I think it’s funny that discussions about “technique” for country drumming doesn’t include the drummers’ need to have lost a love, ruined a truck or lost a dog and must wear a certain hat and boots; rock drummers to really appreciate rock should “party” every night and ruin hotel rooms and crash motorcycles; church drummers must read bibles and pray very day....why do blues drummers need to “channel ” blues before playing?
Rock drummers lose dogs pretty often. So I’ve heard anyway. 🤣
 
Last edited:

Rattlin' Bones

Gold Member
Shuffles shuffles shuffles. Keep it simple. Start intros with shuffle on ride, goto same shuffle pattern on hats, go back to shuffle on ride on solo breaks. Use simple triplets or even just a crushed roll for fills to those instrumental solos. Keep the 2+4 on snare consistent in time, but you can vary the loudness (like faster blues the gals might dance to you can up the volume on the 2+4 snare - that's what gets them on the dance floor). Stay in pocket. Watch the stops - rock doesn't have stops like blues does. Do all that and you'll get lots of jobs in blues bands. Blues drumming is all about staying in pocket, keeping band at tempo, and moving groove to instrument solos with simple fills. I always tell people when I'm playing blues that if no one notices me, I did a good job. In blues it ain't about the drummer like it can be sometimes in rock.
 

TMe

Senior Member
Shuffles shuffles shuffles. Keep it simple.
Blues shuffles are not rock shuffles...
When I first started working on Blues drumming, I was learning a bunch of very cool shuffle patterns, moving the shuffle between kick and snare. Now I'm thinking that if I played those while jamming with most Blues guys, they'd probably just sigh and roll their eyes. They're probably better suited to loud, aggressive Rock Blues, which isn't the way I want to go. I'm sure someone with a lot more finesse than me could make them work for more subdued Blues, but that's beyond my ability.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
not much to add here. Lots of great advice...and some..."interesting observations"...

the only thing that I can add that really helped me was learning how to listen to the space/sustained notes and phrases in the melodic/harmonic part of the songs. How to interpret the feel that the "lead in" to chord changes, note changes in solos and vocal/lyrical inflections effect the feel. I change my feel, subdivision, and sound/timbre interp to fit this.

But I feel like I was always doing this in my other drumming styles as well. I just feel like blues (and slower tempo jazz) allows for those minute changes to be felt and heard more...
 
  • Like
Reactions: TMe

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
I get much inspiration from listening to these kinds of tribal songs, where the primary expression is the swing song shuffle of the drum. Its almost like a shuffle click track. Notice how it straightens out at the very end for release. I think there are actually more than one drum here, but in tight synchrony.

 

ZackP

Junior Member
I tour and play full time in a blues band. My advice is to learn shuffle variations. Most rock drummers at blues jams think a shuffle is a shuffle. Learn to double shuffle first and foremost, with and without 2 and 4 accents. Then listen closely to the guitarist or whoever is outlining the shuffle rhythm or eighth note. You space the shuffle based on the rhythm guitarist or pianist.
 

TMe

Senior Member
Learn to double shuffle first and foremost, with and without 2 and 4 accents.
I'm puzzled about that. It seems there are two approaches. One is to use a Moeller type motion, so the leading note is is an upstroke and the accent is a down stroke. The other is to play the leading note as a light down stroke, and then really snap the stick into the head during the upstroke. Which would you suggest, or should I learn both?
 
Top