Underplaying

MikeM

Platinum Member
We drummers like to yammer on and on about playing for the song, listening, staying out of the way of singers and soloists, not overplaying or showboating, etc… as we should.

I was remembering a quote I heard (that may have been uttered by Buddy Rich) that went: “Don’t play fills unless it will sound bad if you don’t.”

Recently, I got thinking about a couple big name arena-rock drummers who’s playing I don’t much care for (despite that their tempos are fine and the parts aren't necessarily wrong) and I think it’s because they refuse to add anything with personality to the music; as if they’re so afraid of overplaying or stealing any limelight, that they’ve done a complete 180 and stripped away anything interesting.

It seems to me like there are often ways (not always) to make drum parts come alive without detracting from the music, even if that music is really simple. One drummer that comes to mind for me is Stan Lynch (original Tom Petty drummer for those too young to have known, or too old to remember!). I’ve never heard anyone mumble anything resembling a mere suggestion that he’s ever overplayed anything, yet I can listen to him all day long. He just sounds like he’s having fun.

I like the laid-back Steve Gadds of the world as much as the next drummer - but he can, and will, deliver the goodies when the time is right.

I would argue that just as there are drummers who overplay and showboat, there are also drummers who hold back too much when the music is begging for more -- and that it's not uncommon.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
I know what you mean, Mike. I am sometimes guilty of not developing songs as much as I could. I work out a line for the tune, then it becomes The Line and I get locked into something that's not fully developed but I don't know how to change it without scaring the horses. So I'm going to have lessons in drum composition.

Of course, it depends on what's going on with th rest of the song. Famous underplayers like Meg and Phil are supporting players like Jack and Angus, who provide the feature. If the music has a natural star, then what's played by the drummer is what the star wants, and often what the star wants isn't what percussionist listeners want to hear.

The drum lines there aren't designed to be listened to in their own right but make sense in the context of the total sound. There's also something to be said for the hypnotic ostinato (eg. Venus in Furs).
 

Aeolian

Platinum Member
Was it Vinnie who said that each time you hit a drum, it's a musical event?

I'd like to think of it in terms of arrangement and musical contribution. One of my favorite drummers is Dave Garribaldi. He doesn't do huge concert tom rolls for two bars, but he does change up the beat and accents to liven up the song.

I don't really subscribe to the "less is more" philosophy. Sometimes less is just less. And sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much. It depends on the song.

Good arrangement is the spice that makes a solid song sound great. I remember in the late 60's reading John Fogarty saying that a good arrangement can make a mediocre band sound great.

I look at drum parts as part of the arrangement. Sometimes spacious, and sometimes busy. Sometimes in the same song. The arrangement that the drums are playing should contribute to the arc of the song. A good song is like writing a letter. You introduce yourself, get to the point of what you are trying to say, and then find a way to sign off. The drums can make a big contribution to that arc with dynamics, density, and drive.
 

Aeolian

Platinum Member
I personally dislike the way the term "chops" gets used. As if it's somehow divorced from any other aspect of musicality. e.g. He has a lot of chops but doesn't groove. Or, he has a lot of chops but his tone isn't so good.

In my mind, chops is the ability to play what needs to be played. When and how it needs to be played. Meaning that chops isn't necessarily divorced from time, groove or tone.

For years, I played traditional grip. But I discovered that the time it took me to wind up my left hand made it late some percentage of the time, whereas with match my hand and stick responded quicker. I could hit the drum more in line with when I wanted to. Improving my chops improved my groove.

I also think of chops as the ability to get a good sound out of the drum or cymbal. This harkens back to the horn players use of the term to mean how they actually formed the note on the instrument.

Somewhere along the line, the term got perverted to mean pure speed, or some other flash characteristic.
 

baz

Silver Member
...When we lost a guitar player, I thought that I would have to overplay to fill in for some of the missing notes.

I went the other way, and to my ears, underplaying helps to make our songs sound a little cleaner. I am not now and will never be a blazing chops monster, and it is not likely that I will ever land a situation that will require me to be one. Also, I am limited by my ability, so I use the less is more to compensate.

My underplaying super hero is Larry Atamaniuk(sp?), who plays with Allison Krauss and Union Station.

Barry
 

Drums&Beer

Senior Member
Vinnie's "musical event" quote says a lot about what it means to be a good drummer.

In my mind, regardless of the notes you play & the density or sparseness of your phrasing, what you play should give the music a certain buoyancy. I always hear the phrase "compliment the song/music" but it's much more than this. Drumming is a part of the music and not just some added component.

Good drummers think like anyone else in the band and try to develop a touch that is steeped in dynamics & blending in with the rest of the musicians in the band. For instance, an inappropriately loud drummer is no different from someone with their amp turned up too loud, although how a drummer controls their volume can be quite different from someone who can plug in and turn a knob up & down.

The drummers mentioned so far in this thread Gadd, Garabaldi, and Stan Lynch vary in their technical abilities but all have great dynamics and an outrageously developed sense of musicianship.

To me this is what is worth pursuing, rather than the whole "shall I play more or less" thing.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
The hard part for me is options and deciding which is most appropriate at any given time.

Raw instinct will usually take me to the obvious approach and seems to be dictated by not only aural pleasure but the physical pleasure of playing a part. If everyting sits nicely, no problem ... standard approach it is. It's the "pretty goods" and "almosts" that niggle ... the feeling that things could be better but the lines are good enough not to warrant throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes the answer is not to change the drum part but for someone else to either take up the baton or lay back / out.

I've always been indecisive and unwilling to commit (to anything haha) so composition can be tricky for me. Usually my approach is, when in doubt jam it out :)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
It's like the 3 little bears, too hard, too soft, just right. Balance usually works well, but not always. Sometimes you have to go a little more unbalanced depending on the song. But that's not the majority IMO, balance is. What you play ultimately defines who you are as a drummer, for better or worse.
 

con struct

Platinum Member
I tried to watch the vid and listen to the tune but the spinning record made me dizzy and I passed out.
I hope that I didn't suffer any permanent brain damage!
Hah, no it's not much of a video. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to look at the spinning record. Just listen to the music, the drumming. For me it's a great example of using restraint, just playing for the song and nothing else.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
@ Polly: It seems that there are many approaches to composing a drum part, with starting simple and adding bits of flair as desired.

Then there's hitting it from the other side with everything in your arsenal (including the kitchen sink) and taking out just the bits that work (Overplayers take note: take the things out that don't work!).

I can see the merits of both approaches and usually start somewhere in the middle, which is just whatever my first impulse is - sometimes straight and simple, sometimes not. Modify to taste.

There one song in our set that has kept me vexed for over a year. I can't decide over common time, or one or two versions of a dotted quarter note pattern on the snare ( ||: sbbsbbsbbsbbsbsb :||). I've tried <-- on the verses with the straight backbeat on the choruses; straight backbeats for 3 and that other thing for one during the verses, which sounds cool, but then I'm out of ammo by the time the chorus comes around... arghh! I really don't know what to do on that one yet.

But I just can't see playing it straight one way or the other all the way through like I know a lot of other drummers would. Both parts work equally well. I haven't even entertained playing fills yet (outside of cymbal crashes, anyway)!

Anyway, it's always using the starting simple method and never expanding on an idea to better fit the music that I'm questioning.

The genesis of this thought process for me wasn't Meg or Phil Rudd (I'm indifferent to Meg, and actively like Phil), but Joey Kramer. It occurred to me recently that he's not exactly the most entertaining drummer around (sonically or visually), even though musically speaking, his band affords him ample opportunity to be something other than the mere metronome that he's been. The guy is as exciting as a robot programmed by a guitar player! I'm not trying to say he should be Neil Peart or Bill Bruford, but somewhere in between a Clem Burke and a Dave Grohl would've made them a more exiting band, IMO, and without taking anything away from Tyler/Perry.

@Aeolian: 100% concur on both points; sometimes less is just less. I haven't used the word "chops" in years. I don't like the way it only seems to encompass one narrow aspect of drumming: technical facility.

@Drums&Beer: Agreed. Especially the "outrageously developed sense of musicianship" bit! The "should I play less or more" question almost shouldn't even be asked. The music should at least point you in the right direction.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Mike, I hear you on the Joey Kramer thing, agree. The other side of the coin is...He's in a friggin A list band. One in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. Can't argue w/ sucess. They found their formula, like AC/DC. But I hear ya...

Aw cmon Joey!
 

sticksnstonesrus

Silver Member
I am a big proponent of artists/drummers/bands that can (and do) bring something above and beyond what I have heard on their recorded song tracks. I love to hear variation and the different compilations of the "show". My humble opinion is that I paid for a show, if I wanted to hear the album songs as written, I'd have stayed home and save my 50 bucks. Same goes for playing shows...our sets are carefully thought of and developed for intro's, outro's, transitions. I am positive I'm not the innovator of this theology and believe that applies greatly across the industry. I'm a bit put off by albums that I can't get the full flavor for because there is something overly distracting...not just drums...whether it be overplaying or just "something way to the right".

Personally, I try to keep album stuff a little more "backed off". I spent a lot of years guilty of overplaying, at all times. Seems now that I'm probably on the side of underplaying, but I'd rather the opportunity recognize the pockets, to add more into it, and continue to find the right balance, than be completely guilty of overplaying and not even recognize that there is too much interference altogether.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I'm not an Aerosmith fan at all, but the way Joey will insert a 16th note shuffle pattern over a song that is otherwise straight 8ths is always interesting.

Given the heavy blues base of the band, I'm not sure how much more he could do over the material he's given to work. I just can't figure out how the band that could write "Dream On" could be reduced to such lame drivel like "Love in Elevator" and "Dude looks like a Lady". But geez, they sell a lot of records.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
There one song in our set that has kept me vexed for over a year. I can't decide over common time, or one or two versions of a dotted quarter note pattern on the snare ( ||: sbbsbbsbbsbbsbsb :||). I've tried <-- on the verses with the straight backbeat on the choruses; straight backbeats for 3 and that other thing for one during the verses, which sounds cool, but then I'm out of ammo by the time the chorus comes around... arghh! I really don't know what to do on that one yet.

But I just can't see playing it straight one way or the other all the way through like I know a lot of other drummers would. Both parts work equally well. I haven't even entertained playing fills yet (outside of cymbal crashes, anyway)!
Does the song build as it goes? Maybe play it straight and use the more ornate fill in a bridge or a later verse. Better to have too much fuel and a decision to make than not enough fuel ...

Larry, Meg W and Moe Tucker are the simplest pro drummers I've heard. few drummers embrace that level of minimalism because if you're good enough to maintain solid time and dynamics, then you will get bored playing the most rudimentary ostinatos with never a fill ... song after song, night after night.

Not knocking minimalism and the space it creates BTW. It worked superbly for the WS and Velvets.
 
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