Which drumset voice keeps the time?

greenstar323

Senior Member
I've always thought my cymbal ostinato hand (i.e. right hand) keeps the time. When I practice I'm conscientious of how the bass, snare, and left foot fit into the cymbal pattern.

I've started working on Gary Chaffee's book and the fatback exercies and he says in the book:

"It is important to understand that the cymbal rhythm in and of itself does not totally define the time. This is more a result of the figures that are played in the other voices (snare, bass, hi hat)."

It seems he is saying that the bass drum and snare keep the time and the cymbal ostinatos fit into that. I haven't gotten very far into the fatback exercises, but I'm wondering (hoping even) if this will somehow transform my playing. I think I will try to really focus on each bass/snare combo then try to understand how the cymbal fits into that.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
IMO, no one voice in particular. If anything the time feel is the total sum of everything. It's dependent on the style of music. Jazz is more cymbal led, and rock is more bass and snare led, if I had to over-generalize. The drummer interprets the time, and it is expressed on different parts of the kit.

It all comes down to how deeply the drummer feels the time, and their ability to translate that to the set. As with everything music, it's just not that black and white.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
This will probably sound all hippy-dippy, but the time is in you - the kit elements are all dumb and only do what you tell them to do.
 

Dignan

Silver Member
To the "non drummer's" ears, I think the only thing they hear sometimes is the snare.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
This might not help you, but I thought I’d share this.

For me it's the bass drum and snare that keeps me in time. Although originally I was taught to use a heel up rocking foot technique on the hi hat to keep time.
Which is a very old school, big band, jazz way of playing.

I use my snare drum to provide a strong back beat when playing blues and rock. It keeps the band together. Recently I was playing at a rock/blues jam and they had the bass drum miked and running through the PA system. It was pretty loud. I asked the band why. They said that they need to hear a loud bass drum because that is the foundation of the beat.

A few weeks ago I was playing at a jazz jam. I was keeping time with the hi hat and ride cymbal; just like I was taught. I was listening to the singer and I lost my focus and began playing very lightly on the bass drum on every quarter note. After the song the bass player told me to ease up on the bass drum, he said I was playing too much bass drum.


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Boomka

Platinum Member
I've always thought my cymbal ostinato hand (i.e. right hand) keeps the time. When I practice I'm conscientious of how the bass, snare, and left foot fit into the cymbal pattern.

I've started working on Gary Chaffee's book and the fatback exercies and he says in the book:

"It is important to understand that the cymbal rhythm in and of itself does not totally define the time. This is more a result of the figures that are played in the other voices (snare, bass, hi hat)."

It seems he is saying that the bass drum and snare keep the time and the cymbal ostinatos fit into that. I haven't gotten very far into the fatback exercises, but I'm wondering (hoping even) if this will somehow transform my playing. I think I will try to really focus on each bass/snare combo then try to understand how the cymbal fits into that.
Chaffee is talking about pop/backbeat based music, rather than jazz or swing, so bear that in mind.

Think of it this way: if you took away the ostinato from most pop grooves a certain element of the feel would be lost, but the BD playing on 1 and the SD on 2&4 in nearly every bar (or every two bars in the case of the BD) will continue to tell everyone where the quarter note pulse is. The feeling of syncopation in the BD is often created by playing *around* beat 3 rather than directly on it, but we usually come back to a resting point on beat 1.

The cymbal ostinato often indicates a flow of subdivisions that give a groove its characteristic feel, but it's the back and forth of the BD and SD that outline the quarter note pulse for the most part.

To illustrate this for students, I'll sometimes play a groove consisting of 1&3 on the BD with a backbeat on the snare and then run through a series of cymbal ostinatos incl. 1/4s, 1/8ths (straight and slightly swung), triplets, 1/16ths, quintuplets, shuffles, half-time shuffles, up-beat 1/8s, combinations of 1/8ths and 1/16ths, and so on. The TIME is still clearly defined by the BD and SD, but the ostinato provides a secondary level of rhythmic information that defines the groove/feel of the tune.
 
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greenstar323

Senior Member
Boomka - Yea I assumed he was talking about rock music. But even then I always felt like my right hand was what other band members listen to for the time, rather than the bass or snare.

"The cymbal ostinato often indicates a flow of subdivisions that give a groove its characteristic feel, but it's the back and forth of the BD and SD that outline the quarter note pulse for the most part. "

I would have to agree with this statement actually now that I'm going through the exercises. It seems the snare on 2 & 4 kind of drives the beat with the bass drum and the cymbal ostinato adds more of a flavor rather than keeping the time.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
Boomka - Yea I assumed he was talking about rock music. But even then I always felt like my right hand was what other band members listen to for the time, rather than the bass or snare.

"The cymbal ostinato often indicates a flow of subdivisions that give a groove its characteristic feel, but it's the back and forth of the BD and SD that outline the quarter note pulse for the most part. "

I would have to agree with this statement actually now that I'm going through the exercises. It seems the snare on 2 & 4 kind of drives the beat with the bass drum and the cymbal ostinato adds more of a flavor rather than keeping the time.
They may be listening to that, but put yourself in the position of a dancer or average listener. It's the interplay of SD and BD that lays down the time. I certainly don't dance to the hihat part very often. Imagine it another way: if someone asked you to sing the beat for a particular song, would you sing the hihat part?
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Context is everything when replying to the question.

In terms of listeners - that is, not one of the people generating part of the music - I suspect it's primarily the kick, with the snare a close second. For dancers, the kick & snare act as a combined pulse to keep them in time.

For fellow band members, I've found that each has a different piece of the kit or combination of pieces that they want to hear to follow the time. Typically the focus is on the hi-hat or cymbal, because it normally has more subdivisions and is more likely to keep a steadier and more listenable pulse to follow. But it's a good balance of kick, snare & hat that makes for followable time for most other players. I've seen a few players & especially singers that are happy with just the kick or snare, which I really don't understand. :)

For myself, I try to keep a pulse with my hi-hat heel, and the rest of me just follows that. It's the one piece/limb that tends to be straight ahead most of the time, and therefore easiest for my brain to have it be my (fairly) auto-pilot metronome. When I'm playing with a click, I can easily let go of the hat pulse and let the audio click/track take over.

Bermuda
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
Context is everything when replying to the question.

In terms of listeners - that is, not one of the people generating part of the music - I suspect it's primarily the kick, with the snare a close second. For dancers, the kick & snare act as a combined pulse to keep them in time.

For fellow band members, I've found that each has a different piece of the kit or combination of pieces that they want to hear to follow the time. Typically the focus is on the hi-hat or cymbal, because it normally has more subdivisions and is more likely to keep a steadier and more listenable pulse to follow. But it's a good balance of kick, snare & hat that makes for followable time for most other players. I've seen a few players & especially singers that are happy with just the kick or snare, which I really don't understand. :)

For myself, I try to keep a pulse with my hi-hat heel, and the rest of me just follows that. It's the one piece/limb that tends to be straight ahead most of the time, and therefore easiest for my brain to have it be my (fairly) auto-pilot metronome. When I'm playing with a click, I can easily let go of the hat pulse and let the audio click/track take over.

Bermuda
My experience is the same. I recently had a bass player ask me to keep my hihat heel going because that's where he was going to get the time. But, having asked around about headphone/monitor mixes, it's just as you say.

The only thing I will say is that if you listen to a lot of old recordings from the 40s, 50s and 60s, it can be quite difficult to pick out the bass drum compared to modern recordings. And yet those songs remain some of the most danceable things you can put on the stereo at parties. I've always keyed in on my SD and made everything I play kind of hang off that, presuming that was where most people derived the time.

Perhaps it's too optimistic of me to think that people are actually locked in on 2 and 4. LOL
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
I've always thought my cymbal ostinato hand (i.e. right hand) keeps the time. When I practice I'm conscientious of how the bass, snare, and left foot fit into the cymbal pattern.

I've started working on Gary Chaffee's book and the fatback exercies and he says in the book:

"It is important to understand that the cymbal rhythm in and of itself does not totally define the time. This is more a result of the figures that are played in the other voices (snare, bass, hi hat)."

It seems he is saying that the bass drum and snare keep the time and the cymbal ostinatos fit into that. I haven't gotten very far into the fatback exercises, but I'm wondering (hoping even) if this will somehow transform my playing. I think I will try to really focus on each bass/snare combo then try to understand how the cymbal fits into that.
I don't know if it's helpful to think of it the way you've phrased the question. Everything you play on all parts of the instrument defines the time-- I would be thinking about the combined rhythm of all the parts. I think Chaffee's statement is just recommending against thinking of it as time-keeping voice plus accompaniment.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
My earlier reply was based on the idea of the time/pulse residing within the drummer, as opposed to being assigned to any one limb.

A friend of mine, who's an exceptionally gifted player of time, says that he pins his time to his right hand ride pattern, so I wouldn't say that the idea doesn't work, but it can be limiting. I would also say that he's probably not the best reporter on how he gets his great feel (you're just gonna have to trust me on this one, haha).

If you really are pinning all your time on just one limb, then any elasticity in its time feel propagates out from there, which can cause major problems.

Working through various pattern and combinations out of a book is great for establishing independence and control, but applying time feel is more musical in nature. For example, you might want to let your 2 & 4 backbeats hang back a bit, but in order to not drag, you'll have to make up that time somewhere else. If you've pinned your time to the snare in that case, then your bass drum will shift accordingly and sound off. And if you're pinning your kick and snare to your ride hand, and pinning your ride hand to "the grid" your playing might start to sound more stiff than what you were intending.

That's why if you have a developed internal time sense, your limbs will be freed up to put some spin on the ball, so to speak, which is where the greats get their mojo, IMO.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
The only thing I will say is that if you listen to a lot of old recordings from the 40s, 50s and 60s, it can be quite difficult to pick out the bass drum compared to modern recordings. And yet those songs remain some of the most danceable things you can put on the stereo at parties.
Dancing was different back then, usually more fluid in nature, and guided more by the overall rhythm of the music, not just the drums. Although, Gene Krupa was famous for doing drum solos that people could dance to.

More recent dance music delivers more staccato rhythms, deeper bass, and more volume. I would say that bass/synth lines contribute greatly to those rhythms, but the question was about drums, so I left that out.

Yeah, that's what I did.

Bermuda
 

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
Dancing was different back then, usually more fluid in nature, and guided more by the overall rhythm of the music, not just the drums. Although, Gene Krupa was famous for doing drum solos that people could dance to.

More recent dance music delivers more staccato rhythms, deeper bass, and more volume. I would say that bass/synth lines contribute greatly to those rhythms, but the question was about drums, so I left that out.

Yeah, that's what I did.

Bermuda
Recording technology didn't pick up much under about 120 Hz then anyway.
 

cornelius

Silver Member
It seems he is saying that the bass drum and snare keep the time and the cymbal ostinatos fit into that. I haven't gotten very far into the fatback exercises, but I'm wondering (hoping even) if this will somehow transform my playing. I think I will try to really focus on each bass/snare combo then try to understand how the cymbal fits into that.
Your question will be answered, the more you delve into the Fatback exercise... :)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I found that during the course of the song, the dominant time keeping piece can change. Or not. But it's not set in stone. It's a variable, dynamic, living thing. You just can't pin down music.
 
The only thing I will say is that if you listen to a lot of old recordings from the 40s, 50s and 60s, it can be quite difficult to pick out the bass drum compared to modern recordings.
This is one of the reasons why the usage of the bass drum, especially in jazz, is still a bit of a mystery to me. It's not only hard to hear, but played lightly...
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
This is one of the reasons why the usage of the bass drum, especially in jazz, is still a bit of a mystery to me. It's not only hard to hear, but played lightly...
In classic jazz it's pretty simple. Start out by playing a heavy hi hat and ride cymbal pattern. That's all nothing more. Keep this going for the whole song.
Then lightly hit the snare drum once in a while for ghost notes. Then hit the bass drum "softly" on occasion for some accents.

Jazz musicians will follow the hi hat and ride cymbal. Hearing the snare drum and bass drum pisses them off. Unless you are using brushes.


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jackie k

Senior Member
Years ago it was 4 on the floor. That's quarter notes on the bass drum. Then it went to a solid 2&4 on the hi hat, which is what you still should do and if playing a straight forward simple beat 2&4 on snare. Then get creative and it's anything after that.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
In classic jazz it's pretty simple. Start out by playing a heavy hi hat and ride cymbal pattern. That's all nothing more. Keep this going for the whole song.
Then lightly hit the snare drum once in a while for ghost notes. Then hit the bass drum "softly" on occasion for some accents.

Jazz musicians will follow the hi hat and ride cymbal. Hearing the snare drum and bass drum pisses them off. Unless you are using brushes.


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