Monday, July 25, 2011

Drummers Only pt 5: Play the Spaces

I realize the further I get into these articles, the more Zen-like this drumming thing becomes.

This is about when to put in the tasty fills and the stuff beyond just keeping time. In essence, play that stuff in the spaces left by vocalists and other musicians.

I said in pt 3 that playing music is a conversation with instruments. So in that light, don't interrupt when someone else is talking.

Here's one example of how this works. In most music we're playing 8 bar phrases. At the end of most 8 bar (or measure) phrases, drummers often add a little fill, a little something that says, "That's the end of that phrase, let's go on to another."

(NOTE: whether you read music or not, you have to know the phrasing of the song. At the end of each phrase we cue the band that we're done with this and moving onto something else. We don't play fills for the sake of fills. It's our way of saying, "Here comes the bridge." Or, "We're going to get soft/loud now." A fill is a way we conduct the band from the drum chair.)

If I'm playing with vocalists, I'll often wait and listen to make sure they've left me a space to put that fill in. Or I may even put a tasty snare or tom variation in the middle of a phrase IF there's a vocal space there. Again, I don't just plop a fill in at the end of every phrase--I want to do it in the space at the end of a phrase if I can.

I try to think about a song as a give and take between instruments and vocals. Sure, there are times when we're playing the same rhythm at the same time. But when a vocalist or lead instrument is shining, I try to support him/her and try not to "step on" what they are saying.

I think there is a lot we drummers can do by paying close attention to the vocal lines. I'll sometimes try to stab accents with them to give the song more punch and make them feel shored up and supported. Likewise, when they leave a space, I'll try to use that opportunity to add something interesting and fitting to the song.

At Oakbrook Church, Jlee often does rhythmic add libs at the end of phrases. Whenever he's leading worship, I'm really listening to see if there's something he's doing that I can mimic on the kit. If I can hit his add libs, the band sounds more like we've been playing that song forever instead of just Thursday night and Sun. morning.

This is about listening to phrases and listening to how lead instruments are playing through them. Support them rhythmically when you can, and wait for the opportunities to play the spaces they leave open.

Great drummers play the spaces. (Told you it was Zen-like.)

Coming up: Pt 6 Pull the Notes Out; Don't Beat them In (last one?...)