Improvising music is a thrilling and precarious thing to do as a musician. I’ve linked a video of me improvising with Day VS Night. Generally the busier one of the other musicians gets, the quieter I get on drums, giving them room. Each time I feel like I’m ready for my band to take the exit, one of my musicians does something awesome to kick it up a notch and make it even better. This is part of the thrill of improvisation. I can tell you that I have some musical tropes that I rely on when I’m confused or feeling unimaginative about making something new. Check out our live performance here -
Some of the gimmicks I pull out include a salsa rhythm, a reliable James Brown era funky beat, an accelerating snare roll over my steady latin foot work, and some toms for extra oomph on the latin beats.
We started the show with this 2nd jam. I started my groove with an appropriated rhythm from Steve Gadd, called the Mozambique, but I play the voicey rhythm on the ride cymbal instead of a tom,, lending to it a jazzy tone.
Many times the best musical practice on the drums is to give your fellow musicians lots of space. A steady beat and some poignant dramatic flare are often enough for the rest of your guys succeed. In performing music every performer wins and fails as a group, so supporting your friends is a good practice. In the video below I play a steady four on the floor beat, that is to say quarter notes on the bass drum. In the chorus I pick it up a notch with a classic rock beat. Aspects of the drumming in the chorus remind me of CCR & Suzie Q with the upbeats on the bass drum, it serves as an alternative to the four on the floor downbeats. Towards the Coda, or end, I play a clave rhythm on the bass drum when Zafer begins his bass fill. During this phrase, I also throw some 16th note based paradiddles on my high hat and snare drum. At the Coda, I play mostly power rock style quater notes while Troy on Guitar and Zafer on Bass play a syncopated beat over my straight beat, adding tension, pulse and power.
There is an essential flaw in Death, Doom and modern Black Metal. Playing 32nd notes with your bass drums for a long steady time is awesome, but it doesn’t swing at all. It’s all “Rock” and no “Roll.” I am a firm believer that Rock & Roll does mean something, both as sex and a cannon of music. Rock and Roll are two sides, diametrically opposed, between a straight beat and a swinging beat. Rock is straight, Roll is swinging. Rock is Kiss, Roll is Thelonious Monk, Riders on the Storm is a good example of Rock and Roll. By the way if you listen to Riders on the Storm I swear Ray Manzereck is playing Horace Silver piano licks.
The problem for swinging in metal is that metal is played very fast, is very precise, and requires excellent tightness from all the musicians. That’s not a loose, free environment. Compounding this is the tradition of double bass drums as we’ve inherited it, let’s take Dave Lambardo as the first practioner I know to blow me away who sets this style. Playing a series of 16th notes or 32nd notes is very rocking but it’s also consistent – there is a great deal of equality between the bass drum sounds. This push for equal volume has gotten so severe I now read about many young drummers using triggers in order to digitize and simplify the process of playing smooth and evenly.
But playing smooth and evenly does not swing. For me, this has gone to far towards the Rock. Now, we all like to roll. When we were kids we rolled around, and when we were in college maybe we did some drug where we were rolling, or maybe you’re a fantastic snare drummer and can roll all day. Roll is the cool side of life. The ‘take it easy, man.’ Lying in a hammock = roll all day. Roll is cool, flexible, bounces, human made, grooving and sexy in an easy way VS the ostentatious sexiness of Rock.
The band Venom has an awesome song called Black Metal — which in my view is a rock & roll metal song — it’s punkish roots keep it loose and free. The chorus/hook says “we lay down our souls to the gods Rock & Roll.” There is some validity to this — in my view Rock is akin to Apollo and his precision and mastery. Think Yngvie Malmestein. Roll is Dionysus God of Passion, akin to an equally chop heavy John Coltrane. Apollo is knowledge while Dionysus is passion; your passion must fuel your desire for knowledge, not the inverse. For me, I want to make human sounding music that reeks of Nick.
Still I must engage in a genre of music I like very much, and bring my own turn to it, to revitalize it’s dormant swinging aspects. To this end I’ve begun playing a new kind of beat. I play my floor tom in sync with my bass drum in order to produce that chugging metal sound, but played between two different kinds of drums it takes on an even more cacophonous sound. It intrinsically sounds like an engine. My band NanoSMASH has two songs coming out soon that feature this beat, in Golden Spoke and Fast Cars.
The gist is that my right hand and left foot play every eighth note. My right foot/bass drum plays every beat inbetween those eighth notes. My left hand/snare is free to play when ever. I included a video below that shows you a good demonstration, both slow then fast.
Special shout out to Kevin Fitzgerald of 400 Blows who has his own style on this subject. He plays with his left hand on the hihat while I play with my left foot on the hat — thus freeing my left hand to do anything. I really like his drumming and this is a video of theirs here:
A graphic representation of playing on top of the beat
In order to master the drum set you must learn to do things in coordination and with a sense of simultaneous action. Often, you hit the bass drum at the exact same time as you hit the high hat, and other times you hit the snare drum at the exact same time you hit the high hat.
In order to master the back beat you must exceed those norms and find the perfect place to put your snare’s ‘Crack!’ Stanton Moore calls it “giving the full value to the back beat.” That is a reference to drawing terminology and I think it has some validity. In visual art, colors are an identity, but within that identity there are variations from light to dark, called the value. Shading the beat in either direction means moving it to the right or left in the context of time.
Playing behind the back beat may remind you of a flam. The differences are as follows:
A flam is preceded by a grace note. The grace note is quiet and played slightly ahead of the beat.
When playing behind the back beat, there is no pianissimo moment. The high hat is played right on the beat, but the snare drum is played slightly after the beat.
volume levels are determined by your tastes
and as always tastes are acquired through an acquaintanceship with tasteful things
Playing Behind the Back Beat, in a graph. Notice that the bass drum is played right on beats one and three but the snare drum alone is played slightly late.
I tried to draw this out visually. At the top of this post is a depiction of a straight back beat, and here next to this paragraph I have drawn out, with notes, how to play behind the back beat. Experiment and season to taste. This is an advanced Money Beat concept.
I’ve attached a video of me performing with Day VS Night. We’re playing our new song “Dramamine.” In it I utilize this technique. By playing behind the back beat I give a lot of feel, depth and power to this simple slow beat, and it helps the song chug along.