The Studio Drummer Chats!

What is the role of a drummer in 2018?

July 16, 2018 Season 1 Episode 3
The Studio Drummer Chats!
What is the role of a drummer in 2018?
Chapters
The Studio Drummer Chats!
What is the role of a drummer in 2018?
Jul 16, 2018 Season 1 Episode 3
Jonathan Cazenave
What the heck is that person doing behind that collection of drums and cymbals? Has the role of a drummer changed in recent years?
Show Notes Transcript
What the heck is that person doing behind that collection of drums and cymbals? Has the role of a drummer changed in recent years?
speaker 0:
00:00
Welcome to the studio drummer Chats. My name is Jonathan Kazen A VE. And this is a podcast about drumming, Yes, but also creativity, music, production, covering lots of things. If you're a creative person, I think you'll find some episodes in here that will be useful to you. And if you're a drummer or a music producer, you certainly will find some episodes that will be useful to you. Today is a drum centric subject, and I'm going to be discussing what is the role of a drummer. What are we doing back there? You know, so one of the first things that I ask my new students when they come in to take drum lessons a lot of times they are very young, and something has sparked their interest in the drums. And of course, I'm trying to figure out what that is, what they've seen, what they've heard. Maybe a parent has said, Oh, that would be a cool instrument. Or maybe they have a lot of energy. Maybe they're playing the pots and pans. Who knows, you know. But when the first questions that I ask most of my students is, imagine you're in a band and you're sitting here behind the drum set and there's a bass player over there and there's a guitar player over there and there's a singer over there and a keyboard player over there and you're sitting behind these drums and you're playing. What is it you're doing? What is the purpose of you being there like, what is your job? What is your role? What exactly are you doing? And I get a huge range of answers on that. And most commonly, I get keeping the beat. And I always tell my students that is a great answer. Keeping the beat. That's their simple way. You know, A lot of these students have never touched a drum set. They don't even have stick shit. And that's their simple way of saying, you know, being the time keeper, keeping the beat a lot of times they don't have any idea. A lot of times I've had some really cool, fun answers like, um, you know, entertaining the people. That's a cool one. I've had, ah, you know, making music. That's a good one. All kinds of fun answers that I get from my students, so but I wanted to talk about that a little bit today because, you know, as we look back a little bit throughout the history of drummers, I think that the role of a drummer is shifting and changing a little bit has been for many decades now. So roll of a drummer. So this is this podcast might be useful to those of you that are just starting to play. And I think they'll be a few things in here for those of you that have been playing for a long time, that Aaron deep that air their advanced, you know, the thief thing that I follow up with on that question when I'm when I'm teaching new students, one of things I try to do in my first lesson is give them a sense of what we're going to be doing in drum lessons I treated is kind of, ah, trial. And sometimes it is a trial to say, Okay, here's what we do. We do this, we do this, we do this and this is how you get good at playing the drums while all the time, of course, trying to keep it fun. But one of the things I'll sometimes demonstrators, I'll say OK, so imagine I'm playing a song here and this is This is a silly example of what a drummer would not want to do. So I'll sit down and I'll, I'll start, Ah, you know, beat at 90 beats a minute or something, just, you know, without a Metro gnome. And then all sudden, I'll start speeding up. I'll speed up to like 100 and 40 beats a minute, and I'll slow back down really, really fast down to 60 beats a minute. You know, just just doing something kind of silly, and I'll say This is what a drummer would not want to do. This is what a drummer would want to do, and then I'll give him a one. Do a on, I'll jump into a beat and I play a really steady groove. And I'll say, You know, you're exactly right what you said about keeping the beat because a drummer's job one. The drummer's jobs is to make sure that the rest of the band doesn't speed up or slow down. Of course, they've never thought of this concept. They don't have any idea, really, what I'm talking about yet, and so one thing I do from almost from day one, I'll turn the Metrodome one. I start working with Metro Gnomes in the first lesson, and, uh, I will, you know, put on a click And I'll say, You know, this this computer here has a perfect time and we're not perfect. We're human. And one of the things that makes what we do sound so cool is that we're not perfect and, you know, we'll talk about that more later, but just know for now that we're not we're not trying to be a computer, but we need some sort of standard. We need some kind of, you know, some something that tells us if we're speeding up or slowing down, and that's what these Metron arms do, you know, they tell us if we're speeding up or slowing down, so I'll put on the Metrodome and play along with the beat. Maybe I'll count out loud. Do hey, far because I'm already trying to teach them before we even discuss it, that the snare is gonna be on two and four and that the base is gonna be on one and three. So setting up the role of a drummer as a timekeeper, that is, that's kind of a good starting point, even though that role continues to kind of shift and change is, I'll talk about a little bit and it still is. I think the fundamental point of contact for astronomers were there to establish the time. So I look at the time keeping element of drumming for me. It's a foundational elements of a piece of music I look at. It is the foundation of a house, you know, the huge giant concrete slab that everything else goes on top of. That's kind of my visual image. Sometimes I convey that sometimes I see those words. Sometimes I don't I do talk about building from the ground up with, uh, with students. So foundation is is a good word for me in terms of how I visualize it. Support is another, another word from me, and that that can mean not only ah, being the timekeeper and being the thing that keeps everything steady and grounded. But support can also mean moving the theme music in a direction. So you're supporting the other musicians, your you're helping them achieve whatever it is they're trying to achieve in that moment, So that brings me to my next. My next point after timekeeper and that is the role of a drummer, in my opinion, is to propel the music forward. So this can mean well, here's a few tools that drummer's used to propel the music forward dynamics A classic thing that you'll hear if you're If you're, ah, listening to any sort of modern pop music or even all the way back to, Ah, classic rock and all kinds of music, you might hear more subdued, quieter verse section of a song, and then it might get a little bit louder on the course. This is something not only drummers use, but a lot of musicians use and Producers USA's Well on Mixer shoes You might. If you're paying close attention to modern mixes, you may notice that the chorus is a little bit louder, and this is something that we used to make the course of a song or the hook of a song more exciting and more in your face. So propelling the music forward dynamics is certainly a great tool. Uh, you know, we might do something different in the bridge. We might do something different on the altro, all these things. Another thing that I we'll list about propelling music forward is musical accentuation. So you know, sometimes we we do might might be very subtle things that we do the change of a bass drum pattern to not so subtle things, like a drum, fill our drum fill in the crash to accentuate what's going on musically. And ah might talk about this a little bit more. But basically, I think of that is Phil's and accents and things like that. The third thing that I would say that is an important element of a good drummer is the role of a rhythmic composer. So, you know, we commonly just say, I'm just writing, You know, I'm just making a drum part, you know, But really, we're rhythmic. Composers were creating small compositions throughout the song that hopefully fit the music. If you're playing something different on the chorus and you're on the verse, then you are composing rhythms. So this gets into a whole world of creativity and genre specific types of parts and things like that. You know, what you would do on a pop gig? Would being entirely different than what you would do on a jazz gig or effusion Gig, et cetera, are a world music gig but rhythmic composer. So this is the ability to be creative, to think of things that will propelled a song forward in the most effective way with your take on it. So this is something that is developed over time comes from listening to other drummers. It comes from playing a lot. It comes from honestly, just practicing. Writing parts in a couple of ways you can do that is you can pick a template. You can play along with songs that are already in existence. Or you can try writing your own songs and playing along with those you can take a click track and try playing along with that, and you can change parts. Imagine parts in your head as you're playing. It could be a bass part or a keyboard, part or guitar riff. These are always you can sit down and just practice composing rhythmic parts. The best way to do it is to play with songs, and for most people, that means playing with other musicians. If you don't play other instruments, if you don't play guitar a bass or if you don't produce or make your own music. So the third role is as a rhythmic composer. And remember, even in the context of Ah, very simple four on the floor pop song that one well placed crash or Phil or high Head open, or something very, very small and simple can make a huge difference even in a minimalist context like that. Okay, so now let's talk about some just general genre specific and gig specific differences when it comes to the role of a drummer. So if you are playing, let's go genre specific. First, if you're playing, say, jazz or blues Ah, and those air too fairly different categories, but sometimes they cross paths, and sometimes they're related, depending on the sub genre. But in those contexts, your probably going to be creating on the spot, you're probably not going to be playing with a click, and you're pretty good odds. You're going to be playing with other musicians, So let's let's expand on that for just a second. You know, this takes us into the world of classic rock, and this could be in a live situation or a studio situation in those genres and things like that. So let's say jazz, blues, classic rock those air areas where again? Probably not playing with a click, probably playing with other musicians. So in that role, you really are a being relied upon to keep steady time and to move the time forward. And, you know, sometimes that can mean that you have to adapt to what other members in the ban are doing. So sometimes, to keep a track from crashing and burning, you have to speed up or slow down. Ideally, we would like to be in 100% control of that. We would like Thio be playing with musicians that have good enough time that they understand that they need to follow you. Or that you can all move together, that you've you've got the chemistry and you've played together enough that you can move together when needed. In the best example that I have of that, that's kind of universally known would be like a John Bonham. So for those of you, if you're not familiar with Led Zeppelin, here's a Here's a fun experiment, you know, Go listen to a few Led Zeppelin tracks. It doesn't really matter which ones cause they're all great. All the drumming arms great. All the songs are great and download an app called live BPM. Live BPM will tell you the tempo that's happening, and it will draw a graph as if there any tempo changes as it speeds up slows down. And it's fascinating to look at, ah, Zeppelin in particular. You know John Bonham, because when you listen to their songs just casually, I mean, they are rock solid. The groove is just there. It sounds and feels so good. But when you start to study the tempos, you realize that they move a lot. The thing the songs speed up and slow down the thing that makes it sound and seem so seamless is a the command and control with which John Bonham has. He's got a natural feel for for that type of playing. He came from jazz influenced background, which also has a tendency to move around a pretty good bid in terms of tempo, and the musicians that he's playing with adapt beautifully. They move together like a well oiled jazz group. I don't know what that would look like if you hold up a jazz group. But you get my point, the best example of this and I know of in a live context. And you know, all their most of their records were the rhythm sections, at the very least, are recorded live. So if you pick any record, you're going to hear the most likely. Rhythm guitars and bass and drums were all recorded at the same time, and then maybe they went back and overdubbed more rhythm guitars or the lead. But if you want to hear something live, the BBC sessions are a great example of them, just killing it live and again. So that's one possibility that you may find yourself in if you play those genres of music. And again, you have a classic rock band. But the drummer's heavily influenced by jazz and blues, and so you have this sense of motion, and he is also very, very good at all these things that I've mentioned in terms of being the foundation to support, propelling the music forward via dynamics and accenting the music in terms of the films that he plays and creating rhythmic compositions. All these things Bonham was brilliant at, so that's a great There's lots of good examples, but I just want to keep it simple and give you that one to go check out. And if you want to see exactly how much those ah tempos move around, check out that app called Live BPM. Ah, and you can compare that toe Maybe, um, a ah, drum machine or something. That's Elektronik and you can you can see how much those move in comparison. So that's that's a fun experiment. So let's look at another sort of type of genre of music. So let's let's move into the pop world, anything that's considered pop in the U. S. Which I would put country under that umbrella as well. And, of course, even world music. That's you know, there are huge, huge, huge rock stars all over the planet that we've never heard of. But any culture that's that's in the pop genre. Most of this will apply, so you have a studio driven click. So in other words, when you're recording pop records, almost everybody is playing with a click. And when you're playing alive, everyone is playing with a click. So how does this change the role of a drummer? Well, if everyone's playing with a click, your sort of moving together with Nile with a click but usually sequenced parts, you're kind of moving together with the same pulse, so you're not necessarily relying on the drummer at that point because really the drummer, the timekeeper, is the click or the sequence of those sorts of things. So in that case, the band is moving together differently. Now everyone can listen to each other analysts into the click and the sequence parts at the same time, and that's what good musicians do in a live context. But it does change the dynamics and the feel of a song. If you're not relying 100% on the drummer on alternate would be if you have good musicians in a band, the drummers playing with the click and everyone's following the drummer. That's another possibility in that situation, but most concerts that you go to these days that Aaron any sort of popular genre popular world music, heavy metal. Everyone is listening to the same clique because they're flying in all kinds of parts and things that have to be exactly on cue. So a couple of drummers that I wanna throw out their old school guys that I think are phenomenal with a click and just can make the music sound really good even when they're playing with a click. My first drummer is Gary Husband and what I'd like you to do. Let's go check out his work with Level 42. Level 42 was a pop band in the eighties, and I believe into the nineties kind of new wave pop. And when you hear these tracks, you're going to think it's a drum machine because his time is so amazing. But yet when you hear it, it feels good and you're like, Wow doesn't really sound like a drum machine, But it kind of does. And that's the brilliance of Gary Husband in his amazing timekeeping ability. But then, after you've listened to him, play Pop and you've listened to him play like a well oiled machine, there's that there's that term again. A well oiled drum machine. Um, go check out his work with Allan Holdsworth. So I went through. I went through this kind of backwards. I saw Gary Husband live. I had heard Level 42 knew he played with Low before you two, but wasn't really in the forefront of my mind when I saw him play with Allan Holdsworth in the nineties, probably, and watching him play live. I was just amazed with his ability to play with the time and always know where the one waas but yet just play in and out of time over the bar line. An odd time signatures but yet still convey this ultimate sense of pulse. And that ultimate sense of pulse came from the fact, probably that he had done a lot of work playing with drum machines and metre gnomes. I assume he may be particularly gifted in this area. It sure sounds like it. I don't know exactly how much time he spent playing with drum machines, but or playing with Metro gnomes, but he certainly is able to adapt incredibly well to that. So husband is someone. I bring him up because he can play with metronomic precision but yet still make it feel good. But then he can also play an amazing amount of complex fusion music and still make that feel good and still make you aware of the pulse. This is not an easy thing to do. The next drummer I'd like to mention is Vinnie, Callie Yuta. Vinnie is well known by all of us that air drummers Ah and you know, got his start with Frank Zappa and later played with Sting and Joni Mitchell and just all kinds of he's, you know, a session drummer. He's played on a lot of a lot of tracks, a lot of hits that we've heard. This is another guy that can kind of do boat that kind of. But I'm really gonna really do both in terms of he can lay down a groove, make it feel really good. But then, when he starts to cut loose and play an effusion context or playing more complex context, the pulse is still really, really strong. The best example I know of this, uh, is his solo album. If you have not heard Vinny's solo album, check it out, it's Ah, believe it was the nineties. It was released, but you get to hear a wide gambit of him playing some groove oriented things, even and even into some really complex things. And of course, you can hear him groove really, really hard with Sting, and you can hear him shred like Crazy Jeff back or a number of other artists. I bring him up again because of his metronomic precision, but yet his ability to make the music feel good. So if our role is as a timekeeper and it's someone that can propel the music forward and as a rhythmic composer, how do we practice these things? And I've touched on these a little bit. I'm gonna say for timekeeper, just play with the Metrodome. They're all kind. I did a video recently on my YouTube channel about playing with AA Gap Click, and that's a really great and quick way to see if you're speeding up or slowing down. And I don't think that was been released yet, but it will be up soon. Ah, but just play with a metronome. That is the best way to just make sure you know where the one is for new students. I liketo have a counting Metrodome, so I will frequently use tempo or another one is called pro Metro gnome. There's Metro Timer. All three of those have versions that make a counting sound. One do 34 so that you absolutely know where the one is as you get better and better with a metro gnome, you could accent the one and you will know where the one is, and then eventually you'll know where the one is without the Metrodome or without the accent. But initially, you want to make sure that you're practicing in such a way that you're not slowing yourself down. And, in other words, that you're not. You think you know where the one is, but you don't. So I like to use counting Metro gnomes when you first start, just play with the Metrodome. Another great thing that I like to do in terms of working on timekeeping is play with drum machines going unquote. D. M. One is another app. D M one Stanford Drum Machine one. And this is a simple and great $5 app that simulates a bunch of classic drum machines. And there are lots of abs like this. What you're looking for is an app that has the ability for you to program a quick part easily, you know, four on the floor or something really, really easy, and then play along with that and listen to see if your bass drums match the bass drums of the computer eyes drum. See if your snares on top see if there's any flam tze That's another fun way to work on your time. In terms of the propelling music forward. Continue to work on dynamics, and when you are playing along with songs, pay close attention to what your favorite drummers do. Whatever genre of music you're into, pay close attention. You know one of the ways that we learn is by copying other drummers, and eventually you want to assimilate that and pull it through your filter so that it becomes your own thing so that you don't sound like other drummers that you're into. And that takes time. But initially the things that you like to listen to and the music that you're into, pay close attention and learn the parts of the drummers that you're into and notice when they do drum fills or when they don't do drum fills or if there's crashes or if there's not crashes or you know all those sorts of things. If it gets louder at the course, pay close attention to those and work on those things and try to copy to those things that's a great way to start out. It's by copying other drummers, and as soon as you feel like you're picking up those things, add your own flavor to it and in in terms of rhythmic composition, same thing. Pay close attention to the parts they're creating. Some drummers are, you know, Maura adapt at creating what's known in music as a motif or these air. You know, identifiable parts from from part depart, and some are more just meat and potatoes and against of it depends on the genre. But, you know, think about if you're playing with singer songwriter, what can I best do during this verse section? Toe lay down Good time to make the song feel good to stay out of the way of the vocal toe lock in with the bass player. What parts are going to make that happen? The best if you're playing Prague, you know, progressive metal. Okay, so in this part, the drummer and the guitar player and the bass player all playing in unison. So how can I move around the kit that's going to make that sound super smooth? You know, while I'm playing these 32nd notes that you know, 160 beats per minute. So those sorts of things you have to think about the genre of the music and what works for that song, remember, one of our primary functions is as a support person. And, you know, there are There are some great drummers out there that don't necessarily working to support context. And I always try to expose my students, too. Some great drummers out there that are just, you know, they're soloists, you know, Look at Terry Bosie. Oh, look at what he's do have been doing for the past, you know, a couple of decades. If you look it an anaconda lilies, you know what she's doing is, you know, the music that she's playing is primarily designed to accentuate and show off her drumming. So everything I'm saying here, as in any art, you know, it can go a lot of different direction. There's a huge range of what I'm saying, a huge range of what? What can what can happen in the context of art and in music thes are, yes, the foundational elements of being a drummer. But you know what? If you want to be a drum soloist and you like you want to be the star and you want to be out front. You can do that. You don't have to. You don't have to rely on other musicians. You may have to hire other musicians to play, or you may need to play those parts. Or you may need to find somebody to write music for you so that you can get out front and play. But that's the great thing about art, and music is it is a wide open field, you know, you're it's probably going to be a little more difficult to be in the pop world if you're going to be a drum soloist. But, um, but my point is that you can do anything you want on the drums, but these l elements of music in terms of knowing how to keep time and propelling a piece of music forward. Even if you're soloing, you've still got to propel your solo forward. And if you're soloing, you've got to be a good rhythmic composer. So these things are still there, so playing with the Metrodome can't emphasize that enough. It's something that we all continue to do and try to get better at and playing with drum machines. I'm big on that playing with computerized drum parts because you know that is what you will commonly be called to do. You know, these days, everyone's making a record on the laptop, and they're going to send you a track with drum tracks already on it and or click. And they're going to say, Can you copy this or make it better? And in that case, you need to be adapted doing that. So to summarize, drummers need to be able to keep steady time with him without a click. And remember, this can be in the studio or live drummers need to be able to flow with the music if called for. And this could mean tempo flow or the mood flowing with the mood of the song of the tone or dynamics. All these things are tools that we have at our disposal to make the song better, and then third, A good drummer has a creative element. You know, I I have in my notes here a good from our good drummers are creative songwriters. I have been in quotes so they create parts, even if subtle even if it's just a little even if you're just changing up the bass drum on the bridge. But we're creating a little parts to accentuate the song or the music. And we do this using all the tools mentioned in the 2nd 1 You know, tempo, mood, tone dynamics and by creating these drum parts, which are really rhythmic compositions, I hope this helps clarify in your mind what the role of a drummer is. And remember that with all these things and rules, if you will, that if you decide to take one sick in one Tom Tom out on stage and try to make a career out of playing with one stick and when Tom Tom because that's your vision, you can do that. These are sort of foundational elements that we've adhered to in the context of music and popular music. But remember that once you learn the rules, they're there to be broken. This is the studio drummer chats. I hope you've enjoyed this podcast. Please subscribe and I will talk to you on the next podcast.
×

Listen to this podcast on