15 Steps To Becoming A More Creative Drummer
3. Respond To Other MusiciansWhether performing live or in the studio, your ability to listen and react to other musicians is paramount. The following are some of the more common ways to interact with other players.
Following: Special moments occur in performing when – planned out or not – you find yourself playing hits with some or all of the band. A good example of this is the call-and-response portion in the chorus of “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown.
Contrasting: The main guitar/bass riff from Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline” utilizes a droning 3:2 polyrhythm. Eric Kretz plays this swampy paradiddle-based groove as a contrast.
Call And Response: To illustrate the concept of call and response, here’s a “jazzercise“ inspired by the great Peter Erskine. The bass drum calls and the snare responds. Of course, here you’re not communicating with other musicians, but talking to yourself. This kind of back-and-forth banter with yourself (or others) is a necessary part of being a creative drummer.
Imitating: This can be just as annoying as having someone repeat back every word you say. However, there are times when this can be effective. Paraphrasing (repeating back a lick in your own way) also works well.
Getting Out Of The Way: The following passage is from Eric Hernandez’ performance on Bruno Mars’ hit single “Locked Out In Heaven.” This Stewart Copelandesque hi-hat riff happens during a breakdown in the second verse. Getting out of the way involves playing with taste and subtlety, and Hernandez demonstrates this with style.
Leading: From time to time, you will find yourself in a musical environment where you take the rhythmic reins and others react to you.
4. Listen, Transcribe, Learn, Modify, And Go Back For MoreWhy reinvent the wheel? By following these instructions, you will be able use past performances by drumming icons to tap into your creativity.
Listen: One of my drum students is learning Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” (studio version) for his band. To best help him get started with the solo portion, I first listened to the piece as a whole, choosing a couple (out of many) gems.
Transcribe: The following two Bonham licks start at the 2:58 mark (around the point that he switches from hand to stick playing).
NOTE: Learning to read and write music is vital in the creative process, because it is the raw material required to transcribe. I strongly recommend The Art Of Transcribing Drum Set – Books 1 and 2 – by Allen Schechner and Alfred’s Beginning Workbook For Snare Drum by Nate Brown. Or (shameless plug alert) you could check out my latest book, Drumcraft, for an unintimidating approach to attain these reading/writing skills. Also, make sure that you invest in a transcribing program such as The Amazing Slow-Downer or mimiCopy.
Learn: I am a proponent of goal-oriented practicing. One of my recommendations is “One Note At A Time.” If you have a two drum sets set up (with two players), you could turn learning licks into a fun game called “Simon.” The “leader” plays one note of the lick on the drum set and the other player copies that note (including the sticking). The leader then plays the first note followed by the second note of the lick, and the other player mimics those two notes. This process goes on until the whole lick is learned.
Modify: Taking a lick and altering it is another great strategy. Here the previous triplet-based Bonham licks are transformed into sixteenth notes.
Go Back for More: Taking it one step further, it’s smart to go back and determine where John Bonham may have gotten his ideas for the “Moby Dick” solo.
NOTE: This information may prove very difficult to find. I would strongly recommend enlisting a drum teacher to help with this pursuit.
Bonham borrowed from the following three jazz drumming icons (among others):
1. Papa Jo Jones was known for playing with his hands as Bonham does during a good portion of the solo.
2. Max Roach often played runs up and down the kit such as the first example above.
3. Elvin Jones is the king of the rolling triplet. The second example above shows a lick that he often played. Notice how he alternates leading with his right hand and then leading with his left.
Why stop here? Go to YouTube and Drummerworld and find out more about these drummers. What else was Jo Jones known for (Hint: brush playing and hi-hat work)? With whom did Elvin and Max play?