15 Steps To Becoming A More Creative Drummer

5. Tap Into Abstractions

Fully engaging your brain by using abstractions can produce creative licks and grooves. Abstract thought may seem unrealistic to drummers who play mostly backbeats for a living. However, if you open yourself up to this possibility, you will be pleased by the result.

Put Yourself In A Box: At PASIC 2011, during a John Riley clinic, I volunteered to go up on stage in front of thousands of percussionists and receive what amounted to a 20-minute “private” lesson from John.

First, John “put me in a box,” having me improvise left-hand comping (while the other limbs played the typical jazz pattern) to a Sonny Rollin’s 12-bar blues number called “Tenor Madness.”

Here’s a four-measures sample of what I might have played that evening.

John again asked me to comp to “Tenor Madness,” now using my left hand and right foot.

Finally, John asking me to comp two snare notes followed by one bass drum hit.

It would seem that drumming under constraints would keep you from being creative, but the opposite is true. Sometimes, the more you limit the variables the more imaginative you end up being.

NOTE: To see the notation (and video) of each full 12-bar “Tenor Madness” comping example, visit my articles on OnlineDrummer.com.

Situations/Sounds Around You: Later in the clinic, John asked me play a short solo. He said, “Play the sound of an argument between a man and his wife or girlfriend.”

Here are four measures of the argument.

Emotions: This may seem farfetched, but the next time you play, try to tap into your emotions. For instance, if you’re jamming to an upbeat song, recall a happy moment in your life. If you’re playing a melancholy ballad, recall a traumatic time.

Colors: Sounds can be associated with specific colors. For instance, bright colors such as yellow and orange can be equated with the sound of cymbals. However, there isn’t a whole lot of agreement about this. Individuals often have their own way of relating colors to certain sounds.

Try this: While playing a groove, close your eyes and imagine a movie screen filled with a certain color. Did this effect your playing?

15 steps to creative drumming

6. Mix And Match

Rules and traditions are made to be broken. Combining grooves or licks across genres and morphing these elements into something new is an important tool in becoming a creative drummer.

Here are two grooves excerpted from my book Drum Aerobics that combine polar opposite genres: heavy metal with samba and jazz swing.

Try this: Play a groove from a different genre every day of the week. Once a week, morph two of these grooves together to form a hybrid. If you like the end result, write it down and keep a log for one year.

15 steps to creative drumming
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