10 Ways To Sound Like Bill Bruford

Considering all the discussion of his virtuosity on the instrument, it should be noted that for most of any given song Bruford is fairly keen to lay low and lock into a groove (even if it’s in 17/16 and polyrhythmic). This inclination of his to serve the song makes the busier moments only that much more exciting. Occasionally he finds his window and takes the opportunity to teach both his kit and you a lesson not soon to be forgotten. Examples 7a, 7b, and 7c represent a small collection of these often dazzling moments.

Just as Bruford’s career evolved through the years, so did the drums he played, until his endless craftiness and innovation joined forces in the late ’90s to produce the Bruford original: the symmetrical drum set. This configuration consists of a remote hi-hat placed due north of the snare with two toms and two cymbals equidistantly positioned on each side. The toms are placed flat with a gentle inward curve, similar to a set of timpani, and are purposefully arranged to avoid the descending pitch order of a typical setup. Bruford credits his design with a more comfortable playing experience as well as enhanced musical possibilities: “This makes for some nice combinations [and] interesting phrasing.” Ex. 8 contains excerpts from a 2005 Earthworks performance of “The Wooden Man Sings And The Stone Woman Dances” in Paderborn, Germany. The phrases demonstrate the possibilities of this unique kit.

Of the true holy grails of drumming, the ability to take extended metric excursions while maintaining a firm awareness of the downbeat can often prove the most elusive. At the risk of sounding a bit too admiring, it must be acknowledged that Bruford has simply mastered this concept. While every album in his catalog verifies this claim, the most compelling piece of evidence is a YouTube video of Bruford soloing over the King Crimson’s “Indiscipline” vamp at his 2006 drum clinic at Mohawk College. For the three-and-a-quarter minutes, he modulates around various pulses, manipulating the audience’s sense of downbeat with the skill of a magician and a look on his face like he’s trying to solve a riddle. Occasionally he returns to the downbeat, following it with a brief rest to remind them what planet they’re on. Then he’s off again, ad-libbing material that cannot be rationally analyzed in terms of meters, pulses, and polyrhythms. Ex. 9 illustrates a few of these moments and how they relate to the 4/4 “Indiscipline” rhythm that accompanies them. All are taken from the YouTube post titled “Bill Bruford — Indiscipline,” which must be seen to be believed.

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