Tom Brechtlein: Keep Your Ears Open

Keep Your Ears Open

Today’s drummers have so much educational material to work with — books, videos, play-along cassettes — that it seems like you can find hands-on information about practically every drumming style and technique that exists. But sometimes I wonder if a player has the ability to reach into his or her bag of tricks on a moment’s notice, and pull out the right beat, lick, or fill for a particular style. You need to be able to take all the stuff you’ve learned off of videos, records and books and start using these things musically in a playing situation.

Let me give you an example. I remember the first gig I did with Robben Ford. We had already rehearsed what we were going to play on the gig. But during the gig Robben called out a tune that we hadn’t rehearsed. I asked Roscoe Beck, our bass player, what kind of groove this tune had. He turned to me and said, “It’s a double shuffle.” I had to think fast because Robben was about to count off the tune (this, folks, is called on-the-job training). During these few seconds I was thinking, “Well, I know what a shuffle is.” The question was, “What did he mean by ’double?’” I remembered this tune back in high school on a Thad Jones/Mel Lewis record. Lewis played a shuffle on the tune like you see in Ex. 1.

This had sort of a double beat in the left hand. The other thing I thought of in that moment was the first couple of beats I had learned out of a drum book when I was a kid in junior high (Ex. 2). The book was called Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer by Jim Chapin.

This is what was going through my mind in those few moments. Well, Robben counted off the tune and I played the pattern in Ex. 3. Roscoe and Robben turned around with big smiles on their faces. It was the right groove, which contributed greatly to my becoming a permanent member of the band.