“It’s just a repeated musical phrase – that’s the musical dictionary definition,” says Bozzio. “It becomes an accompaniment pattern that’s subordinate to the lead line or melody or rhythmic improvisation that goes against it.”
If you’re thinking ostinatos are just for überdrummers, you’re wrong. Most drum books use ostinatos to develop coordination. In a typical rock beat book you will usually start playing eighth-notes on the hi-hat played over 2 and 4 on the snare drum with a variety of bass drum patterns. The repeating hand pattern of eight notes over backbeats is the ostinato and the bass drum pattern becomes the melody. By varying the melody against the repeating hand pattern you can eventually play just about any foot pattern you like against that hand pattern. Learn a couple of fills and you’re a rock drummer.
Okay, it’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea. Note that the ostinato doesn’t have to be played with the hands. If you’re learning speed metal or samba grooves the foot pattern will become the ostinato and the snare pattern will be the melody. If you’re studying jazz you’ll play spang, spang-a-lang on the ride and close the hi-hat on 2 and 4, creating a right hand/left foot ostinato, leaving the snare and bass to play the melodic ideas. Let’s look at some specific ways you can incorporate ostinatos into your playing.
As Bozzio explained in his clinic, he uses these sixteenth-note rhythms at the beginning stages of developing his coordination over a new ostinato.
Not surprisingly, Bozzio also uses some polyrhythmic patterns that move over the bar line and are based on playing every third, fifth, or seventh sixteenth-note as well. For example, every third sixteenth-note would be measures H, C, and B, and every fifth sixteenth-note would be A, B, C, D, and P. He has another set of triplet rhythms that he uses as well, but for this article we’re going to focus on the sixteenth-note rhythms.
“The main thing I try to get across to people is the idea of really slowing down and saying what it is. On a basic level, the combinations for each note would be a right, a left, a together, or a rest. So, if you say a little pattern of that’s right, left, together, or something like that, then you’re telling yourself what it is you’re doing. Then start playing it as you’re saying it … and then you build it up to where you start to hear and feel the two different rhythms. Then you move to the next one. That process really works for me.
“Then, of course, when you have all rests, that’s the easy one. [laughs] I’ve never had any problem with that one or think anyone else does. I mean it’s really endless if you start combining two patterns – you exponentially increase the amount of variations. But I find that’s pretty much enough to get me going.”
At the clinic, Bozzio demonstrated one way to use these patterns with a funky ostinato. His left foot played quarter-notes and his right hand played the backbeat while his left hand played the hi-hat on every e, &, and ah, initially creating an interesting disco groove that quickly got very funky. He played each measure four times before moving to the next one.
One of Bozzio’s signature double bass fills involves playing constant sixteenths on his snare and placing accents on his China cymbals while doubling the notes on his right or left bass drum depending on which hand hits the cymbal.
“That whole concept comes from the accent section of Ted Reed’s book Syncopation. He talks about doing the same exact permutations with a consistent single-stroke sticking (RLRL), and adding the accents to that. He even suggests after you get the hang of this to do it with the right hand on a right cymbal and left hand on a left cymbal. So I just added the bass drum with that. Obviously, with double bass I could mimic what my hands are doing just adding the accent with my right hand and right foot, and my left hand with my left foot. Billy Cobham did a lot of that kind of stuff with his solo records and the Mahavishnu Orchestra stuff. A lot of his stuff was based on paradiddles, like maybe a right-hand paradiddle with a crash on the first note and the left hand crashing on the left paradiddle. Basically, I’m taking his idea and expanding upon that.”
More experienced drummers may not find that one too difficult. Here’s another double bass idea that’s more challenging. It’s based on playing constant sixteenths between the bass drums and the snare with a simple eighth-note cymbal pattern. This one uses “natural” footings, that is, the weaker counts are played on your non-dominant foot – the left foot for us righties. If you saw DRUM!’s Thomas Lang transcription of the song Loki (June 2010), you’ll notice he often approaches double bass playing this way. You can combine these to create backbeat-oriented grooves as seen in the bottom line.