DRUM!: You play some absolutely mind-blowing
polyrhythmic fills throughout the Methods And Mechanics DVD. Lots of
drummers are justifiably confused by polyrhythms and how to develop
those abilities. There are several polyrhythmic fills in Jerry
Goodman’s song “Tears Of Joy” (Fig. 4) that
immediately come to mind. For two fills you precisely play 24 or 30
notes over 13/8 evenly and smoothly. I’ve been wondering how you
do that. The only way I can figure is to have each fill completely
worked out and locked down so you can do them easily, then fit them into
the space allowed without thinking of the 13 pulses beneath it. Or do
you do it some other way? Are you thinking in one-bar chunks or somehow
dividing up that space to find places to anchor it?
T.S.: It basically comes just from doing it. For the 30-over-13 lick, I wasn’t thinking of it as 30 notes over 13. I was just feeling the beginning of the riff’s snare drum accents, of which I believe there are six of them, and over two bars that figure would land on the 1. I think I would have tripped myself up if I was trying to cram 30 notes into something. It’s something that just sort of happened playing a figure at that note rate. I was just hearing each snare drum hit over two bars, sort of a 6-over-26. [laughs] I was thinking about the rhythmic resolution point; that was the target. I think I just stumble upon a lick at that note rate with that phrase and thought “Oh, that worked, remember that one.” [laughs] And that was really it.
Here’s a very brief lesson on a common polyrhythmic feel. Start in the time signature of 3/4 and play sixteenth-note single strokes (R L R L) while counting 1 e & ah 2 e & ah 3 e & ah. Now accent every third note starting on 1 (1 ah & e). When you’re comfortable with this, play the bass drum on the quarter-notes (counts 1, 2, and 3). From this point, try to just play the accented notes over the bass drum pattern. This creates a 4:3 polyrhythm feel. From this point you can further subdivide the accents into four, five, or more notes, creating different divisions of notes over the quarter-notes and creating a variety of polyrhythms.
Steve Smith’s great fill in the Journey song “Separate Ways” is a well-known example of this idea in a pop context. First, learn this common linear triplet fill, starting on each quarter-note. Once you’re very comfortable with this try starting each triplet on counts 1 ah & e, just like we did a moment ago, then end it with a flam on count 4. (Fig. 6) Voilà, you’ve just learned one of the classic drum fills of all time.
DRUM!: Since you mentioned remembering it, do you
jot down ideas when you come across new things, record them, or just
recall them the next time you sit behind the kit?
T.S.: I used to be a lot better about recording my practice sessions than I have been of late. There were a couple of ideas that I played in preparation for the DVD so I pulled out the iPhone and thought, “Oh, this is a nice bit.” I rarely write anything out and occasionally will record something on my iPhone even though I have a whole studio there at my disposal. It’s just a lot easier to just turn around, hit the button the iPhone, rather than power everything up, because by that time I would have forgotten what I was playing. [laughs]”
DRUM!: If you had to recommend a couple of things
for any drummer to work on to improve their own playing, what would they
T.S.: Basically, the difference between something sounding amateur or professional is groove, dynamics, and phrasing. Sometimes it’s just basic evenness and the way the drums are hit. Obviously, it goes deeper than that but let’s just work within those confines.
Young drummers should record themselves and videotape themselves and see what’s going on. Look at how they’re playing and then look at how some of their favorite drummers are playing and hopefully they’re looking at some drummers with good technique. That’s what I did. I videotaped myself and then I’d watch Steve Smith and Vinnie Colaiuta play and go, “Why don’t I look like that?” Not that I wanted to copy everything because we’re different human beings and physically the sizes of arms and whatnot are different, but in just so far as their technique and fluidity – those are the things that I was interested in to try to take my technique to a high level. Like I said in the first DVD, I still see a lot of kids barbarically bashing on the hi-hat, like gorillas up top. It’s really top heavy and they really should be thinking from the bottom up. Balancing the bass drum and snare drum, getting a good sound between those two instruments, then working in the hi-hat, letting that be the icing on the cake. If you get a good sound out of the drums, then right there you’re on your way to sounding professional rather than amateur.
All the technique things and the slickness or the hipness of grooves comes later. If you hear just 1 and 3 on the kick drum, 2 and 4 on the snare drum, and eighth-notes on the hi-hat, you can tell a real player from a kid in the garage just from that. By recording yourself and playing very simple things gradually working up to more difficult grooves, figures and patterns, listen and make sure you’re going from idea to idea smoothly and that the time feels good. Make sure you’re not losing the pulse when you play a fill. Make sure your fills have a shape and a purpose and are propelling the music even if you’re just playing by yourself. That’s the difference between playing musically on a kit and just making noise. Those are two vastly different things.
It’s important to know song forms in the first place, because if you want to play with other musicians, you’re going to be playing music. So you have to know song forms whether it’s standards or basic rock song format. I do a little improv solo on Methods And Mechanics II where I talk about melodic song-form practicing where it’s more stretching out on the drums, coming up with rhythmic motifs and melody and playing in a song form that way, which is entirely different from playing a beat and trying to shape a piece of music in a basic groove sort of way. Ultimately, if you want to be drummer who plays music, that comes first. If you want to be a drummer who just plays drums, you’ve got a long row to hoe.