Stanton Moore: More Funky Variations

This time I want to talk about approaching the drums musically. Let’s start with the concept of soloing over a song, which was first introduced to me by the great Johnny Vidacovich. We would pick different standard tunes and trade choruses for hours. We would often begin by taking turns interpreting the melody and form, then trading choruses. All the while we’d try to outline and suggest the melody and form of the tune. This instantly puts you into a more musical frame of mind. Instead of just trying to play all the cool licks you’ve worked out, if you sing the song in your head, everything you play will have relevance to the song at hand.

Let’s consider the Sonny Rollins tune “St. Thomas.” It’s a fairly simple 16-bar tune. It’s important to listen to this. I like Sonny’s version on Saxophone Colossus with Max Roach on drums. When Max solos on this tune he outlines the form beautifully.

The melody looks like this:

DRUM! Notation Guide

Here’s a simple interpretation of the melody on the drums. Note the baion bass drum pattern that keeps the groove moving while the melody is played on top.

After you’re comfortable playing this interpretation you should try singing the melody and maybe even try playing it on piano or vibes. You should experiment with interpreting the melody in different ways. Experiment with getting different sounds out of the cymbals by choking them, buzzing on them, and playing the edges. Do the same with the drums by pushing one stick into the head to change the pitch while the other hand plays the drum, playing cross sticks, and playing on the rims or sides of the drums. You can also try listening to some of Sonny’s solo and pick out a couple phrases that catch your ear and try incorporating some of those phrases into your own solo.

It’s fun to get together with other drummers and play this way. I always learn a lot by playing and trading over tunes with my friends. Try playing other tunes in this manner. Before you know it, you’ll have enough material to perform your first solo drum set performance.