Umphrey’s McGee Rhythm Section Workshop

On Umphrey’s McGee’s latest release, Death By Stereo, the rhythmic duo of drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag weave an intricate, rock-solid foundation for some of the band’s most inventive and exciting material to date. We asked the guys to select a few of their favorite drum parts from the album, highlighting what they thought would prove the most interesting and fun for other drummers to learn.You can use the transcriptions here to learn each drummer’s part individually, and play along in real time with the exlcusive videos in which Myers and Farag demonstrate each one. You’ll also see exaclty how these parts are supposed to work in context when played together. And don’t forget to check out the bonus jam session.

“Search 4”

Kris Myers: In my approach to “Search 4,” I wanted to create a pattern that put more emphasis on the rhythmic figures and accents in the song rather than play a straight-ahead beat. The song has a hard-rocking kind of feel with a lot of progressive tendencies, à la Tool and King Crimson. I felt that giving more weight to the accents would create a powerful, uniform sound with the full band … approaching it almost like a big band drummer. With that being said, I played some broken time patterns in the intro, accentuating some heavy guitar riffs, all the while playing the backbeat (2 and 4) on the snare drum. In the first four measures of the verse, I lay out and percussion sets the rhythmic pulse with an Afro Cubanesque conga pattern. Then, after four measures, as inspired by the congas, I mimic the unison guitar/bass riff with my toms, playing matching low to high drums to the low and high notes in the phrase, all the while playing an understated, improvised hi-hat pattern to connect the rhythmic hits into a unique, progressive pattern.

Throughout most of this song, I wanted to put a lot of emphasis on toms rather than a consistent kick/snare/hat groove. I just felt that the song was calling for something different, and so I weighed in on some various tom grooves and some broken-up double bass patterns, all the while still playing 2 and 4 on the snare. During Ryan [Stasik]’s bass solo, I broke down the dynamic to a soft, jazzier kind of feel. Very slowly and subtly I built the dynamic by sticking to more of a consistent kick/snare/hat pattern, but built it right with the solo. At the end of Ryan’s solo, we seemed to have found a similar syncopated phrase, and Jake [Cinninger, guitarist] picked up on it, and began his solo with the same phrase, letting the overall energy and momentum elevate to a full-on rock-fusion solo. Jake plays one of the most fantastic solos I’ve ever heard him play, and it ends with this spirit. This track is indeed one of my favorites and I really enjoyed working on it.

Andy Farag: The conga breakdown in “Search 4” is played differently each time. It’s more about feel than an actual written part. I jump in and out of the section playing a broken rhythm of flams as well as a more syncopated version of the tumbao. I came up with this part after initially hearing this section of the song, and after playing around with different ideas I felt it sounded best when I accented the rhythm of the melody, trying to be tasteful and not overplaying.

DRUM! Notation Guide

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“The Floor”

Kris Myers: “The Floor” is a uniquely arranged song that seemed to call for something unique as well, so I constructed an approach based off a jazz pattern that I acquired through my past studies in grad school. I took a jazz-comping pattern that alternates between the bass drum, snare, and hi-hat with foot, all together working as three voices comping underneath a swing pattern on the ride cymbal. I then took out the swing and made it a straight-eighth feel, and found this pattern worked perfectly for “The Floor.” It resembles the alternative rock feel of that bossa-like pattern of British rock (like Coldplay’s groove in “Clocks”), but is different enough for me to call it my own assimilation.

There are quite a few various sections in this song, so I simply determined my ideas from the dynamics and feel of the guitars, piano, and melody. There is a breakdown before the so-called chorus where I am playing only toms, with a lot of production on the drums (reverb, etc.), making it sound sort of like drums in a hallway. The low toms set me up well to slowly build from soft to loud very gradually, creating a dramatic build, and then I can hit the chorus hard with a full-on rock beat. I also sang some backgrounds on this tune, so playing this live with the same dynamic effect while singing is tricky. Lots of big breaths! Anyway, I was very happy with the way this song turned out in the studio, and hope you enjoy it too!

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“Booth Love”

Kris Myers: “Booth Love” was simply a straight-ahead soul/R&B groove with a contemporary flare to it. Along with playing an acoustic pattern (à la Bill Withers, Donnie Hathaway, or George Duke), I added electronic bass drum, hi-hat, and snare samples to blend with the pattern, adding more sonic depth and slickness to the groove. It almost sounds like down-tempo house to me with an ’80s flare to it, something I’ve heard from DJs and such. I’m happy to say that we still blended the electronics around the acoustic drum track to keep that live, spontaneous feel to it. A lot of contemporary hip-hop, R&B, and soul beats are constructed as an arranged loop, playing the same cycle repetitively, which sounds great in most cases. I ended up letting the hi-hat pattern and kick drum pattern vary subtly to create that live-drummer element to the track. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but all I know is that as long as the booties are dancin’, it’s all good.

Andy Farag: I knew as soon as I heard this section in “Booth Love” that it needed some hand drums. Congas and groovy, funky songs like this almost always go hand-in-hand. I play a very straightforward tumbao rhythm — not straying too much from the basic rhythm but adding a couple of fills here and there. It’s more to add an additional layer to accent what is already being played.

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“Hajimemashite”

Kris Myers: Lastly, we brought an oldie but goodie from the ancient Umphrey’s archive and rerecorded it with a chamber string ensemble. It is entitled “Hajimemashite,” and it’s a feel-good rock/pop tune with some folkier elements to the vocals. I wanted more of a direct mike sound on the drums with clear and focused overheads to pick up clear cymbals. In the second verse, I felt that the instruments needed to add some kind of rhythmic motif or cadence underneath the vocals, so I wrote this rhythmic cadence right then and there in the studio before we did a few takes. To my surprise, the string players who added parts later picked up on the hits, and they played it as well, adding a whole other dimension to the verse. I was thrilled that it worked out!

The ending of this was similar to “Search 4” in that it ended with Jake burning a solo to the end, so I was able to have some room for reaching out with the soloist. This can be a great thing, but it can also be a risky thing if what you’re going for doesn’t match with the soloist’s direction. This is why it is extremely important to listen to the soloist’s direction by playing similar dynamics and rhythmic phrases on the kit, all the while still pushing the soloist with confidence and taste.

I have to give a ton of credit to our producer, Manny Sanchez, for making each and every drum sound on this album come to life — or I should say larger than life! Even though Andy and I played rather simple, straight-ahead grooves on most of this album, we have a great producer and engineer to work well with our direction, and I couldn’t think of a better guy to work with than Manny. He takes the time to learn your style, and embraces it, but still takes you even further into sonic bliss by bringing a variety of room mikes into the mix. Using various mike techniques gives you so many options to choose from, whether it’s an open, Bonhamesque sound with a few 57’s a few feet from the kit, or direct miking for a super dry, focused sound like a Boz Scaggs album. It all depends on what you’re going for, and I got a lot of support and inspiration from my bandmates as well as Manny and Kevin Browning, our long-time engineer and producer of past albums. I really had a great time recording this album, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Kris Myers