Here are 11 ways to improve your creative drumming… Michelangelo supposedly once said that “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. The same goes for creating a piece of music or a drum part, be it a fill or groove; all the notes and rhythms are there, it’s our job to uncover them.
In this series of articles, I want to briefly explore creativity as a solution-finding exercise; a process whereby questioning a piece of music in detail could help us figure out how to best tackle it. What tools can we use to chisel out our grooves and fills? What are the parameters or variables that affect our possible solution(s)? Below are considerations we can use to help us.
For the purpose of this article, I want to clarify what I mean by creativity and problem-solving. Merriam Webster Dictionary’s (2014) definition of creativity is the “ability to produce something new through imaginative skill”. And in defining problem-solving, let’s think of strategies as cyclical “steps that one would use to find the problem(s) that are in the way to getting to one’s own goal” (Bransford & Stein, 1993).
However, it’s worth noting that in context, we can only be successful at this by actively listening to the music we’re trying to create, be it our own, our band’s, or our clients’. But remember, there are no right or wrong answers as it’s all subjective. Some people will like your work, some won’t.
So let’s start with tempo and dynamics as our first considerations.
How fast or slow we play a song affects its feel and impact, so finding that “pocket” is crucial. Our thinking might default to a steady pace, but does that apply to the whole song? It’s worth exploring what effect altering the speed of certain passages would have on overall musical impact. Variation of certain sections by a few BPM can help bring out emotion and emphasise sentiment. With this in mind, we might start thinking of playing to a steady click as somewhat restrictive; leaving little or no room for this movement.
Yes, whilst being able to play to a click is crucial, in the creative process, it’s worth considering how time is perceived and its implications. Time perception is affected by the amount of information taken in during an event (Dean, 2011) as well as stress levels (Chavez, 2003). So think that a tempo agreed at a rehearsal may seem right one day but wrong on another purely going by how your day has been, and how you’re feeling!
Consequently, a tendency to flow with the music according to how it makes you feel, or how it is intended to make people is a great skill too. Being malleable and fluid to feeling is something that can get overlooked in a click and drum programming culture.
The above considerations might have a direct impact on our perception of the song, and therefore what we choose to play.
When thinking of dynamics to help us sculpt our parts, we generally think about ghost notes, accents, crescendos and diminuendos to create tension and effect. These are a great gateway to thinking about parts in a wider context to the song.
For instance, during a soft passage, would playing the same drum part as its loud counterpart do, or would playing something slightly different work better? Part of the point here is about being aware of our default setting in order to stimulate creativity. Being aware of what we default playing- wise can help overcome stumbling blocks in figuring out parts and think differently.
Similarly, knowing when to push versus when to hold back in terms of intensity and energy is a useful consideration in the process.
Next month we’ll consider the concepts reduction, developing a language, and vocals / lyrics.