Developing Phrasing Ideas Part 1

Developing Phrasing Ideas Part 1

In this free drum lesson, I discuss developing phrasing ideas using “double” bass drum strokes over double strokes.

It’s a while since I last posted, so I wanted to share with you something I’ve been playing about with, which has been loads of fun (download the free PDF below).

The exercises below are based on the concept of permutation, which I’m a big fan of as I find it very multifunctional. As a result, we can squeeze lots of juice out of a simple idea in using it. If you’re not familiar with the permutation, read about it in my new book Concepts or dive deep into it with David Garibaldi’s Future Sounds.

By working through these exercises, I hope you not only come up with fun and interesting grooves and licks, but in the process, gain a deeper understanding of hand / foot interplay. Similarly, by practicing these, you’ll develop increased control of hand and foot technique, as well as your time, and general co-ordination; things I’ve benefited from in doing these.

Let’s do this

The exercise is simple; I’ve taken 16th note double strokes, and replaced two note values with bass drums, which I’ve then permuted by a 16th note at a time.

It goes without saying that you should pay attention to your time, technique, and co-ordination, starting slowly (perhaps 70BPM), to get the full benefit. Yet, spend time with each exercise to be aware of the rhythms you generate with the snare drum, bass drum, and the interplay of both.

Play these on the snare drums first, and then start exploring the exercise around the kit.

Next month, I’ll post Part II.

If you’ve enjoyed this free drum lesson, please share with other drummers!

Thank you,

Nick x

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11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 4

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 4

11 ways to improve your creative drumming! In this last article in the series, we’ll be looking elements / considerations which, whilst obvious, can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to the creative process. Let’s dive right into melody, the bass, and the concept of keeping it simple, stupid! Enjoy.

In evaluating what a song is trying to tell us, aside from rhythmic patterns and lyrics, melody is crucial. Whether it’s happy, sad, melancholic, quirky or otherwise, a melody needs to be complimented accordingly.

How can we use the drums to achieve this? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here (unless perhaps you’re presented with a pop ballad and play a hyper gravity bomb blast beat on top). Great examples, however, include Tallulah Rendall’s “Black Seagull”, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon, and The Beatles’ “Come Together”. Pay attention how the grooves perfectly compliment the sentiment of each song.

A slightly different approach could be using our tom-toms, tuned to match the song’s melodic structure, to help embellish passages and create complimenting melodies. For instance have a listen to Seinabo Sey’s song “Poetic”.

The Bass

A melodic and rhythmic instrument. It’s well-known that us drummers should work closely with bassists. By paying attention to what the is bass doing we can not only avoid rhythmic clashes but, if we’re stuck, can match their rhythm or create complimenting grooves. Either way, the tighter this relationship is, the better the band will sound.


Keep It Simple, Stupid! This can be overlooked as we try to come up with cool and complex, yet sometimes unnecessary parts. Think of the song as a method of communication, on that’s been around for thousands of years (Kilmer, 1976). Consequently, the clearer the message, the more effective it is.

Therefore, perhaps thinking about our drum parts as an instrument of clear communication can help inspire, or think differently about what we could / should play. AC/DC are a perfect example of keeping it simple, with drum parts to match. The caveat here, however, is musical context and your choices will be influenced the genre, style, brief, etc. you’re working on.


What this series of articles has tried to distill is that the more clearly we define the problem, the clearer our solution is. We have considered different elements that may help us, as Michelangelo suggested, carve out a suitable groove.

Keep in mind that this is a process. The ideal solution will, most likely, not come out straight away but will develop over time as the song takes shape, or as you become acquainted with what’s being presented to you.

You can even put this problem-solving mentality to work when you’re not behind the kit too! Listen to your favourite records and check out what the drummer does. Think about about how you would change what they have done slightly, and then try and come up with something of your own. Picture yourself playing it; tapping it on your lap might, as a bare minimum, provide you with the sticking pattern you would use.

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 4

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 3

11 ways to improve your creative drumming! One of the inspirations behind these articles has been to think of as many possible ways help overcome creative stagnancy; to draw blood from a creative stone. So, in this instalment we’ll look at rudiments, genre-specificity, and context / interpretation as our syringe.

Another variable to explore is context; where it has come from, and where it leads to. This plays a big part in deciding what to do next by helping us choose which parts of the kit to play. Different sounds affect a feel, and and may influence what we play. For instance, slowly opening hi hats adds tension, the ride provides a feeling of freedom, where as tom-toms could be used for tribal or melodic effect.

Similarly, working as a session musician, one of the key lessons I’ve learned is that song-writers have a really interesting approach to percussion and drums. This can lead to interesting rhythmic ideas, which might feel odd and outside our comfort zone (which is a good thing). The trick is to clearly interpret their wishes, but to do so in a way that complements every element of the composition.

Genre specificity

Having an understanding of what kind of music we’re playing can go a long way to help us figure out what we could / should play. In order to give certain music authenticity, we should play rhythms which are specific to the genre. However, these can also act as a springboard for new ideas if a song offers certain flavours. This is closely related to the point of developing a language discussed in the previous article.


These are a fantastic problem-solving tool. Much like melodic scales, rudiments help us find our way around rhythms and the kit. They help us identify rhythms, melodies and accents which facilitate us orchestrating them accordingly to compliment a passage of music.

Use rudiments to explore accents and melodies. Try accents on the single strokes, and ‘melodies’ by focusing on the rhythms each hand produce, whether on the snare, around the tom-toms, cymbals or a mix. You can create great grooves by playing a rudiment between the snare and hats and playing the bass drums on, for instance, beats 1 and 3.

In next month’s instalment we’ll look at melody, the bass, and keeping it simple as our springboard to great drum parts!

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 4

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 2

11 ways to improve your creative drumming! Last month we looked at tempo and dynamics as problem-solving tools to help us create and shape our grooves and / or fills. We used these variables to help us question a piece of music in detail to figure out how to best tackle it from our instrument’s perspective.

Remember, nothing here is absolute; these are ideas and concepts to draw inspiration from places we might have not thought of before. With that in mind, in this issue, we’ll take a look at the concepts of reduction, developing a language, and vocals / lyrics to help us chisel out our parts.


Sometimes, we can find inspiration in solving a problem by a process of reduction. This means either transforming the problem into a simpler one, or into one with an existing solution and constructing or deducing the solution of the original problem from the solution of the new one (Armoni et al., 2005). In other words, we could simplify the problem down to its foundations, or look at what others have done before and find inspiration to create your own version of it.

To transform the problem into a simpler one try to focus on the song at its simplest elements; the root notes and basic rhythm. From here, you’ll be able to lock into thebasic foundation of the song to which you’ll be able to incorporate embellishments, etc.

On the other hand, when looking what at others have done before, refer to a similar song you’ve heard before and pay attention to what that drummer did in order to build his ‘solution’. Incidentally, this is a fantastic way to help you become a better session musician. The more music you listen to and therefore expand your reference base, the more adept at nailing a specific feel you will be.

Developing a language

Having recently attended a Jojo Mayer & Nerve masterclass last November in London, Mr. Mayer had some excellent points which I thought I would contextualise into creative problem solving.

One of the main things that struck me from the Q&A session was how the band approaches improvisation. Jojo spoke of developing knowledge of a subject matter as developing language in order to be fully conversational with it. Bassist John Davis elaborated on the concept by pointing out that developing this musical knowledge as a language transcends theory.

We could infer that in trying to write or figure out parts for a song, deep knowledge of the genre (style, characteristics, structures, players) we’re writing for will be a helpful tool in the process. Yet, where do we begin? We could hit the books, or find tuition from an expert in your style will provide you with direction. Similarly, music schools offer courses specific to your requirements.

Vocals / Lyrics

Anthropologists believe that whilst the human voice was the first musical instrument, percussion instruments were the first musical devices (Latham, 2002). The link between rhythm and language is deep (Scaruffi, 2015 and Bergland, 2013), and can be used to great effect creating our drum parts.

But how? I find that working closely with the vocals, which are ultimately the focal point of a song, is just as important as working with the bass. Whether through accenting on vocal lines for emphasis or providing them with space to breath, we need to be effective in carrying the message. With this in mind, perhaps working with the singer / lyricist to create hooks based around simple rhythms can be a great way to develop congruent parts that fit these hooks.

We could go even further and form rhythmic patterns from sentences by paying attention to syllables, and their vowels to mimic drum sounds.

E.g. I eat grasshoppers in the summer.

I hope this has provided a bit of inspiration! Next month we’ll look at rudiments, genre-specificity, and context / interpretation to help our creative process.

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 4

11 Ways To Improve Your Creative Drumming Part 1


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.

Drum Lesson: Get More Out Of Your Triplets Part 3

Drum Lesson: Get More Out Of Your Triplets Part 3

Core Skills
Timing: You should aim to explore the accuracy of your strokes, ensuring that the rhythms are clear and performed cleanly.

Motion: Be aware of your movements! Moving these rhythms around the drum set might involve motions that you’re not used to, so take the time to understand this. Smooth motions will have a positive impact on your timing!

Fluidity and creativity: By exploring different ways of applying these triplets, you will open up new possibilities to incorporate into your fills and grooves. Mix your creative output with these triplets with eighth or sixteenth note phrases to loosen your fluidity, and spice things up.

Each example in these articles are just that: examples. Exercise your creative muscle further by coming up with your own versions. The same applies with the orchestration of each example; orchestrate as you like!

How To Practice These

  • Practice each example slowly, and build speed when you’ve achieved fluid quality
  • Start first on the snare drum until you’re comfortable, then orchestrate as you please
  • Turn each idea into a 4-bar phrase.
  • Also try playing 4 bars of a groove, and 4 bars of the ideas
  • Play simple time, and try using shuffle grooves
  • Create your own rhythmic variations of each example
  • Focus, and explore this in detail