In part one of this series Anatomy of a Cool Beat: Part 1, we learned how putting some thought into setting up your SCORE can set the stage for good things to happen. Today in part 2 we are going to talk about STRUCTURE. This area focuses on the core elements that influence your notation choices when developing a new beat. One of the first things you can do is contrast the note values. As a drummer and composer, you have the ability to select any kind of note you want to tell your story. By mixing 1/8th notes with 1/16th notes or 1/4 notes with 1/32nd notes, you are creating variation in the structure. This adds excitement to the lick and increases the playability.
Probably the most colorful choice on your musical palette is to compose with triplets. Injecting groupings of three into your work is like riding a roller coaster; the lively movements can lift and toss you in wave-like motions. Juxtaposing triplets alongside standard note choices creates a dynamic feel shift that can be very pleasing to the listener’s ear. Although this technique can take some time to master, it is very rewarding when you can play these types of beats and still keep perfect time.
Another slick trick to liven up a beat is to add ghost notes. These subtle and often unheard additions got their name from their ability to hide within a beat. Their light and transparent nature allow them to fly around undetected in a groove. Used properly, they can enhance the primary notes with a cool echo effect. Ghosts notes certainly can be scary, because when a monster player lays down a big fat mean groove laced with haunted ghost notes, you are going to want to hide… back into the woodshed that is.
If you want healthy beats then use rests liberally. Sometimes too many notes can choke out the main idea of a groove. All that black chicken scratch restricts the motion and pollutes the phrasing with unnecessary noise. Think of using rests as opening up the sunroof on your car so cool air can flow in. Rests bring a calm sense of easiness to a beat that can have an almost trace-like effect. So give your beats a check up, from the neck up and put them on a lean diet of eggs, meat and rests.
Want to add some polish to your beats? …then learn to produce random accents. Artistically speaking, making some notes stronger than others is no different than admiring a painting full of contrasting textures… only it’s for your ears not your eyes. Adding accents is a form of customization. Detailing a bar of music with dynamic intention is a clever way to add spice. Focusing on the up and down motion of your hands will allow you to not only toss a salad as good as any Iron Chef, but you will be able to cook up funktastic dinners on the dance floor.
The icing on your musical cake is your ability to alter sticking patterns. There are a couple reasons why mixing up your ‘rights’ and your ‘lefts’ can benefit your style. First, exchanging doubles and singles on the fly is a ninja move that would make Bruce Lee proud. Second, it frees up time in space for your unused arm to get to a new location on the kit. Third and most important, employing unusual sticking patterns sets you free from mediocrity and puts you in the field of all possibilities; one that will develop your style faster than anything else.