In the first two parts of this series we discussed ideas directly related to the type and position of the musical notes. In this third and final chapter we venture outside the ledger lines of the staff to visit the human body to discover our STYLE. There’s only one thing cooler than a penguin wearing shades slurping a Froster in an igloo and that’s learning to play open handed. This technique will expand your drumming vocabulary by volumes. In addition to improving your dexterity, it unlocks a vault of new tom fills that were previously inaccessible. Uncrossing your arms so the left hand plays the hi-hat gives the right hand freedom to roam around the kit. It’s like a fox in the hen house – free range!
Gone are the days of purely rhythmic influence as we now live in an age where the drummer must think melodic phrasing. You’re not a just a drummer, you’re a musician and it’s not called a kick drum, it’s called a bass drum. Think of melody and rhythm as two sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other. Playing pitched toms with the open handed method is just one way to build melody into your beats. Try imagining sounds, textures and pitches in your mind’s eye and then emulate those visions on the kit. Who said inspiration was going to be easy?
If your song requires a driving beat then make sure you imply forward momentum. This is achieved through the repetition of certain figures or notes in a measure. Having a steady pulse pushing the time forward creates tension. Intensifying a beat in this manner gives it power, purpose and direction. For this to work properly, the steady notes anchoring down the groove must be offset with other syncopated elements.
If style is what you seek, then set aside time to develop innovative concepts. Nothing moves a player further from his peers than his ability to conceptualize and orchestrate brave new thinking on the kit. One-handed licks, unison playing, multi-surface riding, stick tricks, etc. are all ways to stretch the imagination and sound innovative on the drums. The best advice I can give in this area is to utilize your practice time with this formula: Spend 20 percent of your practice time on what you do know and 80 percent on what you don’t.
As you begin to master finer points of your craft be sure to explore independent coordination. Learning to draw on both sides of the brain may just be the creative ticket you need to achieve independent freedom. For drummers, this means challenging the hands and feet to play things they don’t normally play. As we do this, communication lines open up and we start seeing strange and wonderful things. By making conscious effort to understand what each limb is doing, you take control of your movements. Be sure to write your ideas down and organize them into set patterns so you can practice them later.
One final way to dress up your style is to inject visual interest. It’s one thing if your beats sound good, but if they look good too, you’ll be invited to more parties than you have time for. Learning to toss, spin and twirl your sticks is fabulous, but when you can somehow work the gyrating wood into the flow of a beat, it’s shear magic. Something I’ll always remember from Spiderman was that with great power comes great responsibility. It’s an honour to sit behind a set of drums and it’s an even greater privilege to perform, entertain and express our music to the world. Style develops after years of concentrated effort. So keep at it and one day original style will call your hands home.