Have you ever made up a riff and forgot how to play it the next time you sat down at the drums? Chances are the beat wasn’t sticky enough to grab onto your conscious. Every once in a while though, a brilliant idea comes to mind and you just can’t get it out of your head. You end up playing the same beat year after year and you love it just as much as the day you wrote it. This process is called ‘built to last’ and works on the following three principles: feeling, refinement and memorization.
For a groove to survive the test of time it has to not only sound good, but feel good. You should be able to play it over and over again without getting sick of it. Usually a cool beat will have some kind of rhythmic hook or recurring theme that really catches the ear like a thumping bass drum part or an accented hi-hat lick. Use this stand-out feature as a marker to anchor it in your mind. When you do, your emotions will kick in and try to shape the main theme into some kind of coherent musical phrase.
As you work through the beat, begin to experiment with a few variations. Follow your instincts like a dog chasing rabbit tracks in the snow; it’s trying to take you somewhere. At this point, a lot of us give up and become frustrated with the process because the beat has not yet fully evolved. Never give up, never never give up. Press forward with the idea until it refines itself into something meaningful. This can take as much as an hour or as little as 5 minutes, but eventually it crystallizes.
Finally you need to write it down… FAST or it will be lost forever. I always tell my students that if they are willing to learn, they can have a solid understanding of reading and writing notation with a 30 hour investment. Once you’ve captured the beat on paper, read it and practice it to find the right tempo. Listen closely to ensure it has no loose ends. Nothing should stand out as being obtrusive. It should flow with a sense of ease and efficiency and loop nicely from beginning to end.
As a general rule I find if the beat hasn’t changed much after the first week, it has found its final resting spot. Take this as a victory and move on to the next beat. After a few years you will have a nice collection of original material. Then later in life, when you are looking for that perfect drum part to fit your band’s newest song, you can draw from the stockpile of cool beats that were ‘Built To Last’.