Some people call it the “kick drum” and others call it the “bass drum.” Call me old school, but I like calling it the bass drum. Regardless of the name you use, how you use it is what’s important. Different styles of music call out for different approaches to this instrument.
For rock, funk, R&B, pop, fusion — pretty much any contemporary music, the bass drum is the foundation. (The base, if you will.) Lay down a solid foundation and then think about the snare drum, and then the hi-hat. The music will sound and feel right. Listen to as many recordings as possible to hear this for yourself.
For jazz, the bass drum is usually felt rather than heard. The ride cymbal and hi-hat are the more prominent voices for this music to feel good. The snare drum and bass drum will play a different role here. There are, of course, players who play differently and that’s great. Listen to it all and decide for yourself. The more modern players are quite often heavier with the bass drum and it still swings — in a different way, though.
The more I listen, the more I like the differences in approaches. Music is such a wide open endeavor that there’s something for everyone. That being said, try playing lighter on the bass drum when you swing — see how it feels. The music can start to float.
I like having a practice routine, but it does get interuppted on many days. There are distractions, but also commitments. This time of year, it seems to get even harder for me and my routine. The same goes for students of mine. That’s OK. I say enjoy it — life, family, the holidays, and the drums! If I don’t get as much time as I’d like with the drums, then it’s usually because another part of my life needs my attention more. My students are given quite a bit of leeway this time of year. I want them to enjoy the drums — not to feel as if practicing is as important as being around their loved ones. This can be a stressful time of year for many people, and I don’t want to add to that stress. If the drums are not first on the priority list right now, then so be it!
At a rehearsal recently, I was having trouble reading some music. This was due to the fact that the arranger had written some rhythms in a not-so-conventional manner. The notes were all there, however, there were bars on eighth notes where I usually don’t see them. E.g., in 4/4 there is common practice where it is easy to see beat three. This is called the imaginary bar line, and it is really helpful when sight reading. Regardless of the rhythms contained within beats one and two, beat three is usually shown as if it were at the beginning of the bar. What I saw at the rehearsal were barred eighth notes starting on the and of two going into and grouped with beat three. This is not common and made some fairly easy figures a bit hard to “see” and play correctly.
That being said, I took this as a challenge. Could I read these charts and decipher the rhythms? Well, sometimes I could and other times I fumbled a bit. I did end up “fixing” some of these so that when gig time comes, I don’t fall all over myself. It did get me to thinking that it may be time to go back to Louis Bellson’s “Modern Reading Text in 4/4.” One of the cool things about this book, is that it forces you to read some common rhythms written in a very uncommon way. Hmm… and just when I thought I could read music!
I am fortunate enough to play with various musicians in many different groups. Sometimes I’m familiar with the group, but I haven’t done the gig with a particular bass player, e.g. We have both done this gig, but with other players. What can be fun and interesting for me, is to see how different it can be because of this. Even if there is a set groove, bass line, etc. no two players play exactly the same — and I like that. I can lay down a groove that I played for a certain tune the last time, and it can end up sounding very different for this very reason. I can let that bug me, or I can simply go with it. I choose the latter. The tune is still grooving, but in a different way. I may even end up digging it more. I could even change what I’m playing and go with the moment. Again, that’s what I try to do. The less that I compare it to what was done the last time around, then the better it seems. I like being flexible when playing music. It keeps it, well, musical.
My previous post discussed playing the drums in an open-handed position. This is when the arms do not cross over each other to play the hi-hat and snare drum. For right handed players, this means the left hand is on the hi-hat and the right is on the snare drum. Some people have played this way for quite a while and it’s become quite natural and comfortable. Others (like me) have tried this and are able to play some grooves, but not everything.
The cool thing for me are the possibilities that open up to open-handed drummers! When my left hand is on my hi-hat, the entire rest of my drum set is easily available to my right hand. There are so many options here — cowbells, toms, floor toms, bells of cymbals, a second (closed or remote) hi-hat, etc. I really like playing the hi-hat and the snare drum with my left hand which allows the right hand to think in a totally different way. My right hand does “think” differently just naturally anyway, so when I free it from the time-keeping duties of the hi-hat and the snare, then some fun things can happen. Give it try and let me know what you find!