Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Teenager's Survival Guide to Worship Drumming

This is a concise guide to playing drums in a worship band. It will discuss some of the absolute most important principles when it comes to worship drumming (and in most cases drumming in general). Playing drums, while not employing notes and pitches, can be deceitfully tricky. Some of the greatest songwriters and arrangers were drummers. The drummer has the ability to wreck a song faster than anybody else in the band. So it’s important to play tastefully and to play with the band.

Tempo-Every member of the band is forced to follow the tempo of the drums. Try as they may to speed up or slow down, the other musicians are naturally drawn to the tempo of the drums. Therefore, it is extremely critical that the drummer’s tempos be consistent. Until the right tempo is determined, this will include a lot of listening to the rest of the band. If the vocalists are having a hard time getting all the words or phrases in or the lead instruments are having a hard time playing their riffs because of speed, the song needs to be slowed down. If it feels like the song is just dragging then it probably needs to be picked up a bit. It would seem that it would be easier to play slow than to play fast. Actually, just the opposite is true. The slower a song goes, there are more milliseconds between each beat and thus more room for error and inconsistencies. Another thing to consider with tempo is the nature of the song. Is it intended to be a fast, upbeat song? Is it intended to be a more slow, meditative song. It is up to the worship team and leader, but ultimately the drummer, to determine the right tempo for the song. Most young drummers have a natural tempo they like to play at (usually around 90 bpm). While this works well for jamming in the bedroom, it’s not a great tempo for all songs. Some will need to be slower (around 80 bpm) and many will need to be as fast as 120 (bpm). So it is important that the drummer practice playing at different tempos. The obvious way to do this is with a fairly loud metronome and/or a set of earphones. Another, more fun, solution is to play along to your favorite songs. While this doesn’t create as much musicianship as playing with a lone metronome, it does create a fun break in the rehearsal regimen.

Texture-Texture is a word that we use to describe something we feel. Maybe it’s rough sandpaper, soft cotton, or the tiny beads in a neck pillow. But texture also applies to music. The texture of a song is a collective feeling created by the tempo, the dynamics, and by which instruments are playing at which times. For example, if a song is rocking at 120 bpm and only the drums are playing, it will feel completely different than a song that’s at 90 bpm and has the full band playing. The thing to remember with worship drumming is that every song is a journey. If you listen to songs on the radio, they rarely ever start out full throttle. They may start out with only a few instruments playing, or just playing a very simple part. Then as the song gets past the intro into the first chorus it will change again slightly. Typically the first verse is not played exactly like the second verse or the chorus. While the other instruments may be playing the same parts on the different verses, the drummer has the ability to create tension in the song by playing these various sections of the song differently. So here are some ways to create tension in the song.

  1. Don’t play at all. Have you ever heard a song that was all mellow and soft, then about halfway through the song it turns into this anthem because the single voice with a single instrument is all of a sudden joined by many instruments and many voices? While it takes all of those instruments to drive that song, the primary driving force is the drums. But that cannot happen if the drums start rocking out on the intro. Many times, in drumming, less is more. It takes maturity to avoid the temptation to rock out all the time
  2. Play the same patterns on different elements of the kit. Rather than playing 8th notes on the high hat the whole song, try playing them on the floor tom for one section, the high hat for another section, and the ride cymbal for another. This will distinguish each section of the song from the others.
  3. Use the snare drum to creatively create tension. The typical rock drum beat is a 4/4 beat with the snare drum on the 2 and 4 counts. This is called a back beat. However, playing the snare not at all, or just on the 4 count, or on both the 2 and 4 counts creates 3 distinct patterns without having to change anything else you are doing on the rest of the kit. As you get more comfortable with groove, ghost notes, and single-hand 16th notes on the snare, these can be thrown in to create additional texture on top of backbeat techniques mentioned above.
  4. Use dynamics. Often times we think loud and soft only applies to vocalists and other instruments, but the drums only have loud and louder. While the drums are inherently louder than other instruments, they can be played softly. Cymbal rolls can be soft. Crashes don’t have to set off pacemakers. If you’ve done sound check and now you can’t hear the vocals, YOU’RE TOO LOUD! In many cases, the whole point of a band having a sound system is to bring the volume of the rest of the band to a level that can compete with the drums. So the drummer should be careful not to overpower. Playing sections of the song softly and others louder adds to the musical tension that creates texture in the song.

Groove-A groove is defined as a long, narrow cut or indentation in a surface, as the cut in a board to receive the tongue of another board (tongue-and-groove joint), a furrow, or a natural indentation on an organism., and also a fixed routine: to get into a groove, and finally Slang. an enjoyable time or experience. In drum vernacular, groove is all of these and more. Just as a groove in a piece of wood creates a natural boundary for something to fit into it, or a canal (groove) creates a boundary for water to flow, so does the groove of a song. The pattern created by the bass guitar and the drums (particularly the bass drum) is the channel, canal, or groove that contains the rest of the song. A groove can be smooth or rough. If the bass and drums can lock in on a 2-bar or 4-bar pattern, the groove will be smooth. However, if the drummer decides to showcase every beat he knows before the first chorus, the song will be disconnected. The foundation the rest of the band sits on will not be flat, smooth, or stable, but will be lumpy, ragged, and shifty. It is better to play the wrong beat (or one that doesn’t fit) all the way through a song, than to play three or four different patterns because it just “feels right.” Every time the drummer changes a pattern, it forces the rest of the band to change what they are doing to try to fit what the drummer is doing. So the basic pattern of the song needs to be consistent. All of the above suggestions for texture of a song can be played within the same basic groove. Keep the bass drum beats essentially the same (maybe add another 16th note on the chorus), but move the snare around to change the song’s texture but preserve the groove.

Drive-Drive is one of the main reasons people play drums. When the drums are rocking and everything is in sync, music is a joy. What I call “drive” is the sound that is created when a song has hit its stride (maybe the first chorus or even first verse), and the snare beat is on the 2 and 4 and the groove of the song is somewhat complete, employing bass, snare, and time keeping on a high hat, ride, or toms. When the drum pattern gets going, it is almost like turning the engine on in a car. When you put the key in and turn it slightly, you can hear the radio, see the lights, and even feel the air conditioner. But when you turn the key all the way and crank the engine, you feel what the car was built to do. When the drums kill the drive of the groove by eliminating the backbeat or somehow pulling back, it’s like turning the engine of the car off prematurely. Remember, every song is a journey. So once the car gets going, take it somewhere. Don’t crank it up, then shut it back off. Get it going and keep it going. Once the car has been running a while, you can later kill the engine and leave the lights on, or you can put the hammer down and go out with a bang—but don’t kill it while you’re driving down the highway!

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