A good friend of mine recently posted an article entitled ‘The Magic Bullet’ on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/scott.whitley.bass.services). It
really struck a chord with me, and although my friend Scott is a bass player, it applies to all musical instruments, not least the drums. I will quote Scott’s post, and hopefully you will find it both interesting and inspiring…
“The Magic Bullet”
Out of all the people I’ve had come to me for bass lessons over the years, most are looking for the same thing – they want to be able to improvise and play more inventive & musical lines and fills. They see other players play these exciting lines and fills here and there and want to do the same.
Well that doesn’t sound like a big deal does it? They’re already good solid players, maybe even making good money doing a great job holding the low end down! Well here’s the thing – it’s a MASSIVE deal!
Us bassists spend 99% of our time pointing out the root notes of the chords, and to a slightly lesser degree the 5th. This is especially true in rock music. Nothing wrong with this of course – it’s usually what the music calls for. But say you get to the end of a 16 bar section and you get that feeling inside urging you to play a nice line to bring in the next section of the tune, unless you know exactly what chord is being played at that point and how that chord is constructed the chances all you can really do is bluff it! Sometimes you might get lucky and accidentally play something cool, but more often than not it not going to sound good at all!
So it turns out for that mere 1% of your time playing fills outside of the usual Root/5th you need to know EVERYTHING about the harmony of the music your playing. Now that’s a LOT of work for what might seem like very little gain isn’t it? We’re talking about a lifetime study here with many thousands of hours work and practice! Phew – not worth it is it?!
It’s so worth it if you’re serious about your playing! Once you start on a journey of understanding harmony and other concepts relating to improvisation etc., you’ll never stop! But you’ll have such a great ride along the way. You’ll have dips and peaks, you’ll have plateaus, you’ll have periods where you simply lose interest for a while and get on with some other pastime or calling. In the end it’s all about taking a piece of music and making it your own and there’s nothing like coming off stage and knowing that you ‘spoke’ through your instrument.
Improvisation is just as creative as any other form of writing – in fact it IS “composition on the spot”! If you’re really serious about bass I urge you to make a start on your journey into the world of improvisation today and take your playing to places and heights you never dreamed it could go.
Oh and ‘the magic bullet’ – sorry there isn’t one!
So, how does this apply to us drummers? Well, like bass players, much of our time is spent holding things down and playing simple things. Many of my students (beginners) are surprised when they first start really listening to what drummers are playing on their favourite pop records (with some exceptions!). They can often replicate the rhythms within a couple of weeks of starting to learn. It’s mostly the fills in between that can cause the difficulty. We can all learn many of our favourite fills parrot fashion, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Building up a library of great chops is a good thing to do, but unless you understand and practice the building blocks of those fills, you’ll never be able to reach your full potential and be able to improvise your own great fills and solos.
Drum rudiments are a big part of the building blocks we need as drummers. I always hear drummers talking about practising rudiments as being boring. I disagree. I get a kick out of playing a paradiddle on a pad to a metronome, whether it be fast (bouncing the diddles) or slow. I don’t only enjoy paradiddles, but all rudiments. Some translate to the kit better than others, and not only as fills or part of a solo. For instance, have you ever tried playing a paradiddle with your right hand on the hats and left on the snare? Mirror the right hand part on your foot and you’ve got a great groove, especially if you keep the accents on the first beat of each paradiddle phrase (as it’s classically written). On your left hand snare part you will have great ghost notes and a strong backbeat. Try the same thing with a double paradiddle and see what happens. Then there’s using paradiddles as fills. Put the accents on the toms, and you’ve already got a more interesting sounding fill, and that’s only the beginning. Go and check out Youtube, or buy a book on rudiments. If you’re serious about drumming, rudiments will become part of your lifetime study. Don’t think of it as being boring – it’s not. It’s just a part of what it takes to be a good, inventive drummer.
I’m not saying rudiments are the be all and end all of drumming. They are probably a drummer’s equivalent of scales. They aren’t the only thing you need to practise, and how to split your practise time to fit in everything you want to work and improve on is a whole subject of it’s own. Only you can decide how much time you want to dedicate to being the drummer you want to be. There are no short cuts or magic bullets.
Thanks to Scott Whitley for allowing me to use his original article ‘The Magic Bullet’.