Today I’ll talk about a subject that young drummers wonder about as they try to break through into the scene and make a name for themselves. Because the daunting question most of them have when confronted with an original song is: “What should I play?”
Let’s suppose that they are proposed a typical rock song, a straight forward 4/4 at around 100 bpm with a common structure of Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus. Nothing too complicated. Furthermore, the lyrics are about love, a break-up song.
How should one approach this musical environment?
Should we go with a bass drum pattern decorated with a flurry of hi-hats like Stewart Copeland? Or keep it very sparse as Meg White would do? Should we try to fit technically impossible fills? Should we write an elaborate and bouncy bass drum pattern that contradict the bass line or should we stay glued to said bass line? Should we follow the guitar line like John Bonham used to do, or go straight through “a la” Charlie Watts.
In between parenthesis I am aware that I’m throwing a lot of names out there that you might not be aware of. I’ll help you this once, after that you can ask your drum teacher (I know an excellent one, by the way).
Stewart Copeland: The Police.
Meg White: The White Stripe.
John Bonham: Led Zeppelin.
Charlie Watts: The Rolling Stones.
Ok, back to our subject: you got the song, what should you play?
That’s a question I get ask sometimes, usually by budding professionals who want to make their mark. I understand their concerns, I used to have the same. The problem is that there are no simple answer. It depends on what you think and what you are.
If you have grown-up in Lebanon with music seldom heard in Europe, chances are you’re natural habitat in percussion is going to be vastly different than, say, a typical American lady. Your approach will be different because you’re not coming from the same listening experience.
If your world has been classical music and Blue Grass, use that to illustrate the song you’re on. Beyond just your geographical origins, you can also use what you are. Are you an angry young man? Great! Bash that drum part, make it angular and revengeful. It’s as good a point of view as any. Are you a shy, discreet lad? Put that on the track. Should you be a mysterious and sophisticated lady: welcome! Your drumming will be refreshingly intriguing and elaborate. You have an obsessive personality dictating how many cereal flakes you need in your bowl of milk every morning? Good! Shine on, you crazy diamond!
My point is that instead of trying to imagine a perfect drum part according to absolutes that nobody but you are aware of, do what YOU want to do. That’s where you take a chance, that’s how you can be truly original. You play what you want, but you work hard on deciding what you want, on pursuing how you understand the music. Instead of looking for references outside of yourself, you look inside. You then discover that you play music to better know yourself, how you react to things and why. In other words, when you’ve got a new song to dress up with a drum part, search for it inside of yourself. That’s what make the Charlie Watts and Meg White of the world so powerful: they know what’s pushing behind.