Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Drummer's Part to Play in Songwriting

sheet music for drums
Our band writes most of our songs as a group. There are times when the guitar player or bass player will have a few ideas, and bring those to rehearsal. We tend to build upon those ideas, adding a part here, taking out a part there. Rarely, does anyone present an entire song to the group. When these parts are being hammered out, I’m sitting behind my drum kit, playing beats in my head. By the time something is put into place, I have a basic beat cooking on the drums. When someone comes with a whole song to teach us, it’s even easier to find the drum parts. That is if you aren’t painted into a corner by the song writer.

The person who writes the song should take some time to figure out how to communicate the beat that they had in mind with the drummer. It starts by telling the drummer what time signature the song is in. We can usually figure that out in the first measure, but it helps to hear it too. If it’s “common time” we can pretty much handle it from there. If you ask us to play something in 7/8, it’s just a matter of where you want us to place the notes. I always think of The Fish by Yes when someone calls for a song in 7/8.
Finally, does the songwriter want to take time to tell me if I can play 8th or 16th notes on the bass drum? Are ghost notes on the snare allowed? Should I open the song on the snare, playing as I see fit for the first measure? When do you want me to get into the “pocket” and just keep solid time? These are all important things to relate to the drummer. All drummer jokes aside, some of us can actually read music, or play odd time signatures.
If you have a beat going in your head, tell me how it sounds? Act it out. I’ll pick it up, and that will make you happy. If you don’t have an idea on how the drums should be played on a song that you wrote, then by all means leave it up to me to find something that works. Someone told me an interesting thing about songwriters. He said “If you are in a band where someone tells you every note to play, giving you no room to play your own parts, then you are a hired gun, and should be paid by the band for your time at practice and shows.” It’s a bit harsh, but pretty much spot on. Let the drummer help you make the song great.

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