Play by ear

Great new lesson looking at words in drumming.

Posted Under: Beginners Intermediate Music

We always say at My Drum Lessons that if you can say it, you can play it. So what does that actually mean? We looked at the written language of drumming and visited the idea of punctuation in drumming. This teaching method is all about the application of drumming in a practical musical context. Therefore let’s try to take some of the linguistic concepts discussed in earlier articles and link them to popular techniques for practising and performing drums.

Anyone who has ever studied any Asian music (particularly Indian music) will be familiar with the idea of verbalising rhythm. To verbalise a rhythm you literally mimic the sound of the drum rhythm. All tabla (Indian drum) players learn to ‘sing’ the tala (rhythm) before attempting to play it on the drums. In the other extreme, there’s the phenomenon of Beatboxers who replicate the sounds of electronic music with very impressive one-person oral gymnastics. One is deeply routed in tradition, the other is a modern thing, but both are key examples of musicians verbalising rhythm.

This is not to say all aspiring drummers need to rush to start beatboxing like crazy. What we do need to do is to vocalise the grooves we want to play in order to play them successfully. It’s the old golden rule: if you can say it you can play it.

Take the bass drum. To vocalise the bass drum you’d probably say “boom” or “doum”
A snare drum can become “bah”
Let the hi hat cymbal be “ta”

To say the basic groove (as notated below), using the verbalised sounds it becomes…

Drum Lesson

Doum – Ta – Bah – Ta – Doum – Ta – Bah – Ta

Doum – Ta – Bah – Ta – Doum – Ta – Bah – Ta

NB: Some artistic licence is allowed because it is difficult to create a vocal sound that mimics the noise of two things at the same time (eg the snare drum and the hi hat when they fall in unison). What we do create is the overall impression of the groove. You say the ‘main bits’ – the dominant parts of the groove.

The usefulness of this technique becomes more obvious with more complex rhythms.

The process of saying the groove you are trying to play means you begin to internalise the sound in your mind. When a groove is internalised and you start to play it for real on the drum kit, you go full-circle and then externalise the groove (that is, listen to the sound of what you are playing as if you are an external person from yourself).

Saying a groove helps the process of internalisation. When the new rhythm feels natural and you begin the process of externalisation, you can cross-reference the groove against the verbalised version of the groove.

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