Soulful Drumming Technique
February 27, 2012; Nathan A. Braden
As a drummer for 35 years or so, I wanted to explore one avenue of developing soulful grooves. I've
noticed that when one can carry these techniques off in a smooth and tasteful way, they gain the
attention and affection of other musicians. They provide that "little something extra" that pops up
in their radar.
This technique is about incorporating 1 or 2 or 3 timely tom strokes just before or after the snare drum backbeat, or even before and after. When this is done in a smooth rolling style, it gives that extra spark and the combinations are endless and pretty easy. This technique is best suited for slower to medium tempo music - songs that have a folksy soulful groove. Just for a good, generic mental reference point, picture a song for instance such as Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" from their first album, or James Taylor's "Country Road". With experience, your musical instincts will be honed to where you recognize immediately whether a songs feel would be complimented by this technique or not.
So to start simply, play the straight four groove, but hit an upper tom on the last eighth note before the snare hit, and a lower tom on the two sixteenth notes immediately after the snare hit. So it comes out sort of like ... boom, bop, boomboom. Practice doing it smoothly, on the meter ... not rushing anything.
The combinations or variations are many from there. Usually you do this starting just before the last snare hit that would precede a fill, like when transitioning to a chorus from a verse. It works best to start these rolling fills with your right hand so that there is always that natural forward right, left progression going and your left hand tends to end up doing the snare hit like it's used to doing. It feels natural that way.
You could do the tom hit on the last eighth note before the snare, followed by two sixteenth notes on the snare and one sixteenth on a lower tom. (The following one is an exception in that you would start it on the snare with your left hand.) You can start earlier before the usual snare hit on 2, and hit the snare on the and before 4, followed by two sixteenth hits on an upper tom, then back to the snare for one hit on the "2", then back onto one or more lower toms for 3 more sixteenth hits. This would all be done in a smooth, rolling sixteenth note progression. So starting with that snare hit on the and before 4, it would sound kind of like ... bopboomboombopboomboomboom ... and you're back in on "1" again.
So the snare hit is like the axis around which the other tom hits before and after rotate. They are built around that snare hit on "2" and "4". The sequence always goes "right, left, right, left" no doubled up hits on either hand, so it's smoother.
John Mayer's "All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye" from his "Battle Studies" album would be another great song to practice this too.
Hopefully this is helpful! Hope to come back sometime to talk about one killer fill that every drummer can add to his bag of chops!
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