Improve Groove By Playing Drums With Dynamics!
What is it that separates professional drummers from the beginners? How come I can’t make a simple beat sound the way my favorite drummer plays it? What advantage do they have over me?
If you have ever asked yourself these questions - you are likely going to learn a great deal from this lesson. I will break down some of the important concepts of "dynamic drumming", and explain how they can directly benefit your playing. Although it would be impossible for me to cover all aspects of dynamic playing in this one article, I will do my best to shed some light on the essentials.
What is Dynamic Drumming?
Dynamics as it relates to drumming, is the actual volume and power with which you play each of the "voices" of your drum kit. For example, you can play soft notes on your snare drum (aka "ghost notes"), or playing louder rim shots to add an accent to a certain beat. These two strokes are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and thus exaggerate the difference that dynamics can make.
Each voice of your drum kit (hi-hats, snare, kick drum, etc.) can all be played at various levels individually and in relation to each other to create a unique sound. How you play the various voices that make up a drum beat determines the dynamics of your playing. This is why no two drummers will ever sound exactly the same. Every player has their own "voice" or style of playing the entire kit to set them apart. You need to determine your own "voice" with which to shape your own unique drumming sound.
Dynamic Drumming Tips and Ideas
There are many different ways in which you can play with dynamics around your drum kit. Here are a few suggestions for you to try out the next time you practice:
- Rim Shots - Hitting the snare head and rim with the stick at the exact same time (in one motion with one stick) will create a louder accented note.
- Normal Stroke - Playing a normal note on the snare with the stick hitting only the drum head. Typically the stroke starts somewhere between 4 and 6 inches from the drum-head.
- Ghost Notes - Playing very light notes on the snare - typically between accents. The stick should not be lifted more than an inch from the snare before playing this quieter note.
- Cross Stick (or rim click) - playing the stick against the rim of the snare while it lies reversed on the drum head. This is best demonstrated by an instructor, and works well in lighter playing situations.
- One Handed Drum Roll - This technique is great because it allows you to do a drum roll while another hand can still build a song around the drum kit.
- Moeller Method - This technique is great for not only being able to play more dynamic, but it will also allow you to hit the drum harder with less effort.
- Heels-down - Playing heels-down is the way many beginners are taught when they are first learning to playing the drums. With this technique, your heels rest on the base of the pedals as your feet make contact to play the hi-hat or bass-drum sounds. This is excellent for quieter playing, and can also work for louder situations.
- Heels-up - For heavier strokes, the bass drum can be played with a heels-up approach. Instead of resting your heels on the pedals they are actually up in the air as your toes rest on the pedals between strokes. You use the full muscles of your legs to control each stroke. This gives you more power than just using your calf muscles, but ultimately takes more energy.
- Feathering - This is a technique that heels-down players will use for lighter playing situations. It is typically played on double pedals for an even and continuous bass sound. You simply play light alternating strokes with both feet to provide a seemingly smooth sound. Felt or soft beaters with a fairly open-tuned bass should be used for the best results.
- Heel-Toe Technique - This advanced method uses a motion that combines heels-down and heel-up play into a rocking movement that produces a double stroke on the kick drum. It's fairly difficult to explain, but more information can be found online at www.heeltoetechnique.com.
- Closed - Playing the hi-hats closed (foot down) is best for softer playing.
- Sizzle - Playing the hi-hats just slightly open - creating a sizzle sound with each stroke.
- Open - Playing the hats wide open, or as you open them, while releasing your hi-hat foot.
- Alternating - Playing strokes on the edge and bow of the hi-hats. Typically the edge would be on the strong counts of the beat. For 4/4 time you would play edge, bow, edge, bow, etc. - while triplets could be played edge, bow, bow, edge, bow, bow... etc.
- Bow - Playing on the bow of the ride cymbal is most common, and works well for most styles.
- Bell - Playing the bell is great for accenting notes or playing on the off-beat to create a unique feel.
- Edge - Crashing, or playing on the edge of the ride, can be used to build into a heavy part of a track. However, a drummer will typically ride on a crash or possibly a china cymbal for this effect.
- Control - It is important you develop the ability to control each of your limbs when playing a beat. This may sound more difficult than it actually is. With practice you can easily develop this ability.
- Practicing Combined Voices - Try playing a beat quietly with all of your limbs. Not only does this help with dynamics, but also gives you added control with each limb. When you return to playing louder everything is typically easier to play.
- Practicing Individual Voices - Try playing a beat you would normally play fairly loud, and then adjust the volume of each limb individually. For example - continue to play the beat the way you normally would, and then lower the volume of your snare stroke to a ghost note. Bring the volume back up slowly and then do the same with the kick drum, the hi-hats, or the ride (one at a time) - all the while maintaining the original beat with the other limbs.
- Control - Typically you want fills to ascend or descend with the flow of the music. If you are building into a chorus with more energy, use the dynamics of the drum fill to build volume towards that chorus. Likewise, if you are coming out of a chorus, you want the dynamics to bring the volume and energy down slightly.
- Practice - play a simple snare-roll fill that starts quiet and builds in volume (no change in speed). Start by playing a simple beat, then move into the ascending snare-roll for a full bar, and then to another beat. Then try a descending roll connecting two beats. Once you have mastered that, apply the dynamics using other voices of the drum kit.
Relating Dynamics to Genres
Every style of music has it's own basic dynamic guidelines. These aren't "rules" or "regulations" that you must stick with, but rather "tips" and "suggestions" for what typically sounds best. There is plenty of room for creativity when it comes to following these guidelines, so you shouldn't feel too limited or restricted with what you can play.
- Play rim shots to accent the 2 and 4 counts, and lighter ghost notes on most every other beat.
- The kick drum should be the next prominent voice, and should be played heel-up for the most part.
- The hi-hats or ride cymbal should be the weakest of the three voices during normal play, but can still be fairly loud. I prefer to play the hi-hats fairly heavy, but the ride cymbal a little lighter as it is generally louder anyway.
- The snare should be played lightly. Some notes will be accented (but rarely by a full rim shot)
- The kick drum should be slightly quieter than the snare, and is best played heels-down.
- The ride should be clear on the bow with accents on the bell. It should be about as loud as the snare.
- The hi-hats are typically being closed with the left foot on the 2 and 4 counts. The sound should be crisp and slightly louder than the snare. This isn't always the case, but is something that works well for most playing situations. Many beginners struggle to get the volume up on their hi-hats, but it is definitely worth learning.
The tips I have provided above are rules that I generally follow. Again, they are merely guidelines for you to base your playing around. The goal here is to assist you in finding your own unique voice, and enabling you to play with more control and dynamics.