Inconsistencies in a drummer’s tempo often occur during musical transitions. For instance, moving from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal to change the sonic texture alters the drummer’s positioning behind the kit, which can cause changes in the tempo. Dynamic changes can also alter timing—drummers often tend to rush when they get louder and slow down when they get quieter. And changing the feel or style of a groove, such as transitioning from half-time to double-time or from straight 8ths to swing, are both likely places for the tempo to shift. Practicing transitions between grooves is as important as practicing the grooves themselves.
In this lesson we’ll explore sonic, dynamic, metric, and stylistic transitions. Each measure in the following exercises should be repeated four times before moving back to the top of the phrase. Repeat each exercise until it’s consistent and comfortable, and employ a wide range of dynamics and tempos. I recommend starting with a medium tempo (80–140 bpm) before pushing into a broader range. Also experiment with appropriate fills that fit within each transition’s new sonic texture, dynamic, feel, or style.
Sonic transitions alter a groove’s orchestration. These changes occur often in music. For instance, you might color a song’s intro with cymbals, move to a closed hi-hat and rimclick groove in the verse, and play a ride and snare pattern in the chorus. Sonic transitions can also include switching from brushes to sticks or from sticks to mallets, among other choices.
It’s important to transition comfortably within a wide range of dynamics as well. Be sure to apply the following dynamic variations to any of the other transition exercises provided here.
When playing the following examples, the length of crescendos or diminuendos between dynamic markings can vary. For instance, the notated volume changes occur on beats 3 and 4 of measure four. However, these transitions could be four beats long, eight beats long, or even four measures long, so try different combinations.
Metric transitions include changes in time signatures, such as moving from 4/4 to 3/4; metric modulations, such as hearing the dotted quarter note as the new pulse; and feel changes, such as shifting to half-time or double-time grooves. In the following two examples, we’ll transition from regular time to half time and from a jazz waltz to a swing groove.
Stylistic transitions alter the subdivision or feel of a groove. A common stylistic transition would be moving from a straight-8th groove to a swung-8th jazz feel. Stylistic transitions can include changes in the sonic, dynamic, and metric information as well. Experiment with other style transitions not notated here, such as moving from a funk groove to a disco feel or a jazz ballad to a double-time swing pattern. And listen to recordings in a wide variety of styles to develop appropriate language to play these grooves and transitions.
Note density should also be considered when practicing these concepts. For instance, a 16th-note groove has a denser texture than an 8th-note groove. Typically, the more notes a drummer plays, the more likely he or she is to speed up. Similarly, drummers tend to slow down when there’s more distance between the notes, so practicing more spacious grooves using half notes and whole notes is a great way to develop consistency in time.
Wayne Salzmann II is the drumset instructor at the University of Texas at Austin. He has performed or recorded with Steve Miller, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Cross, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, and Mike Stern, among others. Salzmann plays DW drums and hardware, Zildjian cymbals, Evans drumheads, and Vic Firth drumsticks.