Rock Perspectives

Rock ‘N’ Time

by David Garibaldi

The basic role of the drummer has always been that of a timekeeper. Today’s music is no exception. I believe that basic role has become clouded in the minds of many due to the high technical level contemporary music has evolved to within the last ten years or so. As the various music forms fused together, drummers faced new technical challenges. When most people think of “fusion,” they think jazz-rock or jazz-funk. A quick trip across the radio dial is evidence that the spectrum is considerably more broad. The basic priority of any drummer should always be that of a timekeeper or an anchor man, no matter what the style. That principle is common to all forms of popular music.

When I first began playing drums seriously, my favorite drummers were Gregg Errico (formerly of Sly and the Family Stone), Bernard Purdie and Sonny Payne. What attracted me most was how the music sounded because of the way they played time; solid, but with a certain craftiness and attitude that really made the music happen. The drummer is very much in the driver’s seat. A house has a foundation. That foundation must be solid so the house can be built correctly. That’s us. We are the foundation. Building upon a foundation of solid timekeeping will always greatly improve the sound of any band.

Tension inhibits execution and timekeeping. One key secret to maintaining a solid time feeling is developing the ability to relax as you play. Part of my practice routine includes playing time in a variety of tempos utilizing simple, or complex, snare drum, bass drum and hi-hat cymbal combinations. The main idea is to go through these combinations while concentrating on relaxation, stopping at the signs of tension. This also develops the ability to “hold a groove” which is absolutely essential to any type of music. Playing along with a metronome can help greatly. Set your metronome to an eighth note pulse (2 clicks per quarter note) or a sixteenth note pulse (4 clicks per quarter note). This helps develop evenness and precision as you match what you’re playing to the clicks of the metronome.

Another proven approach is to select any record you enjoy, learn the beats, fills and overall arrangement and practice playing along. Of course, there is definitely no substitute for live playing with a band. It is in this context where one truly learns the most about good timekeeping and its importance. Here are some grooves to try:

Rock Perspectives