Part 3: Synth Medal

Popular Play-Alongs 1In the last two play-along articles, we worked on the proper performance technique, groove vocabulary, and sounds of contemporary pop/R&B and punk-pop— two styles of music that you’ll likely be asked to play as a working drummer. This month we’re covering synth metal by way of a chart titled “Ninth Nail.”

Synth Metal
During the past decade, many top rock acts fused elements of synth pop and heavy metal into an aggressive new sound. The style became extremely popular by incorporating dance beats, keyboard synthesizers, and distorted rhythmic textures in a rock setting. This play-along chart is in the tradition of Nine Inch Nails and Rob Zombie.

The verse is an eight-bar section. The groove is a one-bar phrase that features straight 16ths played on closed hi-hats over a quarter-note bass drum pattern.

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The chorus is a twelve-bar section. The groove builds on the verse pattern by adding a hi-hat opening on the “&” of each beat.

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Performance Notes
Just as in the last two charts, this tune will utilize specific articulations. The bass drum should be played very forcefully, with a staccato articulation and a dynamic of forte (loud). This can be accomplished by using the plastic side of the bass drum beater and by burying the beater into the head. Try using your entire leg and foot to make each stroke.

The snare drum should be played very consistently and also at a dynamic of forte (loud). Each snare hit should be a rimshot. Since the two grooves are two-handed 16th-note patterns, your rimshots will be played with your right hand (reverse if you lead with the left hand) as you move from the hi-hat to the snare.

The two-handed alternating 16th-note hi-hat patterns should be played evenly and at a dynamic of mezzo piano (medium soft). In order to achieve this sound, use the upper shoulder of the stick, about 1″ beneath the tip, to strike the edge (not the top) of the hi-hat cymbals. This will give you a very thick yet controlled tone. Lowering the hi-hat volume makes the bass drum and snare sound louder within the overall drum mix.

The end result will be a strong, punchy, and authoritative bass drum sound alongside karate-chop rimshots and thick but controlled hi-hat notes. This approach complements the heavy guitar riff and rhythmic synth textures within the tune.

The verse-chorus form of “Ninth Nail” is augmented with an eight-bar introduction where the drums lay out. This is indicated by a multiple-bar rest symbol.

After the first twelve-bar chorus, there’s a four-bar vamp based on the verse groove. Immediately after the vamp, you repeat back to the verse.

There’s a sixteen-bar breakdown at the beginning of the coda. The drum groove is a two-bar phrase that includes heavy snare and tom flams.

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The second ending of the coda (bars 7 and 8) contains a two-bar 16th-note snare fill. Be sure to observe the crescendo by building from light snare hits to full rimshots during this part.

After the tom breakdown within the coda, the chorus groove returns for eight bars. Then go back to the verse groove for four bars. The chart ends with a two-bar breakdown on the toms.

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Donny Gruendler is the director of performance programs at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles and the creator of Hudson Music’s download series Seeing Sounds and Private Lessons. He has performed with DJ Logic, Rick Holmstrom, John Medeski, and Rhett Frazier Inc. For more info, visit