Diving Deep into Displacements
Most of us seem to be listening to music digitally these days almost exclusively. And while streaming means never having to deal with a skipping record or CD anymore, those skips and glitches can provide a fun rhythmic effect to try to replicate on the drumset. There are several ways you can approach this challenge. In this lesson we’re going to explore restarting our beats somewhere other than beat 1 within our pattern to simulate an unnatural skip in each example’s rhythmic phrasing.
We can start exploring this idea with a simple beat that’s based mostly in 8th notes, as demonstrated in Exercise 1, and then build upon it. Practice this groove until it’s funky and comfortable to execute.
Once you have that source groove comfortable, let’s create our first glitched beat. To do this we’re going to restart our groove on the “a” of beat 3, where we previously played the first pattern’s fourth bass drum note (Exercise 2). Because our beat starts over in the middle of the bar, the hi-hats are going to cut back to match the kick, and we’ll continue through the displaced pattern until the end of the 4/4 bar. A small arrow pointing to the “a” of beat 3 marks the restart.
If you’re having trouble feeling this pattern smoothly, try playing straight 8th notes on the hi-hats first to internalize how the off beat kick and snare drum pattern feels. Then, snap the hats back to the glitched version that’s notated in Exercise 2.
In Exercise 3, we’ll ramp up the displaced skips by restarting our beat multiple times within one measure. First we’ll restart it on the “a” of beat 2, and then again on beat 4 and the “e” of 4.
Another way we can increase the glitched feel is by adjusting the time signature after displacing the original pattern. Let’s take one more look at our first source groove. Restart the phrase on the “e” of beat 2 and the “&” of beat 4, and chop off the final 16th of the measure to create a bar of 15/16, as notated in Exercise 4. This idea is especially effective if you use it sparingly.
Cutting or adding a 16th note to any bar will add to the glitchy character of these patterns. However, for the rest of the exercises in this lesson, we’ll stick to a 4/4 time signature. If you’re inspired, try adjusting the time signatures on any of these beats to create your own glitches.
Now let’s start with a new source groove. When we begin with a busier or more varied note placement in our original beat and apply this concept, it can start to sound less like a typical displaced pattern. Also, we can make sure that the restart points are clear by marking them with an open hi-hat or splash cymbal. Try the next examples with and without the open hi-hat to see how the feel changes. Exercise 5 demonstrates our new source groove, and in Exercise 6 we restart the pattern on the “e” of beat 3.
Things start to get interesting when we incorporate different subdivisions within this concept. Before we start to get crazy, let’s set up the feel we’re going to be playing by using only a 16th-note subdivision. Exercises 7 and 8 demonstrate the new source beat and a glitched variation that restarts on the “e” of beat 2 and the “&” of beat 3. Feel free to quickly bark open the hi-hats on each restart point as a variation.
Once those two previous examples are comfortable, replace the ghosted 16th note on the “e” of beat 1 with two 16th-note-triplet partials, as notated in Exercises 9 and 10. Also, alternate between Exercises 8 and 10 to make sure the only things that sound different are those two ghost notes—the hi-hat and kick and snare accents should all remain consistent when you’re transitioning between the two exercises.
Next let’s apply different restart points to our new 16th and 16th-note-triplet source grooves. This time we’ll restart our grooves on the “e” of beat 2 and the “a” of beat 3. First check out the 16th-note variation notated in Exercise 11.
Next, utilize the same restart points within our 16th-note-triplet variation to displace beat 4 by a single 32nd-note-triplet partial. So far everything has been notated within standard quarter-note groupings so that it’s easy to visualize the pulses of each bar. Exercises 12 and 13 demonstrate the same pattern, only notated differently. In Exercise 12, beat 4 is marked with a dotted line. Thinking about it in this way can make it difficult to execute and may result in the groove feeling stiff. However, in Exercise 13 the notation is grouped according to each restart point (groupings of five 16th notes, three 8th notes, and another five 16th notes). This latter notation can look cleaner and might be a better way to think about the grooves when you’re playing them.
Once you’ve got the hang of these patterns, alternate between Exercises 11 and 12/13 to ensure that the hi-hat and bass drum and snare accents all feel identical, whether you’re playing the original ghost notes as 16th notes or as two 16th-note-triplet partials.
In Exercise 14 we’ll try another example in which our triplet ghost notes obscure one of the quarter notes—this time on beat 3 with the skip occurring on the “a” of beat 2.
Exercises 15 and 16 add one more restart to Exercise 14, this time on the “e” of beat 4. Spend time internalizing Exercise 14 before moving on—you’ll want to make sure the hi-hat pattern still feels like it’s playing consistent 8th and 16th notes, even with the triplet ghost notes interspersed. The single 16ths at the very end of Exercises 15 and 16 can also be tricky to execute cleanly. You don’t want the final notes sliding into each other on repeat, and the glitchy feeling will be lost if that rhythm isn’t tight.
Beat glitching can be interesting when used as groove-based drum fills if your bandmates are aware that they’re coming and can handle the feel. But this concept is even cooler from a compositional standpoint, and using these ideas within your band’s overall writing process can yield exceptionally hip results. I used to jokingly say to my friends when we were listening to music and the CD skipped, “Man, this band is tight!” Hopefully the material here has inspired you to explore employing the glitch effect musically in your own collaborations.
Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. His latest book, Progressive Drumming Essentials, is available through Modern Drummer Publications.