One aspect of drumming that I enjoy very much is playing around with time. I can remember listening to some amazing lick or passage, and being completely baffled by what I heard. Almost instinctively, I would rush to the turntable in an attempt to figure out note for note what had just transpired, not giving any thought to the inevitable wearing out of the grooves and eventual ruin of the record. These memorable drumming moments are often the result of “playing around with time.”
One such method of playing around with time is through dis- placing a repeating group of notes. For example, take a measure of 16th notes. Most often, they are played in succession with emphasis on the downbeat. My suggestion is to play these same four groupings of four notes, but start them on either the “e,” “and,” or “ah,” rather than “one.” In the following example, we have a typical grouping of 16th notes in groups of four beginning on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. The accents are on the first note of each group.
When playing all of the examples that follow, try to count and be sure to know where the downbeat is. Also, try to envision the four-note grouping in its new position in the measure, and try to feel how its displacement interacts with the downbeat. The following two patterns shift the time feel by starting on the “e” and “ah” of the measure.
The next pattern exhibits a lesser degree of tension, because it begins on the “and” of each beat.
Keep in mind that, unless you know where you are in the measure, each of the examples will sound identical. The only thing that changes is where you begin the pattern.
Once you become comfortable with playing each of the preceding exercises, different stickings can be used for the same 16th-note patterns. Let’s try the patterns using a paradiddle sticking.
In an attempt to put this entire process to practical use, try playing the following two-measure patterns. They include different accents on different drums that make them more interesting.
Try experimenting with any four-note stickings, such as RRLL, RLLL, or RLLR-LRRL, and work with them the same way we did with the paradiddles. You will find that these different stickings allow you to get around the set in more interesting ways.
As drummers, we owe it to ourselves to be well versed in time and its subtleties. We should always know where we are in the measure, and we should be able to highlight or accentuate any part of the measure with precision and conviction. These exercises, while suggesting a way to play around with time, should also strengthen your concept of time. The goal is to diversify fills and solos by not always accentuating the downbeat, and hopefully these exercises will help you reach that goal.