“Don’t disturb the groove.” Whether we’re playing to an audience that’s pumping their fists, moshing, or simply dancing, as drummers we never want to be the one held responsible for clearing the floor. But what happens when someone yells, “Give the drummer some!” and you start going for your latest lick? Does everybody suddenly make a beeline for the bar? Do you see people checking their cell phones? Unfortunately, this has happened to me more times than I care to remember.
Back in the late 1990s, when I was playing quite a bit of electronica music in smaller venues in New York City, I would often use just a snare, bass drum, and hi-hat out of sheer spatial necessity. I would occasionally use a floor tom. This kind of setup forced me to focus on the groove. And since people came to these places to dance and have a good time, I needed to figure out a way to maintain the groove while also incorporating some tasty patterns that stayed under the radar and worked within the limited setup.
In the process of trying to replicate programmed drum patterns on such a small set, I came up with some techniques and stickings that I hadn’t thought about previously. Then, when I brought these ideas to my full kit, I discovered that the possibilities for varying my grooves were limitless, even while I maintained the backbeat on 2 and 4. My hope is that some of these patterns will help you gain the confidence to feel comfortable jumping on any drumset, regardless of how many, or how few, drums are at your disposal.
All of the stickings used in these examples are basic patterns that we drummers play every day. It’s the way they’re orchestrated around the kit that makes them sound new and fresh.
A broken double is when two right- or left-hand strokes in a row are split between two different sound sources. For example, you could break up a double-stroke roll by playing the first right on a cymbal, with a bass drum underneath, and the second right could be played on the floor tom. Vinnie Colaiuta and Marco Minnemann whip these around the set at warp speed.
That’s simple enough, right? Now let’s try an exercise in 5/8, to get more comfortable with the broken-double motion on the left side.
Now we’ll apply the same concept of breaking up the doubles to our old friend the paradiddle, and we’ll put in a backbeat.
Here’s a variation in which you’re bringing your right hand across the kit from the hi-hat to the floor tom.
Let’s apply the same approach to an inverted paradiddle, where the double is in the middle of the pattern.
Here’s the same pattern, this time involving the rack tom.
Now let’s work with the double paradiddle. We’ll play this pattern as 16th notes in 6/8.
Instead of playing the double paradiddle in 6/8, try phrasing it as straight 16th notes in 6/4.
Another great sticking to experiment with is RLL. This is a very natural phrase for drummers to play, and Steve Gadd has done some incredible things with it. Let’s try playing it as 16th-note triplets in 4/4, while breaking up the double on every other 16th-note-triplet grouping and maintaining the backbeat on 2 and 4.
Now check out what we can do when we add a little Dennis Chambers–style double kick on beats 1 and 3. (I love this one!)
Next we’ll play the RLL sticking in 6/4. The 16th-note triplets are now played as straight 16th notes. This creates a three-against-four polyrhythm.
As you can see, the possibilities truly are endless, and we’ve just scratched the surface. In the next article we’ll discuss hi-hat substitutions, where we’ll be swapping the hi-hat foot with the bass drum foot or one of the hands. Until then, have fun. I wish you all the best!
Tobias Ralph is a New York City–based drummer currently performing with the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Defunkt. He has performed with Lauryn Hill, Tricky, and 24-7 Spyz, among others. Ralph is a faculty member at the Collective in NYC. For more info, visit tobiasralph.com.