Thursday, October 06, 2016

Orchestrating and embellishing backbeats

What do we do with this?
Someone bored with playing backbeats all night asked this question on the Drummerworld forum: “What do you do to spice up the 2 & 4?” 

My answer is: I don't think anyone should ever be bored just because they're playing backbeats— not if they're doing them with the right attention and attitude. It's one of the high arts of drumming, which the best players take very seriously.

With that caveat, I wrote up a list of things you can do with your backbeats with the purpose of adding something to the music. It's all basic drumming vocabulary you've probably already learned in the course of normal practicing and playing, but it's good to reference these common moves in relation to the backbeat. Sit down and try them out— playing a basic rock beat, go through the list once or twice and see if you can do all the suggestions in a way that sounds good to you.

Some things can be done on any beat 2 or 4; others, which I've specified, are more conventional to do specifically on one or the other. Of course you can play them however sounds best to you. Many of them can be combined. The list is not exhaustive— it's just everything I could think of in the 15 minutes it took to write them down.

Change the sound:
Rim shot
Rim click
Play a tom tom
Play a flam
Play a double stop on the snare and a tom
Play the snare and a cymbal accent together (on a different cymbal)
Play the snare and bass drum together
Play the bass drum only
Open the hihat, closing on the following down beat, the following &, or the following e
Leave the snare out (usually 2), continue cymbal rhythm
Leave the snare out, accent on the hihat, open or closed
Play a buzz
Play a roll ending on the following beat

Ruff (short buzz, unmetered triplet, two sixteenth notes, or sixteenth note triplet) or ending note of a short roll (5, 7, or 9 stroke, starting on the before, e before, or beat before)
Add bass drum or tom tom before: &a&-a
Add bass drum or tom tom after: &ee-&e-&-a
Add bass drum and/or tom tom in any combination of the above
Put it in the middle of a longer fill
Play ghost notes on the following e, the e-&, or the e-&-a, decrescendoing, for an echo effect
Play the echo effect with both hands in unison on the snare and a tom, or the snare and a cymbal

Add notes: 
Play the 4-&, 2-&
Play the &-4
Play the 4-a, 2-a
Play the e-4
Play other rhythms or combinations of the above

Displace— do not play on 2 or 4 with these: 
Play the “backbeat” on the & of 4 or 2
Play the backbeat on the & of 3
Play the & of 3 and the & of 4, making a brief double time effect
Play the a of 1
Play the a of 1/3 + & of 2/4; Soca-like
Play the e of 4, or e and a; rare
Play the e of 3 and e of 4; rare, Maracatu-like, play BD in unison

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