Sunday, August 20, 2023

Categories of what we're doing

Following is a very half-baked item that has been in my drafts for a long time. It's a broad-ranging subject, and not the kind of thing you can just bang out, and have it be fully thought through. Somebody could write a thesis on this. But my banged-out thoughts are worthwhile, so here we go: 

Ever think about what we're actually doing here with this drum stuff— what job are we doing, what's the purpose of the things we during a piece of music? 

Most of the time we don't— we just do what is done, and play the music the way people play it. It's mostly non-verbal, and we pick it up through a lot of playing and listening and watching. It'd be nice to know what things are, so we know what choices are available to us, and know what we're hearing. 

This is a list of some aspects of drumming, that is certainly incomplete. They're not hard and fast, and not necessarily mutually exclusive. They may happen at different times in a piece in a piece of music, or at the same time, or not at all.


Simple time
A straight beat or pulse, maybe emphasizing the down beat or strong beats. Few or no variations or fills, starts and stops only.

Examples: Motown, traditional Country, Native American

Genre time feel
A time feel with a flavor specific to the style of music— a repeating “stock” beat. 

Examples: Connie Kay, Getz/Gilberto, most music generally 

Composed time patterns
Playing made-up non-generic drum grooves.

Examples: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Cissy Strut

Extemporaneous time feel
Any of the above, with significant variation and improvisation. 

Examples: “ECM” feel, modern jazz generally

Reading/arrangement elements

Laying out / tacet
Not playing anything. 

Playing a time feel. 

Playing an accent with the ensemble, plus supporting figures— things to help the band play the accent accurately.

Playing something in an open space— a gap in the melody or solo line, or an arranged stop.  

Solo breaks
Short featured statement, still serving a function in the arrangement. 

Featured solo
Extended solo intended as a self-contained musical statement, or show element. In a jazz context, this could be one or more choruses of a tune, or a solo out of time in the middle of a tune or before a tune.

Examples: Buddy Rich/West Side Story, John Bonham/Moby Dick

Broad approaches 

Composed piece or “part”
Playing an note-for-note written or worked-out part, or transcription of a recorded performance. 

Examples: The Black Page, Neil Peart, tribute acts

Faking / playing
Playing without written music— or from just a lead sheet or chord chart— and without a predetermined arrangement.  

Example: most jazz gigs, or jazz-format gigs 

Reading / ensemble drumming
Playing in support of an arrangement as a primary orientation. Starts and stops, playing in unison with the band, and helping the band play their parts. Playing figures, setting up figures, filling in between figures.

Examples: studio drumming, big band drumming, pit orchestra

Pop craft
A category of ensemble drumming specifically as it relates to crafting a pop track. Often with input or direction from the producer, arranger, composer, or songwriter. Grooves and fills composed to complement the track in a certain way, sometimes to act as hooks in their own right.

Examples: Nevermind, Ringo Starr, Hal Blaine

Show drumming
High keyed ensemble playing with a Vaudevillian element.

Examples: Blue Man Group, Secret Agent drum line, anyone doing “stick tricks”

Technical demonstration or display
Playing specifically to display the performer's abilities, spectacle. Or a quasi-musical demonstration of a technical concept for instructional/promotional purposes.

Examples: Thomas Lang, “clinic” performances

Percussive colors
Drumming in the classical percussion mode, not functioning as a time keeper. For adding impact, background textures, and color. 

Personal expression
Things played for no definable reason except the player wanted to play it. 

An incomplete list, as I said. Others can certainly name and define these categories better than I have. Some of these things may have established names in some communities, that I just haven't heard.  And there are some broad areas I left out because I don't have the time or brain power to give them a full treatment right now. This will all develop over time.  

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