Thursday, April 14, 2022

Natural music

Some open ended musing here. Lately I'm getting a lot of accidental music from younger drum students. Like with that “worst drummer ever” video from a few months ago, they naturally do some things that we teach on purpose later on. They may be mistakes in the context of what I'm trying to do in a lesson, but I treat them as right things in another context. I try to correct the current-lesson mistake while letting them know they did something good in the larger scheme.  

One student, who has been playing a very short time, did something interesting with this pattern— I had him play it with right hand only, and with both hands in unison: 

With both hands he played this rhythm: 

With his right hand alone he played: 

I don't know where he ever would have heard that beat, in that rhythm— it occurred to him naturally. That has been a very regular thing with young students— getting the exact notes of a pattern right, but feeling out a different rhythm for it. We work a lot on counting rhythms accurately, but some students move sideways into another rhythm with some patterns. With adult students it's often the reverse— they're struggling to get the right notes, I make them count the rhythm (of all the parts combined), and they nail it.   

Another student was playing this rhythm from Funky Primer, on the snare drum, with the 16th notes played as doubles: 

He played it accurately for a few measures, then modulated into a swing version of the same rhythm— we hadn't covered triplets or anything like this in lessons: 

This led to a little discussion of what he did, and the difference between a “normal” 4/4 feel as we've learned it so far, and a triplet feel. A direct non-theoretical lesson on the difference between a Mary Had A Little Lamb groove and a Pop Goes The Weasel groove, that came up on his timetable, after he improvised it.  

And there's this beat, which seemingly every kid in the world, regardless of education, can play some version of: 

I've had kids automatically swing that, like Levon Helm or Charlie Watts. At certain tempos it just wants to fall that way. Swing as a high art form is something that came to us through African-American music, swing as a plain rhythm comes from the way the human body works— if we don't train it out of people.  

Not all students are natural improvisors— meaning, they don't automatically sit down at the drums and play around with it— but when we find one that is, we don't want to correct them out of it. We don't want to teach them to fear their own creativity just because it's “wrong” for what we were trying to do at the moment. It takes some careful communication. 

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