Most drummers with some experience will eventually encounter the situation in which they need to create a groove for a new composition. Sometimes it’s an obvious decision what to play, sometimes not. How do we prepare ourselves for these situations? Listening to and studying as many different styles of music as possible is essential in understanding the effect these different grooves have on any particular style. Physical and mental control of the drumset are also essential components to successful groove development. The result of extensive style analysis and mastery of the drumset is that it allows us to approach grooves more organically, meaning we can play what the tune needs, not just recycle a generic beat we have memorized.
I would like to share an exercise with you from my new DVD, Joe McCarthy’s Afro-Cuban Big Band Play-Along Series, Vol. II. This exercise will help you develop a combination of skills required to internalize the concept of groove development. I refer to this as “stylistic coordination,” simply because it can be utilized to develop whatever style you are studying or wish to play.
For our purposes, we will target a clave-based groove. Here’s the concept: to establish an ostinato and cycle through a series of permutations, focusing on limb alignment, sound quality, overall performance consistency and multi rhythm execution. This process will also target concentration, our most valuable resource, which must be developed just as our limbs are. Playing these exercises for long periods of time with a metronome trains us to “stay in the game” which is essential when we are performing something as basic as a tune, a concert, or even a tour or long-running show. Mastery of this concept allows us to focus on all of the moving parts of the ensemble we are performing with, while sustaining a high level of performance.
Let’s take a look at the components of the exercise:
1. For the ostinato in Exercise 1 we will be using is a 2:3 rumba clave pattern. Put this in the hand you normally use to play your ride pattern. You may play this on any instrument you wish, although a jam block would give you the color of the claves.
2. Hi-hat plays on beats 1 and 3.
3. Bass drum plays the “and” of beat 2, also known as “bombo.”
This exercise will be played in cut time, so we will feel it in two. The hi-hat will be the “big beat.”
4. The permutations (variations or rearranging) will be played with your other hand in conjunction with the other three voices. Begin on the beat playing the snare drum and orchestrate to the toms as you master the rhythms. Please play each rhythm many times before cycling through all of them in succession. Once you begin cycling through them, start with one measure phrases of each and continue to expand to 4 and 8-measure phrases.
Take your time and focus on remaining relaxed. Relaxation is the key to control!
This exercise is simply an avenue. These are not “beats,” but are rhythmic possibilities that will enable you to tap into an infinite variety of ideas, instead of being limited to repetitive 1-and-2 bar ideas.
Continue to experiment with any combinations you wish. The result will be a more creative, supportive and interactive approach to musical drumset playing.
Joe McCarthy is the Grammy Award winning drummer with Afro Bop Alliance. Please visit his website, www.joemcdrum.com