looking for parts

Students often bring in tunes to learn parts or write new ones. If they are working on originals or something that doesn’t have a good drum part already recorded, we go through the process of writing a new or different part. I spend the first lesson working on song form, learning the lyrics, knowing when the song changes direction harmonically, or makes a dynamic change that needs a set up. Then we look at what can logically be done to make the transitions in the tune. I add to that a few things that help me to keep focused on playing for the song.

Knowing the bass player (if you have one) and their style, feel and abilities is critical, not to mention the rhythm section in total. Writing a groove or pocket requires that I try to find a spot that pulls the entire rhythm section together (unless you want a more “jangly” feel), so that everything supports the vocals.

The very last thing I do is to put together fills for a tune. If it is a live situation, I tend to think of a rhythmic “shell”, the length and placement of the fill, and the direction that I want to move the tune toward, or a particular effect (build, pull back, etc.). Then I play as few notes as I possibly can to do what I want. If it’s a studio gig, the fill gets played the same way during the recording as it was rehearsed, just to keep surprises to a minimum.

For inspiration, I listen to drummers that really make that happen for me, particularly ones that have the ability to take very simple grooves and turn them into magic. Brian Blade, Billy Ward and Jim Keltner come to mind, along with a few local folks that I occasionally get to hear live.

The oldest licks in the world come alive if played the right way in the right place…

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