Drumming is a deceptively expansive art form that involves a lot more than simply holding a four to the floor together. Most professional drummers employ a range of routines and regimens to ensure that their drumming does not stagnate. If you’re looking to diversify your chops and add some variety to your drumming artillery, you’re going to need to figure out how to develop new skills and tricks as you practice. In today’s article, we’re going to look at a few drumming exercises you can utilize to increase your creativity.
Limb independence is usually what separates good drummers from great ones. The ability to freely control every body part contributing to your drum sound is the very foundation upon which you will build your drumming skills. It’s healthy to have a standard warm-up and practice routine that you can run through daily on a kit or practice pad. During these sessions, try to change up your exercises by swapping your primary playing hand or foot. For instance, if you’re running a straight 8th note pattern with your hi-hats, try playing them with your other hand or your hi-hat foot. Switching up your hands like this will help break the mental comfort zones you fall into while playing and keep you more receptive to new ideas.
Play with Silence
A lot of times in music, we learn that less is more. While musicians may believe that creativity only spurs from adding information to an idea, sometimes we can grow by subtracting. Reduction is a healthy exercise used in a variety of music methods. Beatmakers will often layer as many ideas on top of each other as they can before seeing how many they can remove while still generating a complete idea. As a drummer, it’s imperative to see how well you can enforce a groove with minimal notes. Take a handful of your most comfortable complex patterns and see how much of the accents and pocket you can still support while removing essential notes from certain bars. You may find that eliminating specific notes enhances the dynamics of certain accents. A popular example is the ‘dropzone technique used in reggae music, where the first note of a bar(usually the kick) is silent, and the crash falls in with the snare on the second downbeat. Learning to play with silence will teach you to pick your moments with your instrument and make you a much more impactful player overall.
Snarky Puppy’s Larnell Lewis recently popularized this exercise on Youtube, and while it may be a bit advanced for beginners, experienced players will reap its benefits. Find a song you’re slightly familiar with (or have never heard if you’re advanced) and see how well you can play it back after the first listen. You’ll naturally want to use songs that meet or slightly above your level of skill. The idea behind this exercise is to promote what musicians call active listening, which involves visualizing what you would play over a piece while listening to it. Many drummers tend to only listen out for a bassline or prominent hook when laying down drums, when there may be a fundamental backbeat or accent that follows a different part of the composition. By throwing yourself in the deep end after your first listen, you’ll challenge your brain and body to work with the entire song instead of just holding a backbeat to keep time while adding sparse ideas.
Lose The Grid
There’s a viral story that centers around the famous Voodoo album recording by D’Angelo. At the time, Questlove of The Roots was desperately trying to play on this album and had been invited to jam with D’Angelo’s band. Determined to stand out, he played his grooves and backbeats with a particular lazy timing that gave each song a unique pocket. His kick and snare and hi-hats, in particular, would fall in places that were not on the grid, and he did this on purpose. To this day, hip-hop producers such as J-Dilla still write their beats with this technique in mind. Much like melody and harmony, rhythm is defined by a basic set of rules that can be easily bent or even broken. Sit down with a set of basic four-to-the-floor backbeats and metronomes, and try to see how far you can deviate your snare, kick, or hat from the click. At first, this may seem a little unnatural, particularly if you’re click-trained from your beginner phase. However, after some practice, your body should be able to develop an understanding of this seemingly lazier timing style, and the malleability will open your limbs up for more interesting fills and sub-divisional playing.
A great time-tested exercise that drummers utilize to improve their creativity is the blending of time signatures. The majority of contemporary music runs in either a 4/4 or ¾ time signatures. You can place odd timing signatures over these to create polyrhythmic patterns that feel as if you’re constantly shifting the pocket of the track. For example, you can fit a 6’4 drum pattern over a 4’4 composition if you commit your brain and body to the 6/4 pattern. This exercise is reserved for more experienced players, as learning this incorrectly will negatively affect your playing and counting skills. You can find a selection of backing tracks to play along with on the internet that incorporates these kinds of time signature crossovers.
Increasing your drumming creativity is a never-ending pilgrimage of practice and play. The more you learn, the less you realize you know. This is a concept that some of the world’s most accomplished players and composers have come to make peace with on their musical journeys. By understanding that you’ll never fully master your instrument, you’re more likely to be receptive to growth, as preconceived limitations won’t bind you. Also, try to remember that you learn much better when you’re having fun, which is why musicians call their work ’playing.’ Thanks for reading our tips on growing your creativity as a drummer.