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Let’s Talk About Drums

Pyramind instructor Dan Blum discusses drums and the role they play in all genres of music. When it comes to production and arranging, you may have heard some common truisms about drums – they provide rhythm, they help keep time, etc. Dan uses multiple songs as examples to point out the one thing drums are always doing regardless of genre: dictating form. We also provide a free sample pack of the drum loops and parts from this video for you to download here:

The first musical example Dan uses is Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP – Soul Makossa (Money). In this case, the drums are providing stability with a four on the floor kick – a technique commonly used in house music. This stability helps get people dancing, and also provides a base for the other instruments to sit on top of. This is especially evident when you hear EDM producers utilizing sidechain compression. Next, he plays an old Miles Davis track, Freddie the Freeloader, as well as I Believe In A Thing Called Love by The Darkness. Both songs are from entirely different genres and time periods, yet the drums are fulfilling the same role – providing stability.

You might be under the impression that drums always provide stability or keep time, but this isn’t the case for all genres. Dan plays a bit of a Miles Davis performance (Berlin, 1967) to demonstrate that drums can be “in time” without necessarily being the main instrument that provides stability. In this example, it is the bass player (Ron Carter) providing stability for the other instruments to develop around. He also plays an Aphex Twin song in which you can hear the bass and pads keeping time and providing stability, more so than the drums.

After digging into each example, Dan poses a question: What is it that drums do across all genres? He then plays two 4 bar drum parts and initiates a pop quiz: What key was the song in? What was the melody? Both of these questions cannot be answered based solely on his drum part. Did he start in the verse or start in the chorus? Based on what he played, it’s evident he played a verse part and then a chorus. Herein lies the answer to Dan’s first question – the one thing drums do across all genres: signify form.

Whether the genre be funk, rock, blues, jazz, house, or even classical – drums indicate what section of the song you are hearing. This can be heard more easily with drum fills – these signify the transition into another section of a song. After a fill, you will hear the drum pattern change – or disappear completely.

A song can easily lose energy if drums are not being used to properly dictate form. Dan is also the drummer for Surf Bored, a southern surf rock band based out of San Francisco. He plays drums over their song “I Don’t Have 2”, changing up the pattern to demonstrate how the drums impact the power of the song’s arrangement.

Each time he plays, he makes simple changes in the drums that end up having a significant influence on the energy of the song. He does one “normal” take where he plays the open hi hat during the verse, and the ride cymbal during the chorus. This is how he played it on the record, and can be used as a baseline to compare to the other takes. Next, he does a take where he plays a closed hi hat during the verse, and an open hat during the chorus. This small change in the drums produces a big change in the sound of the song.

In the next take, he plays the song without any drum fills. This is one of the more obvious examples – the song falls flat without proper transitions that would usually be provided by the drums. The last take he does is “backwards” – he plays the ride cymbal during the verse and hi hats during the chorus. Again, a seemingly small change produces very different results in energy.

This is a must watch not only for drummers – but for anyone producing music with drums. Dan also recorded a nice pack of drum loops and one shots, which you can download for free use in your own productions. The samples have been processed but not mastered, leaving room for you to tweak them as you see fit. 

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