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Creating Your Own Music for the Drums

By Yann, published on 28/08/2018 We Love Prof - IN > Music > Drums > A Guide to Writing Drum Music

“Practising in your basement is one thing but getting to the point where you forget that you’re playing the drums and you find yourself in harmony with another world, that’s the coup de grâce…” André Ceccarrelli, Jazz Drummer

Most people nowadays use the internet to listen to their music.

Have you thought about using it to help you make your own music?

For example, you can learn the basics of drumming and start composing your own beats for a funk, rock, or bossa nova piece.

In this article, we’ve got some advice for aspiring musicians on how to write drum beats and drum rudiments.

Drum Production and Composition

When we first start learning how to play a musical instrument, be it the electric guitar, bass, or drums, we play along with songs, starting off with simpler songs before moving onto more complicated compositions.

How do you write music? Does your singer have a melody in mind? Why not use it for your next composition? (Source: 691806)

While a beginner won’t be creating their own drum beat or percussion parts, once you learn to play drums, you can join a band and start choosing which songs to play. Then you’ll want to start writing your own music with your drum kit.

This might start just by adapting a pop song and performing a rock cover, increasing the tempo, and adding a guitar or drum solo, etc. A composer will often start with a riff on their electric or acoustic guitar.

Just like with composing music, you can also learn to improvise. Don’t forget that there are free drum lessons and tutorials online with advice on how to do this.

Whether you’re learning in a music school or teaching yourself, there are a few rules and concepts you have to respect.

You don’t need to be sat down with a piece of paper in order to compose. It’s much easier to just play and then make some notes afterwards!

What Is the Magic Formula for Composing on the Drums?

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution! But we can get pretty close.

What is a typical song structure? Ready to rock? (Source: StockSnap)

Know the Difference Between the Musical Genres

Different music styles use different drumbeats. Before getting started, you should make sure you’re familiar with the basics.

Since each musical genre has rules and standards for each musical instrument, especially the drums, you should study the type of music you want to write.

The tempo, the time signature, and even how hard you hit the drums are all unique to each musical style.

Wanting to play rock music?

You’re going to start with a basic binary rhythm.

Do you prefer jazz?

Focus on chabada rhythm, ternary rhythm, and triplets. The blues prefer groove and you can easily recognise a reggae rhythm.

Ask yourself what it is about the rhythm that lets you know it belongs to a particular genre of music and focus on the drumbeat.

What Is Timing?

A lot of songs have a drumbeat. If you play the drums, you are essentially the metronome for the group. A good rhythm will be quite regular and repetitive so that the other musicians can follow it.

Watch people dancing in a nightclub: DJs tend to put on songs with a very repetitive bass drum rhythm to get the people moving.

Symmetry is important with certain beats. In rock, the alternating bass drum and snare drum provides symmetry between deep and high notes. The lows of the bass drum and the highs of the snare. When you start writing songs, try to place the snare drum on the 2nd and 4th beats. This is what we call the afterbeat.

Of course, while regular and symmetrical beats are good, the human ear likes to hear new things from time to time. This is where you can start getting creative.

Follow a Structure for Songs

If you listen to songs during your drum lessons or music theory lessons, you’ll see that most songs have the same structure:

  • Intro
  • Verse with the main beat
  • Pre-chorus
  • Verse with the main beat
  • Pre-chorus
  • Chorus with variations on the main beat
  • Bridge with a new beat
  • Pre-chorus
  • Chorus with variations on the main beat
  • Outro

Most songs last under 4 minutes and are in standard 4/4 time. Most parts last 8 measures, especially verses, pre-choruses, and choruses. Some parts, like the bridge and the outro, can be longer.

When you start composing music, you can use this structure as a guide. On the other hand, breaking away from the norm is what makes great drummers like Keith Moon and Buddy Rich.

Start with the Foundations of Song Writing

The drum part of a song is at the heart of the band.

Which are the essential parts of a song? Before you know it, you’ll be performing your compositions on stage! (Source: StockSnap)

You can also compose drum parts for yourself as a solo rather than the typical types of songs that we usually hear.

What makes up a typical song?

  • A guitar riff
  • Drumbeats
  • A bassline
  • A vocal melody

Once you’ve got these main parts, you can start putting the song together by adding a verse here, a break here, and a solo in the middle, etc. For the drums, you need to pay particular attention to a few things:

  • Decide the beat for each of the parts (verses/choruses)
  • Decide the main parts of the song (choruses)
  • Add drum fills to move from one part to another
  • Work out where to place the breaks
  • Adapt your beat to the other instruments: the bass drum often synchronises with the bassline

Consider adding fills on the toms every 4 or 8 measures.

When you learn how to play the drums, you’ll also learn techniques on how to make songs more interesting by working the hi-hat. Powerful sections can be enhanced with a cymbal crash. However, don’t overdo it.

What about adding a drum solo to show off your abilities?

You can also write using metal beats.

Writing Your Drum Piece

This part is a lot easier if you have an understanding of music theory but you can still create drumbeats without knowing how to write musical notation.

How do you write sheet music? Make sure you write your ideas down in one way or another! (Source: padrinan)

Your drum teacher can teach you how to read and write sheet music, drum tabs, or drum notation. Once you’ve got these skills, you can start writing your own pieces. You can also write down your ideas in any way that helps you remember them. In fact, there are a number of famous musicians who never learnt how to read or write sheet music!

Listen to Your Composition

While composing music is quite a personal endeavour, your songs need to be listened to. It can be a good idea to let people listen to your composition. You should take a step back and get an objective look at your piece.

You might think your piece is absolutely amazing (even if it isn’t) or think it’s terrible when it’s actually quite good!

Start by getting an expert, such as your drum teacher, another musician, or someone else in your class, to listen to it. Make sure you take the criticism constructively and use it to improve your song. It’s not about pulling you down but rather helping you to get better.

An experienced drummer can give you some great advice on how to improve your arrangements, add interesting sounds and elements to your music, and techniques that will make them easier to play.

Finally, let the general public listen to your pieces. This can really help beginners. Concerts and performances are a good way to help people experience your music and see what their response is.

Remember that you won’t become a great drummer overnight so don’t worry if you don’t get it right on the first attempt. This means that you’ve got a lot of work to do once you get started.

Writing music is an ongoing process and with each attempt, you’ll get better. You should write something, get feedback, improve, and repeat. By doing this, you’ll be writing amazing music before you know it!

Drum Composition Vocabulary

When you start learning to play the drums, you’ll need to expand your musical horizons (perhaps by listening to Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Collins, and Ringo Starr) and learn new words, too.

Heel Up

This is a technique for playing the bass drum with your heel off the pedal. This is great for power and speed. However, in jazz music, you’ll want your entire foot on the pedal so you have more control.

Lick

A lick is a small musical phrase with a few strikes on various drums (usually the toms) which doesn’t interrupt the main drum beats (unlike a fill).

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