“Each human personality is like a piece of music, having an individual tone and rhythm of its own.” Hazrat Inayat Khan
Rhythm and tempo are essential skills when learning to play the drums. Yet not everyone has a musical ear and some don’t start out with a sense of rhythm.
10 to 20 percent of the population fails to sing in tune, according to an often-cited expert estimate.
But it is not because one is a bad singer that one is incapable of mastering a rhythm. Dancers are not singers and yet they also move with the rhythm, tempo and melody of a piece of music.
It’s the same with playing the drums.
If you are not able to spot the different notes or beats at first, don’t panic!
This will develop over time and learning the drums is a great way to gain a better understanding of the tempo of a song.
The waltz is played on a ternary rhythm (Source: London News Pictures)
Understanding music theory, reading a musical score and playing a drum piece may seem complicated.
On the other hand, understanding and reproducing a rhythm is something that is accessible to everyone.
Through listening and paying attention, one can capture the essence of a rhythm to better perceive the structure of a piece of music.
The first thing to understand is the pulsation or beat. Nothing’s easier! Even without being a musician, you must have felt it. It is that which makes you stomp your feet or bob your head while listening to a song.
If you really think you’re struggling, start with a techno song. The tempo is well marked, notably thanks to the bass drum: this is called the beat.
Any piece of rock has the same style of rhythm. Take for example London Calling by the Clash, Seven Nation Army by White Stripes or We Will Rock You by Queen.
The beat is steady. It’s not because there are breaks, fills or that the music accelerates or stops, that you have to change it.
Try to keep a steady pace even when the drums stop or the bass guitar and drums play variations during choruses.
A pulsation marks a beat. The rhythms are usually on 4 beats or 4-count.
Try counting 1, 2, 3, 4 on London Calling, you’ll see that its fluid. Try doing 1, 2, 3 and it does not work anymore. The strongest beat is always the first one, you’ll notice the 1st, or 1, of the musical tempo the most.
The most common for a rhythm on 2 or 4 beats is the binary rhythm.
But there are still 3-beat rhythms like with a waltz or jazz (try to count the beats on The Waltz #2 by Elliott Smith). This is called a ternary rhythm.
It is also possible to have ternary beats on 4 beat rhythms like the blues. Listen to the Doors’ Roadhouse Blues to better understand the difference.
But I don’t want to go too far and lose you…
When starting out on the drums, prioritize the binary rhythms on 4-counts which are much easier to understand and break down. These are usually all found in pop, rock, rap and techno music.
Check out different songs on the radio. Count out the 1, 2, 3, 4 beats and you will see that it’s everywhere!
You can also develop your creativity by playing the drums.
The bassist and the drummer play together to keep the rhythm (Source: Society of Rock)
After seeing the different beats possible on the drums, let’s now pay attention to the sense of rhythm or groove of the drummer.
Knowing how to hit the snare drum and tap the cymbals is not enough to make you a talented drummer.
What about your sense of rhythm?
It’s a bit of the definition of being a good drummer: keep up the pace and make sure the beat does not falter.
While other musical instruments have to pay attention to harmony (electric guitar, cello, clarinet, upright piano, flute…), percussion instruments (tambourine, djembe, acoustic drums, electronic drums…) are judged on their pace.
Playing the drums means to play rhythms.
The more you master your basic rhythms, the more precise you will become. Once you’ve hit that off-beat shot, it’s too late to take it back.
However, even if you can’t go back in time, you can use it as a warning to continue working more on rhythm patterns and certain sequences.
The good news is, developing your hearing acuity is possible.
Here’s an exercise that can help you better master develop your rhythmic sense and gain precision:
I advise you to devote a little time to each drum session to working on your rhythmic precision, especially if you really need it!
With drums, whether alone at home or in a concert, keeping the tempo is essential for a drummer.
It takes only a few minutes to pronounce a sentence in an unknown language but it often takes several years to pronounce the same sentence fluently, without the accent of your natural language, and with the same rhythm as the native speakers.
With tempo, it’s the same! Learning takes time.
The drummer is the one who keeps the tempo for the group. (Source: Pixabay)
What influences the tempo of a drummer?
There are five factors that influence the tempo of a drummer:
Do you know all the benefits there are to learning the drums?
Working with a metronome
To keep the beat with percussion drums, there is no secret! You’ll need to practice with a metronome.
Working it properly means working with it every day and for all exercises: basics, agility, speed, accuracy…
The metronome allows you to progress by increasing the speed gradually while keeping up the beat.
With beats per minute, progress is quantifiable and boundaries are identifiable.
But be careful when choosing your metronome. It must have:
You can then choose the Trixes M50, the Boss DB30 or the Tama RW30 according to your budget.
I advise you to work on your pad or acoustic snare with the metronome playing directly in your ears through headphones. But be careful not to put the volume up too high to preserve your delicate eardrums.
With significant use, you’ll get so used to the metronome that its steady clicks will become a natural reflex for you. During concerts, it is also possible to listen to a metronome through earbuds, but it is not ideal for the eardrums…
There are electronic metronomes who come with more features. (Source: Etsy)
Hitting your drums is fun, but mastering rhythm and tempo is better!
What is GADD tape?
From the famous drummer Steve Gadd, it’s a tool used on the snare drum to get a dry sound.
What is a bearing edge?
The bearing edge—the bevelled rim of a drum’s shell—is the only place where the head meets the body of the drum.