I'm going to try something different here....a dual format, 3-part blog series.
Each of these 3 installments will include:
- A 1080p video version, complete with audio & video examples
- A text-only version
Readers can select the format they're most comfortable with, or utilize both. Some who view the videos may find the text useful for review & quick reference.
The intent of the series is to deal with the thought process behind the composition. It's meant for songwriters & drummers alike.
All comments are welcome.
YouTube Video Link - https://youtu.be/F1IDKRjpmAc
Part 1 Text
While I enjoy writing these drum tutorials, I'm always on the lookout for ways to incorporate my singer/songwriter side into them. This topic presented the opportunity to do exactly that. I've structured this series in such a way, that both drummers and non-drumming-songwriters should find it useful. Whether you compose through electronic means or utilize an actual drum kit, it's helpful to know what works best, what doesn't....and why. The thought process is the same, regardless of how the end result is achieved.
As a starting point, I thought it would be useful to come up with a short-list of variables. These are things I take into consideration when structuring drum parts for a new song.
1. What's the genre of the song?
For a multitude of reasons, I don't begin structuring a final drum part until the basics of a song are pretty well set.
By basics, I mean:
At least a rough idea of lyrical content & subject matter
Backing chord patterns (basics of the song's musical movement)
Tentative song structure (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc)
Once I have those basic components, I can tell what type of song I'm working with. That matters! Regardless of personal preference, the drum part you craft should be an appropriate match for the song & genre. For example, a typical metal drum line probably won't fit very well in a country/pop song. By itself, it may seem like a cool, impressive part. More so, if you happen to be a big fan of metal. The thing is.....no one will ever hear it by itself. It'll only be heard within the context of the song. Bottom line - writing new parts is always about how they affect the song as a whole, NOT about the part itself. As a drummer, I was slow to learn that lesson. As a songwriter, it was immediately obvious. It's simply a matter of perspective.
Genre is a vague concept. Because of that, it's not unusual for a song to straddle several. Proper arrangement choices can help push it in one direction or another. For example, say your song straddles country & pop. You could push it in the direction of country by employing twangy guitars and a country sounding drum part. For that to work, you need to know what a typical country drum part sounds like. So....regardless of your own music preference, make sure you're familiar with whatever style you're writing in.
2. How is the movement of the melody structured (meter, flow, rhythm)?
Remember...the melody is the single most important part of any song! Whether it's sung or played instrumentally,
that melody & its appeal to the listener have a huge effect on the song's overall likability.
If you're the songwriter, this is your money-maker. Protect it at all costs. If you're the drummer, you need to recognize & accept a harsh reality. Your drum part will NOT be the reason that listeners like the song! It can certainly be a contributing factor, but NOT the big reason. I know, I know....it's not fair! What can I tell you though.....it-is-what-it-is!
I was a drummer long before I became a songwriter, so I've been on both sides of this argument. Drummers want to write challenging parts that their musician friends will find impressive. After all....we're drummers, that's what we do! Once again, I empathize with your plight, but my advice is to focus on how your part impacts the song as a whole. It's simply a question of the big picture.
That big picture is made up of many small facets, the melody being one. Be sure you have a clear understanding of how that melody moves, so you can craft a drum part that compliments that movement. Once you have something specific in mind, try playing it along with the melody. That'll give everyone involved the opportunity to evaluate how well they function together. Trial & error is a big part of this process. Keep working with it until you have a part that compliments the melody, not one that competes with it. Remember, in the end it's all about THE SONG!
3. What type of arrangement do you have in mind for the song?
I'm not suggesting that you have the whole arrangement set-in-stone before starting the drum part. Chances are though, you'll have at least a rough idea of what may work.
Are you thinking of using piano?
Are you picturing more than one guitar track?
Might additional percussion be a good fit (congas, tambourine, shaker, etc)?
The point I'm getting to is this....if you have definite ideas for your arrangement, factor those into the writing of your drum part. Again, in the end, everything needs to work well with everything else. Here are a few specific examples:
A. If you're planning a busy arrangement with lots of instrumental movement, a simpler drum part may be better. A song isn't a contest for dominance! Ideally, parts of your arrangement work together....towards a common goal. For instance, if you have cool ideas for intricate piano parts & a tasteful signature guitar track, your drum part should allow those to shine through. No....the drums don't have to be boring! Just build the drum complexities into song sections that allow more room for them. Those piano & guitar parts I referred to.....let's say those are only for the verses & bridge. That means your chorus sections could employ dominant, driving drums. When you vary the dominant instrument from section to section, it builds variety into an arrangement. It also makes that dominant instrument much more noticeable to the average listener. When that chorus section rolls around & those drums start kicking butt, the change immediately grabs the listeners' attention. This type of approach not only works well for the song, but gives the poor drummer some well-deserved attention.
*If you're interested in specific examples of simpler drum beats, you're welcome to check out one of my previous tutorials - "Essential Drum Beats". It contains a number of basic patterns, with charts & video demonstrations of each.
B. Sometimes arrangements are very sparse. For instance, many songs employ sustained chords, struck primarily on major counts. Sometimes a writer will utilize just bass & drums for the verses of a song....really strip it down. Situations like these offer the opportunity to get really creative with the drum track. You can experiment with intricate or syncopated parts......really flex those creative muscles.
Limited, simple instrumentation = fewer potential conflicts.
C. If some instrument parts are already written, do those parts heavily accent specific counts? Do several of those parts accent the same counts? I ask these questions because it is possible to over-do accents. Typically, it's not good to have every instrument emphasizing identical counts. That can result in a very stiff feeling song arrangement. But, as with any other guideline, there are exceptions. You will hear the occasional song that actually benefits from an overly-rigid feel.
D. What impact, if any, would you like the drums to have on the songs' development....beginning-to-end?
In an effort to clarify that question a bit, I'll break it down into more specific questions:
a ) Do you want the song to build as it progresses?
If you do, you may want to utilize the drums to aid in that process. It's not uncommon to bring them in gradually, layering in complexity & momentum a little at a time.
b ) Do you intend for one specific section of the song to jump out & grab the listeners' attention?
One way to achieve that, is to hold much of the instrumentation (including all the drums) back, until that specific section.
c ) Would you prefer the drums play a minimal part in the songs' development?
That can be accomplished by utilizing a consistent sounding drum track. Something with virtually the same feel start-to-finish. If you're looking for a reference point, "Rain King" by Counting Crows should serve nicely.
d ) Would a change in the drum tempo, from half time - to full time be useful?
It's a common method for varying the feel of a song, from section-to-section. Let's look at specific example. Say your basic song runs at a rate of 120 BPM. The beat used in the verse sections can be made to feel as if it's being played at 60 BPM, while the choruses are played as full-time 120 BPM. It's that shifting from one to the other that generates the noticeable variety.
Part 1 Summary
Most of part 1 shared a common theme. None of these variables are even worth considering unless the basics for the song have already been established! Hence my earlier statement that to that effect. I'm not trying to tell you that this is the only way to do things. I simply feel that it's the best way!
Part 1 dealt with some of the general concepts, questions & variables.
Part 2 will deal with specifics of actually building (structuring) the drum parts.
I'll try to give you a clearer picture of what works best, where & why.
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