Cultural connections 1 is part of a series of magazine articles I wrote for a specialist drumming magazine. It follows up on the post “learning music from different cultures” that you can read here.
“Swing” and “drive” are two very important parts of rhythm in many afro-based cultures such as Moroccan, Cuban and Brazilian music. In these articles I explore how these work, the differences between Western and afro-based cultures and how we, as musicians who have not grown up in these cultures can learn these principles and adapt them to our own musical vocabulary.
CULTURAL CONNECTIONS 1
PLAYING WITH TIME
Hi. Having chewed through trials and tribulations of odd time signatures in the Arabic repertoire, welcome to a completely new topic and series of articles. I have already touched on the subject of “playing with time” when discussing Brazilian swing and how manipulating 16th notes allows us to push the whole groove forward. In the articles to come, we will be looking at the development of this theory and how we can manipulate time in a “Western” or linear situation where the basic division of time is NOT swung. The aim will be to train our ears to be able to play in front of the beat or metronomic pulse, right on it and finally behind it. We will be using beats from our culture so that a direct application is possible. But why look into this? We are taught to play, as metronomically perfect as possible and that a “good” drummer should be able to play perfectly to a click. This is totally valid but for me is not the whole story. As rhythm specialists, we should be able to play around with the pulse and move into the realms of “feel” and what makes us different and individual as drummers.
For now, let us start with exercise 1 that shows the pulse and the “grey areas”. This grey area is the amount of latitude our ears allow us in relation to the metronomic pulse. To the left, in bar 1 is the area “ahead” of the beat and to the right in bar 2, the area “behind” it. If we stray outside these areas, the music will, to our ears be speeding up or slowing down. For now, we will be concentrating on the area to the left of the beat and so how to play ahead or in front of it.
Exercise 2 shows one bar of bass drum dead on the beat followed by one bar of bass drum in front of it. Using a click or metronome that you can hear clearly and easily is VITAL. The idea is to go from one bar to the other smoothly without losing the click. For bar 2, try and push the kick as much as possible without going completely out of time. This will take a while to get used and can be frustrating but with time (!) your ear will be able to gauge how much it can push ahead without losing the pulse.
Exercise 3 uses the same method but with a straight-ahead rock beat and exercise 4 with a 12/8 jazz ride cymbal figure.