Oh boy, here we go . . . The only phrase that makes drummers cringe more than “the Black Page” (if that reference doesn’t make sense to you, check this link): Music Theory. Harmony, melody, cadence, passing tones, major, minor, mixolidian . . . argh!!!
But really, knowing a little bit about music theory will help make you a better drummer, musician, and band member. So let’s spend a couple of weeks looking at some basic theory tips.
Today, let’s just focus on the form of the song. If you’ve played drums for a little while you noticed that we usually play grooves in combination of 4 or eight bars. Each of these combinations is called a phrase. Phrases are combined to form sections of a song, like the intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and outro. Each section will probably have a slightly different feel.
So what? Well, your drumming should change (maybe only slightly) with each section of the song. So you need to know what section you’re in and where you’re going in order to lead your band through the changes. Try these exercises to see what I mean.
- Take your favorite song, and let’s make a simple drum chart, or road map, for it. To start off, how long is the intro? 4 bars, 8, 12, 16? Write that down. What comes next? The verse? How long is it? Write that down. Keep going with each section of the song. Be sure to include solos, pre-choruses, and outros. For an example, check out this chart I made for the song Unrefined from the Newspring Band’s second album, Go Ahead Sing. Now listen to the song you charted out and notice how the drumming changes in each section. Why do you think that happens?
- Take the same song, and let’s draw the shape of the song. Take a piece of paper, and draw a line on the lefthand side of the page and list all the dynamics up and down with pp at the bottom and ff at the top. Next draw another line going across the bottom of the page with the sections of the song marked out. Now listen to the song, does the intro start loud (f) or kinda loud (mf), or soft (p)? Make a mark on your page where the song section and the volume meet. Continue that for each section. Now, connect all the marks you made so you can see the shape of the song. Here’s what my page looks like. Again, read your page and listen to the song. How does the drumming change as the shape of the song changes? Why?
What if the drummer on your song did the same thing for the entire song? What if he played loud when everyone else played soft? Now you can start to see why knowing the form of a song is so important!