Writing by making lists of things- it’s just where I’m at right now. This is a quick run down of one of the main jobs/avenues for creativity on the drums- the manner in which you keep time. Often students will work through their books either thinking they’ve mastered the materials because they can play the patterns as written, or, better, feeling like they’re missing something because they can’t do anything but play the written beat.
1. Play it repetitively at a comfortable volume and tempo. Like I say, just the first step.
2. Play it from a dead stop. This hangs beginners up- they’ll often need to put a beat together one limb at a time, over several measures. Usually I have them play just the first note of a beat and then rest for the rest of the measure, adding notes as they can do them perfectly, until they are into the beat and can keep going on their own.
3. Play it from a count-off. Meaning you are to come in in the right place, and at exactly the right speed when someone counts off a tempo for you.
4. Punctuate phrases. Be able to keep track of the number of measures you’ve played without relying on hearing the tune, and place a marker (like a cymbal crash) at the beginning of a phrase.
5. Make fills. The fills themselves are a separate issue, but you need to be able to smoothly get from the groove to the fill, and back into the groove.
Keep reading, the interesting ones are all after the break:
7. Improvise variations on it. Make little changes in the bass drum or sometimes snare drum part to give the groove the feeling of developing, of acting in conversation with the other parts. As you work through your books, try to relate beats to each other; notice that many of them are variations on a few basic forms. If you’ve worked through my methods, you can probably make the variations on the fly.
8. Play it in a range of tempos. Anywhere it will likely be encountered in real music. Knowing the implied range of tempos for a given beat is also one of your jobs. Which leads us to:
9. Know what it’s for. You should be listening to enough music to be getting an idea what calls for what type of beat. Today especially, anything you find in a book labeled “rock” or “funk” is going to be applicable across many genres.
10. Make common metric modulations. Many drummers (and some composers and arrangers) like to play mathematician, but usually being able to go into double time or half time (or double time or half time feel) will be quite sufficient.
11. Play it in a wide range of dynamics, from very, very soft to pretty strong. Very few drummers can play as softly as they will often be asked to. Some drummers find it difficult to play as loud as they want to, though most have no trouble playing as loud as they will need to. Which is still usually louder than most people will want them to.
12. Make changes of intensity using timbre and orchestration. This can mean re-voicing, embellishing, or simplifying/taking away parts. For example, changing the timbre of the snare drum back beats by switching to brushes, or to rim shots, rim clicks, or flams, or by doubling them with cymbal crashes or floor tom hits. You’re also doing this when you move your ride pattern from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal, or crash cymbal, or floor tom, or cow bell, or whatever. This is a huge area for exploration, especially as you get into more complex music, and music with a wide dynamic range.