One of the basic lessons I learned when I was taking drum lessons was how to count time.
I learned the basic 1,2,3,4 for quarter notes, 1N,2N,3N,4N for eighth notes , 1ENA, 2ENA, 3ENA, 4ENA for sixteenth notes and 1NA,2NA, 3NA, 4NA for eighth note triplets.
My teacher would say, “If you can count it, you can play it.
This is true.
I play predominantly by feel. I can read music but it’s been so long since I had to that it takes my brain too long to process what I’m reading into my hands. I should practice it more but there are just so many things you can work on in such limited time. Once I finally translate the notes on the page into a feel I forget about the written notes and only use it to reference where I am in the song.
For years just about every song I ever learned I learned by simply listening to it to get the feel and then the arrangement which generally changed when the band covered it.
Recently one of the songs I had to learn for a band had a very syncopated rhythm.
I sat and listened to it and got the feel but couldn’t get the count. I couldn’t count it so I had a hard time playing it.
The back beat didn’t fall on two and four. It was on the N after 2 in the first bar, the N after one and then on 4 in the next bar. At another point in the song it changes to the N after 2 and on 4 in all the measures.
Now as I sit here writing this I can tell you specifically where the back beat was to be played but when I was trying to learn it I couldn’t until I sat down and broke it down measure by measure and counted it.
The feel that the unconventional back beat gave the rhythm was an almost triplet like feel but I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was just eighth notes not triplets.
So first I counted out the right hand on the high hat or ride cymbal and determined it was just steady eighth notes.
Then I counted and notated on a basic chart the left hand which is the snare, the back beat for both the first half of the song and when it changed in the second half.
Finally I counted and notated the bass drum.
Now I had my chart and I could count it. I understood exactly what notes made the feel.
I thought it would take me an hour or more to learn to play this different rhythm. Not that it’s that difficult of a beat but it’s different for me and it had been a while since I pushed myself to learn an unconventional beat.
But since I did my “homework” and could count it and understood the beat it translated to my hands and feet with ease.
After running through it a couple of times I had and understood the feel and could stop counting in my head and work more on technique and feel for the song.
Even though I already knew the lessons I had just learned with this exercise I once again reaffirmed to myself two things:
- Make it simple and build from that. I took this somewhat foreign rhythm and broke it down by each hand and foot. Once I understood what each one was doing I could put it all together.
- If you can count it you can play it or if you can’t count it you can’t play it. I understood where each note fell in the measure. That’s over half the battle when learning a new beat.
This particular song changes the feel in the middle of the song. It’s a subtle but definitely noticeable change. This kind of song helps me exercise my focus and keeps me sharp.
And it adds yet another set of chops to my repertoire.
© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.