There are so many resources online now about how to play drums. If I could cut through all the noise for you, I would sum up drumming with one word, groove.
These days, I see so many videos, books and drumless tracks online with a heavy emphasis on drum fills and complex drum beats. I see so little about playing great groove. Great groove comes down to one thing only, an even and great feeling quarter note pulse.
Getting in “the pocket” is the secret sauce in how to play drums
Of course, drumming is not all about making money but it’s pretty darn cool when you get paid to play. I’ve been getting paid pretty good to play drums since 1991. My groove is what has consistently opened paid musical opportunity doors for me.
Even the best drummers today with their drumming wizardry, can lay down a simple groove that makes you move. If you can get people tapping their toes or clapping their hands, you know you’re in “the pocket.”
Playing in the pocket is when you are locked in with the other rhythm section players and feeling the groove in the same way. It’s like you morph into the keys, guitar, bass, drums instrument. You don’t sound like individual instruments grooving anymore. You instead become a collective groove.
I get hundreds of gigs and recording sessions each year (In a non-COVID-19 years). These are opportunities I receive because of my pocket playing (my groove), not because of my flashy drum fills. In fact fewer drum fills means more work. You might enjoy checking out my blog post on the 25% rule to get more gigs.
Let’s learn how to play drums. Really.
So I mentioned before that groove all comes down to a quarter note pulse. In Jazz, you’ve got groove if your quarters on the ride cymbal swing like you’re playing the whole spang-a-lang pattern but without the extra notes.
If you can pare back all of your playing to just quarter notes in any style of music, you’ll quickly discover if you have groove or not. It can be insanely humbling to discover your groove ain’t so groovy. Once upon a time, that happened to me. It forced me to really focus on that quarter note and improve my groove.
The quarter note pulse exercise
That quarter note pulse is the glue that binds a band together. If it is felt by all band members, a pocket can be created. Try playing a basic 2 and 4 beat on the drums. Play quarter notes on the hi-hat, 2 and 4 on the snare and 4 on the floor with the kick drum.
Pay very close attention to how your limbs line up. Are they lining up tightly with each other or is there some obvious flamming going on (when one limb plays before or after another limb)? In the beginning of this type of practice, you want to get all of your limbs lining up pretty tight.
So try this exercise with some Funk or Rock music. If you’re really locking in with the musicians in the recorded music, then try and play 8th notes on the hi-hat. See my example video below for both quarter notes and eighth notes on the hi-hat.
You can also do this same type of exercise with Jazz. Start with quarters on the ride cymbal, add hi-hat on 2 and 4, cross stick on 4 and light quarters on the kick drum. See my example video below.
Get some drumless tracks
My suggestion to help you improve your groove is to get some drumless tracks (music without the drums). What you need are opportunities to hear yourself playing with other musicians and learn how to lock in with their playing.
There are some nice drumless tracks out there but most don’t have real musicians playing. Many also sound fun with lots of kicks and fancy arranging but they won’t help you develop your groove. You need simple, groove tracks that will help you find and stay in the pocket.
I’ve created drumless tracks with real musicians playing. This helps you pinpoint your groove issues and fix them. Practicing your groove with real musician tracks, helps you adjust to little human imperfections in timing. This is just like performing in a live music situation.
The more you can practice playing with other musicians, the better you will become at live performance. It helps put mileage on your playing.
Many drumless tracks at vonbaronstore.com are groove tracks. These will give you a chance to zero in on your groove and create a deep pocket. I encourage you to download some groove tracks for your drum practice. I’ve got various styles as well, so I think you’ll find something for your practice needs.
I want you to succeed
All commercials aside, my goal with this blog and my drumless tracks, is to help you achieve your drumming goals. You and I are musical family. We share a passion for rhythm and your success is my success.
I know in the beginning, it may not feel so glamorous to play a simple and effect groove. I assure you though, it will pay off in spades. The more juicy your groove, the more other musicians, audience members, recording engineers and others will notice. I know more playing opportunities will come your way if your groove is in the pocket.
Other musicians will recommend you for gigs and the quality and joy in your drumming will increase. You’ll be much more connected to the music and musicians you are playing with.
Keep groovin’, movin’ and KEEP ON DRUMMIN!
PREPARE FOR YOUR JAZZ GIGS. Download high-quality, effective DRUMLESS TRACKS. Improve your time, feel, comping and soloing. Learn to play better with real musicians.
For fun and free YouTube JAZZ DRUM LESSONS.
Also check out my BEYOND DRUM BEATS PODCAST. If you are pursuing a career in music and drumming, this podcast is a valuable resource.