Posted: 12 September 2018
We’ve been learning about rhythm since before we could walk. From an early age we were able to clap along to nursery rhymes and dance along to music just from observing the world around us. Without even realising we picked up rhythm from our childhood experiences. But a lot of us struggle to translate that childhood understanding into our study of music as adults. For many new drummers, rhythm and timing is a challenge. So what can you do to improve?
Sometimes you need a bit of assistance in maintaining a steady beat and that’s where a metronome comes in. Using a metronome can make it easier to hear when you’re playing too fast or too slow. It also comes in handy when you start to experiment with different types of syncopation.
Drummers very rarely play the same rhythm throughout a track so learning different rhythmic patterns is important.
Whether your ambition is to play fast and furious or slow and steady, adapting your tempo can help with your understanding of timing. A lot of people start at the tempo where they play most comfortably and then experiment with playing a sequence faster or slower. Again this is where a metronome is helpful as you can set the tempo you want to practice at.
We all want to play like our heroes and drum with our entire being but this takes time. Playing around with the simple rhythms first will help you to improve your technique and make learning complex rhythms easier.
When you play along to a track you know, it’s usually obvious when you’re playing out of time. It’s a fun way of paying attention to your timing and tracking your progress as a drummer.
A key part of being a great musician is your ability to listen. It can be hard to concentrate on what we sound like when we’re actually playing so it’s worth recording yourself. The flaws in your timing and rhythm become obvious when you haven’t got any other distractions.
While ‘don’t clap this one back’ may no longer be an appropriate exercise for an adult drummer, it does give us a starting point for activities that can improve rhythm. Call and response drumming from which the game derives, encourages you to focus on both the rhythmic pattern and your ability to keep time. It’s something you can easily practice with your friends both on the kit and away from it. The complexity can be increased as your drumming improves.
Other popular activities include paradiddle exercises. The basic rudiment involves the sticking pattern RLRR LRLL. These aren’t just great for rhythm but they also help with overall control and groove. A variety of examples can be found online.
The great thing about being a drummer is that there’s plenty of practice you can do away from a kit. Look out for exercises you can do on a flat surface and get practicing during your lunch breaks, on your commute home and when you’re out and about.
It’s easy to get frustrated when we start out on an instrument but looking at our idols can help to keep us motivated. We picked out three drumming legends who are known for their incredible rhythmic abilities.
Considered by many as one of the most influential drummers of all time, Buddy Rich was famous for his incredible technique and great tricks. Not only could he reach impressive speeds but he also had accurate timing and brilliant control. Check out his iconic West Side Story Medley for an example of legendary style.
Infamous Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham wasn’t afraid of breaking the rules when it came to rhythm. While many drummers choose to follow the bass, he took his queues from the guitar riffs. He was best known for syncopated grooves and swinging triplet rhythms but he also knew how to hold down a solid foundation. His rhythmic flexibility allowed Led Zeppelin to play around with time signatures and add different layers of complexity to their music. John Bonham’s style demonstrates the importance of being able to maintain a steady beat as well as mastering fancy tricks.
Funk musician Bernard Perdie made a name for himself playing alongside some of history’s greatest artists including Nina Simone, Bob Marley and Aretha Franklin. He’s best known for the Purdie Shuffle, a variation of a blues shuffle with syncopated ghosts notes and played in halftime. His signature move has featured on tracks by Led Zeppelin, The Police, Death Cab for Cutie and Toto. If you’re looking for rhythmic inspiration, this is a good place to start.