by Steve Smith
A key concept of learning to play music is to assimilate the vocabulary, concepts, and techniques of earlier generations of musicians, in order to understand how the musical language of today evolved. This is especially true for drumset players. Today the drumset is used in virtually every style of contemporary music, but for the first 50+ years of its existence (approx. 1900-1950) the drumset was almost exclusively used to play jazz.
If you go back and listen to music from the 1950’s and earlier, you’ll discover that the swing pulse is the rhythmic common denominator of all U.S. music. Jazz, Blues, Country, Gospel, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock ën’ Roll were all based on one feel, the “swing” pulse. This is a good example of why I encourage all drummers to study the history of jazz drumming, not only to have an understanding of jazz drumming fundamentals, but to re-experience, personally, the evolution of drumset playing; to truly understand the roots of modern drumming styles.
If a drum student builds his or her time keeping foundation on the “swing” pulse, they will possess the rhythmic key to “crack the code” on the grooves of all styles of modern music. Over the years I’ve found that the best way to do this is to develop the ability to “swing” and play a strong shuffle and straight-ahead jazz feel. Of course, the process of developing your jazz drumming skills will also provide you with technical and coordination challenges that will help prepare you to play just about any other style of music. And, one day down the road, learning about history may just help you make a little history of your own.