Thinking Outside the Books, by Jayson Brinkworth
When we start playing music at any age, we are typically introduced to learning from a book or books, just as in school. We learn the rules of music theory, reading, rhythm patterns and many other important elements about the language of music. But after we have worked out of several books and have learned many lessons, there comes a time when we need to close the books and just PLAY music. This is a concept I like to call “Thinking Outside The Books”.
Many students and players like the security of having the book there to follow. When we let go of the book, it takes bravery and confidence to trust our instincts and the lessons we have learned and just play. The only way we can formulate our own style and sound is to close the books and experiment on our chosen instrument. This is especially true for the drumset as it is relatively new instrument in the big picture. The drum has been around for thousands of years (second known instrument to man next to the voice), but a set of drums played by one person didn’t appear until the invention of the bass drum pedal in 1909 by William F. Ludwig Sr.
In my years of teaching drumset and hand percussion, I have and still work out of lots of written material including Stick Control, Accents and Rebounds, Syncopation, New Breed, Master Studies and many others. But as students are working from these resources, I am also trying to get them thinking about these concepts on their own and using the ideas even with the books closed. Obviously certain books, patterns and exercises will resonate differently with each student, the teacher has to find what the student is digging and use that as their “hook” for the lesson plans.
Outside of these books, I have written several of my own exercises to stimulate creative playing and challenge the students to think on their own. Some of these ideas have seemed kind of odd to the students at first, but once we break it down, they are able to take it in their own direction. I want to share one of these ideas with you in this article.
The concept is quite simple, we have either R – right hand, L – left hand or B – bass drum. To start with, all we do is randomly write down a pattern with these 3 letters. We will start with a pattern of 8 as this gives us a measure of 1/8 notes in 4/4 time, like this :
We start by just playing the hands on the snare and the B is the bass drum. Once we can run this together 4 times in a row, we will move the R to the ride, L on the snare and B on bass drum. This starts to become a linear drum groove as no 2 limbs play at the same time. The next step is to maybe add a B with the first note to have a kick on the count of one and work this up as a groove idea. We can also keep it as is and move the hands around the kit to phrase it as a fill. When this gets comfortable to play, we can play the pattern straight or give it a swing feel, all still in 4/4 time. This all may seem simple, and it is, which is why we can take it to our “creative” brain instantly.
When we want to push the concept a bit, we can pick an odd number like 11 for our pattern. It could look like this:
Now just by default, we are in an odd time signature. Again, play this through to make sure we can feel the pattern enough to cycle it 4 – 8 times. Move the R to the ride and play it as a groove, making sure we can feel the 1 when the pattern repeats. Try adding a B with the first note to mark the 1, this may help. Remember we are creating, we are supposed to fumble around and work this out as we go.
Now we can add a space to this groove to make it feel a bit different. Because we are not reading actual notes, the amount of space we leave is up to the player, but one pulse will be easiest to start with. Here is how it will look now:
When we play this now, it will feel like triplets or a 12/8 pulse. Again, work it as a groove or a fill. Also I have no accents placed in these patterns, as you play them through a bunch of times, you will naturally find the spot that you want to place the accent. Also because there are no real specific rhythms to patterns either, the way the player phrases the notes is how it will be. Remember, ten different drummers can work on a pattern and it will quickly go in ten different directions and this is a GOOD thing.
When I get students to work on this, we start with a blank sheet of paper. This is a parallel to the students mind when they sit down to play, they have a lot that they know and can play, but seem to have a hard time finding where to start and draw a blank. By having them write down an idea and work it out, they quickly realize that the creativity is up to them and they possess more than they realize.
This concept does work very well with 16 notes as it simulates a measure of 1/16 notes in 4/4 time. We do play this type of pattern quite often as drummers, so I tend to stick with 16 for a while to have it sink into their “creative” process.
Here is a pattern in 16 notes, give it a try and take it in your own direction. Add space, take away notes, change up the order of the 3 letters, move around the kit, make it a groove or a fill, it is really an open ended exercise. You can also add an H – Hi Hat foot into the pattern as well. Feel free to let me know how it goes, I would love to get your feedback and maybe even see videos of you playing through this concept.