Oct 28

We’re on the Halloween hunt for spooky rhythms

by in Drums, Music Theory, Pads

You’ve probably heard about minor scales in music, and how they’re used to portray feelings of darkness and apprehension. (If not, read this!)

But melodies only make up half the story in music. What about the rhythm? Is it possible to evoke dark and scary emotions with patterns, phrasing, and time signatures alone? With Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to answer the all-important question: what makes a rhythm spooky?


Answering this question is a bit like hunting a ghost. You’re not too sure it exists, but you’re in it for the thrill of discovery. Let’s uncover some truths by looking at famous examples of spooky music:

Jaws (John Williams)

Exemplified by a simple alternating pattern of just two notes, the theme for Jaws instantly sends shivers down your spine. What makes the rhythm of this music so fear-inducing?

It begins with a sparse pattern of two notes per bar, with long rests adding to the suspense. Then the tempo starts to build. The rhythm becomes more regular but is accompanied by sharp off-beat bites to keep you on your toes.

It’s the space between the notes that builds anticipation. Just like how you don’t know when the shark will attack, you don’t know when the next notes are coming.


The Exorcist (Mike Oldfield)

Featuring a seemingly simple eighth-note pattern, what is it about this rhythm makes it so spooky? Let’s break down the complex arrangement of notes.

Instead of using different length notes and rests to create rhythm, The Exorcist Main Theme gains its rhythm through the arpeggiating pattern of notes. It’s actually the melody that gives this song its irregular rhythm.

The Exorcist Sheet Music

Let’s look at the note E in this pattern, (the lowest note highlighted in green). Notice how it’s on the off-beat of the first bar, on beats 1-& and 2-&. Then it switches to an on-beat rhythm on beat 4, continuing into the second bar on beats 1 and 2. Then back to off-beats in bar three, etc.

Throw in some time signature changes for good measure, and this constant switching of rhythms generates ever-changing tension. You’re never quite sure what’s coming next, just like you’re never quite sure when the next jump scare is coming.


Halloween (John Carpenter)

We’ve seen how irregular rhythms can generate suspense and tension. Equally, regular rhythms can evoke similar feelings. The main theme for Halloween is backed by a straight quarter note pattern on each beat of the bar. So what makes it so spooky?

The unusual 5/4 time signature brings suspense. 4/4 time signatures feel natural and pleasing. 5/4 has one extra beat to every bar, giving it a strange and slightly uncomfortable feeling. The regularity of the rhythm is also akin to a heartbeat, giving the song a chilling sense of mortality.


So, what makes a rhythm spooky?

It’s complicated. There are elements of rhythm that can evoke dark and moody emotions. For example, irregular rhythms can build anticipation. Unusual time signatures and off-beats can generate tension.

The effect that rhythm has on your music is often overlooked, but there’s no doubt that rhythm is a powerful compositional tool. Having these tricks up your sleeve will help you invent new and interesting ways to portray emotions in your music.


Put it into practice.

Get inspired with these Melodics lessons. For the drummers out there, discover how to use unconventional phrase lengths in the context of a Spooky Surf Rock course.

Or learn about shifting off-beat kick patterns with these Scary Psychedelic Rock lessons.


Oct 27

Ghostbuster: The Genius of Ray Parker Jr.

by in Drums, Gear, Guided Listening, Instruments, Keys, Pads, Product Updates & Releases


 
The Ghostbusters theme is at its core an exercise in Rhythm & Blues comping — but it’s been dressed up in the…. costume of 80s synth pop 👻

The iconic theme from Ghostbusters defined a point in Ray Parker Jr’s career. For those less familiar, it seemed he came out of nowhere as an artist. But for those in the know, it’s far from a one hit wonder. Rather, it is a culmination of all his talents as a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, studio engineer, composer and producer.

Given 2 days by a (somewhat desperate) Columbia Pictures to produce a title track, Ray Parker Jr was ready for the job.


But how is Ghostbusters Rhythm & Blues?

Ghostbuster’s chord harmony is ultimate Rhythm & Blues, but it’s not immediately obvious because it leans heavily on the lush synthesizer sounds of the decade, instead of using more familiar, analog instrumentation of the genre, like keys or guitars.

But the Rhythm & Blues influence makes sense, given Ray Parker Jr’s background as a session guitarist for Motown records before starting his own studio, Ameraycan.

Starting when he was only 15 years old, Parker’s musical career spans decades — having played guitar, bass, synth and lent vocals to some of the greats such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Bobby Womack, as well as prolific engineering credits, and composer for Barrie White, Earl Sweatshirt and Cheryl Lynn to name a few.


Learn to play Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr on synth, drums or finger drumming

It was one of those days when everything came together — bang, bang, bang — and it didn’t seem like I could do anything wrong. The bass part sounded great, the drums were big. Everything sounded fat.
 
The main synth was a Korg Poly 61 — and a cheap Jupiter 6 on the bass line! Nothing is doubled — it’s just single lines that really fit together well.
 
— Ray Parker Jr, on making the ‘Ghostbusters’ Theme.


Learn to play the Ghostbusters theme song

Play it. Learn it.

If you ain’t afraid of no ghost, then today is your day to shine: Melodics has released Ghostbusters as the latest song to play and learn for premium subscribers.

That main Korg synth line, the Roland Jupiter 6 bassline, and Linn Drums are exactly the sounds you’ll be playing in Melodics’ lesson for the Ghostbusters theme.

Ghostbusters is available to play for premium subscribers on Keys, Drums or Pads, just in time for an extra spooky musical Halloween.

 

Get the skills you need to succeed first.

If you don’t have a premium Melodics subscription, or you want to build up your abilities before playing Ghostbusters on keys, pads or drums — we’ve got you sorted, with this handpicked selection of skill-building courses for each instrument.

Keys

Level up your left hand technique with this course, featuring a series of lo-fi synthy bassline lessonsLeft-hand synth basslines that use techniques like walking, octave stretches and complex rhythms.

Level up your left hand technique with the Cassette Basslines course, featuring a series of lo-fi synthy bassline lessons designed to target strength, coordination and agility in the left hand. Then take it to funk town with Mark de Clive-Lowe’s Bassline Bootcamp. Here you’ll come to grips with left-handed basslines and exercises across different styles, and use techniques like walking, octave stretches and complex rhythms. You’ll walk away understanding how bassline melodies can be built with pentatonic scales, intervals and syncopated patterns.

Drums

Learn fills to help transitions, break up patterns and draw listeners' attention to changes in the music.play basic linear beats, added toms and 1/16 variations, and incorporated fills -- incorporating section and groove changes

Ba-da-da-da-Ba-da-da-da-Pssh! Let’s learn fills in this course to help transitions, break up patterns and draw listeners’ attention to changes in the music — you’ll need this for some of the iconic Linn Drum fills in Ghostbusters! Then, take it to the next level with Linear Drumming, play basic linear beats, added toms and 1/16 variations, and incorporated fills over section and groove changes.

Pads

play 1/8 & 1/16 note syncopated drum grooves. You have improved your coordination skills by playing hand independent rhythms over bouncy hip hop grooves for finger drumming on padsperform a fundamental funk drum groove in the style of Clyde Stubblefield.

To get ready for Ghostbusters, you need to go back to the future! Explore these two courses get those skills up. First, in Kicks, Claps, Snares you’ll play 1/8 & 1/16 note syncopated drum grooves and work on your coordination skills by playing hand independent rhythms over bouncy hip hop drum grooves.

Then, expand on a basic Funk beat with a series of variations in the style of the legendary Clyde Stubblefield in Ain’t it Funky. Here, you’ll perform a fundamental funk drum groove, create variations of a drum groove by shifting beats on the kick, snare and open hi-hat, and learn how to perform a swung hi-hat rhythm.


Away from your instrument? Get in the Ray-zone.

If you’re not by your instrument, then get in the halloween spirit and feast your ears on the genius of Ray Parker Jr with this playlist.

Far from a 1-hit-wonder, this playlist showcases a trophy cabinet of his musical credits, from the ’70s right up to present day; spanning genres like Motown, Rhythm & Blues, Disco, 80s Synth, Electronica, and Hip Hop.

 

Oct 25

How to increase your speed and endurance on the drums.

by in Drums, Pro Tips

Moeller Method speed endurance Whiplash
Moeller Method speed endurance Whiplash

All drummers have experienced this: there’s a complex 16th note fill you want to play, but it’s just too fast. Or maybe it’s a simple groove but the band wants to play it at 200 BPM and you can’t keep up. You start to tense up. Your timing and accuracy is slipping. Your bandmates are glaring at you, urging you to stick to the tempo.

There’s a physical limit to how fast you can play. How do you overcome this limit and increase your speed and endurance on the drums?

Speed and endurance comes from working efficiently. And efficiency comes from technique. Let’s uncover one of the most influential techniques in modern drumming that makes fast drumming effortless: the Moeller Method.


The Moeller Method

The Moeller Method is a technique that uses a ‘whipping motion’ to increase speed and efficiency. This technique combines multiple drum strokes into a single arm motion, letting gravity do all the hard work. Now that’s efficiency.

Moeller Method sheet music

Here’s how it works for a straight eighth-note pattern.

The down-stroke: Lift the stick up high above your drum using your whole arm, loosening your wrist on the way up in a whipping motion. Use gravity to bring it back down to strike the drum. This is the “down-stroke”.

Use your fingers to control how far your stick rebounds off the drum. The stick should just hover above the drum after the down stroke. This will set you up for the next part of this technique.

The up-stroke: With your stick hovering above your drum ready for you to lift up again, why not tap the drum while you’re there? With a flick of the wrist, tap the drum on your way back up. This is the “up-stroke”.

Try repeating the down and up strokes in a single, fluid, “whipping” motion. Remember to stay loose and relaxed.


Watch this video for visual guidance on how to play this this technique.

Remember: you’re getting two strokes for the price of one arm movement, which takes less physical effort and you’ll be able to play faster for longer. This is the secret to increasing your speed and endurance.


Take on the challenge.

Take On Me - AdvancedQuarter & Eighth Notes

‘Take On Me’, by A-ha, is backed by an eighth note hi-hat pattern at 169 BPM. The groove is simple but it’s fast. At 3 minutes 49 seconds long, you’re going to need to build your endurance to keep up the tempo till the end. The simplicity of the beat in ‘Take on Me’ means that you can really hone in on this life-saving technique, and not worry about any unexpected notes or complex fills.

Don’t go too hard too fast. Like all good things, it takes time and practice. When learning the Moeller Method, remember to slow it down and break it down into its parts: the down-stroke and up-stroke. Melodics Daily Warmups are the perfect space to practice the Moeller Method. Use the Quarter and Eighth Notes lesson to build up your speed and endurance slowly.

Oct 17

Everybody wants to… learn 12/8 time!

by in Drums, Fundamentals, Guided Listening, Keys, Pads

Having an appreciation for time signatures is useful for playing every instrument (both melodic and rhythmic) — but how do you decide what kind of rhythm/time signature you’ll use? You could ask this question another way… How do you decide which shirt to wear in the morning?

It all depends on the mood you’re going for and in some cases, the style or tradition of music you’re playing or making.

Let’s take a look at the 12/8 time signature in the context of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears, available to play in Melodics this week for premium subscribers.

The rhythm of the song gives it a shuffling feel, like you’re tumbling through it. It’s got a feel somewhere in-between the steady pulse of a four to the floor beat, and the triplet feel of 6/8.

Have you heard that shuffle rhythm before elsewhere?

It can also be known as the “Purdie Shuffle” (exemplified by Bernard Purdie in Steely Dan’s ‘Home At Last‘, or John Bonham in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Fool in the Rain‘) in drum circles, but you’ve likely heard it frequently in all sorts of contemporary songs.

How about ‘Hold The Line’ by Toto, ‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘Lost in Yesterday’ by Tame Impala, ‘Sweet Escape‘ by Gwen Stefani, or ‘bury a friend‘ by Billie Eilish?  What’s important is they all have this same shuffling “triplet feel” or sound, which you can get a natural feel for by listening to this playlist.

That sound can be a creative choice to evoke a certain mood, but often it’s related to making music in a particular style. As well as pop music, this rhythm is also used heavily in doo-wop, blues and jazz – so it can be used in some cases to reference or imitate those styles as well.


Now you know what it sounds like, what actually is 12/8?

As a more uncommon time signature, 12/8 might look and sound intimidating — but don’t worry there’s nothing weird, “irregular” or “odd” about it! You can easily think of 12/8 time as basically using triplets within the context of a regular 4/4 rhythm. Here’s how:

How to count 12/8 time as triplets in 4/4
You can count 12/8 as just 4 triplets!

12/8 means there are 12 1/8th note beats in each bar. 

But what you can’t immediately see from reading the time signature is that those 12 beats are organized into four groups of three 1/8th notes. The four groupings is what gives it the familiar pulse of 4/4 but with the “triplet” feel of 6/8. It’s like a buy one get one free deal for time signatures.

With 12 beats to choose from, there’s a world of opportunity when it comes to deciding which beats the chord changes occur on. With the intro of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ the first synth chord (A/D) is on the “1” beat — and the second chord (G/D) jumps in a little early on the “2-and-a” beat, imparting a slightly urgent feel to the intro groove.

If you’d like more context around the sound and feel of triplets (outside of 12/8) — you can often hear triplets in the syncopated, staccato vocals of Bone Thugs n Harmony, Three 6 Mafia, and Migos, which really helps to give them their distinctive flows.

The best way to learn is to play — so look out for ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears launching on 20th October in Melodics for premium subscribers.

For standard subscribers, make your goal this week to understand time signatures and how to play songs in 2/4, ¾, 4/4 and 6/8.

Melodics’ ‘Time Signatures’ course (for Keys and Drums) is a great starting point to structure your practice around, and if you’re a drummer you’ll be super prepared to dive into ‘Shuffle Grooves’ just in time for when ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ drops this week.

Time Signatures -- Shuffle Grooves -- Two Melodics Courses

Oct 11

A lesson in counting from “Hey Ya!”

by in Drums, Fundamentals, Guided Listening, Instruments, Pads

Do you have some chords or progression for a song idea, but want to figure out a rhythm and timing that will work to capture the mood of what you’re imagining or back up the timing of your instruments or vocals?

Just like the chords in a progression provide the harmonic backdrop to a tune, a song’s time signature can play a major role in defining the feel of a progression, and help reinforce the rhythm of your instruments and meter of your vocal delivery.

You might already have a basic understanding of common time signatures and how they generally sound (like 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8) – but if not, skip to this handy guide near the end of this article.

Sometimes it’s not so clear why you might use some time signatures over others. If you’re happy with experimenting in 4/4, and haven’t had reason to move outside this comfort zone — then we’ll discuss two examples, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast, and two versions of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that might show you how exploring some new time signatures can freshen up your sound when you’re creating music.

If you’re away from your instrument, we’ll also show you some other examples you can listen to now or any time, and then whenever you’re ready to give it a go, we’ll show you which courses and popular songs you can learn to play different time signatures on with Melodics.


Is “Hey Ya!” in 2/4, 4/4 or 11/4?

Separating some time signatures from genres that stereotypically use them can be tough. For instance, 2/4 is really common in bluegrass, folk or punk – but outside of these genres, our ears aren’t really trained to recognise them so easily.

Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’ is a really interesting example as it’s rooted in hip hop, pop soul and funk. It sounds like a 4/4 but has the in-your-face movement and momentum of 2/4 phrasing… 

Why? It secretly has a single measure of 2/4 in it.

Count "Hey Ya!" as 4+4+4+2+4+4 beats.

When counting along to the beat, count: three measures of 4/4, one of 2/4, then two more of 4/4 (or 4+4+4+2+4+4). If you add these all up, that’s 22 beats spread over two bars — hence why some people say “Hey Ya!” is in 11/4. But imagine reading 1 bar of music without a bar line for 11 whole beats 😢 — counting by 4+4+4+2+4+4 is much more natural, and the single 2-beat bar of 2/4 really captures the “lively” and “pushy” spirit of the song.

If you’re unsure what the difference that one bar of 2/4 makes (in an otherwise 4/4 song), check out this video of ‘Hey Ya!’ reimagined as a straight 4/4 beat. You’ll be able to hear the important role time signatures play in backing up the timing of vocal melodies or instrumentation. 

In 4/4, ‘Hey Ya!’ sounds a little bit off — HINT: listen to the drum snare vs the vocal timing.

As the final word in each line of the vocals is delivered, the rhythm progression feels like it hasn’t quite finished yet, and still needs a couple more bars before it’s ready for a turnaround. It’s missing a snare!

But (thankfully) in the original 2/4 version, the drums and punchy vocals are perfectly in step at the end of each line, helping to drive home the rhythm at the same punchy pace and timing of the vocal delivery we all know and love.


Use time signatures to set the “mood”

For a great example of how extra beats in different time signatures can impart different moods in songs, compare these two different versions of the hit song “With a Little Help From My Friends.” 

The original is written and played by the Beatles in 4/4, but Joe Cocker’s iconic cover totally reinterprets it in 6/8.

With more space after each vocal line for the chord progression to play, a much more epic, pausing, and melancholy feel is created — aided also by the slower overall tempo, and playing it in a different key of course ;). Such is the power time signatures hold!


Time Signatures Explained

A time signature is often expressed by two numbers (like a fraction) which gives you a rough rhythmical overview. The top number indicates how many “beats” are in each “bar” of a piece of music. The bottom number indicates the “note value” or “subdivision” of each beat.

The beat is often described as the main rhythm listeners might tap their toes to when listening to music, or the “1,2,3,4” that a musician counts while performing. It’s the basic unit of time which keeps pulsing and repeating throughout a piece of music.

Note values (denominator) in time signatures
Also called subdivisions, a note value indicates how long a particular beat (or note) is relative to the length of the whole bar.

For common time signatures, note values tend to be described as whole (1/1), half (1/2), quarter (1/4) or eighth (1/8) notes.


Tying it all together

So now you have an overview of counting beats (numerator) and each beat’s note values subdividing that beat (denominator), you might be a little more comfortable with why we describe common time signatures as we do – like 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8.

Now it’s time to put knowledge to real-world context — have a listen to some of the iconic songs in their time signatures below and practice counting out the number of beats per bar in time to the music.

2/4 — Two beats per bar, one 1/4 note per beat
3/4 — Three beats per bar, one 1/4 note per beat
6/8 — Six beats per bar, one 1/8 note per beat

3/4 and 6/8 are almost twins. Depending on your tempo and how you like to count things, it can make more sense to notate and count a song in groups of six eighth notes (6/8), or you might be more comfortable just counting 3 quarter notes (3/4) over the same track. How would you count these songs?

4/4 — Four beats per bar, one 1/4 note per beat

Play with time

If you’re interested in getting to know the basics of time signatures, try out Melodics’ course for drums on ‘Exploring Time Signatures‘, or ‘Seeing Subdivisions‘ for finger drumming on pads. You’ll learn about note lengths, and how time signatures can work in contemporary music.

For Melodics premium subscribers, you can use this knowledge to learn to play “Hey Ya!” on either pads or drums.

 

Apply your new knowledge of time signatures in contemporary music. Then to play "Hey Ya!" by Outkast.

Sep 29

Breaking down the rhythm of ‘Pyramid Song’ by Radiohead

by in Drums, Music Production, Pads

 
What’s going on with the strange rhythm of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song?

It feels like it stops and starts, and it’s hard to place the downbeat – Is it really in 4/4?



 

What time signature is Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song?'
1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3

The key is understanding its unique 2 bar rhythm, outlined by the piano, which consists of 2 dotted quarter notes, followed by a half note which carries across the bar, followed by 2 more dotted quarter notes.

It is also a heavily swung rhythm, which is something that might not be immediately apparent by listening to the unaccompanied piano.

If you break down each bar into 8th notes – it might be a little easier to understand. You can count it 3-3-4-3-3.


 
So if your mind has been melting while trying to internalise this weird rhythm while trying to learn Pyramid song in Melodics on Drums or Pads – this will help clear things up!

Feb 13

Behind The Beat – The Drumming Style Of James Gadson

by in Drums, Interviews, Pro Tips

When drummers become somebody that everyone knows the name of, it tends to be because of one dominant aspect of their playing style that is so in your face you just can’t miss it. Keith Moon played in such a maniacal way that entire songs were often one big fill that never ended. Meg White has power that makes a two piece sound gigantic somehow. There’s always a thing

James Gadson doesn’t really have one ‘thing’ like those guys above. Yet he’s played on more hits than them and any other drummer you can name combined.

Gadson’s drumming style is both the reason why he may not be a household name and the reason he has likely been played in your household regularly for six decades. His approach is grounded in groove, restraint and a pure focus on making the song the best it can possibly be rather than making his part of it the most impressive it can be. 

A key aspect of Gadson’s style is his use of groove, a nebulous idea of playing certain beats in a pattern very slightly off of the quantised beat. He’s able to drift in front and behind the beat in a way that makes it sound more natural– and in turn more fun to move to. It’s a subtle way to bring a song to life, and an idea that would eventually be adopted by groundbreaking artists like J Dilla and Flying Lotus. 

“I can’t make you move if I’m not in control of what I’m doing,” Gadson tells Melodics. “I have to figure out how to make it human.”

In Bill Withers’ Use Me (above), Gadson’s kick drum is unwavering while his hi-hats and rimclicks are often fractionally behind or ahead of the beat.

In Grandma’s Hands, he dances around the beat constantly, giving the song a bounce that alters every other aspect of it. Not bad considering it would later be the key sample and inspiration for the greatest song ever written (see below)

Withers wrote some of the most depressing lyrics of the ‘60s but was still a gigantic popstar known for his catchy tunes. It’s all because of the groove, mannnnn

Gadson might focus on subtlety over flashiness, but make no mistake – he has chops. He just uses them to make a song the best it can be, something which sets him apart from his peers during a period of excess in music. 

To achieve longevity and consistently be the driving force behind artists from every era to achieve both pop stardom and critical acclaim, you must choose your spots with musicality in mind. With Dyke & the Blazers, we hear some of Gadson’s busiest ‘look at me’ drumming (see video below). There are the Keith Moon-like long fills and rapid-fire ghost notes but they are always the bookend to periods of minimal groove rather than the main course. 

Gadson doesn’t even use his snare drum for the first quarter of Marvin Gaye’s classic I Want You (below). Instead, he adds aspects to his drum pattern only as the song builds momentum. He also adds subtle fills to help the transition between vocal phrases, while his hi-hat accents emphasise Gaye’s embellishments. 

This approach to drumming and music in general as a holistic experience is what makes his style and the records he has been involved with so timeless. The influence of it can be heard everywhere from hip-hop, to jazz and even post-punk.

As Gadson himself says: “It’s not magic like a lot of people think it is. You can learn that.”

It’s attainable, based on shared experience and community. It’s also relevant in a time where groove is at the forefront of a lot of music once again and the perfect starting point for anyone learning the drums in 2020.

Has this inspired you? Check out the Melodics E-Drums course Gadson Groove creative in collaboration with James Gadson:

– Already have a Melodics account – click here
– New to Melodics? Click here to download the app first.

Dec 18

“Lean On Me” The legendary drummer behind your favourite records

by in Drums, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

Unless you’re the type of crate digger that actually reads the back of records, or like me had a subscription to Modern Drummer magazine during your teens, you might not know the name James Gadson. But you will definitely know his music.

That’s because Gadson has been making people move since the ‘60s as a drummer on upwards of 300 gold records. He’s played for everyone from Bill Withers to Paul McCartney to Herbie Hancock to Roy Ayers to freakin’ Jimmy Barnes (!). He also played on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and on a rare Pharoah Sanders album where every song is surprisingly less than ten minutes long. The number, variety and importance of the releases Gadson has been involved in is just staggering

Gadson’s path to becoming one of the most vital session drummers in the history of pop music is a serendipitous one rather than a master plan. Born and raised in Kansas City, despite his musician father’s hopes that he wouldn’t follow in his footsteps, Gadson’s first involvement in music was forming doo wop band The Carpets with his brother. As lead singer and songwriter, Gadson’s first focus in music was on songcraft holistically, an ethos which would go on to influence his drumming in later years. 

After releasing a few songs and auditioning for some key RnB labels, The Carpets’ success was ultimately stifled by their location (not LA), so Gadson up and left for a stint in the Air Force. When he returned to Kansas, he started playing the drums purely out of necessity, joining his brother’s jazz band as the drummer simply because it was the only position available. 

Despite never before playing behind a kit, and playing left handed on a right handed setup, it all came pretty naturally. “I didn’t have any knowledge of left handed guys moving stuff over,” he tells Melodics. “So I’d just sit down and play it the way it was and learn.” 

Gadson saw himself merely as “a jazz guy” when he eventually made the move to LA in 1966, but his thirst to play would land him drumming behind RnB guitarist Charles Wright. It was somewhat of a challenge considering he didn’t even know how to play RnB, or how to stay locked in a groove rhythmically and, at first, it didn’t go well. “He fired me 5 times!” Gadson remembers. His response was to simply keep at it. “You got to practice basics, 1 2 3 4, timing, so you can be in control of it.” 

Mastering timing with intent on playing around with it, rather than just presenting it like a metronome, would define his playing style and not coincidentally a lot of pop music from then on. 

Wright Sounds became the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and one of the most in demand funk/soul bands in LA during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many years later, the band would be sampled by artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def, N.W.A. and Madlib. From here Gadson became Bill Withers’ drummer during his most commercially successful period and performed the title track on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You, my favourite Marvin track and low-key a proto-house track when you look at it from a certain point of view.

The ‘70s and ‘80s were a lock for Gadson, when any genre with the dancefloor or groove in mind found him. There was disco with Diana Ross, boogie with Cheryl Lynn and slow jams with Patrice Rushen. He’s stayed busy in these genres while never being restricted to them. He played on a bunch of Beck albums (even the sad one), a Jaime Liddell album and also produced a UB40 album, which is pretty buzzy. 

In the 21st century he has been tapped for albums by shiny pop stars like Justin Timberlake (FutureLoveSexSounds) and Lana Del Rey (Paradise / Born To Die), while collaborating with more classic RnB leaning artists like D’Angelo. 

The story of Gadson’s involvement in D’Angelo’s Sugah Daddy is a kind of metaphor for his career and playing style. Unaware he was being recorded, Gadson was drumming and clapping with his hands on his knees – a habit that many drummers have without realising. D’Angelo immediately asked to use the recording of these clapping sounds and they became the basis for a highlight on an album we’d been waiting 15 years for from soul and RnB’s most important figure since Marvin Gaye himself. “I just started playing something… whatever I did, I don’t know what I did… (D’Angelo asked) ‘Mr Gadson, can I use that?’”

James Gadson is not bothered with what he plays, how he plays it or the level of recognition he gets for it. His discography is proof that all he really wants is to make people move and have fun.

Dec 16

Ben Barter on Hybrid Drumming

by in Drums, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

“Hybrid Drumming is basically using half an acoustic drum kit and half electronic drums at the same time.” explains drummer Ben Barter. A Los Angeles-based New Zealander, Barter is the tour drummer for Lorde and has performed with acts such as Broods, Jarryd James, Passion Pit, and Katelyn Tarver. He’s also worked as a session drummer, most notably with producers Tommy English and Joel Little (a Grammy Award winner), playing on songs by artists including K.flay and Kacey Musgraves in the process. Recently, Barter created a set of virtual lessons for Melodics based around the “Hybrid Drumming” concept, an approach which is fast becoming the norm.

“You can put triggers onto your acoustic drums so that when you hit them, they trigger an electronic sample,” Barter continues. “The idea is to make the live drums stay true to the original production of the record, especially if it’s a more programmed song with sample elements and drum machine parts. Then the acoustic drums add the excitement and punch under the electronic elements.” Given how common a heavily produced recording sound has become within contemporary pop, R&B, dance, and rap, and the ravenous audience demand for live performances by artists from within these genres, Barter’s approach makes a lot of sense. However, it’s not without its rigours. 

“Some of the challenges are playing parts that aren’t written for a traditional drummer to play,” he explains. It can be a bit of a mind-bender working then out. The other big one is the technical side to having a bunch of electronic pads that are triggered by vibrations. They can often misfire, causing all sorts of chaos. I have to make lots of little adjustments to the settings to stop that from happening.” 

The virtual drums course Barter created for Melodics is divided into six lessons. On a collective level, they are designed to teach you how samples can be incorporated into a Hybrid Drumming setup, before continuing to develop your hand independence as a drummer, and teaching you how to find creative solutions to shifting samples from their traditional positions. Helpfully, Barter has provided a few notes for us each of the lessons. 

Drumline: I was looking at locking in with a complex backing track, so playing a simple beat with a few off notes over the top of a drumline style beat on the track. Getting your stuff locked in with everything else going on is vital to making the whole show sound tight and punchy. It’s easy to be in your own world during a show thinking you sound great, but when there is other percussion on backing tracks, you’ll sometimes need to adjust your feel to match what else is going on.

Rollers: This one is about helping your kick foot really lock in with your hi-hat rhythm. It’s about playing quicker straight 16ths on the hi-hat, with a slightly complex locked pattern underneath. We also practice switching back and forth with a slower section to help you make those transitions smoothly. Practising the switch between fast to slow parts is important as it’s easy to get carried away in the energy of a big part, but you need to be able to control that quickly so that energy doesn’t run over into a quieter chill part if need be.

Discuss: I was looking at playing a faster 16th note hi-hat in a disco type rhythm, then a section with an open/closed hi-hat pattern. I find that when I play live, it can be handy in bringing extra energy to a chorus, etc. Playing hh patterns which open and close in electronic music can have a human touch which is nice but sometimes you need them to be really tight and consistent. So working out how much to open the hats is vital, you often don’t need to open them a lot for a tight, controlled hi-hat pattern.

Left Over: Here, we’re playing extra rhythm parts with your left hand. I always have a bunch of samples to my left, which I’ll play as I’m holding down the main pattern with my right hand and the kick drum. This is basically just independence; being able to separate your limbs to do different parts is a key to hybrid drumming. Being able to cover more parts and take elements of the tracks will make you a valuable asset for artists.

Diving Bells: This is a slow, simple beat. You really have to listen to the rest of the track to properly sit back and get it feeling nice. There are also some basic offbeat elements, which need to fit in smoothly with the slower tempo. Everyone has got a different feel, it’s really the beauty of summers, but often you need to be able to match what’s on the record. Playing along to different genres of music helps this a lot. And really listening to where top drummers place their notes has helped me a lot, being able to play the simplest beat and make it feel really good to me is one of the most important but underrated attributes a drummer can have.

Poppin’: Poppin’ is a kick pattern I find myself using on about 30% of the songs I play. It can be tricky to get it sounding smooth. It can often sound quite robotic, so it needs a very slight swing. In the lesson, you learn to play it over two different hi-hat patterns, which will help you with independence and tightness. Try experimenting placing the off note beat before the snare just slightly before and after the beat. You can get a feel of what suits the song and can get a little bounce going which people will respond to. I think one of my main roles as a drummer is to get the crowd moving; it’s amazing how easy a well-executed simple beat can do this.

 

Alongside developing our Hybrid Drumming course, Barter has been working with Germany electronic drum company Gewa to develop a new drum kit and module called the G9. He’s also been recording an EP of kooky disco songs inspired by ORM and Patrick Cowley under the alias BB Normal.

 

Oct 10

Introduction to Counting Rhythm (for Drummers – and anyone else learning music!)

by in Drums, Fundamentals

Why Count?

Rhythm and timing are arguably the most important elements of music! Listeners will often put up with spotty-tonality (Bob Dylan’s raspy-nasal out of tune voice “adds character” to his music), but it’s pretty rare for listeners to enjoy music that is performed in a sloppily-out-of-time-and-out-of-control kind of way.

A fairly simplistic and broad description of music that I like is “organized sound.” And I also like to describe “rhythm” as events happening in time (sonic events if we’re talking about music, like we are today!). Counting (one way or another) is really the only way I know of to help you keep track of time and understand rhythm.

How to Count?

Out loud! Yes, it can be embarrassing to add your voice to music you are working on, but it’s so important because it will help you internalize the rhythms you are practicing and play the music more precisely and confidently in the future. Eventually, you won’t have to count out loud every time you learn new music, but many musicians I know (myself included) count out loud when they are practicing particularly difficult rhythms.

A former drum teacher of mine used to say: “Some people have perfect pitch. Nobody has perfect time.” It’s true, some people can tune a guitar completely by ear, and name every single note in a chord, but – while some people have better natural timing than others – timing is something that musicians can continually improve throughout their lives.

Continue reading Introduction to Counting Rhythm (for Drummers – and anyone else learning music!)