When these particular Kiwis fly, they go far and wide! In the six fresh years of The Beths taking center-stage, they’ve racked up a loyal flock of fans, signed with an international label, toured locally and abroad, and created a storming impression within the burgeoning indie rock scene. We spoke to the talented drummer of The Beths, Tristan Deck, about all things music in his world, including two new Melodics lessons for their hits, Jump Rope Gazer and Great No One. Tristan’s eclectic music taste and his fused style of pop-punk and jazz drumming has added to The Beth’s unique alternative and indie sound. We got the inside scoop of what it means to be flying high during turbulent times. Here’s how The Beths remain focused, adaptable, and keep their engines revving despite the odds.
How did you start playing drums with The Beths? What were you doing musically before joining the band?
I knew Liz and Ben through studying Jazz at Auckland University. I knew they’d started a band and the first time I heard The Beths play I fell in love with the music. I knew I wanted to be a part of it but was content to enjoy the band as a die hard fan. I was teaching drums and playing a lot of jazz and improvised music around Auckland. Jazz music remains a great love of mine, I love the drum language and the collaboration and spontaneity. I met Jon properly on tour with Aldous Harding and some touring work with The Beths needed to be filled. A dream come true! During that period in 2019 I became a full time member of the band.
What does it mean to you and the band to see songs by The Beths picked up and taught through a platform like Melodics?
I’m chuffed! The music I was listening to when I started learning drums was half what my parents played around the house and half whatever was on the radio. Back then NZ artists were featured at a higher proportion to overseas music on popular radio stations so I started practicing while listening to lots of music from Aotearoa without even realising it. I’m chuffed because I have a very high opinion of the quality of music being produced here and am stoked to be contributing to a scene I love!
Any pro tips for cracking the drum parts on Great No One and Jump Rope Gazers?
Great No One is so much fun to play. It’s fast and has lots of big anticipated offbeat hits. Listening to lots of pop punk will get your ears in the right place for the drumming language used in the drum part. Think of the drumming on the immortal album American Idiot by Green Day, Love & Disrespect by Elemeno P, or Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings.
What impact has Covid had on the band’s plans over the last couple of years?
Massive! We’ve had to shift from a large amount of touring and playing to staying in NZ or at home in our bubbles. We’ve done internet live streams for single and album releases and done lots of playing together, learning and workshopping different songs. I miss touring but spending a good bit of time back in NZ is wonderful. Whenever I’m on tour I miss going to watch gigs, which inspires me and makes me want to play more! There are positives and negatives for both situations.
You recently announced a 2022 North America tour, what impact will Covid have on how the shows happen? Are there certain precautions you have to put in place at the shows?
The touring landscape has changed permanently since early 2020. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to travel and play and meet people. In balancing our desire to return to a touring world the overwhelming priority is keeping people safe and healthy. The wellness of gig goers is something we take very seriously and will not put at risk by playing shows before it is prudent to do so!
Do you have any rituals or habits that help keep you on top drumming form? I try to pick up my sticks every day. I’m constantly drumming in my head and tapping ideas out on tables. I like building drum solos in my mind too – thinking about the things that I can play and arranging it in ways that sound interesting to me (and hopefully others!). It’s a great way to practise composition as well as being a memory exercise.
Any final tips for beginners or anyone thinking about playing drums?
Set realistic practice goals and focus on being regular with practice more so than the volume of practice. Make friends with as many other musicians as you can, it’s never too early in your drumming career to start playing music with others!
Playing any of the instrument-parts from one of your own musical compositions;
Recording tracks in a realistic, less robotic fashion than you would from “drawing” the notes in a DAW’s piano roll;
Be a confident player in performances or live shows;
Be able to sit down at a keyboard, pads or drum kit and play a beat or progression like you hear in your head;
Learn a new instrument, and play it good simply for the sheer joy of it!
Do any of these resonate with you personally?
Learning anything, especially an instrument, requires plenty of dedication. Not everyone is prepared for this, and can at times find themselves overwhelmed. If this sounds like you, we’re here to say: don’t give up! This article is here to show a path that can help you progress towards any goals you have. How? By rewiring your habits.
Habits present a way to demystify how some people are seemingly on an effortless trajectory for success. Though there is always a degree of effort required (regardless of how apparent it may seem), luck certainly doesn’t factor much, if at all.
There is a lot of info in this article, but if you take the time to think on what you’ll learn in these 5 steps from time to time, you’ll be able to translate any aspirations you might have into habits: the actionable, bite-sized steps you can use to achieve success.
Think of your own personal goals as you read this too. It’d be interesting to note if how you define them changes!
Having a broad aspiration is great! After all, you can’t improve without challenge. But it’s at each step within the process of reaching that ultimate outcome where you should define multiple successes.
Why? Aspirations as goals are inherently lofty — they’re not dreams, because there is a real chance of you achieving them. But depending on how complex or ambitious your goals are, it can be difficult to see a potential path towards actually achieving them — so instead, the route you do end up taking is often met with frustration, feeling overwhelmed, or simply not making the progress you want. Treating aspirations as dreams is not a path to success.
Define success by your habits, not by your goals.
Defining your concept of “success” solely by an end goal isn’t necessarily an effective way to make good progress. It may even set you up for avoidable disappointment. To summarise Tony Robbins (love him or hate him), “that’s trying to eat the whale whole, without taking smaller bites”.
Instead, consider your system of habits: the required process as a whole of how to actually get to your end goal.
As an example, your end goal might be focusing on buying your dream instrument — so one chunk of that system of habits might be setting aside some of every pay cheque to start saving. A second habit in the system might be ensuring you don’t spend those savings elsewhere in the meantime!
“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”
— James Clear
STEP 2: How are Habits Formed?
This step is aimed at deepening your background understanding of habits and what makes them a recurring system: how they work, form or are broken. Let’s drill down.
“You are what you repeatedly do”
— James Clear
As animals we’re sort of wired in a constant pursuit of feeling rewarded. This behaviour not only satisfies us and satiates cravings; it evaluates which actions best satiate these cravings, so we can learn and repeat them. This is a 4-step perpetual cycle of learning we call the Habit Loop.
The 4-Step Habit Loop:
Which emotion, bit of information or sense triggers you to go on to engage in a behaviour which will resolve the cue and make you feel rewarded?
This could be something primal such as thirst, hunger, cleanliness; or more psychologically complex like dissatisfaction or boredom
Cravings are the motivational impetus behind habits. They impart a desire to change whatever has triggered you: How do you wish to feel or be rewarded?
A classic example is looking at the motivation behind cleaning your teeth: you’re likely motivated by craving fresh breath and oral hygiene; not the act of cleaning your teeth itself!
The response is your action — your habit itself per se. How do you respond to a craving?
During this stage you might consider several different potential actions, evaluate the pros & cons; the friction involved in doing each option, and your ability to ultimately execute them. What is your motivation to respond?
An example might be when you’re cued by boredom, your craving is entertainment, and your chosen response is to browse social media.
Reward is satiating your prior feeling of craving, but also your subconscious moment of reflection. Every time you’re rewarded, your brain reviews and evaluates how effective your response was at addressing your craving and feeds back into the habit loop for next time.
Continuing on from the previous example, the entertainment of checking social media can start to become associated with a means to resolve boredom, depending on how effective the reward was — but do you start to become bored with it as a means of entertainment after a while?
How are habits broken?
Habits break just as they are formed! Successfully-formed habits have an obvious cue, an attractive craving, an easy-to-do response, and a sufficiently fulfilling reward.
Your brain is constantly weighing up the benefit at each stage: evaluating friction and motivation, urgency or ability to respond against the ultimate reward.
If a habit loop can only occur if all 4-stages of the criteria are successful, then breaking the cycle and preventing habits could be done in theory as simply as removing or reducing one or more stages:
Remove the cue if possible (the habit will never be triggered);
Minimise the craving or make it unattractive (you’ll be less inclined to respond);
Make the response itself problematic or arduous (there’s too much friction or you won’t be able to do it);
Make the end reward dissatisfying (engaging in the habit wasn’t worth the effort).
Creatures of habit
This episode of Hidden Brain is a fun little podcast that might give you some good tips on behaviour! Here, guest psychologist Wendy Wood shares some of her research into habits; how to build good ones (and break the bad ones.) As an anecdote, she would actually sleep in her running clothes to reduce the friction of going for a run. Go figure…
“So there was a study that is quite amazing, I think – but it has been replicated a couple of times – on how far people travel to the gym. If people travel about 3 1/2 miles, then they are likely to go to the gym five times a month on average. If people travel 5 miles, then they’re likely to go only once a month on average…
The 5 miles presents friction. The 3.5 miles is much less friction and makes the behaviour more likely.”
— Wendy Wood
STEP 3: Tips for Hacking the Habit Loop.
So now you know about the habit loop, why you have certain habits, and how they’re broken — you might be considering your current goals, and how you could begin to harness knowledge of habits to create a different version of yourself.
Whilst the urge to enact sweeping, profound life-changes is natural, often it’s far more effective to alter existing habits incrementally, than it is remove or form completely new ones. Use the 4-stage loop of your current habits to your advantage!
“Small adjustments make a massive difference to your life”
— James Clear
If you use habits to make tiny 1% improvements to one small thing on a daily or recurring basis — over the course of weeks, months and years, you end up being multiple times better than where you started. No matter how small, every 1% change is a success, and something to acknowledge or celebrate.
Habits also present a small chunk of changeable behaviour — but beware the temptation to “over chunk” and become overwhelmed by the minutiae of steps involved in enacting change.
Here’s some easy tips on slightly altering an existing habit’s cue, craving, response or reward, to make change and progress easy and achievable. You don’t have to do all of them, you can start as small as just picking one:
TIP #1: Make the cue obvious
“Habit Stack” by attaching a new habit to an existing habit or routine you already have. Find yourself an obvious cue.
e.g. Your daily after-dinner dishes: stack a small 10 minute practice session as part of your post-dinner cue or routine.
TIP #2: Make the craving attractive
“Temptation bundling” associate the action of a new habit to a craving of a reward you know you love, so to prevent it feeling like punishment.
e.g. You might love a daily wind-down beverage. You can bundle the temptation of a relaxing drink with completing your 10 minute practice session goal.
TIP #3: Make the response easy
Remove as much friction as possible, to make your new habit as easy as possible to do.
e.g. leave your practice gear out and ready to go, so you don’t have to spend time setting up right before hand.
Pre-plan your practices before so you hit the ground running when you start.
Don’t set your goals too high (remember the “1% change” or “2 minute” rule)
If you do better than your target, that’s awesome, but the main path to success is getting the obstacle low enough for you to easily climb over and change without struggling with motivation.
e.g. “Instead of practising for an hour, I’ll just practice for 5 minutes.”
TIP #4: Make the reward satisfying
You’ve already bundled your temptations, so you best make sure you reward yourself!
Another effective technique is to tie your reward back to your cue. Use reinforcements that also help remind you to act, motivate to continue, and provide immediate satisfaction for keeping up your new habit.
A common tool is maintaining a habit trackeror checklist, a blog, post or video diary, or using your Melodics Daily Streaks as a reminder. e.g. When you visually see your accomplishments, you’ll be motivated to continue acting in the same manner.
TIP #5: What to do when you fall off!
“Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”
— James Clear
No-one is too big to recover. Musician and Melodics user Gretchen King perhaps describes it best from her own experience in falling off the wagon after having practiced for 300 consecutive days:
“One night at midnight, I realised that I had forgotten to practice that day. I was so bummed that I didn’t practice for a month! Then I realised that while a streak is amazing, it’s more about putting in the work and enjoying the process. I quickly got back on track again.”
— Gretchen King, musician
Habits aren’t all-or-nothing: habits certainly change, evolve or lapse with time, so don’t stress it too much if you can’t keep it up consistently. You can absolutely recover if and when a routine breaks down; if you can’t get back on the horse and continue from where you left off, re-evaluate your purpose and set new 1% goals to get back to where you want to be.
STEP 4: Start tracking your habits!
Ready to transform your own musical habits? Here’s a handy exercise to go through of everything covered in this article:
What’s your “big” goal?
What smaller successes build up to the big picture?
What frequent habits do you need to reach each success?
For each habit, what is your obvious cue, attractive craving, simple response and satisfying reward?
If you’re dedicated to updating your habits and working towards meaningful, personal success, consider what your responses to this exercise would be, and use your answers to set yourself daily or weekly goals in an obvious way.
STEP 5: Doing something with your Habits.
By changing your habits to be what you actively want them to be, you’ll find your own identity starting to evolve as well.
It’s a subtle distinction that might even sound obvious. But realising that clear personal identity helps you identify as part of a select community or a tribe; where you have the mandate to do all that other stuff you’d be expected to do. Stuff which also helps you on your way to reaching your goals. Is your goal to run a marathon? Great! You’re part of a tribe of “runners.” Is your goal to “be able to play the keyboard part all yourself from one of your own musical compositions?” Then your identity could be “I’m a keyboardist.”
Why join the tribe?
Nothing fosters motivation like belonging to the tribe does. Having fun together helps, but social reinforcement and obligations doubly so! If your personal goal is transformed into one shared by a group, your identity becomes linked to those around you, and you all work together to support and sustain each other’s identity. Development and progress is no longer your individual pursuit. Now it’s: We are musicians. We are a band.
“Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world.”
— Dave Grohl, putting it sincerely.
There’s a tribe waiting for you:
You like playing music live? Join a local band, association or attend open mic nights or just support the community and watch their live shows.
Melodics derives a lot of inspiration from the teachings of James Clear, both in how we’ve developed our music education app and the design of our curriculum, but also in how we conduct our every day lives as musicians — and hence the advice written in this article (it’s littered with his quotes!). We’d say that if you’re serious, his book ‘Atomic Habits’ is a must-read; and his blog provides some fabulous insights into the science of habit, motivation and productivity, decision-making and creativity.
A sample flip is a production technique beatmakers use to create an instrumental or a backing track for a vocalist. Whether you’re working on a hip-hop, house, techno or RnB track, there are various approaches to flipping a sample. Some of them are universal, and some of them are genre-specific. We are going to focus on a traditional hip-hop sample flipping technique, which you can apply to any composition style you want.
This technique is sample chopping, or ‘chop the sample’. First, we have to find a sample. For this example, we are going to use one sample source, a stereo audio file. The sample we have chosen is from ‘Reflections’ by Albert Jones. We used Tracklib to source the sample: an online record store where anyone can clear samples affordably and fast. Released in 1973, ‘Reflections’ is a soul/RnB track. It has big drum fills, gritty organ, amazing backing vocals and some beautiful melodic information that I want to showcase in the beat.
You can access it for free using this link or if you are already a Tracklib user, head directly here.
There are many ways you can chop or cut a sample. You can chop random events from the song, cut bigger chunks like a 2 bar loop, or layer events from other parts of the song over the 2 bar loop. The limit here is your imagination. We are going to chop the sample by even 1/4 notes. To find the 1/4 notes, count along to the song, the 1/4 notes are the 1,2,3,4 count of each bar. The snare drum lands on the 2nd and 4th beat of each bar.
Bigger chops, like a 2 bar loop, keep the feel of the song intact in the sample. When you chop the sample shorter, 1/8th or 1/16th notes, the feel becomes more muted. However, you can use those shorter chops to push and pull against the rhythm of the sampled song, and create your own feel.
Begin by giving the song you’re sampling from a close listen. Keeping your eyes closed may be helpful, as you’re trying to get as deep inside the track as possible to find out which parts stand out. Look for a section that speaks to you, and reminds you of the goosebumps feeling that always draws you back to music.
During the early years of hip-hop, DJs focused on playing breakbeats from records for the dancefloor. The breakbeats in songs were what excited the crowd and made them get down to the music. Correctly looping and chopping beats is the foundation of sample chopping. It is your duty as a beatmaker to convey the excitement, emotion and feeling you hear to the listener. Sometimes the goosebump moment comes from something unexpected in the music. It could be a crack in an emotional vocal, an out of tune bass note, atmospheric reverb, an overly keen saxophone phrase, or a breath.
The first thing which stands out as chop-worthy on ‘Reflections’ is it’s very emotive intro-section. A quick online search reveals that the sample has already been used by Mary J. Blige (through Tracklib). However, you can quickly turn the disappointment of a previously used sample into a competitive drive. The challenge becomes flipping the sample in a new direction. Let’s take the intro and chop it into 1/4 notes.
I’ve used Ableton Live’s sampler instrument to chop the sample manually, in real-time. That way, as I play the pads sequentially on my computer, every hit of a pad will create a new slice. As I am chopping, I am also listening out of any pads that grab my attention. In Live, if you hear something you are vibing, you can start looping it in then and there.
Now it’s time to look beyond the intro.
The first verse has some great vocal moments. The bass is hot and a little bit out of tune, the guitar is similar but sonically perfect (gritty, dry, beautiful mid-range), and the drums have great mid-range in the kick, a nice dry snare, and 16th note hi-hats. All of these elements will work in the beat, so let’s chop the first verse into 1/4 notes.
The first note of the chorus is magical. Something is calling out in it. Is it the bass performance, the background vocals, or the air in the beat? Perhaps it’s the vibraphone reminding me of a Dilla beat? It’s still a mystery as to whether we’ll use it in the final beat, but let’s try to remember that feeling when we make decisions about what to chop. We’ll cut the chorus into 1/4 notes.
Once you’ve chopped your sample, it pays to zoom in on each chop. You do this to make sure they’re cut as close to 1/4 notes as they can be. If you want, you can leave the chops loose with time before or after the cut, but the tighter you chop to the original 1/4 note tempo, the more control you’ll have when you play them back. You can adjust the start and endpoints of the chops by your ears or eye. Trimming by ear is closer to the experience you’d have using classic machines such as the SP1200, ASR 10 or MPC3000 sampler, as none of them had a waveform display. When you trim by ear, there is more chance of a happy accident, and the chop might “feel” nicer in the beat. Trimming by eye will give you a tighter, more quantized chop.
Laying the groundwork, introducing the beat.
On our 8×8 Push controller, we now have 64 chops to use for our beat. A simple approach would be to play back a row of pads, 4 or 8 pads sequentially. The intro to the original song is perfect for this. This progression is a |I / / / |ii / / / |iii / / / |ii / / / | progression, a fairly common progression in soul/R’n’B. The ii and the iii chords are minor chords, so they build tension and suspense really well. Let’s loop up one bar, the iii chord. This is going to be our intro.
This loop feels so good it could be our main loop for the song. Still, we want to go deeper, not just do the obvious, and showcase some chopping skills. This section is our intro setup, where we play the loop out so the listener can catch the vibe of the original song. The chop here 1/4 notes makes for this sequence | hit | hi-hat | piano | hi-hat |. Chopping the iii chord section is good because the vocal sounds like it is circling back on itself, which creates the illusion of an infinite loop. Speeding up the chop also makes the flow/rhythm of the sample change subtly, adding a nice swing.
Rearranging the puzzle pieces, finding the main loop.
If you play across all the pads, you’ll be surprised by what jumps out as potentially usable for the main loop. Start by playing the pads as ¼ notes, and letting the sample play out between hits. After that, try different combos of pads.
When a beat is chopped up evenly, you can find some really cool patterns. Try 4 pads sequentially [1,2,3,4], 4 pads reversed [4,3,2,1], 4 pads flipped [1,4,3,2], and 4 pads diagonally [A1,B2,C3,D4]. Then, try 8th notes. In this instance, this doesn’t work so well with 1/4 note chops, but it works really well with the intro chops.
This part of the process can feel like musical Tetris. A random order of pads leads me to this pattern.
The minor chords create suspense, and the chops of the vocals and organ generate tension. I took notes on where the drum fills were on the pads, so I am going to use them to expand the loop from 1 bar to 2 or 4 bars with fills. As luck would have it, we already have some good drum fills within our existing chops.
Bring in the drums
Now we have our main loop ready; we can dig for some one-shot drum samples to overlay on top of it. I selected my drum samples from STLNDRMS – All Of The Drums. The kick I’ve chosen has a good mid-range punch and a sub-note on it. The snare is crunchy, with aggressive mid-range distortion, and the hi-hats are very clean. I also selected a handclap to layer on the snare for extra snap.
I want my drums to have a little swing/rub. To give them this, I push and pull on every second hi-hat. It’s subtle, but it creates a cool feeling.
Bring In The Bass
I have chosen an 808 drum machine kick for my bass and mapped across the Push in the standard chromatic layout. I added saturation to it to bring out the upper harmonics in the sample. This helps us hear the pitch of the note. It also makes it audible on smaller speakers. The bassline outlines the harmonic chord progression and works alongside the kick drum pattern.
Bring in the piano
I wanted to add one more live element to the beat, so I decided on piano. This gives the sample a strong chordal structure, and it’s good to have one consistent chordal instrument happening in the song that will mesh all the sample chops together. The chord is a Dmin7 then up a tone to Emin7. I used the Arturia Piano V and went for a dry, studio sounding piano. I tracked the left and right-hand parts separately as I can’t fit a 3-octave range on the Push at the same time.
As I track the intro, verse buildup and verse, I have to automate the tempo so that the slower intro samples fit nicely. The increase in tempo gives the beat some organic movement, which an instrumental locked to one speed wouldn’t achieve. I also filtered the sample in the verses to give the drums and bass some breathing space, just in case this beat ends up being sent to a vocalist.
Create A Live Performance Layout
To create a live performance layout, I have bounced out the original sample layered with the bass and the piano. It was going to be physically impossible to play all the parts simultaneously. This lets me play the sample chops with my left hand and the drums with my right hand. After workshopping different options and layouts, I have come up with a strong layout, and colour coded it so I can remember where the sections and samples are.
I have kept the sample chops to the same length as in my original beat because I like the way it feels when I manually play them. It also means I can get a bit of that rub feel happening, by stretching the time between the samples and the drums.
I bounced all the samples out of my original session and re-organised them in a new drum rack. Bouncing them out of the original session with all the track EQ and master buss plugins on them means that my live performance layout will sound mixed and consistent over any PA speakers.
Get even more:
Access the sample for free from Tracklib – click here
Try out the Melodics lessons that feature this content – click here
From being sung to in the womb by his mother and learning to drum as a young kid to joining an orchestra and studying trombone as a teenager, Melbourne-based musician and educator Matt Ridgway’s life has been a journey of sound from the very start. “Music has always been there,” says Matt. “It’s part of my identity.”
Currently releasing electronic music under the moniker Winterpark, Matt found a new musical path presenting itself to him several years ago via the unlikely medium of a cartoon show. “A pivotal moment was when I was offered to do some music for an animated TV series on SBS,” he explains. “I got paid a grand for that, which was more money than I’d made from being in a punk rock band for four years!”
Since then Matt’s done a whole bunch of music for film and TV as well as game soundtracks. “It’s the many hats of the musician!” he says. “Sometimes I’m a teacher and sometimes I’m a performing musician and sometimes I’m a producer or a composer – it’s all of those things.”
I sat down with Matt to learn more about his musical exploits, as well as hear about his Melodics course Cinematic Rhythms, which teaches musicians how to use pads to create compelling sounds for screens both big and small.
Melodics: When did you start writing your own music?
Matt Ridgway: After university I was playing in a punk rock band and I’d written a few things and had recorded them to four-track. I then got a second-hand computer from a friend and began recording and composing onto that. I started getting obsessed with sample-based music – it was around the time The Avalanches first arrived. A bunch of my friends were into electronic music so it just seemed like the natural extension of the band finishing and me continuing on. It was born out of necessity in some ways and I just followed my nose. I started Winterpark as a solo project which then became a band, and now it’s back to being a solo project again.
Melodics: You’ve had a lot of syncs on TV shows and ads. Are those existing pieces of music or do you compose to a brief?
MR: It’s a bit of both. A lot of the songs weren’t written to purpose. Some of the sync stuff I’ve done you get a very precise brief and you write to that, but a lot of other ones like the TV series Underbelly, they just picked an existing song because they liked it.
I love those kind of cinematic, expansive soundscapes. It’s my cup of tea. I like that texture and tone and in some ways the simplicity of it. It can just be a single note with a bit of reverb on it with a tone and texture that makes you feel something. I’ve always prescribed to the kind of music that evokes mood rather than technical skill or chops.
Melodics: How did you decide what to cover in your Cinematic Rhythms course, which follows up your previous Cinematic Chords course?
MR: The idea was to experiment with a few different types of cinema-style music. Sonically, I wanted to compose music in a variety of different styles. The idea was, “What sort of music would suit a big Hollywood film trailer?”, “What sort of music would fit a chase scene?”, “What may fit a quiet atmospheric moment?” But also, as I have experience in teaching young people drums, the teacher in me was always thinking, “How is this part going to work with what their hands are meant to be doing?” and, “What is a way in which I can make this more challenging to play?”
Most of the Cinematic Rhythm lessons have syncopated patterns that require the player to do different things with each hand. Patterns are often cyclic in cinematic music, and the sounds move in and out of step with each other over time.
Playing these lessons feels a little bit like you’re on a roller-coaster, there is always a feeling of forward movement as opposed to the laid-back swing of say a dub or a hip hop track. This is in part due to the sound design with some of the sounds being a bit larger than life, but perhaps also it is due to the syncopation and repetitive pulse of the rhythms themselves.
Melodics: Tell us a little more about your work as a music teacher…
I teach music at high school but I’m also an Abelton Certified Trainer so I’m able to teach and run Abelton workshops. I’m really interested with how music fits with young people and how they can feel connected to culture and to themselves and to others through it. It’s a really powerful, beautiful thing.
Melodics: How important is keeping up a regular practice routine?
MR: The more regularly you practice the better you get at anything, period. That can be practicing the guitar or a pad controller or keys. There’s something about the repetition of doing something over and over again that means you’re getting the muscle memory in your fingers to do it. I think it’s really important to regularly practice in whatever form it is.
Melodics: Any hot tips for those getting into finger drumming?
MR: I like the idea of trying it with different hands and in different positions. Whenever I’m practicing I’ll try it one way then will try it again with a different hand position. On the really simple beginner stuff on Melodics I like to use one hand and then swap my hands over to try and extend myself and just try things differently. It’s challenging your brain and your muscle memory.
I also do quite a few of the hip hop lessons and I like to see at what point I can push the swing of it. [laughs] Particularly the hi-hats. I see how far I can make it swing before I get off before where Melodics tells you should. It’s like you’re trying to trick it!
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.
Hi there! I’m Spinscott, and I am a lifelong drummer, DJ, and music fanatic that has been obsessed with Jungle & Drum n Bass (DnB) music for over 20 years. During this time, I’ve always thought of DnB as a “Producers Genre”. What I mean by this phrase is that while every style of music involves levels of creativity and updates/changes to the sound, DnB just seems to evolve and push limits at an accelerated rate. In my opinion, it would be challenging to identify another genre of music that has more sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, spinoffs, clones, and variations to its sound while simultaneously retaining a listener base for just about all of its prior forms. Even with the common appearance of elements such as classic breaks like Amens (nod to my favorite genre, JUNGLE!), Think, Apache, bass (808, Reese, reverse, etc), and wonderfully recycled pads & vocal clips…, there is always an inherent drive to push limits and experiment with new applications of rhythm and sound.
In addition to the music itself, many forms of DnB are about creating and manipulating energy for the listeners and people’s moves on the dance floor. Relying on much more than just a “drop”, many producers strive to maintain a flow of energy and impact at the track level, and throughout an entire set or performance. Certainly these elements exist in other DJ related music genres, but they are quite prominent in DnB. As a “producer’s genre”, there is often a competitive and perfectionist nature that comes with making the music, with intense focus on not just the finished product, but on precision of rhythms, varying dominance in the mix, high sound quality and fidelity (sometimes lo-fi is preferred of course!), and endless new ways of using samples and new or classic effects.
While there are countless rhythms utilized in the production of DnB , with new ones evolving and emerging constantly, there are certain primary rhythms that lay a foundation for the genre as a whole. To be clear, I’m speaking of the rhythms themselves, not the sounds, because in production there is an unlimited array of drum sounds that can be substituted or layered into the same rhythms. Bringing things back to a fundamental level, I’ve broken down three essential rhythm variations into steps that will enable people to play them live as real-time performances, while learning how to differentiate between the beats. The nature of these beats originates from the methodology of splitting up a break phrase and using various start points, as has traditionally been done using sequences or partial sequences. As a drummer, I’ve always programmed the sampler using single notes, or “one shots”, and play them like one would play bongos or other hand drums. This enables real-time variations and freestyling that breaks the boundaries of using pre-defined sequences of notes.
The DnB Quads course that I have created with Melodics, focuses on three rhythms (or beats) containing Kick+Snare+Hat+Bass sounds. These beats likely have a variety of names in the industry, but I have always referred to them as “The Forward“, “The Step Back“, and “The Stomper“, so those are the names I’ve chosen to accompany the DnB Quads lessons.
Utilizing 16 pads on the standard sampler/drum machine layout split into four quadrants, the beats are played sequentially through each quadrant, with bar one in Quad 1, bar two in Quad 2, and so forth, repeating the cycle. One of the reasons I constructed the lessons in this manner is so that the player can concentrate on the rhythm, while the base notes change during each run.
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.
“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.
Rachel K Collier is a vocalist, electronic music producer and performer from Swansea in Wales. Coming from a background working in songwriting as a topliner (writing vocal parts over instrumentation), she is a die-hard Ableton enthusiast who loves finding fresh ways to perform her original tracks in a live setting. Whether performing solo or with live percussionists and interactive visuals, Rachel’s expressive, high energy performances are rooted in a multi-instrument based technical setup while allows her to bring the studio to the stage.
At the end of October, Rachel released her debut album RKC, and has just had her first Melodics lesson set ‘And I Breathe’ released on keys, drums and pads. On Tuesday 19 November, she’s playing a special headline show at The Grace in London. You can purchase tickets over on her website here.
Melodics: Is live performance the most important part of music for you?
Rachel K Collier: I’d say I’m 50/50 between producer and live performer. I feel like as an electronic performer, you’re either recreating parts you wrote in the studio in a live setting or stem DJing them. I feel like since you spend so much time in the studio crafting those parts, the most rewarding way to play it live is to actually play them live, rather than just having a band play those parts, or having everything set up as tracks. When you play live, you really get to show off your studio productions in the best way, and it’s kind of like taking the studio to the stage, but obviously with some compromises.
Melodics:Do you enjoy how recreating your songs live can add an element of danger to the performance?
RKC: 100%. There is room for human error, things are going to go wrong, and you have freedom. You can have big breakdown sections and be doing all these live effects, live manipulations, and it’s different every single time.
Melodics: How important is improvisation to you?
RKC: My productions actually start from improvisation, and when I perform without any pre-made stems or clips, which I do, I’ll just be starting there with eight empty channels. I’m basically creating a whole track from scratch, and there is something so liberating and amazing about that. I get to record myself playing percussion, vocal loops, key loops, trigger them, and I can change them up into any shape or form that I want to.
Melodics: It’s very rewarding when you get into a flow with this sort of thing, isn’t it?
RKC: Exactly. You get into a flow, and you might just do one extra note on a loop, but it’s really sick, so you decide to do it again next time. I feel like it is really important to leave a bit of it up to chance. I’m the type of person who gets bored really quickly. With this live set-up, I can constantly evolve things, which means it never gets boring.
Melodics: Would you like to tell us anything about your debut album, RKC?
RKC: When I was in the topliner world, I got very bored of writing generic pop lyrics, so every song on the record is a personal experience for me. If you’re a songwriter and you want to produce your own music, you should just go for it. Even if it takes time, you can do it, because I did it. I hope everyone enjoys it and gives it a chance because all the tracks are quite different.
Melodics: Could you talk about your live performance set-up?
RKC: I have two live set-ups. One where I’m alone, and I create everything from scratch, and one with percussionists and visuals. I use two little Yamaha Refaces. I’ve got the Arturia MiniBrute, Ableton Push 2, two additional midi controllers, a DJ TechTools Midi Fighter, an Akai LPD8. So I have three midi controllers and several synths. When I add my percussionists to my show, I have a KingKord synth on stage as well. Everything runs through Ableton on my laptop.
Melodics: How much time do you spend practising your live show?
RKC: I practice a lot. When you are practising for a technology-based set, as well as actually singing or playing, getting the notes right, there are always little tech amendments you need to be doing. I’ll do a little vocal warm-up, then I’ll try to do my set, but instead of programming and rehearsing at the same time, I’ll make notes about the programming changes, before having a break, and then practising again, but the next practice session will be a programming session. I separate out the technology rehearsals and the actual physical performance rehearsals. Sometimes I play Tetris in-between sessions because when you concentrate that hard, you need to take breaks. I can’t really have anything else going on that day. I have to devote days to practice. If I have to make a video or finish producing a track, I can’t practice as well.
Melodics: What can you tell us about your Melodics lesson ‘And I Breathe’?
RKC: It isn’t really a typical song type of thing; actually, it’s really odd. I’ll never forget how happy writing it made me feel because it represents a turning point where I realised I was becoming a really good producer. When we play it live, no matter the show, it’s always my favourite. There is a big synth solo at the end, a big percussion solo, and the song is about when everything gets too much, and the world feels crazy. It’s about the feeling of release you can get from music.
Melodics: How do you feel about having your song converted into a lesson people can play?
RKC: I think it’s really cool. Melodics can really enhance your production. It’s about more than just playing in time. Learning those grooves, chords and keys, that’s the type of stuff that can actually inspire you when you are creating music. It’s a lesson for you to get tighter at your finger drumming, and you can use that when you perform live, but for me, Melodics inspires me to create with different grooves. I like to go on Melodics for fifteen minutes before I start producing because it just warms me up and really gets me into the groove. Instead of just looking at the plug-ins on a song in a production tutorial, you can actually have a go at playing those rhythms. I think it is amazing and I am looking forward to sharing my lesson with everyone.
Learning to play music is exciting, but getting started can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Where do you start? Where do you go next? What do you do when things get tricky? What should you be focusing on?
These are all common bits of feedback we hear from those looking to get started with learning to play their instrument.
Introducing the Melodics Guided Path – a structured map through the Melodics Courses to help you find your way and improve your skills on the keys, pads, or drums.
The Guided Path gives you an overview of the areas you should focus on when starting your musical journey with Melodics. Working your way through each Course in the Guided Path will help you lay a solid foundation for you to build upon further.
We’ve designed this path for you to follow, but try moving both ways. Forward through the courses to master new concepts, but also back to lessons you’ve passed so you can see the improvements you’ve made, increase your scores and get those perfects. One of the joys of music learning is the satisfaction of easily re-playing a lesson you once found super hard.
Melodics™ is the best way to build your musical skills.
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