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Using Accents To Enhance Your Playing
Have you ever noticed how some drummers seem to have more dimension to their playing than others? You've probably also noticed that some other drummers sound stiff and lifeless. I believe part of the problem is that many drum method books are written in the style and manner of Ex. 1-just the rhythms. Now unless you're an experienced player or have a really good teacher, you might play through this exercise as written: just the rhythms! But rhythms without accents and a sense of phrasing don't really come to life. Let's see how we can breathe some life into Ex. 1.
First of all, if the ride cymbal is played as written, all of the notes would be approximately the same volume. So let's try playing the cymbal as it appears in Ex. 2. Notice how slightly accenting the 2 and 4 adds life to the feel? Now try accenting the third eighth-note triplet of beat 1 of the second bar slightly more than the 2 and 4. This will help the cymbal phrase better with the bass drum and snare parts, without stopping the time flow. Also be aware of the overall cymbal volume. If it is too loud, it will sound heavy and cumbersome. If it is played timidly it will sound uninspired. So work on it until the cymbal seems to purr. With practice you'll know when it's right.
Next add the hi-hat. Try to get a clean "chick" sound, as opposed to a wider sounding "chunk", that might make the feel too sluggish. The hi-hat should embellish the ride, so make sure it blends in with the cymbal sound and has a "finger snapping' quality.
Now add the bass drum. Play it as written in Ex. 3. In the first measure, the bass drum should be felt more than heard. It should add fullness to the groove without becoming too loud and bottom-heavy. In bar two, the bass drum notes are accented, since they're part of a phrase, and therefore should stand out a little more. But not too much! Again, a perfect mix of the instruments is the goal.
The last addition is the snare drum. Many young drummers play the snare too loud so that it disrupts the time flow rather than embellishing it. Again, when you add this new part to the other three existing parts, it must both fit in and yet have its own clear articulation. Now play Ex. 4. In bar one, the 2 and 4 backbeats should add to that "finger snapping" quality. When played at the right volume, it seems to fatten up the groove without drawing too much attention to itself. In bar two, the snare is playing a phrase, so pay attention to the accents. These not only will bring out the important notes of the phrase, but also make the phrase swing more. But again, don't make these too loud, and make sure the cymbal rhythm doesn't change in volume or intensity when playing the snare phrase.
Once you're aware of practicing this way, I'm sure you'll notice a change in your playing. You can take any book on any style of drumming and figure out which notes in a particular groove or fill need to be brought out more, or less. It should give your playing more dimension and a personal signature.
Images and Information from Drums & Drumming April/May 1990, page 69