This is one of those things that as drummers we tend to take for granted. Of course I can play a beat at different tempos! Yet, if you have been reading the Confident Drummer Blog, by now you probably are clear about a concept that has been mentioned over and over. It’s not the ‘what’ that is important (and challenging), it’s the ‘how’.
If you are new to this idea in this recent post (How to Develop Musicality – Focusing on the How of Drumming) I talk about the relevance of parameters in defining what we play, and why they are a crucial component of drumming, to which we should dedicate most of our practice time. While the what is the rhythm, phrase, lick that we execute, the how lies in elements like volume, speed, orchestrations, feel and so on.
Since we play at different tempos all the time we are all familiar with the most basic of these parameters, which is precisely speed and which today we are going to explore using an unusual and effective approach.
We typically focus on learning new beats, and, generally speaking, we assume that if we can play something at 100 bpm we are also automatically able to play it at 60 or 140 beats per minute. The question is: do we actually have the control and technique to do it? And most importantly, can we make it groove even at those tempos?
That’s where exercises like the one we about to practice come into play.
Most of us are comfortable playing between 80 and 120 bpm and everything beyond this range starts to feel uneasy. One of the reasons is that average tempos are more common, and since we play them more frequently we are obviously more at ease with them.
The way to avoid uncommon BPMs to get us in trouble is to practice at a variety of tempos and especially explore the extremely slow and fast ones. It’s a cool challenge that helps us quickly improve our groove skills, because of the obstacles that it poses.
So I’d like you to spend some time investigating this essential parameter by trying to play the same beat at 8 different speeds: 40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 140, 160 and 180 bpm (this is the how). While this may seem simple the reality is that it takes a lot more control and technique than we realize, especially because we take the concept to extreme tempos: 40 and 180 are quite difficult. We are going to use a cool eighth note beat.
This is the what 😉
In the video demo I played all 8 variations, 4 or 8 bars each. You can check it out on YouTube. Notice the completely different motions used to play the same thing at 40 bpm as opposed to 180 bpm. The slower the tempo, the wider the motions involved, and as we speed things up the movements become gradually smaller.
There’s a lot of hand mechanics, foot technique and coordination involved, which you can work on and improve with these three free excerpts from Altitude Drumming, if you like: Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4.
So, why is this useful? Besides of course increasing control at extreme speeds, the point is that we want to be musical and versatile drummers. It makes no sense to be able to groove only within a narrow bpm range, just as it makes no sense to sound good just at one dynamic level. By the way, as a matter of fact dynamics are another of the parameters mentioned above, which you can learn more about and practice with this free booklet.
If you are interested in this kind of studies here are two methods entirely focused on techniques and concepts to work on your groove: