Hearing Drum Beats as Melodies

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SKF NOTE: Will learning to play a melodic instrument make you a better drummer? On balance, yes.

The most common melodic instruments drummers play are piano (keyboards) and guitar. I also know drummers who played trumpet or trombone.

Learning to sing, and familiarity with song forms (32-bar standards, 12- and 16-bar blues, etc.), is comparable to playing a second instrument.

Drummers with no interest or familiarity with melody always play stiff — at least to my ears.

I hear drum beats as melodies. I learn drum beats by their total sound, usually in two- or four-bar phrases. When it’s a beat I want to copy, I copy the sound. How do I reproduce the sound? When I get stuck, when I’m having trouble reproducing a sound, then I break down the beat using musical notation until I’m not stuck.

Maybe what the drummers’ are playing is built from the song’s melody, or from the bassist’s part. Maybe the drummer locks in to the rhythm guitarist or strong lead guitar riffs.

The melodies can be as simple as a nursery rhyme, or more complex. But, whether it’s John Bonham or Elvin Jones, the best drummers play melodic.

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