I've always wondered how some of the beats to my favourite songs were created and what makes them really interesting. From Toto's Rosanna to Rihanna's Umbrella, this post is all about how I approach drum parts for recording or covers.
1) Work out the vibe.
Is it straight, swung, is it vibey, is it rudimentary etc. You get the idea but this is so important as you can determine what sort of things you can add in. Listen to the instruments, what pattern are they playing, what's the bass doing. Listen to as much as you can and mentally write down what each thing is doing roughly.
2) Incorporate any ideas you have:
They can be anything, at first just trying things to see if it fits has always worked for me. No matter how silly it may seem at first, you can come up with really cool drum parts using the 'what if I do this' method.
You can try 99 ideas before finding the one that really works and vibes with the song. Even if they are all mistakes I guarantee you can either use it somewhere in the song or it will expand your vocabulary.
What I love to do is add rudiments - especially between the hats, snare and kick. Take a basic rock beat you can add rudiments to 'spice' up the beat. Try adding in paradiddles, maybe you go a step further and turn a paradiddle into a beat. The way I learnt was just watching other drummers and experimenting with ideas, even if most of them don't work.
3) Add variations - this will expand your musical vocabulary.
Move notes around on the kit, hit a different drum. Add kicks into different groupings.
A common six note grouping is: R L R L K K
Let's put the kicks at the start: K K R L R L
The idea here is to explore using what vocabulary you already have and just tweak it so it sounds completely different.
Another great thing to add is dynamics. Dynamics are vital and when accents are incorporated into rudiments or chops, it takes it to a completely new level. It can make something simple sound way more complex than it actually is.
What I do when practicing, is play whatever comes out of my head but if I find something cool, I write down what I'm playing, slow it down and then start adding bits and taking off bits, or add accents to certain notes.
4) The art of using less:
Try just removing drums so you only have kick, snare, hats. Or kick, snare tom or kick snare, ride. Mess around with the format of your drums. This forces you think of more using less, remember it's about imagination not resources. You can have a 18 drums but it's about how you apply it, especially in a musical setting.
Don't be afraid of using silence to your advantage. Knowing when not to play is just as important as knowing when too.
Try missing a snare or putting the snare hit on a different beat or on the 1 e + A. The possibilities are endless, it's just how far you want to take it.
I sometimes forget that nothing is impossible to play on the drums, it's just a question of learning it and if you can conceive it.
5) New music is your best friend:
The more music you listen to, the more ideas are being 'downloaded' into your brain. In modern music, I always listen to the kick and snare parts above anything else. What I love is how some tracks have an odd kick drum part or there are hits where you don't expect them and they are great to learn.
So there you have it just a few ideas of my approach to trying to more creative on the kit.
I hope you found something of use and yeah let me know if you would like to see any video content of how I would approach it in more detail.