More on Playing Technique – What Are the Microphones Hearing?

*YOU WANT TO BE VERY CONSISTENT STRIKING THE DRUM IN EXACTLY THE RIGHT SPOT.*

Every drum has a ‘sweet spot’. This is the spot on the drum where the drum speaks to its utmost ability. Use your ear and find all of your drum’s sweet spots and practice hitting them ev 16ery time. It’s more difficult than you might think! It’s usually the center of the drum or slightly off center. Use and develop your ear!

Where does the stroke sound best to you?

*AS A SESSION PLAYER YOU’LL BE ASKED TO STRIKE YOUR SNARE INCLUDING A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF RIM.*

This means striking the drum but also including a touch of the rim, which creates a tremendous amount of crack and attitude out of the drum.
This is tricky but you need to practice this. Practice the same consistency of your stroke but this time your stroke will be off-centre, slightly to the side of the drum and catching consistently the same amount of rim. You don’t want more rim and then less rim etc. You need to develop a style in this area that gives you consistency and attitude that you can pull out immediately if a producer requests it.

On the issue of weight;

*YOU DON’T WANT TO OVER-HIT EITHER!*

Drums tend to choke sonically when they are over-hit. You can hear this very clearly with snares and toms. You want to strike the drum with enough impact to excite the drum and make it sing but not to over-hit the drum and choke it.

*PLAYING SIDE STICK AT THE STUDIO LEVEL IS ALSO CHALLENGING.*

Again, the consistency of the sound that you’re creating is the issue. There are several tricks that help in this.

What you don’t want is for the stick to be even slightly changing position.
The stick is turned around so that the butt end is being used to strike the rim. The slightest little movement will create a distinctly different tone and you don’t want that.

The first technique I use is to anchor the palm of my hand on the head itself. By anchoring the palm it greatly decreases the amount of movement in my position. The only disadvantage I find is that it can be harder to get enough impact. When that is the issue I use this technique.

Some side stick tracks require more aggression than others. Working with the producer and engineer I strike the rim and move the stick to different positions and ask them their preference in tonality. Once the optimum position is located I take a pen (pencil if you prefer except pencil obviously wears off quickly) and I draw a circle right around the stick at the exact point of impact with the rim. That way I can see the position and quickly adjust it if I need to.

The third trick, which I don’t use, but I have seen other prominent drummers use is to trace the stick position onto the snare head like you would with tracing paper. That way the exact stick position can also be seen clearly.

*PLAYING EFFECTIVE HI HAT…*

is one of the most un-talked about art forms surrounding the drum kit. I like to make the comparison of someone thrashing out sloppy 8th notes on the hats all the way up to the mastery of someone like Stuart Copeland, one of the all time great hi hat artists in pop music!

The subtleties and level of emotion and sheer expression that he achieves out of just a hi hat is truly where the bar has risen to this day!

So the point is this.16a

The hi hat is a ‘musical instrument’ so treat it like one, approach it like one.

*FIRST RULE IS DO NOT BOUNCE YOUR FOOT ON THE HI HAT WHEN YOU ARE PLAYING A CONSISTENT CLOSED OR SEMI CLOSED HI HAT PHRASE.*

When we were touring with Toto I got the chance to stand at the back of the stage and watch Jeff Porcaro play. The stage was at about my head level since there were risers toward the back of the stage so my head level was right at his foot level. I’ve always loved his textures. He was a beautiful studio player with great nuances in his playing, truly one of the all time greats. His kick foot was a slamming heel up technique! It was a beautiful fat kick presence but his hi hat foot?

Heel down and his foot was dead still!

If he was playing a closed or semi closed pattern on the hat his foot never moved unless he was making very subtle and specific adjustments. That was a great lesson to me. I also got to meet Jeff and hang a bit. He was an awesome guy, very humble! He also gave me the greatest drumming compliment of my entire life. He said to me “your time is a motherfucker man!” We lost a lot of music they day we lost him.

So what you’re doing by bouncing your foot is constantly changing the tension of the hats, which is affecting the sound and emotion that you’re producing.

Think of a piano player. You don’t see a piano player stomping on the dampening pedal or keeping time on it either. The pedal serves a specific function on both instruments, in our case it’s tension and cymbal decay.

Of course if you’re playing something that involves opening or closing or if it’s a foot hat pattern then this rule doesn’t apply.

But creating a high end, very consistent kick, snare and hi hat groove involves being very much aware and in control of the hi hat subtleties and texture! The same of course applies to kick and snare and to ride cymbal technique and all the subtleties surrounding that as well.

I’d encourage you to study some great players here. Steve Gadd is another outstanding example. Listen to the use of the hi hat and his command of the instrument. Also listen to the great players use of tip and shank techniques utilizing the sticks to create different groove soundscapes.

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