Some time ago, I was practicing the drums, playing the same kinds of beats and fills I usually played. Then, my left hand did something that grabbed my attention. It made a mistake! I made a mistake! Little did I know at the time that I had just discovered how to play dynamics on drums.
They say that when you make a mistake, the idea is to correct that mistake as fast as possible. And then carry on playing to keep the forward motion and flow going. But what I did was quite profound. It lifted my playing for a few bars way beyond my level of ability at the time.
On examination, what had inadvertently happened is that my left hand. Because of its weakness at that time, played a few notes in succession in a particular way. One note was loud, the others soft, and another medium volume. I had discovered, quite by accident, dynamic drumming. And the enhanced difference drumming dynamics made.
How To Play Dynamics On Drums
Dynamic drumming, as the word implies, is a group of two or more drumming notes played in succession. At various volume levels within a drum pattern, fill, or phrase. This gives the appearance of being very complex drumming. When in fact the drumming may be quite basic. Dynamic drumming, thus, sounds much more complex than it actually is.
It does this when the sound of the succession of drumming notes is played. Reaches the listener’s ear at different times and at different note intervals. As well as heard at different volumes. Let’s dig a little deeper to get a fuller understanding of dynamic drumming and how to play dynamics on drums.
Dynamic drumming is a term used to describe a particular way of playing the drums. It is characterized by the use of a wide range of dynamics or volume levels. Within a single bar, beat, phrase, or piece of music. This can involve anything from very soft, quiet playing to very loud, pounding rhythms.
When you first learn how to play dynamics on drums, or when you discover dynamic drumming, you realize that the dynamics can be used to create a variety of different effects in music. From delicate, fragile, or pretty-sounding passages to aggressive and powerful sections. It is an important technique for any drummer to master. As it can add to the expressive capabilities of their playing. When used skillfully, dynamic drumming can bring a piece of music or solo drumming to life.
And as suggested, dynamic drumming can be expressed and experienced within several notes. Or several bars, containing one or more sections within a musical piece.
The drummer uses a variety of drums, cymbals, and other percussion instruments. To create a unique soundscape and dynamic range. The goal of dynamic drumming is to create an interactive experience. Between the performer and the audience. This type of drumming is often used in film, television, and video games. As it helps to create an energetic and exciting atmosphere.
And I must say, that many uses of dynamics tend to be on the volume elevation rather than the lowering of said volume.
The problem here is that if you are a thrasher playing as loud as possible all the time, then there’s nowhere to go. Nowhere to take the drumming in a dynamic sense.
Dynamics can also be used in live concerts to create a more immersive experience. Especially in groove-type beats and patterns.
Dynamic drumming makes a drummer stand out in a unique way, even when playing the most basic beats. It does this because, after learning how to play dynamics on drums, although most drummers may be able to play a particular basic drum beat or pattern. The interpretation of that pattern or beat makes the beat totally unique. In its simplest form, this is usually known as a groove. When a drummer grooves, he is usually playing dynamically within a beat or pattern. And in the pocket or perfect time, using accents, ghost notes, and everything in between.
What Is An Accent In Drumming
An accent is a technique in drumming whereby a stroke or note is louder than the surrounding notes. By briefly using more energy on the striking arm to make contact with the drumhead. The result is a note that sounds different from the others around it. And so stands out more due to its increased volume. Accents can be used for musical effects or to add variety to a drum pattern. They are used in most genres of music. Including rock, metal, funk, fusion, jazz, Latin, and other styles of music.
Accents can be played on any type of drum. Including the snare drum, toms, cymbals, as well as combinations of these. To create an accent on a snare drum, the drummer hits the drum with more force than the average notes. The same applies to toms and cymbals.
There are many ways to create accents in drumming. Some drummers use accented notes to add excitement and tension to their playing. While others use them for softer, subtle effects. In this case, the drummer would be playing most notes much quieter than the normal volume. And then he adds the occasional accented note. This creates an up-and-down effect.
It is up to the drummer to decide how best to use accents in their playing. This decision is usually based on the interpretation of a particular piece of music. That is unless the drummer is playing a solo. He then plays dynamically to convey a pulse, groove, or feel.
With practice, any drummer can learn to control and create accents. That adds interest and variety to their music. The important thing to bear in mind is the starting point. One cannot play accents if the drumming is already at the greatest volume. Thrashing as I call it. From a medium volume level though, you can play up and downward in volume. Within a dynamic range.
What Are Ghost Notes In Drumming
Ghost notes are the exact opposite of accented notes and are very quiet notes. They are usually played on the snare drum within a beat or other part of the drum kit during fills. The word “ghost” is used to describe how ghost notes should be played. Lightly and without a lot of force and as if the note was almost not played at all.
Ghost notes help to create a sense of rhythm, pulse, and flow, as well as added variety to a drumbeat. When played, ghost notes should not be heard as individual notes, but rather as a part of the groove. For this reason, it can be helpful to practice ghost notes with a metronome or drum machine. So that you can better hear how they fit into the rhythm. With a little practice, you’ll be able to add ghost notes to your beats. They fill in the gaps between the main notes with ghost notes.
Practicing and playing accents also helps the development of ghost notes. Because when you are focusing on the accented notes in a given exercise. You will begin to focus more on the accented notes. And begin to view the normal volume notes as not being as prominent as the accented ones. As you can imagine, this helps you to see ghost notes as intended. Much softer notes than normal or accented notes.
The primary source of sound, when a drummer strikes a note, is the initial attack, created by the impact of the drumstick on the drumhead. The note’s sustain or resonance is generated by the sound or vibration produced by the drumhead. Unless of course, you are just hitting the drum as hard as possible, in which case, very little vibration or sustain occurs. While ghost notes are usually played at a much lower volume than the main note. They can still be an important part of a drumbeat pattern. They support the main beat and often enhance the beat. Or groove.
By controlling the dynamics of their playing. Drummers can use ghost notes to create dynamic and interesting rhythms. And of course, the vibration that’s created is much less than when playing a normal volume note.
Drum Dynamics Exercises
Practicing with a metronome is among the most effective methods to enhance your drumming abilities. This will help you develop a strong sense of tempo and keep your playing evenly spaced. Also, it is important to vary your dynamics while you play. Playing too loud all the time can lead to fatigue. And playing too soft can make it difficult to get heard over other instruments.
By practicing with a wide range of dynamics, you will be able to find the perfect balance for any situation. Thinking of lowering and raising the volume as you play goes a long way to developing your dynamics. And more general drumming abilities.
You can focus on keeping time and adding accents and flavor to a song consciously. By being consciously aware of playing at different volumes (upward and downward). And even speeds as you practice, you not only improve your drumming technique. But also get a great workout for your senses, especially your sense of hearing.
Besides, by working on your dynamics, you’ll also be able to better communicate. With other musicians in your band or orchestra on a more musical and feeling level.
So next time you’re feeling stuck in a rut, break out the sticks and start working on your dynamics. You might find that it’s the best way to get out of your comfort zone and into some great drumming.
But remember that the number one exercise technique for practicing dynamics. Is by becoming efficient at playing accents. I will add a list of useful resources at the end of this article. They will make it easy for you to begin working on your dynamics if you wish to. But there’s no pressure to do so. They’re suggestions only.
What Are Some Dynamic Drumming Techniques You Can Try?
While the basic principle of drumming is simple—hit the drum with a stick. There are many different ways to produce dynamic sound effects as you do. For instance, as already suggested, a drummer can vary the force of his or her strokes. Using light taps for delicate parts and harder hits for more forceful ones. And you develop that through learning accents.
Another way to add dynamics is by using different parts of the drumhead, such as the edge or the center. This can produce different sounds, from a sharp crack to a deep thud.
Drummers can also experiment with different sticking patterns. Such as single strokes or double strokes. By mixing and matching these various techniques in a creative way. A drummer can create an enormous range of sounds and textures.
I realize I said hitting the drum head in the center or near the edge of the head but did you hear me right? What I mean to say is, that if your drum is tuned well. Then each position of the drum head has several variations within itself. For instance, hit the drum head less than one inch from the rim and you get a completely different sound. Then hitting the drum head 1 or 2 inches away from the rim. And of course, this applies to the center of the head too.
Try hitting the head in the very center and then moving away from the center of the head 3 and then 6 inches. In any direction outward. You’ll see that you get a completely different sound. It’s a different dynamic when you have developed your stick mastery. And are able to make the very most of accents and ghost notes.
As a result, you dynamically elevate your drumming. To make it an essential part of any musical situation. Your drumming begins to sound great. You become a musician.
And as a matter of fact, there are many different drumming techniques. each of which can be used to create different sounds, rhythms, and dynamics within them. For example, some drummers use their hands to create a light, delicate sound. While others use sticks to create a louder, more forceful sound. others still use their hand and stick to dampen and bend the sound of the drum. Additionally, some drummers use different parts of their bodies to create different sounds. For example, some drummers use their feet to operate pedals. The pedals then create cymbal crashes or other percussive effects.
By experimenting with different techniques, and body movements. You can create a wide range of sounds that add interest and variety to your drumming.
Dancing Your Way To Better Dynamic Drumming
Try moving your body into a note and you get a completely different feel. This is kinda like dancing at the kit which is something you can actually try for yourself. As you play a beat, move your arms, hands, and feet away from what you are actually doing (to a degree). And see, or rather feel the difference. Keep playing the notes with your hands and feet, and keep your feet on the pedals. But move your legs in a swaying motion, backward and forward, left to right, and so on. In this way, what you are feeling gets transferred into the drums and out through the drum heads. It’s just another approach to learning how to play dynamics on drums, so don’t miss this bit. Give it a go.
It may sound a little, or a lot, “Out There” but it does make a difference when you’re playing drums. Give it a go when no one is looking. I won’t tell. Promise!
Play Drums Quietly
Okay, so, we’ve all learned that drumming is loud, even noisy. Yet have you ever heard someone describe drumming as pretty?
Probably not, but give it a go and you will begin to add even more dynamic contrast to your playing. This is best developed after a degree of skill has been built up by playing accents as well as ghost notes. But there is nothing stopping you from giving it a go at your current level.
I assure you, it is quite possible to play the drums quietly/prettily. And still, produce good sound and rhythmic quality. A pretty, sound quality in fact. The key is to use a very soft touch. Instead of hitting the drums with brute force, the drummer should adopt a light touch. This will produce a softer sound that is less likely to disturb others.
It will be difficult to grasp, but I’ll try and put over a simple technique that helps you play prettily. And in complete control. This method is enhanced to the degree of mastery. That you have over other drumming techniques and fundamentals. The basic idea is best described as Bruce Lee’s fighting method.
Bruce created a martial art form he described as “Fighting Without Fighting”. And that is what you must do to play prettily. You must “Play the Drums, Without Playing the Drums”. As ridiculous as it sounds, that’s it. The whole technique. don’t forget these are great techniques to add to your drumming goals plan.
In other words, as you sit at your kit. By the way, don’t sit at your kit. Instead, float before your kit. And then do the same with your limbs. Hold the sticks then don’t hold them, loosen the grip until they almost fall out of your hands, and then play the drums. Keep your hands as loose as possible until you can play without the sticks falling. You don’t grip the sticks, you control their movement. Their flow.
Well, let’s hope you understand that because I can’t explain it any better. But I am sure you get what I mean. Practice this technique by letting the stick fall onto the drums and cymbals. From 2, 3, 6, and 12 inches away from the instrument. Then control the bounces to produce hardly any sound at all. This is playing pretty. Or as Bruce Lee would say, “playing without playing”.
And when you play from this position and then suddenly get a tighter grip on the sticks. Then hit the drums a little header. You will get what dynamic drumming is all about. Of course, you then loosen off again and control the flow of the drumming.
Another analogy Bruce Lee used was with a cup of water. The water becomes the cup. Be the water my friend… well, something like that.
I almost forgot. I have included here a shopping list. For anyone interested in taking their dynamic drumming a step further. And who wants to start developing dynamic drumming?
Shopping List Ideas
Accents Drumming Development Course
The Time Space and Drums Part Seven Accents Drumming Development Course. It’s a guide to help you take the monotony out of your playing and become a more dynamic and exciting drummer!
It is the first step in learning how to play dynamics on drums. You might say it’s the doorway to the dynamic world through the use of accents. It will help you turn linear, flat, and boring playing. Into dynamic, and musically exciting playing! You will soon be turning one-dimensional drumming into three-dimensional masterpieces!
You’ll also make your drumming sound less monotonous. Groove more, and sound more musically exciting to the listeners! As well as play more dynamically using a variety of time signatures. To advance your ability and make your drumming flow and groove like a pro.
…all designed to build dynamics into your current drumming abilities. It’s an excellent introduction and overview of the subject of accents. And will give you the grounding to move on to the next step.
Accents On Accents Book 1
Accents on Accents Book 1 is the ideal next step in building your accent vocabulary. And to become a more advanced and dynamic drummer.
It’s a more advanced version of the previous book. And builds on the foundations laid within the Accents Drumming Development course.
But, I recommend the less experienced drummer moves through these three books. One by one, in a step-by-step manner. and preferably over several months or 2-3 years. To really get to grips with playing accents and playing the drums more dynamically.
These titles are only suggestions and of course, the decision is yours. I wanted to make it more convenient for you to pursue developing your dynamic drumming.
Accents On Accents Book 2
Where the Accents Drumming Development Course provides a valuable foundation. And Accent On Accents Book 1 begins to develop that foundation – Accent On Accents Book 2 builds on the two.
It is a more advanced title. But even sitting and reading through these kinds of exercises aids the drummer. In gaining a greater understanding of the rhythmic and dynamic sounds. So, I still recommend all 3 titles when it comes to developing dynamics. Whether you decide to buy them for yourself or not. And if you decide not to buy them now. Bear them in mind for the future as they will provide you with a great dynamic and advanced level of skill.
So there you have it. A simple, yet powerful route to more dynamic drumming. Whatever you decide to do from this point on. At the very least try some of the suggestions given here. To express yourself more dynamically. The more you develop as a drummer the more these ideas will become relevant for your drumming.
They take time to develop like anything else in drumming. But after you have been drumming for 1- 2 years. These strategies will become of greater use to the fledgling drummer. And I count myself among them. Because I have been out of the game for some years now. And plan to start building my own dynamics over the coming months and years.
If you have any other dynamic ideas to share, please feel free to write a comment below. You may have what someone else needs to see.
Thanks for staying till the end. I wish you, a dynamic drumming future.