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- Understanding the Thought Process Behind Drum-Part Creation - Whether you compose through electronic means or utilize an actual drum kit, it’s helpful to know what works best, what doesn’t & why. Regardless of method, the thought process behind creation is the same. Brief audio snippets (green text) are scattered throughout this article. Opening the links as “new tabs” allows you to hear the example while you’re reading the corresponding description. As a starting point, I’ve put together a short-list of variables. These are things I take into consideration when structuring drum parts for a new song. What’s the genre of the song? For a multitude of reasons, I don't begin structuring a final drum part until song-basics are pretty well set. By basics, I mean: Melody A rough idea of lyrical content & subject matter Backing chord patterns (basics of the song's musical movement) Tentative song structure (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) Those basic components tell me what type of song I'm dealing with. Regardless of personal preference, the drum part you craft should be an appropriate match for song & genre. For example, a typical metal drum line probably won't fit well in a country/pop song. By itself, the part may sound cool & impressive. More-so, if you happen to be a fan of metal. The thing is, no one will ever hear it by itself! It’ll only be heard within the context of the song. Bottom line - writing new parts is always about how they affect the song as a whole, NOT about the part itself. As a drummer, I was slow to learn that lesson. As a songwriter, it was immediately obvious. Perspective is an amazing thing! Genre is a vague concept. Because of that, it's not unusual for a song to straddle several. Proper arrangement choices (including drum parts) can help push that song in one direction or another. Let’s look at a specific example (audio snippet #1) …say your song straddles country & pop. You could push it in the direction of country by employing twangy guitars and a country sounding drum part. How is the movement of the melody structured (meter, flow, rhythm)? Remember…melody is the single most important part of any song! Whether it's sung or played instrumentally, that melody & its appeal have a huge effect on the song's likability. If you're the songwriter, this is your money-maker. Protect it at all costs! If you're the drummer, you need to recognize & accept a harsh reality. Your drum part will NOT be the reason that listeners like the song! It can certainly be a contributing factor, but it will NOT the big reason. I was a drummer long before I became a songwriter, so I've stood on both sides of this argument. Drummers prefer challenging parts…songwriters want parts appropriate for the song. And while I do empathize, it all boils down to this…“arrangements are created as support for songs”, not the other way around. What matters most is how your part effects the song as a whole. Moving right along, try to craft something that compliments the melodic movement of the song. Once you have a specific part in mind, try playing it along with the melody. If others are involved in the project, ask for their input. If you’re working alone, songwriter/musician forums can be useful for obtaining outside perspectives. What type of arrangement do you have in mind? I'm not suggesting the whole arrangement be set-in-stone before starting the drum part, but it’s helpful to have at least a rough idea. Do you plan to use piano? Are you thinking of multiple guitar tracks? Might additional percussion be a good fit (congas, tambourine, shaker, etc.)? What I’m getting at is this…whatever ideas you do have for the arrangement, factor those into the creation of your drum part. I’ll list a few more in-depth examples: A) If you plan a busy arrangement…with lots of instrumental movement, a simpler drum part may be better. A song isn't a contest for dominance! If you have cool ideas for intricate piano parts & a tasteful signature guitar track, your drum part should allow those parts to shine through. No, the drums don’t have to be boring! Just build the complexities into simpler song sections. Those piano & guitar parts I referred to…let's say they’re intended for the verses & bridge. That means your chorus sections can employ a more sophisticated drum part. Varying the dominant instrument from section to section adds variety to an arrangement. It also makes the dominant instrument more noticeable. When that chorus section rolls around & the drums start kicking butt, that change immediately grabs the listeners’ attention. B Sometimes arrangements are sparse. It’s not unheard of to strip instrumentation down, utilizing only bass & drums for the verse sections. This type of arrangement presents the perfect opportunity for creative drum parts. You can experiment with intricate syncopation, polyrhythms…really flex those creative muscles. Limited, simple instrumentation = fewer potential conflicts. C) If some parts of your arrangement are already fixed (final), do those parts heavily accent specific counts? Do several parts accent the same counts? I ask these questions because it is possible to over-do accents. Too much duplication can make an arrangement sound stiff. D) What impact, if any, would you like drums to have on the songs’ development.... beginning-to-end? I’ll clarify that question a bit by breaking it into smaller parts: a) Would you like the song to build as it progresses? If you do, drums are an easy way to achieve that end. It's not uncommon to bring them in gradually, layering in additional complexity & momentum as the song progresses. b Would you like a specific section of the song to jump out & grab the listener’s attention? (snippet #2) One way to achieve that is to hold back much of the instrumentation (including all the drums). The song you hear playing in the background does exactly that. "The Real World" begins with a verse comprised of a single guitar & vocal, adds an organ around the half-way point, then smacks you all at once with the entry of drums, bass, piano, a second guitar & doubled vocal. c) Would you prefer drums to play a minimal part in the songs’ development? One way to achieve that is with a consistent sounding drum track. Something with the same feel start-to-finish. "Rain King" by Counting Crows is a great example of consistency. d) Would a change in drum tempo, from half time - to full time be useful? (snippet #3) It’s a common method for varying the feel of a song. Say your song is set at 120 BPM. The beat used for your verse sections can be made to feel as if it's being played at 60 BPM, while the choruses are played full-time (120 BPM). Selecting Beat Patterns Have you ever heard a song on the radio & been instantly being drawn to it? For years I accepted that experience at face value, never bothering to ask myself why. Then I began writing songs. As a writer, I discovered it was in my best interest to explore those whys. Why am I attracted to some songs more than others? For me, the answer has a lot to do with the feel & flow of a song. Both of which depend upon beat & rhythmic choices. You may have noticed that the subtitle for this section is plural - ”patterns”. Ideally, you will select MORE THAN ONE. It's not uncommon to use 2 or 3 variations of a basic pattern for the verses of a song, then select something entirely different for the choruses. Bridge sections are often assigned unique patterns, to help set them apart from the rest of the song. Before leaving this section, I’ll share a few commonly used methods for building in variation. (*All examples assume a right-handed drummer.) 1) You can vary the specific part of the drum set being played by the right hand from section-to-section. (snippet #4) For example - hi-hat for the verses, ride cymbal for the chorus sections. It's a small change, but the impact on the overall texture of the song can be quite dramatic. For additional variety, you can sprinkle in a few hi-hat openings, as this example does in the verse sections. 2) You can vary hi-hat technique within a given song section. Playing it tightly-closed produces a very crisp, structured sound. Playing it semi-opened gives you a looser, free-floating feel. It's common for harder-driving songs to use the 2nd option. Pop rock & country tend to employ the tightly closed version, but often combine the 2 techniques. For example - tightly closed most of the verse, then semi-opened for the final measure or two. That small change produces a shift in texture just prior to entry of the chorus. The variance also serves to announce the coming of a change. It often precedes a cymbal crash, which punctuates the actual change in sections. 3) You can employ a basic right-hand rhythm, then utilize misc. percussion to embellish the feel of the pattern. For example - a quiet 1/4 note right-hand hi-hat (1-2-3 & 4 counts), then on a separate track record a tambourine or soft-shake to fill-in the straight 1/8 note feel. That gives it a busier, more constant overall texture. It also adds variety & depth to the rhythmic feel. 4) It’s common in metal & hard rock genres for the right hand to play a straight pattern on the edge of a crash-ride cymbal. This technique produces an effect comparable to a prolonged crash. When it’s combined with the heavy rates of compression that are commonly used in those genres, it adds a blurred, heavy edge to the song. I have one final piece of beat-pattern advice to pass on to non-drummer songwriters. Please…when you put together a song demo, DON’T select a single mechanical beat & use it beginning-to-end. IMHO nothing makes a demo sound more amateurish! It doesn’t have to sound like Neil Peart, but it does need some variation. Remember…every part of an arrangement impacts the listener’s impression. That includes your drum track! The Story on Rolls (Fills) You’ll find that opinions vary on…. · when to use a roll · what type is most appropriate · how complex they should be For drummers, many of those decisions are determined by personal style. Since most non-drummer songwriters lack percussive expertise, they tend to be guided by listening experience. For this tutorial, I’m going to stick to basics & allow plenty of room for personal discretion. Beats serve primarily to establish rhythmic feel, but rolls are used for a variety of functions: 1) Prevent monotony - In other words, to break up the consistent flow established by your beats, making the overall rhythm track more interesting. 2) Serve as fills… much as lead licks, keyboard or bass riffs do. Rolls are frequently placed between lyric/melody lines to help fill gaps & maintain the momentum. 3) Indicate (announce) a coming change, as demonstrated by the next audio clip. (snippet #5) Some examples being…. the start of a new vocal sequence a change from verse to chorus a shift in dynamics…quiet to loud, or visa-versa Rolls are also used in combination with lead licks, or other fill elements. (snippet #6) When they’re employed in this way, caution should be exercised. You want to avoid timing conflicts between fill instruments. Bottom line – it’s harder to pull-off, but very cool when it’s done cleanly! It’s common to alternate fill instruments. You can use a drum roll this time, a guitar lick next time, keyboard run, and so on. This will get you even more variety, with the added benefit of making each fill instrument more prominent. Listeners notice them more because they’re the only instrument presenting variation at that particular moment. To Crash or Not-To Crash Cymbal crashes are useful tools when employed tastefully. Here are a few examples of common applications: - to accent, or call attention to a specific count within a measure - to add dynamics to a section of music by boosting the high-end frequencies & overall volume of that specific section - to mark a change in the structure of the song (for example, moving from the verse to chorus) - in combination with rolls, particularly longer, more elaborate ones…to break them up, reinforce accents and add color, as shown in the brief demonstration below Tom Hoffman "Arrangement 101" resource pg. Tune-Smith.com Tom Hoffman YouTube
“Slow Down” was my very first song. (*Song title is an mp3 link. You're welcome to listen as you read.) Originally written/arranged/recorded in 1995, it was rerecorded 3 years later. Although copyright is considered valid from the date of creation (1995), the song wasn’t officially registered with the Library of Congress until 1998. The Idea Typically, my songs evolve from one of 4 starting points: - a chord progression - a riff/pattern - a section of melody - a central theme This particular song grew out of a progression. While experimenting with combinations of 2 & 3 note intervals, an interesting pattern emerged. It utilizes traditional I-IV-V framework, but layered changes within the framework give it a unique flavor. Fundamentals The song is set in Mixolydian mode. For those not familiar with the term, it’s essentially a diatonic major scale/key, with the 7th note flattened. The flattening of that single note alters the step pattern, dramatically changing the feel of the resulting composition. Although it’s common practice to utilize notes not contained in the primary scale (key), I chose not to do that. Every note played or sung in this song falls within the confines of A mixolydian. Three separate guitar tracks were written for this arrangement. The primary guitar plays the progression depicted in that earlier tab chart. The secondary guitar part is all 2-note intervals. Guitar track #3 is comprised of single-note leads and fills. Song Structure Introduction (8 sec.) / 8 Bar Musical Interlude / Verse-Refrain / 4 Bar Interlude / Verse-Refrain / Bridge (Middle-8) / 8 Bar Interlude / Verse-Refrain / Ending w. fade Subject Matter Because of the feel established by that primary guitar progression, this song wouldn’t have worked with an uplifting lyric. Serious, dark subject matter was called for & substance abuse (specifically alcoholism) was my final choice. I wrote it from the perspective of the alcoholic (first person), in this case male. It depicts the abuser’s downward spiral, revealing his changing mind-set as the addiction progresses & the relationship disintegrates. Melody & meter were written before the lyric, as is the case with most of my songs. The downside of this particular structure was that it didn’t allow for many words. I had to rely on subtle changes in person, tense & tone to convey my lyrical message. Personally, I enjoy the challenge that comes with that style of writing, but it does present obstacles: The message/meaning isn’t as obvious. A greater burden is placed upon the listener to listen intently. If you try to cherry-pick key words & phrases from this lyric, as happens with more popular forms of music, you’re likely to miss the point. Lyric I smile and start another day You smile and tell me it’s OK We should have known we would get through it You’d think we’d know by now I promise I…won’t drink much tonight I know I blame my life on you You tell me I don’t have a clue You should have known not to back-talk me I’d think you’d know by now I know that I..said I would slow down Should slow down Must slow down Will slow down Next week swear I’ll slow down! I get up & start another day You’re not here to tell me it’s OK I should have known you didn’t love me You’d think I’d know by now I don’t care if…I ever slow down! Final Production Notes Both the 1995 and 98 recordings of this were done on a Tascam 424 (4-track analog cassette recording deck). Some years later, when I converted to a digital setup, those original analog tracks were transferred to the new digital system, cleaned up, compressed & remixed. That digital remix is the version you’re listening to now. Recording process: The drum track was recorded all at once. No overdubs were possible, because it was done using a freestanding electronic metronome. With old analog decks, if you tried to record a standard click-track, you’d end up with ghosts of it bleeding through to other tracks. Even after the click track was erased, remnants of it remained & would be audible on the final recording. Drums & bass guitar shared a single-mono track. Drums were recorded first, then primary guitar, then bass. At that point in the process, a premix of drums & bass was bounced over to the remaining open track. That premix-bounce allowed the original recordings of each to be erased. Additional guitar was recorded onto 1 of those newly vacated tracks…lead vocal onto the other. Final lead licks were recorded last, squeezed onto whatever track space remained. All guitar parts were recorded through a mic'd amp, with effects already applied. EQ & effects for the drum track were added pre-tape. Compared to modern standards, this was like working with stone knives & bearskins, but it got the job done! Performance Credits Drums, Guitars, Bass guitar & Vocal – Tom Hoffman Supplemental Video (1 min. 9 sec. demonstration / primary guitar progression) – https://youtu.be/x5dzZMNeVlk Tom Hoffman "About Me" Muse Member pg. Tune-Smith.com Tom Hoffman YouTube *BTW that MP3 link at the top is set-up as free download. If you'd like a copy for your personal use, you have my permission.
tunesmithth posted a blog entry in "Tips & Tidbits" (Tom Hoffman)“Don’t Lie To Yourself" was written & recorded in 2002. (*Song title is an mp3 link. You're welcome to listen as you read.) The Idea When I began the writing process, there wasn't much to work with. · A simple chord progression, which evolved into my chorus section. · The hook (title) – “Don’t Lie To Yourself” with a tentative melody for those 4 words. That was it! Subject Matter Titles like this one paint a clear picture of the intended message. Simply put, it’s lyrical advice – “be honest with yourself”. Typically, lyrics with a ‘telling” tone are discouraged in songwriting circles. It seems that people don’t enjoy being told what to do…even in a song. Regardless, I decided to make an exception. In my mind, the title’s strengths outweighed its weaknesses. It was memorable, flowed nicely & would contribute to the mood I was hoping to achieve. Since the title was my central message, chorus sections were used to re-enforce that message & expand upon the “whys”. Verse sections were written last. They were used to set the stage…creatively describing why the chorus message (lyrical hook) was important. Lyrical message … in a nutshell Verses Regardless of what we’re taught as children, lying is one of the undesirable realities of life. The older we get, the clearer that becomes. It goes by many names in polite society…fabrication, mis-speaking, embellishment, selective omission, spin & stretching the truth. But once you strip away the niceties, it boils down to varying degrees of one thing – "something other-than the absolute truth". Choruses Although lying is an ingrained part of our existence, we need to be honest with ourselves. Self-delusion benefits no one…least of all “you”. Lyric Spend our lives…tellin’ tales Stretch and bend…the truth Learned that when…reality fails A lie may do But don’t lie to yourself You’re the only one to lose Don’t lie to yourself A lie only a fool would choose Life demands…shaded truths Hype & spin…abound As we grow…beyond our youth Truth is rarely found But don’t lie to yourself You’re the only one to lose Don’t lie to yourself A lie only a fool would choose Don’t lie to yourself You’re the only one to lose Don’t lie to yourself A lie only a fool would choose Copyright 2002- Tom Hoffman Song Structure Introduction / Verse / Chorus / Instrumental Verse (guitar solo) / Verse / Double-Chorus / Brief Ending Musical Fundamentals The song is set in the key of E minor. BPM 116 Unusual as it seems, the “introduction” was the last thing added to this arrangement. What can I tell ya’? It happens! Fortunately, I recalled a guitar didi that I’d stumbled upon the year before. It fit the texture of the song, but I needed something to merge it with the first verse. My solution was a single bass note, sounded on the last count of the intro. In the final mix, that note begins quietly, then grows into the verse…gradually becoming louder. That intro guitar didi consists of 2 separate acoustic guitar tracks. The first plays nothing but 2-note intervals. The 2nd is comprised of open string harmonics, which generate an eerie texture. The guitar arrangement for this song was a bit of an experiment. Other than bass, there are no electric guitars. It contains 3 separate acoustic guitar tracks, each performed on my trusty Yamaha & recorded through an MXL condenser mic. The simulated strings you hear weren’t part of my original version. I had no keyboard capability back then. They were added to the existing 2-track master a few years later. Real drums were used. The part itself employs both half-time & full-time beat structures. Half time is used exclusively until the 2nd chorus section. Both the 2nd & 3rd chorus sections are set in full-time. Finally, it switches back to half-time for the ending. Final Production Notes The recording was done on a Tascam PortaStudio 788. It’s an 8-track digital deck, consisting of 6 mono & 1 stereo channels. - Drums were recorded to the only stereo pair of tracks (7 &8) - Everything else went to single mono tracks....no doubling of any parts Performance Credits Drums, Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Keyboard Strings – Tom Hoffman Vocals – Tom Hoffman Supplemental Video (50 sec. clip of guitar solo portion) - https://youtu.be/vHfuWSaYYYI Tom Hoffman "About Me" Muse Member pg. Tune-Smith.com Tom Hoffman YouTube *BTW that MP3 link at the top is set-up as free download. If you'd like a copy for your personal use, you have my permission.