Saturday, April 23, 2011

Are you a drummer or a cymbaler?

Hey people,
I wanted to mention a couple of things I've been thinking about.
One of the things that makes drum set such a fascinating instrument is that is actually 2 instruments in 1. Drums and cymbals. Now I view the drum kit as one instrument (see my earlier rant on "don't call it a kick drum") but drums and cymbals can also function as instruments by themselves too. How we balance these 2 groups of instruments can really change the sound of the music we are making. It's sometimes good to visualize the different parts of the drum set and what they imply to us. I see the cymbals as sky bound, airy, sorts of sounds, whereas the drums are very earthy and on the ground. Also they can be seen as the long (cymbals) and short (drums) sounds of the instrument, with hi-hat functioning both ways, depending on the application.

Let's look at some ways great drummers have applied these concepts.

Here's a great recording of Jack DeJohnette playing with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock on "When I Fall in Love'. Notice how Jack creates a whole sonic universe with only cymbals. He uses tons of space, extreme dynamics, playing tempo but creating very freely within it, and even switches to mallets for the very end. Beautiful! Drums? Who needs 'em?!!!!

...And now for something completely different.
This is a tune from Peter Gabriel's 4th solo release "Security'. The song is "Shock the Monkey' and it has no cymbals on it. It features some very interesting drum machine programming (despite what I mentioned several blogs ago about the dearth of innovative drum machine programming in the 80s, Gabriel was always pushing the envelope). Notice how the lack of long sounds from the drum set adds to the creepy, claustrophobic feeling of the tune. Brilliant! Let's throw all our cymbals away!

Finally, some players split the drumset in 2 parts even in their physical set-up. Check out Terry Bozzio in this clip and notice how he tends to spend time either playing mainly drums or cymbals, I think partially because of where they're physically placed. It's like he's the conductor and is pitting different parts of the orchestra against each other.

There's lots of ways to orchestrate this instrument and sometimes the most exciting creative music comes from what parts of the drum set we don't play.

1 comment:

  1. Ted,

    If you are considering "throwing your cymbals away" please toss that old 20" K of yours in my direction!!!