On Drumming

I’ve been drumming more, and although I’m still nowhere near as good as I want to be, I’m seeing progress.

I had a bit of a breakthrough over the weekend that’s been building up for some time (both in skill improvement, as well as a better understanding of how to learn new things). I recently stopped working on “Can’t Stand Losing You” by the Police, and have gone back to working on some more fundamental skills, with the idea that when I come back to playing full songs, I’ll haveĀ leveledĀ up enough that I can keep up (Stewart Copeland plays straightforward stuff, but plays it excellently — I can play the whole song at 75% speed, but cranking it up to 100% is impossible to follow for more than ~30 seconds).

I’ve been a fan of “Freaks & Geeks” by Childish Gambino for a while (sorry Nina). I think the video is really well done (I can’t tell if they are zooming with the lens, dolly, or steadycam, all of which have their own issues), the lyrics are tight, and the beat is really good.

The beat is the most interesting part here. The whole song alternates between the “epic sounding vocal stuff” and a snare drum. The basic snare pattern is:

1 e n a 2 e n a 3 e n a 4 e n a
x     x     x     x     x   x

It’s not cleanly divided like what most people consider a beat

1 e n a 2 e n a 3 e n a 4 e n a
x       x       x       x

To play both of these at the same time is called “polyrhythmic drumming” (let’s say the first pattern on the snare, second on the bass drum). Polyrhythms are challenging to learn, because your brain basically has to do the same thing (“hit the drums”) but it has to do two slightly different versions of “hit the drums” at the same time.

The trick (for me) that seems to work is to not think of the “complex” pattern in terms of counting a beat, but more in terms of dancing. There’s a rhythm to the in-out-up-down that makes it difficult to count using the normal “1ena2ena…” that drummers get taught. I found that using “1ena…” is good to get started and get the initial rhythm down, but to make it automatic and natural requires paying more attention to the physicality of it, and the coordination happens naturally.