What are the musical commonalities between famous artists such as Skrillex, The Prodigy, Jay-Z, Slipknot, Bjork, Oasis, Amy Winehouse and Duran Duran?
The answer is rhythm
All of these artists have at one point used a specific rhythm pattern that is so identifiable you would recognise it even if you have never heard the original title song.
At just 6 seconds long it is the most sampled rhythm in the history of drums.
The Winstons, below, were an American funk and soul band who were not very well known, (their drummer G.C. Coleman even more so) and they released a song in 1960 titled ‘Amen Brother’, listen below! Little did they know that a sample derived from the drum solo in this track would become the ‘Amen Break’ - the most sampled rhythm in the history of drums.
The Amen Break is a loop of 4 bars that was popularised by the drum sample album ‘Ultimate Break and Beats’ released in 1986 for the DJ population. Since the sample was created it has become a prominent feature in mainstream music, featuring in a host of famous songs such as; Oasis - ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’, Nine Inch Nails - ‘The Perfect Drug’, Slipknot - ‘Eyeless’ and Björk - ‘Crystalline’.
The concept of sampling: where did it come from?
It was in the 70’s when the concept of using a ‘sample’ was brought about. Musically speaking, sampling is the process of taking a portion of a sound recording and reusing it on a separate piece of music. More often than not, this is done through a ‘rhythm break’ whereby a small section is sampled from one piece of music to form the beat on another track. It is through the sampling method that a piece of music can transform from average to being equipped with a catchy and memorable rhythm, making it hard to forget!
So as a result of this, DJ’s, musicians and artists like Skrillex and Jay-Z are continually in search of a melody ostinato/lick or drum pattern, that has the ability to resound in your mind long after it has been heard, leaving the taste of desire to hear it again… which is how the ‘Amen Break’ became one of the most extensively used rhythm across all genres of music.
Unfortunately, The Winstons never received any royalties for their original creation. However, in 2015 a DJ from the UK created a ‘GoFundMe’ page in the name of Richard Spencer, the singer and saxophonist from the band, to acknowledge and give appreciation to the ‘Amen Break’, whereby 2,000 people have donated $24,000!!
More about the ‘Amen Break’
It is a groove of 4 bars, originally played at 136 bpm, composed of 2 sequences.
1st Sequence: The main groove is played twice; 8th notes played on ride, snare accents on backbeats, 16th notes played by the bass drum on the “and” of the 3rd beat and 3 ghosts notes per bar.
2nd Sequence: It is a variation of the first one. The 16th notes have moved to the 2nd bar on the ''and'' of the first beat, the 2nd snare accent originally on the back beat has moved to the ''and'' of the 4th and in the second bar we can notice a tasty punctuation change on the off beat of the 3rd beat, which can be played on the crash or the edge of the ride.
Blog post by Planet drum teacher, Sebastien Solsona
We know it, we are drummers
We all like crazy syncopated patterns, intense solos and intricate rhythms. All that noise can sound cool, but we often forget about the power of simplicity in music. Some of the greatest songs ever recorded have been done with two verses, a chorus and most of the time with a single rhythm looped for the entire duration of the song.
Why am I writing about simplicity? Well, for two main reasons.
The first one, is that I spent the whole summer gigging almost every day with instrumental jazz gigs with various acts, electronic rock/pop (http://www.fjokra.com) and last-minute function gigs. The differences of “vocabulary”, sound, repertoire and approach are quite challenging and very often there’s no time to prepare or rehearse the set list.
There is always a good solution for this kind of situation, it is simplicity. Keeping the rhythmic section clear, minimal and most of all musical helps the music breath more and sound better ( and eventually get more bookings).
The second reason why I’m talking about simplicity
is for all the music students who are reading this. During lessons, I talk with students about band workshops and about “being ready” to play with a band. I know it can be hard to believe, especially for beginners, but a single rhythm looped for an entire song, plus maybe a single fill is enough for a successful session.
To be good drummers/musicians in a band context, we don’t need to show several different ideas squeezed inside a single song or demonstrate incredible technique and independence. The main factors we need to take care of are: timing, song/structure (stating the form), and sound control. If we are successful in doing this, we will have a successful session, 100% assured!
Don't misunderstand me
I’m not saying that technique and other more academic studies are not important. Indeed, every kind of music requires a specific standard knowledge; what I’m saying is: do not confuse practicing with playing when you're making music with a band. In other words, while you are playing, focus on the “now’ and do your best with the skills you have acquired up until now.
Of course, I like watching skilled drummers showing off brilliantly executed chops and taking inspiration from them. But don’t forget that what you really need to do is to play for the song, this is what drumming and making music is about..
As Miles Davis used to say “I always listen to what I can leave out”
Blog post by Planet drum teacher, Filippo
It's always best to buy a quality branded drum kit. Brands include DW, Yamaha, Pearl, Mapex, Tama, Premier, Ludwig, Sonor, Pacific and Gretsch. The cheapest brands at the bottom end of the market are best avoided, even for children.
If you seek the advice of an experienced drummer and reputable drum dealer, then the chances are you will be armed with the advice you need to go out and make a great buy. You will get a lot more for your money buying second hand.
We can give advice to all enrolled students and help them to find the right kit.
Electronic kits have come a long way since the 80's. They allow you to play with headphones and are virtually silent. Electronic drumkit brands include Roland and Yamaha. Prices start from about £500.
Again, stay clear of budget brands!
Music classes can feel solitary,
when you just have one on one lessons and practice alone. Being in your own space and having the freedom to go over parts you’re struggling with is a great way to improve your skills, but practicing with others is how you can take your playing to the next level and learn to adapt your skills in new ways.
I have been going to Planet drum for over 3 years now and have improved my drumming and participated in performances, all whilst playing with talented and inspiring fellow students and musicians. You can attend workshops for free if you are taking private lessons too, and they’re a brilliant way to meet other drummers, get involved in playing with other instruments and to try something different alongside private lessons.
Being a lover of Afro-Latin rhythms and dances,
my favourite workshop that I have attended is the Drumkit and Percussion workshop with Louis. This workshop incorporates traditional percussion instruments and rhythms with contemporary drum kit grooves, and allows us to have some fun with percussion instruments and bits of the kit too.
The workshops occur once a month and all levels can attend and can benefit from it. You can set the pace and pick up a clave – a wooden percussion instrument found in Cuban, African and Brazilian music, or learn some rhythms on a conga or two. Maracas and shakers are often involved as well, and parts of the drum kit – or the whole kit itself – is sometimes used to create rhythms. When they all come together, it sounds incredible and is very infectious – I have been lost in the moment many times!
Louis is passionate and patient and involves everyone equally in this workshop. Attending it has improved my confidence in many ways, as the group performs at the summer and winter shows each year which are great fun and a good introduction into playing in front of a live audience. I have also met other fellow drummers this way, some of whom have become wonderful friends.
I was lucky enough to receive some Arts Council funding
from a new strand they’ve recently launched called ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’. It’s all about giving arts practitioners time to explore one particular area in-depth. I proposed that I would embark on a year-long project composing new music for four different sized ensembles. The outcome would be four sets of music accompanied by four separate day-long workshop sessions with the musicians, which I would record as a document. Each ensemble would be a different size to the band I’m used to composing for: my quintet, Entropi. So I decided that I would write for a duo, quartet, sextet and dectet.
In December, at the start of the project,
I thought I would be doing project planning for the year, contacting musicians, booking rehearsal rooms and sitting down to compose music for one of these four ensembles. A very organised and logical approach. This is not what happened. In this blog post, I’ll outline what I’ve learnt so far in the hope that it might inspire you to think about how you approach your music-making, composing and improvising.
Up till now, my composing has been ‘on demand’ for a very specific reason. Normally it’s a gig with my band where we need an extra two tunes to have enough original material for the whole gig, or I need to write one more composition for a recording. The process has often been quite stressful and close to the wire. I’d find myself up late trying to finish a tune off for a rehearsal the next day with my band. Fear played a great part in getting the thing done and I didn’t find the process very enjoyable
When I started this project I did not want to compose in this way
so I forced myself to find another way to go about writing music. This has been quite unexpected. A book came into my hands called ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear’, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which talked about nurturing and unblocking creativity. While reading the book I realised that I was quite creatively blocked when it came to composing. You know when you are blocked when you avoid doing the thing - whatever that is, writing a novel, painting or in my case composing and then make up a load of excuses in your mind about why you can’t do it. I realised that I hadn’t really seriously addressed the practice of composition. Often when I did sit down to write, I’d have an inner critical voice saying: ‘what is this piece of rubbish?’ This is no way to get into the zone and be creative!
Improvisers compose in real time all the time. As an alto sax player who is extremely into free improvisation and jazz, I normally have no problem coming up with ideas and essentially making stuff up on the spot. This is just because I have done it a lot, so it feels comfortable for me to do so. A large part of improvising in any kind of music is interaction with the other band members, listening, reacting, developing ideas all in the moment. To be able to do that you need to be far away from the critical mind and right in the flow of ideas. I wanted to be able to recreate this feeling while composing new music.
In the book ‘Big Magic’,
Elizabeth Gilbert talks finding our creativity by following what makes us curious. I realised that I wanted to do some visual art. So I proceeded to spend an hour a day doing A5 sized pieces of colourful abstract art. The rules were: do it everyday and be non-judgmental about the outcome. In other words value the process and not the result. This was hugely beneficial for me: because I am not trained in art, I had no real value judgements on my choices of colour, shape or line. I just did it every day for a month. Over the weeks, I started to notice that this art activity was having a positive effect on the way I was improvising on the saxophone. I was applying the freedom I was experiencing on the blank canvas to music.
As musicians, we spend a lot of time learning and practicing technique. Obviously this is very important, but I feel that we can sometimes forget to engage with the side of music which is artistic. As musicians we are all creative artists, but do we always feel like that? Expressing ourselves through music is probably the reason why we all started playing in the first place. This must be something to nurture as much as achieving technical prowess on the instrument, I think.
In January I switched the visual art sketches to musical sketches
using the same system: one hour a day and no judging what ideas come out. It is much harder to ignore the critical mind when shifting the creative process to something we HAVE trained in. But I had developed a non-judgmental muscle through doing the artwork the previous month. When starting a piece of visual art, it was very unhelpful to question ‘why did you use that colour?’ so using that same principle I trained myself to stop questioning every single choice of chord, melody note, bassline, theme and just let the music unfold - much like improvising. Over time, ideas started to flow more freely when I stopped putting so much pressure on myself. I shifted the focus away from outcome towards process. In the month of January I have composed 16 musical ‘sketches’.
My website is: deebyrnemusic.com if you are interested in what projects I’m involved with and where I might be playing next. Thanks for reading this and I hope to share some of these compositions with you in the future!
Blog post by Saxophone teacher, Dee Byrne