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