The Drummer’s Heartbeat
WHEN I FIRST BEGAN TO play in bands, the drummer was
the drummer. He put the beat
right where he put it, and that’s
where the band sat. I didn’t
think about whether we rushed
or dragged, I just played my part
in time with the backbeat. With
a little more experience, I became
aware of how different drummers
felt to play with, and that
feeling translated into a ranking,
as in “this drummer is better
than that one.”
In 1982, however, along came
the LinnDrum. There had been
drum machines on the market
before then, of course, but as
the LinnDrum used actual samples
of real drums, it soon became
popular—despite its $2,995
price tag. All of a sudden, the
records we heard—and, in my
case, played on—were programmed
to perfection by
For certain types of music this
was cool, but for other genres,
it just seemed to sterilize the
tracks a bit.
What the LinnDrum’s precision
groove did for me was
make me acutely aware of what
I call “center time.” The Linn’s
sequenced beats were right on
the money, so I got used to playing
perfectly in time with a
“drummer” that was perfectly
in time. Now, when I played
with a human drummer, I found
I could separate the perfect
beat—the center time—from
the drummer’s interpretation
of the groove, and determine
where his heartbeat lay in relation
to that center time clock
I’d grown accustomed to playing
Each drummer you play with
has a unique heartbeat and feel.
Some drummers feel great laying
it back just a bit. Their pocket
is just behind the beat. Other
drummers play way on top of
the beat, but that also feels great.
A few have incredible center
time, and the beat comes around
exactly where you think it would.
The trick is to be able to sit in
the pocket with each one of
Now, anyone who uses a
DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase,
Sonar, etc.) knows you can nudge
your entire rhythm-guitar track
a bit ahead or behind the beat
after recording it. You can experiment
with each nudge until the
rhythm locks in, and the groove
comes alive in a thrilling way.
But, to be a truly in-demand
studio or live player, you should
strive to establish for yourself
a personal “nudge button” that
enables you to visualize where
the drummer is while you are
playing with him. Is he ahead of
the beat or behind it? Adjust
your right hand accordingly. Lay
back when you hear yourself
“flam-ing” against the snare
drum. Push forward a bit when
the drummer is on top of the
beat. Sit on it when the drummer
plays right down the middle.
Here are three few tips for
zeroing in on the groove that
have always worked for me:
• Follow the hi-hat. In most
types of modern pop music the
bass player is usually working
off the kick drum pattern. We
guitarists should realize that
the hi-hat is where the accents
are, and by paying close attention
to them, a great rhythm
part is easy to compose.
• Breathe. Relax your body.
Don’t tap your foot. Instead,
put that energy into your hands
and feel the groove from head
to toe. Practice this.
• Listen! Some of my favorite
drummers speed up a fraction
of a beat just before the
chorus, and relax the tempo a
bit for the verses. Go with it as
it rises and falls with the emotion
of the song. That’s music.
Nothing feels better.
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