Rhythm is the most important aspect of drum playing. If you can’t play beats then your playing will simply be empty and un-entertaining. There are many different ways to pick up drum rhythms by ear.
Whether you want to play someone else’s beats, or whether you want to improvise and make up your own, having a keen ear for rhythm is very important.
Working out how to play other peoples music is a great way to improve your sense of timing and increase your overall drumming skills.
When you are playing the drums it can be very difficult to think about what to do next. If you know a song thoroughly then you will be able to pick up beats and techniques easier, however it can still be difficult when you are trying to analyse exactly what the drummer is playing. To work out beats you have to split things up into separate sections, just like when you are initially learning.
If you are trying to work out someone else’s beats then you should always start with the cymbal rhythm. This will ensure that your timing is correct as the cymbal is usually the driving force behind a song.
This is very simple if you are simply playing a 4/4 rhythm. It’s always a good idea to count along, either out loud or in your head and then once you have an overall grasp of the timing then try to play along without thinking too much about timing.
Once you have the cymbal pattern then you should move on to what is going on with the bass drum. This is essentially what defines the beat. If you have difficulties hearing the bass drum then you should listen to the other bass instruments within the band. This can help you get a better indication of what you should be playing as the kick pedal usually follows the bass section.
Once the cymbals and bass drum has been worked out then you should try adding in the snare drum and toms. This will make the entire rhythm complete, and if you have worked it out correctly you should be able to play along to the music.
Playing rhythms by ear doesn’t mean that you have to always play along to other music. You can try to work out beats in your head, and then improvise drums on the spot as you are playing. To do this you should work out the timing of the piece.
I’d recommend just playing something simple initially, and then adding in extra bits and pieces to spice up the rhythm. Start off slowly, using only simple fills that you already know, and then when you have an overall feel for the music try to add in your own particular flair.
If you know a fill try to play it on different drums, or try adding in a rudiment at the beginning. This will help you get used to thinking on the spot, and working out what rhythms would instinctively sound good as a follow up to what you are playing.
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