When starting out, ninety-nine percent of drummers learn 4/4 beats as an introduction to drumming. After having played around enough in that time signature, they are probably introduced to 6/8 rhythms.
Most music played in the measure is somewhat related to blues – really not hard to play, but gives you a lot of room for improvisation.
Now if we do a little math we could end up dividing 6/8 by two and conclude that Waltz is actually blues, only faster. Well, that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?
In most 4/4 rhythms you have probably played the accent was on the first and third beats, and that gave the groove a duplex pulsation. I am going to assume that most of your drumming experience relies on such rhythms, and that is why learning beats in ¾ signatures might be a challenge.
First of all, let’s take a look at the basic waltz beat, then we will take a look at how is it different from, say, rock music. Playing a waltz beat can be broken into two different movements: in the first, you hit the hi-hat and the bass drum simultaneously. The second step consists of hitting the hi-hat and the snare drum at the same time. To play a waltz beat you play the first step once and the second step twice, with even spaces between the steps. That makes quarter-note waltz.
Because of the time signature you count waltz as 1-2-3-1-2-3 instead of the usual 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. The melody of waltz suggests that the „ones” should be given stronger accent and is driven by accents on the first beat. Quite contradictory to that is the rhythmic background: due to the character of the groove, the accents of the drum fall on the second and third beats.
Rock drummers are usually used to starting off with an accented kick, giving the whole groove a powerful flow. Waltz is different in its musical character: it is more elegant, it starts softly followed by two humble hits on the snare. All this philosophy might sound unrealistic, but listening to maybe the most widespread waltz, the Blue Danube Waltz by the genial Johann Strauss will clarify everything.
After having tried out the quarter-note waltz beat what many of you might think is that this kind of music must have been played at our grandparents’ wedding. Obviously, in most of your cases waltz is not the music you stumble upon most frequently, but it certainly represents classic values and can also be more exciting than what the quarter-note basic beat has to offer.
For example, by adding an extra eighth note on the hi-hat after every fore-mentioned step you are already playing eighth-note waltz, which can even be considered a cousin of what we know today as the “money” rhythm or simply the rock rhythm. Even more, in the early ages of rock music, there was a considerable amount of musicians composing rock songs in ¾ time signatures.
Approaching waltz as an old-fashioned style of music is not wise. What we are trying to do is make music instead of just reproducing certain drumming rudiments and patterns, and music, as a branch of arts is all about creativity.
When contemporary musicians are composing rhythms and melodies unimaginable a few years ago, grabbing such a classic, well-known rhythm and applying a new perspective to it might be the first step in creating a new genre. Music is more liberal today, than ever, make use of that!
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