The practice routine of most drummers can usually be broken down into a few basic concepts. We practice to boost our speed; we practice different rudiments and practice independence – between many others. One of the most overlooked of such big concepts is usually dynamics.
One of the most important rising stars of contemporary drumming, Gergő Borlai once said that his biggest achievement ever was to move all the music that he has been playing on a volume scale between one and ten to a volume scale between one and four while keeping the same dynamics.
As the first bar of the example below shows rather nicely, when it comes to dynamics we are never limited only to accented and unaccented notes. Generally, there are four steps of accentuation – heavily accented, accented, unaccented and ghost, with a possible fifth, that is rest.
Ghost notes are softer than common unaccented note and as such, their function is only decorative. While unaccented and different accented notes have a significant role when it comes to creating the framework, the basis of the beat, ghost notes only rarely affect the deepest character.
However, ghost notes are where “play” enters the world of drumming. These are the little seemingly insignificant additions that, after all, create the whole groove that differentiates a stellar drummer from an average drummer.
Technically speaking, ghost notes are usually just off-beat notes, such as sixteenths played between eighth notes. While ghost notes can be played on any part of a drum kit, most of the time our ghost notes are played on the snare drum.
The first example below shows how a very simple 4/4 beat (you might have heard this in AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long) can be turned into a clever groove by adding a few ghost notes on counts one, three and four. The next example also shows a rather simple beat; however, what we see in the next measure is something crazy – you do not usually hear grooves like this one.
However, even this example is good for showing the limitlessness of playing ghost notes: if you have a good command of your dynamics, you will probably be able to add awesome groove to this beat and make use of the abundance of ghost notes.
Even though most of the time we treat ghost notes as decorative elements, they can often become definitive building blocks of certain grooves. The first two measures of the example below show how a very basic 4/4 beat can suddenly turn into a rather funky groove thanks to the addition of a few ghost notes.
Also, the second two measures show how the addition of ghost notes can create entirely new grooves. In case you do not believe that the uniqueness of these beats is originates from the ghost notes used, you should just try to play these two beats emphasizing and accenting every single note. The result would be four measures of robust angularity and dispassion.
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