Today we’re going to take a look at linear drumming. The style certainly isn’t new, but it’s used so often in everyday playing that it would benefit all drummers to study it regularly. Linear, in drumming terms, refers to a line of single notes played one at a time. In other words, there are no stacked notes such as a bass drum and hi-hat played simultaneously etc. One of the best examples of linear drumming is the famous groove to 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover played by Steve Gadd. If you don’t have it, you can find it on a Paul Simon greatest hits CD. Check it out, as it should be on every drummers list of must-know grooves.
This article, as well as the accompanying pages and video will serve merely as an introduction to linear drumming. It can be expanded far more than what’s here. But perhaps that’s another article for another time. To get started I would suggest purchasing the book “Time Functioning Patterns” by Gary Chaffee. I’m using the very first example in the linear section of this book in the accompanying video. The main reason for the video is to show you some of the ways to apply the basic part that’s written. This is also why I included the “Translation And Variation” page as well – because in Gary’s book it’s written as just a group of hands and feet – nothing else. (note, I included more options in the page than I’m playing in the video, but I am playing the original, variation 1 and 4) The way Gary explained it to me is to always play the hands part as alternating rights and lefts regardless of whether the hand pattern is broken up by a foot or combination of feet. If you’re a lefty drummer, then reverse it to be lefts and rights. This is important because often times it will feel more natural to resume with your off hand after playing a foot note. Keep the rules in tact at first, as you can always break them after you’ve developed the style.
You’ll notice that Gary has grouped each groove into sections labeled as 8, 4, or 5 and 3 etc. These numbers represent the grouping of notes up to where the next group begins – usually ending with a foot note. To practice these effectively you must place a couple, or few, accents into each pattern. Of course, place them over a hand, and not a foot. You can choose where the accent goes, and each accent will make the pattern sound different. Given that you’re always playing alternating hands, you will need to move the hand you play hi-hat with down to the snare to cover some of the accents. It’s better if you choose at least one right hand accent, and one left hand accent in each pattern. Refer to the original groove in both the page included and the video for further explanation. It’s important to play all the patterns in this section of the book in the original format before moving on to the variations.
The accompanying “Translation And Variation” page, and the video, will give you some of the ideas for spicing up these patterns, as well as expanding around the drums. The accents and variations that I chose to use in the demonstration are just one example. You can be the master of your own destiny by putting your personal touch on the basic patterns. The accents you choose, the movements you create, the spaces you include, and the choices of sounds you have available on your kit will make a big difference towards defining your style. And believe me when I say this stuff will find its way into your everyday playing. As I said in one of my other articles “Sum Of All Your Parts”, everything that you include in your practice routine will ultimately find its way into your playing. Thus creating a more complete musician capable of many musical languages.
Finally, I would suggest checking out some drummers who use the linear style to great effect. Listen to Vinny Colaiuta, Steve Smith, (both of whom studied with Gary Chaffee) Dave Weckl, Carter Beauford, Lenny White, David Garibaldi, Steve Gadd, and Billy Cobham to name a few. If nothing else, you will certainly hear some of the greatest drummers at their craft just in this list alone. As always, enjoy.