I’ve always loved music. When I was a kid, my parents refused to buy a television – they were sort of taking a stand against letting their children’s minds be rotted by television – so my sister and I became radio fanatics. We listened to the radio from morning till night, and really listened, perhaps more so than our peers. I think that set the course for my life as a musician, in terms of the way I thought about and understood music.
(photo: Jeremy Sibson)
So why have I posted a picture of Barry Manilow on this fine Monday morning? No, it’s not to dump a spoonful of saccharin in your morning cup.
It’s because if you’re a drummer, you really need to watch the video below and see what happens at 0:54.
What you’ll hear is Manilow’s 1974 hit, “Mandy,” and what happens at 0:54 is that the drummer comes in. And what is the drummer doing, pray tell? Playing quarter notes on the hi hat is what. Why is this a big deal? Because it’s hard … REALLY hard on a song at a fairly moderate tempo such as this one.
Now keep listening, and you’ll notice that every time the drummer starts to play fills, they are comprised of 8th notes …. every time, the whole way through the song. Again, playing fills of this kind is actually really hard to do at tempos like this one.
What’s the upshot of all this? If you want to improve your straight eighth groove – get “deeper into the pocket” as it were – it would behoove you to play along with “Mandy” and other Manilow power pop ballads. They all follow the same drumming formula, and will really test your abilities not only to keep steady time, but to go in and out of fills without losing said time.
I learned this lesson firsthand when I worked with Graham Russell from Air Supply (yes, Air Supply) a few years back. I was tasked to cut a demo of a brand new Russell original for a Broadway project, and realized that my “power ballad” time wasn’t so hot. SO, in preparation for the recording, I spent three days in my practice space working on deathly slow rock grooves playing nothing but quarter notes on the hi hat and eighth note fills. It was a great lesson and those three days made me a much better drummer.
Try it – you’ll find a whole new appreciation of SPACE, something that most drummers are absolutely terrified of and have much trouble negotiating.