Have you ever felt like you've hit a plateau and you're playing the same grooves or fills on repeat every day? In this post I'm going to briefly explain how to expand your creativity, believe or not, the easy way. I had this epiphany watching one of Mike Johnston's online lessons back in the day. It was life changing and opened so many new doors in the creative realm. How do you build creativity so easily? Two words: linear drumming.
First off, don't confuse this plateau you're in with being a bad player as I did early on. If you're doing something well and you're getting gigs, (paid or not as long as you're having fun) chances are you're doing something right and there is nothing wrong with that. Consider this, if you're caught in a rut of "recycled" drumming, maybe you've been asked to do similar grooves/fills countless times for years/months. That's not a bad thing, you're probably damn good at it then. Don't discount yourself for being good at what you do, now let's expand that creativity.
If you haven't left and googled thousands of "linear licks" on YouTube yet, linear drumming is easily defined as: no limbs hit at the same time. Cheezy Eazy. Today we are going to use a lick nearly every drummer learns immediately and shows off to all their buds, R L K. Here we have a simple pattern that can be easily executed quickly with a few hours of practice. Without further ado, below will be a few ideas on how this one lick can turn into thousands (not an exaggeration) of possibilities.
Make it easy on yourself, always begin learning a new linear pattern on the snare/pad and bass drum only. START SLOW and build your way up to the goal tempo. Make sure your hands and feet learn the pattern both correctly and comfortably while making sure all notes are clear and precise. If you don't do this at the beginning, you're going to run into issues later at quicker tempos so just take your time and do it right the first time.
*** The first three examples to follow can be done in any order. It's your preference, do what works for you and adapt the system to your needs. The order below is my personal process for learning a new linear pattern. ***
Voicing the Pattern Around the Kit
Here's where you begin to see the wealth of a simple pattern. First you need to pick a subdivision at which you will be voicing the pattern. Some common examples are 8th notes, 16th notes, 8th note triplets, 16th note triplets, and 32nd notes. <---- See how this works yet???? My preference is to turn on a pop/hip hop track (something you know has a metronome behind it) and move your hands around the kit repeating this pattern through the whole song at the subdivision of your choosing. That's right, don't play a beat just yet. Find those awkward positions, lay into them and pay attention to the voicing's you liked.
Depending on the subdivision you have chosen, certain patterns will also be training you (and your ear) to play over the bar line. How sweet is that? You can also do this with only a metronome but I've found that playing to a track sparks more creative ideas as you're still playing to music instead of "HI . CLICK . PLAY . CLICK . RIGHT . CLICK . HERE . CLICK." You get the point, either one works but I prefer playing to a track.
Create a Beat/Groove With the Pattern
This one is pretty self explanatory. It's the same process as the previous example but move your (right handed example) right hand to the hi hat and keep your left hand on the snare. Ghost all the notes with your left hand except for the back beats. *Don't limit yourself to just the back beats, you can also pick other accented snare notes if you prefer. Emphasizing the back beats is a good starting point.*
You may need to bring the right hand to the snare for the back beat utilizing this method. It solely depends on your subdivision and how YOU want it to feel. For example, an 8th note triplet based groove using R L K would bring your right hand down to the snare on beats 2 & 4. Once you've got a handle on this, try moving your right hand to the ride cymbal bell and left hand to the hi hat. Voila, another completely different sounding beat/groove but your hands are doing the same thing.
Apply the Pattern as a Drum Fill
By now you should have the hang of your pattern. Start applying it as a drum fill while playing along to music (or your metronome if preferred). Turn some tunes on, play a beat/groove and only use this pattern for fills. At this point, you're practicing going in and out of time utilizing the selected pattern for your fill. If you have friends that are nice enough, you can work on it with them in your garage too.
"What's for dinner?" is what you should be thinking when voicing this bamf. That's how comfortable you should be with a pattern before you start using it as a fill in a live scenario. Don't throw this at your buddies on stage if YOU'RE not even confident with it. There is a time and place for that.
Shift the Accents
As stated before we are using R L K for all examples in this post. Naturally, you're going to accent that right hand hit unless you're some kind of monster like Matt Garstka. Here's a challenge, accent only the left handed hit and ghost the right and go through the system all over. Damn, same pattern and a million new ideas just by shifting an accent. *<--- This is called permutation by the way and David Garibaldi has a killer book on it called "Future Sounds."* You can also accent both hands. You can now see how this has potential for a mountain of different sounding ideas even with a pattern as short as R L R L K K.
Shift the Kick Drum Note by One
This one is short and easy. We started with R L K. Shift everything over one note, K R L. Once you've got that down, do it again, L K R. Once again, even a pattern as short as R L R L K K becomes a world of opportunities. A few examples of shifting that pattern is K R L R L K, K K R L R L, L K K R L R etc.....
In conclusion, please understand that this is not the only method to help with creativity. It's very simple, loads of fun and something everyone should be comfortable with. That being said, I went down a deep dark hole with linear drumming and didn't come out for a couple years. It's simple and can get you over the plateau but make sure you don't completely shift your playing to linear. I made that mistake and it wasn't a fun one to break the habit of..... Enjoy, have fun, and keep rockin!
Side Note: As previously mentioned, about a year ago I realized I couldn't get out of thinking "linear." Bad thing? No, but you want to be able to turn it on and off. Since this post is about building creativity and getting over that next plateau, I have to mention Mark Guiliana's video that got me out of the "linear drumming rut." This video deserves 100% credit for helping me think beyond linear and getting over the wall. CLICK HERE FOR "7 SOUNDS" BY MARK GUILIANA.