On The Beat (Part 5)
The basis of this month's article on drum programming is swing - the rhythmic basis for music as diverse as jazz and hip hop. Nigel Lord swings out.
IN PART FIVE OF OUR RHYTHM PROGRAMMING SERIES WE ENCOUNTER THE TRIPLET - THE RHYTHMIC FIGURE AT THE HEART OF MUSIC AS DIVERSE AS SWING AND HIP HOP...
BEFORE GETTING OUR forks stuck into this month's rhythmic meat, I'd like, if I may, to clear up a little confusion which may have been caused in my last article through the use of the term "Rimshot" in place of the intended Side Stick or Cross Stick. As most (though not all) drummers know, a rimshot is played by hitting the drum head at the same time as the rim, whereas the side or cross stick stroke involves laying the stick across the drum and tapping it on the rim. In sonic terms, the difference is that of a loud "crack" (the rimshot) and a subtle "click" (the side stick). Playing last month's examples with a rimshot would have produced a rather overbearing effect, and that wasn't what was intended at all.
Actually, the problem stems from the fact that the terms have become almost interchangeable in beat box parlance, but the two are quite distinct and shouldn't be confused - as I rather carelessly did. Still, it's been worth putting the record straight if only because the side stick is an instrument which features quite heavily in our investigations this month, which concern that most misunderstood of rhythmic beasts - the shuffle.
I don't know about you, but I spent years steadfastly avoiding any rhythm which carried the shuffle label - ranking them just below foxtrot and beguine in terms of potential usefulness within a contemporary setting. Even the name is enough to put you off - it conjures up images of sweaty, ageing R 'n' B pub musos who've been out of it for the last ten years but who've got together just for a few laughs and a pint. Or is that a laugh and a few pints...
Fact is, there's no such thing as a shuffle rhythm at all - at least not in the same sense as, say, a reggae or samba rhythm. Shuffle is simply a way of playing a particular pattern in order to alter its basic feel, and as such can be applied, with varying degrees of success, to practically any groove. Thankfully, with the advent of quite sophisticated shuffle facilities on machines like the Roland R8 and R5, this fact is becoming far more widely appreciated amongst rhythm programmers, and the considerable potential of shuffle rhythms is at last coming to be realised. Certainly, that elusive foot-tapping quotient I referred to a couple of months ago can be increased considerably by the application of a little judicious shuffling, and happily it represents a form of rhythmic variation available to users of even the most humble machines.
At the heart of any rhythmic shuffle is the triplet - coincidentally, one of the most important elements of hip hop rhythms. This is commonly played on the hi-hat or cymbal, but can equally be applied to the bass drum or indeed any instrument. The triplet is a group of three notes played in the time of two (and indicated by a small number 3 above them in conventional music notation). Because of their two-beat duration, instruments playing triplets can be accommodated within the standard 4/4 time signature of most contemporary music, but alongside other instruments the effect of this is to produce a rolling rhythm with a pronounced swing to it.
Interestingly, certain notes within the triplets can be replaced by rests without losing the basic shuffle feel, and this, of course, gives us much greater flexibility when tailoring rhythms to a particular song or track. Very often, in fact, so many of the triplet notes are stripped away, it becomes difficult to identify a shuffle groove simply by looking at it on paper.
Speaking of which, the standard drum grid method of notation is not, perhaps, the best way to visualise a shuffle. The existence of the "three-based" triplet within a "four-based" time signature can often be rather confusing. If, however, you keep an eye on the small figures at the top of the grids numbered 1-4 in each bar, it shouldn't be too difficult to work out what's going on and when. To make it easier, I've set all the instruments for each example on the triplet-based grids even though instruments such as the snare drum quantise as 8th or 16th notes. I've done it this way to make life easier for those programmers with machines which cannot quantise individual instruments for triplets.
Unlike earlier articles in this series, where, despite some quite extensive alterations each rhythm preserved the same basic feel, applying a shuffle to a pattern alters its whole complexion, rhythmically, and often prevents it being used in the same musical context as the original. Because of this, I haven't included the "base patterns" with this month's examples - the six rather distinctive shuffles we'll be looking at stand very much on their own feet.
That said, I must once again stress these patterns provide examples only of what can be done, and are intended to act as a starting point for your imagination and programming skills. Take a little time programming them into your drum machine (or sequencer) note by note - but once there, take them apart, change them around, take parts out, put your own parts in. Above all, try to adapt what you see and hear to your own programming.
Following the standard set in last month's article, the low, medium and high dynamics of individual beats are represented by open, dotted and solid diamonds. But remember: these dynamics relate only to the levels within each instrument line. Establishing the relative levels between instruments isn't possible on the printed page, I'm afraid, so you'll need to set up the balance for yourself.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 (Viewing) | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35
Feature by Nigel Lord
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