The Rhythm Section
Wild man Bill Collins looks at the Simmons SDX system and gives us a few drum patterns to try out
Bill Collins brings you the best of the electronic back beat
While Darrin (our ed) and crew were manfully taking on the giant Frankfurt show to bring you last issue's report, Simmons were scoring a number one album in Germany with Tanita Tikarem's Silent Heart. Back in Blighty they didn't do so badly either as The Living Years by Mike and The Mechanics hit the number one single spot. Listen out for the Simmons SDX sound from Bill Bruford in the reformation Yes project and on Spandau Ballet's Raw album which John Keeble says has SDX "all over it".
Simmons SDX now numbers these worthies amongst its users: Jo Hammer (Jean Michel Jarre), John Keeble (Spandau Ballet), Gilson Lavis (Squeeze), Ed Mann (Frank Zappa), Trevor Morrais (Howard Jones), Peter Van Hooke (Mike and The Mechanics, Tanita Tikarem), Bill Bruford (Earthworks, Yes), Alex Cooper (Katrina and the Waves), Brian Bennett (The Shadows), Bomb the Bass, Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Earwhacks Productions (Boy George), Steve Levine (Westworld, DEF II), Van Halen, Stevie Wonder and Ian Heron (Gary Numan).
Hi-tech drummers take note of the new Simmons address for details of their full range of electronic percussion: Simmons Digital Music Ltd (Contact Details)
Do all drum sounds have to be the same?
I don't know about you but I find the most inventive drummers experiment with the sounds they are producing as well as the way in which they are producing them. Now and again someone comes up with a classic drum sound, but we all know the story about the top five singles having Phil Collins' drum sound on them! Here's an appeal for variety and imagination in the use of percussive sounds, real and electronic.
Perhaps conventional drummers often sound the same song after song as retuning a standard drum-kit can be difficult. Even so tuning of top and bottom drum heads and the use of pads can lend variety to a drummer's sound repertoire. But electronic percussionists have no excuse. Different sounds are readily available. One I particularly like is the timbale style sound, well-known from Latin percussion and sounding great in place of a snare drum.
If you are using a micro-based software package then the sampled sounds will be short and won't cope very well with, say, cymbal sounds but there are ways around such problems. I remember Bill Bruford giving up cymbals because their sound clashed in the mix with that of his guitarist. You would be well advised to do the same. Bill turned to tuned drums as an alternative.
You can make a song more exciting by punching out the "high-hat" rhythm in other suitable sounds such as metal or wood block. Try tabla; or glass?
If a song needs atmosphere then percussion can help sustain the mood. For instance an "industrial" sound can be attained by including a metallic, gong style, sound. Make it sound as though someone is hitting a large anvil then play this in a pattern contrasting heavily with the main beat and instantly conjure up machines and factory chimneys.
You can't expect to use just any sound effectively. Look initially for percussive sounds from music around the world; African, South American and Asian traditional instruments are a vast source of sound ideas. Most drum machines now have the ability to take memory chips with libraries of appropriate sounds. These have the annoying habit of grouping sounds in traditional roles when you might want to mix up Ndende (Senegalese drum) with electronic gong Tibetan style. That's where sampling comes in. It's not much more complicated but it is more expensive, hence we'll return to the subject later to give you time to save up!
Drummers can compose music and program it as well as any other musician but a major part of the drummer's job live is to keep time. Why not use your drum machine or computer music program to help you in this difficult art? Set the machine to the tempo you wish to practise and play along on your skins or your octapad or carpet square!
Computers keep time but lack feel. Studio drummers play along to what is known as a "click track" - the equivalent of a metronome maintaining the tempo at so many beats per minute. As well as playing "on the click", they also learn how to play in front of and behind the beat to good effect. You'll find that once you've mastered the discipline of keeping time, breaking out of strict time in a controlled fashion becomes a powerful tool in giving a song the right "groove", your groove.
Listen to your favourite drummers for ideas on how to program an effective rhythm. You can really push along a song with something like Figure 1.
Breaking out of a rock beat with a simple figure, precisely played, can be very effective (Figure 2). Try holding back the snare in a chorus while maintaining the underlying bass drum beat and then crashing back in (Figure 3).
Dance music of one sort or another seems to be dominating the charts at the moment. To get bodies moving is not as easy as it seems but give this pattern (Figure 4) a try.
Feature by Bill Collins
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!