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Anatomy Of A Loop

posted on #1
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Following on from [url=http://www.wikiloops.com/forum/viewthread.php?thread_id=988]goldtop68's thread[/url] and also [url=http://www.wikiloops.com/forum/viewthread.php?thread_id=979]bhunt1's thread[/url] I thought I'd impart some information on how I go about a jam. I'm not going into the technicalities of how I record it all - I've covered that in tedious detail on [url=http://www.wikiloops.com/forum/viewthread.php?thread_id=907]this thread[/url].

This thread is focussing on the choices I make in what I play and why. I hope it's of interest to people and not seen as just a load of arrogant guff from a bald person who hits things whilst pretending to be musical. There's been a few threads of late asking questions about people's approaches to loops, etc.. so I thought I'd impart my experience. Of course, it will be heavily related to doing drum loops but may help those who use programmed drums too in how to think about their beats.

I must stress right now that I don't sit there and analyse tracks in minute detail like this - what I play is a product of what feels right at the time and it's almost subconscious, drawing on my experiences and abilities. I don't think what to play per se, it's just how the music makes me feel. This is an analysis of why I choose to play what I do and what playing, technical and musical skills I deploy to achieve it. And hopefully it produces a good loop add.

As usual for me, it won't be a short post! Please tell me never, ever to post things like this again if it's just a load of old rubbish taking up valuable space on Wikiloops' hard-working servers! I'm also at a loose end at work so this is far more interesting than trying to look busy!

I've chosen [url=http://www.wikiloops.com/backingtrack-jam-65492.php]this excellent loop from Kennyadry[/url] to analyse. I've chosen it for the following reasons:

1) It took me a few goes to find what worked for the track. It wasn't just a jam
2) It contains some technical phrasing and has a dominant, syncopated riff which is easy to work with
3) Dynamics. It possesses different sections requiring different volumes
4) It's a catchy, up-tempo tune
5) It was tricky to perform
6) I did it recently so can still remember what I did!
7) People seemed to like it
8) Basically, it takes in most of the techniques I deploy when composing for more complex jams making this analysis easier

As I said, I'm not going into the technicalities of recording. This is strictly performance-only. I did consider doing a video as mentioned on the threads above but I really shouldn't be allowed in front of cameras. Unless you need someone to model spark plugs.

So here goes...

Listening through Kenny's track, my first thoughts were, "yep, this won't be too difficult. Just hammer through the syncopations." I was wrong. I could immediately hear that dominant riff rhythm, played as a counterpoint to the beat like some kind of 6/8 thing going on over the 4/4. So I played through, emphasising that cross-rhythm on the snare, effectively resolving the beat every other bar. Clever, perhaps. But it just didn't sit right to my ears listening back. It sounded disjointed and messy. Everything I tried was choppy, messy and just sounded wrong to my ears but I couldn't put my finger on it. So, a bit annoyed, I gave up and located my Jack Daniel's instead.

Spool the clock forward a week and I decided this track was too good to let go. By this time, Lenny's excellent add had surfaced and he'd followed the same thought processes as me, emphasising that cross-rhythm with the snare. His execution was superb and, of course, now I didn't want to be seen to copy him so his add forced me back to the drawing board to decide how to make the track work. I don't normally listen to other drummer's adds until I've done my own to prevent colouring of my choices but I'm always happy to listen to Lenny's takes and I'm glad I did. He made it work whereas a near-identical approach from me just didn't work to my ears.

The track doesn't have consistent length sections so I decided instead of trying to jam it, I'd mark out the sections to guide me. I then jammed along to the track narrowing down the main rhythm patterns I wanted to play as I went. It was at this point I realised why my previous approach was all wrong: I should be supporting the beat by keeping it solid and straight and letting his guitar dance around the beat. This was the fatal error I'd been making - I should be supporting him, not totally joining in!

The key here is that the back beat had to be solid and constantly driving, trying to really give the track energy and urgency, in-keeping with such a busy guitar riff. In the choruses, this married perfectly for me by really driving hard 1/4 notes on the china and snare whilst sympathetically backing up his main riff phrasing using the kick. Perfect! A proper 'eureka' moment with the track for me.

With the main chorus sections sorted, I turned my attention to refining the verses and the pre-chorus phrases. These were tricky. I settled on the 16th on the hi-hat because they really help give a track motion but phrasing with his riff on the kick just sounded choppy and messy. So I pared the kick drum pattern to something very simple. This helped give the verses some breathing space and provided a better dynamic contrast between the verses and the choruses. The other key to these verse sections are the in-beat dynamics on the hi-hat where I accent certain 16th notes. This really helped get the track flowing and is key to making any groove feel good. It makes the 16th notes implied rather all heard. This is very important to good-feeling drumming in general, in my opinion. Ghost notes, etc., can really help imply motion without actually being particularly audible. More on this a bit later.

Then there's the phrases, at 0:50 --> 1:01 and 1:43 --> 1:55. Initially I phrased completely with it. But the track lost all the sense of motion it'd built up. The key here was to pick them out but keep that backbeat going. I'll be honest, it's tricky to play those pushes whilst keeping the 16th beat going but I got there after a few practice runs. It gave me exactly what I was looking for: the beat carried on going but I got to help emphasise the stop-start pushes from the guitar. Often in drumming, I find it very effective to pick out fills and accents whilst keeping the backbeat going. It really helps maintain energy and flow in a song whilst also being sympathetic to the music.

Immediately after this section, there's a short build into the chorus. There I do stop and then build on the toms. Really helps announce the big noise coming up.

The chorus pattern I've already covered but again, I think every four sequences or so, I emphasise the guitar rhythm on the crashes whilst keeping the beat going. This gives me my 'fill fix' whilst not interrupting the song!

At the end of the second, longer chorus section (1:59 --> 2:41), I phrase with the guitar on the crashes at the end of it. This is deliberate pulling on of the song's handbrake as I'm announcing a step change in the song as it goes into the quiet section. It's the musical equivalent of doing an emergency stop. It's a simple fill on the crashes but because it phrases precisely with the riff, it's very effective yet incredibly simple to play.

The quiet section (2:45 --> 3:16) is in two halves. 16th notes split between the right hand on the ride and the left hand on the hi-hat, the bass drum playing four-on-the-floor. The bass drum is key here because it's relentless, maintaining the overall driving motion of the song whilst having sympathy with the quieter section it's being played in. I think it's also suggesting that the track's going to get going again shortly. The ride/hi-hat pattern is, I hope, adding a sort of 'airy' feel to this section - that the song is still simmering away but it's time for a quick breather before the final battle. The second half of this section I add a snare hit on the 4 of the bar. This is to provide a slight shift in dynamic and drive but not to overpower the guitar's dynamics. I chose to ignore the phrases at the end of the section and go straight to the build. I found that phrasing at the end of this section interrupted the flow established by the bass drum which I wanted to drive straight into the outro (chorus).

Then it's the outro (3:16 --> End). There's two halves to this although I play the same china pattern on both. At 3:27, I pick out the pattern between the snare/crash and the kick drum. The music here seemed to suggest it was stepping it up a gear which is why I chose to pick it out. Out of this section straight to the end.

I'll be truthful. I messed up the ending fills but the marvels of digital editing means you'll never know what a mess I made of it! :)

So there we go. It seems like a lot of work and analysis at recording but the truth is, it wasn't a lot of work. Most of it I just heard in my head, made a note (or mental note) of it and played it on-the-fly when it happened. The key is belonging to the song. To achieve this, you need to hear and pick out the little phrases and inflections that help you join in.

Thank you for reading this essay! If people like it or are interested, I can cover some of the drumming techniques I deploy to deliver a song as if the drums were always there and make them groove (usually). I quite enjoy posthumously analysing why what I do and play is the way it is. It does't occur to me at the time, I just 'do it' None of the above was a product of particularly conscious thought at the time, just reacting to what I hear and using my musical experience on what to do with it.
Edited by mpointon on February 26 2016 13:57
posted on #2
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Joined: 03.09.15
Nice essay, a detailed insight in the world of drumming from a guitarplayers view this is fascinating :)
posted on #3
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Joined: 15.04.15
Really nice article Martin! It gives us ideas of how to apply dynamics. I enjoyed the read :)
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