BY STEWART JEAN
The word linear gets thrown around often in our pursuit of drumming and drum fill creativity and vocabulary. Many of my students are always seeking linear grooves and linear ideas but lack some basic foundations to start working on them. In this exercise we are going to use a three note pattern to get you started on your linear voyage.
Similar to a melody of a tune, linear drumming simply means playing one note at a time. That means not playing any two things together at the same time, like crash cymbal and bass drum, hi-hat and snare, etc. Linear drumming concepts are great ways to expand your technique and creativity. In fact, you most likely already have played linear ideas without even knowing it.
To display this concept in the simplest form, take a look at a simple rock beat (Ex. 1).
By removing the hi-hat from the downbeats of beats 1, 2, 3, and 4 (leaving the hi-hat playing solely on the upbeats), a simple linear groove is created (Ex. 2). As you can see no two voices are sounding at the same time. This is a very simple example of a linear groove. There is no need to over-complicate this concept.
When playing in a linear fashion, the physical template of subdivision (normally coming from the hi-hat) no longer exists. There is not a steady stream of eighth-notes to help other voices “line up” with one another. Therefore, your ability to mentally subdivide must be very strong. One great exercise to get you started is to play the following exercise, which exploits the “e’s” and “ah’s” of each beat (Ex. 3).
Basic Linear Trainer System
The following exercises are designed to help you feel a repeated linear pattern of three sixteenth-notes that travel over the bar. By doing this exercise you will be able to feel syncopated linear patterns in all possible sixteenth-note subdivisions.
Start by playing the following four-bar pattern between the hi-hat, snare drum and bass drum (Ex. 4). Play all notes at a mezzo-forte dynamic, avoiding accents any notes. Take notice of the “turnaround” bass drum double between the last bar of the pattern (the “ah” of beat 4) and the downbeat of measure 1. You must subdivide sixteenth-notes out loud while playing this pattern. Start at 60 bpm.
Once you are feeling this four-bar phrase and the linear pattern is lining up nicely, try to play a small fill at the end of the four-bar phrase (Ex. 5).
You can deepen your grasp on this concept by playing a 12-bar phrase and accenting every downbeat, keeping the unaccented notes at a very low dynamic level (Ex. 6). Remember to count out loud and ideally number each bar as you go.
One of the concepts behind with this simple linear pattern is to present a way to develop and enhance a basic idea into personal, creative expression. Using our basic linear pattern of three voices we will explore some easy variations that will alter the way this idea is perceived.
Variation #1: Replace the bass drum notes with the hi-hat with the foot (Ex. 7).
Variation #2: Alternate the movement between the feet or “single strokes” with the feet (Ex. 8).
Variation #3: Two notes in a row on the feet or “double strokes” with the feet (Ex. 9).
Variation #4: “Paradiddles” between the feet (Ex. 10).
Lastly, remember that this is an exercise to open your abilities to play in a linear style and to create your own versions. Embrace mistakes — you may stumble across something new to utilizing in your own way. Think of this exercise as a seed for you to grow your own plants. Enjoy!
Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.