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Quiet Verse plus Loud Chorus equals Dynamic Drums

What comes to mind when you hear that something or someone is “dynamic”?  I think of someone with a dynamic personality as being interesting, outgoing and always having something to offer.  I also think of the weather in Seattle, where I live, as being dynamic.  A sunny sky can turn to rain and back to sun in minutes.  As we like to say, “If you don’t like the weather in Seattle, wait 10 minutes.”  We’re following a plan to play drums in 4 weeks and this is Lesson 9 of 12.  See the complete Plan by clicking here.

Dynamics in music refers to how loud and soft you play (the “volume”).  When you vary your volume on the drum set, it can make your playing, like the weather in Seattle, more interesting.  I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of my life. For one year, though, I lived in Los Angeles.  I enjoyed the active music scene and the wonderful weather.  But being from the Northwest, I missed the change of seasons.  The weather in Los Angeles was nice but boring.

Playing a song without varying your volume or drum beat is like the weather in Los Angeles.  It becomes boring to the listener and to your band mates.

Part of your responsibility as a drummer is to inspire the other members in your band to play together and at their absolute best.  Each band member may be capable of playing notes on their instruments.  But it’s not until those notes are played with feeling and together as a band that a song becomes “music.”  It is a wonderful feeling when you are part of a band playing music.  The “whole band” becomes better than the “sum of the musical parts.”

There is a concept in music called tension and release. There are many examples of tension and release in real life that help simulate the same feeling as in music.  Think about pulling a rubber band back (tension) and letting go (release).  Or how about tapping on a ketchup bottle (tension) until the ketchup comes out of the bottle (release).  Humans seem to like tension if there is a release at the end.  Think about a tense sporting event where both teams battle back and forth.  At the end of the game there is a release of the tension for the winning and losing teams.

In popular music, tension is built during the Intro, Verse and Bridge sections of a song (see “The Parts of a Song and What They Mean To a Drummer”). That tension is released during the Chorus and Outro parts of the song.

Think about your favorite songs and how the tension builds as the singer explains the story in the verse.  There’s an anticipation or hope of what’s to come. You feel the release as soon as the band plays the strong melody and chants the words of the chorus.

Listen to the drum parts that are played during the verses and choruses of your favorite songs. The drummer is likely playing soft on the verse, usually with the right stick hitting a closed hi-hat (see “How to Play a Closed Hi-Hat”).  Compare that to the drum part on the chorus.  The part is usually louder and the drummer is playing the right stick on either an open hi-hat or on the ride cymbal.

Now it’s time to turn this information into action. Re-play the songs that you did for “How to Play a Closed Hi-Hat.”  The information from the end of the lesson is so important that it needs to be repeated:

Play the closed hi-hat on the intro and verses.  Switch to playing the ride cymbal on the choruses, bridges (if there are any) and outro.  Make sure that you change between hi-hat and ride cymbal without missing a beat.  Keep the tempo steady without stopping.

Don’t forget to play with feeling! Pretend you are playing with your band in front of your favorite fans. To practice dynamics, try playing really soft on the verses and really loud (although, not too loud) on the choruses. If you’re practicing on a real drum set with real cymbals, consider getting the Zildjian Cymbal Mutes Drum Set Pack.  Your house mates and neighbors will thank you!

Changing the volume as you play a song will inspire your fellow musicians and they will never accuse you of being like the weather in Los Angeles: nice but boring!