If you haven’t heard of Aaron Spears, he’s the powerhouse RnB drummer best known for his work with Usher, but he’s also played with heaps of other people including the Backstreet Boys, Alicia Keys and Chaka Khan. One thing that Spears knows how to do on the drums is groove, but it’s the chops that first hit you. His solos today feature cool triplet ideas heavily, but here’s one lick I thought I’d expand on a little so we could find some inspiration. I certainly did.
The idea is really simple. Figure A has the three basic variations you can have using the easy and most common sticking RLF (Right Hand, Left Hand, Foot). By shifting the bass drum stroke back by one each time, you get these three variations. If nothing else, you can move these around the drums and have some fun, but I want to focus in on the second particular example and see what we do with it.
This simple idea could initially be interpreted as RFL RFL (Figure B) – the hand combination that mostly comes to mind first. Spears suggested playing the idea as RFR LFL (Figure C). This enables the fill to become a little easier on the hands in some ways and a little less predictable on the drums. I had fun just moving the hands around slightly to get some ideas from this one sticking. Check out the fills at Figure D for an example of this – using the hats, split toms etc. The basic way to practise this is to play a groove and use these ideas as fills – far less mundane than just singles strokes or something similar.
Another idea is to play the same stickings/ideas, but trying them as 16th notes. See Figure E for a basic breakdown of this. Essentially, each group of 16th notes (groups of four) starts on a different limb. You could actually keep this going and it’ll resolve itself, but for the purpose of illustration, I’ve stopped at two bars and just added a right hand to finish the lick. From here you can apply the same processes, variations and movement ideas you had with the triplets, now with a few added benefits.
Sometimes, the tempo of the music you’re playing doesn’t lend itself that well to triplets and they can sound too slow. Slow triplets can have massive impact, but we’re talking about gospel chops here, so faster is more in line with the goal. In some cases, the most natural subdivision is best. Of course, if by contrast the music is way too fast for 16th notes, you can then use triplets. Don’t forget you can ‘double time’ the triplets and 16th notes to become 16th note triplets or 32nd notes.
Furthermore, the style could be swung in which case triplets would work, but 16th notes could also sound cool. Secondly, by playing 16th notes, you get the crossing beat idea, which is interesting if not completely comprehensible to the average listener initially. With some variations, you can get some good mileage out of one concept and extend your solo/fill vocabulary, all the while making your ideas sound more interesting and complicated than they actually are – typical of most basic fill ideas. This is always a good thing and means you’re maximising your learning.
Check out some of the variations within 16th notes (Figure E). You can also start to mix and match some of the original stickings from Figure A into the mix, or even mix and match triplets and 16ths in one phrase. Exchange a bass drum for left foot hi-hat? Do it. You’ll have some pretty awesome chops happening, inspired by Aaron Spears yes, but he’ll tell you it’s all Dave Weckl. Either way, count me in.
Image via Israel Palacio.