Here’s a cool concept that I’ve touched on at times over the years, but thought I’d focus on this month. When used in the context of playing the drums, the term ‘permutation’ refers to shifting the rhythm, phrase, groove, fill etc. by a decided subdivision or note. Basically, take the thing you’re working on and shift backwards (or forwards) a beat, half a beat and so on. The choice is yours. This time, we’re going to look at different types of permutation using grooves, with the focus being on the concept of not only moving the whole groove, but also parts of the groove.
I first learned this concept from a book by the great David Garibaldi called Future Sounds. If you’re into the concept after reading this, you should totally check it out because it will blow your mind. Dave Weckl has also been known to use this idea from time to time. However, we can look into some simpler examples of the main concepts here. We’re going to see three main types of permutation and in keeping it simple, we’ll only move as much as a crotchet – one full beat. You could, of course, keep going if you wanted to.
Looking at Section A, we have the basis of permutation. I’ve written a groove using a single paradiddle in the hands, an accent on the backbeat (2 and 4) and a simple bass drum pattern to play under the paradiddle. In essence, it’s a simple and common groove. Ex2 moves the whole pattern forward by one semiquaver (16th note). You can also think of this as taking the last note of the pattern and moving it to the front. The rest of the groove shifts forward. Suddenly, the groove takes on a whole new feel and placement within the beat. You’ll also notice that we now have an outward paradiddle in the hands. If we continue the shifting (Ex 3 and 4), you’ll see the concept at work and notice that we also inevitably cycle through the reverse and inward paradiddles. For the groove and concept to work, it’s very important that the articulation stays the same and is correct – accents loud, non-accents soft.
Section B has a slightly different pattern, but the same approach to demonstrate how the concept applies on a more typical groove. This time, it’s more of a standard funk groove with a 16th note-type hi-hat pattern – 1e& 2e& etc. Ex2 shows the whole groove shifted by a 16th note again, but this time it’s shifted backward. It’s very interesting to see what happens when we do this. Not only does the groove barely resemble the original if you hear the beat as normal, but instead of cycling through paradiddles, we are actually seeing the four variations you can have when playing three 16th notes in a row in the space of a beat.
Another permutation idea is to move a specific part of the groove – one hand or foot, for example. For Section C, I’ve used an inward paradiddle for the hands. I’ve added a bass drum part under this and used a specific accent pattern that works primarily on the single strokes within the sticking. This time, only the bass drum part shifts in examples two to four. I’ve moved it forward a 16th note. This is a little easier in some ways as most drummers may have encountered changing the bass drum pattern under the same paradiddle, but the challenge comes with keeping the original accent pattern (see examples).
Speaking of accents, what about an example where it’s only the accents that shift? Section D is exactly the same groove from Section C, but instead of a moving bass drum, I’ve moved the accents. Here you end up with a new permutation vibe and while the groove has a similar sound, the accents provide a different feel. More noticeably, when you’re trying to perform the permutated grooves, the accents may now fall on double strokes and this presents its own challenges – being able to play loudly and softly immediately after or the reverse. Have fun with that one.
As mentioned earlier, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Garibaldi goes nuts with this concept in his book, but other ideas could be to move the permutation through all four beats, move just the right and left hands, just the bass drum and accents or just the snare drum. The options are endless, and we’ve only done 4/4 and moved a 16th. What about moving an 8th or a whole beat? Have a think, jot some ideas down, and have a go.