Have you ever experienced what it feels like to have 20 other musicians sitting on your shoulders while you drive them through a musical arrangement? It feels awesome when you realize you’ve captured the pulse and created such a solid pattern that others around you gravitated to your sounds and energy and are following every accentuated note…
Playing the Bassline or Clave or Bell is usually thought to be a lesser position when you first start playing drums. It’s hard to not first notice the soloists or dancers and those playing “upfront”. After playing for a while you start to take notice of the players that are donating their time to “Holding it down”, so that others are free to solo and dance on their shoulders.
The power of a drum performance, or a drum circle, comes from the Bass Drums. It’s what we feel in our body and it’s what makes your legs shake and want to dance. The bell or clave or shekere create a relationship with the Bass drums that weaves a web for all the other musicians to float and play on. Oh and by the way, it’s not as easy as you think. It makes sense that beginners would gravitate towards a more simple body movement – “oh hitting two sticks together must be easier than playing drums”, so you grab the Clave sticks or bell and start playing. The first thing you will find is how loud you are and how everyone is now staring at you (uh oh)… You think to yourself “1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4” trying to keep count and rhythm at the same time. But did you realize the Clave was on 3/2, or 2/3, or 5/1? Not so easy to bang that bell with that stick now, is it?
Don’t feel bad, we’ve all been in that position as a beginner (unless you grew up in a family of musicians where you were playing amongst pros as a child). It’s ok – lesson learned, respect for Clave players given…
If you really want to understand and feel this web-weaving process I’m describing, listen to Batucada Rhythms.
Batucada is usually what the drummers are playing when you see Carnival Samba dancers (but I don’t blame you if you never happened to notice it with all that beautiful body movement going on). Watch the Surdo players. The Surdo drums are the ones that look like big Tom-Tom drums and the players have a beater in one hand, and use the other to apply pressure and stop the resonance of the drum. There are often two Surdo players playing offset from each other and it creates this foundation that is so powerful that the whole Batucada group sits on the shoulders of their solid beats while playing crazy polyrhythms with shakers and snare drums and tambourines and wow… All grounded by two guys playing two notes each, in an interesting “almost off-sounding” pattern, for 3 hours straight or more….. Without those Surdo drums playing two notes each, the whole thing falls apart.
The message? Learn to enjoy the gift of bass-rhythm giving…. Take your turn playing just bass notes on your Djembe while you concentrate on helping to LIFT the power of the Bass in the music. Watch to see if the dancers respond to the power you’ve added to the pulse. Listen and make sure you are nailing that pulse down so tight and crisp that people can’t help but move their body… Feel like Atlas….