The Sound of Silence
As drummers, we come up against a very different set of circumstances than other instrumentalists. For one, let’s look at the actual sounds we make. Other than the vibes, bells/cymbals/gongs, and perhaps timpani, we deal with extremely short sounds. Take a look at a quarter note played on a snare drum or a xylophone: on each note we are actually playing just the very front of the note. Now a string or horn player will play through the note, giving it the full time value, connecting to the next note. But as percussionists, our notes are almost always separated from each other.
In percussion, if we look at successive quarter notes, there is, in fact, more space/silence than actual sound. Now let’s divide the quarter note into 4-16th notes. When we play, we really only play sound for the first 16th note. The other three 16ths are all space/silence. Thus ¾ of what we are playing is silence! So as a percussionist, we need to be very aware of the space between the notes.
How can we become more aware of the spaces? One way is to practice at a very slow tempo, thus increasing the length/amount of space between each note. At a tempo of say, 60BPM, we have to be aware, and get over the practice of anticipating the next note. Breathe through the notes and feel the time, so you can play the next note exactly where it should be. Not sooner. Not later. Not guessed at. But known.
- Play quarter notes on the snare drum at 120BPM. Be aware of both the notes & spaces. Then bring the tempo down to 60BPM. Notice how the actual note played takes up the same amount of time/space, while the silence between notes increases. Also notice your frustration and impatience at playing at the slower tempo. Try it again at 30BPM.
It’s easy to play at 120BPM, where the momentum carries one note to the next. At 60BPM, that momentum is lost, and we must accurately keep track of the time. At 30BPM we really need to breathe through the notes and have a sense of where the time is.
Be aware—and keep breathing…