The Nature of Time - Part 1

Here's a piece out of my book, Energy & Motion. I've spent a lot of time thinking about, well, time. As drummers, we are often referred to as time keepers, but we actually do so much more with time. We can stretch it, compress it, move it to different levels, drop it completely, and even make it stand still. But these actions really depend on what type of music we are playing. 

If you think about it, we are much more than just time keepers, we are more like time guides. Everything we do has to do with energy. We actually manage energy and determine how it moves through time. We can play on the beat, ahead of the beat, behind the beat, creating a sense of push & pull in the music. 

So the next time you play, think about what you are playing and how it moves through time.

~ MB

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About Time & Motion

Drumming is much more than just time keeping. At its most basic, drumming is a series of rhythmic events moving through time. But there are different types of time:

  • Static linear time
  • Moving linear time
  • Nonlinear time

Static linear time starts at point A and moves in a straight line to point B. This is the type of movement we typically see in most rock/pop/country drumming. The motion is all forward 
momentum, with the rhythm remaining fairly repetitive. This is generally song based drumming where the drums provide a beat/forward motion under the melody. The important thing here is 
to not get in the way of the melody. We place one beat after another, lining them up until the end of the song. The energy is strictly forward motion

In a typical drum machine beat, it can even seem static. Think of techno & electronica, and how the beat is just an endless repetition that keeps the same feeling over and over: it moves forward, yet is static at the same time.

Moving linear time maintains the same movement from point A to B, but the rhythm is more active. The beat is not static and moves around the forward motion. There is still metronomic time, but it may be more pulse based, or even shift through different meter levels. The rhythm is constantly changing, with a motion like tumbling water. Good examples would be would be jam band music or jazz drummers, like Elvin Jones and Bob Moses. The rhythm moves forward, but seems to swirl around the central pulse. 

Nonlinear time does not move forward in the traditional manner. One way to think of it is waves of energy flowing outward from a central point. There is no specific sustained meter or pulse, although there may be short bursts of meter/pulse. The rhythm here is based more on ebbing and flowing waves of energy.
This would be free jazz and free improvised music. The waves of energy move in a more circular or spherical pattern. Think of linear music like a boat moving through water towards a destination—it leaves a wake that moves outwards in a predictable, regular pattern. Now think of nonlinear free music as throwing rocks into the water, creating circular ripples that move out in all directions and interact with each other, changing and evolving in unseen ways with no destination. It's a different journey, a very different energy. 

Reprinted with kind permission of Intuitive Arts Media (IAM). From the book, Energy & Motion, © 2010 Intuitive Arts Media. All rights reserved. 


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