I have loved watching great drummers play ever since I was in Junior High. At that time it was John Bonham and Neil Peart. I remember getting turned on to the live video of Led Zeppelin called “The Song Remains the Same”. In it, there is the famous Moby Dick drum solo that Bonham just kills. He plays for over 15 minutes, in and out of time. Even today, twenty years after I first heard the solo I am still mesmerized. And that was the beginning for me. It was not so much what he played, but how he played. Any 12 year old interested in the drums is going to be impressed by such a display of chops, energy and rawness, and so I was.
My other influence at the same time was Neil Peart from Rush. My friends in school turned me on to the music and once you hear the music, the drumming is a big part of it. He was and is still a very technical drummer, but little did I know that it was just the beginning, and that Bonham and Peart were only two of a list of amazing drummers during the 80’s. I started my list of amazing drummers in the eighties as I was first beginning my adventure into playing music and drums. As I was exposed to new music such as Jazz and the then-emerging fusion genre, I got more inspired and my ears opened up to the possibilities of approaches, combinations, beats, and “licks” that the drums presented. It was the beginning of the evolution of linear drumming for me.
Rock drumming can have linear attributes depending on who plays the drums, but in essence, rock drumming is not about the “line” but about the groove and the pocket. There is where the magic lies in rock. How deep can you lay the back beat in time? How can you conjure up the magic from such a simple beat? Rock is primal and driving and it connects with everyone. This beat is present in today’s pop and funk music also but obviously in modified forms. Have you noticed that ever since Elvis and then the Beatles that the rock beat really hasn’t changed in its basic structure? Even the drummers in the bands of today play the beat the same way. They make it their own and add some stuff, but it’s basically the same. I guess it’s the metaphorical relationship between the 1 and 3 and the 2 and 4 in 4/4 time. It’s the down and the up, the earth and the sky, the moon and the sun, the yin and yang. I mean even the polka beat is like a sped up rock beat with less syncopation; boom chick, boom chick! That relationship between 1, 3 and 2, 4 in rock and funk makes you dance and feel the beat. So in essence, I see rock drumming as non-linear. But what is linear?
Later on during high school, there was a former student who used to come in and work with the drumline guys (yes I marched and played snare drum). He introduced me to an album I had never heard before from an artist I had never heard named Chick Corea. This album is actually quite obscure and really different. It was recorded in 1976 and the drummer Chick used was none other than Steve Gadd. I had never heard of this guy or of his playing at the time. All I knew was about John Bonham and Rush. The album is called “Leprechaun” and the first cut I heard from this album was Nitesprite. This little song totally blew my world wide open at the time. I had never ever heard drumming like that in my life. This was my introduction to linear drumming in a nutshell. The song has these incredible syncopated beats that are based on snare-bass-ride combinations of 16th notes. The beats are so melodic and intricate, like a constant line that weaves in time. Throw away the back beat, throw away the rock, the up and down, and hello linear drumming.
A simple explanation for linear drumming would be: come up with intricate combinations of patterns between all of your limbs in a given time signature and grid within the time signature. When I say grid, I mean 16th notes, 8th notes, or triplets. The pattern encompasses every 16th, 8th or triplet partial you choose. This becomes your grid. On a map we call the staff sheet that is what it is. But these are only notes on a piece of paper. The drummer must then make the notes come alive with ghost notes and accents. If you listen to Steve Gadd on Nitesprite, you can feel the groove even through the linear drumming. It is amazing!!
Today my mind is always on the possibilities. Linear drumming possibilities are endless. An then, when you combine the melodies with the vertical components of ostinatos all going on at the same time and related to the same tempo, you’ve reached what I consider to be the edge of drumming. Imagine overlapping and intertwining melodies between all your limbs in time. This aspect of drumming, the craft of it is but a part of the total package. The rest of the package has to do with serving the music, and sometimes that means less complexity and more simplicity. But I believe as a life long student of the drumset, one has to deepen both the artistic and the mechanical. And that’s where I am now.