Pat McDonald - Drums and Percussion
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Soloing...

At times in your career you'll get that look.   That look that says "Take it for a bit.  The stage is yours."     As James Brown said " Give the drummer some."     When that happens, will you be ready for it?   A lot of drummers are content with just focusing on playing grooves and keeping time.   That is an art in itself and is actually MUCH harder to do than play a bunch of frilly, drummy stuff.     But I think the two types of drumming can coexist --the solid time and pocket concept AND the solo instrument concept.      There are a pile of drummers out there who are known as "pocket" players and will tell you straight up that they have no interest in soloing at all. 

And there are guys out there who are known as "chops" players who can play blistering drum solos and do stuff that most of us mere mortals can barely conceive.   A lot of these guys aren't known outside of drum clinics and drum industry events.    They don't do much playing with other musicians.     But there are few guys who do both and those are the ones I admire.

 When I think of a drum solo, I think of one of about 3 different methods...... 

 The first is free form soloing.    This type of playing is a more textural, "stream of consciousness" type solo.     Taking a bunch of abstract ideas and just tossing them into a musical blender, so to speak.     This type of solo is the most difficult to execute well for me.    And it also tends to be the most difficult for the average listener to grasp.      I tend to shy away from this type of solo because it always ends up sounding like a bunch of disjointed ideas just stuck together with no end goal.    I feel like I'm just blowing a bunch of drummy, chops stuff and I'm not saying anything valid or musical.     And when I hear someone else do it, it has to be something truly spectacular or my patience wears thin REALLY fast.    I want to hear the drummer SAY something, not just yell out a bunch of unrelated words and ideas that don't make sense.   Some guys are really good at this type of soloing.  Myself, it's probably my least favorite to hear or play.

 The next type of solo I hear is a more compositional, "in-time" solo.      One where there is a definite pulse running through it and you can hear how the ideas being played are based on a time feel and framework.   Most every solo I play has a background pulse of some kind ticking away underneath.   I may not be playing it out loud so that it's SUPER obvious,  but it's ticking away inside my head all the time.  I can't help it.   It's the way my brain works.     I like the feeling of placing my ideas on top of a time reference framework.    I think it makes it much easier for non-drummer listeners to hear what I'm doing as well.      Steve Gadd is a master of this kind of soloing.    When you hear him play, it's like he's composing a tune with his kit.   There's time and melody going on and a real compositional approach under it all.     Not a lot of free form licks and drummy stuff.    He's composing a piece of music.     THAT is the kind of solo that keeps me interested.     I like the challenge of using different ideas and dynamic tricks to compose a "song" with my solo.     Something that starts in one place and travels to a final destination somewhere far away.

 The third type of solo I hear is a solo over a musical vamp.     This type of solo is when the band plays a repetitive figure behind you and you layer your ideas over their backing vamp.    These solos are alot of fun to play as well but they require a strong band who isn't easily led astray by really outside, odd figures.     It's very frustrating to start a solo this way and have the band lose the pulse of the vamp because you play something a little too "sideways" for their ears!    Usually, I have to edit myself on this kind of solo depending on the strengths of the other players.    I can't go too outside with some guys and I can go to the moon with others!    Regardless, this style of solo is fun because you can "let go" of the timekeeping position for awhile and explore things you normally have to shy away from.

 Granted, all three of these kinds of solos can be mixed and matched to create interest and musical continuity and sometimes that is a lot of fun to do but you can generally categorize most any drum solo you hear into one of the three.    Soloing is fun and challenging.    I like to do solos when given the opportunity but I'm always conscious of the perspective of the listener.....Am I making my point here?   Is this working or am I blindly searching for ideas?    Is the audience with me or have they all headed to the snack bar?    If I say something fun, musical and concise and do my thing for a couple of minutes, I've done what I've set out to do.   Heck, I'm a drummer....and if I hear a solo go on for more than 4-5 minutes, even *I* get bored and start to tune out!     Keep it musical, keep it concise, make it interesting and then step out of the spotlight and get back to the music and you can't go wrong!

 

Good luck and groove hard....

 

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