Finding the Groove: Why I Practice Rudimental Snare Drum to Hip Hop
During the last year of my undergraduate college experience, I began to work heavily on rudimental snare drumming. This was always an area that I was lacking in within the world of percussion and while I had plenty of marching and drumline experience, snare drum had always evaded me. In my private lessons we talked about technique, the proper warm-ups and stretching exercises to achieve the highest mobility. We talked about relaxing my shoulders and dropping my arms so I didn’t look so clunky behind the drum. We even talked about the history of rudimental drumming and the difference between old school drumming and today’s drumming. But the most important idea that my professor gave me that I still utilize to this day is to “feel the groove” of the piece.
Now I know what you may be thinking, “What groove? This is rudimental old style marching snare?”. At first, I thought the same thing. I was so caught up about each individual rudiment and breaking down the piece to almost a beat-by-beat analysis so I could execute every measure correctly. This was something that plagued me until the final assignment of that semester. Every music major knows about the dreaded juries that come at the end of your lessons every semester. The culmination of all the repertoire and techniques you learned that you must now demonstrate to a panel of professors who then grade you on the performance. While this would normally be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences during the school year, something happened this particular semester that changed everything: COVID-19.
The ending of my spring semester in 2020 was plagued by the introduction of necessary quarantining and zoom calls galore. Remember that time when we thought it would be a few weeks and then we would be back to school? Well as you all know, that didn’t happen. This led to my final jury being something that I recorded at home and consisted solely of snare drum music on a practice pad. My professor was gracious during this period and decided that I should have an assignment that was fun as well as helpful in my learning, so he gave me the task of writing a snare jam that went along with any song I wanted.
My song of choice? “Leave Me Alone” by NF. I knew from the start I wanted to be able to riff off of my favorite rapper’s flows and this was by far one of my favorite tracks. So off I went on the treacherous musical journey that is composing something completely original that fits well with something completely not original. Despite many sessions of writer’s block, I finally produced a piece I was happy with and that was within my technical abilities. This was all correlating with me still having to practice the rudimental Pratt solo “Drum Corp on Parade”, which undoubtedly made its way into my writing for this assignment. This simultaneous musical thought exercise opened up a new pathway of thinking about and practicing rudimental solos for me.
After this assignment (which I got an A on!) I began to look at rudimental solos a little differently. I started focusing on larger ideas instead of individual beats. I noticed that if I thought more about the larger context of a passage, then the individual rudiments flowed better. I began to understand more and more where the groove was coming from. I started to realize that if I slowed sections down, they started to sound like something that would be played in a more modern snare beat. This is when I stopped using a metronome and started playing around with tracks. The crazy thing was, the more I played Pratt snare solos over hip hop tracks, the more hits seemed to line up. Pauses in the music lined up with rests in the solo, only to jump back in at the same time. All the rap beats were aligning with their rhythmic roots of rudimental drumming.
Now I no longer worry about tempo when practicing a rudimental snare piece. Or even warming up for that matter. I find that if I can completely play through a piece or technical exercise with a track, no matter the speed, then I am able to lock into the groove. This gives me a reference of feeling for when I speed it up or slow it down for the proper tempo later on. Playing these solos to different kinds of songs has shown me that the feel of a piece is often the most important concept you can capture before performing it. It has also shown me that by varying tempo and backing track, you can change the feel to be whatever you want it to be. That being said, find the feeling that best suits you and your ideas about a piece. Mess around with the music you’re learning and collaborate with different genres. Creative experimentation is the gateway to innovation and that is no different when it comes to the world of music.