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Take the First Step to Locking in With The Drums With This Single Post

I don’t need to say it anymore: drummers and bass players go together like peanut butter and jelly. One works well and really does need the other to have that extra special bit of life brought to it.

When it comes to locking in with the drummer, there is no one right answer for when it comes to what bass line can work. This is where the artistic component of music comes into play and the bass player’s subjectivity comes in.

Whether you’re listening to a drum loop, a live drummer or jamming along to a song and paying attention to that drummer, there are some things that really can turn you from just listening to the drummer to really listening to the drummer and turning your bass lines from good to great.

How do you really listen to the drummer? It’s easy to make a bass line (in most cases), but to really craft the bass line and fit it in with the drums is even something that guitar players around the Internet are buzzing about.

First: Drums Work in Cycles and Loops

Think of the drummer like a solar system and each one of the pieces of the drum kit as a planet on it’s own rotational cycle around the Sun (a.k.a. the groove).

Now ask yourself, when a drummer plays, does the drummer play all the drums at the same time at the same tempo throughout the entire song? I’ve never heard that happen and if it did it probably wouldn’t sound very listenable.

Rather, drummers are dynamic. There are times when certain drums hit at the same time as others, spread apart from others or remain consistent over the pattern. There is one big pattern, the collective sound of the drums being hit in a particular arrangement, then there are smaller patterns, the loops that individual drum pieces are playing.

Each one of those smaller patterns is on their own loop, so to speak. Or, continuing with the solar system analogy, have a longer rotation time or shorter rotation time than other parts of the kit.

Moreover, most drum patterns will repeat after 4, 8, 12 or 16 bars depending on the song. And lastly, indicators such as the crash cymbal will denote where the pattern has looped over.

Consider this example of a drum groove and the patterns that are present:

drum groove

In red, the crash cymbal is seen hitting every 4th bar. In blue, the bass drum hits on the “one and” and  “three and” of each bar EXCEPT for the “turnaround bar” bar 4, where the pattern is hits on “one and” and beats three and four.

The green shows the snare drum pattern which lands on beats two and four of each bar except for bar four where there only a snare hit on beat two and the purple shows the hi-hat pattern consistent throughout the sample.

Again – not all of the drum pieces are playing the same patterns exactly the same way. Some drum pieces enter on beat one of the 9th bar, others come beat two of the second bar.

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Upon understanding the patterns that are emerging within the drummer’s groove allow you the bass player to see where exactly to make your bass line shine through without ever having to play too much.

Pictured above: a drummer’s groove

Fitting in the Bass Line

Like I said above, there is no right or wrong bass line to a song. What fits fits. But when real magic happens is when that bass line, that special line that just works so well is put over the song.

And more often than not, it is that special bass line that makes the song even more memorable than if it were simply eighth notes of quarter notes that only hold the line down.

In the video below, I break down a drum groove as part of my new online course to illustrate the point of learning to hear and identify the best places to make your bass line shine through and when to hold it down.

Some of the points that I bring up include:

  • Listening for “holes” in the drum groove or places where there is not a lot of musical activity from the drummer. Those places are great for letting loose a few notes or a hook that grab the listener’s ear
  • Using the snare and the kick drum and the distance between one hit and another as tools to gauge the tempo of a song
  • Patters and loops that occur and the different “cycles” that each part of the drum occur on.

Check out the video below!



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