This month’s GOTM topic focuses on fine tuning the country swing beat in a way that’ll make your bandmates and dancers happy. This is the start of a technique I learned from Daniel Glass in relation to jazz timekeeping. I applied it to a style that is near and dear to my heart: country music. I’ll start with the one musical subject that is very hard to describe on paper: note placement!
Below is a basic swing pattern you’ve likely seen before; you’ve probably even played it a few times. Let’s worry less about how linear it looks and talk about where each note and sound should live within the groove.
RIDE AND BASS DRUM
These two voices need to be locked together. The ride and bass drum are leading the rhythmic show. Focus on playing these two voices in the middle or even a little ahead of the beat; this is where the jazz tradition of leading with the ride cymbal comes into play. The ride and bass drum drive and truly define the beat for the dancers on the floor. The dancers are focused on pulse more than anything, so consistency in your timekeeping is key.
SNARE AND HI-HAT
The feel in this groove comes from the snare and hi-hat. You should literally drop your stick onto your snare while playing the ride and bass drum. It’s not a full arm smack into the snare; just pick it up a little and let it fall onto the drum. It should be a little behind the beat, but not so much where it would flam with the other voices.
Use the same idea for the hi-hat: let your foot fall down on the pedal at the same time as your stick hits the snare. We’re looking for a nice, comfortable, relaxed backbeat; leave the pushing to the ride cymbal. The ease and pocket of your swing groove will come in the timing relationship between both sides of your body playing different roles.
Reading this article and shedding these motions is step one, but practical application is where you’ll really work the kinks out. I suggest playing along with Alan Jackson’s “Pop A Top” or George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” a few times before trying these moves in the dance hall. Record yourself playing along with these songs and see if your toe starts to tap along with your recording. If it does, you’re headed in the right direction!
Scotti Iman is an independent drummer and educator based in St. Louis, Missouri. When not teaching privately he can be seen playing with artists Cree Rider, SideCar, and The STL Rhythm Collaborative. More information can be found at Instagram (@scottiimandrums) or you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.