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Playing without a drummer

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Darylw425, Jul 20, 2007.

  1. Darylw425


    Mar 16, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    Founder: BassBrites USA
    So after my cover band split up the lead singer (who is a solid guitar player) and i decided to just do it the two of us - acoustic guitar, acoustic bass guitar, and both of us singing. It has been working out well, we've been playing a few local bars and have gotten great reviews and are always asked back. :cool:

    We're playing the usual cover bar band type sets - we figured just because we're acoustic doesn't mean we have to slow things down and do ballads. We rock just as hard as before, and this has been the thing the bar managers like the best...that we keep the songs fun, uptempo, sing alongs that keep the crowd into it (theyve been disappointed with other acoustic acts that just play slow stuff and bore their crowds).

    However, the transition to playing rocking songs (think jessies girl, 8675309, living on a prayer...etc etc im sure you know our whole sets lists) without a drummer is new for me, and i keep feeling like we're lacking something. the audience (drunk college kids and new grads) doesnt seem to mind - they dance and sing along, but there is just something weird about playing bass without drums. I feel the pressure to fully set the tempo and feel, and basically "lock in" with myself (does that sound dirty?). also a challenge because i sing lead about a third of the time and harmony in most of the other songs.

    I'm wondering if others have had experience like this and any advice you guys might have for playing without a drummer. I thought about handing out some fun percussion instruments at our shows (egg shakers, tambourine, marraccas) to have people play around with - would keep them engaged, would be fun for them, and would add some percussion....but then i realized drunk people cant even clap in time, so maybe that's a bad idea...haha.
  2. Inflin


    Apr 30, 2007
    Newcastle, UK/Currently London
    Affiliated with Genelec, Avalon Design.
    I had a similar project at one time, and after a few months I began to realise that a tapping foot or the metronome in my head was all I needed. I worried about something being missing too, but if the crowd like it then there's no problem.

    My advice would be to just enjoy holding down the rhythm all by yourself. It will progress your timing skills no end.

    The audience percussion idea sounds great, but I could see it going wrong too, if they're drunk enough!
  3. rockwarnick


    Jul 29, 2006
    Rockville, MD
    sounds like you're the drummer now.
  4. Blueszilla

    Blueszilla Bassist ordinaire

    Apr 2, 2003
    The Duke City
    I do a fair amount of gigging without a drummer. For me, I need to play more simply and straightforward, to establish a solid tempo. It works your rhythm chops, makes you listen more, and encourages you to groove. It's expands your abilities, but I still prefer to work with a drummer.

    Good work on the singing, I do a lot of harmonies, but just a few leads. I'm new to doing the lead, and still learning. It's difficult to do well.

    As far as including the crowd, it's a crap shoot, sometimes you win (less), sometimes you lose (more). As long as you and the crowd are having fun, you must be doing something right.
  5. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    Yeah it's definitely a different feeling playing the bass without drums. It takes a while to get used to...

    The percussion idea sounds nice, but lots of people have no clue about timing, and handing some percussion to people like that equals disaster. I don't think it's worth the risk.
  6. JackWhite


    Apr 2, 2007
    let me quote one of the greatest musicians ever!

    chet baker: "it takes a great drummer to be better than no drummer"

    of course its one thing to play calm songs and another one to play fast uptempo like u guys do. but the rule is: the crowd likes it, its good.

    maybe stupid idea but how about a drum machine for just a few songs of your set that u really feel need some drums. those drum-machines are so versatile nowadays and can be programmed to everything - breaks, tempochange, rhythmchange. everything. => disadvantage - no spontaneous improvisations or extra grooving in those "drum-machine-songs"
  7. I'm trying to find somebody to talk with about the subject of a bass player and a guitar player gigging with a drum machine. I've got a DR-770 wich does a pretty good job. I'd like to talk with someone who already has this kind of setup with ANY kind of drum machine.. I'm tired of drummers not showing up or not knowing how to play! :spit: To hell with 'em! :spit: Is there anybody else going through this? thx!
  8. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    I would much rather play a live gig without any percussion at all than play a live gig with a drum machine. It obviously doesn't bother some people, but I couldn't do it. :rollno:
  9. Are you saying that you would be too emabarassed to play along with a machine?:meh:
  10. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I play a steady jazz trio gig without a drummer. It really makes me think. Not only about the walking line, but the tempo, feel, style, etc. I think it makes me a better player.

    I still love gigs with good drummers though.
  11. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    I don't know if "embarassed" is the right word.

    With or without a drummer, a band is able to vary the tempo spontaneously to create dramatic effect. With a drum machine, the "feel" of a song is compromised. Two ways to control the "feel" of a song are by varying dynamics and by varying tempo to emphasize various passages, bridges, etc. Just as I would not care to play in a band with an electronic keyboard that had no volume control, I would similarly not care to play in a band with a drum machine - especially one that hit every kick, tom1, tom2, ride, crash, etc. with the same dynamics and in the same tempo throughout the song.
  12. I agree totally with what you say! It's just that I'm having a hard time finding
    a drummer that does all that you describe with any kind of natural talent.
  13. OmegaZ27


    Sep 18, 2005
    Personally, I would suggest that you incorporate a percussive feel into your bass playing (some mild slapping, accenting certain notes, taps, etc.) And since you're playing acoustic bass, you could play it like a drum (like Andy McKee in "Drifting").
  14. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Which is to say, you'd rather not play with an ineptly programmed drum machine. No surprise, really.

    To the OP, if you're going to use prepared drum tracks (whether programmed into a drum machine or played back via laptop or iPod or whatever), get someone who knows from shinola to prep them.

    Backing drum tracks win no cool points, but there's no reason they can't swing (or rock or fill the polka floor. . .).
  15. Tony In Philly

    Tony In Philly Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Oct 25, 2007
    Filthydelphia, USA
    You could try playing with a flatpick; it should make the sound more percussive. Do some hi-hat type clicking with muted strings, etc.

    Also some great drumerless experiment bands (or at least their drumerless phase period) from my youth come to mind -- you may want to listen to them for ideas.

    Check out John Mayall's Turning Point or if you're really adventurous some early Steeleye Span and String Driven Thing. Either way you'll hear some interesting experments without drums or maybe just conclude it's the rantings of an old fart. :p
  16. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    I hear you. I've been in the same boat (except that I don't sing) and I'll say that it is a HUGE challenge. I play as well as the drummer I'm looking at. The more predictable the drummer, the better I play. When I play with a drummer who thinks that I'm predictable, I sound even better. When I play without a drummer? Huge challenge. But a bad drummer is the worse. With no drummer its all on you. You can do it!
  17. I've been in a number of drummer-less "bands" over the years. It can be weird at first, but once you get your routine down it will be fine. I would shy away from drum machines or "friends" playing spontaneous percussion. I think a drum machine can work, but you have to be solid because there is little or no room for error or your own feeling in the songs. I always feel very stilted when playing or practicing with a machine. Many people can pull it off though.

    I found that by playing sans-drummer I use my hands, both right and left, differently and by tapping, strumming, thumping and plucking (no necessarily slapping) at opportune moments, the bass player can be percussive, rhythmic, low end and melodic when needed. I like it. But then again, there is nothing as good as playing with a GOOD drummer.

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