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Swinging Without Drums

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Who da Ville, Mar 1, 2014.

  1. I've been practicing with a 5-piece jazz combo for several weeks. We had two percussionists (drums & hand percussion) and things were really starting to come together. Then both percussionists left the band within a week of each other for personal reasons.

    We're in a small coastal community, so getting a new drummer isn't likely to happen in the near future. So, we're trying to make it as a drumless trio (keys, guitar, and URB).

    My skill level is intermediate at best, and I really haven't played a lot of jazz in the past.

    I'm a real analytical type, so I'm trying to go at this systematically: What are the components of a swing rhythm, which components normally are provided by the drum, and how can we make up for that without drums?

    I know that drummers do a lot to fill in the rhythms, but it seems to me that the unique contribution of the drums to the swing rhythm is to provide the 2 & 4 beat with the hi-hat, & sometimes snare. But if I'm missing something, I'd appreciate an education.

    I'm curious if any of you have experience in swinging without drums, and how you approached the problem of filling in the components of the swing rhythm without one of the key rhythm instruments.

    I've been searching on the internet for links, & have found some useful tutorials on swing rhythms & the role of the drums, but nothing on how to swing without drums.

    Thanks for any input.
  2. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    It's almost always better without a drummer.
  3. yeah man
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Everybodys time has to be solid without a drummer, especially yours as the bassist.

    I'd look through all the threads on improving your time and working with a metronome. I'd also look at learning a little drumming and get that voice going in the back of your head while you play.
  5. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    As Huy said, playing without a drummer works best and is most fun when everyone keeps their own time. But that's really true in all cases. I enjoy playing with and without a drummer, it just depends on the other players.
    A basic thing that you probably already know but I'll mention just in case, is that the pulse of the swing rhythm is the eighth note triplet, each quarter note divided into three even eighths. Playing on those triplets can help remind everyone of that pulse and can help give the music a sense of forward motion. Try listening to some Ray Brown to hear an good example. Ray did some duo work that makes it very clear, I think.
  6. ctrlzjones


    Jul 11, 2013
    It seems to be common knowledge the timing is Jazz secret ingredient.

    It seems to be also the source for the vitality one can find in this music, the ground for all the invisible things going on between the people.

    So you really have to get independent from each other in order to start talking. I find this the biggest difference from e. g. 'Rock', where everybody is telling the same story.

    There has been written a lot about swing; lately the most interesting point was coming from Michael Longo who has a different explanation for the phenomen, one that is rooted in polyrhythm. It is not a triplet interpretation that makes the swing. It is taught, but is only an approximation to the real thing. Instead the placement of the notes it is a result of something 'in between'. So Michael has come up with things like that:


    I think it was Rufus Reid who said in one of his instructional videos: "leave the drummer alone, he doesn't need you sitting on his shoulders, he's got his on problems."

    For rehearsing 'internal timing' I set the metro to make a noise on only one beat every measure , or two (three for five) measures and than move that beat around in my head, while I am playing. Having it on the 1, the 2, the 3, the four … I have not come to the eight note values yet …
    This helped me a lot to built up this 'inner pulse' that is always there, even when one is not playing.

    It is a misconception to assume that the drummers job in Jazz is 'holding the beat'. He is playing around with it as everybody else is …

    It is also very efficient to listen closely to recordings to become aware of all the subtle things that are going with the timings, how the notes are dragged from their clockwise 'correct position'.
  7. Thanks for the responses. I have a few comments/follow-up questions.

    "It's almost always better without a drummer."

    I'm not arguing, but the my question is 'why', and what should the combo members keep in mind to make it that way.

    "So you really have to get independent from each other in order to start talking. I find this the biggest difference from e. g. 'Rock', where everybody is telling the same story."

    This comment helps me. Sort of like turning my question around. I was focusing on 'what is the role of the drummer & how do we fill in the role without a drummer'. Maybe another way to look at it is from the standpoint of polyrhythms. If the different players are playing different rhythmic patterns, it should swing?

    Of course I still think that I need to focus on my role (job) as a bass player, to make sure that isn't lacking…one thing I've been really focusing on lately (as suggested by a post in this thread) is providing more of a 3-feel while pounding out quarter notes in my walking bass lines.

    I checked out some of the Ray Brown duo recordings as suggested. Wow! I think I started on my instrument too late in life to even hope to develop such a level of skill. I haven't fully figured out what they're doing (and maybe never will). With other drumless groups I've been studying, I've noticed that either the piano or guitar will provide a chop on the 2 & 4 while the other is soloing (filling in for the missing hi-hat, if you will). But with the Ray Brown duo recordings, it seems like the bass and piano are alternating hitting the 2/4 on different measures. Intricate polyrhythms with just too instruments, probably without even thinking about it.

    Unfortunately, I have to think about it, and appreciate all of your tips & pointers.
  8. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    It's not better without a drummer. It's different and more challenging. There's a lot more room for cool stuff but it's also a lot easier for it to completely fall apart.

    My interpretation: the drummer helps keep time, tho the bassist is the primary time keeper. They add drama and excitement to a performance in a way none of the other instruments can. They don't start the fire, but they def make it burn hotter.
  9. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    Well said. A GOOD drummer adds an entirely different dimension to the conversation. POOR drummers distract all but the most vigilant.
    Still, playing without drummers can be fun. I don't think I'd worry so much about replacing what the drummer is playing and instead concentrate more on how you can help articulate the groove. With more seasoned bands, you can play less, but with less experienced players, laying down a solid quarter note pulse with triplet accents is probably best, IMO. Half notes and whole notes might be best avoided. At least, that's been my experience. It's usually pretty obvious when the time falls apart on a ballad that you were playing in two. Playing in four usually brings the time feel back, in my experience.
  10. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    I'd say it also depends on what/how you're playing. The interpretation of swing varies depending on the style/band/musician.Ever noticed how some people play this very heavy accents on 2 and 4 while others play them almost even, like in a march?

    Try this:

    Without worrying about coming up with an "interesting" bass line, just play the root of each chord, quarter notes. Focus on rhythm, how long/short are your notes, how strong are your accents, etc. find what works for you/your band.

    Music is a language and, as in any other language, there's stuff that's hard to put into writing. If you were to transcribe a walking bass line, the paper would probably be nothing but quarter notes up and down the key, right? If you gave that transcription to someone who had no idea of "swing" he'd probably play all the notes right but it wouldn't sound "right". What I'm trying to say is that there's more information in the notes that you play than only pitch and duration.

    Also, LISTEN. If you pay close atention to what everybody else is playing, you will KNOW what you need to play, you'll know where your place in the mix is and how to fill it.
  11. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
  12. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Lots of good advice above.

    For me it's not about 'filling in the missing components' but really working with the band that is on the stand. Playing a piano / horn / DB trio IS different from DB and [insert two different instruments here]. Don't minimize the difference -- embrace it!

    You just encountered this material for the first time and you aren't immediately at that Hall-of-Fame level? Safe to say that this is not cause for concern.

    Like everyone else who is not Ray Brown you will not achieve the goal of sounding like Ray Brown. With that out of the way you can focus on an achievable goal, which would be learning from Ray Brown. You'll have plenty of company on that quest!
  13. ctrlzjones


    Jul 11, 2013

    this is pure gold.
    thank you, I wasn't aware of that Ellington/Brown duo ...
    and such a nice hat too ...
  14. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    It shouldn't be different without a drummer.

    This is where you find out if everyone in the group has good time. When everyone has great time, great things happen because no one is a crutch.

    IF you want better time, get hip to Mike Longo's The Rhythmic Nature of Jazz.
  15. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    That's right until it's wrong.

    The chemistry is completely different if you add or remove a single person. If it isn't, you're probably not playing jazz or maybe any other style of music for that matter.

    Cept maybe when all the players play like ****, then I guess you still end up with a ****** product in the end. Just different shades of brown. :meh:
  16. Thanks to everyone for the posts and links. You've given my a lot to chew on. You guys Roc….um….I mean…You guys Swing!
  17. pnchad

    pnchad Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2005
    I didn't notice

    someone on TB has the standard quote on all his posts;

    "It takes a great drummer to be better than no drummer" (I paraphrase) Chet Baker

    if you read his bio he would often work without a drummer but always had a bassist

    it depends on the gig & tunes