In between shows with the bands I play with, and/or if there’s a bit of a break in the flurry of activity, as part of my practice I’ll pick a handful of cover tunes to work through. I find this helps me emulate playing with a band; a skill all to itself really, just as important (if not more so) as mechanical technique, rudiments and stickings, especially if your focus is performing within a band context. I pick songs for different reasons; sometimes there’s an interesting groove or feel I want to explore, maybe some challenging fills or patterns, and often it’s just because they’re fun tunes to play along to.
As any drummer I have many, many influences but identify with a short list of specific drummers that really made an impact on my playing at some stage. We all have those, players that affected us is such a lasting way technically, feel, motivation or emotionally, that you listen and absorb everything you can about their playing in an attempt to understand what they did or how they approached their drum craft. This is the way with all arts and skilled crafts and I never intend of ~not~ viewing myself as a student of everything.
When I first heard Scott Rockenfield of Queensryche way back in 1983/84, everything changed for me. I was already in to more “progressive” music like RUSH and Iron Maiden, but there was something uniquely innovative, regal and orchestrated about his drumming, it spoke to me at that unknown deeper level that only music and rhythmic vibration can. Scott Rockenfield became one of my main drum inspirations and influences during my formative years. I remember back in the 80’s playing and creating with my band at the time, thinking, “Hmmm, what would Scott do here ?”
So, the past week as I was pondering some new songs to play through, Queensryche’s “Rage for Order” 1986 release popped up on my iPod (one of my fav QR releases to be honest). Sweet ! So I decided, you know what, I’m gonna play through the entire release and not just ‘play over’ the songs, but make it a task to really analyze the parts as played to pick up some Rockenfield gems.
One song that immediately grabbed me was “The Whisper”. I’ve linked a live version from 2014 below, this song captures the genius of Scott Rockenfield. The song itself is in 6/8 (however you choose to count or feel it) but the manner in which Scott and band phrases the 6 is bloody brilliant and creates an aural texture that belies how creative music can be in conveying a feeling or thought.
Normally in a 6/8 vibe, drummers play straight 8ths on the hihat or ride, 1-2-3 4-5-6 (1-ta-ta 2-ta-ta) with a snare downbeat on 4 and kick on 1 and 6 – a common variation is accenting the start of each triplet grouping, the 1 and 4 on the hihat or ride for a half-time feel. That’s the deal, if you open the universal drummer rule book it says, ‘If playing 6/8, do straight 8th notes on the hihat or ride, the accepted alternative is 1 and 4, the beginning of each 3 note triplet group’. That’s just how it works, lol.
What does Scott Rockenfield do in “The Whisper” ? He plays a 2, 4 and 6 pulse !. He’s playing the ‘upbeats’ on his hihat in the verse, which takes some practice to do in a 6/8 groove while maintaing the same kick and snare pattern. It’s quite clever and creates a unique feel within a common time signature. Besides the defacto 4/4, the 6/8 is probably the most common signature in rock/blues based music.
As you listen to the verse sections below pay attention to how ‘stuttered’ and ‘choppy’ it feels as the guitars and bass accent just a few beats, it creates a tense anticipation in the song as it moves forward. Then as the verse transitions to the chorus, Scott Rockenfield moves back to a more tradition feel accenting 1 and 4. That verse-chorus transition itself makes it feel like the song opens up and releases any tension stored up during the verse, like a building orgasm hitting the point of no return and releasing. (ha ! – had to put that in there). Post chorus, Scott does a tasty ride pattern to gradually make a transition back to the ‘choppy’ upbeat 2, 4 and 6 in the verse.
It’s all very subtle, but holy crap, how amazingly creative and a great example of how a slight phrasing difference can make a huge difference if a band is open to being a bit more creative.
Queensryche “The Whisper” LIVE HD 2014