How to Arrange the Perfect Drum Part for a Song
Creating an appropriate, complimentary drum arrangement for a song that you’ve been given can be a daunting task, but it is often given too little consideration by drummers and songwriters, as well. Although the most important outcome when deciding on a groove that best fits a song is that the songwriter be happy, it is very satisfying for the drum part to be “specific” to that song, meaning that it contains elements that make it inseparable from that particular composition.
Here is my step-by-step method for arranging a meaningful drum part.
Step One: Focused Listening
Just get an initial “feel” for the tune without any preconceived notions…maybe even jot down a few notes about what you’re thinking (for later reference). These notes might help you focus on an idea that you would otherwise never consider.
Step Two: Chart the song.
Listen and write out the measures for each section: intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, etc. Knowing the “road map” of the song will clarify your task better than simply listening repeatedly. As a matter of fact, it will supercharge the listening you do afterwards, accelerating the process of “coloring” the song.
Step Three: Develop a few approaches.
Create 2 or 3 different feels or ideas to play the entire song, with little or variation or fills (yet). This step will force you to think more critically about the possibilities available to you.
Step Four: Think of similar songs.
Draw on your experience and knowledge of music. Use any hint of similarity to a song you already know to “borrow” an idea as a jumping off point…or rip it off verbatim! *This is a perfect opportunity to discuss the importance of listening to as much music as you can. Don’t confine yourself to specific styles. Be a sponge!
Step Five: Discuss your ideas with the other musicians and the songwriter.
Finally, you can present your choices to the people that matter. Sometimes, the feedback you get will send you in a completely different direction. If you’ve prepared with the method I’ve described, your brainstorming will be productive and increase your reputation as a thoughtful musician among your peers.
There you go. You’re all set to craft a significant, meaningful drum accompaniment to an original song (or a new arrangement of an old song). It might be to play at your next gig or it might be to record with an artist that just hired you. Either way, it is an opportunity to showcase your professionalism while also having some fun taking part in the creative process. Regardless, remember that it is essential to be both prepared and flexible.