Reflections On Shelly Manne : Chapter 10
By David Barsalou
Shelly Manne (1920-1984) was a historically important jazz drummer most associated with the ‘West Coast Jazz’ style. Shelly was so versatile that he also played on hundreds of Hollywood movie, and television soundtracks. Shelly’s extensive discography is amazing. The list of musicians he has played, or recorded with is literally mind-boggling.
Not So Modern Drummer writer/columnist David Barsalou asked internationally recognized drummers Donn Bennett, Steve Crabtree, Ronn Dunnett, and Gary Stevens to share their ideas and opinions on the following quote attributed to Shelly Manne.
Shelly Manne said...
"The ride beat is the easiest and the most difficult thing a drummer will ever play".
As a rock drummer we focus a lot of our attention on the snare and kick. In rock music the hi-hat and ride are often played very loose and open, you could even say “sloppy" (listen to Ringo Starr, Keith Moon or John Bonham) which could give the mistaken impression that they aren’t pivotal to the structure or groove of the music.
As a young drummer, I considered the hi-hat and ride as almost an after thought. It took me many years of study and extremely close scrutiny to realize that the entire groove revolves around the stick pattern being played on the hi-hat or ride. This is the absolute starting point for the groove. Everything else is structured around the ride or hi-hat pattern. The simplicity of these patterns is misleading. Most of the time this pattern is extremely basic, usually straight quarter or eighth notes, but it's the minuscule nuances in this pattern that dictate the way the groove, and thus the song, feels. Every drummer will play a little differently. It’s those minuscule differences that really create a drummer’s “fingerprint”.
When I play the drums now I’d estimate that 80% of my attention is focused on my hi-hat and ride. The remaining 20% is focused on the rest of the kit and the rest of the band. Sometimes it’s the “simplest” things that are the hardest to understand.
The ride beat is the rhythm which drives a song from one measure to the next. A well placed beat with dynamics and accents will carry the listener on a musical journey among wonderful sounding drums and cymbals. A ride beat isn’t necessarily leading with the hands on a ride cymbal/snare. It could be scaled from a hi-hat or two drums at the same time to create an ebb and flow gliding on top, in the middle, and to the bottom of a song within each measure.
Sterile computer drum software has taken away the magic and human touch of the ride beat on many modern recordings and demos. Simplistic bread and butter ride beats will bring home the bacon time and time again.
To give an example of a classic ride beat, listen to any number of songs with Simon Kirkes’ drumming or Charlie Watts on Midnight Rambler. The idea is not how many beats you can get into a measure, but to flow with the structure of the song from beginning to end.
I have loved the drums ever since I first heard Sandy Nelson’s “Let There Be Drums” around 1962. I also received my first snare drum, which was held together with springs. All of the things I’ve learned along the way have led to furthering my efforts in the Beat Boogie Quality Custom Drum line. www.beatboogie.com
Drums - like anything we do in life - follow the very simple logic of the game of chess : What takes a few minutes to learn can take a lifetime to master.
Drumming (indeed the drums themselves) are all about subtleties -what can easily be identified and understood cannot always be easily executed and therein lies the beauty of art and music.
If you were to ask someone to draw a straight line, they would likely, in a swift motion, pull the stylus across the page. A reasonably straight line appears, taking little time, thought, or effort. Ask the same person to draw a circle, and there's no simple way to do it accurately. It takes time, aim, and focus. And it probably will be quite imperfect-a little bulge here, a little pinch there. Circles are hard to do perfectly. Lines are science, circles are art. Lines are simple and direct. Circles are complex, and if drawn without a guide, interpreted.
It's quite similar in terms of the ride beat: the quarter notes on the one and three can be (and this is especially true with classically trained players) very direct and measured. It's the figure on the two and four, whether read as a dotted eighth and sixteenth, or a triplet with a silent "an", that requires interpretation. It's a circular form and because of this, gives the ride beat its forward motion. A ride beat moves itself ever forward, like a bicycle rolling along. And this part of the phrase, like the circle compared to the line, is where both the "hardest" and "easiest" parts lie. When played with fluidity it is rolling; a beautiful study of motion, grace and power. When played stiffly, it's like a mechanical device. Boring. Metallic. Uninteresting.
The great swing players, especially those born along the Mississippi, the cradle of American Music, probably never read a ride beat notation. It was in the air from their earliest memories and provided the sonic background for every event, happy and sad. It's an organic and instinctive feel that has to be experienced and absorbed, not taught through rote. It is not dissimilar to verbally trying to teach someone who has never ridden a bike, how they will balance themselves when every instinct is telling them that when their feet leave the ground in search of the pedals, gravity will make them fall. Except that the gravity is supported on the smallest part of a rolling wheel. Motion makes it work and makes the magic.
The ride beat and the bicycle both require motion to sustain themselves. Both are circles and you can't draw a circle without motion. But get it moving and it's easy. Easy as riding a bike!