Drum Communication

Crash Course For Worship Leaders

I've always considered the drummer to be the musical backbone and leader of the band. The drummer is the cornerstone of the feel, dynamic, and groove of the song. If the drummer is well-prepared, he/she will anticipate the important transitions to different parts of a song, or even from one song to another. This is what separates a good drummer from a great drummer. One of the most common insecurities that other worship leaders have expressed to me is the inability to communicate to the drummer in a rehearsal. There's nothing worse than not being able to communicate what you've practiced and hear in your head. I hope in these next few paragraphs we can take something that feels foreign, and turn it into something that you feel you can confidently articulate.

Identifying the signature pieces of the drum kit used in the song.

Our foundation for effective drum communication begins with identifying patterns. This assumes you know the basic parts of a drum kit - the kick drum, the high tom, the low tom, the snare drum, the ride cymbals, and the hi-hat cymbals.

Identifying signature drum patterns is especially important with worship music because the drums are not typically the feature of the song. So we have to ask ourselves, “What matters most?” For example, the song “Only King Forever (Elevation Worship)” starts out with a signature tom and kick pattern, while the song “You Have Won Me (Bethel Music)” starts out with a signature kick, hi-hat, and snare pattern. Identifying these signature parts will enable you to communicate a general feel to your drummer. As you practice for service, look for repetitive drum patterns in each song.

Identifying Beat Placement.

Most professional drummers understand the subtleties of beat placement. This is so important to the feel of a song. It can make the difference between whether a song feels rushed or like it’s dragging. Essentially, there are three ways of playing in time in any musical situation:

1) ON TOP of the beat - slightly ahead of the metronome click

2) MIDDLE of the beat - perfectly aligned with the metronome click

3) BEHIND the beat - slightlybehind the metronome click

Knowing the difference between these will help you to effectively communicate how you want the song to feel in time.

Communicative Fills.

Just like any other musician, drummers need to see beyond their parts and look at the song as a whole. If they do not understand the vision or proper execution of dynamically transitioning from part to part, you can’t take the song where it’s meant to go. I really believe this can make or break a song. With that being said, a helpful tool is to know the purpose of drum fills.

Simply put, drum fills are for signaling, navigating, and establishing new movements or parts in a song.  Jordan Loftis describes the role of drum fills in this way:

"Drum fills are like blinkers on a car. A responsible driver signals his or her intention to move in a different direction, and indicates which way with that yellow blinker."

An intentional fill indicates that a change in the direction of the music is approaching. It also establishes the mood or feel for the new section. It's vital to communicate the importance of drum fills to your drummer, and how to use them responsibly. I like to call these fills communicative fills, which are simple drum patterns at the end of a phrase. Here are a few great examples of this.

*North Point Music – Always (1:06-1:10) - Coming out of the chorus, the drummer does a very simple drum fill to communicate that he is heading into the next section.

*Kari Jobe - Forever (5:34- 5:37) - it’s coming off of a building section and the drummer makes the build more intense. I like to label these kinds of communicative building fills as “dynamic fills." 

 Some Drum Terms You Should Know:

  • Four On The Floor- The kick is played on all 4 beats on the measure.
  • Ghost Notes - These are notes that are played much quieter than others, which contributes more to the 'feel' of a pattern than to the 'sound.' Ghost notes can be added anywhere in a beat, and can be played on any drum or cymbal. Using ghost notes in basic beats will give the patterns more depth and more groove. Learning how to play these strokes will help you in developing a better feel for your drum sticks as well as your drum kit itself.
  • Rim Shot - Drum strokes in which the stick strikes the rim and the head of the drum simultaneously.

That’s just a few things that can benefit you as you communicate with the drummer. Be sure to set up wins for them; make sure to communicate steps on how to get to where you want, and not just the end goal. Our responsibility as worship leaders is to cast vision by emphasizing each instrument's individual role during our rehearsals. Bring clarity. Give simple and intentional direction to the drummer, and this will help you to develop a common language with him/her.