As a younger drummer, I found a whole new world when I was exposed to something called Linear Grooves. I was stuck in a world where the hi-hat remained steady, constant and predictable. I was desperate for something different and new – only I didn’t know it until I experimented with this cool concept. What I found wasn’t even really new at all, but it did open up a world of possibilities.
If we think of a traditional, simple straight ahead drum groove – be it rock or funk and so on – we might have the hi-hat playing 8th notes whilst the bass drum and snare drum layer underneath. So many styles have a similar make up to this – albeit different rhythms and feels, but there’s one thing that remains common between all of them. Any ideas? Just in case you didn’t guess, here it is. All the parts layer on top of one another or sound at the same time at one point or another in the groove – bass drum with the hi-hat and so on. A linear groove is the complete opposite. Nothing overlaps – one sound at a time. Always.
Now, a simple way to get into this is to take the single paradiddle (RLRR LRLL). If you apply the Linear Groove rule, it’s easy to see that nothing overlaps in that sticking but without the bass drum or suitable application, it’s just a rudiment; hardly a great groove. Now, most of us may have played a paradiddle groove between the hi-hats and the snare drum and layered the bass drum underneath but what if we actually replaced parts of the paradiddle with the bass drum instead? (See Figure A). Now we have a similar type of groove but one with a little less predictability to the ear. You could replace any part of it, accent in different places and use any of the other paradiddles in a similar way.
One of the world’s greatest drummers and one of my personal favourites, Steve Gadd, uses linear grooves in many ways but a particular example that demonstrates the idea perfectly is shown in Figure B. Following on from using paradiddle and substituting in bass drum notes, Gadd uses the same idea, with parts of the paradiddle in 16th note triplet subdivisions, giving us groups of six notes. You can see the same sticking through out – KLRRLK but Gadd replaces the bass drum on the start of beat two with an accented snare drum in the right hand to give the backbeat. This really makes it groove. The full sticking becomes – KLRRLK RLRRLK. You can clearly see the paradiddle within the sticking but the bass drums fill in the gaps and make it fit within the subdivision. Again, the scope here is huge. You could even play the original idea at Figure A over the 16th subdivisions in Figure B. Go nuts!
Let’s take a look at some other examples of Linear Grooves. In Figure C, I’ve used a very simple (perhaps the most common also) form of linear sticking. It’s a simple 3-note sticking – RLK – played over 16th notes. I’ve put the sticking between the hi-hat, snare and bass drum; this makes it sound ‘groove-like’ but you could also move the idea around the drums for an interesting fill or start the groove on the hi-hat or the snare and incorporate accents or other parts of the drum kit within the groove for other sound options.
Lastly, Figure D is a very well known Afro Cuban groove for the drumset called Songo. It also just happens to be a great Linear Groove in its basic form. It’s a great combination of accents and non-accents with displaced bass drum notes. Interestingly though, the hi-hat actually plays a steady quarter note pulse. Moving on from this, Figure E is actually a groove I devised based on the vibe of the Songo. It’s not an official Latin groove but it’s an influenced groove and follows the principles of being Linear. Nothing overlaps and to make things interesting, it’s chopping and changing over the kit and the right hand is playing the rim of the second tom so the overall sound is very unpredictable and interesting. It also incorporates a paradiddle for a little icing on the top.
The challenge when playing Linear Grooves is that, due to the absence of a distinct time keeper in the form of a steady hi-hat or bass drum on the down beat, keeping the tempo can be difficult. In addition to this, there may not be a clear backbeat so you may find knowing where you are in the bar more challenging. Practicing to a metronome really helps, so even if something feels weird, you can be sure that you’re in the right spot.
As mentioned, these types of grooves can really open up some interesting possibilities for developing more vocabulary on the drums. The beautiful thing is that since they are simply one note at a time, you can literally make them up on the spot. There are no rules and anything goes. Check these grooves out and then make up your own. Enjoy!