Crafting Drum Parts for Original Songs (part 3)


Part 1 and part 2 of this series dealt primarily with the theory & thought process behind crafting drum parts. Now it’s time to dissect some specific examples. “Pentatonic Playground”, an instrumental of mine, will be the example used in part 3. I’ve chosen one of my songs for a specific reason. Since I made every decision for every part of this arrangement, I have the best possible insight into why each choice was made. Hopefully, that insight makes for a better, more informative tutorial. You’ll have to be the final judge of that!

Choosing A Direction

"Pentatonic Playground" is a rock-alternative instrumental. It was never meant to have mainstream appeal. I fully intended to create something that was very different. I'm telling you this because, as a writer or a drummer, it's important to understand where you're trying to go with an arrangement.

Simply put, you can't accomplish a goal, without first having one.

Knowing that I was striving for uniqueness, provided me with a basic direction. Even though I didn't have specific drum parts in mind yet, I understood that I probably couldn't achieve uniqueness by utilizing cookie-cutter drum parts. I needed to stretch my creative muscles & think outside-the-box. I'm no stranger to outside-the-box!


About The Song

1) The structure of the song is pretty basic.

verse / chorus / bridge / verse / double- chorus /ending

2) My songs generally evolve from one of the following starting points:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

This particular song grew from a riff/pattern that I stumbled upon while practicing stretch-form scale patterns. Major pentatonic patterns to be exact, hence the title of the song. All of the verse & chorus guitar parts are based entirely on variations of that pattern in the key of G. The bridge varies from that format slightly, utilizing full chord forms rather than single & double note combinations.

3) Even though unique was the overall goal here, a contrast in feel & flow from section-to-section, often makes for a more interesting song. Contrast was part of my plan. Some song sections (the verses) would have a decidedly unique feel, while others would employ a more comfortable feel & flow.


Breaking It Down

I've given you some background information on the song and a general overview of what I intended. Now it's time to break it down into specifics, section-by-section. I'll try to provide you with insights into what decisions were made and why.


The Verse

- Rather than construct a separate introduction for this song, I started it with the distinctive guitar riff/pattern that inspired it to begin with. The pattern does a nice job of setting up the unusual feel I wanted. The following video briefly demonstrates that riff.

- I was interested in establishing a fairly consistent flow throughout the verses, so I didn't build the drums. They simply begin, along with the riff & remain constant throughout the entire verse section.

- I decided on a 2-measure beat, set in 4/4 time. I'll talk a bit more about the characteristics of this beat after I've demonstrated it for you. It utilizes cymbal bell, snare & bass drum. Snare & bass drum were components from the start, but I did consider options for the right-hand element. I tried high-hat, but it seemed overly staccato. Full ride cymbal was too ringy and lacked the high-end clarity I desired. Cymbal bell seemed the best choice. It sounded crisp & distinctive, yet subtle. Here's a brief video demonstration of that intro/verse beat.

Here's how it looks in written form.

Measure 1
1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a
Cymbal Bell 1 & a 2 3 4 & a
Snare Drum &
Bass Drum 1 & 4
Measure 2
1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a
Cymbal Bell 1 2 3 4
Snare Drum & & 4 & a
Bass Drum & 3

- I'd like to talk a bit more about the characteristics of this 2 measure pattern. Unlike more traditional beats, there is no snare on primary counts 2 & 4, except at the end of each 2nd measure grouping. The bell line is mostly 1/4 notes, but is sprinkled with sporadic 16th notes. The end result is a pattern with a half-time feel. When played in combination with the verse guitar riff, it creates the impression of circular flow. This end effect is a direct result of it's unusual structure. Let's look at it from a slightly different perspective for a moment. Even though I wrote it as 2 - 4/4 measures, it could also be viewed as 2 - 3/4 measures, followed by 1 - 2/4 measure. Those consecutive 3/4 measures give it that circular (revolving) flow characteristic. The final 2/4 measure adds a resolved/finalized feel to it every 8 counts. However we chose to view it, the bottom line is this. It contributes to the song in a positive way and works nicely with the other verse elements. I know you've heard me say this before, but your final measuring stick always needs to be how the individual element impacts the song as a whole. In this particular case, it's win-win. The pattern is pretty cool & it works well within the context of the song.

- In addition to what's shown on the chart, 3 cymbal crashes were used. One marks the entry of a lead guitar melody, a 2nd marks the exit and a 3rd is combined with a roll & utilized at the end of the verse section. The roll fills an intentionally vacant musical space and also serves to indicate/announce the coming change into the chorus section. The final crash following the roll, marks/accents the actual point of that change. As you can see, every element is there for a reason.


The Chorus

My intent was for the overall momentum of this song to pick up at the choruses. They're intended to represent the high point of this song's energy & drive. In part, I accomplished that by shifting the drum track into a more traditional sounding, straight-time structure. The primary guitar parts also change tremendously. The chorus guitars create a smoother, more traditionally melodic flow. They lack that busy, dysfunctional feel generated by the verse guitar arrangement. The following video demonstrates the basic guitar progression used in the choruses. Hopefully, it'll gives you a clearer picture of what I've been attempting to describe.

The chorus section drums are essentially made-up of two, 2-measure beat patterns...sprinkled with roll/crash combinations. Below, I've listed some of the specific choices made & connected them to various concepts discussed back in parts 1 & 2 of this tutorial.

- The 1st roll/crash combination fills a space, adds variety to the drum line and announces entry

into the second half of the chorus section.

- The 2nd roll/crash combination fills a space, adds variety and announces/marks the beginning of a new song section - "the bridge".

- Overall, crashes are used more frequently in the chorus sections. They re-enforce accents, add color and assist in raising the energy level & volume.

The following video demonstrates the basic drum patterns used for the chorus sections.

The Bridge

In an effort to keep this tutorial a reasonable length, I'm going to give you a brief, overall view of the final song sections. After that, I'll provide you with a direct link to a streaming mp3 of the actual song. That'll allow you to hear the finished drum track within the context of completed arrangement.

The bridge section arrives immediately after the first chorus. The drum part consists of variations on the chorus patterns. There's not a dramatic change in the feel of the drums here....just a subtle one. This is the only section of the song that's intended to have a truly melodic, flowing, pretty feel to it. The melodic instruments in the bridge arrangement are used to create that distinctive feel. The bridge drums weren't supposed to stand out. They simply needed to blend into the background & work well with everything else.


Summary of 2nd Verse / Final Choruses & Ending

- Basic beat patterns are almost identical to their earlier counterparts.

- Since I didn't add much variation with the beat patterns themselves, I got it done in other ways. Several new elements were added to these final sections. They helped me achieve the variety, color & additional momentum that I wanted.

1) Intermittent breaths were introduced in the 2nd verse

2) A tambourine track was added at the beginning of the final chorus sections. Once introduced, both the tambourine & breath elements remained in.

3) The final choruses & ending are interlaced with additional rolls & crashes, which assist in raising the overall momentum & drive of these sections.


The Finished Song

As promised, here's the direct link to "Pentatonic Playground"

Thank you for your continued interest in these tutorials! Please remember that your feedback & suggestions are always welcome.

Discuss this article in our Music Forum.


About Tom Hoffman

tom_hoffman_300Tom Hoffman currently lives in the Midwestern section of the USA. He started playing drums at the age of 13. That began the first phase of his musical journey. Seven months later he joined his first band. From that moment on, he was hooked! By age 15, he was functioning as both a drummer & a singer. At 16, like many other aspiring musicians, he began teaching in conjunction with local drum shop programs. From age 20 to age 23, he was one of the founding members of a band called "Nickels". During that period, Nickels was a common fixture throughout the local club circuit. The band was also given the opportunity to serve as opening act for a number of national groups appearing at local concert venues. At age 23, for various reasons, he decided to end the first part of his musical journey. He left Nickels, sold all his equipment and stopped playing altogether.

.....anyway, onward & upward into Phase #2. Apparently, Tom never lost the itch to play an active part in music. At age 40, he was looking to scratch that itch. He had something different in mind this time though......not performance.....writing. He'd always wanted to become more involved in the creative end of things, so that was the goal this time. One small problem though.....he lacked all of the skills, knowledge and equipment necessary to make it happen. That didn't turn out to be an insurmountable obstacle though. Over the next 2 years, he went about the task of addressing his musical shortcomings. By age 42 he had achieved a reasonable level of competency as a drummer, guitarist and bass player. He had also managed to acquire a fundamental knowledge of both music theory & home recording.

Tom is now 56. For the past 14 years he's been primarily an amateur singer-songwriter, but has never lost the passion for his first love....drums. He's still an active drummer and intends to continue in that capacity. In recent years, many of his songs have achieved various levels of recognition in international writing contests. He's been a finalist, a 6-time semi-finalist and a runner-up. He has also received a number of honorable mentions, but has yet to win. "Winning" is still a work-in-progress. For anyone interested, the following link contains a detailed breakdown of the award results. Tunesmith Awards.


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The composer, as in old China, joins Heaven and Earth with threads of sounds.”
Alan Hovhaness