Linear grooves, or melodic grooves are patterns in which no two drums or cymbals are played simultaneously. Just like non-linear grooves, linear grooves can be played by as few as 2 limbs and as many as 4. In non-linear grooves we’re often keeping time with one limb, usually the hi hat or ride cymbal with the right hand, while constructing rhythmic phrases between 2 or 3 other limbs. In rock/pop drumming for example the bass (right foot) and snare (left hand) usually provide most of the rhythmic interest while the hi hat or ride keep time. This is not usually the case with linear grooves, and the lack of a constant pulse provided by one limb not only provides a deeper layer of rhythmic interest, but it also demands more accurate subdivisions from the drummer, as well as a clearer dynamic contrast between accents and ghost notes.
This article will explore just one method which I use to construct linear grooves, both in simple and compound time before demonstrating some such grooves with notation and video excerpts.
The "Random" Method
This is definitely one of my favourite ways of constructing linear funk grooves as it involves taking something random (within certain parameters) and making it sound musical. The idea is as follows;
Decide on a subdivision eg. semi-quavers (16th notes) or quaver triplets (8th note triplets).
Place a snare on the backbeat. This could be a regular backbeat on 2 and 4, or you could displace one of the notes to make it sound more funky.
Start randomly filling in each subdivision of your beat using as many limbs as you like (this exercise works best with 3 or 4 limbs). For example if your subdivision is semiquavers (16th notes) you'll need to fill in 16 notes (minus the 2 snare drum backbeat notes we already filled in). Of course you may want to create a more broken groove and leave certain notes of your subdivision out, though this is something that I would do afterwards.
To make this exercise easier try not to repeat any limb more than twice in a row.
If, like me, you struggle to think completely randomly, you could use a random generator such as www.wheeldecide.com to help you.
Once you have your groove notated it might look something like this.
The next step is to begin understanding your groove from a musical perspective rather than just a randomly generated series of notes. Here are some steps which will help you do this.
Step 1 - play slowly separating each crotchet (1/4 note) beat, then each 2 beat chunk.
Step 2 - think about articulation (accents, ghost notes, rimshots, tap strokes etc.)
Step 3 - play each component (limb) in isolation. This is what makes a linear groove so special - by its very nature each component is completely independent from the other components of the groove. While I usually encourage my students to play the right hand lightly in a non-linear groove I certainly wouldn’t for a linear one - every limb is playing an interesting pattern and I want to be able to hear them all. The depth in a linear groove comes from the articulation and rhythmic interest of each component, not from a collective rhythm.
Step 4 - increase tempo.
Though doing so will technically mean that your groove is no longer linear, you might also want to add a pulse in your 4th limb (assuming your groove is a 3 way pattern). This will add momentum to your groove and will help you to relate everything back to the pulse that you should be keeping in your head while playing. Here are some examples of linear grooves created by my students following the above method.
I love how the snare drum plays continuous 8th notes towards the end of this groove. The articulation here is incredibly important!
Notice how playing the right hand on different surfaces (cowbell, hi hats or a some stacked cymbals) created a unique effect.
Starting at beat 3 it sounds like the notes are grouped in 5s with the cowbell playing the 1st and 3rd note of each grouping.
Try to detect patterns in each groove - paradiddles, double strokes, 3s, 5s etc. For example, in exercise 2 (Gabriel Moore's groove) the hi hat notes towards the end of the groove create a grouping that sounds like 5s. Exercise 1 always has a paradiddle after the backbeat (LRLL). Being aware of these patterns will help you to play them with purpose.
Once you've created a vocabulary of linear patterns in your chosen subdivision (semiquavers/16th notes in this case) I'd recommend trying to improvise linear phrases. Remember, all improvising really means is taking cells of music that you've played before and playing them spontaneously. This could be using continuous semiquavers, or you might want to play a non-linear groove and improvise small (1 or 2 beat) linear chunks every so often to add a bit of spice to your groove.
Of course your target should be to feel equally free improvising linear patterns in 16ths as you are in any other subdivision, so maybe try a compound groove next and give 8th note triplets a go.
I'd love to hear any grooves you create using this method. Either email them over to me or if you share them on social media tag me (facebook and instagram @brendanbachedrums).