Drum Solos Rock

By Thor Zollinger, writer/musician/engineer at large.  2017

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of drum music.  I really like the drums, but I’ve noticed something is missing.  Drummers spend their lives wrapped around rhythms and patterns and forget the rest of us can’t always keep up.  Their solos tend to fall on confused ears as we listen to the ever-increasing complexity of the patterns they create.  Yes, they’re making a lot of complex sounds, but my ears are straining to hear a beat I can tap my foot to, or some sort of melodic pattern I can recognize.  I don’t think drummers realize that 99% of their audience just don’t relate very well to what they’re playing.  We don’t really say anything though, we just applaud when the drum solo finishes.  It’s a little bit like the emperor with no clothes, we don’t want to admit when we just don’t quite get it. 

So I went on a crusade looking for melodic drumming.  It’s pretty hard to find.  I went digging through the drummer forums looking for examples of melodic drumming, but instead I found a heated debate on whether the drums are even a melodic instrument at all.  Half of the drummers insisted the drums were NOT a melodic instrument, that melody had no place in percussion!  The other half cited examples of melodic drumming, though a few of the supporters were actually on the fence about the whole thing.  Over half of the drummers in the debate actually thought percussion instruments are incapable of melody?  That floored me.  That discussion made me even more determined to find examples of drum music with a recognizable beat and a bit of melody. 

I did find a few examples of great melodic drumming… The one that really caught my ear was Brent Lewis, a drummer who focusses on the bongo’s, conga’s, and his own custom set of melodic drums.  I don’t even know if his drums have a name, but you can find him easily on YouTube.  Here are a couple of examples.  He sticks to a more tribal drumming style, with a bit of melody rolled into his pieces with his custom set of 20+ melodic drums.

 Brent Lewis

  Master of Melodic Drums 

 Dinner at Sugarbush

Another drummer in the forum discussion was Terry Bozzio, the man with the world’s largest drum kit.  You really need to see this drum kit, it’s mind blowing.  (See below.)  I found his duet with Mike Semerau to be particularly fun to listen to, the two hit a nice syncopated beat with a recognizable rhythm, coupled with a nice melody on the toms on top.  Terry Bozzio used his tuned set of 22 rack-mounted toms to add in the melody while Mike Semerau carried the beat on his more standard drum kit and floor toms.  I also added in a second short example of Terry Bozzio’s solo style in the second video.

 Terry Bozzio & Mike Semerau

 Drum Duet

 Drum Night Pt 2

I have to admit though, even the most melodic drum solo starts to sound a bit monotone after a few minutes.  As a more conventional musician, I find myself wanting to add in a bit more melody than these two expert drummers are using.  Maybe the piece would be a bit more palatable if it had a bass line or a set of chords from an ambient synth patch to support it.  I need to try that out on my own, I just bought a Yamaha RM50 drum synthesizer at a yard sale price.  Maybe I can compose a piece of my own highlighting percussion to try out my new synthesizer to see what it can do.  

Wish me luck!