In case you don’t know, drum n bass is a kind of electronic music played at some pretty breakneck speeds. It probably reached the height of its popularity in the 90s, but it’s still a great work out for a drummer and it can be quite fun to try and make an acoustic kit sound like an electronic one.
Personally, I associate drum n bass with queuing for Oblivion at Stafforshire’s Alton Towers, which is a badass, vertical-drop rollercoaster made in the 90s that unfortunately dated itself pretty heavily by adding an incredibly monotonous drum n bass loop to the queue and surrounding area, which plays repeatedly at ear-splitting volume to this day! For the none of you who are interested, that music goes like this:
Drum N Bass Kit Set Up
There’s a pretty un-traditional kit set up involved with drum n bass. Most of the beats tend to rely on the kick, a tightly closed hi-hat and a couple of snares of varying tone. One snare needs to be tuned very high to try and match the unnatural tone digitally speeding up a groove achieves. You can also spend a long time tuning your toms to match the key of the track you’re playing but honestly, you won’t get much use out of them as this isn’t a genre that relies on big, beefy fills.
A Few Drum N Bass Grooves Grooves
Drum n bass tends to be on the higher end of the metronome, which is why a lot of the genre’s drum parts are recorded at one tempo and sped up with the magic of computers. If you want to be competition for the computers (and if the popularity of the Terminator franchise tells me anything, it’s that man always sees computers as competition), you’ll have to put in the legwork at a lower tempo.
Drum n bass grooves are heavy on the syncopation, especially with 16th notes. Because of that, if you try and jump straight into a groove at a high tempo, you’ll probably sound sloppy, because the beat division part of your brain won’t be running at full capacity (no offense intended). Being able to place a kick or snare in an unusual place in the bar (compared to rock drumming) while still maintaining the pace is really important.
Start playing these grooves slowly, then up the tempo by 5 or 10BPM every minute or so, being sure to pay close attention to if the 16th notes are landing in the right place.
In this groove, you only have to deal with the occasional 16th note, and they’re mostly on the hi-hat, so it hopefully be nothing new to you. The hi-hat sizzles are just for embellishment and they should absolutely be ignored if they’re throwing you off. You’ll get there, it just takes some familiarity with the beat first.
This groove is me throwing you in the deep end a little bit, as the ghost notes on the snare fall anywhere they damn well feel like falling, which can be tricky. The snare you want to focus on throwing some power behind is the “ah” of beat 2 in the second bar. Synchronising the kick drum and ghosted snare takes a bit of practice too. As with the last beat, ignore the sizzles if they’re throwing you off.
This is a pretty similar beat to the previous one, though drum n bass can get that way. I’ve thrown this one in here to keep you reading and not just falling into a repetitive rut with the last beat in which you’re not really paying enough attention.
As Fast As You Can – Approx. 150 BPM
This is a track by Fiona Apple from the late 90s that utilises drum n bass grooves in a completely different environment. When you think “alternative pop” and “Fiona Apple”, you don’t tend to think “drum n bass”, but here we are.
It’s a great beat by Matt Chamberlain and there are a bunch of other good beats in the song, so it’s worth checking out, but this is the one we’re focussing on.
If you’re familiar with funk, hip hop, breakbeat or just about any other genre of music, you’ve heard this beat before. In fact, I’ve even written about it before, but it’s worth repeating.
This groove was played by Clyde Stubblefield on the James Brown track, Funky Drummer. It’s a beat with a heckuva lot of soul and humanity, so it’s difficult to replicate perfectly with notation software.
The drum break of Funky Drummer was sampled so much that it’s appeared on millions of tracks, and if you speed it up enough, you’ll hear its influence on drum n bass drumming. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s hilarious to me, so please forgive me for repeating myself: Funky Drummer is the sped up, drum n bass beat in the Powerpuff Girls theme tune. We owe Clyde Stubblefield the world.
As far as playing this beat at 160BPM goes, it’s hard as all hell. I have to take out the hi-hats that land on the same beat as a ghosted snare and can still only get kind of close. Good luck!