Thursday, March 8, 2012


In today's post I wanted to talk about a part of the song that prominently features the drums, the aptly named shout section!  This is generally the climax of an arrangement, and is usually the spot where a drummer is given space to cut loose.  Although the conventions of the shout section were developed in big bands, the same ideas can apply to smaller ensembles.  The following are some good general strategies and ideas for playing a great shout.

1.  Study the greats
You may notice that I almost always bring this up whenever I am talking about learning the drums.  That is because not listening to the music you want to play and then expecting it to sound great is like expecting to be able to write poetry if you were raised by a pack of wolves.  How would you even know where to begin?  You have to have a frame of reference, a sound in your ear, before you can really aspire to produce anything great.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but every great drummer in the history of the instrument has spent a considerable amount of time just trying to absorb what previous drummers have done.  If you still need convincing, here is how the great Tony Williams put it:

"You know the reason I play the way I do is because, when I first started playing, all I ever wanted to do was to sound like Max Roach, was to sound like Art Blakey, was to sound like Philly Joe Jones, was to sound like Louis Hayes, was to sound like Jimmy Cobb, was to sound like Roy Haynes. I really wanted to figure out why they sounded the way they did. I wasn’t interested in my own style. So I set about playing like these guys religiously, and playing their style because it was just such a wonderful, magical experience."

That being said, here is a classic example of some great drummers playing great shout sections to get you started:

-Mel Lewis on "The Groove Merchant" (starts around 7:26)

-Ed Thigpen on "Night Train" (starts around 3:42)

-Jeff Hamilton on "Squatty Roo"  (starts around 9:11)

Notice that even though each of these drummers is playing a shout section, they all approach it differently depending on the musical situation and their own personal musical voice.  One thing they have in common is that they all catch and set up the hits with the band, play great fills, all while swinging they're butts off!

2.  Learn the arrangement/song
Many times (although not always) playing situations that involve shout sections will also involve charts.  Your responsibility as a drummer is to get as confident with the arrangements as possible so that you can lead the band through the songs.  This inevitably means memorizing or learning the charts by ear as much as humanly possible.

This guy is about to learn a valuable lesson.
Reading a chart is just like reading a map when you are trying to drive somewhere.  They both can help you make important decisions at key moments, but you still have to keep your eyes on the road and your ears on the music.  If your head is buried in a map when you are trying to drive, you are going to die  Although you probably won't die from having your head buried in a chart, the music will certainly suffer.

Once you know how to get somewhere, you don't need a map anymore, and you can devote your concentration on just driving.  In the same way, the sooner you can get away from the chart and just focus on the music, the better the music will be.

I will post some more advice and exercises for developing shout playing skills in the near future.