If you understand the principles of what you’re trying to do, only then will you come up with solutions yourself. – Benny Greb

A drummer presents the building blocks of rhythm using a language-based approach.

Taking a rhythmic approach to music creation involves analyzing and composing all parts of a song using rhythmic sensibilities. One of the essential steps to this process is having a grasp of music’s fundamental patterns. There are a number of ways in which to learn them, but there’s perhaps no better place to start than The Language of Drumming by Benny Greb.

Greb, a drummer and clinician, explains that rhythms and languages share similarities in terms of how they are constructed. We can learn patterns, the components of rhythm, in the same way that we learn letters and words to form phrases. With Greb’s language based approach, the complexity of rhythm is steadily unraveled, and becomes much more accessible to anyone who has the ability to speak and spell words.

Greb describes the universal benefit of this approach:

The material will give you the freedom to decode a lot of the other educational material out there, and… you will find the ideas and concepts in this book present in all the music that surrounds you.

A total of twenty four basic rhythm patterns exist (sixteen patterns in duple time and eight patterns in triplet time). The patterns serve the same purpose as the letters of the alphabet. In isolation, a pattern doesn’t hold much significance, but when combined with other patterns, rhythmic ‘words and phrases’ can be formed.

The material begins with the two most commonly used time signatures or ‘time feels’ in popular music, duple time (referred to as binary) and triplet time (referred to as ternary). Focusing our attention on these two time signatures enables us to navigate the majority of music out there, as well as prepare us for more challenging patterns.

Applying these patterns to favorite songs can help to better understand how rhythms interact, not only for drums and percussion, but other instrument parts as well.

Elaborating on this point, Greb says:

This book will not only enable you to play differently, but more importantly to think differently, and get a better understanding of rhythm… It will help you to widen your perspective of rhythm and will benefit your playing no matter what you are working on at the moment.

The comparison between drumming and language is not new. It is widely known that in certain regions of the world, drumming has served as a means of communication for centuries. Greb admits that this idea is not of his invention:

The information here is timeless. The system and principles I present in this book were part of music even before the drum set was invented.

And yet, he manages to organize this valuable information in a way that nobody has done before. It’s an incredible accomplishment.

Note that Greb’s material is geared primarily for drummers and uses music notation, but anyone with the slightest interest in rhythmic design can still benefit from this material. Be forewarned however that you might be tempted to explore drumming after reviewing Greb’s system!

If you’d like to get a head start, an overview of Greb’s alphabet is available here)

In the future, we will dig into the rhythmic alphabet and try to ‘spell it out’ as easily as we can.

Stay tuned…

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