Today, I have asked my good friend, the Pernicious Prognosticator of Percussion (P3), to write a guest blog explaining the importance of time signatures in drumming, and to provide us with helpful tips on using them to full advantage.
Time Signatures for Drummers by P3 :
In this blog entry, I will try once again to explain time signatures, or—as insiders know them—drum signatures. Drum signatures are two or more numbers typically found in the left most corner of the music staff. These indications are used only by drummers, as they are most often completely disregarded by musicians.
[Editor’s Note: “other” musicians]
First, the top number simply tells you how many times to strike the bass drum in each measure. In 4/4 drum signature, for example, one would play the bass drum a total of four times in each measure, 3/4 equals three bops per bar, and 2/4 calls for two bomb drops somewhere between the lines.
Important note: it doesn’t matter where you place these important notes (note also that the notes are just as important as the important notes are important to note, if you see what I mean).
Of course, some people try to spread these notes out evenly, but there is no reason to get all “avant-garde” about it. Use of the bass drum is totally up to how you are feeling on that particular day, how many people are watching you at the moment, and how much you are getting paid.
Now, the bottom number is where things get really interesting. This number determines how many times one would play the snare drum in each measure. This can get very exciting in drum signatures such as 5/4 (of which only Joe Morello could play) and in 7/8 (which no one ever uses any more because it is far too complicated). 6/8 can be pretty neat but it hasn’t been used since John Phillip Sousa and Meredith Willson back in the 1600s.
At this point you are ready for the most advanced concept in understanding drum signatures. Multiplying the top and bottom numbers will give you the total number of notes to be played in a fill. In 2/4 for example, you get 8 fill notes, in 4/4 there are 16, and in 9/8 you get something like 73 or 74, so I say “make’em count,” because you probably aren’t getting paid enough for this type of gig anyway.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, drum fills must occur based on the drum signature. In 4/4, one should always play a fill every four bars. In 3/4, every third bar should have a fill, especially when backing a singer on standards such as My Favorite Things or Some Day my Prints Will Come. Please note that the fill rule must be STRICTLY observed or you run the risk of being labeled a “singer’s” drummer.
This covers just about every drum signature except what they call “cut time.” Playing in cut time is quite dangerous and should be avoided at all costs since it means that the gig will probably be cut short and you will be receiving less pay than originally expected.
I hope you find this information helpful in working all your upcoming pool party, casual, cover band, and Calypso gigs. Join me for my next lesson titled: What Key Signatures Mean to Drummers.
The Pernicious Prognosticator of Percussion has played literally dozens of gigs. He took an online music theory course (half semester) and he has watched more than 200,000 YouTube drumming videos. P3 also provided candid and helpful comments on each video, and therefore has advised some of the greatest drummers of our generation. He has attended over three drumset clinics that were “not so great,” and he has written one guest blog for a little known percussion professor in Iowa. P3 aspires to become a professional drum clinician and influencer as soon as he finishes his first YouTube video and plays more than once with the same band.
Oh, and Happy April Fool’s Day!