Structuring a Solo

The most important element in any solo is structure. In jazz, drummers often solo over the form of the tune. For example, most bebop tunes contain a repeating thirty-two-bar form broken up into two sections, A and B. Most of the time, these sections are structured as AABA. In pop and rock, song sections are not usually referred to as A, B, and C, etc., although a few exceptions exist. For example, the band Genesis was obviously thinking of their music in terms of letter names when they wrote the song “ABACAB.” On this tune, the title is derived from the song's form: ABACAB.

Of course, any song could be analyzed using letters. However, in rock and modern pop, song sections are referred to by names. More specifically, introduction, verse, prechorus, chorus, bridge, and outro replace letter delineations. Some songs also include a solo(s), interlude(s), or breakdown(s). Guitarists or keyboardists take the bulk of the solos in rock, however, drummers occasionally get the spotlight turned on them. Ringo Starr's solo on “The End” by The Beatles is a one such example (see Chapter 12). Another very famous rock drum solo is “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly. On this song, drummer Ron Bushy plays a two-and-a-half-minute solo.

On The Song Remains the Same, a live concert film by Led Zeppelin, you will see John Bonham take an extended drum solo on “Moby Dick.” Found toward the end of the film, Bonham's solo displays both ferocity and sensitivity. For portions of the solo, he even plays with his bare hands. Soloing without sticks was one of Bonham's most imitated trademarks.

Unlike bebop, virtually all solos in rock are open ended. This means they do not follow the structure of the tune. Swing-era drummers were the first to introduce the “cadenza drum solo,” and much credit must be given to Gene Krupa for his exciting solo on “Sing, Sing, Sing” as performed by the Benny Goodman Orchestra. On this solo, Krupa used tom-toms to create thumping “jungle” rhythms, which proved to be quite infectious with listeners. Soon, Krupa's solo became the featured element in “Sing, Sing, Sing” eclipsing Goodman's own virtuosic clarinet playing. Such is the power of drums.

Buddy Rich, who is discussed in greater depth in Chapter 14, was the undisputed master of the cadenza drum solo, and to this day, few drummers can play with such precision, fire, and skill. Other swing-era drummers—Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Sid Catlett, Sonny Greer, and Cozy Cole—were also electrifying drum set soloists.

Does an open-ended solo imply free playing? Actually it doesn't. If you play a hodge-podge of notes and unrelated rhythmic patterns, your solo will sound unfocused, random, and undisciplined. When structuring a drum solo, you must create a beginning, middle, and end. Moreover, in most cases, the end of your solo must contain a climax. In theory, this is a simple formula. However, the reality of playing solos with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end is not as easy as it seems.

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