Imagine this… You walk into your first rehearsal with a new band. It's the dream situation, a group that you have wanted to play with for as long as you can remember. The MD/band leader says "on this song I want you to play a halftime shuffle in the style of Jeff Pocaro." You think to yourself, "No problem, I know 'Rosanna' note for note. I own that groove." The MD counts the song in and you start. After a few bars the director stops you and says, "The feel is great but I need your bass drum to lock with the bass player." PROBLEM! You don't have 'freedom' in this groove. You only know it as an exact replica of Jeff's groove. As soon as you have to change one little thing about a groove that you know by heart, everything falls apart.
This happened to me enough times to realise that I needed to do something about it. It was a huge weak link in my drumming armour and it needed to be fixed. I decided to adapt ideas from books that I grew up with like Future Sounds and The New Breed, as well as modern books like The Language of Drumming to come up with a simple permutation system that would help me overcome my lack of true freedom with all of my grooves.
The concept is simple. Start with the constant, an ostinato (repeated pattern) between your hi-hat and snare. Then add the variable, in this case the bass drum. The kick will go through three different permutation cycles, shifting over one 16th note every measure. The first exercise will be single-note bass drum permutations. One measure with the kick on the downbeats, one measure with the kick on the 'e's, one measure with the kick on the '&'s and one measure with the kick on the 'a's. Ex. 2 follows the exact same permutations, but this time it will be with two 16th notes. Ex. 3 uses three 16ths on the kick.
Read a full interview with Mike Johnston in the May edition of Rhythm.