When you go to see a rock band play, a common conversation after the show involves how "tight" the band played. If you see a "tight" band it's a good bet that all their count ins, stops, shots, endings and grooves were played exactly together. If a band is "tight" it means that they are all on the same page, rhythmically speaking. In other words, they are all subdividing the beat of their songs the same way at the same tempo. The tightest bands are the best subdividers. There are many differences between a rock band and a pipe band but the ability to subdivide the beat is just as important to both!
So... what is subdivision?
Subdivision is the underlying pulse of the music, to which the majority of notes are directly connected. In jazz swing, most notes are connected to the basic swing pulse on the ride cymbal. In blues shuffles, notes are connected to the hihat pattern playing the first and last note of a triplet. In rock music, the eighth note pulse on the hihat drives the music. Every style of music has it's own underlying pulse. Pipe band music is no different.
In a pipe band march, the underlying pulse is the "dot/cut" (dotted sixteenth note/thirty-second note) rhythm which is played as the first and last note of a sixteenth note triplet. The majority of notes in a march are directly connected to this subdivision as in the example below:
Understanding subdivision is the key to improving unison playing in your drum corps. It's that simple. When every member of a corps is subdividing the beat the same way, unison playing improves exponentially. The following exercises address and improve basic subdivision in your drum corps:
How should you use this sheet?
Step 1: Before playing, get everyone saying the basic subdivision: "Bay-Bee Bay-Bee".
Step 2: Make sure the subdivision is being said by everyone in the corps in perfect unison.
Step 3: Play through the first line saying the subdivision but only playing on the first "Bay" syllable
Step 4: Move through all eight exercises
IMPORTANT: Don't advance to the next exercise until every drummer is playing perfect unison. Speed is not an issue. Accuracy is the most important thing to shoot for. Therefore, go as slow as you need to achieve that accuracy
The full exercise sheet is available to mailing list subscribers in the "Subscribers" section of the site. Have fun using this exercise with your drum corps. Your groove, timing and unison should all be positively affected by good subdivision. Enjoy the results!
Until next time,