Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to Read Rhythm Charts

So I had a question come in the other day that I thought would be a good discussion...or post...or whatever. Someone messaged me on FB wondering about a rhythm chart for "Fly Me To The Moon". They had been reading music their whole life, but this chart made no sense...and it shouldn't have in the way that they were approaching it. They were trying to read all of the notated hits and what not as an actual drum chart...which doesn't work...but if you've never seen a jazz/big band rhythm chart, that would be a totally sensible way to read through it...below is the conversation...

Email Message:

" i'm looking at this chart. It doesn't make much sense to me.. it looks like hi hat, toms, and cymbals.. THATS IT!! so can you please take a look and let me know if i'm going crazy that there is no kick, no snare, and its just hi-hat cymbals and toms?!"

Link to the chart: Fly Me To The Moon

And my long winded, and hopefully not to confusing response:

"Ok...rhythm charts...

If you're coming from a drum notation view, this would be confusing. That being said, if there were chords above the measures (which there oftentimes are), this would make more sense to you. This is a chart you'll see in a small jazz setting or a big band setting. Since alot of that music is "freer" and they leave parts up to the player to allow for creative expression, they essentially just notate the basics...that way, if the chords are there, the piano, bass, guitar, drums, and horn (if they know the melody) can play off of one chart...and if there's a specific part that they want you to play, they'll notate that as well. "Fly Me To The Moon" is a jazz standard, btw.

We'll start at the top...

"bass solo"...the reason they notated quarters on the HH is simple...if the acoustic bass is taking a solo, you need to be quiet but still keep you just play swing quarters on the stays out of the way and keeps time. In the 4th measure, you see a note on the upbeat of 4. This is where the whole band comes in. If the notes are ABOVE the staff, it usually indicates the melody, or parts of the melody. In this chart, it follows the melody and words almost exactly for the first few bars (If you know the words to "Fly Me To The Moon", you can sing them with the rhythms that are written on those first few measures.) Typically, you would be swinging on the ride cymbal, and making "chatter" with the snare. In standard jazz tunes, you're there to support the melody and song until the solo section. So the notes above the staff are optional to hit...I usually refer to them with my snare and kick work, but I don't play all of them...just the ones I feel need emphasis.

If you look at measure 10, you'll see notes written in the actual staff. These ARE important...they represent ensemble hits, or parts that the arranger means to be accented by the whole band. These hits also require what jazzers call a "setup" by the drummer...essentially, it's a small fill that comes right before the hit ( sidenote...It's NOT a solo!). I always thought of it as my role to remind the horns that they needed to come it's like the drummer kicking them in the backside...and when they "yell", it's the notated hits...that's how I think about it anyways.

Let me explain what I would do...I would start my setup on beat 3 of measure 9 (try to follow me here)...I would hit 1 on the crash, 2 on the snare, the "&" of 2 on the crash ,small fill on 3, hit 4 and the "&" of 4 on the snare...I'd then do a "bomb drop" (fall on the toms followed by a kick drum hit) on 1, and hit 2, 3, then fill 4 and smash the "&" of 4...etc.

All of that sounds drawn out and confusing, but I'm just accenting the ensemble hits...there's no notated drums b/c the arranger wanted to leave the interpretation up to the players. And sometimes the ensemble hits don't need to be huge...after I sightread a piece, I immediately go back through and mark the areas that need the most emphasis, and then other areas where accenting on the snare or kick would do. summary of this long drawn out explanation of a simple rhythm chart...

1. Notes above the chart represent a melody that you should be aware of and reference occasionally.

2. Notes ON the staff are very important to the structure of the song and should be set up by the drummer.

3. None of these notes represent actual "drums" unless the arranger leaves a note that says "HH only", etc.

Does that make sense? Let me know if there's other parts of it you don't understand."


Anyone else have anything to add to this?