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How To Speak: Drums


We all would agree that communication is a very important part of being a worship team. Not just socially communicating, but musically as well. When the MD (Music director) or worship leader says something in regards to drum playing and how it pertains to a song, there needs to be a common language of sorts that can be understood and executed by both parties involved. Certain words or phrases can be referenced to directly and effectively communicate to your drummer so that he/she spends more time playing what is directed, and less time trying to decipher your directions. Here are a few terms and tips to help in communicating with drummers.


“Four on the Floor”

This term is one that describes a very popular way of playing, especially in a lot of upbeat worship songs. It means the kick drum is being played on all quarter notes in a 4/4 time signature song. Songs such as Chris Tomlin’s “Don’t Ever Stop” has this particular beat throughout the whole song, and Matt Redman’s “We are the free” have it as well. It provides a driving, powerful, and steady rhythm for the song. It also makes it easy to dance to if you like to worship that way!

“Keep it tight”

When I hear “keep it tight” I think of something neat, basic, and consistent. This also applies to playing drums!. If the worship leader or MD wants to have a clean, crisp, steady verse or chorus played, they could tell the drummer to “keep it tight” during that part of the song. When I am “playing tight” I typically am playing closed hi hats (to give a clean sound), snare on “2” and “4”, and the kick could be on “1” and “3”, or “four on the floor” (when playing in 4/4 time). There would minimal cymbals work and fills, if any at all. The same can be applied to all playing styles and time signatures.

“Open up”

Here is a phrase that is used to describe when the drummer begins to play a little louder, and there could be an increase in the drive of the song. It also goes hand in hand with “keep it tight”.  An example of this would be when you go from playing a verse to a chorus or bridge. Typically songs have a “tighter” feel when playing the verses, and in most cases there is an elevated difference in the chorus and/or bridge of the song. An example of this could be going from hi hats to a ride or crash cymbal, playing your hi hats in a more open position, or adding toms into the mix. Anything that will give a bigger sound in comparison to what was played in the song before. Just by doing this it makes a bigger, more driving sound and hence, “opens up” the song.


Use numbers and counts

Drumming, and music in general is very mathematical in nature, and saying that it is great to be able to communicate in a numerical way. When the worship leader says “Play a basic beat during the verse, and then something more driving during the chorus”, it can be interpreted into pretty much anything form a drumming standpoint. A better way to communicate your directions to the drummer could be “Play the kick on one and three and the snare on two and four with the hi-hats playing straight quarter notes”, or “Play 8th notes on the floor tom with the snare on “2 and “4” and the kick playing straight quarter notes”. By doing this, you give your drummer a direct guideline to go with when playing a song, and you would know what will be played in return. Being a drummer, this is my preferred way of being directed, because it tells me exactly what is needed for the song.

Make the beat with your mouth

This may sound a little weird, but it is an effective way to describe a beat or pattern you want played, especially for worship leaders and/or drummers who may not be well versed in musical theory. This concept works for auditory based drummers as well, because they learn more effectively by hearing, rather than being told or shown what to do. Its similar to going to another country where there is a language barrier and you are trying to carry on a conversation. I’ve been in situations where I had to act out what I was trying to say, or make a noise or motion of sorts to communicate with who I was trying to speak to just so they could understand what I was talking about. If you have a drummer who fits this description, try beatboxing, for lack of a better term, the groove or pattern you want played and see if it works better for your communication.

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2 Responses to “How To Speak: Drums”

  1. I drum talk all the time with our drummer haha. We use these for reference :

    Boom – Kick
    Gah – Snare
    Ssss- Open HH
    Tsss – Closed HH
    Doom ( In different pitches) – High, Low Toms
    Chhh – Crash

    It sounds super foolish, but it works. Great read!

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