I am a non-drummer/non-percussionist well versed, for my personal purposes, in tonal harmony - up to the point where tonal chord structures can be implemented without functional movement and serve to harmonize melody in a more "abstract" sense.

Specifically, when confronted with a piece of music or the task of composing, my ability to derive something of a "logical reasoning" behind why the relatively tonal harmony sounds the way it does is personally both very satisfying and empowering.

I wish to achieve this style of understanding and level of confidence in rhythm and percussion/drums. Is there any specific resource/methodology you would recommend? And is there a "rhythm theory" that "axiomatizes" rhythm in the same way one can make rules/guidelines about the sounds of harmony?

Musically, the way I understand rhythm and the extent of my practical knowledge goes as follows: You have a time signature and this tells you how to space out harmony and gives guidelines of how to accentuate melodic phrases, and then a specific rhythm can be added for more structure (e.g., swing, samba, diverse cross/polyrhythms etc) which will also give you a particular "feel." But I feel that I am missing so much of the finer details, the stuff that actually gives you goosebumps, and it is very frustrating. Ultimately, I don't think or compose in the "language" of percussion and I would love to know how to.

The main goal is not to actually learn to play percussion (obviously that would be beneficial), but to be both a better listener/interpreter of drums and be able to better implement percussion (composition-wise or when improvising with a drummer).

I am mainly looking for thoughts from non-percussionist and how you deal with this issue, but any advice is welcome and would be highly appreciated!

2 Answers 2


In the west, many styles of popular music since, say, World War 2, place more emphasis on drumming; that is to say, the drums are more "present" in recorded works and live performances.

So, one thing to do would be to familiarize yourself with the best music of the "jazz" era (later things, be-bop to the present), and the "rock" era (1955[?] to present), and whatever else is "pop", particularly with an ear to listening to the percussion work. Concentrate on bands with a known and revered drummer. (And if you want to know who those people are, Drummerworld.com is a great resource).

Another great area of "percussive development" is the marching band and particularly the competitive Drum Corp scene. The rhythmic complexities of the modern Drum Corp snare drum contingent (and most of the rest of the section) will quite possibly amaze you. A search on YouTube for "DCI" or "DCI Finals" should get you started there; the official DCI channel is here, and here's an example performance from 33 years ago that might get you started (and you can rest assured that percussion/rhythmic development in DCI activity hasn't been static).

Lastly ... and I think this indicates more discussion is needed ... what instrument DO you play in which you've learned much more about harmony than rhythm? Although it's quite possible to learn harmony without rhythm, in my experience it's not completely normal either (it typically happens with pianists or organists due to the slightly more complex nature of performance on these instruments). Find some music for your instrument that IS rhythmical, and learn it! :-)


I´m a drummer, and i think you are kind of on the right track with "missing the finer details". Basically, most things that makes the goosebumps are "feel" things.

For example, one can play on the beat, behind the beat or on top of the beat. Example for behind the beat (Muddy Waters - Hoochie Coochie Man):

Notice how one gets the feeling of them always being a bit late? That's this.

For ahead, i suggest Tony Williams Recordings, for dead center on beats think of Parliamt or Funkadelic.

On the other hand, for getting a feel for rhytmn, i can suggest going into Latin Music. Learning about the claves and feeling them is a good way. The clave patterns appear all over the place in music, just hidden in bass drum patterns, snare patterns etc.. This could help you with understanding some rhytmic figures.

I hope this answear helps you with clarfying what sometimes makes the "goose bumps" and what you can use for composing (basic ryhtmns enriched with claves).


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.