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Every drummer has their own vocabulary and way of expressing it on the drums – that’s why solos are so personal, and why there’s no one right way to go about playing them. You wouldn’t tell an author how to write a book, right?

However, Mark Kelso has some tips you can use to pull out ideas that you already have in your toolbox. Here are five things to keep in mind when you’re soloing (that you didn’t know you already know):

1. Dynamics

It’s of the most underused tools in music these days, and especially in drum solos. Solos aren’t just about ripping around the kit at one volume like a machine gun – no one wants to hear someone constantly yelling. But if you have soft parts to pull in the audience – quieter parts prompt the audience to pay attention – you can then build and create intrigue. Monotone drumming isn’t as fun to listen to. Ebbs and flows with dynamics will be more interesting and might even give you more ideas. Within power where is softness. Like yin and yang, don’t be afraid to explore those subtleties.

2. Maximize one idea

Everyone has those licks they love. Like a safety net, we tend to fall back on the grooves or ideas we’ve played a million times and know we can execute perfectly every time. If you’ve already incorporated it into your solo, where do you go next? Take your favorite idea and see how many ways you can manipulate it. You could play it on a 16th note grid and move it to a triplet grid, change the sound source, add accents or dynamics, displace it or play with it over the bar line. Now you’re still in your comfort zone, but finding new ways to approach it.

3. Melody

Drums can definitely be a melodic instrument! Create melodic motifs using the toms. Sing something in your head and transpose that onto the kit (two pitches, two toms, and so on). Come up with a melodic ostinato, play it around the toms, use dynamics, maximize the use of one idea, and make those drums sing between high and low notes.

4. Switch up the tempo

Let’s say you’ve repeated the same idea a couple of times – a paradiddle pattern, maybe. It’s exciting if you suddenly double the speed! Make sure your technique and control are solid and pick something you can play well. Think of it like adding a flourish to the end of a phrase.

5. Design by subtraction

Instead of adding to your solo, take things away. For example, instead of playing every note, take a partial out of that subdivision. Maybe you only play on the ‘and’, or the last note of triplets. Instead of adding notes and getting busier, ‘pull out the rug’ rhythmically and wow your audience.


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