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spacerx img Song Beat: "DISCO" or Overhand 16th 4/4'
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The 16th-Note Disco Beat:
This beat might best be called '0verhand 16th 4/4'. It got stuck with the undeserved 'Disco' handle back in the 70s. Many working musicians despised the 'Disco Era' of pop music because it created a shortage of jobs for pro-musicians.

It meant that almost overnight, bands everywhere were replaced by DJ's. The advent of better amplifiers and higher quality speaker-systems created a situation where recorded sound became as pure as 'live' sound. One person could replace of 4 or 5 people on stage, thus saving the night club owners a small fortune, while entertaining the crowds just as efficiently. In a sense, the dancers became the focus of interest and the music (or musicians) were no longer the prime focal point. It created a depression of sorts for working musicians who depended on the night clubs for their bread and butter.

In many minds, the beat name "Disco" doesn't do this interesting beat-pattern justice. The truth is, this fascinating beat-pattern existed before the so-called 1970's Disco era and it has survived it. This form of 16th 4/4 is still very popular today and it should be for many years to come. Every drummer worth their salt will be wise to become fluent with it.

As a quick 'nutshell' description, this pattern is really just a 16th 4/4 rock beat, but the 16th notes on the hi-hat are played with both hands as a single stroke roll. Playing it this way allows us to double our speeds and tempos with 16th 4/4 which tends to push it into the same tempo zone with 8th rock 4/4. It is common for drummers to switch back and forth between 16th Disco and 8th 4/4 in mid song as a way to add rhythmic variety (excitement) to virtually any 8th-note 4/4 song. Technically, any 8th-note 4/4 song can easily be converted to 16th 4/4 by mixing the two beats.

I will lay it out very simply here in graduated steps, but make no mistake . . . it is easy to quickly get complex with this one. The more we experiment with this beat structure the more variation (permutation) possibilities we discover. It is akin to 8th rock in the sense that all of our bass variations and syncs will be almost the same. In other words the more comfortable we are with 8th rock bass-variations and bass-syncs, the more fun we can have with 16th Disco and the more exciting we can make it.

This first beat (below) is probably the simplest form of Disco. You will be playing a single-stroke roll on top of a closed hi-hat and placing a bass note along with the first of every eight notes. Repeat this pattern until you can play it at lightning speeds. Not only are you mastering the Disco beat but this is a great exercise for helping students develop lightning speed with 16th singles.

Also try placing a bass drum along with the first of every 4 hi-hat notes. In other words, play quarter (4th) notes on the bass. There were many popular Disco songs during the 1970s using that (4th note bass drum) form of the beat pattern, exclusively. (It's very boring, but also very easy.)

16th Disco Notation

Listen to it. Listen closely to the cymbal rhythm. It may be difficult to hear it.

The next trick is to maintain the same steady roll as above but simply come off the hi-hat, play a snare on the backbeat (in place of the 5th cymbal note) then return to the hi-hat again by the next right hand note. It is really the exact same thing as the Simple Disco Beat above but we will make a quick detour to the snare on every 5th (hi-hat) cymbal note.

16th 4/4 notation 2

Now listen to the BASIC DISCO beat. Pick out the snare note. This is a right-hand note (for all but the left-handed students). Simply move off the hi-hat for just that one note in each repetition. Hit the snare once then move back to the hi-hat. If you are playing on simulated drums . . . use your imagination and two objects. (Use one object as a hi-hat and another as a snare drum.)

This is essentially the same beat, but now we are placing an additional bass drum along with the backbeat. This form of Disco is very common but also very limited. The bass is so busy that there isn't much room to do much of anything else with it. While you may need this form of the beat occasionally, the basic form (above) is much more flexible. When playing the basic form, you will discover that injecting bass variations and syncopations will come natural. As I said earlier, all of your routine 8th rock variation ideas (like fatback and others) will come easy and natural when focusing on the basic form of the beat pattern. At any rate it will be wise to develop confidence with both forms.

Standard or Classic Disco (above): Listen for that extra bass drum.

I have written these patterns in 2/4 time for simplicity. 16th Disco is normally written in 4/4. As you see below, when written in 4/4 time the pattern looks more complex but it is really just two repetitions of the same thing.

16th 4/4 disco beat notation

After gaining confidence and speed with the basic disco pattern, try playing the fatback bass patterns we studied in the rock variations lesson.

sound file icon Disco Fatback might sound something like this, but you can do almost anything you wish with the bass. There are something like 65,536 possible variations with just the bass drum within this song-beat framework.

There's more! Try playing occasional open hi-hat notes too. Just lift the hi-hat pedal and strike the top cymbal while it is in the up position . . . then close it on the next count.

sound file icon Standard or Classic Disco with Open 'And" Hi-hat Notes (above).

AND MORE . . .
In addition to all of the above, try switching from 16th Disco to 8th rock and back without losing tempo. The beat tempo will remain the same but as you return to 8th rock, the number of cymbal notes will be cut in half. Also the left hand will return to its normal position on the snare.

video icon VIDEO: Click here to 'Play', see, and hear everything in this entire lesson, at a moderate tempo. This video is designed for Internet Explorer using Windows Media Player.

Video: For almost all handheld devices and other browsers.

spacerx img Copyright Bill Powelson 1996-2008-2014 @ all rights reserved.

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