Q: How do you tell if your stage is level?
A: The drool is coming out of both sides of your drummer’s mouth.
The “Dumb Drummer” joke. A staple of any respectable touring group. Even aside from the preconceived derogatory jokes, drummers catch a lot of flak.
One reason behind this is that there is a huge percentage of drummers who are completely self-taught. While many of these players are legit, this trend can precipitate the stereotype that drummers are dummies who don’t actually know anything about music.
This trend has compounded even further with the advent of electronic drums and digital producing. Now you don’t even need a drumset to be a bad drummer – just a laptop. Again, this has opened the door for some to write drum parts who otherwise might not have tried (Dan Deacon, James Murphy, Darwin Deez…), but it has made a longtime issue in drumming even more problematic: How do I write down this drumbeat?
For as long as drumming has been a thing, this has been an issue, even for highly trained drummers. Traditional music notation doesn’t really work as well for a drumset. There is a high learning curve toward reading any musical notation well, but traditional western notation can be frustrating even for drummers that know what they’re doing, especially when trying to write music on computer software.
Fortunately electronic drumming did not just complicate this problem, it also provided a solution.
That solution is Groove Scribe, a new notation and learning tool from Mike Johnston. Johnston’s website (mikeslessons.com) is the largest educational website for drummers in the world. Through his experience, Johnston became aware of just how much of a pain it is to digitally “jot down” a drum beat, especially for the many players that don’t have the requisite music theory knowledge, or the necessary musical notation software suite.
Johnston’s solution came from the world of drum machines. The advent of samplers brought with it a new concept – a beat grid. Incorporated in some of the earliest drum machines, beat grids are now commonplace in programs like Ableton and even GarageBand. These grids are a relatively simple representation of a musical measure, and allow mostly anyone to come up with a drum beat.
Johnston’s tool takes the grid a step further. After composing a beat on the grid, Groove Scribe then translates that grid into actual musical notation. This makes this not only an ease-of-use notation tool, but also a learning tool. Now drummers that don’t have a firm grasp of notation can not only write out their beats, but also learn how to write them out in proper form.
Another huge feature of Groove Scribe is the share function. Any beat can be named and sent to any friend, student, or bandmate. This furthers Groove Scribe’s use as a teaching tool. Now a teacher can send a beat, the student can see it, hear it, and then change it and send it back. This can also be used to help musicians collaborate over long distances.
The craziest thing about Groove Scribe is its price point. That is – it doesn’t have one. This tool is totally free to use, for anyone, at any time. This exponentially increases its use as a learning tool. I can post a link to a beat, and any drummer in the world (with internet access) can use it. There is no sign up or download, just instant beat making. Johnston also provides a series of tutorials, highlighting the depth of functionality that Groove Scribe offers.
The one issue with Groove Scribe is that it’s currently only browser based, so you need an active internet connection to use it. Hopefully an app version is on the way, which would allow users to quickly use the tool on their devices. While the online version still looks pretty good on a mobile device, it certainly leaves some things to be desired, and doesn’t feel exactly “right.” Also, there can be a bit of lag when the drum loops repeat, especially when doing anything else with your browser. An app would also help as many drummers have access to their smart phone while sitting at their drumset, but not necessarily a computer.