Often when we come to a solo, we can easily find ourselves falling into the same old routine. The same old licks, fills and groove ideas being churned out with no musical thought or real idea of where we are going.
Sometimes you have to consciously drag yourself out of the comfort zone and explore new ideas. Sometimes that might come from trying new styles of music, learning new techniques, rearranging old ideas on different drums or across different subdivisions. But it can also come from using the instrument in a different way. Maybe turn the snares off, try soloing with mallets or brushes, only use the snare drum, don’t use the snare drum at all. You can push it in any direction you want.
But here we are looking at a simple concept which is the use of hands on the drum kit. Just the simple act of putting the sticks down forces us to play in a different way and it also creates a great dynamic shift. If you then build the solo and bring the sticks back in, you create a huge build in the solo automatically. The two solos below incorporate this idea.
Watch the videos below and have a think about how you can create something new in a solo. You don’t need to plan the solo note for note. The most fun part of solos is that they can be largely improvised so we can step off the safety ledge and start to explore the unknown. Here you are taking risks and that creates the excitement for yourself, which I find is then conveyed to the audience.
So just start with a simple concept like using hands. You might like to keep beats 2 & 4 on the hi-hat, you might like to play over a melodic song form in your mind. Whatever works. But try keeping the plan vague so you can improvise and see what happens.
Here we have a great solo from Joe Morello playing with Dave Brubeck in 1961. You can clearly hear the 2 & 4 hi-hat as standard in jazz, although this piece is in five four time. This keeps the solo moving nicely and you can clearly notice the build when he moves to sticks.
The second video here is the famous Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin with John Bonham on drums. This is taken from the 1970 Albert Hall concert. Around five minutes in, Bonham places the sticks down and starts with his hands. He also uses the pedalled hi-hat to give a rigid rhythm for some parts of the solo.