An Awareness of Space

Today I listened to an old Modern Drummer interview conducted by Scott K Fish with Artimus Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Artimus discussed his tendency to speed up during songs when he gets excited. He also talked about maintaining tempo and playing with an awareness of space. That means playing just enough to cover your part while allowing the other instruments to breath. It sounds easy but it’s a challenge for many drummers.

  • In big band music, drummers tend to project from the bandstand while backing off just enough when appropriate to allow each horn player to solo uninhibited.
  • In jazz, drummers are often the ones in the spotlight. Their fellow musicians take turns allowing each other to breath while the drummer solos.
  • In rock music it’s more difficult. All of the band’s members are usually playing at equal volume and intensity. During the obligatory guitar solo drummers often simplify their pulsating beat to make room for the guitarist.

When looking at the anatomy of a song: verse chorus and bridge, there are plenty of opportunities for each musician to allow each other to breath. Look at the structure of the music in individual sections instead of one whole composition. By breaking it up the band will better recognize where they should and shouldn’t fill the space. It also helps to prevent selfishness. As a drummer your job is to maintain time while having periodic moments to shine. Having an awareness of space enables you to meet your responsibilities while letting the other instruments take their turn. Look at the band as being made up of individual parts. Each player should know when to push and when to pull back.

A few examples of this are:

  • Of course we have to start with the subject of the aforementioned interview… “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. One of the band’s only ballads each member respects the vocal and each other.
  • “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police. This song’s simplicity is brilliant as each instrument occupies its own space without compromising each other.
  • “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson. The instrumentation in the background of Jackson’s whispery vocals is a textbook example of awareness of space.
  • “That’s the Way” by Led Zeppelin. The blend of acoustic guitars and Robert Plant’s voice create a delicate sound that washes over you like a breeze.

You may notice that each of these songs is on the softer side. They are a good example of songs in which the instrumentation supports the vocal and each other. Each musician sits within the song without stepping on their fellow band mates. When it works there is natural cohesion that occurs throughout. That makes the song more appealing to both the musician and the audience.

For more on Artimus Pyle visit:


Filed under Drums and Drumming

2 responses to “An Awareness of Space

  1. Hi Michael – Thank you for expanding on Artimus Pyle’s comments. // Best, skf

    • Thanks Scott. I visit your blog everyday. Your material is outstanding and I love to see the history of Modern Drummer. I love reading and writing for that publication.

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