Write Now: Rhythm, Tempo May Shape One’s Writing

I was walking the other day, and I noticed that I don’t walk at the same tempo.

When walking, I guess the tempo may be arbitrary, but it’s something that stays with me. Tempo has a lot to do with my writing. Sometimes words and ideas come together very quickly and they fall onto the page. Other times, the words come together less quickly, and they have to be helped to get on the page.

Being a drummer, I am constantly barraged by rhythms. Sometimes I will tap at my desk, just to figure out the beat. When I was younger, I tapped on desks almost all of the time. I didn’t know it at that time, but the tapping would go on to help me with writing as it grounded me.

To people around me, the tapping can be an annoyance. So when I hear someone tapping on a desk, I wonder if it is helping him get through something.

I know some writers will play music in the background when they write. I sometimes do too, but when I am playing music in the background, I tend to listen to the drums and the bass. It’s where my ears go, and they have ever since I can remember listening to music.

So it would seem that my writing is grounded in rhythm. If I can, I will listen to drum beats (patterns) isolated from the rest of the music. This is a whole new experience, but one that is another way to keep me focused. If you search Youtube, you can find isolated drum tracks for songs.

Take your pick because there are a lot.

One of my favorite tracks to listen to when writing is Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in The Rain,” from the August 1979 release “In Through The Out Door.”

I have that album, yes, the vinyl album, complete with gimmicky paper bag outer sleeve, which makes it look like a bootleg album. The inner sleeve is black and white and should become fully colored if washed with water. I never tried washing mine. The cover had six different photos — one on front and one on back — so a buyer would not know what cover he was purchasing. The Police used a variation, of the different album covers gimmick, for the “Synchronicity” album.

At the time, “In Through The Out Door” was one of my favorite albums, and John Bonham is one of my favorite drummers. I was in ninth grade at Lincoln Junior High School — it was a Junior High back then — and I listened to it before school and after school. There were no cellphones or hand-held music-music playing devices then, so one had to pick and choose time for listening.

I digress.

Back to the isolated drum tracks.

To me, “Fool In the Rain” had an infectious drum pattern. By listening to this song, I had to explore the band’s history so I could put the song into context. The pattern is a variation of what some drummers call the “Purdie Shuffle” named after Bernard Purdie. His shuffle is based on a backbeat in half-time against triplets filled with ghost notes. His famous beat can be heard on Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” from “Aja,” and “Babylon Sisters,” from “Gaucho.” Other drummers have also used a variation of the shuffle including Jeff Porcaro of Toto for the band’s song “Rosanna” from “Toto IV” and Stewart Copeland of The Police for the song “Walking On The Moon,” from “Regatta De Blanc.”

So when I listen to “Fool In The Rain,” I get inspired to write. I will put the isolated track on a loop, so I all I hear are the drums. It’s like sitting next to a drummer playing the same beat over and over and over and over again. Call me crazy, but I don’t get bored with it at all. The beat, to me, kind of serves like a metronome that keeps time for me. There are no crazy or over-the-top fills going on, just straight ahead groove playing of which Bonham was a master.

It’s the ostinato-like nature of the groove that keeps me writing. I don’t listen to the isolated track all of the time because I know it so well. It’s embedded in my brain. The pattern is just an aid to help me write.

It’s that easy.

It’s that hard.

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