What is "Lift?" Part I: Understanding the Beat and Backbeat in Simple Time

The word "lift" has been appearing on pipe band score sheets for decades. It is a mysterious and confusing word! What is lift? How can a drum corps achieve it? In the next several weeks I'll be discussing the issue of lift and answering these questions. To understand lift, one must first understand the three different parts of the beat.

Beat: The "beat" is where you tap your foot and is the first note of every note grouping. If you are counting "one and two and" along with a march or reel, the beat occurs when you say the numbers "one" and "two". In a parade, to help keep everyone marching in step, military bass drummers will play predominantly on the beat.

Backbeat: In simple time (marches and reels), the back beat is the second half of the beat. If you are counting "one and two and" along with a march or reel, the backbeat occurs when you say "and". In a basic rock beat played on the drum kit the bass drum will play on the beat and the snare drum will play on the backbeat.

Offbeat: Offbeats are the subdivisions of the beat that lie between the beat and backbeat. If you are counting "one-e-and-ah 2-e-and-ah", the offbeats occur on "e" or "ah".

Marches and reels are both written in simple time. Simple time (sometimes referred to as "duple" time) divides the beat evenly into groups of two, four or eight. For now, as we get used to these concepts, we will only be discussing beat and backbeat and how they are used in simple time. Here are some examples of beats and backbeats in the march style. Use the beat numbers underneath each example as a reference point.

 

Example #1: Accented beats using eighth notes

Example #2: Accented backbeats using eighth notes

Example #3: Accented beats using dot/cut notes

Example #4: Accented backbeats using dot/cut notes

Example #5: Accented beats using sixteenth note triplets

Example #6: Accented backbeats using sixteenth note triplets

Example #7: Accented beats using thirty-second notes

Example #8: Accented backbeats using thirty-second notes

 

Beats and backbeats in a reel (either pointed or round) work the same way as they do in a march. Here are some examples:

 

Example #1: Accented beats using quarter notes

Example #2: Accented backbeats using quarter notes

Example #3: Accented beats using dot/cut notes

Example #4: Accented backbeats using dot/cut notes

Example #5: Accented beats using eighth notes (round)

Example #6: Accented backbeats using eighth notes (round)

Example #7: Accented beats using eighth note triplets

Example #8: Accented backbeats using eighth note triplets

Example #9: Accented beats using sixteenth notes

Example #10: Accented backbeats using sixteenth notes

 

Now that you know the difference between beats and backbeats in both marches and reels, it is necessary to discuss what exactly we do with this information! The mission, of course, is to create lift in our drum scores and the way we create that lift is by inserting accents into places other than the beat. The backbeat is the first place you can start!

To understand where to place a backbeat accent, let's consider the example of a rocket. We have all heard the countdown "3... 2... 1... lift off!" We only say "lift off" when the rocket is leaving the ground. Once it is in the air we simply say that it is flying. When talking about beat and backbeat, think of the beat as "the ground" and think of the backbeat as "the rocket". Thanks to gravity, rockets always return to earth where they can be repaired and sent skyward again. Your "backbeat rocket" should always return to the "beat ground" before it is fired off again.

Lift can only be created in a drum score when the beat has already been established. Constant accenting of the backbeat without a return to the beat sounds directionless and unmusical at best. When composing a drum score, establish a strong beat first, accent some backbeats and then return to the beat once more. Repeat this process throughout the score. The constant shifting of accents from beat to backbeat provides the score with some musical tension and interest. Try to find some scores written by reputable players: Jim Kilpatrick, Steven McWhirter, Reid Maxwell or Gordon Brown (among many others). See if you can find accents on the beat and backbeat. Is there a pattern? Do the accents move back and forth between the beat and backbeat? Do some research on your own to help answer these questions.

Next week we'll be discussing beats and backbeats in compound time.

Until then,

Happy Drumming!

 

2 comments

  • David Dabrowski

    David Dabrowski

    Thank you Zach. I look forward to the articles that follow, as well.

    Thank you Zach. I look forward to the articles that follow, as well.

  • Pipe Band Drummer

    Pipe Band Drummer

    Thanks for the suggestion!

    Thanks for the suggestion!

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