Beat Displacement & Cantaloupe Island

Cantaloupe Island tutorial.

Here’s an interesting and fun rhythmic concept, accessible to players of all levels: ‘Beat Displacement’.
I’m going to reference this directly to an equally engaging and highly musical tune: Herbie Hancock’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’, which features the genre-defining talents of Tony Williams on drums.

Although this tune is widely regarded as a ‘jazz standard’, the feel is in ‘straight eighths’ (as opposed to the more common swing/dotted jazz ride rhythm). The ‘beat displacement’ content is displayed here within the snare drum line, pretty much right through the track, landing neatly alongside the bass emphasis. Here are a couple of bars taken from the drum part:

  • Ride cymbal at the top – and if you’re just starting out playing drums, try leaving out the pedal hi hats to begin with.

At this point we should probably define ‘beat displacement’: In most 4/4 time, eighth note-based music, we commonly find the snare drum falling on the counts of 2 & 4: this is often referred to as the ‘backbeat’. In the patterns notated here from Cantaloupe Island, the snare is falling more on-and-around 2 and & 4 and: this back-beat snare has regularly been moved or displaced by an eighth note, or quaver. The standard definition I use for beat displacement is ‘to deliberately move a beat from where we might expect it to fall’ (which distances this concept from ‘misplacement’, which is a different thing entirely!). Even more specifically, I personally tend to use the term displacement to mean moving the beat later and anticipation when placing it earlier.

Here’s another bar from the tune:

  •  Get a listen to the original Cantaloupe Island recording and hear how Tony Williams occasionally uses ‘buzz’ strokes to add texture to the 2 +snare beats (see how long and smooth you can make them). Practice each of these example bars repeated round as exercises and then try improvising between them.
  • Beat displacement doesn’t have to be restricted to the snare drum: Dave Weckl demonstrated some progressive ideas which he called ‘playing backwards’ in his 1990 DCI tuition video The Next Step, involving displacing entire kick and snare grooves by 1/16’s and 1/8’s against a constant eighth hi hat pattern [skip to 29mins].

Back to Cantaloupe Island: keep in mind the pace of the music when working through these exercises; drive the ride cymbal (again, listen to Tony Williams for his kit balance here) and develop the pedal hi hat control ’til it feels totally natural.

  • The snare 1/16’s can provide a tricky technical element, as they’ll need to be bounced at this pace. Don’t force the volume with these – think of them lightly dropping from your stick. If you are familiar with the Moeller technique, you could develop these snare 1/16’s into a Moeller ‘upstroke’ motion, leading to a Moeller ‘downstroke’ on 2 and.

Below, developing the ride cymbal and rhythmic content: the added 1/16 (semiquaver) beats in Ex. 5 allude to a jazzier double-time/bebop ride feel against the established, funkier eighth groove; Ex. 6 introduces a fresh new element – 1/16 syncopation on 3e emphasised with the snare:

There’s so much to discover within the initial simplicity of this track – and subtlety is definitely a big part of the key to playing it. Listening here is an exercise in itself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey into the world of beat displacement and can find some use or inspiration in the words contained here and in the effortless music of Herbie Hancock – and of course, the seminal playing of Mr. Tony Williams!

…and for your homework…

  • For beginner/intermediate players: to aid in developing your understanding of beat displacement both as a concept and also its effects, try straightening up the snares back to 2 & 4 and hear to how the feel changes.
  • Intermediate/advanced: there’s a couple of things I’ve experimented with in playing alongside this tune which can yield highly musical alternative pattern feels, one of which is to move the pedal hi hat to the off-beat (the ‘and’ count).

Good luck!

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7 thoughts on “Beat Displacement & Cantaloupe Island

  1. I’ve hear this track over the years and never got my head around the groove in it. Thanks for posting this tutorial. Will you be doing more of these? I can’t find any others on the site? Thanks. Brandz

  2. Love this track. Tony’s feel is unmistakable and I would say that your students will benefit a lot from learning this well put together online lesson. I hope you don’t mind if I make use of your work here myself?
    Keep up the good work and thanks for posting.

    • Thanks Aaron.
      Glad to be of service!
      Make use of the content by all means – as long as your not a publisher and about to distribute this globally and make a ton of money out of it.
      …but if the latter is the case, do please get in touch :0)
      Thanks for visiting!

  3. I like the way you explain this Dye House Drum Works! Much better than a full transcription and easier to access. Nice posts, thanks. I’ll be back!

    • Thanks Perpetual.
      It’s based on the way I teach students here in one-to-one lessons, so it’s a tried and tested formula 😉
      Looking forward to your next visit.

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