Archive for May 15, 2011

Ba-dum Ching!

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on May 15, 2011 by telescoper

One of the good things about having a blog is the chance to bore the entire internet with your own peculiar obsessions. As regular readers of In the Dark will be aware, one of my fascinations is the origin and evolution of words and phrases. This morning I had an interesting exchange on Twitter with neuroscientist and comedian extraordinaire Dean Burnett, which revolved around the word “rimshot”…and a similar word with quite different meaning which I won’t repeat in polite company.

Ever wondered what the name is for  the (often ironic) drum effect often used in cabaret or night club acts to puncuate a joke, like this?

Well, the answer is “rimshot”.

Or at least that’s the word that’s pretty universally used by comedians.

Curiously, though, if you are a percussionist rather than a comedian then a rimshot is something quite different. My father was a drummer so I had a lot of relevant terminology (flams, paradiddles, chokes, you name it) drummed into me when I was a kid. Technically, in fact, a rimshot is a single sound created by hitting the head of the drum and the rim at the same time with a drumstick. It’s an effect probably used more frequently in jazz than in other forms of music, and a good example can be heard on Miles Davis classic Summertime on which the excellent Philly Joe Jones applies a rimshot to every 4th beat of the bar. The clicking sound is something similar to that produced by claves. Nothing much to do with the word as used by comedians, then…

The word used by drummers for what comedians call a rimshot  is actually a sting. That’s certainly what my Dad always called it anyway. He often had to play in Working Mens’ Clubs and didn’t really like being on with comedians, most of whom were terrible and also told extremely blue jokes. In fact, I’m pretty sure he only ever used a sting in the ironic sense, when the gag was exceptionally poor.

There are many possible variants of the sting but the basic “ba-doom ching” is this:

which involves a tom-tom, closely followed by a kick on the bass drum, then a short pause followed by the bass drum and snare played together at the same time as a choked cymbal crash. Some stings are more elaborate than this, and a sting can indeed involve a rimshot, but most I’ve heard don’t.

Of course it’s not at all unusual for one word to have different meanings in different fields, so I’m not arguing that “rimshot” is wrong, but it’s interesting (at least to me) to wonder how when and why this divergence of meaning happened..

Incidentally, at the risk of boring you all even further, I’d add that the comedian’s rimshot has also evolved via a metonymic shift to refer not only to the sound the drummer makes but also to the joke that provoked it. In other words, an exceptionally good (or, more likely, bad)  gag is often itself referred to as a rimshot.

And with that, my time’s up. You’ve been a lovely audience. Thank you, and goodnight.

Ba-Dum Ching!

P.S. If you’re ever in need of a rimjob rimshot, you can get one here.