Professional Development Sessions | Caroline Boaden

Professional Development Sessions | The art of the Rhythm Section with Caroline Boaden

With no rehearsals, gigs or studio sessions right now, NYJO has been using the lockdown period to provide professional development opportunities for our young professionals.

For the last month, Head of Professional Development, Roger Wilson, has introduced a range of industry experts to members of our Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Exchange. Whether it’s marketing, promotion, tax or funding, each speaker brings a unique set of insights and experiences ideally suited for contemporary musicians at the onset of their careers.


We (virtually) caught up with Drummer, Senior Lecturer at Leeds College of Music, and Pop, Rock & Jazz musician Caroline Boaden for a session on the art of the Rhythm Section.

Professional Development Sessions | Caroline Boaden

What do you think makes an exceptional rhythm section?

An exceptional rhythm section can be distinguished as having a set of vital skills that put them way ahead of say just a competent rhythm section. Here are just a few of the qualities to work towards. Firstly, you will no doubt be accompanying at least 80% of the time so it is important to use your eyes and ears and be able to adapt and react very quickly within the musical frame. Playing for the music is also key which involves awareness and knowledge of stylistic origin and feel. The next important thing is working as a team; you are supporting the other players, to create a well- balanced sound and overall reliable foundation.

Another skill is versatility, which means you are working on capturing the authenticity of a style of music. It doesn’t mean you have to go all out to be too exacting but, being able to capture the feel and nuances of a particular genre help the rhythm section to gel as a unit more effectively.

Most importantly, connection to each other, maintaining tempo, feel, dynamic shifts and textural qualities make a rhythm section stand above. Each player being totally aware of his/her role within the band and being able to become a great interpreter of the music they are reading /performing.

What is the most important thing a musician gains from playing with others?

How to work as a team, to see and hear the bigger picture. Working alongside other musicians gives you invaluable experience as it challenges you to communicate, hopefully making you a more intuitive player and as your experience widens, an insight into what makes music function with the commitment and interaction needed to make it sound and feel good for everyone involved.

Do you think it was harder for a woman to make in the music industry at the time you started your career than it is now?

Yes I do unfortunately. This is a vast and complex subject and I can only speak for certain individuals. There have been some incredible and successful female musicians over the years but as little as 20-30 years ago, there were far fewer role models to emulate- drums, brass, bass and even guitar were still considered off limit-( a male orientated instrument), finding other like- minded female musicians would have been difficult for some. This only became apparent as I continued to pursue music as my career. Myself and many of my female musician friends have been taken to task many times to defend or account for what we do and why we wanted to play our given  instrument or style of music. I have always been a champion for equality as a result but that said, acquired some resilience which is useful in the music industry anyway!.  I guess this is all subjective and regardless of gender, race, age, – I have always considered music as a means of connection for all to participate in without question. I am always encouraged by the shift in attitudes that now make it so much easier for young players to take up any instrument and feel confident that there are no longer those restrictions as such. The opportunities to study and participate in live work, studio sessions are much healthier now for female musicians. There are still some ways to go but I feel the balance becoming more equal and surely, everyone can benefit from that.    

Who are your biggest musical inspirations? How have they influenced your own sound?

My musical or particular stylistic inspiration has come from many sources and I have not just focused on drummers. My Dad was a jazz pianist and composer/ educator so I was hearing and subconsciously absorbing a great selection of music whilst growing up. I heard Oscar Peterson trio, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans, George Shearing, Thad jones /Mel Lewis, Stan Kenton, Art Blakey and the jazz messengers to name a few ( Great Rhythm sections) I listened to as many American songbook standards as I could as I loved how they could be re-interpreted time and time again by many different artists.  Stevie Wonder, Weather report, Earth Wind and Fire, Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan provided endless lessons in groove and sophisticated song-writing and arranging techniques.

When I studied at Music college, The ECM European jazz was popular as was the Steve Gadd, Pat Metheny/ LyleMays, Peter Erskine led fusion/latin style of playing, so I was influenced by many of the sounds and technique innovations of these players  because they were very adaptable and have such musicality.

I am also partial to House, trance and electronic dance music, but that’s another chapter!  


Caroline is in demand as a drummer and clinician.  she has played for pop, rock, jazz and commercial sessions both in the UK and internationally.  She has accompanied/supported Take That, The Stylistics, Texas, Jacki Graham, Peter King, Jason Rebello, Iain Dixon, Mike Walker and Art Farmer.  Currently, Caroline is a leading light on the jazz scene in the North West of England, she is a Senior Lecturer at Leeds College of Music.

You can watch Caroline’s playlist on YouTube Rhythm section playing, Trio and quartet.

We’d like to thank Caroline for spending the time to connect with us and hope to see her again soon!

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