Friday, July 22, 2011

Drummers Only pt 1: Humility

I've been beating on things for forty+ years. Took my first lesson in '73. Studied briefly with Dr. Mueller at Ball State. I play anything from rudimental marching snare, jazz, pop, rock, country, worship music, blues etc., sight read a chart or sit in and play by ear.

I recently had the honor of sitting down with a young 20-something drummer looking for feedback and advice. In our conversation I realized there are some foundational truths that relate to all drummers. This is a 6-part series on the essentials of successful drumming for all musical styles.

HUMILITY: Putting others first.

This may be the most difficult principle of drumming. Why? Because we become drummers to gain attention, take the stage and gain accolade. This is what's best about my drumming and at the same time, most difficult.

This is about putting the good of the song and the group ahead of yourself. As a drummer, there are always licks, patterns and fills that I want to play. That's the wrong focus.

The song and the group, since they're more important than me, determine what I should play. Sometimes a song demands rhythmic simplicity. That means I swallow my pride and lay down the most simple, solid musical groove I can. Great chops over-used in the wrong song is the wrong part.

Sometimes I'm playing with a band that has a weaker rhythm section; or perhaps you have vocalists that aren't in time. That scenario demands that I simplify what I play so that the other members of the band can more easily lock into the groove. If a vocalist, bass player or keyboardist is loose rhythmically, I will always simplify my part to better serve them.

In a rehearsal situation I may talk to the players who aren't keeping good time. I strive to be kind. I usually broach it in the form of a question, "Did you know you slowed down going into the bridge?" I will try to do it discretely so others can't hear. If I do this well, they'll usually ask me later, "Was that better?" When it's done well, every healthy person loves feedback.

On the other side of things, if I'm doing a prog rock, The Who or Dave Matthews Band tune with a solid crew, heck yeah, I'll tear it up with some appropriate wicked chops. But again, only as that flashy style fits the song and serves the group as a whole.

The goal of a great drummer is to make the band better. If people compliment me without complementing the band, that's a lose. If your goal is to be noticed as a great drummer, you'll never be a great drummer. Great drumming lifts the level of the whole ensemble.

Being humble doesn't mean you never have the spotlight or are noticed. It means you have the spotlight and are noticed IF it's appropriate to the song, the gig and serves the group.

Humility: Put others first. Let the tune and the group determine what you play. That's the path to great drumming.

Coming up: Pt 2... "Time from Your Toes"

Videos of me playing live.