Have you ever been at a rehearsal or gig and had the other guys (or girls) in the band complain about your time? If you said, “yes.” you’re not alone. This is an issue that comes up over and over again. This month’s tips will address this and hopefully offer some possible solutions.
In pop music (anything you might hear on the radio), a drummer’s role is quite simple: play beats and mark changes. The changes I refer to are, for example, the transition from the verse to the chorus of a song. Seems simple enough. Then why do most of us have trouble filling this simple role from time to time? I think it’s because although the job description is quite simple, doing the job really well is quite difficult.
Playing beats is the bulk of this role. This is what we will be doing the vast majority of the time so it pays to be good at it. So how do I know if I’m doing it well or not? A couple of things that I have found particularly helpful over the years are easy to do and will provide almost immediate results.
Get a metronome. If you don’t know what this is, shame on you. A metronome is an absolute must for any drummer be it a pro, a hobbyist, or a beginning student. Metronomes take the guesswork out of tempo issues and offer an anchor in a sea of fluctuating time. Get the best one you can afford and practice with it alone for a while until you get the hang of it. Then you can introduce it into your rehearsals and gigs. Then if you get griped at while playing with your band, you can say, “I’m not sure what you’re hearing, but it ain’t me. I’m using a metronome.” Please note that drummers aren’t the only players who’s crappy time can influence the way a song sounds. ANY player has to have good time to sound good with a band. Meter is a fundamental that ALL musicians must contend with. Period. The problem may not be the drummer at all. A metronome is an easy way to improve your time playing. If you don’t have one, get one.
Recording your practice, rehearsals, and gigs is another way to improve. This can be quite painful and surprising if you’ve never done it. Recordings don’t lie. I’ve listened to recordings of myself that made me want to throw up. While I found this extremely unpleasant, it motivated me to identify and root out my dysfunction. Get yourself a recording device and use it. It doesn’t have to be an expensive thing, just functional. A simple and inexpensive “shoebox” tape recorder will work just fine and should cost $20 or less. These are (or at least used to be) available at Radio Shack and similar places. I suggest recording yourself and waiting a month to listen. This will provide a more objective look at what you really sound like. The waiting gives you time to lose the emotional connection you have with what you’ve recorded. Ideally, you won’t remember the day you recorded at all when you listen back. What you think you sound like could have very little in common with what you ACTUALLY sound like. OUCH!!!!!! What a motivator! Don’t let it discourage you. Use it as a tool for improvement.
Musicians are on a journey with no destination. You’ll never live long enough to get it all. Just try to be the best you can be and give these tools for improvement a shot.. Be kind but firm and honest with yourself. Work hard, play harder and hang in there. Getting better can be a lot of work and humiliation but the payoff is worth it.
As always, if you have questions about any drum-related things, stop by the shop and ask someone. We’re always happy to help. – John