I’d like to begin this article by thanking those who have offered feedback on previous drum tips. You know who you are. Thanks a Lot!
Several years ago I had an epiphany (short for “an episode of instantaneous, profound realization”). One of my musician friends asked me, “Who would you rather impress? Other drummers or the guys you play in a band with?” This question really made me think about something I now see as very important. Who WOULD I rather have think of me as a good drummer?
Have you ever noticed yourself perking up a little bit when you know that another drummer has walked into the room where you’re playing? Maybe played a little (or a LOT) louder? Maybe played that wicked fill you’d been working on? Maybe did something to you wouldn’t normally do in a song? Did you try to impress the other drummer?
If you said “yes” to this question (I think if we’re all honest, we’ve done this at least once), ask yourself another question: How did your bandmates react to this change in your playing? Did they react in a positive or negative way? Did they react at all?
This whole thing is simply regarding how we approach our gig. As a young drummer, I had a tendency to overplay. I heard all of these wonderful things I could add to the mundane beats in most commercial music and couldn’t help but express them. In the moment, I really felt as if I was adding to the music. I played A LOT more notes than were in the original song my bands were covering and as I was doing it, I felt great about it. Other drummers would come out and then I would REALLY lean into it. I wanted those guys to know how great I was because I could squeeze a gazillion notes into one measure of a country music ballad. As I write this at 40 years old, I actually laugh out loud!
I found the cure for my misconceptions to be a simple recording of a live performance. Not only did I realize that all that crap was inappropriate for the gig I was lucky enough to have, but also that most of the time, all those notes came at the expense of good time and feel, which is what my REAL job was supposed to be! How horribly painful!
My point is this: Unless you’re in a band that requires a “lead drummer”, you probably shouldn’t try to play like one. The fact is that commercial music (which is what most of us play) requires that we play relatively simple beats and mark the changes between the sections of the songs. That’s it. And it’s not as easy to do well as you might think. It is unlikely that we will be in a band with another drumset player at any given gig. But we WILL be in a band with usually at least a bass player and a guitarist. For me now, those are the guys I want to impress. Not with my chops but with hopefully my sense of musicality and understanding of my role in the band. More people want to play with me these days now that prioritize doing my job well and leaving my ego in the car. I hope my terrible experiences help people and that I might somehow spare someone from some of the humiliation I’ve experienced. Music is a team sport. Be a good team member and your bandmates will love you for it. Until next time. -John