Yes — Drummers are musicians. This is not always reflected in other people’s attitudes towards us.
I was preparing for subbing for a gig and the leader put lyric/chord charts into a cloud folder for me (along with mp3′s, as well). The charts had notes that related to the arrangements. These were not written out on staff paper, so I still had plenty of homework to do. Part of the email said, “I know the chords are useless to you…” There is an assumption being made here that, because I’m a drummer, I don’t understand these things. It’s been my experience that making assumptions can lead to problems, and it’s something I try very hard not to do. I responded, “chords are not useless to musicians who happen to be drummers.”
Alan Dawson made a point of stressing that he was a musician first and a drummer second. We are musicians who happen to play the drums. Thinking like a musician means learning music. Don’t be put off by this idea — embrace it. I would encourage every drummer to learn the piano.
It’s not very often that I break drum sticks. I find that if I go back to my old ways and hold my sticks too tightly, then the sound gets choked and the greater the chance of me breaking something. By relaxing and focusing on fluid motions, my sound gets bigger and fat. This doesn’t necessarily mean louder — just full sounding.
I let my snare stick move as much as possible — even if I’m playing a backbeat and nothing else (no other snare notes). The same goes for my dominant hand which is usually playing the hi-hat or ride patterns. I don’t waste motions, but I don’t try to grip the stick either. The sticks want to move, so I let them move. After that, I have to decide what will happen next. That’s where the fun begins!
I am almost done reading The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life – Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process by Thomas M. Sterner. I highly recommend checking this out.
While the concepts in this book are not new to me, it seems helpful to be reminded of certain things at times. Embracing the process as compared to focusing on the goal is one of the main components. This is something that I’ve been incorporating for years in my teaching practice, and it seems to help my drum students. However, it’s not something that I necessarily use in my everyday life. I will try to change that now, and while doing so, enjoy the process.
I have been drawn to the music and drumming from New Orleans for quite a while now. It’s really at the heart of so many things — including being the birthplace of jazz. The various cultures that came together created the one place where it all could happen.
Regardless of the style of music being performed, I love how every drummer I hear from the Crescent City has “that thing.” I’m talking about that certain feel that makes everyone want to dance. It’s not too swingy, but it’s certainly not straight. Stanton Moore talks about “playing between the cracks.” When I listen to music that really is groovin’ I hear it. The New Orleans groove is infectious and has crossed many borders!
Most drummers like to play drum fills. Some drummers really like to play these fills — sometimes to the point of being too much. My main piece of advice to my students is to learn to listen.
- Listen to the song and stay out of the way of the melody. Don’t cover up the vocal entrance with a drum fill. Support the music rather than just playing a bunch of cool drum licks.
- If you end up having to play a tune that’s new to you (perhaps at a jam session), learn the tune by listening the first time around — no drum fills would be better than stepping on the vocalist.
- Listen to the masters — really listen. What do these great players do between verses and before the chorus? Emulate these great players.
The more I play and teach, the more I am drawn to the drumming basics. There is nothing more rewarding to me than spending time on my single stroke roll, e.g. Basically (pun intended), it’s the foundation of so many other things that I do. My arm motion for the single strokes is also the same for my multiple bounce roll and even my double stroke roll. I try not to change this basic motion even at low volumes. This idea is confirmed when I watch some of favorite players do what they do.
There is such a deep well from which to draw when practicing, and I’m constantly trying to learn new ideas and discover new books, DVD’s, etc.. However, that same deep well yields nice results when I limit myself. Sometimes, I come up with many creative ideas when I practice in this fashion. It’s pretty cool.
Over the years, I have been influenced by many different musicians. The first drummer that I really noticed was Ringo Starr with The Beatles. A bit later, I listened to Bobby Colomby with Blood, Sweat & Tears and also (in the same vein), Danny Seraphine with Chicago. Then along came the fusion era and I was exposed to Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Harvey Mason, Alphonse Mouzon, Airto Moreira, Narada Michael Walden and Tony Williams. Yes, I first heard Tony Williams with his group The New Tony Williams Lifetime. I later went back in time and discovered his playing with Miles Davis. Wow!
I have to say that a few albums (remember LP’s?) stand out as being huge for me: Spectrum by Billy Cobham; Believe It by The New Tony Williams Lifetime; and Chameleon by Herbie Hancock (with Harvey Mason). These albums got worn out!
What were your big influences growing up?
It’s Monday, September 16, 2013 and I’m thinking about all of the people that have been affected by the flooding in Colorado. We’re lucky here at my studio and I wish the same could be said for everyone. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your loved ones right now. We have a guest room and a spare couch or two. Feel free to contact me if you’re in need.
According to the Denver Post, “The Salvation Army uses 100 percent of your disaster donations in support of local disaster relief operations.” Please give, if you can.
Without a doubt, I end up teaching the same material to different students. For some teachers, this is not fun or pleasurable. I find, however, that it’s better for everyone (including me) the more I teach the same drumming basics. I find joy in rediscovering how great a single stroke roll (e.g.) can sound orchestrated around the drums. I also love seeing the look on a student’s face when she/he discovers the sounds that can come out of one sticking pattern when moving around the drum set.
For me, discovery is the key here. That being said, I’m going to go practice before my next student and see what I can find today.
I was asked recently who I thought are (or were) the best blues drummers. My list included some of my favorites: Fred Below, Jim Keltner, Steve Gadd, and Al Jackson Jr. Jabo Starks, Stanton Moore and Steve Jordan are there, as well. There are many other greats and I try to keep learning from everyone. The shuffle rhythm, in particular, is so unique and every drummer plays it slightly differently. I like that.
It’s similar to the jazz ride cymbal pattern — the phrasing is different depending on the player. I try to really hear those differences and see if I can cop the feel that’s happening. That way throughout the gig, I can bring about totally different grooves depending on the song and the leader of the group. I try to give each song what it wants.