The 4 Offenses Of Drummers
My friend and mentor Mark Kelso has a new DVD (check it out!) called ‘Musician First, Drummer Second’, and this says it all to me. As proud as I am to play this amazing instrument and be a part of this very passionate world wide ‘tribe’, I believe thinking of yourself as ‘just’ a drummer is limiting. You are so much more than this! The negative parts about thinking of yourself this way leads to focusing on the drums instead of the bigger picture, and competing with other drummers like an athletic sport (faster, louder, more complex!), instead of developing your own personal voice, a voice that is yours alone. Turn this into your mantra: ‘Don’t Compete, Create‘. Truly creating is when you are contributing to something bigger than yourself, in this case the beautiful music to be made. Remember Bruce Lee’s words: “It’s like a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory.” To be a drummer is to be a servant. Serve the bigger picture, serve the musicians around you, and empower everyone creating and listening. Remember, if YOU feel good, then the BAND feels good, and then the AUDIENCE will feel good! Thinking purely like a ‘drummer’ won’t get you into this zone, where music lives.
There are 4 common traps to avoid, what I call ‘the 4 offenses of drummers’. This is a life long study of always checking yourself to grow deeper within these 4 areas, so remember the learning never stops! When Michelangelo was creating his masterpiece David, he saw within the rough slab of marble in front of him a vision of the finished statue already there. All he had to do was chip away at the excess marble until the bare essential was all that was left. By focusing on these 4 areas, what will be left is more of YOU, more of your own unique voice and expression on this instrument that only you can express! Just like your fingerprint, there is only one in all the universe.
Committing these offenses might impress other drummers, but they will be a hindrance to your bandmates, hurting the music and slowing down your expression!
SPACE: Sometimes it’s not about what you do play, but about what you don’t play!
TIME: Rhythm is the main domain of drummers, so be able to command time with confidence!
DYNAMICS: This adds emotion and excitement to your playing. You’re not a boring person, so don’t make the music boring!
LISTENING: Always bring your focus back to the music, and respond to it, like a conversation. Try the 60 / 40 rule: Listen 60%, and talk or play 40%!
These areas are all interconnected and compliment each other, as one improves so do the others. I will go into each of these areas in separate articles, as there is so much to say about each one. The best way to improve and the see where you need the most work, is to record yourself as often as you can!
There’s a great story about Jim Keltner being featured on the cover of Modern Drummer magazine. He said at the time he felt like a fraud; how could he be revered in a world of Terry Bozzio’s and Vinnie Colaiuta’s? With Jim’s simpler style, he couldn’t compete with that kind of playing! But when he realized he had his own voice, his own rarefied sound that had his personal stamp, he became more confident and comfortable with his contribution to the music he played, and we all love Jim’s groove on those classic recordings. Don’t Compete, Create!
If anyone ever says a drummer like Ringo is not a good drummer, they are thinking like a drummer and not a musician. You may not be a fan of the Beatles, but Ringo is fantastic at all 4 areas of Dynamics, Time, Listening, and Space, which served the greater good of the music as a whole. A non-drumming story is what I learned about Michael Jordan from his biography. He used to think only about himself and how many points he could score, but his team couldn’t win a championship no matter how well he did. As soon as he learned to pass the ball more and play for the bigger picture, the Chicago Bulls began their 6 championship win streak. The better the band is, the better the drummer is! Keep growing in all 4 of these areas, and you will be known as the drummer that makes every band shine, uplifting the world with some great music.