So proud to have been featured
on the cover of Drums Etc!
‘We All Have Something To Offer’
I have a poster in my studio wall called ‘The Top 25 Drummers Of All Time’. At first, you might think this poster represents ‘the best’ being the same as sports stats, these drummers having reaching the top because of untouchable records and inhuman practice regimens. This is just not true, music isn’t a competition! What really inspires me is that with in a few seconds of listening to Tony Williams or Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich or Elvin Jones, John Bonham or Steve Gadd, you know without a doubt who you are hearing. It’s amazing to me how we can so quickly feel the personality of who these people are as they are expressing themselves. How do you find you own voice, both in the drums and in life? The good news is, you can’t help but sound like yourself… you have always had it!
It is safer to sound like someone else, and not be vulnerable in taking a risk expressing your own unique ideas. To copy your heroes is a necessary step when first learning, but don’t get stuck there. Jojo Mayer said it took him 10 years to sound like Tony Williams, and another 10 years NOT to sound like Tony in searching to find his own true voice.
Effortless relaxed technique on the drums will help your voice to shine. Tension is the enemy that will block your true voice from being heard through the instrument. Constantly recording yourself will show you the truth of what is bringing out your sound, and getting in your way. One of the ways I think Steve Gadd developed his sound was the incredible amount of time Steve spent in recording studios listening back to his playing under a microscope, as it related to the song he was enhancing with his drumming. Authenticity is also connected to simplicity. Anything unessential just gets in the way. If you cannot passionately justify it, get rid of it! I find the more I play this instrument and live life, it’s not what I am adding, but what I’m taking away.
Have you ever recorded your voice? We all usually hear it back and say ‘that can’t be me’! You have a speaking voice truly your own. As a baby you tuned into your mothers unmistakable voice even before you could see. Your fingerprint is one of billions that is completely unique, the only one like it in all the universe. Make your life goal to make your instrument sound as distinct as your own true voice, and to speak your honest truth in life. Can I make the drums sound as unique as my voice sounds?
You can’t help but sound like YOU, even when you try not to. I once saw an experiment where 10 drummers lined up behind a drumset, each to play 4 bars of time, then passing the sticks to the drummer behind them to continue the groove without stopping. No adding fills and no changes, only playing simple time with the same drums, same heads, same sticks, same dynamics, same everything. I couldn’t believe what I heard… everyone sounded different! This is what makes you, YOU. Your own individual SOUND is not in the drums themselves, but in your mind, body, and spirit. Expensive gear doesn’t make your sound, it only enhances it. There’s a great story about John Bonham bringing his son Jason to a friends birthday party, and getting on the kids drumset downstairs. As he played, the owners dad remarked ‘that sounds like.. Led Zeppelin!’ He still had his signature sound even when playing on a child’s toy set.
A mantra I use is ‘Don’t Compete, Create!’ If you’re going to compete, it should only against the previous version of yourself.
FIND YOUR VOICE BY:
1) Stripping away the unessential
2) Having relaxed technique: Tension is the enemy!
3) Record yourself regularly
4) Steal from all areas and influences in life
5) Expand what makes you unique
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!
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde
Speak with clarity and confidence on the drums and in life! Music and life is all about communicating your ideas, so let’s develop some tools to use everyday. To put yourself out there just as you authentically are means you will be vulnerable, but ironically it’s great vulnerability that makes great art. The urge we all have in common to blend into the crowd and not get noticed is left over from our ancient ancestors, from a time when sticking out would get you killed by that sabre toothed tiger on the savanna. Evolution of our brains has not caught up with our fast developing modern world, so we must use habits to fight this deep seated urge. Once you stretch out of your comfort zone and get used to being your unique self, this will become your new norm.
The Kanye factor
Let’s look at the original Kanye West. The man has a line in a song that says ‘I am a God’… now that’s confidence! Let’s call it the Kanye meter, and Kanye is always at 100%. Now, if I ever show up at a show and proclaimed ‘I am the god of drums’ this would be way too much. But what I notice in so many drummers, and this would go for any field, is most will stay where it’s safe, wearing the mask of another. You’ve got to have a bit of swagger! (And have moves like… nevermind) All our drum heroes had this in common, to be unabashedly themselves. John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Tony Williams, Keith Moon. It’s always a vulnerable, lonely place to be yourself. What if you’re laughed at? Who am I to out my own art out there, alongside my heroes? We all feel like that, scared we’ll be found out to be a fraud. But life won’t wait, and we need your ideas and creativity that’s all your own… use your Kanye factor!
The Bernard factor
There’s a story about the great Bernard Purdie, when he recorded with Steely Dan. While setting up his drums in the studio, beside the drums he propped up two signs on either side. One sign said “You Done It”. The other, “You Done Hired The Hit Maker, Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie”. Find your own ways to be bold and audacious. Go big!
Bernard does not have the facility of many others drummers like Vinnie Colaiuta or Terry Bozzio, but he does Bernard Purdie REALLY WELL. That’s the key, and since we only have one lifetime to delve into the deep ocean of this instrument, it must become your mission to get really good at just a few things. What’s your ‘superpower’, in life and drums? What’s your passion? What were you put here to do? Don’t add, but DELETE, use simplicity and minimalism to go from good at many things to being great at just a few things. Hold outyour thumbs in the air right now… yes right now! Look at your fingerprints, and remember there are literally no other fingerprints like that in all the billions of people on this planet. This is YOUR voice, a voice the world needs to hear! Life is short, so remember: don’t die with your music still inside you.
GETTING HEALTHY PLAYING DRUMS
SEE THE VIDEO LESSON HERE!
Drumming and Health go together hand in hand. One impacts the other creating a cycle that feeds itself and grows over a lifetime, creating ‘You 2.0’! Drumming has a profound impact on our brains, our energy, and our state. Much of this is still a mystery, but with scientists doing studies like putting an electrode cap on Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart to study the brain in real time as he performs a concert, we are understanding more what is actually happening when we drum. Even though the science is new, humans have been exploiting this for centuries.
Drumming through history has always had a strong connection with higher states and connecting us with our universe, from communicating with the gods, to going into altered consciousness. For me, I’ve noticed that drumming has a profound effect of my state every time, it never fails to amaze me! I can be drained after a long day, and still get that same boyish rush of energy I had when I was a kid. Music and the drum will evaporate stress and worry every time. Having a strong feeling of determination, attitude, and grit to overcome challenges you didn’t think you could face is empowering and invigorating, having a major impact on our minds, bodies, emotions, intuition, and spirituality.
I love teaching, it’s incredible to have the opportunity to empower others with a shared love of drumming and music. Many students I have guided have had challenges they are overcoming to get to the music they cherish, like Tourettes, Asperger’s, and ADHD. Drums can be an effective beacon to a goal, leading the student along the path fueled by passionate determination. We all can use more FOCUS in our lives, one of the highest tools of success. Drumming works our focus muscle by watching and listening, coordinating the body and brain to dance together as one. Many have shared their profound stories of loved ones with Alzheimer’s having moments of clarity after experiencing drumming and music.
I have been lucky to spend time with some the elders of the craft, like Jim Chapin, Ed Shaughnessy, Jim Blackey, and others. You always see a childlike enthusiasm, lots of joyful community participation (also known as ‘the hang’), and laughter! The best drummers know not to take this TOO seriously, as much as we love it… after all, we are only hitting things!! (Which makes us a little crazy?) I couldn’t believe recently seeing Alex Acuna perform, and then finding out he recently turned 70 years young… what?!? We have found in our drumming the elixir, the fountain of youth!
The body and brain ARE rhythm. Our inner world is a dance, and our body wants to work in harmony. Any dis-ease that occurs, is usually a breakdown in our bodies natural rhythms, and drums have the power to unite the body and mind. Every time you hit a drum, you have access to a virtual pharmacy of multi-vitamins, anti-depressants, mood enhancers, and energy boosters, all for free! Dopamine and endorphins are released into the blood making you feel awesome, and drumming also lowers cortisol in the body, the stress hormone that corrodes your health. Drumming also aligns brain waves giving a feeling of serenity, creativity and calmness, promoting peace and well being in any group. This is known as FLOW or ‘The Zone’, which drummers live for. The science is still new on exactly how and why this is happening, but check out the work Mickey Hart and others have done on this emerging field. The book Spark by John Ratey also goes into what is happening in the body and brain during coordinated movement and exercise.
I was a small kid uninterested in sports in school, not relating with the athletic crowd during this inevitably awkward time. Drums gave me something physical to focus on, giving me a daily sweaty workout. I had no idea I was regulating my mood and dealing positively with stress, I just knew I was learning and having fun playing drums! I had something to build on and express myself with, something that made me feel special. The elated yet calm feeling afterwards became a familiar side effect to look forward to. I couldn’t wait to do it again! Why not have fun while improving your health?
What does drumming improve? Focus, energy, team building, confidence, and discipline. We see in our health improved breathing, muscle conditioning, stress management, and a stronger immune system. Drumming is for everyone and is all inclusive, the world’s universal language enjoyed throughout history. We all have access to this no matter your age, skill level, income, race, or where you live, and this truly creates an ever growing global village, united in rhythm and living life to the fullest.
SEE THE FREE VIDEO LESSON HERE:
You’re probably playing too loud!
Dynamics crafts the MUSIC out of your notes. When this instrument really speaks, when it really moves people, it’s going to be by exploring the quieter range contrasting and complimenting the more obvious louder range. The drums are so powerful when used in this way, so here lies a huge opportunity in expanding your expression. Think of taming a wild horse or driving a Ferrari, keeping that power in reserve and not maxing out the entire time. Playing quietly gives your louder ideas more meaning.
When a child yells and is overly excited, this is unbridled enthusiasm. We’ve all heard this, and we’ve been that kid! But as we mature it becomes controlled enthusiasm, which draws others in, instead of alienating them. Just like a movie, dynamics is how you change the emotion of a performance. There’s a whole world of potential within your grooves that you may not be tapping into. Every song will have ups and downs, they may be subtle or extreme, but find them!
Sometimes you get a bigger sound by playing softer. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know! A great drummer who embodies this is John Bonham as he matured over his 10 years with Led Zeppelin. He learned to do more with less, to say more by using dynamics and space. I often tell my students ‘play light.’ This could be loud or soft, but keep your lightness. What did Muhammad Ali say? Float like a Butterfly Sting Like A Bee! I have spent a lot of time studying Bruce Lee’s approach to his art, and applying this to my instrument. There is power in subtlety.
Dynamics can be used to draw someone in, or push them away. When I hear soft dynamics, it makes me want to hear what the next musical idea is, keeping me on the edge of my seat. Have you ever yelled at somebody? It pushes them away! If I really want you to listen to an idea, I will play it softer and even add space so you can really hear what I’m trying to say. This is about playing with ENTHUSIASM, letting others feel how much we are in love with what we are creating. And everyone knows, enthusiasm is INFECTIOUS! We want to live with passion every day, and play every note on the drums like it is our last, and dynamics helps us get there.
HOW TO PRACTICE WITH DYNAMICS
Practicing with lower dynamics gives your louder ideas more meaning and impact, and also inputs the idea faster into our muscle memory. There’s also dynamics WITHIN your drumset. Think of yourself as a soundman listening to all the levels you are creating, constantly adjusting. Is your hihat too loud? Is the snare popping enough? Remember this concept: understate it a little. You’re probably too loud! Videotape yourself, and see how much you are truly exploring the world of dynamics.
Cindy Blackman has a great technique for practicing dynamics. In her apartment in crowded New York City she would practice playing quietly, her ideas burning with fire and intensity, but never going over the volume threshold. The challenge was not to let the phone ring for a noise complaint. If the phone rang, it was game over!
My friend and excellent drummer Max Senitt practices his softer dynamics while his baby sleeps soundly upstairs. If he can’t hear the baby monitor propped on his music stand while drumming lightly, then he’s playing too loud!
Older records sometimes had more dynamics because of the lack of powerful PA’s and amplifiers at that time. Discover some of history’s masters from the archives, listen and play along, and feel the effect dynamics has on the music. I remember my piano teacher always telling me to exaggerate the dynamics of a piece, stretching them a little farther than you initially think they need to be.
Music is a language. Think of how great speakers and storytellers use the entire range of their voice. A saxophone player once said to me ‘someone that plays loud all the time is compensating for not having any good ideas, and has nothing to say.’ Makes you think! If you can play soft it’s easy to play loud, but not the other way around. Watch your tempo when you’re going from extreme one to the other. What’s the loudest and softest you can musically play? Stretch your limits!
If you play with dynamics, other musicians will call you back to play with them. Ask others that you play with for their honest feedback on your dynamics, and how it can be better. Everyone needs a teacher or a coach to constantly work on perfecting their craft. Having a wide range of dynamics to draw from is what will make your ideas shine!
The 3 Minute Rule: The Power Of Consistency And Habit
SEE THE VIDEO LESSON HERE!
‘Don’t break the chain. Your only job is to not to break the chain!’ These are not the words of a drummer, but of comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Asked, how he works on his craft, he responded he writes at least one joke a day, every day. Even if he doesn’t feel like it, even if he feels extremely unfunny. Every day means without missing a day, like building links to a chain. The job is not to come up with brilliance every day, or to carve out a huge amount of practice time, or to be perfect; the job is just to be consistent, to not break the chain.
There is great power in consistency and habit. This is the big secret to greatness and genius, NOT talent. Work on your craft every freaking day! The name ‘3 Minute Rule’ comes from what I tell myself when I don’t feel like practicing: ‘I will at least play for 3 minutes, I can do that…’. The goal is to not miss a day connecting with your instrument, to let the feeling sweep over you of what brought you to drumming in the first place and surrendering to it, letting it guide you.
Perhaps you’ve been to the Grand Canyon. The awesome shaping and sculpting of the massive rocks and canyons was done by a substance seemingly as weak as water. But done consistently, one drop at a time over millions of years … the result takes your breath away! And the same will happen with you. Your individual expression you must take shape one day at a time. Not ‘every now and then’, and not ‘when I can get to it.’
What if you were able to make one straight year of playing every day, at the very least, 3 minutes? Here in lies the power and force of momentum, which comes from creating habit. Willpower doesn’t work, habits and rituals do! This way, practice becomes an addiction, not an affliction. Fire up those neurons in your mind every day, and the connection between body, mind, and instrument becomes stronger each and every time. The most common excuse of not practicing is, you guessing it … ‘I don’t have enough.. TIME!’ The 3 Minute Rule is a trick you play on your own mind, the voice that tells you to relax and to ‘do it tomorrow’. EVERYONE can find 3 minutes! Now of course, you will need to practice generally more that 3 minutes, (that’s not even a full song!) but if that’s all you got in on your worst day, then at least you’ve mastered yourself and had time with your instrument you otherwise wouldn’t have; this adds up.
What would you rather have, a penny that doubles in value every day for 30 days, or $3 million right now in cash? Most people would choose the quick cash, and until about day 20 you would still be pretty happy with that decision, as the penny stock has only made it to just over $5000. But if you can wait out the 30 days, you will now have over $10 million dollars! Doing a small act every day without fail creates massive momentum that can shatter your ceiling of achievement, of what you previously thought possible within yourself. I want to see and hear more of YOU on your instrument … I am invested in your own personal SOUND, the one everyone already has within them. You can only sound like YOU, and no one else.
You’ve heard ‘the hardest part of working out is getting to the gym’. The 3 Minute Rule is tricking yourself of getting your butt onto that drum throne. Once you are there, sticks in hand in front of our amazing instrument … well, you will most likely find that you CAN’T stop after 3 minutes, you will want to keep going! You will probably go at least 15 minutes, or 45 minutes, or an hour or two. But even if it WAS only 3 minutes, you’ve kept the coals of consistency burning, and you’ve pushed that next domino forward to keep and build your momentum. And as Seinfeld says: ‘your only job is don’t break the chain.’ You’ve now created a habit that ‘gets you to the gym’, no matter what. You’ve now created a habit that silences the master excuse writer inside your mind. You’re now riding the wave of momentum, so remember: DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN!
LTR ‘Life Through Rhythm’ VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wga6yk27RMQ