The Drummer’s Best Friend In The Band: THE BASS PLAYER | with Ian DeSouza

There is something I call ‘The 4 Offenses Of Drummers’ (see the separate blog and video lesson on my website and Youtube) where drummers must be aware of the four greatest offenses they can do to at worst get fired, or at the very least highly annoy the other players in the band. This list came from talking to many musicians OTHER than drummers, and finding out what drummers do that get in the way of the most important big picture: THE MUSIC. They are Space, Time, Listening, and Dynamics. An essential way for drummers to test where they are at in these four areas is to spend time playing with your best friend in the band: the bass player. Bass and drum duo jams leave you nowhere to hide and will show you exactly where your drumming is currently at, and also happens to be one of the most FUN things you can do to practice! Leave the other musicians at home, and spend more time with the bass players in your life.

One of my favorite bassists in the world to play with is Ian DeSouza. His time feel and groove, razor sharp in the moment listening skills, spectrum of world rhythms and beats to draw from, authenticity and originality, and improvising skills are unmatched! Ian is a Juno award winning artist having played with Sisters Euclid and many many others, and is one of the best in the business. In this session I wanted to get and insider perspective of Ian’s approach to playing in a band and locking in with the drummer, and also what he appreciates most in his favorite drummers to make music with. Sometimes as drummers, we can learn MORE from other musicians that are not drummers! Ian’s insight and advice to drummers is invaluable, so enjoy dropping in on this conversation we had. Also, don’t miss Ian and I playing and creating together in our bass and drums improv duo (LDM), and in my band modus factor.

Body Language, Drumming, & The Brain with Mark Bowden

What does studying body language and the brain have to do with drumming? It has EVERYTHING to do with it! LTR (life through rhythm) is about studying outside disciplines to get better at your main discipline. If you want to improve your golf game, steal from cooking. If you want to improve your martial arts, steal from calligraphy, and so on. In this case, we are seeing drumming as A LANGUAGE, and our body expression paired with knowing how our brain is wired from eons of evolution will empower us greatly.

In this session I had the opportunity to hang out with one of my favorite people, Mark Bowden! He is one of the worlds top experts on body language and the brain, and also has an awesome energy and sense of humour. We dig deep into these concepts in ways that will both help you in your everyday life, and infuse every note you play on the drums with more of YOU. At the end of the podcast we analyzed the body language of some of the most iconic drummers of all time to get further inside their minds and approach. This is definitely insider information that will give you an edge, so watch it 10X and literally ’embody’ the learning. (Embody: to BECOME a part of your body) Feel these body language and brain lessons to absorb them into your own game of life and drumming!


‘The 4% Edge’ For Drumming & Life

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book ‘The Rhythm Of Practice’, a guide on how to get to the most our of your daily practice, with tools and tactics to create your best self and live your vision.

The delicate balance of putting yourself in challenging situations by following the path of most resistance is tricky. We are building our skills every day, but to get to what seems impossible today, we are going forward a little at a time, in harmony with the skills we have right now. The goldilocks zone is presenting yourself with just enough challenge to demand all your focus by pushing you into flow state by stepping up and rising to the challenge. To much challenge to too little skill and you are overwhelmed, creating anxiety. Too little challenge to too much skill is too easy, creating boredom. Pushing yourself just 4% above your current skill has been found to be the magic number. It seems small, but small improvements over time will compound over days, month, and years to take you to what seems impossible today.

Become an engineer of designing uncomfortable situations for yourself to be in, but not so much that you’re completely flooded. 4% is not that much! Struggle is a crucial element of flow, but seeking out just the right amount and when, is an art. Awareness is the key to finding the razor’s edge fine line of balance, that will always be changing in the different seasons of your practice as you progress. Not enough challenge makes you bored, and too much challenge gives you anxiety, and flow exists right in the sweet spot between the two. Playing exactly what you already know presents 0% challenge, so when we say ‘the 4% rule’, we are trying to add just enough disquiet and unease to rise to the challenge and kickstart the flow process. Make it your mission to explore this sweet spot between comfortable security and restless uncertainty.

This means inviting frequent and regular frustration and failure. Just enough of a fear of failure, but not too much or too little. The sweetspot in between is just enough discomfort to get into flow. You are pushed just enough out of your comfort zone. There is a matching of challenge and skill. I love drumming, but if you asked me to play the latest Cirque Du Soleil show the challenge would far surpass my current skill, and there would be no flow in it at all for me. But the players in the show, having learned the show 4% at a time building one challenge after another and playing it hundreds of times, drop into flow regularly when performing. They couldn’t perform at that high a level WITHOUT dropping into flow states, and that would go for not only their musicians, but all the performers in this world class show.

Try this experiment. Take a piece of paper, crumple it up in a ball, and throw it as hard as you possible can. It won’t go very far no matter how much force you apply, because if it’s lightness. Now take a bowling ball and also throw it as hard as you can, and it also won’t go very far because of it’s heaviness. Now take a baseball and throw it. The baseballs mass is in the ‘goldilocks zone’ sweet spot of being not too heavy but not too light, and so the amount of force you apply will have a lot more impact on the final result. PRACTICE SHOULD BE ADDICTIVE. Don’t make practice an affliction, make it an addiction. When we practice, we’re regularly facing things we DON’T KNOW, and having big goals brings too much on the anxiety scale, which makes practicing a painful chore and cause us to quit. Part of finding the right zone in the right amount of challenge that works for you, is that it will feel GOOD. When you feel you’re going too far into the anxiety zone, cut your practice short and walk away. This is hard on our egos because it feels like the thing you are practicing has beaten you. It may feel counter productive to walk away from your practice, but in the long run you are getting far more out of your practice. Consistency leads to mastery, and you’ll want to do it every day if you can keep it fun! Let’s live CONSISTENCY over INTENSITY. I don’t know about you, but I want to be still practicing when I’m 110 years young! There is a cost to going to your redline max too often. Going to your maximum intensity means you will have to take a break by definition. If you didn’t go full intensity to your max, then you won’t need to take a break in the first place. If you don’t need to take a break, you didn’t really go to your maximum intensity. Too much chaos, novelty, and unpredictability can put the brain into a mode where it is detecting possible threats, and can keep you from dropping into flow. This is too much challenge and the brain needs to stay heightened to protect itself. The prefrontal cortex is staying too active, and too much thinking is a flow blocker. Continue to build awareness in your practice with measurement and reflection, because your goldilocks sweetspot of how much challenge and intensity to add to your practice, will always be changing, even daily!

Use Your Illusion

If you think there are consequences and risk, then it’s real, even if you’ve completely made it up. If there are no real consequences, I have to create them. Affirmations and visualization may or may not work, but I use those methods anyway to help me. Declaring my goals and vision to the world creates a pressure I invented. If it works to get the project done and helps push me to do the work daily, then I will gladly use this illusion. If it’s real or not but it creates some risk and consequences, does it matter? You can create all kinds of made of ways to bring a little pressure onto yourself, pushing you to perform at your peak. I have a friend that on performance game days where he needs to perform at a high level, he wears red socks. Is there any scientific evidence on the correlation of red rocks to performing at a high level? Not that I know of, but it works for him! Physics tells us the observer changes the thing being observed, so this power belongs to you. Your brain doesn’t know the difference of real risk and invested risk. When I went sky diving I had a very low risk of the chute not opening, but my brain definitely didn’t know that. Let me tell you, when I jumped out of that plane, I felt the risk and consequences! You don’t have to jump out of a plane, but it’s empowering to realize how your brain creates reality and how to manipulate this.

The way we feel about reality influences our behaviour, not reality itself. Reality is overrated! As long as it works it works, even if you don’t know why. I remember playing one of the worst gigs of my life in a rural bar, somewhere in the middle of a long tour Canada. The bar was a dive, it was underground and dark. As I looked out in the audience, I saw a girl and a guy making out with their backs facing us, and no one else. They didn’t care that we were there, and that was the entire audience. Being far away from home, giving all we had to take our music out in the world, these kinds of gigs can be absolutely soul crushing. I felt the life drain out of me. Why am I here, why am I bothering? I have a high standard I demand of myself, and to get there I had to imagine a scenario. First I thought, what if there’s someone in the shadows watching the show that I can’t see? This is a test of a real band, if they can perform at a high level with a bad crowd, or lack of one. This actually happened to The Police on their first tour. They played shows with about 3 or 4 disinterested people watching, but they played like their lives depended on it, with passion and fury. At one of these shows a record executive was in the back shadows watching them give 110% when they didn’t have to, and witnessing this energy and passion set them up wth their first record deal, and the rest is history. So when I was at my soul crushing gig, I imagined someone in the shadows that I couldn’t see. What if Tom Petty was hanging out in the back checking out the band? The next thing I imagined, was getting hit by a speeding truck as I left the show to go to the hotel. This may sound dark and depressing, but it lit a fire under me. If I really knew this was the last time I would ever play music on this earth, you better believe I would take care, play with every ounce of energy and emotion. I snapped out of the low place I had been, this ended up saving the show because I had changed ‘real’ life to an illusion that got us to where we needed to be, and paradoxically materialized a good performance out of me. You can control your perspective of things a lot more than you can control the real world. If you think pressure, consequence, and risk are real, then they’re real. Use your illusions.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book ‘The Rhythm Of Practice’, a guide on how to get to the most our of your daily practice, with tools and tactics to create your best self and live your vision.

What I Learned From One Of My Biggest Failures

How did you fail today? This is a great question to ask daily. This may seem negative at first, but harvesting your failures is where your greatest lessons lay in waiting for you. Wear them as badges of honour! This takes courage and humility, and is not for the faint of heart, but this is where greatness lives.

Your best self lies on the other side of the hard work it will take to pick yourself up, and keep pushing past your failures. This is extremely painful, but if it were easy everyone would be doing it! Running from failure can only lead to regret, and this is a far worse pain, a poison felt slower over a much longer period of time. One of the best activities you can engage in, is to interview and spend time with some senior citizens in your life, either in your family, or by volunteering. When you see the scope of an entire lifetime, it becomes clear how valuable failures really are. Spend some time going over your life adding up your biggest failures, and you’ll see that’s where most of your best lessons and most profound steps forward in your life exist.

Hurry up and fail! The more you rack up the better. This is a sign you are going for it, getting after it, and pushing yourself. I want to hear about them, and what you’ve learned! Share your lessons with anyone you can, to inspire others on their path. Failure is a sign of life. The only people that aren’t failing are in the graveyard. Failing forward is where your best self lives, so get up, brush your self off, and take one more step forward!

Drum Technique Masterclass to get into FLOW STATE

Technique is the HOW of what we do, the study of MOVEMENT. Flowing motions equals a flowing sound, so ‘how you move is how you groove’! This is not about getting as fast as we can or competing with other drummers, but about SELF EXPRESSION, and removing any barriers in the way of you sounding like your best self on your instrument.

Once we get out of our heads and into the movements, intuitively reacting to the PRESENT MOMENT, we use our instinct as a tool, which is much more powerful that having to critically think out every part of what we do. This opens the door to getting into flow states when we play the drums. Playing from THE ZONE is the most fun we can have when grooving on the drums and in life!

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The 2 Neglected Areas Of Your Craft: BUSINESS & CHARACTER

‘You don’t choose the drums, the drums choose you.’ This is how I feel about what I do, and many of us feel this way about our craft. It is an OBSESSION, we love it, it is our fun and joy, our escape from the world. Motivation is not needed, in fact sometimes the challenge in when to walk away and not ever do it! But there are two other areas that are the very foundation of the craft you love, and can easily be neglected: BUSINESS skills, and shaping your CHARACTER.

If you are only ever going to work in a room alone and you’ll never take what you do out into the world, then read no further. But even as an amateur, you will need to relate and connect with other people. Let’s define what these two areas mean: your character will determine if people want to work with you or not, and what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Your main currency is your reputation! This is about controlling the darker angels of your nature. For myself, I am impatient. If I let this take over, I will snap at someone I work with, or not have the patience to see the long game through and quit. This can create my reputation pretty fast as being someone to avoid working with, so I constantly have to watch this. This is a double edged sword because it comes from a good place of being passionate and energetic, but I have to constantly work on this DAILY.

Some people say business is about making money, and that is part of it, but to me it is about much more. Business is about taking something you love and believe in out into the world, adding value to people’s lives by making the world better place, and receiving value back for your efforts. If it truly is valuable to others and is affecting lives in a positive way, then the money will take care of itself over time, but it takes consistent awareness, focus, and skills learned over time.

When I was a teenager playing drums and forming bands, I wanted nothing to do with the ‘boring’ business, and didn’t think twice about how I was showing up in the world. But as I worked on my drumming constantly, these other two neglected areas were right under my nose. I had to learn my business to reach others to form bands, to get rehearsal spaces and book venues for shows, and advertise to get the word out. I had to learn character skills to have the fortitude to overcome the inevitable failures that came, and to be able to work with my bandmates to write songs, travel, and get along in the other 23 hours in the day that we weren’t performing.

If I’d sought out mentors and sharpened these skills sooner, I would have been a lot more prepared for the storms that came, and you can believe 100% that your challenges are coming. I had to learn some of these lessons the hard way, that to fuel the craft I loved, I had to have these other areas together equally, if not more. Take constant effort to renew, reinvent, and sharpen your business and character, and watch what you love and grow in ways over time that you can’t even imagine!

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Practicing Isn’t Enough: Add ACCOUNTABILITY & DISCOMFORT

We all know the power of momentum that is created by practicing DAILY. You probably know the ‘10,000 hour rule’, that to get to a high level at your craft you need to put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. But daily practice adding up to many hours doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get to mastery. Getting to mediocrity isn’t that hard, but then a plateau is hit. Why? Two other elements must be there: Accountability, and Discomfort.

‘Iron Sharpens Iron, and Man Sharpens Man’

Accountability is being held to a higher standard. Just this act of observation is powerful! This can be done in so many ways, by declaring your intention to the world, by having a teacher or mentor, or just by measuring your progress. I have an app on my phone that measures the days I practice, and I know I’m accountable to see at the end of the month what I’ve achieved. Sometimes when I practice I’ll record myself, and just KNOWING I’m being recorded is a form of accountability, even though I’m the only one that will ever hear it. It’s a little Jedi mind trick, but it works. Creating deadlines also works because you will be accountable even if just to yourself, and not just getting it done ‘whenever you feel like it’.

‘Embrace The Suck’

Humans are amazingly adaptable. Life itself adapts to extreme environments in ways science didn’t think was possible just a few years ago. When you’re uncomfortable you adapt! If you’ve ever noticed when you failed at something, after you come back to it you’re just a little better at it, even without trying. If you can’t think of an example, remember learning to ride a bike. Balancing on a few inches of rubber and gliding through the air is uncomfortable at first! Taking the training wheels off creates discomfort, failure, and forces you to ADAPT. When we practice, it’s easy to become too comfortable. Find little ways to keep yourself on edge. If you hear the little voice in your head saying ‘why do I have to do this?’, then you’re on the right track. Change the temperature of the room, play the song a different way, change your kit around (try open handed drumming!), record yourself, try extreme tempos, exaggerate the dynamics; use your imagination! Get used to living at your limits, going daily to the razor edge of your abilities. I find little ways throughout the day to keep myself in discomfort. I may park my car in a slightly farther away parking spot, or say hello to a stranger when I don’t feel like it. This eventually becomes habit, your new normal. Now you are always competing with your former self, becoming a little better each and every day, never stagnant.

Practice daily but add accountability and discomfort, and watch yourself soar to places you couldn’t have imagined before. Your ego will take a few hits when you’re not having any fun and it doesn’t feel good, but this is what it means to walk with giants.

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RLG: ‘Be Real, Listen, Have Gratitude’

‘When The Pressure Is On, Use RLG’

You’re walking towards the stage… you are nervous, sweating, unsure of yourself, doubting yourself, trying to remember… why am I putting myself through this ordeal again??

Sound familiar? We have all experienced this, and if it’s not in music playing drums live as I do, then it is going on to ‘life’s stage’, whatever that is for you. A life dedicated to safety is actually MORE risky, because you risk REGRET, which you can’t undo and definitely don’t want to live with every day (I’ve met too many seniors that live with regrets they can’t undo, thinking ‘if only…’) So if we’re going to take on some danger, discomfort, and fear (the only way to GROW), here is an acronym that’s helped me center on those final footsteps before stepping on the stage: RLG.

Acronyms are powerful because they compress massive meaning and emotional context into a few letters. Let’s go through this one.

R = BE REAL. No one can be you, and you can’t be anyone else. This puts our focus in the right place, to create and not compete. To TRY to live up to another’s standard, or what you SHOULD be is a setup for bad stress that we can never achieve anyway. Be Real… you are your own artist of life. What do you have to say in THIS MOMENT?

L = LISTEN. This is about contributing to and complimenting the whole, taking the focus off of ourselves and onto those around us to we can SERVE. This is what music and drums are all about… the great drummers have always been in great service to the big picture. Michael Jordan still passed the ball… he became great when he made his TEAM great. It’s easy to get wrapped up in OURSELVES; we all want to sound good after all; but we have to practice the never ending discipline to gently take the focus off of ourselves and LISTEN to what is going on around us, surrendering to the present moment to serve strongly.

Here’s a thought experiment: what would you do if your 5 idols and heroes in your field (fill in the blank) walked in and got a table close to the stage to watch your gig? How would you react? Would you play different? Would you play more or less? Where would your focus be? Even though we would definitely all NOTICE and be a little freaked out, the way to make the best music is to lISTEN, place your focus on the other musicians, and best serve the music making the big picture better for you being there. This way the pressure to ‘sound good’ is gone, and you will have the strong approach of simplicity.

This ‘thought experiment’ happened to me in real life at the ‘Sonor Days’ drum festival in which I was on the bill with Steve Smith. I have studied and learned from Steve for many years, he’s one of my favourites! I have seen and heard him on record and video for years but never in real life, and there he was… I was choked up and didn’t say much, it was intense! So later in the day when my band modus factor played the festival, sure enough I glanced over during the set and at the side of the stage a few feet away was Steve Smith checking me and my band out, eating a sandwich. I remember thinking ‘whoa, that’s Steve Smith!’ and then putting my ficus back to our bass player Ian DeSouza, and what he was playing. Just like that I was back in the groove, back to complimenting the whole, instead of futilely to trying to ‘sound good’ and impress, where I would have tensed up and overplayed. There were also many great drummers in the audience which freaked me out as well, but I kept going back to the bass, the music, and serving. DON’T COMPETE, CREATE.

G = GRATITUDE. We are lucky to be able to do this! Gratitude is a practice, one that is best to work in the morning and evening, which trains our brains to see these moments in our most challenging moments. The regular state of our brains, one that helped us survive millennia ago, is our ‘negative bas’, to always see what’s wrong in any situation. We all have this, it served us well is eons past, but this is a daily practice to always come back to gratitude. No matter how ‘bad’ the gig, this is an opportunity for you to express your skill on the drums to other people. Wow!! Think how cool that is, that we live in this age with these tools where we can learn and express our craft in this way. I remember hearing a great story about the golf master Jack Nicklaus that even in the middle of the intense pressure of a competition, he would practice getting back in the moment, taking a look around at the scenery of the course and think ‘wow, I get to do this, this is pretty cool.’ STRUGGLE ENDS WHERE GRATITUDE BEGINS. Practicing gratitude can get us in the right state to be our best selves and live our truest potential as we can onto the stage of life.

So in those final steps to the stage repeat RLG a few times to yourself to get back into STATE to be your best self under the pressure of the moment. You can guarantee about stress, pressure, challenges: THEY’RE COMING, so having good habits and protocols in place will steer you in the right direction. Be patient, this is a never ending PROCESS where we are overcoming our own biology to live our potential. We will never ARRIVE, but always strive. Our focus is like the intensified sunlight through a magnifying glass moving to wherever it is directed, and RLG moves this focus to the arena that will empower us to be our best selves, and to inspire others with what we offer the world.

Now take the leap, and get on that stage!