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How To Find Your Own True Voice

By May 31st, 2022No Comments5 min read

‘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!

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”  Pablo Picasso


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. 

Have a worldwide vocabulary, steal from any source you can find, as unrelated as it many seem. Many artists find their true voices by expanding to other sometimes seemingly different and surprising areas. Frank Sinatra tried to emulate the saxophone playing of Lester Young in his voice. Toronto bassist Rich Brown strives to make his bass phrasing like the lines Stevie Wonder sings. Jojo Mayer chose to reverse engineer sounds from DJ culture that were electronically manipulated acoustic sounds, then taking back those sounds and recreating them in an acoustic environment. One of my favorite ‘drummers’ is Bruce Lee. I have taken many of his principles, attitude, and approach and tried to apply this to the drums. In his martial art of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce fused elements from boxing, wrestling, and fencing, and anything that helped his flow of movement and expression. In recent years I have been taking a lot from the Indian Tabla drums, which gave me fresh ears and new rhythmic discipline. I also steal a lot of ideas from golf, tap dancing, and even from an art gallery. Can I make the drums sound like a painting or sculpture makes me feel? 


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. 

“Be yourself, for everyone else is taken.”  Ernest Hemingway 



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