Skip to main content

The 4 Offenses Of Drummers

By May 31st, 2022No Comments7 min read


4OD | The 4 Offenses Of Drummers

This concept came out of an event I did not just for drummers but for musicians playing an entire range of instruments. During the day they finally had a chance to express the main things that drummers did that bothered them so much they wanted to pull their hair out. Drummers commit these offenses over and over without knowing it, and if you’re doing any of them they can be a major obstacle to get over for anyone trying to make music with you. What are they and which ones have YOU been guilty of? Don’t worry, I’ve been guilty of all four offences myself! With awareness and empathy for the rest of the band, we can make better choices to serve the music, the band, and the audience. What’s the best way to see which ones you may be doing without even realizing it? RECORD YOURSELF.

I can remember playing a show years ago in my early days with a trio at weekly gig. I would record myself (and still do) at every show to methodically review it to see the good and not so good things I did so I can improve for next time. I had one show that I thought I played really well on. But when I listened back to the tape, I was horrified to hear that in the guitar solo sections, every fill I was playing was stomping all over his phrasing and ideas. The guitar solo is a story with an arc, slowly building up and growing with a lot of details and nuances. I was ignoring all of this happening IN THE MOMENT by thinking only of the drums. And the drums DID sound good, maybe even great, but at the high cost of ignoring the STORY the guitarist expressing by speaking through his instrument. I had lost the plot. I was playing good DRUMS but not good MUSIC, and only starkly realized this AFTER the fact by listening back to the recording. And at the time, I came away from that gig thinking I had nailed it! Good thing it was a weekly gig and I had a another chance in a few days. As I counted off the band and started the next show, it was redemption time; I was on a mission to make the guitarist feel like he could shine. As I played to the same solo as before I was heard it in a new way, which made me respond differently on the drums. Because I was listening more aggressively our musical conversation was clearer and had more meaning. When I reviewed the recording I was relieved and inspired by the new result. I could hear how the drums were now uplifting the ENTIRE band, not just the drums themselves. When the TEAM is better, you’ll be better. Getting the band to TRUST you is the always the goal.

There’s a saying that says ‘trust is earned in drops but lost in waves’. You EARN trust by working for it little by little, but it can all be gone in a moment. What are the four offences that have the most power to damage the trust you could be gaining from your bandmates? Look over the four offenses and see where you could improve. (HINT: you’ll probably only know the real truth after recording yourself!) They are:


* SPACE: Leave space! Space is just as important as the notes you play, if not more so. Think like a saxophone player or a singer: they have to stop to take a breath and add space to their phrasing. As drummers we could play all day and night and not leave any rests. RESIST the urge to play EVERYTHING that comes into your mind! (The great drummer Steve Ferrone once said ‘when I have an idea for a great fill, most times I DON’T play it.’)

* TIME: Humans are not robots and perfect time is not the goal. Time that is TOO perfect lacks the soul of the micro imperfections which makes us human. We all have a natural tendency to speed up and slow down, and this can change day to day depending on how you feel. The best music that speaks to our soul SWAYS around the pulse and isn’t perfect. The metronome helps us with measuring bpm, but a strong time feel comes from WITHIN. No one has more control over musical time feel than YOU the drummer. This is where breathing will control the adrenaline and steady your time, not dragging or rushing. Playing calm and strong with a relaxed intensity gives the band the solid heartbeat to build on.

* DYNAMICS: Dynamics adds EMOTION to the story you’re telling through your drumming. A good general rule with dynamics is to always exaggerate them. Often how you THINK you sound isn’t exactly how you really sound. I’ve played what I THOUGHT was soft, but then when hearing it played back I find it wasn’t that soft at all. You’re probably playing too loud, too often! Everyone loves playing LOUD on the drums, but your softer playing actually ENHANCES your high volume playing. If it’s soft, really play it soft. This will help you avoid a flat boring sound. The great drummer Cindy Blackman, who LOVES to play loud, had a fun dynamics game she used to play in her New York City apartment. She would play on a full unmuted drumset, but play all her ideas as quiet as she could. The game was, if the phone rang and she got a noise complaint it was a fail, so the goal was to play all her ideas just as intensely but with softer dynamics. This is challenging! Almost all drummers play too loud and give way more than the band needs as a default.

* LISTENING: The lesson here is that it’s not only about you! Enhancing the musical landscape is the goal. Even if you’re playing solo drums the feeling of a conversation can still be there, which goes back to the ancient roots of drumming as a tool to communicate. The iconic drummer Max Roach, one of the greatest soloists (AND accompanists) of all time, said that when he soloed he was having a dialogue on the drums with himself. LISTENING empowers you to react and compliment any environment you’re in. Listening is a SKILL, a muscle that grows stronger the more you actively use it. But how much do you REALLY listen? Do you have a habit of needing to express all you know, always thinking of what you’re going to say next? A good general rule is speak 40% and listen 60%. We all have the need to be HEARD. You already know what you know; but when you’re quiet and really LISTEN, now you know what you know AND what you’re taking in. The person that listens the most, WINS. Exercise your ears daily, in every moment.


If anyone ever says Ringo Starr 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 four areas of space, time, dynamics, and listening, 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 six championship winning streak. The better the drummer is, the better the BAND is. Keep growing in all four of these areas, and you will be known as the drummer that makes every band shine, uplifting the world with some great music.

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 four 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 YOU 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.

One of the mantras in the LTR METHOD is ‘Don’t Compete, Create‘. Truly creating is when you are contributing to something greater than yourself. To be a drummer is to be a servant. Serve the bigger picture, serve the musicians around you, and empower everyone listening. Thinking purely like a ‘drummer’ won’t get you into the zone where music lives and breathes. Remember, if YOU feel good, then the BAND feels good, and then the AUDIENCE will feel good!