My Drumming Roots

My Drumming Roots

In this article, we explore how to find your drumming roots.

I decided to get introspective and go about finding my drumming roots are to trace my lineage; my drumming family tree, if you will. Now, of course, I know who my favourite drummers are! But I wanted to look deeply into my earliest influences would shed a light into how these had an impact on my perception of rhythm, phrasing and groove.

In order to do this, I had chat with the person responsible for introducing me to music that influenced and inspired me at the earliest stages of my life; my mum. And, before we get going, it’s worth mentioning that I was born in 1983, which will help contextualise everything below.

MY DRUMMING ROOTS: 1980s & EARLY 1990s

During this period mum introduced me to some great artists and bands of a variety of different genres. Among these were Queen, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Phil Collins, John Denver, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, and KC & The Sunshine Band.

Hal Blaine (Elvis Presley)

It wasn’t actually until researching this article that I realised the impact that he’s in my life and where he fit in my drumming roots. Hal, who was part of the famous Wrecking Crew collective of session musicians in the 60s, played on most of the records that mum exposed me to. In retrospect, the take-away lesson from Hal was that, no matter who he was playing with, he played what the song and artist required of him.

Ringo Starr (The Beatles)

The Beatles were my first favourite band; they probably still are – everything about them was catchy, and sounded great. Reflecting back on it, Ringo taught me that the drums could not only drive a song, but could also be catchy and a hook. In this context, a grooves don’t always have to have a solid back beat on 2 and 4. He taught me to appreciate the drums as a musically expressive instrument more than just a time keeper.

Roger Taylor (Queen)

At the time, my knowledge of Queen extended only to the Greatest Hits records that were out at the time. Roger Taylor’s massive drum tones, feel, and songwriter approach to his parts were integral to the songs. In addition to this, how he chose to accent the back beat with slightly opened hi hats, like on Somebody To Love made a big impact on me.

Ralph Jones (Bill Haley & His Comets)

Listening to Bill Hayley’s music, there was an innocence to it particular to the 50’s with a rebellious streak that packed a punch. At the time rock ’n’ roll grooves were still being played swung over straight eighth guitar riffs, such as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On and Jailhouse Rock. And yet, what captivated me about Jones was his snare sound on those records, and his feel, and those killer snare rolls. His playing also taught me about using the bass drums as a means to accent notes rather than just provide a steady pulse.

MY DRUMMING ROOTS: MID 1990s

With my drumming roots firmly planted, by the mid 1990s I was bit more aware of the world, myself as a person and already playing guitar for a couple of years. I was on my own journey of musical discovery. Important bands that I started discovering, in no particular order, were Dire Straits, Faith No More, Criminal, Megadeth, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Metallica and Cannibal Corpse, but the earliest ones from this period were as follows.

Dave Grohl (Nirvana)

My first instrument was actually the guitar, so the focus of my musical foundations was more global than instrument-specific. I viewed songs as the sum of their parts with every component being as valuable as the other. With Nirvana writing such elegantly simple songs, Dave Grohl showed me that drum tracks needed to have energy; playing with intent and power. That keeping it simple is sometimes the best policy.

Lars Ulrich (Metallica)

As for both my drumming roots and music development, Metallica are still one of those bands that I hold dear in my heart. I’m a huge fan of all their studio albums except, really, for Reload and St. Anger… With that in mind, Lars’ drum sounds, feel, grooves and fills made a huge impact on me. They complimented James Hetfield’s riffs flawlessly. Looking at the song-writing credits on their albums, Ulrich was right next to Hetfield, teaching me about partnerships and working with other musicians to draw the best out of a song. Yet more specifically, on a style level, Lars taught me all about landing on 1 but crashing on 2 with the snare. Signature stuff, and so effective!

Billy Cobham

Ok, so I was a bit of a late starter as a drummer, but as a kid, my cousin introduced me to Billy Cobham’s 1973 album Spectrum. This has got to give me some credibility as a drummer, I hope! The drums on that album were fast, furious, yet had a tribal feel about them. Their tone was open and natural, and the music was syncopated. But, beyond this, the album introduced me to odd time signatures early on. And because of this, and the fact that this stuff was never explained to me as a kid, odd time signatures were never about odd time signatures, but about feel and how music could flow in different ways.

Matt Cameron (Soundgarden)

Before Wikipedia was a CD version of the internet called Microsoft Encarta. On the ’95 edition, which we had, if you searched for “Rock music” or “Electric guitar”, you’d get some audio samples from a couple bands. One of these was Soundgarden’s track Nothing To Say” from 1988’s Screaming Life / Fopp. The sample was only 30 seconds long or so… But that slow, brooding groove, the grace notes, off-kilter accents over the dark riffs and soaring vocals became a big part of my drumming roots.

Conclusion

Finding my drumming roots has been a great exercise, and a fun one at that! It’s let me revisit great memories, and given me a better understanding of myself as a drummer. I would totally encourage you to do the same if you haven’t. If you’re interested in listening to the albums that I refer to above see the list below then check ‘em out on Spotify, Apple Music or preferred music streaming service.

Albums

The Beatles Help (1964), Rubber Soul (1965), Anthology 2 (1996), Beatles For Sale (1964), Live At The BBC (1994) – Drums: Ringo Starr

Phil Collins … But Seriously (1989) – Drums: Phil Collins

Dire Straits On Every Street (1991) – Drums: Jeff Porcaro, Manu Katché

Pearl Jam Ten (1991) – Drums: Dave Krusen, Vs. (1993) – Drums: Dave Abbruzzese

Nirvana Nevermind (1991) – Drums: Dave Grohl, Bleach (1989) – Drums: Chad Channing, Dale Grover

Soundgarden Screaming Life / Fopp (1990), Superunknown (1994) – Drums: Matt Cameron

Billy Cobham Spectrum (1973) – Drums: Billy Cobham

Megadeth Countdown To Extinction (1991), Youthanasia (1994) – Drums: Nick Menza

Queen Greatest Hits I (1981), Greatest Hits II (1991) – Drums: Roger Taylor

Metallica Master Of Puppets (1986), Metallica (1991) – Drums: Lars Ulrich

Bill Haley & His Comets Greatest Hits (N/A) – Drums: Ralph Jones

Criminal Victimzed (1994) – Drums: J.J. Vallejo

Simple Hacks To Become A More Confident Drummer

Simple Hacks To Become A More Confident Drummer

This quick blog entry deals primarily with the issue of confidence (i.e. how to become a more confident drummer), which is quite a personal thing, I suppose. You see, I was born musical, and consequently taught myself how to play my instruments: the guitar, bass, and drums. Of these, it’s the latter that I’ve gone into most detail; enough to make a career out of it.

Incidentally, I’ve always felt intimidated by those who have attended / graduated from music schools, or conservatoires. I tend to associate these musicians as being far more technically able and knowledgeable of music theory than I, which I always find daunting.

So, I wanted to focus on this little issue of mine, partly to exorcise the demons. Yet, also partly to see if any of this resonates with any of you, and perhaps helps you in any way. This is because to me this feeling of intimidation is directly linked to confidence.

Of course, on the one hand, we can become a more confident drummer by practicing more. But that’s just one way. I think it’s worth spending a bit of time to figure out what makes you different. As I’ve come to understand it first hand, being a musician these days is a more all-encompassing term. You’re more than just a player of your instrument; you’re an entrepreneur.

A good place to start in building your confidence might be to look at what other aspects, both direct and peripheral, of being an all-encompassing musician you might be good at.

Can you play other instruments, or do you sing?

This may be useful in helping you getting a gig. I, for one, treat the fact that my first instruments were the guitar and bass, as a way of making me more aware of the ‘bigger musical picture’ when I play in a band. As a result, I get told I have a “great feel” for the music, which, to me, gives me a bit of a boost to compensate for some of the more technical abilities I might not have yet perfected.

Are you a savvy business person?

A huge part of being a musician is being clever enough to make money from it. Most musicians are artists, yet lack a business sense. Whilst others are very business-oriented, yet lack some of the more artistic side. To me, balancing this is important, yet being organised and being business-minded goes a long way in terms of your longevity in the industry and as a creative.

Are you a good teacher?

Something else to have a think about is where you stand as a teacher. In my experience, every time I teach something to a student, it helps reinforce it in mind. Likewise, not all musicians are good teachers… So, if you’re a good at this, it’s something to feel good about. You can use the transferable “teacher” skills to better communicate with your band mates or clients, or perhaps help  explain or clarify things for others, etc…

Are you a great entertainer? 

Again, perhaps your technical skills aren’t like Jojo Mayer, but are you a good entertainer? If you are, then use that to your advantage! Zoltan Chaney, for instance, is a great example of a very entertaining drummer whilst keeping a solid groove. Check him out here.

These are just a few thoughts, and whilst I can’t answer those questions for you, you should try to discover these things. And how can you incorporate this to your “offering”? Wear them on your sleeve; show them when you have to but don’t gloat; that’s never a good look.

Hopefully these things get you feeling like a more confident drummer. The above are very personal to me, so these may not resonate, and that’s OK! The point here is to think about yourself beyond your technical ability, given that “musician” does not equal being able to play 1,000 notes per second, although this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for that either!

Don’t forget, the more skills you have, the more you can bank on. But never stop developing your craft, learning from others, and from experiences.

How To Develop Your Own Drumming Style

How To Develop Your Own Drumming Style

On the road to growing as a drummer, I think it’s important to develop a drumming style – or voice – of our own as part of our method of musical self-expression. I have noticed that the development of style tends to be traced to the drummers one is influenced by. As Ralph Peterson puts it, one must imitate and assimilate what we absorb in order to innovate and arrive at our own style.

With this in mind, I also believe it’s not just other drummers that influence our playing – it’s also our wider environment and other factors. In this article, or drum lesson, I would like to bring the development of style and expressive voice into focus by breaking down the elements that constitute it in order to facilitate the process. My aim here is to offer an alternative perspective on the subject.

So! What is this style you speak of? 

Let’s start by defining what we’re talking about. The Oxford Dictionary (OUP, 2013) defines style as a “particular procedure by which something is done”. The Merriam Webster Dictionary (2013), on the other hand, expresses style as “a distinctive manner of expression”.

We could go as far as saying these definitions suggest a series of steps we must take in order to achieve something. Consequently, these steps are influenced by our anatomy, minds and emotions, which will affect our groove perception, fills, feel, and technical approach.

So your drumming style can be personal as it is mixture of particular and specific elements of our playing that separate it from somebody else’s (yet not necessarily everybody else’s).

… And how do I find and develop it?

In my opinion, possibly the easiest way to find your core style (or voice), is by playing along to a song and instinctively play what comes naturally to you as opposed to replicating someone else’s parts.

This is the first step to understanding how your playing differs from someone else’s, and it all begins with awareness. Pay attention to how you play the piece. Ask yourself things like:

  • Where am I placing fill-ins?

  • Where am I accentuating?

  • Am I creating a different groove with my bass and snare (or toms)?

  • How am I using my hi-hats?

  • How hard are my strokes?

  • Am I filling the groove with ghost notes on the snare?

The sample questions above act as a good platform to explore differences. The devil is in the detail, and that’s exactly where we start unravelling the essence of individuality – in the inconsistencies:

Volumes & dynamics

We need to observe how hard we’re hitting the drums, where we are accentuating, and likewise the consistency of these. For instance, notice how smooth and even are your crescendos are, are you playing a particular groove harder as you feel it needs more “oomph”?

Tempos

This is a great tool to help us express our voice, not just how fast or slow we play, but also tempo increases and decreases between sections to mark different feels (e.g. tension, etc).

Technique*

Whilst there is ultimately no right or wrong (as long as you get the desired results, right?) there are ‘ways of doing things’ that will benefit your playing and help you express (and develop) your voice more freely. These range, for instance, from how you hold your sticks, your grip, your foot technique.

Tunings & equipment

The way your drums sound, are set-up, etc, play a big part in being in the zone which affects how you play and your approach to the instrument.

* When considering this, it’s important that you adjust the technique and drum kit set-up to your body, and not the other way around.

OK, that’s cool. But, what influences style?

I believe our drumming style is largely influenced by our personality and how this is affected by life, and the environment in which we exist. In other words, our style is attributed to certain personality traits, which are amplified and manifested through our playing.

Ask yourself what each of your personality traits says about your style, and how do they manifest as such? Are you obsessive, non-conformist, passionate, and a problem-solver? This might be a great exercise to help you discover yourself, and therefore develop!

I would be inclined to say that when you hear other artists say they’re “influenced by life”, they’re most likely referring to this.

Wrapping it up!

Yes, our influences do determine to a large extent what and how we play, yet I do believe it goes a bit deeper. Awareness plays a big part in this. Being aware of what and how we play allows us to deconstruct, and thereby, reconstruct – to reinforce, improve, or change (i.e. develop) our playing. In order to effectively do this, we need to think small first in order to make these changes, and it helps to ask ourselves the right questions. Keep an open mind when analysing yourself, as this will give your approach more freedom, and your approach most certainly determines what you can do.

Originally published in May 13th, 2013 by Drummer Cafe. Read the original here.