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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
An ancient Chinese proverb says “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back”. In your journey to becoming a better drummer, there’s no doubt that you’ll want to learn from
the best drummers around; those who are most experienced. So, how to pick a great teacher is an important part of the process. With this mind, I wanted to bring some food for thought to the table when searching for tuition.
It starts with establishing a difference between a great drummer who teaches and a great drum teacher. Is there really a difference? I believe there is, so we’ll explore these below.
Let’s start with the things both groups have in common.
To my eyes there are basic elements that can make a great drummer and a great drum teacher very similar. At the end of the day, both groups are knowledgeable drummers!
When it comes to the differences, I believe the devil is in the detail. Great drummers come in many shapes and sizes. Some focus on technical proficiency and speed, some on pocket and feel, and some are great at both. And whilst some may specialise in different styles, they all have in common a great sense of time, musical sensibility, and are active listeners. Yet, when it comes to teaching, their approach might be more geared towards a lecture on a particular topic.
In contrast, a great drum teacher is the drummer who is able to provide guidance, nurture and develop skill. The focus, therefore, turns away from his / her own abilities and towards the student’s. This translates to understanding where you stand as a player, identifying your goals and getting to know how your mind works to use to effectively communicate with you. This goes in tandem with spotting areas that need development and creating tailored solutions for these. In doing so, being patient and supportive, keeping fun in mind, yet always challenge to push you forward.
To sum up, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some drummers are better teachers than others. This doesn’t make anyone worse or better drummers or musicians than the other by any stretch of the imagination. Some like teaching, and are great at it, some don’t like teaching and therefore prefer not to. Conversely, it’s important to be aware that some may like teaching but may not have the aptitude, whilst some may not like teaching but be reluctantly be good at it!
The point of this article hasn’t been to box any one into two distinct categories. On the contrary, I hope that the paragraphs above have served as a guide for you, the student (and let’s face it, we’re all students), to help you in choosing your drum teacher.
Ultimately, you should explore different teachers, and find what works for you. Go to sites like www.drumteachers.co.uk, or its sister sites www.drumteachers.ca (Canada) or www.drumteachers.info (USA) to help you find the right teacher for you.
You should totally quit your job… Be self-employed! Face it, you’re not actually happy with what you do, are you? You could be putting your skills to a more productive, creative and fulfilling use. Testament to this is that everyone’s got a little business idea they’ve always wanted pursue. And the beauty is that it can be anything; from making pottery, or starting a fashion blog to starting a record label, and beyond. You could even strike out on your own doing something your current company doesn’t do as well as you think.
Fact is that you won’t just benefit yourself, but you’ll be doing your country a favour too. Why? Small companies form an integral part of the commercial ecosystem, helping a country better cope with economic ups and downs.
So, here are a few don’ts that will hopefully be helpful when deciding to say “I’m out!”.
Don’t do it blindly
Have a plan; one that’s clear and with achievable goals. Keep an open mind to the possibility that things change / evolve with time; so let your plan be adaptable. As a small business, being too rigid is a bad idea. Have a mission statement (a couple of sentences that defines all your business activities). This will help you focus your plans and goals.
Don’t do it with little money in the bank
When you decide to ditch your soul-less job, make sure you have a good amount of savings. You’ll need this you until you start breaking even / making a profit. Taking out a loan can be a good idea, but it puts you in debt… Better to owe yourself than someone else, no?
Don’t be stubborn
Be persistent and tenacious, but don’t be stubborn.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Remember, you’re not the first person to strike out on their own to do what you’re about to do. Part of your research should be to get in touch with your future competitors who, don’t forget, will also be your peers in your chosen industry. Ask them for advise; you’d be surprised how helpful they can be… You can battle it out with them later!
Don’t go throwing your money away
Budget well and spend your money wisely. For example, Google Adwords and social media ads are money better spent than a pricey advert in a couple of issues of a well-respected magazine! Furthermore, networking and word of mouth are key to success: relationships! You might be better off paying to go to networking events to make yourself known.
Don’t NOT seek investment
There are people out there who enjoy helping start-up businesses. These investors got so much cheddar that it’s not about money, but about the thrill of creating something successful and being part of it. Don’t rule out this possibility; it’s definitely worth exploring it.
Don’t think you’re not worth it
Be confident, and fight for what you want. If you don’t do it, nobody else will do it for you.
Don’t listen to other people
People will tell you whatever advise they feel is important based on their experience, like a nostalgic recounting of their successes and failures… And whilst you might want to listen to them, at the end of the day, it’s yourdecision to follow your heart, so do as you please! Same applies to this article, so do whatever the hell you want!
In relation to online drum lessons, I believe that content, particularly meaningful content, is a good thing. On the one hand, you can never have enough of it; good stuff is good stuff, and it’s good for everyone. That said, sometimes you can have too much of it. This can cause option paralysis; I mean, where on earth do you start, right?!
Having recently ventured into Drumeo’s website to have a look around, I found something that I didn’t fully sit with me. On their homepage, if you scroll down a little bit, there’s a table called “How Drumeo Compares To Other Alternatives”. Have a look!
At the end of the day, and understandably so, Drumeo is a business. Like many other businesses, they have a Sales and Marketing function to establish their brand, develop new business, attract customers, and make money. Absolutely no issue with this; in fact, they’re very good at it, and I really like what they do!
I do think, however, that there’s a bit of a misrepresentation of the other alternatives, in particular private face-to-face tuition. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Drumeo positions its online lessons as a limitations-free, and better service than the other alternatives.
My point here is that it’s not better, just different; a part of the learning process. Therefore, I believe it’s worth making a couple of general observations about online lessons. For starters, generally-speaking, most people find it difficult to find or make time to play and practice… And we’ve all been there! Consequently, just because a resource is available 24/7, it does not mean people will take full advantage of it. In fact, a service like Drumeo could be thought of like a gym membership, many people may have it, but not make the most of it.
Another key aspect is instant feedback and its one way system. Students, in most cases, are not able to spot their own mistakes, which means mistakes can’t be corrected in real time, unlike having a tutor in the room. This risks the formation of bad habits. And furthermore, the online lessons will not adapt to the student’s learning style.
Additionally, much like with any learning environment, a large consideration in choosing who to learn from, is the personal relationship you have with your teacher. In an online environment, this is a one way interaction. In addition to this, if there’s something you don’t understand, you won’t be explained it in more than one way, in real time. This is something that a tutor can do effectively, as they get to know the student personally.
Again, the point here is not to have a go at Drumeo but perhaps provide a more balanced, or detailed view on their slightly misrepresentative table. At the end of the day, the best learning is a multi-faceted process, one whereby you use all the resources available to you to maximise your development!
Since I started teaching drums as a full-time thing a few years ago, I started noticing that when learning or, more specifically, becoming a pupil in our adult life, students above 25y/o seem to behave a bit like children. Now, I don’t mean this in a negative way at all! In fact, I behave exactly the same way when I’ve gone to see a drum teacher. So, how can we use this to learn drums better?
What interests me about this observation is this perceived change in attitude; the shift in which we proceed to accept information from an ‘expert’ (i.e. someone who’s considerably ahead of us). We surrender our trust and our will to this person, placing ourselves in a vulnerable position, and perhaps making feel a bit like kids again.
Have you noticed this yourself perhaps as a teacher or as a student? My partner, who teaches English in an ESL school, reports this exact same behaviour of her students. Senior as they may be in age or job in their native countries, she says they behave like middle schoolers. Now, her stories revolve around immature behaviour, which isn’t the case in my experience; my focus here is a general approach to learning.
So with that in mind, how can we make the most of this (i.e. learn drums better), our rejuvenating child-like sense of learning and adventure? To me, it’s about approaching learning something new with an open mind and a disposition to change something about ourselves (i.e. learning a new skill or developing it further).
The great Dom Famularo, said it best. To him, the fountain of eternal youth was to constantly be on the cusp of learning something new. Therefore, following on from those very wise words, consciously and actively try to
Keep an open mind, but not just when going for a lesson; do so in picking up new information and perspectives. Even if you might not agree with it, it might enrich your knowledge
Take advantage, and try to impress your teacher. On one hand, learning is done for ourselves, yet it’s also motivating to hear encouraging words from your teacher
Work with a mate on things you’re struggling with
Base your learning around projects like songs you’d like to cover, for instance
Thank you for reading my blog, as usual. I hope you’ve found this useful or interesting in one way or another. I would love to know what you think; whether you like it, or think it’s rubbish!
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.