Hey everyone!Β I get a fair amount of e-mail from all you drummers out there, asking me for advice on your drumming; questions like “What can I do to improve my ear?”, “What advice do you have for somebody just starting out?”, and so on. I’m no authority on drumming…

I’m just a guy who does it and enjoys it! So, with that in mind, here is my most sound advice to all who drum.

1) LISTEN TO EVERYTHING.

When I say listen, I don’t mean passively give something a “once over” while out for a jog or riding your bike. I mean, sit down with your MP3 player in a quiet place – where you won’t be distracted – and just really LISTEN to the music. Devour it. Dissect everything: patterns you hear, textures and combinations of tones that are unique or exciting, time signatures, form/phrasing of the songs, mood/vibe of the piece, and so on. There’s so much you can extract from the really great musicians when you really listen close like that.

2) IF YOU CAN SING IT, YOU CAN PLAY IT.

This goes along with Number 1 above. Let’s say you hear an amazing drum lick and think to yourself “That’s impossible! How did he/she just do that?” The honest truth is that if you really study that lick (or watch it repeatedly, thanks to YouTube), you can begin to sing the lick. Once you have it to where you can sing it accurately, you can easily slow it down and figure out what’s being done.

I found this one out from doing Jazz Choir all through my school years. That “scatting” business those cats are doing? It may seem stupid to you right now, but if you can acquire that skill and do it well, it’ll improve your drumming tenfold.

3) DON’T GET LOCKED INTO ONE GENRE.

It’s really easy to say “I’m a rock drummer” or “I only play jazz”, but in order to go from being a drummer to a musician (and that’s something I’m still working on – and probably always will), you need to listen to and appreciate musics from all corners of the world. And don’t just listen to the drumming being done; give ample attention to brass, woodwinds, strings…everything that’s not percussion.

What I’ve found in my own experience is that your attention to multiple genres informs your musical voice. For example: when I was growing up, the “Grunge” movement was the big thing musically; I would come home from school and play Pearl Jam’s “Ten” album, which got my rock chops up. As grunge died away, I got really into funk, and would play Tower of Power’s “Live And In Living Color” album every day after school. As I got more into jazz in my high school years, I found that my knowledge from the Rock and Funk realms was seeping into my Jazz playing; I could draw the appropriate amount of power into a musical moment (taking cues from Rock), and knew when to drop a downbeat and crash “on the 2” (a Funk staple). It’s amazing how interconnected music really is, when you think about it.

4) WANNA’ MAKE MONEY? BE A SIDE MAN.

“So what band are you in?”

That’s a question I get a lot from local people when they hear that I’m a drummer. The truth is that I play for multiple projects/groups, and thats the way I like it!Β With one group, I’ll play R&B/Funk, with another, I’ll play Pop/Rock, and with another, Big Band Jazz. Variety is truly the spice of life, and I like the challenges that playing different genres affords.

Now, my mantra is this: Bands don’t make money – sidemen do.” I’ve never been in a band that made good money; however, if I get called to do a gig with a group by myself, I will usually walk away with no less than $100-$150 on the night. I’ve been in bands where the gig pays “twenty-five bucks and all the beer you can drink!”, and that feels like an insult to me. (I don’t think that venue owners really appreciate live music anymore, but that’s a whole other post for a whole other day.) πŸ˜‰

So, work yourself over – learn lots of tunes from lots of genres, and be ready for them to be called at any time. Which is a nice segue…

5) WHAT SKILLS DO I NEED TO POSSESS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY?

Again, I’m speaking from my experience only here. This answer may be different for everybody. But generally:

  • A good ear
  • Punctuality (the eternal struggle, lol)
  • A good attitude and people skills (this is a big one – can make or break you)
  • Strong sight-reading skills
  • Good sounding drums that are appropriate for the type of gig you’re playing
  • Good marketing materials (business card, website, etc.)

Those are in no particular order, really. Each is as important as the next, from what I can tell.

So, that’s it: my five best pieces of advice, all in one post. Sure, it’s pretty general and broad in scope, but it really covers some the foundations of drumming that I think often get overlooked. Hope you found it helpful! (If so, leave a comment below. Thanks!) πŸ™‚