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L.A. Beat

Drum Beat #21— Ask yourself 15 quick questions

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In the next two columns I am going to ask 30 questions on drumming and give a short answer. I will ask 15 questions per column.
The point of this is for you to answer these questions yourself. It may seem a useless exercise but it can be thought provoking as well as teach you a little about yourself and your drumming. My answers are not the correct answers as there are no correct answers. The conclusions you draw from the answers will help you with your drumming. If you are not a drummer, try asking yourself 30 questions regarding your vocation or about who you are.
The answers can be scary. Have fun.

1. Do you ever practice in front of a mirror?

Practicing in front of a mirror can be very helpful. Do not use it to see how cool you are or practicing posing. Posing is  for guitar players. Look at yourself to work on your technique and playing position. Notice if your strokes are uniform and both hands are at the same height. Look to see if you are playing with good posture as well as if your sitting height is correct. Make sure to see if your feet are positioned correctly on your pedals.

2. Do you fake styles or are you confident in your ability to play all styles?

We all have faked a style of drumming that we were not familiar with. The fact is if you are faking a style, most people can tell.
You might think you are fooling people but you are not. The best way to combat this problem is take the time to be versed in every style of drumming. Be well rounded in your genre. Most drummers find a style they are naturally great at and  those type of gigs seem to come their way. If you learn and become proficient in all styles it shows in all aspects of your drumming. Different styles teach you different coordination and open your mind to ideas that otherwise would not be  apparent if you did not learn certain styles. Not only is it beneficial to learn different styles, it is fun and opens you up
to several different gigs you might otherwise not be considered for.

3. Do you set up your drums in the same way every time?

Lets hope that you do set them up the same way every time. It amazes me how many drummers do not. If you have practiced with your drums at certain heights and your cymbals at certain levels why would you change it the next time you have to set them up.
Inconsistency with heights and lengths away from you will result in poor execution. Take the time to develop a system of marking your drums so that your drums will be set up the same every time. Use a permanent marker to mark heights on your stands.
Learn what the best way to have your drums set that benefits you and keep it that way.

4. Are you disciplined in your practicing?

Being disciplined in your practicing is very important. Sure it is fun to practice random beats or play to records. This can be  beneficial but it does not maximize your time. Create a practice routine that encompasses all aspects of drumming. Create a chart and keep track of what you are practicing. Set goals for yourself and stick to it.
When your regimented practice becomes boring or mundane then play to some records or play something random. Practice of course is not always fun but the results from a disciplined practice routine are invaluable. It helps you become a great drummer which leads to great gigs.  Great gigs are a ton of fun.

5. Do you play for yourself or for the music?

I have discussed this before but I thought I would bring it up again. Please play for the music. Playing for yourself is absolutely the wrong way to go about being a drummer. Drums in a band situation are there to provide the backbone.
If you are playing for yourself you are not supporting anything. All you are doing is ruining the music which is what you are trying to create. If your ego needs to be on display or you have to show how cool you are, then become a guitar player. Then you can hang out with all of the other musical egomaniacs that exist. For you guitar players I say that tongue in cheek, so relax.

6. Do you practice your feet as much as your hands?

Most drummers practice their hands quite a bit more than their feet. I think with the advent and popularity of double bass drum pedals this has decreased over the last couple of decades. Make sure you practice your feet at least 30 per cent of  your practice time. Do the same patterns you practice with your hands with your feet. Make sure to develop your feet muscles as you would your arm muscles. Train your mind so that your feet are as flexible as your hands.
If you are old school and double bass drumming seems a bit over the top, get over it. There are many uses for double bass drumming that can be  utilized tastefully if you just work on it and do not overplay. Double bass drumming is not just for metal anymore.

7. Have you studied the greats of drumming?

In order to be a well rounded drummer you need to know and study the greats of drumming and what each brings to the table.
You can vastly expand your knowledge of drumming by studying different drummers. Transpose their licks and learn their  techniques not to plagiarize them but to add to your style and creativeness. If you do not like jazz make sure you take the time to study some jazz drummers. You may not like it but it will help you develop yourself as a drummer. The same goes if you do not like metal. So do not be close minded about who or what is good drumming. Study the greats of all styles and develop yourself into a well versed drummer with many ideas.

8. Are you familiar with the fundamentals of drumming?

Many drummers pick up a pair of sticks, learn a few beats and take off. They fail to learn the fundamentals of drumming such as stick control, rudiments, drumming styles, and so on. It ends up limiting them getting better or increases their time it takes to learn and execute new things. It would be like a basketball player not learning the proper way to pass or shift their feet on defense. The best players know and can execute all of the basic fundamentals without any problem. This sets them apart from the amateur and leads to many gigs than the drummer who is just winging it.

9. Do you have fun playing the drums and if so why not?

If you do not have fun playing the drums then find something else to do. Sure it can be a struggle to learn to play. But enjoying yourself is what drumming is about. Of course you need to be serious when you are a professional but do not lose site of why you started playing in the first place. If drumming starts to become boring and you are not having fun, then take a break or switch up what you are doing. I have noticed the main reason someone starts not having fun is they get into a stressful playing situation. Being in a band with an overbearing leader can take the fun away. Playing with non like- minded musicians is always a bummer. Make sure not to place yourself in a playing situation you do not like. If you find yourself in this kind of situation then get out of it. Playing the drums is fun so avoid anything that makes it otherwise.

10. Are you familiar with the different brands of drums and their strengths and weaknesses?

Contrary to popular opinion different brands of drums make a difference. Each brand has it strengths and weaknesses. What brand is for you depends on what you are looking for. The quality of a drum makes a big difference in how you sound. The types of wood they are available in from a manufacturer makes a big difference.

Each brand uses different qualities of hardware which can affect rattles, tuning and durability. Take the time to learn about the brands available and what works for you. Of course price point is a huge consideration depending on your budget. I would suggest find the drums you want and work to obtain them. If it takes a while longer to save for the set you want that is fine. Keep playing the set you have until you can afford the one you want. If you buy something in a rush and settle it is likely you will be disappointed and will be back to playing a set that does not work for you.  

11. Does your band like you as much as they like your drumming?

Being a great drummer and having your band mates think you are great is only part of the equation to being a working drummer.
If you are arrogant, hard to get along with, always late and generally a bad person your greatness will mean nothing. Doing your part professionally and with respect for others will go a long way in getting and keeping a gig. Remember a drummer is a support musician. There are thousands of us out there that can cover a gig. It is rare that you are not replaceable regardless of how good you are, Make sure your band likes you the person as much as they like your drumming.

12. Do you think the drums are a good soloing instrument?

Only in certain instances are the drums a good soling instrument. If you think otherwise you are sadly mistaken in my opinion.
You are there to bring cohesiveness to the band or playing situation you are in. Do not think soloing is your right. Most people find drum solos boring and too long. If it comes time for you to solo or trade licks with another player then be prepared. Play your solo musically and do not repeat yourself. If you are worried about solos then your priorities might be a little misplaced.

13. How many drummers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

The answer is easy. It is not like guitar players where you need at least three. Guitar players need at least one to screw in the light bulb while the other two say they can do it better and offer unsolicited advice on how to do it.

Drummers share information, therefore a single drummer has the knowledge of several drummers to complete the task. Drummers also have control of both their hands and feet. They can screw in the light bulb with each limb individually. This gives them four
options from the start. Again this is said tongue in cheek, guitar players.

14. Are you open to criticism of your drumming?

Taking criticism is a great way to improve. Ask others, especially drummers what they think about your drumming. Keep an open mind as to what they say. Do not become defensive. For the most part when someone offers criticism it is just as hard for them to tell you as it is for you to hear. Take the criticism, make adjustments and improve. If your band gives you criticism listen to it. If you do not make the adjustments or act offended or are a crybaby about it then you will not be in the band for very long. Criticism is good if handled correctly.

15. Have you ever taken a lesson from a famous drummer?

You would be amazed how accessible famous drummer are to giving you a on the spot lesson. Now of course the drummer for Aerosmith is not accessible at a concert. Drummers for smaller touring acts, jazz drummers and local great drummers usually do not mind talking with you and showing you something about the drums.

If you know a band is going to be in town, go to their hotel and hang out in the afternoon before the gig. Do not stalk them though. Wait and be patient and more than likely you will run into them. Introduce yourself and ask them if you can have a few minutes of their time. I have done this countless time and have received lessons from some of the most famous jazz drummers to ever live. This was especially easier when I was younger as most adult drummers love to pass on knowledge to aspiring youthful drummers.

— By Stanley Jackson, Special To L.A. Beat

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