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L.A. Beat

Drummers should focus on the basics first

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Hello, my name is Stanley Jackson and welcome to the bi-monthly column on drumming written exclusively for the LA Beat.

Every column will consist of three sections. The first section will be a discussion on basic fundamentals of drumming, i.e. tuning, musicianship, drum placement, etc. The second section will consist of thoughts as it relates to playing the drums with others along with ways to play conceptually instead of fundamentally. The third section will be a lesson covering many aspects from rudimentary skills from stick control to beats. I hope you enjoy the column and find it enjoyable and helpful.

altFundamentals— tone control and tuning
As I watch drummers these days there seems to be a complete disregard for the actual sound the drum makes or as it is technically called: Tone Quality.

 If I look at one more drum set at a show with dents in the heads, heads that are over two years old, or loose tuning keys I believe I am going to puke.

 How many guitar players could show up at a gig with old strings, not tune their instrument and then start to play? In other words tune the drums and get your intonation correct. Intonation: is defined as the degree to which a performer sings or plays in tune; accuracy of pitch in musical performance. This is something again you need to be very conscious of.

Your drums are instruments. If you call yourself a musician, then have a instrument that is in tune. You will find your gigs get better, the people you play with get better and your skill level increases. You can develop your own sound because now you have an instrument you can actually get a sound out of instead of a tone-dead plop when you strike the drum.

Concept of drumming #1 — Don’t show off, play with the music
The first conceptual drumming thought centres on playing the drums as part of the music instead of showing off how many chops you have or to prove whether or not you are the best drummer at a gig. You might not believe it but musicians actually have fragile egos and have been known to play strictly to show how cool they are instead of playing for the music. If this is you, then stop it. When playing in the context of a band, try to hear yourself or instrument with the band. Hear how you blend in. This takes times and patience and many rehearsals. Once you finally hear yourself in the context of a band you will know it. It is like a renaissance for your playing and worth the effort and practice to achieve it. First off, do not play so loud you overtake the band.

Once the drummer starts to play too loud then the guitar player turns up their volume and before long there is nothing but a loud mess of wattage coming from the stage instead of music. Do not overplay notes. Sure you can play a bunch of fancy notes, but honestly, who cares. The average person does not even register the drums in their mind unless someone is too loud or overplaying. Drums are an accompanying instrument for the most part. That means you blend in and provide a solid beat. Wait for a drum solo to show all of your fancy chops. You will be noticed and get all of the ego strokes you need if you play for the music and not yourself, therefore establishing an undeniable groove and beat which people cannot ignore. So in other words, play for the music, not for yourself. If you do this you will be better off as a player and as an overall musician. (As a side note, when soloing, have the band play chord progressions behind you. Why do other musicians leave the stage during a drum solo? What would happen if you stopped playing drums during their solos?)

Lesson #1 — Stick Control
The first lesson is going to center around stick control. I have noticed that many drummers seem to have skipped this step in their development. Achieving the proper stick control can set you apart from others. It gives you flexibility, and the power to execute difficult chops tastefully in a musical situation. The best step here is to find a teacher to teach you stick control exclusively. The local college is a great place for this. You would be surprised how willing most teachers are to teach basic drumming such as stick control. Do not seek these people out unless you really want to practice. They have too many things going on, so don’t waste their time. Quite often if you become one of their best students they give you back knowledge and teachings you would not get otherwise. In other words, teachers like to teach but only when someone is willing to take the time to learn and progress.

Gripping the stick — Take the stick and place your thumb and index finger on both sides of the stick and let it
balance freely. Your fingers should be about a little below the middle fulcrum point. Then let the stick hang there. Next wrap your remaining three fingers around the shaft of the stick and pull the stick back into your palm. This will feel uncomfortable if you are doing it right and have not developed stick control in the past. Secondly, use your wrist and forearm and pull the sound out of the drum. Your arm should start to scream with distress as you develop the proper muscles.

One of the major misconceptions is that your hit down on a drum. It is quite the opposite. You need to pull the sound out of the drum. Again, pull the sound out of the drum.

In actuality the sound is pulled from the drum not beat down into it. Go out and get the book called, "Syncopation for the Modern Drummer". Then sit and play all of the rudiments and accents the book has to offer. It was written, I believe, in the 1950's but is still very modern and I like to call it the bible of drumming. In later columns I will give many ways to use this book to play sambas, swing, you name it. In other words, GET THIS BOOK. When you are practicing your stick control do it with a metronome as well. It is never too late to work on your timing. Practice your stick control for an hour a day while watching TV, or any activity where this is possible. Your chops will increase tenfold and your playing overall will improve faster than you can imagine. Make sure and practice playing slowly at first and build speed and endurance gradually instead of going as fast as you can to start.

Until next time — practice hard and play harder.

Stanley Jackson.
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