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L.A. Beat

The Drum Beat

Drum Beat 11— Know your fundamentals

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As I said last column I am switching the format. The next 10 columns are going to be random essays about drumming.
The most basic aspect of drumming starts with learning and mastering the fundamentals of drumming. This will enable you to
have complete control over what you are doing which allows for you to play from within your soul. Anyone can be a drummer but can they play with feeling and interpret music so they are adding more than just a beat to a sound or a piece of music. The basic fundamentals in my opinion of drumming are:

1. Stick Control
2. Rudiments
3. Feet control
4. Meter or "TIME"
5. Tonality
6. Know the history and study the greats
7. The drive to keep getting better.

Before you ever play a note these fundamentals should be part of your drumming vocabulary. These fundamentals have been discussed in my previous columns so you can refer to those to get a more in depth overview of them. The reason for this column is to explore why and how these form the basics of your playing that allow you to overcome obstacles and challenges as you forge forward learning to be a great drummer. It is the same for any athlete, businessman, carpenter or any vocation you choose.

Sure you can be a great drummer without ever thinking about fundamentals.

Eventually you will be beaten by someone who has history, knowledge and has a mastery of the fundamental concepts surrounding thier vocation. How many top rate professionals do you think reach the top of their respective fields without knowing the fundamentals of their business. If you plan on making a living playing the drums then it is your vocation. Let's look at some examples of this.

For an example I am going to use professional basketball players. A basketball player is very similar to being a drummer. You are an individual but in order to succeed you have to be part of a team and work with others. It is the same as being in a band as a drummer.

The fundamentals are the aspects that have set Michael Jordon, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan apart from the rest of the great players that have played in the NBA for the last 30 years or so. They all, besides being great offensive players were first team defensive players, excellent passers, great rebounders, valued the team, could shoot free throws, understood the pace of the game and had studied and wanted to be better than previous generations of players they had grown up and idolized.

They understood the value of being able to be strong in all of the basics or fundamentals of the game in order to become the best.
They knew if they mastered the fundamentals they could be free to become the greatest because they has no weaknesses to encumber them and make them fall short in crucial situations.


Drum Beat #10 — Are you a band whore or seasoned professional?

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Hello and welcome to column 10.
This column’s fundamental centers around whether you are a band whore or smart professional when it comes to being a gigging musician. This may not seem like a fundamental but it is fundamentally important to you being a working drummer throughout your life.
In my opinion being a ‘band whore’ (as it is called by what I like to call ‘band dicks’) is better than being a member in a band exclusively. Having said that  I believe everyone should be a member of a band but keep your options open. It is rare that a mix of musicians forming a band becomes transcending. The chances of making a lucrative living or being a rock star are incredibly slim even if you are a great  player. Several factors have to fall the band's way. Egos and personalities becomes obstacles, different visions, work ethic and playing ability all become factors that usually end in a band break up.

This is especially true if the goal of the band is to make it big. You can spend years relying on notoriously unreliable people resulting in you wasting valuable years building a career. Being a band whore allows to play with several people. This in turns rounds out your playing ability and chops both musically and personally. You learn to deal with several situations, different people’s  personalities, the nonsense of gigging and so forth. Instead of being a drummer in a specific band, be the drummer that is called by several bands to fill in or be part of a band on your terms. Do not let your career be dictated by non like-minded musicians. You will develop a reputation as a reliable, talented professional musician. This will lead to many gigs and opportunities.

Sooner or later you will find yourself playing with lots of people making a living being a musician. I have  known several drummers who say they are in a band but in reality they are waiters, cooks, retail shop workers or living with their significant other being supported.
Please do not get me wrong, it is possible to join a band and become famous making tons of money but it is very rare. The odds of this happening are worse than playing the lottery. Please do not take this so literally that you never join a band. There are a ton of local bands and touring bands that make good livings for the musicians.
Just be wise about which band you join. Know the goals and personalities of the musicians in the band. You will know within a couple of rehearsals if the goals and aspirations of a band are realistic and whether or not it is worth your time.


Drum Beat #9 — What kind of drums to play

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Hello and welcome to column nine.
This column’s fundamental is on what kind of drums to play. There are many different types of drums on the market to choose from. There are drums made of wood, plastic, aluminum, and metals. There are probably many more that I am not aware of but this is a broad overview. In my opinion the best drums are made of wood. Wood drums additionally can be made from almost any type of wood. I prefer to play a rosewood drum with a medium "PLY' or thickness.

To me, these create the best tone, (when tuned properly), do not weigh an excessive amount, (remember you have to move them), and provide a great look. The next best wood is birch.
Every drummer has a preference according to the style and sound they are looking for. The best way to determine what is best for you is go to your local music store and ask if you can play some of the sets.

Ideally go to a large store like my favorite store, Explorers Percussion in Kansas City. Look for a store with a huge selection so you can play and experiment with all of the different types. A good drum store will have the drums tuned so you do not have to do it yourself in order to actually hear the difference in the drums they are selling. Of course do not be obnoxious and play a drum solo.
 Hit each drum with one or two strokes so you can hear what they sound like. Be patient and listen to how it sounds and reverberates.

Pay attention to the  thickness of the drum and how it makes a difference. Many drummers I have seen like a certain brand so they just buy that brand and hope for the best. Ordering a drum from an online store or from a catalog is not a great idea. Some drum sets can sound different even if they are made at the same factory using the same material.

I do not believe that drums vary in sound as much as cymbals but they certainly have a difference from set to set. Take your time and have patience buying your set. If you are a serious drummer do not buy something cheap.

If you do not have the money initially to invest in a great set, then buy one at a pawn shop and save up to buy your what I would call your "real set". You will be glad you did in the long run. By the way my personal preference is Gretsch. If you can find an old Gretsch set for sale, buy it.

Concept #9— The rhythm of life

This column’s concept is the rhythm of life as it applies to your drums. If you are ever looking for some unique rhythms or beats to play it is simple to find. Go outside and walk around and listen to the sounds. These sounds are a drum beat happening constantly. I believe this is why drums  are so accessible to people. It is why people relate to drums so easily.


Drum Beat 8— Drummers should learn piano

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Hello and welcome to Column 8.
This column’s fundamental for drumming is learn to play the piano and then use it to learn music theory.
I should have talked about this in the first column. I once saw an Art Blakey clinic where he had everyone who played drums raise thier hands, which was everyone. He then had everyone who knew how to play piano raise their hands. Only a few raised their hands, including me. He then told us all to go home and learn to play the piano before we played the drums.

I ignored this for many years like a fool. It was not until I learned about the piano, (I would not say I can play it, but I can find and make all chords and hear notes, etc) that I understood what he was talking about. All drummers should know at least how to play chords and find notes on the piano. In fact if you cannot play the piano then stop practicing the drums exclusively and devote half of your practice time to learning the piano. Once you have a basic understanding of the piano then practice and learn music theory while increasing your skills.

Please do not get me wrong but you do not need to be a virtuoso or even a brilliant player on the piano. By having a knowledge of it, how to make chords on it and hear notes that are being played by your ear you will develop a greater understanding of musical concepts. You can expand your ear, learn rhythm and make yourself a better drummer because you will have a greater understanding and knowledge of music.


Drum Beat #7— The importance of role playing

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This column’s fundamental is if you are a role player then be a role player.
In other words do not overplay or play outside of your abilities. All drummers play at different levels. It is the same as a sports team in a sense. As a drummer you are basically a role player in the band.

Your role is to lay down a beat or groove that supplies the band a foundation to play too. If you cannot execute a beat then do not try and play it. Listen to how you sound.

Be conscious of the fact that what you are playing directly influences not only the sound of the band but the overall performance of the other players. Many times I see drummers playing beats that are either too busy, do not have a groove or do not even fit the music. Know your ability and play within it.
It is much better to play a straight beat instead of a complicated beat that you obviously cannot execute. Do not get caught up in the excitement of a gig or trying to impress the audience with your ability.
For the most part, whether you believe it or not the audience could care less about the drummer. The only time they notice the drummer is when they are playing something that sounds horrible. It is the same as a power forward on a basketball team.
Most people do not notice that they rebound, play defense and enable the stars of the team to excel.
The power forward concentrates on the workman-like jobs that need to be completed.
The same is true for a drummer.

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