Beyond the drum throne

This was originally written for a drumset focused online magazine in 2010.

Photo credit: Viames Marino

You’re bored. You’ve learned everything. There is nothing more to do. You feel as if you’re drumming the same old thing over and over again. There is no note you can’t play, you’re not challenged, you’ve become stale and uninterested.

First, stop lying to yourself. Second, percussion is too faceted for you to become bored, uninterested, or lacking a challenge or opportunity to learn something new. Evaluate your current ability and your previous experience. Let us assume that you’ve been in a few bands that played regular gigs and you’ve played pop music from the 80s and 90s. Also assume you’re self-taught, set drumming is all you’ve ever done. You’re also considered a drum monster by your peers.

If you can’t read music, learn it! The ability to share music and learn ideas, methods, and the instructions of others often requires your reading notes in a magazine or book when a drum instructor isn’t in front of you or you can’t play by ear after listening to Devo or another band you’re about to cover. Drum!, Modern Drummer, and any other drum or general percussion magazine will have articles but they also have exercises and music you need to READ in order to get better. Expand those horizons, reading music for your drums unlocks many doors where you can gain the experience of others who have taken the time to transcribe it.

Drummer Lungegaardens Buekorps. Photo: Nina Aldin Thune

You are the pulse of the band, you carry the tempo. The guitars, keys, and the vocalist push and pull at the tempo but you’re the one driving it. While you’ve never had a problem before NOW IS THE TIME to invest in a metronome! I can hear the agony and moans already. If you hate playing with a metronome there might be a reason for that. I don’t accuse you of being a terrible drummer but we often don’t practice what we don’t do well. Maintaining the tempo with hi-hat and snare and bass on two and four doesn’t take a genius but dropping time or chopping a bar of music from 4/4 to 15/16 is easier than you might think. A metronome ensures rhythmic accuracy and tempo maintenance at all times. Proper use in practice promotes proper tempo control later when playing live with the band. 

 You can now read music and you can practice successfully with a metronome. Now it’s time to drag out the rudiments. In drumlines, rudimental, and general marching percussion there are entire exercises and performance pieces written around a single rudiment or based on the idea of a rudiment and it can make the more exciting to play but also makes it more useful in knowing them. In addition to reading music it is common to refer to a passage that needs cleaning or the part that needs to be changes as its rudiment name rather than the sticking for all 20 notes and where each drag is played. You play the drum set, why do you care about any of this? For any drummer or percussionist the rudiments cover the basic concepts of drumming and perfecting the execution of each will promote that skill that may be layered deeply in some rhythmically-complex pattern in a fill or solo. Accomplishing drum rudiment greatness flows into every aspect of your drumming and every note you play. Learning anything in percussion is like building a house from the ground up; the roof can’t be built last, you need paradiddles (the basement/foundation) before the wallpaper in the second floor bathroom can be hung (insert witty and complex rudiment name here).

With the three ideas mentioned you can increase the accuracy and quality of your current genre or style of music. There is always room for improvement and always someone of greater ability that you can learn from. Banish your boredom even further by finding a qualified private lessons teacher to push and challenge you. Don’t simply settle for the first music store or drum shop you come across, ask questions of your instructor, ask for references, and experience. While an impressive resume doesn’t always carry over into the ability to teach or necessarily translate into every entry on the resume being high quality, you need to find someone who is dedicated to your growing as a drummer and has experience in doing so.

You’re still bored.

Explore genres outside of your current tastes. If you’re drumming mainstream pop music you must realize that it may not always be the most drum-heavy type of music. Pop music doesn’t usually lend itself to heavy percussion and creativity in a very tasteful and fitting way. Educate yourself on other styles of music and work on your solos. Anything that increases your versatility increases your demand as a musician.

Dance band drummer at Mark Foy’s Empress Ballroom

Percussion includes much more than the drum set; just as the rudiments flow into every aspect of your drumming and improve it, learning another drum or percussive instrument will benefit your preferred instrument. While you might have only ever played live in a band, there are drum circles for hand drums, there are often mallet percussion ensembles that offer lessons or are open for new members, community orchestra or concert bands also afford you the opportunity to firm up your newly found skills in reading music and allow you to further explore the world of percussion from somewhere other than your throne.

Swimming with water wings was fun, until you took them off, until you jumped in from the side, until you had swim lessons, until you jumped off the diving board, until you went down the water slide, until you jumped from the high-dive, until you…

Challenge yourself and learn something new. You don’t know what you might be missing.