The drum is the most important instrument. —-Boni Gnahore
Some Random Thoughts On Drumming
I’m going to take some time now to write a little bit about my whole approach to playing the drums.
I first started playing the piano at 5 years old, and my Mom was taking lessons while at that same time letting me take lessons with the same teacher. She was a really nice, red haired lady and all I remember was that her name was Miss Kathy.
Anyway, I didn’t really get into drumming until around age 9, when I suddenly decided that I wanted to switch from piano to drums, after seeing Buddy Rich play drums on the Tonight Show late one night while the family was watching TV.
You know the drum was the first instrument besides the human voice. —Billy Higgins
I think this earlier study of piano really helped me to think musically in applying myself toward the drums. Sure, the drums is a musical instrument and one would think that it automatically is just as musical as say, an oboe, or a violin. But everyone typically thinks of the drums as mostly a rhythmic/timekeeping instrument.
While the function of a drummer keeping time and groove is a given, many non-drummers (and drummers) don’t really understand the melodic nature of the drums, and musicality and dynamics that it can add to the music.
But, I feel not every drummer approaches their instrument melodically, or harmonically. The natural emphasis is on the rhythmic sensibilities of the instrument. Drummers, while emphasizing the need to know the rudiments and basic patterns, miss out on the need to emphasize even more.
And I think this whole musicality of the drums carries into the importance of dynamics and sensitivity in a song.
Later on, all the work I had done with big bands had taught me to further understand the importance of the drums in relation to the rest of the band. In big band, the drummer sets up a lot of the “hits” and “breaks” that the rest of the band does. It sort of becomes a job for the drummer to actually cue the band to changes in the song and arrangement. And the drummer can subtlely cue when there’s going to be a sax solo, or when there’s going to be a dramatic build and break in the music… and when the song will end. All this is an example of the musical-ness of the drums. In a sense, the drummer can, and sometimes, functions as the leader of the band.
And drummers need to understand the importance of their instrument beyond the rhythmical capabilities. There are also melodic as well as harmonic possibilities that can be expressed with the drums.
In music, syncopation is a stress on a normally unstressed beat, or a missing beat where a stressed one would normally be expected. Syncopation is used in many musical styles, including classical music, but it is fundamental in such styles as ragtime, rap, jump blues, jazz and often in dubstep. In the form of a back beat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music.
The use of syncopation in drumming allows the instrument to become much more dynamic, dramatic, and alive.
The lighter, softer notes between the syncopated accented notes, become ghost notes. This whole philosophy of tension and release within any rhythmic groove generates much excitement in the music. There is no need to really play hard and loud to generate excitement. If one plays more dynamically, it creates more musicality, as well as with more sensitivity. This in turn helps in communicating with the musicians around you on stage.
Usually, I try not to play drums at full-volume all the time. In order to truly perform dynamically, one has to perform at medium volume, allowing for “ghost notes” (soft notes) and accents (loud notes) to effectively be expressed. A drummer shouldn’t JUST play time or keep a loud groove on 2 and 4 of a 4/4 beat. Then there would be no room to play dynamically any more, and you would just resort to only play 2 and 4, and not be able to express oneself musically.
Drummers: Don’t let other bandmembers tell you to just keep the groove.
When you’re the drummer in the band, you’re doing so much more and you’re constantly on. It’s not like you can take a break.
Drummers need to be able to react to the other musicians on stage. Music, if done the right way, is very musical and dynamic. Trust me, playing this way will become more musical than if you were to just keep a steady beat. Not that keeping a steady beat isn’t important. It’s just not the means to an end.
One has to go beyond the groove and do more musical things, in addition to playing the groove. And THAT is the challenge for the drummer.
Play groove. But do those things that will make the music much more dynamic, creative and alive…..