Drummers, Don’t Worry About The Prodigies

Let’s not beat around the bush: there’s a lot of “competition” out there…

No matter what instrument you play (or really, whatever creative pursuit you’re into), you’re not the only one – and some of those other people are going to be downright awesome…

…People you see at shows around town, guys in the local music shop, the band from the neighboring city who made it big, and of course, the mighty internet.

Everywhere you look, you can find people doing things you can’t, who wrote a song you didn’t…

And it kind of sucks.

It’s discouraging sometimes, right? When see a video of a seven year old lace YYZ, or some teenager you’ve never heard of has chops that make you feel like a beginner?

There’s the wide, wide world of professional drummers too – legends like Weckl and Buddy aside, there are hundreds, thousands of players out there that are just jaw-droppingly good at the instrument. The more you look, the more you study, the more names you learn…

And all the while, people all around you are practicing and shedding, getting better everyday…

But it doesn’t matter.

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Life Gets In The Way

“Life gets in the way” they say, when all that minutia and micromanagement pulls us away from projects or practice, when we fall short on our promises to get together with this musician, and learn that song, and take care of x or y…

They tell kids to get the practice in when they’re young, before this dreaded “life” creeps in and drags us into the real world, leaving our drum kits to rot, dust covered in the corner of a mortgaged basement.

 [Insert every poor, neglected Craigslist drum kit you’ve ever seen.]

 
The reality isn’t quite so dismal for everyone, necessarily, but there are certain “responsibilities” – whatever they may be – that divert our attention away from what we think we’d rather be doing. Hours roll by, and we’re stuck with precious few moments to squeak out some paradiddles during a lunch break.

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Simplify To Expand

A little while back, I recounted the slightly silly story of some jams that happened a while back. It wasn’t very “drum specific,” just something that we all may face at one point or another.

I wanted to come back to it from a drummer’s angle, though, and talk about the other (more personal) side of the “challenge” at hand.

When I play with Short Hair Domestics, I go for a very intentionally minimal setup: kick, snare, hats, and a crash – that’s it. It’s a perfect setup for that particular band, and helps me keep the parts simple to fit the straightforward theme of the songs.

For a jam session though, that means no B section on the ride, no tom fills, not even two different crash cymbal sounds to play with… but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Teaching Drums – First Attempt

Teaching drums seems like tricky business, having only really dabbled in it myself. It’s one thing to go over things with your peers, to compare licks, or even to learn from a teacher (or a video) something reasonably within your skill level…

But I’m talking about teaching beginners. Not necessarily kids – at least for me, because I don’t have any experience in it – but largely novice drummers.

There’s something valuable in getting back in touch with those roots, though, that makes you reevaluate the importance of your first rudiments, your first fills, of gaining those first few glimpses at independence.

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Perspective for Growth

Perspective is a funny thing – it has a way of (narrowly) defining how we see the world, and preventing us from seeing the wider picture. We can only ever really understand things through our own experience… even hearing lessons from others and trying to put ourselves in their shoes is only an approximation…

Yeah… uhhhh… what’s he talkin’ about? Isn’t this supposed to be about drums or something?

Stick with me, all of this perspective stuff is important.

As far as I can tell, it’s the biggest factor that influences how any of us might feel about our own playing.

One perspective might lead someone to feel totally inept. They’ll look at the vast world of drummers – famous ones, local shredders, all the stuff they can’t do… and get bogged down with self doubt.

Another perspective might do just the opposite and lend itself to confidence – even cockiness – because of the praise of others, standing in a local community, honors, etc. It might make people feel like they’re the best there is, and that there isn’t really anything more they can (or should) do to improve.

Both of those, no matter how beginner or advanced a drummer might be, are only a shred of the bigger picture…

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Why Bother With Other Instruments?

Jack of all trades and master of none?

If skills take time and energy to develop (and they certainly do), why waste precious hours on something other than your favorite? Or at least… on things you don’t really plan on putting all that much effort into?

My drumming to do list is a staggering, sometimes daunting reality that’s never too far from my mind. I know I have an all but endless amount of things to practice and learn, that things can always be cleaner, faster, funkier… It truly never ends. I hear people who can play circles around me say the same thing, so I know it’s not just me.

The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.

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