Doing creative work is complicated, and there’s an awful lot to understand…
Anyone who thinks they already have it all figured out is, well, wrong – and probably doesn’t know enough to see how much they don’t know. How much they CAN’T know.
This is nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all learning, of course, and sorting things out as we go, which leads to plenty of questions. Whether we’re asking ourselves, our teachers, Google searches… Whether they’re specific or broad…
We all just want answers.
If you’re part of any large communities around social media (looking at you, 50,000 members of Facebook Drummers), you see tons of questions, and as a result, the tremendous peanut gallery of responses – usually based on personal experience and taste.
It’s great for us to communicate, but there’s often a giant piece missing from the equation: nuance.
Artmaking isn’t binary, and we shouldn’t treat it that way. The more you explore, the more questions you ask, the more answers you’re going to get – and the more sources you have, the murkier the water will be…
What’s The Best Ride Cymbal?
A wacky heading (and some hilarious SEO) to be sure, but it’s a good microcosm of where I want to start.
To me, and likely a lot of fairly experienced players, that question is ridiculous.
First, it doesn’t include nearly enough information… (What style of music? How do you play? What room? Live? Recording?) But it is indeed the kind of question that plenty of people ask. Unfortunately, broad platforms like social media are typically littered with the same kind of response: whatever the responder’s favorite might be, whatever works for their individual, specific perspective – and nothing more.
Not only is this kind of answer unhelpful, and missing an opportunity to ask clarifying questions that actually provide guidance… It’s as ridiculous as the question. No one has played EVERY ride cymbal, and even if you had, the next person over won’t play it the same way.
The Z Heavy Power Ride might be great for a thrash band with full stacks. The Big Apple Dark Ride might be great for a moody jazz trio. In opposite applications, they’re both pretty terrible choices… And just that (subjective) dual comparison leaves out a near infinite amount of other options and factors.
You might like one more than the other, but that’s hardly a determinant of which is “best.”
The question itself is a false, oversimplified premise. There is no universal “best” anything in creativity, but by asking some deeper questions, you can get a little closer to a “right” answer for you – whether that’s about gear, what to practice, great players, and everything else under the sun.
Chops vs. Groove (and other dumb dualities)
Another silly, totally false dichotomy, this kind of question seems to be discussed endlessly, but not always with the looseness it deserves. Of course facility is important, and so is musicality – and there isn’t some invisible barrier between the two.
Eric Moore and Jim Keltner, for example, are both incredible players that might appear to be on opposing sides of this nonexistent fence, and every one of us could dedicate a lifetime of study to the way they each approach the instrument…
But that kind of misses the point.
Both of them are creating in a way that comes naturally to them. We, as lifelong students, should embrace that – learning from either, both, or neither in the way see fit… And the same goes for every other drummer you’ve ever heard.
Maybe more critical to understand: certain aspects of technique, musicianship, business, creativity, style, whatever, might be important to us at one stage of development/career/life, and totally unimportant during another. None of us are on the same path.
Reading music is good, and so is being able to play by ear. Playing with a click is important, and so is having a strong sense of time without one. Big kits are cool, and so are small kits. Wide open drums, muffled drums, and everything in between are all possibilities on a broad spectrum – not silos of right and wrong.
Clear heads or coated? It depends.
Should I play this part note for note or make it my own? It depends.
What should you practice? It depends.
Which hihats are good?
…And on and on.
To make music (or any art), you’ll need all kinds of tools – and only you can decide which tools you really need. Of course, that takes a solid amount of experimenting, wrong turns, mind changing, and so on – but it’s all part of the process, adjusting and figuring things out as you go.
You can decide to deep dive on one style, or dabble in as many as you can handle… You can spend a decade dialing in your pianissimo finesse, only to fall in love with bombastic, unbridled smashing. You can obsess over gear, or play whatever’s in front of you without a second thought.
These things aren’t opposites – they are OPTIONS.
Funk isn’t “better” than punk, just as comedy isn’t “better” than drama. They simply exist in all of their diverse forms, and we get to decide what to do with those facts.
Okay, these non-answers aren’t very helpful to beginners, or anyone looking for an easy solution to a complex problem…
Of course we can take information and advice from others. We have to.
Method books and teachers and interviews and opinions and exercises and other people’s music are all incredibly useful. They are pathways to discovery, and we all need some road signs to help us get where we want to go.
In fact, looking to those with more experience is a huge part of learning any subject. It’s why we laud experts and develop schools around particular teachers. It’s why we still utter the names of legendary masters…
But when it comes to art, we’re dealing in ideas – not stone cold facts. The masters have all kinds of wisdom to share, but that doesn’t make their words draconian rulebooks.
Even the least nuanced, non-expert opinion (“NO! Raw Bell Dry Ride is the best!”) is informative if (and only if) we look at the rest of the context: who said it, why, why they might be biased, where and how we might agree and disagree…
The less you currently know, though, the more you might accept (or present) such information at face value.
If you don’t know how to hold a stick, the first bits of technique you learn are THE answer. If you’ve been steadily learning for decades, the minutae of Moeller is something you can consider, deconstruct, and take away the specific bits you select.
The trouble starts at not graduating from “this is the only information I have” to “hmmm, what should I do with this new piece of information, and how does it fit with the rest?” – or worse, not letting other people make that decision with the ideas you might hold as gospel truth.
We can (and should) filter the advice and education we encounter through our own working knowledge of… Everything. Just like anything else, the more we do it, the better we get. Parsing out what advice you even want to take is a skill of its own (and I guess this is my advice about it – to do with as you wish).
If presented with an idea, especially one that sounds like a rule (say, “learn all your rudiments” or “always keep time with your left foot”), you get to decide whether or not you believe in its value… And you might be wrong!
Some musical tools are probably more important than others. You can gather advice about that as well, but you still have to choose what’s important to you.
You’ll probably have to make similar choices again later – hopefully armed with some new wisdom from elsewhere too.
Here it is:
Worry less about finding the RIGHT answer, and get to work on discovering YOUR answers.
They’re probably some evolving cluster of your interests and experiences, the players you admire, the music you like and the gigs you play… And of course, what you practice. Somewhere in there is a wholly new version of the ideas you’ve accepted and rejected along the way, and it’s yours alone.
Learn from all kinds of different sources if you like, but take guidance as just that – a guide, not rote set of instructions with simple A and B answers.
Try to do the same for others too. Your favorite doesn’t equal “best,” and the thing that worked for you is great to share, but it’s not the only way.
What’s the best ride cymbal?
The answer is “yes,” but that’s not really the question at all.