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.

It shouldn’t discourage you. The others don’t determine your worth or status as a drummer, and frankly, it shouldn’t really bug you that much. Here’s why:

1. Your Perspective Is Skewed

Right now, the DrummerWorld YouTube channel has some 75,000 subscribers.

There are stores and magazines and websites all dedicated to drums and drumming, an entire industry of drum makers and lovers, from major manufacturers to independent podcasters, and the droves of people who support them enough to make such an industry possible.
Not all of those people are masters – not by a long shot.

When somebody is slaying on stage, it catches your eye (and ear). When a great video of a great player surfaces, it garners a lot of attention and you’re more likely to see it. When there’s a new young prodigy, you hear about it because you’re part of the conversation of the vast drumming community…

But these stories are exceptions. There’s a massive spectrum of drummers out there – hobbyists, weekend warriors, part-time beginners, teachers, regional headliners, basement jammers – all with varying degrees of skill, speed, fame, chops, finesse… whatever criteria you choose to measure.

The internet (and with it, our propensity to “share” the things that impress or entertain us) makes it seem like there are killer players around every corner – and there are – but there are plenty of others above, below, and vastly different than your level of whatever ability you want to look at.

You’re not behind – you’re on the same path as the rest of us.

2. It’s Not A Contest Anyway

Fine, maybe getting a gig is a bit of a contest. Or the Drum Off. Or a talent show or something…

Those are competitions, sure, but playing an instrument isn’t. How do you even choose who’s “better” or “worse” than someone else? We can certainly tell when people are extremely skillful, or still have a long way to go, but determining any kind of “winner” is totally subjective…

And pretty much impossible.

What good does that kind of thinking do anyhow? It doesn’t make any of us better players… If anything, it puts up barriers to listening to, and learning from, our fellow drummers.

There are strengths and weaknesses everywhere, and stylistic differences we’ll all like and dislike (at various levels) depending on our personal preferences.

If we start thinking about this player is “better” than that player, we’re also forced to place ourselves somewhere in those ranks…

But even if that’s a motivator for practicing, it’s for the wrong reasons. Every time you see someone “better” (and there will ALWAYS be someone), it’s a knock to your confidence, instead of an inspiration.

Even if you manage to be so resilient that it only makes you want to get better, that notion of “winning and losing” will make you look down on other drummers, especially those below your skill level, simply because they are other “competitors” vying for your perceived spot in the hierarchy.

It’s not about competition, it’s about collaboration. We all have different ideas, and sharing them with one another is how we all improve.

3. Music Is Infinite

Creativity is a bottomless well (or damn close to it).

There are so many different sounds, tempos, feels, time signatures, patterns, grooves, styles from around the world…

Every day, all around the globe, people are coming up with new musical ideas and variations…

There’s no cap on music making.

And this means that there’s always room for your contribution. And mine. And everyone else’s.

Every time you play a jam or perform a song, you’re creating music on the spot – for the people in the room, whether that’s an audience or the people you’re playing with.

In that moment, the listener isn’t really thinking about other drummers, they are hearing YOU. The vast majority of the time, they’ve likely never heard of the prodigy drummer that makes you question your own abilities – and in those moments, they don’t care!

Making music isn’t always about insane chops or complexity (in fact, most of the time it isn’t). A huge amount of modern music is built on some of the first grooves most of us learn – basic rock beats and four on the floor grooves have been a standard in popular music for decades.

Not only does this mean that a lot of us are using the same devices in different contexts anyway, it also means that the things we learn in the beginning stay with us over our entire timeline of playing the instrument. These same grooves can be rehashed time and time again, with every person or song’s unique little spin.

All of the musical ingredients we have available to us (and all of those we’ve yet to learn) are open to endless permutations and combinations.

So, no matter what some other drummer has played, or whatever someone might play in the future, you can always make your own music that is unlike anyone else’s.

A little food for thought that very subject:

4. Voice Matters

It’s not just that people can make a near-infinite amount of music…

Even more amazing is that no two people will ever do it quite the same. Two drummers of same skill level, with the same teachers and the same favorite bands, playing the exact same part, will still have minute differences in inflection and feel.

Just like our faces, our laughs, the way we walk… No two people share the exact same musical voice. Further, we don’t all make the same musical choices – in a creative setting , two drummers likely wouldn’t choose the same fill in the same spot, with identical accent patterns or dynamics. We’re just too different, and that’s a GOOD thing.

And like these unique musical voices, we also all have our own individual preferences. Being the “right drummer” for a band, a gig, a studio session, whatever, doesn’t entirely have to do with what you play, but also how you play it.

Someone out there is going to prefer YOUR snare tone, YOUR shuffle, YOUR kick drum patterns because they are unique to you. Style is as important as skill.

Don’t knock yourself because you don’t play like somebody else. This is art, after all!

5. It’s Still Hard Work

Whenever we see an amazing drummer, especially a really young one, it’s easy to chalk it up to “natural ability,” but that does something of a disservice to these incredible players. No matter how quickly they grasped concepts and developed their skills, it still takes a TON of time and effort to get to such a high level of playing.

We have to remember that guys like Chris Coleman, Tony Royster Jr., Thomas Pridgen, and scores of others started when they were small, small children – and all of them talk about how hooked they were on their drum kits, that they spent every available moment honing their craft.

We only see the final results – some blazing fill or complex groove – and never consider the hours of slow practice, struggling through failed attempts, breaking down stickings stroke by stroke, just like the rest of us have to do…

Even prodigies have to practice.

By the time we give them the “prodigy” moniker, they’ve likely done an awful lot of it… And this is maybe the biggest reason that jealousy or self doubt is pointless (and foolish) – we don’t see the work it takes to get where anyone else is. We just can’t.

You don’t hear people talking about being envious of hours and hours of daily practice – just about the results those hours produce. No one talks about wanting to suffer through painful conversations or failed auditions, grinding away at a “career” or struggling to retain motivation and momentum… They just want the successes that come from it.

It’s easy to see an amazing drummer and want to be like them. It’s hard to navigate the long road it takes to get there.

 

So there you have it: five reasons why the prodigies and the greats don’t really have any bearing on your own levels of confidence. If anything, the best drummers we have the good fortune of coming in contact with (be it in person, in a video, at a concert…) should provide two sources of education/inspiration: ideas for your own playing, and a reminder of how far you can take your abilities if you’re willing to put in the work.

Personally, I’m not impervious to feelings of competition, discouragement, and all of that nonsense – part of the reason I wanted to touch on this topic was to reassure myself. We’re all a work in progress, and it would serve us well to remember that – both when we’re feeling invincible and when we’re feeling vulnerable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter!

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2 thoughts on “Drummers, Don’t Worry About The Prodigies”

  1. Hey Mike! Great post and I totally agree with your observations. I remember my struggle well [I addressed it in my book] and how it left me frustrated and depressed. In my opinion, seeing that all competition is somewhat fear-based threw a wrench in the works of my fear-based, competitive nature. Once seen, it continues to keep my attitude in check and to focus on the big picture: unique expression of whatever it is that I am doing and simply being OK with being myself and growing as myself at my own pace, in my own way.
    Thank you for this excellent blogpost and continue to groove hard! Peace, becks

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