GRIT: The Musician’s Most Important Trait

A while back, I listened an audiobook called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist, researcher, CEO, philanthropist… The list goes on.

Not only is she shining example of “grit” herself, she’s also been studying the subject for a significant chunk of her professional career.

The topic itself is fascinating, but the whole time I was listening, as she made mention of students, military folks, classical musicians… I couldn’t stop thinking about what an integral part of ANY kind of creative pursuit this murky subject is.

Especially musicmaking…

“Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.”

Now, some of Duckworth’s work has been criticized (whose hasn’t?), but I’m not in the business of critiquing psychological research.

Instead, the concept is what’s important to me. How do we musicmakers stay the course in the face of setbacks? How can we dedicate ourselves to the long game without getting burned out? How can we cultivate grit?

The Long Game

I love the expression “overnight success takes a decade.”

The creatives we admire most, many of whom appear to explode onto the scene, have almost always been at it a long time. Outside of our line of sight, those success stories have been grinding it out to get where they are. Lizzo is a perfect example of this – just check out her Wiki.

But this applies to way more than breakout stars. All of the best musicians you know have been putting in work. Whether it’s in the practice room, networking, taking on gigs that were outside of their comfort zone, learning about the industry, experimenting… Time spent in service of the craft is essential, especially when it’s tough.

Every gig is important, every rehearsal is important, every bit of time we spend developing skill and studying adds up – and thinking about it in that way keeps me gritty.

…And if things aren’t going particularly well, the only way to get to greener pastures is to keep on going. This art thing is a long game, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. It’s not just about creating when you’re inspired, it’s also about perservering when you aren’t.

Practice Works

This is a point I belabor – and with good reason.

If you work at something, you get better at it. If you work at things you’re not good at, fighting through frustration and doubt and disappointment, you also build resilience. Growth comes with discomfort, and building your resilience allows you to keep on growing.

Practice is also about consistency, which means sacrificing the other ways you could spend your time in service of your craft. This too is a gritty proposition. It’s not easy to tell your friends you’re staying in, to build an agreement with your significant other about locking yourself in the garage for an hour a day… It’s not easy to break out the metronome and do the monotonous work that moves you, inch by inch, toward your true potential…

But again, it WORKS.

I have seen firsthand the fruits of my labor, and I’m not even that disciplined about it. By simply reminding myself, day in and day out, that dedicating time and energy to drummy things will inch me toward my goals, I find the strength to get some practice in – even when my “present” mind doesn’t really want to.

…And by doing so, I’ve come a long way in a few years. Everyone else can do the same, but it’s going to take some grit.

As I’ve discovered, though, those bits of success are invigorating. It’s tough to find the grit at the beginning, but once you get moving, it develops right alongside whatever you’re working on. Watching yourself grow functions as motivation to keep going.

They Can’t All Be Bangers

Sometimes shows suck. Sometimes your computer crashes and you lose recordings. Gear can fail, you can have off nights, you can play to dead rooms or unresponsive crowds. You can have vehicle trouble and bad weather and shady promoters and illnesses and all of that stuff…

There are factors that can take this thing we love to do and, well, make it shitty.

Don’t let it stop you (the gritty sure don’t). We have a saying in our crew: “they can’t all be bangers.

Right now, more than half a year into pandemic-driven, gigless uncertainty, this couldn’t be more true. This whole YEAR has been a blow to forward momentum, particularly as it relates to performance, for musicians of every kind. This is an exceptional test of grit – not just a rough day or a bad gig, but a mountain obstacles to climb.

It’s not going to be easy, and it hasn’t been for a while now… But when you think about the long game, the crawling, step by step by step journey from a bird’s eye view, the only option is to lean into your grit and try to make the most of it.

No performances means more time for songwriting. Furloughed, laid off, or working remotely means sneaking in a few more minutes of practice each day. The trend toward livestreaming is a reason to get your technology and related skills in order.

Existential dread in the face of global crisis? That one’s a little tougher to crack, but I promise that investing in your personal development will make you feel a little better about it.

 

These are gritty times, friends, and just like everything else, grit develops with use. Let me know what I can do to help you keep pushing forward.

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

So… I know a few things, but only kind of.

Broadly, though, I don’t have a god damn clue what I’m doing – on stage, at work, booking shows, teaching lessons, simply existing as a human being… It’s a work in progress at every single point, and likely always will be.

The good news is, depsite what anyone may tell you, it’s that way for everyone.

Total confidence is a spectre, and vague notion on the wind – and we should all embrace that.

Almost every day, I experience unfamiliarity, but with the right approach, it’s an adventure – a chance to refine what little information I have into something a little more actionable – or in some cases, the barely-informed actions present bits of wisdom I can add to my growing (but forever incomplete) body of knowledge.

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Falling In Love: Reconnecting With Your Instrument

I love music, I love learning about it, I love digging into the craft, studying, challenging myself, practicing and performing as much as I can… I’m pretty certifiably obsessed.

Smitten.

I’m proud of it, honestly. I kind of relish the weird comments or disbelief that I try to do as much drumming as possible. It’s part of my identity, both internally and externally.

Plenty of people don’t have that, though… A relationship with music/an instrument that helps define them. Or maybe they did, and lost it somewhere along the road.

For those of us even a little serious about musicmaking, finding and honing our creative voices, I think we have to love what we do. We should be thinking about it waiting in line or sitting on the bus…

Infatuation with your instrument and the music it makes is (or at least should be) part of the process.

Balance is important of course, but I’m looking right at those folks who play… Who want to play… But always seem to find other things to occupy their attention.

If you don’t find yourself in my camp of “I want to do this ALL THE TIME” – how can you get there?

Or, a bit more practically, how can you stoke the fires of musical passion to make time to practice (which we all know is important), to put forth more effort than you currently are – because you want to.

How do you fall back in love with your instrument?

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A Clinic With Derico Watson

I hail from a small(ish) town called Muskegon, Michigan. We’ve got a few “claims to fame,” but for the drumming community, one of the proudest is being the hometown of Derico Watson.

Derico is a powerhouse of a player with plenty of chops and super deep pocket, but even more importantly, he just exudes joy and passion when he plays. He’s passionate about many things actually, he is a natural medicine advocate, and talks to everyone who will listen about the benefits of alternative medicine over conventional. Not many people consider alternatives when they get sick, but many that have been around him do now because of the wealth of knowledge he has on the subject. If you want to look into this further you can go here to check out alternative medicine.

Perhaps best known for his work with Victor Wooten, Derico has had a huge impact on the drummers hailing from this part of the world, myself included. Even though I missed the opportunity to study with him when I was younger, products of his education exist across our local scene – and his influence (in my humble opinion) has raised the bar for the drummers of West Michigan.

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Authenticity: Social and Musical Currency

I’ve been a little lost on what to write about lately. I’m not a pro drummer, I’m just working on it – so who the hell am I? Why does it matter what I have to say?

…But oh so gradually, I’ve been starting to figure it out. From the conversations I have with my musical peers to the responses I got on Sarahah, the marketing material I edit for my dayjob to a talking point at the Derico Watson clinic I recently attended… The message shows itself time and time again – most of us are just too stuck to soak it in:

THERE’S ONLY ONE YOU

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Transform Your Anger to Art

People seem unhappy. There are things happening in the forefront of public discourse that spark a lot of disagreement. Anger and fear, even just mild disgust, seem all the more common.

As usual, it’s that much more visible too (thanks internet), but it’s hard to ignore a pervasive sentiment of negativity.

I may be wandering into controversial territory…

FIRST AND FOREMOST: a big ol’ caveat for this post… I am not inviting political and ideological debate of the usual sort. Not in the comments here, or anywhere on social media. If you want to have a productive discussion, we can (one on one) – but this has way less to do with politics and way more to do with art.

…Or at least creativity.

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A Guide to Being A Drummer on The Internet

We live in some weird times. Smartphones, YouTube, the upheaval of the music industry, vitriol-spewing trolls, more information than we can possibly digest, bombarding us from every angle, every minute of the day…

This is life on the internet.

These relatively new (and harsh) realities are having an effect on the way we do business, the way we consume media, and even the way we feel about ourselves (or others). If you’ve spent any time digging around online, I’m sure you feel it too.

There’s no turning back at this point though. No one’s going to burn their routers or cast their smartphones into the sea. We simply have to find a way to make do… A way to not get lost in the great overwhelm that is being a person with internet access in the 21st century.

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So, You’re an Old Dog Drummer… Want Some New Tricks?

Habits are hard as hell to break… Especially when you’ve been reinforcing them year after year, gig after gig, to the point they’re no longer just habits – they are parts of your personality.

As drummers, this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Our go-to grooves, the way we tune our toms, even the way we setup our kits is part of our signature, our individual musical identity. Even beyond “what you’re used to,” personality plays a big role in the gear we choose, the sound we hear in our head, the styles we choose to play, and on and on…

But what if you want to learn something new? Or… What if your setup, your gear, your grooves aren’t the product of conscious choices or a personal aesthetic… But just habit – the way you’ve settled into doing things?

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The Twofold Path – Part 4: Application

Over the last three entries on this here blog, I’ve been trying to cover my current (loose) approach to learning and developing my skillset on the drums. I’m calling it “The Twofold Path” because there are, well, two primary elements – exactly what I looked in Parts 2 and 3 – “chops” and “groove.”

Surely there are plenty of other things to consider in this vast world of percussive music making, but for me… Right now… This is where my head’s at.

In Part 2, the focus was chops and technical facility on the kit, and that should be a pretty major part of everyone’s practice. Really, this side of the coin can be expanded into anything technically oriented – speed, independence, pattern memorization, technique…

The other side (covered in Part 3) can be expanded into everything musical and practical – including things that require the ability and facility mentioned above.

Where one side is physical, the other is mostly mental.

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The Twofold Path – Part 3: The Groove

OKAY – we’ve made it this far into a murky topic… A daunting subject to tackle, but I’ll do my best to keep things on track. This is where we really have to start slogging through the weeds though, because there’s some terminology we might not all agree on, some variation in styles of music… Even some differences in WHY people want to play drums in the first place.

Let’s get a primary definition out of the way.

Here in Part 3, we’re mostly talking about the single MOST important aspect of being a drummer – keeping time. That is first and foremost what I mean by “groove.”

For our purposes, it’s the drummer’s playing within the context of an ensemble or a piece of music that provides pulse and feel. That means both the overall pulse of the music at hand and the spacing of the notes orbiting around it. It’s not just metronomic timekeeping, but that’s a decent place to start.

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