For all the stupid drummer jokes out there (literally jokes about drummers being stupid), we have an awful lot to deal with – and that takes brain power.
Where we don’t have key signatures and modes to keep track of, we do have limb coordination, setting the feel and tempo, and of course, a silly amount of gear to contend with. In my own personal experience, that translates into some pretty meticulous habits and attitudes about musicmaking.
I tend to be the overthinker, the logistics maker, the one most worried about load in times and stage arrangements… Because I have to bring so many pieces of gear for even a basic setup, I also tend to be the “quartermaster” – keeping track of all the gear and remembering the little details about what we have to bring along to the gig.
It goes well beyond gig prep and scrutinizing the time, though… Drummers are some of the weirdest, most meticulous, picky musicians around. Jury’s out as to why this might be the case.
Of course, we’ve all had our intellectual egos stroked by the articles proclaiming the drummers are the smartest, but does all this meticulousness help or hurt us?
Either way, it certainly sets us apart from many of our musical counterparts.
Being picky isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even when it seems ridiculous to the bass player, the rituals and habits we maintain likely help us achieve a desired result.
Fierce brand loyalty to a certain drum, pedal, or cymbal manufacturer is admittedly a little bit insane (they all make great stuff) – but it can also be a critical component of a desired sound or feel.
Similarly, the painstaking process of getting cymbal heights and tom angles just right can be an undertaking, but if it’s going to make you comfortable on the bandstand – allowing for more expression and music, and less distraction from a ride that’s just a tad too far away – that’s great!
This shows up in other useful ways too: knowing which hihats are going to work best for a particular room, developing a system of loading up the car that minimizes trips, having that backup to the backup drum key stashed away in a secret place…
It’s all representative of the discipline it takes to achieve any level of success on this instrument.
Neuroses aren’t all beneficial. Hangups and habits can also be a hinderance to musicmaking – or relationships with fellow musicians. I have certainly been guilty of waaaaaay overthinking some minor detail or overcomplicating a process, feeling annoyed by my bandmates’ assurances of “it’ll be fine.”
And it’s totally fine.
Needing special shoes (we won’t even get into gloves) to play, needing to change someone else’s setup to lay down a groove, or being too particular about a tempo are roadblocks to a fun musical experience — and I’m especially talking about jams and having a good time here; being prepared for a gig can be a different story.
Worse, if we personally identify with a particular company to the point of saying things like, “SUCH AND SUCH CYMBAL COMPANY SUCKS,” well… We need reevaluate what we’re putting our energy into. They don’t suck. You might not like it, but someone else probably does.
This stuff can also twist us up mentally. Too much focus on the right item, following the schedule, being able to put your third china on stage when there isn’t room in the corner… All of this creates stress and chatter in our heads that prevents us from embracing the musical moments. It prevents us from being freely expressive or creative.
A little bit of fidgeting is fine. Having a preferred stick size is normal. The problems all arise when these meticulous ideals get in the way of making music – which is what we’re supposed to be doing in the first place.
We all have our weird habits, aesthetic and otherwise. Personally, I don’t really care if the logos on my heads are all facing the right direction – but it’s ok if you do, as long as you’re not delaying rehearsal to realign your rack tom for the fifth time.
The upside of this weirdness works to everyone’s benefit. It takes us longest to set up, so we want to make sure we arrive on time. We want to be comfortable and accurate (good for the whole band), so we take the time to develop a layout that works for our unique bodies.
Sometimes, though, if you want to truly be “a player” and enjoy as many musical experiences as possible, you’re going to have to play some mismatched sticks… You’re going to sit on a rickety throne or play a kit that’s a brand you “hate.”
It all comes down to serving the music (doesn’t everything?).
Being a weirdo is all well and good until you’re preventing yourselves and others from making or enjoying this art. Sometimes you just have to roll with it, and get out of your own way.
What are some of your weird habits? Are they helping or hurting? I’m trying to evaluate my own, embrace the good ones, and let go of the bullshit that’s holding me back. We’re all in this together, so let’s talk about it!