A Musical Approach To Drumming
by Gregg Bissonette
Contrary to popular belief, you’ll never get a gig because you can play a great drum solo.
Along with concerts and recording sessions, I do a lot of drum clinics every year and my message to young drummers is always the same. I tell them that, contrary to popular belief, they’ll never get a gig because they can play a great drum solo. I tell them that the best way to become a better drummer is to become a better musician.
Yes, having a technical command of the instrument is an important part of being a drummer. But, it’s not the important part. Throughout the history of jazz and rock music there have been tons of major bands with famous/important/popular/successful drummers who didn’t have the greatest chops, but they were musical.
So what does being “musical” really mean to a drummer? Let me break it down.
Number One: The primary job of the drummer is to choose the right tempo for each song and hold the tempo through the whole song. A lot of drummers sit behind their kits and play with videos or CDs or iPods. but to be a good musician, a drummer needs to play with other musicians.
To improve your timekeeping abilities, record yourself playing with a metronome or click-track for 30 seconds, then turn off the metronome but continue playing the groove for another minute or two. Listen to your recording and analyze whether you sped up or slowed down. Did you speed up during a fill or slow down when you played softly? Be aware of your tendencies and work on them.
Number Two. The secondary job of the drummer is to play the right drum part for each song. This is why, to be a good musician, a drummer needs to play a variety of styles. The more you learn about different styles, the more you’ll benefit by being able to incorporate those elements into your style.
Learn about the different sections of a song, the verse, chorus, bridge, intro, etc. When you’re playing with a track from an Ipod or CD, try to copy exactly what the drummer on the track is doing for each section. In your own band, playing your own music, try to pick drum parts that support each section of the song.
Listen to “Come Together” by the Beatles, for example. Listen to how Ringo’s drum part in the introduction complements Paul McCartney’s bass part. That becomes the foundation of the song. Then listen to how simple the drum part is on the verses; just 1/8 notes on the floor tom and 1/4 notes on the bass drum. Ringo was never considered a chops-meister, but he is considered a very musical drummer.
Of course there’s more that goes into being a good musician than just keeping time and playing for the song. These are just two of the main things to help get you started. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open. And, as they say, the rest will follow.