There is an adage in the music industry that says, “An excellent drummer can make a mediocre band sound great, and an average drummer can make a great band sound mediocre.” There is no musician or instrument in the band that affects the overall feeling of the music like the drummer and the drums. In order to become an effective, desired, and compensated drummer, here are three basic virtues one must develop.
Many believe that the best drummers must possess and demonstrate ‘perfect’ time. Jim Riley from Modern Drummer magazine states, “there’s no such thing as perfect time, but you can greatly improve your internal clock with practice.” Timing is vital to the music as it secures tempo and provides a foundation for all other parts of the band. Good time is neither coldly calculated nor random. It is regularly flowing. Electronic devices such as metronomes are useful, but can provide only a limited amount of help. A drummer’s internal clock must be developed. Without proper use, metronomes can become a crutch instead of a confidence builder. Effective ways to use a metronome to better one’s sense of time include listening to it while internalizing the tempo before beginning to play along, starting and stopping it during practice as a guide instead of a timepiece, and occasionally glancing at the arm on a pendulum style device without the use of an audible click.
Paired with time is control. Control speaks to dynamics and technique. While self-expression and creativity is a key component to musicianship, there should also exist a control, and at times, restraint, that will keep fills and thrills appropriate yet exhilarating. Some drummers struggle with playing at lower volumes or slower tempos, which is rooted in a lack of dynamic control. Practicing all rudiments and exercise at various volumes and tempos will aid in the development of control. (For a list of 40 rudiments to practice along with demo videos and notation, visit DrumRudiments.com.)
With all the technical terms and discipline drills that are familiar to most serious drummers, it can be easy to lose sight of the overall mission – great music. All regimens are used as a piece of the bigger pie of musicality. Timing and control without feeling will lead to dry, unmoving performances that leave the listeners indifferent. Feel begins to surface with an appreciation of the music being played and the understanding of how to transfer that appreciation from one’s self to others through the instrument.