Sound Advice for Drummers
Welcome to Playing Drums. It’s possible that you may have digested some or indeed most of the content of this book already, as substantial portions of it originally appeared in a regular column in Rhythm magazine, which I contributed as part of an arrangement between Future Publishing and the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance between 2011 and 2014. I am grateful to both organizations for enabling and supporting “my” column during that time. In this book I share some insights, advice and ideas about playing drums. Not all these pearls of wisdom are entirely my own, so I try to give credit to others where due. Drummers are notorious sharers, and we’ve well over a century of creativity and innovation on the clock that have led us to this point – I couldn’t be more grateful to the torchbearers of our most awesome instrumental discipline for empowering me make music at the drums, and to think I might have something to say.
This book is borne of my experience as a drummer, and tells you about things I’ve learned, noticed, relied on, questioned, come to care about, and been asked to write about by magazine editors during my life as a drummer. It is designed to give fellow drummers a “heads-up” with regard to playing drums. It doesn’t contain all the tips you’ll need, and it’s certainly advisable (actually, essential!) to take on a range of other people’s advice too as you embark or continue on your journey as a drummer. The chapters of the book can be read individually, or the book could be read section-by-section, or even cover-to-cover.
What this book is not
It feels important to point out what this book is not, lest you get a few pages in only to find that you’ve been expecting something I haven’t delivered. This book is not an inspirational text about how the universe will ultimately bend to serve your individual needs and desires if you will it enough to be so (see Billy Ward’s Inside Out: Exploring the Mental Aspects of Drumming); nor is it a near-exhaustive list of sticking patterns to warm you up and give you fluency around the kit (see e.g. Master Studies and Master Studies II by Joe Morello, or Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone); it does not attempt to provide a how-to guide for getting by in a range of recent and contemporary musical styles (see Tommy Igoe’s Groove Essentials or Dave Hassel’s Graded Course for Drum Kit); it’s not part of progressive system to take you from naught to 60 in eight increasingly difficult grades (see Rock School, Trinity, London College of Music); it doesn’t focus on a particular musical genre (see, for example, Jim Chapin’s Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer and John Riley’s Art of Bop Drumming for jazz, or Horacio “el negro” Hernandez’s Conversations in Clave for Latin); and it doesn’t teach you how to read or develop athletic chops.
In this book I don’t really aim to teach you much at all, and there aren’t any play-along tracks or accompanying videos of me shredding like a madman, grooving like a beast, or smiling and talking encouragingly about what I assume to be your progress. This book tries quite hard to avoid doing things that other books already do. Joel Rothman, who was kind enough to provide the foreword to this book, has to be the most prolific writer of drum books ever – almost 100 unique, quality books produced with such care and diligence is a phenomenal achievement, so I am by no means attempting here to replicate or replace any of Joel’s work, or that of other great drummer-educators including Pete Fairclough, Bill Bruford, Peter Erskine, Marco Minnemann, Mike Johnstone, Colin Woolway, and the eminent writers listed above, or the host of other marvellous drummers and tutors on whose broad, hard-swinging, deep-funking shoulders I and my thoughts humbly stand.
Another major omission from this book is any discussion of working with electronics. The reason for this is not that electronics are unimportant – far from it! Triggers, sample modules, playback, click-tracks, and whole electronic kits are central in many drumming contexts, often as part of a “hybrid” acoustic-electric set-up, but I have excluded electronics because technology changes quickly, and I am keen to avoid providing information to drummers that is obsolete as soon as it goes to press. This is not to suggest the rest of the contents are entirely timeless, but I am confident that this book can remain relevant to more people for longer by excluding an immediately dated section on incorporating electronics into your setup. That being said, I love to incorporate electronics into my setup, and have been doing so with what feel like increasing levels of success.
Ignite a spark
This book is my attempt, after more than a few years of procrastination, to share with peers in the drumming community some things that I hope pique your interest, ignite a spark, give you pause for thought, and inspire you to keep playing the drums. Thank you sincerely for reading.