Each drummer is unique, and it goes without saying that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.
But if you’re at all serious about drumming, your goal should quite obviously be to minimize your weaknesses and have as many strengths as possible. If your goal is to play professionally, then that is what gets you the job!
Maximizing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses as a drummer though takes a certain amount of self-analysis, a critical aspect of achieving success in any field.
I have, in this article, outlined four key suggestions that can hone, if not completely add, skills to your musical toolbox. Some of these skills you may already have, in which case maybe what I have outlined below will provide a new way in which to think about your assets. Conversely, some of the skills you may not yet have, in which case I hope presenting them with this emphasis on maximizing your strenghts will inspire you to work on them.
It’s all a part of making yourself a better drummer.
So without further ado, here are my suggestions:
Learn To Read Music
Music notation is the quickest way to convey a musical idea, whether in the studio, in a performance, or in a rehearsal. This is not to discount playing by ear, which is also important. But there will be instances in which your ear alone will not be sufficient, and your understanding of music notation will clear up any confusion.
Actually, a good musician uses the eyes and the ears in conjunction with each other. Being able to read, by itself, will not necessarily make you a better musician, but it is like having one more important tool in your tool box. You will be better prepared to “fix” things.
There are also indirect benefits to being a proficient reader, and one of them is that you begin to hear and think in terms of notation. This soon translates into your being aware of the placement, accuracy, and phrasing of everything you play, whether or not you are actually reading music at the time.
As your reading skills improve, you also become available for gigs that require reading. And this, my friend, can open up enormous doors for your drumming career.
Learn Other Styles of Music
If you are a rock drummer, study jazz and latin patterns. Likewise, if you are a jazz drummer, it will be helpful if you study current rock styles.
Not only will your versatility make you more in demand with a greater number of musicians, but the coordination skills you develop in one style will carry over into another.
Many of the top rock drummers around today also have a strong jazz background, and it shows in their playing.
Learn Another Instrument
I suggest piano, as the scales, melodies, and chords are tangible and graphic.
In other words, everything is laid out for you to see, touch, and hear at the same time, thereby allowing you to understand musical ideas with your eyes, hands, and ears.
Most successful musicians have a working knowledge of the keyboard, and the benefits to you as a drummer are both direct and indirect:
- As your ear becomes more perceptive, you become more aware of what other musicians are doing, so you can react in a musical way.
- You can follow charts more easily (lead sheets as well as drum charts).
- You understand form in music more easily.
- You can communicate with musicians in a succinct way.
- You can even write your own songs. Many great drummers are also known as composers: Louis Bellson, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, etc.
This usually means, at first, to play anytime, anywhere, with anybody!
No matter how much you study and practice, your development as a musician is incomplete without some “on-the-job experience.” There are simply some things that can’t be learned except by performing with other musicians.
So do what you can toward this end, whether playing in rock bands, school bands, community concert bands, etc.
With experience will come increased confidence. The more contacts you have through playing with others, the greater your chances are of “moving up” to better gigs.