Thursday, August 30, 2007


As a drummer I think of time as one of the main themes running thruogh my life. There are two things that I think are the fundamental roles of a drummer; to keep time and to help the band sound good.

Keeping time is not solely the drummer's responsibility in a band but it's definitely a big responsibility that rest largely on our shoulders. Helping, or making, the band sound good? Well that's not meant to sound big headed or arrogant but it's true. We've all seen bands in which the drummer does all kinds of "drumnastics", makes a big show of everything and really does steal the limelight. Then we've probably all seen bands in which the drummer literally takes more of a back seat and is barely noticed. He or she sits there and keeps it all together. Those are the fellows or ladies who help the band to sound good.

If you walk away from a gig and think that the drummer was spectacular, he (or she) really was busy and could play something different every four bars, then I can almost guarantee that I wouldn't have like him. For me great drummers are the ones who contribute to the music without overpowering it.

Think of Ringo Starr in the Beatles. He's often the butt of many a joke, he's riduculed as being only "the 2nd best drummer" in the Beatles. I'll tell you this much; you'll rarely, if ever, hear a drummer say a word against Mr Starr. Because he was the perfect drummer for the Beatles, and a very good one too. Think of Beatles songs, think of "Come Together" and think of the drum part, how it ties in so perfectly with the melody and becomes part of the song. Simple and brilliant.

And so many Beatles songs had simple drum parts that fitted each song perfectly. Simple but with brilliant little touches that made the song. God is in the detail. Ringo was / is probably the ultimate example of a drummer who helped to make a band sound good.

But time, that's one of our biggest responsibilities and one that many a tub thumper will have spent hour upon hour practicing. I regularly sit at my drum kit with my metronome on and play the simplest of grooves for five or ten minutes straight. No fills, no cymbal crashes, just pure groove. The idea is to get to a point at which I feel the time, at which I'm not thinking, not concentrating just feeling it and being a part of it. I can play for a few seconds until I get to that place or it can take me minutes, but once I get there I know it and I feel it.

Time, in a very different vein, is also a great healer and developer, one which often can't be hurried. The older I get the more I realise this and the more I understand that some things just need time.

In a very neat full circle kind of way one of my most vivid examples of this is actually to do with drumming. When I first started to play, about ten years ago, I used to look at so many other drummers and want to play with their fluidity and their all round apparent ease. I'd watch friends and wish that I could sit at a drumkit and play with the sense of relaxation that these chaps would exhibit.

I remember asking my drum teacher about this. He told me that two things would get me to that level; practice and time. Practice was a thing I could control, I could do it, as much or as little as I wanted to, it was my choice. But time was different. No matter how much I practiced I couldn't fake experience. I couldn't become a drummer who had been playing for ten years in one year.

And all of a sudden, albeit ten years later, I find myself to be a chap who has been drumming for ten years. I've practiced my little brown bum off during that time, I've put in a lot of effort and a load of hard work. But I've also built up a fair amount of experience. I've played for a good few bands, some great, some mediocre and some totally crap. I've learnt things from every one of them and from every musician I've played with.

So very many things I've picked up and discovered have only been through the experience of playing, through the fact that I've done it for a bit. That's what time has done; it's made me realise that it waits for no one, but it hurries for no one either. All the studying in the world and all the practice can only get you so far, the rest has to be gained through experience and experience can't be faked.

This is what happens in life in general. I occasionally find myself talking to someone younger than myself and they'll ask my advice about something. Then, even more rarely, I'll know the answer to their dilemna, purely because I've come across a similar one before. Sometimes I'll even tell them.

There are some things that can only be helped by time.

It's quite good, this experience stuff isn't it?


confab said...

it's great to know that you started playing drums in your 20s (i assumed:D). i love when ppl take on new things, new hobbies and new challenges. drumming is something i certainly want to take up at some point. or will ur experience tell u now that i'll be shit at it? speak up oh great one!

confab said...

oh...have i messed up on the age?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

hello young sage!

You have messed up on the age, but in a nice way. I was 31 when I first started playing drum kit, but had played conga and other such stuff since I was a kid.

I honestly couldn't tell whether you'd be good or not. Obviously your musical knowledge would be a big help but some take to drums and some just can't get the most basic coordination things going. Try it though Confab, that's the only way you'll find out!