Perfectionism is the thief of joy. So is comparison, as the saying typically goes. These two attitudes together can form a deadly combo that will stop your growth and possibly even destroy your potential on the drums.
I don't mean to be overly dramatic here, but it’s true! And if you’ve spent any time obsessing over perfecting your playing or comparing your playing to others, you know what I’m talking about. This is a dead-end street.
If you’ve struggled with...
...Then you need to take a step back and release the perfection you’re holding onto. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I’d like to help you get past this today, too.My band used to do this crazy thing on gigs years ago that pretty much forced us to let go of perfectionism…
I play with a cover band that does a wide array of covers, and we’re known locally for how we “make things our own.” We don’t try to copy the exact parts or vibe from the record most of the time, and sometimes we just go totally off the rails and jam for 10 minutes. We’ve been playing together for 8 years now, playing our first gigs in the summer of 2013. Back then we were all still in college, and it’s safe to say we were a little more care-free and less worried about what people thought of us. On some of those late night shows in our early days, we’d play “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins.
This song, of course, has the big, epic drum fill everybody knows. But we figured we would extract as much “drumnastic” potential from this song as possible, not just featuring the drums on the big fill. After playing through the main form of the song, we would quiet down and everyone would gradually drop out. I would keep playing, though, and the rest of the band would walk off the stage. This was the part where we did an open drum solo.
Now I’ll be honest that the first time we ever did this, I was terrified. I knew that whatever I played wasn’t going to be good enough, I’d be harshly judged by everyone in the audience, and I’d probably freeze up and run out of drum solo ideas 10 seconds in. The funny thing is, these fears actually came true a few times. I remember one time when I literally locked up in the middle of something “cool” I was playing. I had to recover and keep going. I remember “playing all my cards” too soon, so to speak, realizing I’d run out of ideas just a few bars in. And I remember some nights where’d I’d get done and feel like my solo just wasn’t that good.
But here’s the thing:
We did this night after night, gig after gig, probably for the first couple of years we played together. This trial by fire forced me to little-by-little let go of the perfectionism that was always nagging at me trying to hold me back. We as a band were developing a “just have fun and don’t worry about what anybody thinks” mentality that actually caused us to have a blast on every gig we played. We literally didn’t care. We wanted the audience to have fun, and the more we played together the more we knew that all started with us letting go and having fun.
8 years later we’re still playing together (getting back into it after COVID), and we’re less worried about being perfect than ever before. Ironically enough, we sound better and have more fun than ever before. Now a lot plays into this, including all of us individually honing our craft in the practice room. When we come together, listening is the biggest factor. By listening intently to one another, we’re able to play tightly, musically, dynamically, and creatively. The more comfortable we are on our instruments, and the better we listen to each other, the more we just have fun making music.
All of that together means there’s no perfectionism going on. If someone makes a mistake, we all make fun of each other and laugh it off. Nobody’s uptight about it, nobody’s getting fired for wrong notes, and nobody’s leaving the gig feeling like they failed.
Unfortunately not every group I’ve played with is like this. I’ve been in plenty of scenarios where the opposite is true. But I can honestly say after 8 years of playing with these guys that this gig has personally helped me become a better drummer in a lot of ways. I’ve learned to improvise freely without worrying about mistakes. I’ve learned to be ok with playing a song I’ve never heard before and following along as best I can. I’ve learned to fail and make mistakes… but shrug them off, laugh them off, and move on.
So what does all this mean for you?
What are some practical actions (whether physical or psychological) you can take right now to let go of comparison, perfectionism, and that overall mentality that cripples you and stifles creativity? Here’s what I’d like you to do:
1) Don’t obsessively compare yourself to other drummers, unless you’re comparing for the sake of constructive learning. For instance, I love listening to Steve Jordan’s drumming on John Mayer’s “Live in L.A.” record. I don’t obsess over the fact I don’t sound like Steve Jordan. Rather, I enjoy the music and love feeling his groove. This inspires me to groove harder and be more musical.
2) Know that the very best drummers make mistakes all the time. The difference between good drummers and great drummers is that the great drummers know how to hide their mistakes and keep rolling. Be a great drummer! Don’t fear mistakes. Listen, be musical, and stay in the pocket.
3) Find fellow musicians you can jam with regularly who share your philosophy of desiring to just have fun, create, and be musical. Don’t stay in a toxic, perfection-driven environment if you don’t want to be there. Find like-minded musicians who share your passion for making music and having a blast doing it.
4) Know that your identity is not in what you do or how well you do something. You are not the sum of your mistakes, nor are you the sum of your achievements. You are made in the image of God, and you are loved by God no matter what. I seriously had to realize that as a drummer. God doesn’t love me more when I play great, nor does he love me less when I make mistakes. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect when you know it’s humanly impossible. Only God is perfect.
Go out, make music, and have fun doing it. Work hard to grow and to sound better day by day, but don’t hold on to the mistakes. Don’t fear failure - Rather, see every opportunity as a chance to learn and let go of that perfectionism little by little.
Stay Non Glamorous,