That Time I Played Something Totally Wrong on a Gig

I was on a gig recently where I played something completely wrong. This was no small mistake. This was one of those scenarios where the drummer just launches into something else and the band’s left staring and wondering. BUT…there was still a silver lining, which is why this story is worth telling. ;)

This was the second show I’d played with this particular band, and we were covering numerous pop songs and even a hiphop tune or two. One such hiphop track was “Poison.” If you were ever into old-school 90s hiphop you probably remember this one. It’s one of those drum-machine-style tracks where the intro or the turn is a drum loop. Songs like this likely inspired Bruno Mars’ “Finesse,” where the song kicks off with a solo drum beat.

Rarely on gigs like this are there opportunities for drum solos. It really just depends on the band and whether they like to put their drummer on the spot and hope he can throw something cool together. But I’ve played a bunch with another band where this is a somewhat regular thing. When playing with this other band we'd even do an open drum solo at the end of “In the Air Tonight.” This was always a lot of fun, and to make it dramatic the rest of the band would walk off stage while I played. These guys are more of a jam band anyways, so soloing is a regular part of how songs go. The pop cover band I’m talking about today was a little different, however.

So we’re playing “Poison,” and we’re getting close to the end. The band leader suddenly points at me and yells “to the drums!” In the half second or so that I had to think about the situation, I decided what kind of solo I’d play for four bars. I then launched into my cadenza, playing some cool hiphop rhythms and finishing with an epic fill that would bring the band back in. But just before I started that epic fill something hit me. Wait a second…They didn’t want an improv drum solo…They just wanted that hiphop drum loop part from the beginning. Oops. That’s one of the worst feelings you can get on a gig, where you’re in the middle of playing something and you suddenly know that it’s completely and totally wrong.

What did I do? I sold it. I finished my solo with a bunch of resolute resoluteness that made it sound so intentional and on purpose that nobody but the band would know it was a mistake. The band came back in and we continued playing, though they had a good laugh at me. The funny thing was, I now knew exactly what I was supposed to do next time during that song when the band leader goes “to the drums.” Sure enough, I played the drum riff the next go around and we closed out the song. We immediately counted off the next song and moved on like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.

You probably know what my point here is in telling this story. If you’re going to be wrong on a gig, be confidently wrong. Be so proudly wrong that the listener would never imagine that you didn’t mean to play that. You have to really sell it sometimes, but this is way better than wimping out in the middle of a mistake. The worst thing I could have done was to stop playing and go “Huh? Wait what are we doing here? Oh - gotcha. K let me start that again.” Of course, that sounds utterly ridiculous, but you get the idea.

Also, if we were to answer the question here of how do you avoid making mistakes on a gig? the answer would be:

Make those mistakes proudly, and maybe even make them twice.

Sometimes you can repeat a mistake the second go around so that it feels more intentional. That didn’t apply with my scenario here, but I’ve certainly done that before. On top of that, don’t make a face. Just keep going, business as usual. Most of the time nobody will notice.

The truth is, mistakes happen all the time. The best drummers in the world will tell you that. It’s how you handle the mistakes that sets you apart from an amateur drummer. It’s like what people jokingly say about growing up. “It’s not that you get more mature, it’s that you learn how you’re supposed to act in public.” In our case here… “It’s not learning to avoid mistakes - It’s learning how to hide them.”

Yes, we want to be as close to perfect as possible and avoid mistakes at all costs… But they’re going to happen. Learn how to deal with them, and you’ll be a less-stressed, more-confident drummer as a result.

God Bless,



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