A few years ago I played a gig that reminded me of the importance of listening.
This scenario really solidified for me the fact that you CAN survive a night of songs you’ve never heard…as long as you use your ears. Even if you haven’t had the chance to practice, rehearse, or even meet the guys you’re playing with, you CAN hang in there and nail the songs when you focus all your attention on listening.
I’d had this gig on my calendar for a month or so, and I knew ahead of time I was subbing for a drummer in a local blues band. The band leader attempted to schedule several rehearsals leading up to the gig, but nothing ever worked out with everyone’s schedule. I knew we’d be playing for 4 hours late Friday night, so there’d have to be at least 50 songs on the setlist. Most of them would probably be pretty typical 12-bar blues, but who knew if there might be breaks or key spots in the songs I’d have no idea...
Man…I don’t think a gear discussion could get any more subjective and controversial as this one, but I’ll throw out some thoughts and ideas that might help to guide your drumhead shopping.
We’ve all had those days where we sit down to play, and nothing feels right. The groove we practiced the other day just won’t come together, and the fills we practiced end up sloppy. Nothing FEELS right, and we’re not comfortable playing for some reason. Something’s clearly wrong…but what is it? Let’s dig into this a little more and see if we can find some possible solutions.
Today I just want to throw out this interesting and kind of controversial drumming question:
Should we actually set speed goals in our practicing and work on getting faster on the drums?
The two main camps in the drumming world offer opposing opinions on this…
There’s the “chops” world - The school of thought that pushes quick hand technique, impressive foot technique, and lightning-fast fills around the kit. Then there’s the “groove” world - The school of thought that puts groove, feel, and vocabulary before speed and technique. For some reason most drummers fall into one of these two camps. Now the “chops” camp was a bigger deal back in the 70s and 80s with the onset of jazz “fusion,” led by drummers like Dave Weckl and Dennis Chambers. That was when every young drummer had the dream of going to music school at Berklee, where one might learn how to attain such drumming...
There are way too many kinds of sticks out there. How in the world are we supposed to know which size is best? Let me offer a few guidelines that might help you out, and I’ll tell you what my favorite sticks are.
Here’s what I have in my stick bag:
Yeah, I have other stuff besides these exact sticks in my bag, but this list sums up my essentials that I actually use regularly. Let me explain what I use each pair for.
These are my least used pair of sticks, but I’m including them because I used to use them very often. These are great jazz sticks, especially if you’re playing light jazz (jazz combo, jazz trio, etc.). I did a lot of that in college, and this was my stick of choice. I don’t play as much jazz now, but whenever the occasion arises I still reach for these.
These are the quintessential average,...
One of the funnest things to do as a drummer (regardless of what level you’re at) is to play along to a great record. Putting on your favorite song and jamming out is so cool, and that’s how pretty much every drummer gets started learning the drums. This is also a great way to stay musically motivated and inspired as your grow and develop as a player.
But a lot of times there’s a challenge associated with this task: What do you do when it’s hard to hear exactly what the drummer on the recording is playing? It can quickly become frustrating when you’re trying to play along…but you’re realizing your parts are never lining up with his parts. This is where learning a song can suddenly become exasperating. How do we get around this? Here are my “song-learning” steps that I think will help…
When you’re setting up your kit, don’t set yourself up so far into a corner that you don’t have sufficient leg room at the kit. This is huge for someone 6’4” like myself, but this is an important piece of advice for any drummer. I’ve made the mistake before of not allowing sufficient space behind my kit, which results in having to have the kick drum too close (so that it stays on my drum rug), which in turn results in me sitting too close.
Of course, the simple remedy for this is to sit farther back, right? Well sort of.
As I realized this leg room issue, I began setting my throne farther back to allow ample leg space. I suddenly began experiencing back pain at the drums, which I had never had to deal with before. This was becoming very frustrating...until I realized my mistake.
Even though my arms are pretty long, I was actually having to reach out too far for the rack tom and cymbals. What I didn’t realize at first was that I...
I was on a gig recently where I was reminded that it isn’t always our fault if our drums don’t sound their best.
I tuned up my kit at home, got everything sounding good, and I set up at the venue. I started hitting the drums, listening as the sound echoed throughout the fairly large room. The rack tom sounded way lower than it did at home, and the floor tom sounded strange, and the snare had this weird hum going on. Everything sounded fine at home! I had even used that snare at a gig previously where it worked great. Why did the sound of the entire kit suddenly change on me?
This gig was teaching me yet another lesson on “tuning for the room.”
It’s basically a drumming truth that your kit will sound different in every room you play. That’s a given that we can’t avoid. What we have to do is learn how to adapt to different rooms, making the most out of our kit sound in less-than-ideal circumstances. Whether the room’s awkwardly...
You probably caught the video a couple of weeks ago about “why we drop sticks” and how to avoid it. I started thinking, though, about some additional tips that I didn’t mention…
Have you ever dealt with thumb fatigue?
…that kind of pain in your thumb joint that often results from squeezing too tightly on the sticks when you play? This was something that I began to realize I was facing regularly. One time it got so bad that my hands ached for two days after a gig. I knew I had to do something…but what? I began to find some solutions, some mental and some physical. I made a video about this last summer, which I encourage you to check out if you haven’t seen it. (I’ll throw a link down below!)
If you feel like there’s a grip issue behind your dropping sticks, one of the thumb-fatigue solutions might help.
I noticed that the only time I had bad thumb pain while playing was when my hands were cold or dry. If they...