Playing together…not just at the same time

I taught private drum lessons for many years.  Like any instrument, unless you plan to play by yourself and (in the case of keyboard and guitar) you intend to only play by yourself forever, it is important that you also learn to play in an ensemble setting.  Not only playing at the same time, but together.  In the beginning, so many garage bands start out sounding like an orchestrated train wreck…mostly because each of the players is concentrating more on playing all the hot licks he/she knows rather than listening and learning to be a part of a single (unified) ensemble sound.  With everyone playing all of the time, there is no clarity and the overall sound is always too loud and too busy.

As this relates to drummers, it means that your first 3 instruments are the kick drum, the snare drum, and the hi hat.  Tom-toms and cymbals are unimportant, because your first job as a drummer is to hold the band together.  Simple, basic time patterns on the drums are what hold a band together.  More toms and more cymbals don’t make you a better drummer.  Practice with a metronome (and stick with it!).  Metronomes don’t lie.  They keep a steady beat, never going faster or slower.  Practicing with a metronome will force you to learn and understand what it means to keep a steady tempo, and you’ll hear when you rush or drag because the metronome doesn’t lie!

The two most important fundamental factors that will make you a good drummer are: 1) the ability to keep a steady tempo,  and 2) the ability to draw consistently good, uniform tones from each of the instrument…that is, knowing how and where to strike each instrument in order to get the best response from that instrument every time you hit it.  Please understand that there’s a LOT more to playing drums than it looks like from a distance.  And having more drums/cymbals/other doo-dads doesn’t make you a better drummer.  That just proves you spend more money on toys.

If you want to test yourself, try removing all of the toms and all of the cymbals (or maybe all but just one 🙂 for your next practice session.  That will force you to listen to yourself and to work on getting consistent tone from the kick, snare, and hi hat (also the one optional crash cymbal).  Practice with a metronome.  Play for long periods of time ( 5-7  minutes ) at a time, to test your patience.  I promise it can only HELP your drumming.

Last thing: Remember that in the ensemble/band setting, you are the conductor and rhythmic foundation.  If you don’t have your act together, the band will always struggle rhythmically, and will probably not last long as a unit.  If you do your job, then the rest of the guys probably won’t be asking you to move on.  Also remember:  less is more – there is always room for more.


4 Responses to “Playing together…not just at the same time”

  1. 1 Marianne
    December 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Fantastic perspective. Thanks.

  2. 2 Rick Allnutt
    December 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Nice perspective Ron. It not only makes sense, it is the beginning of musicianship.

  3. January 7, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    What kind of Electronics do you use? We’ll sometimes do in-store appearances or radio shows while on the road. In these situations, I use a full kit of electronic drums, which are made by RET Percussion. They’re dual-zone triggers made with actual maple shells and real-feeling heads. Also, no matter which kit I’m using, I use a pair of Roland SPD-S sampling pads to my left above the hi-hats. I can trigger drum sounds directly from them, or I can trigger rhythm guitar loops or piano loops that we couldn’t otherwise cover live without more people. That strategy allows us to sound extremely full on stage even though we’re a trio… the Rush approach. I use two of them MIDI’d together so I can monitor one with added click, and send one to the house without a click. I use a Boss metronome for a time reference, and I have a small mixer that I use to tie it all together and monitor the other band members.

    • 4 ronblount
      January 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Hey, Edmund – great to hear from you! We started years ago with a TAMA Rhythm Watch RW-100 click, played first through our sound system to headphones then later we graduated to an Aviom system. Through the years, we’ve played to recorded loops (triggered from the Front of House audio desk) and STM tracks (also triggered from FOH). And I’ve tried a couple of times (for variety) to use a BOSS metronome. But the buttons on the RW-100 are so much easier for me to manipulate ‘on the fly’ our Rhythm players have preferred the TAMA, because the resident (‘cleep – cleep’) sounds of the click are so different from anything else they are hearing. I recently discovered an iPhone/iPad app called ‘Frozen Ape Tempo’ which may have some really great possibilities if I move to an iPad-workstation that will include capabilities of playing mp3s and other stuff. Go to http://www.communitybible.com/ministries/worship/orchestra. I’m the white-haired guy in the pictures, directing the orchestra/choir. Since most of my attentions are taken with live musicians and singers, I tend to function more like a pit conductor in a Broadway musical. So for me, the simpler the technology the better. Blessings to you my friend. Ron Blount

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