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Don't Lose Sight of the Music

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I look at a lot of the younger drummers and percussionists out there and marvel at their technical ability. They are doing things that we never even thought of when I was their age. In the past 50 years the level of sheer technique and ability among percussionists has grown at an astounding rate.
I watch a lot of different drummers and drum videos. While I am amazed by many of them, and what they can do, I'm also bored by a lot of them. Technical ability is a great thing to have, but it needs to be balanced with musicianship. Raw, unbridled technique is interesting for a short time, but after the wow factor wears off, I find myself longing for some actual music.
Many people, including drummers, knock both Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts for their lack of technical mastery. But there's a reason those 2 drummers have had such long and successful careers, and even now in their 70s, they keep going: they make music. Both drummers are masters of the groove. The Beatles or the Rolling…

Love What You Do And Always Play Your Best

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Love What You Do

If you play music, it may seem redundant to say love what you do, but it's the most important part of being a musician. It's also as important to love it enough to stop doing it when that love wanes. I've known enough other musicians in my career that kept playing long after they got tired of it because they felt trapped in some way. Trapped because they didn't know what else to do, or because they didn't want to look like a quitter, or because their ego wouldn't let them stop, even when their musical abilities were far past their prime.

Always Play Your Best

Being a musician is never easy. There are better and easier ways to achieve money and fame, so their has to be something more to keep you doing it night after night. I've been playing gigs since I was 15, which is nearly 50 years ago (yeah, I'm that old). For me, it's the love of playing music and communicating with people that keeps me going. 

I recently did a string of 4 dates in…

Practice vs Performance

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A lot of people don't seem to realize that there is a great difference between practice and performance. They also don't realize that while it's important to practice, it's also important to practice your performance.

Practice

For me, practice is where I work out things, like technical details, logistics, body mechanics, and everything else associated with making the music work. 

It's important to get the notes down and to get down how to make those notes. As a percussionist, touch is of utmost importance. Even slight variations of how we touch the instruments with our mallets/sticks can bring about a great variation in the resulting sound/tone/timbre. Within a phrase or passage, it's important to have a consistency of sound. 

I also find it important to work out the logistics of moving around a large multiple percussion set up. I need to be able to easily go from one instrument to another. I also need to be able to change mallets without interrupting the flow of t…

Use Your Limitations To Your Advantage

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We live in a world of excess. Everyone wants more, needs more, only feels complete when they get more. But is more always best?

Think of 2 restaurants, 1 with 15 menu items and 1 with 100 menu items. 

Which one is better? 
Which one is easier?

The answer is probably up to each of us. Some people like more choices. Some like less. Some take what is in front of them at any given moment.

Percussion can be like that. We can have 10 instruments or 100. Are you a better musician if you have more? Not necessarily. If you are not satisfied with your musicianship, will buying another snare drum or cymbal make you better? Not really.


Yes please, I'll take one of everything. (Photo by Yamaha)
I own boxes and cases full of percussion. I love choices. But I often put limits on my choices, because there's only so much gear I can haul around to each gig by myself. And often there's a limited amount of space to set up in.

But I use my limited choices to my advantage. I always pick out my instrume…

The Importance of Ear Protection

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WHAT??? WHAT DID YOU SAY???

I grew up in an era of huge amplifier stacks sitting on either side of the drum kit. When sitting at the kit, these amps were at my ear level. And they were loud! This was also the era when decent sound systems and miking individual instruments was just starting to happen. Otherwise, as a drummer, you had to play LOUDLY to be heard above the stacks of speakers and amps. And no one ever thought about all this volume and how it would affect their hearing over time.

Fast forward to today. I had a hearing test recently and found that surprisingly my hearing is normal for a person my age. Both ears are considerably flat in all frequency ranges until you hit the highs, where there is a steep roll off. 

I'm lucky. A lot of big name rock musicians (and not so big name) who are in their 60's and above have severe hearing loss. My hearing is good, but I do have tinnitus, which is a high pitch ringing/squeal in my ears. And it's always there—24/7/365. 

I can n…

The Importance of Clarity in Your Sound

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As a percussionist, it's so easy just to hit things, to create a rhythm, and all without any consideration for the actual sound we are making. As much care as we give to the rhythms we make, we need to give that same care to the sounds we make. 



If we just play without clean and musical sounds, the rhythms we produce can be muddy and indiscriminate. While there are times we may want dirty and messy sounds, in my experience, most times clear and focused sounds are what is needed.

“My assignment is to furnish the essence of the sound material in the best condition to the listener or space. While focusing on this endeavour, I transcend my sense of self. In my own way, I create sounds, and by myself, I emit them. It’s that simple. So to speak, it’s like living off the land.” Japanese Percussionist, Midori Takada
Clear sounds can get our musical message across better. Clear sounds also work well with each other, especially during dense or fast passages where clarity is needed. But above a…

Have A Life Away From The Drums

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How often have you heard some musician, especially a college music major, brag about all the time they spend practicing: “I usually practice 6-8 hours a day. I get up, have some coffee, then jump right on the marimba/drum set/timpani/etc.” Even professional musicians with established careers will talk about the hours of practice they still put in. 

I'm all for practice and improving my skills, but there's a limit to how much time practicing can actually be productive. One problem that being in a practice studio so much causes is, isolation. You become that person who is rarely seen, the hermit musician. But it also goes the other way, in that you rarely see anyone else. And seeing your barista or the pizza guy everyday does not really count as human contact.

Your practice room can become a prison cell if you let it.
Another thing is that you miss the world around you, all the things happening right outside your studio door. Isolation may help you to focus, but it's a very myo…