The Death of the Drum Set

I remembering having a discussion a few years ago with my friend, Brian Ritchie (of Violent Femmes), where he told me something along the lines of, “the drum set is dead.” At the time I wasn’t sure about it, but since then I’ve come to agree with his assessment. He said that when he wanted to add another drummer [John Sparrow] to back up the sound of Femmes drummer Victo DiLorenzo, they tried it with a drum set and it just wasn’t happening. After a couple of gigs they switched to Sparrow playing a cajon (basically a wooden box that the player sits on and plays with their hands) and things worked out. Since then he has mainly used cajon instead of drum set in his own music.

The drum set is an American invention, some 100 years old, that let one drummer do the work of 2 or 3. Besides combining things into a more compact entity, it also let bandleaders only pay one drummer instead of 2 or 3. In those 100 or so years, drums and technique have come a long way, from the early parade drumming gaining some swing with Baby Dodds, to the insane technical ability of today’s drummers like Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Calaiuta, and many others. In fact, much of today’s drumming has become more sport than music, with contests designed to find “the world’s fastest drummer!” Speed and technique have often taken the place of musical output in many of today’s music styles.

While there are many excellent drummers out there today, so much of the drumming is the same thing over and over. Most young drummers seem bent on recreating the exact same beats as their long gone heroes. As much as I admire John Bonham of Led Zeppelin fame and his drumming, he died just over 30 years ago. It’s time to move on and come up with some new drumming. For me to still be playing (or attempting to play) the same drum beats that Bonham used over 30 years ago seems irrelevant to the present moment. While I still enjoy listening to Led Zeppelin and others, I don’t feel any need to play the same drum beats. How can I improve upon the originals?

~ MB


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