Re-imagine Yourself

As drummers, we can be an insular lot. We are always listening to, and talking about, other drummers. We watch drum videos and go to drum clinics. And even within that we can become very niche oriented, perhaps only being interested in metal or fusion drumming, at the exclusion of other styles. This sort of inbreeding often leads to stagnation, as we recycle the same licks and beats over & over. In order to deconstruct yourself, you often have to re-imagine yourself.

As much as I've played drums for most of my life, I've thought of myself NOT as a drummer, but as a singer. I listen to a lot of singers/vocal music, and have taken a lot of ideas and inspiration from the human voice. Many of the singers I listen to are from other countries and sing in languages I do not understand. This is even better, because I don't get hung up on the words, but hear the voice more as pure music. In this context, I try to phrase more like a singer would than a drummer. I also make my note/sound choices more as a singer than a drummer.

I also listen to a lot of string music, both solo and quartets/ensembles. Strings are amazing in their range and facility. Again, I often try to think/phrase like a string player. Strings are a very legato instrument with connected notes. Drums are a very staccato instrument with separated notes. In order to make percussion more flowing, think like a string player and connect the notes in your mind. Feel them connected to each other, not separate.

I even listen to a lot (and I mean a lot) of percussion music, but it's more than just rock & jazz drumming. I listen to various styles of ethnic drumming, be it Gamelan from Asia, Japanese percussion, African percussion, etc. What I like about these styles is they they are not locked into the rigid boundaries that we find in rock & jazz drumming. While there are often lengthy (and sometimes rigid) traditions, these traditions tend to be more than just licks or cliches: things aren’t done to show off or as some sort of “Ooh, look what I just learned” demonstration. The music also tends to be thought of in much longer, flowing phrases, instead of 1-bar increments (Years ago, I transcribed an African drumming piece off an old LP and it came out to 21 and a half bars in 4 before the phrase repeated itself).

Contemporary percussion music is another favorite of mine. I find some of the most interesting music to come from composers who are NOT drummers! Again, they aren't burdened by years of percussive baggage. In fact, some of the most notable pieces of the percussion repertoire are by non-drummers: John Cage (First Construction (In Metal), Imaginary Landscapes), Ianis Xenakis (Rebonds, Psappha, Pléiades), Morton Feldman (The King of Denmark), and Karlheinz Stockhausen (Mikrophonie, Zyklus).

Get out of your little world and look beyond the drums for inspiration.

~ MB


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