Life Beyond the Drums

10 Weeks to Better Drumming - Part 9

OK, so you play drums and have your stuff together. You can swing just like Tony & Buddy, rock just like Neil & Lars, and groove just like ?uestlove & Ndugu. And to prove it, you posted drum karaoke videos of you all over the web playing to your favorite tracks. We're all suitably impressed and I'm sure Jeff Beck, or somebody, will be phoning you shortly to offer you a gig.

But seriously, so many of us are stuck in a box—stuck in a box of drums only. We listen to drums, watch drum DVDs & videos, go to concerts to see the drummers, but we miss out on all the other stuff going around us because we are too focused on just the drums!

I love drums. I listen to a lot of drum recordings, but I also listen to a lot of other music, even stuff without any drums/percussion. As much as I've been influenced by various drummers over the years, I must say that I've been equally influenced by singers, saxophonists, violinists, etc. In fact, in listening to things other than drums I'm always absorbing what they do and trying to bring that back to my drumming.

Singers—I love the human voice and listen to singers all the time. If you want to learn about phrasing, then you need to listen to singers, because they have it down. If you want to learn swing/jazz phrasing, then listen to Frank Sinatra and try to emulate his phrasing. 

I listen to a lot of 'world music' (BTW, I hate that term) because I love how singers phrase things in different languages. You can learn a lot about rhythm & phrasing by listening to people singing in different languages/music styles than your own. Norwegian/Sami singer, Mari Boine, has been a big influence on how I approach rhythm. Her music & singing is very deep and connected to the earth/history. There's a definite organic feel to it.

Another favorite is Finnish Yoiker, Wimme Saari. Check out his music and play along to his singing, emulating the phrasing, the inflection, etc. His solo Yoiking has a whole different rhythmic style than pop or jazz.

Saxophonists—check out John Coltrane, but don't listen to his great drummers (like Elvin Jones & Tony Williams), instead, listen to Coltrane himself. Like the singers previously, work on emulating the phrasing and inflections that Coltrane plays with his sax. Also check out McCoy Tyner's piano playing.

Strings—now this is a completely different realm than percussion. Check out some string quartets and play along to the music, not with typical drum beats, but thinking like a violinist/violist/cellist.

Composers—let's get into a completely different mindset and get into the heads of some original thinking musicians. Check out this documentary on experimental French composer Pierre Henry, one of the pioneers of musique concrète, or the documentary on composer Milton Babbit, one of the pioneers of electronic music.

Now don't just stop there. Get into painters, dancers, writers, sculptors, etc. and draw inspiration from them. Feed your music/drumming with everything. It doesn't matter if you play rock, jazz, metal, country, disco—whatever—listen to and emulate something besides other drummers. Don't just be a drummer, be a musician. Open your ears. Open your eyes. Open your mind…

~ MB


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