Serving The Situation

Different situations require different approaches. If you do the same thing in each situation, you might not be doing the best thing for each situation. I find this is often a difficult concept for younger drummers to understand. I think this is mainly because younger drummers routinely only have one concept of how to play drums. Now this is not their fault, this is just a product of inexperience. As we learn and grow, we also hopefully expand our horizons. 

At 28, you should know more than you knew at 18. At 38, you should know more than at 28, and so on. It's only when we get older, that we can look back upon the arc of our career, and see things with clarity. Experience is indeed the greatest teacher.

This leads up to today's topic: serving the situation. I think even for many experienced drummers this can be a great reminder/refresher. If you play mainly in one band, or one musical situation, when you need to play outside of that, your instinct might be to bring the same experience to the newer situation. So let's look at some different approaches.

Live vs Studio

This is always a big conversation with as many opinions as there are drummers. First, let's look at the difference between the two situations. Live is a very in the moment experience. You play the music and it's gone forever. For the audience, each song is much like a train going by. You don't have the time to concentrate an any one car, because things keep moving. Eventually the train goes down the track and disappears. Then another comes along and the whole thing is repeated, although with many differences.

How we play serves the bigness of the moment. Live, we may want a specific type of sound, so we use specific drums and cymbals that project more. Our playing may be made of more big gestures and fewer notes that are played harder, because we need to project.

The studio is very much like a musical microscope that looks at everything you do in great detail. Because of this, small gestures that may get lost on the live stage, are magnified and visible to the listener. Sitting within a forest of microphones, the need to project is not as important, thus you may choose to use different equipment. Smaller drums and cymbals are much easier to control and often can lead to a cleaner, better recording. So many drummers use different gear live vs in the studio.

Another aspect is that a recording is forever. People can, and will, replay the music over and over. Musical elements that you add to the music can be looked at by the listener under their own microscope. Things that in a live situation will come and go, remain with a recording. In the studio, great care must be taken to make sure everything is in place and correct.

Serving the Song

As a young drummer, the tendency can be to play your favorite licks or flashiest beats in any situation. “I worked on this for weeks and it's a great way to show off my technical prowess.” Ah, the exuberance of youth. But just because you can play something doesn't mean you should. As you get older and more experienced, you (hopefully) learn to self edit your playing. 

Why do drummers like Jim Keltner, Steve Jordan, and Steve Gadd get so much work? They always serve the song. All 3 of them are great drummers, possessing great technique, but they've learned to play what the song needs, not what their ego needs. They often play extremely simple parts. It takes maturity to decide and play just a shaker and a bass drum on a track because that is what fits the music best. Learning to self edit is one of the most important things. 

I find that as I get older, I tend to play less notes, but each note has more meaning.

The Gear Equation

Many big name drummers have a lot of gear, some even have a small warehouse filled with drums, cymbals, and percussion. This is not necessarily because they are rich. More often than not, it is because they use different gear in different situations. They realize that one set up doesn't necessarily cover all musical situations.

A good example of this is Steve Smith. He is currently out on tour playing drums once again for Journey. For this tour, he put together a big, double bass drum kit. In various jazz situations, he tends to use a smaller kit and different types of cymbals. I've seen Steve use a small 10/13/16" BD Jungle kit live, because it fit the situation. Using the Jungle kit in Journey wouldn't work. Conversely, using the huge double bass kit wouldn't have worked in the same gig where he used the Jungle kit.

Steve Smith with his Jungle Kit

Similarly, I've seen Paul Wertico play a gig using a single headed REMO Legero kit. The thing to remember is that each situation is different from another. Make conscious choices about what you play musically, and what you use gear wise. Don't just look at each situation as the same.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™


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