Showing posts from 2018

Love What You Do And Always Play Your Best

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

Practice vs Performance

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 interrupt

Use Your Limitations To Your Advantage

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 a

The Importance of Ear Protection

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.

The Importance of Clarity in Your Sound

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 neede

Have A Life Away From The Drums

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'

Refine Your Movement

So many percussionists just seem to play with little regard for how they move and stand while they are playing. This is one reason studying with a good teacher, no matter what level we are at, can help us immensely. A teacher can look at us from outside , a place we cannot see ourselves from.  Think of your favorite athlete. No matter how many championships and awards they may have won, they still work with coaches and trainers. That's because other people can see the things they do and help correct movement and posture problems. Drummers are no different, and I would say it's just as important for drummers because our role is so physical. It's important to practice in front of a mirror if possible, so you can see yourself moving in real time. It's also important to record video of yourself to look at and analyze later.  Another important thing for percussionists is to be involved in some sort of movement activity. Martial arts, Tai Chi, Yoga are all great for hel

Refine What You Do

It's so easy to grow complacent, so easy to find that groove you can ride in with little effort and maximum effect. It's so easy to become comfortable in where you are, and thus lazy in your future efforts. We often see this in our practicing, where we continually go over the same well worn material. Just get in that groove and ride it to infinity. I know. It happens to me. That's why we need to be aware of what we are doing at all times. We can't just be on autopilot . We have to make  conscious choices . If all you ever practice is what you know, and how you know it, that's all you'll ever know. Be conscious and choose to move forward. I often practice some of my favorite music. One reason is because I like it and it gives me immense pleasure to play it. But another reason—and this is a conscious choice —is that I'm always looking to refine what I'm playing, not just playing it on autopilot. I'm also looking for something new that I can bri

No One Cares About What You Do

Let's get this out in the open— no one really cares about what you do.  No one cares about all the time and hard work you've put into your art. No one cares about the devotion you have to your art. It may sound harsh, but it's true.  Music has changed over the years. It used to be that listening to it was a ritual. You took the album out of the cover and sleeve, you put it on the turntable and cued up the music. Then you reveled in it. Often you spent hours gazing at the cover art and reading the liner notes. You knew who all the musicians were, and who wrote the songs. Now, with streaming, all that is lost. People just call up the music they want to hear, and that's it. There are no liner notes, or musician credits, on Spotify or iTunes. So you could play drums on the biggest record of the year, and no one would even know it. And most people wouldn't care. It's a strange world out there today. When we lost touch with actual physical product , we los

The Fallacy of Gear Worship

First off, I must admit that I'm a total percussion nerd. I love all the different instruments. I love playing them, but I also love working on them. I get great satisfaction in taking drums apart and putting them back together again. And with this in mind, I have to say that I like to have the best quality and best sounding gear I can. But as much as I love all the instruments I've collected over the years, I try not to get too attached to them for making the music I do. Like most percussionists, I bring my own instruments whenever it's possible. This is always preferred, but with the difficult logistics of traveling with hundreds of pounds of often very large pieces of gear in cases, it's not always possible to bring your own instruments. This is especially true when flying. Unless you are independently wealthy, the cost of flying percussion instruments is prohibitive. That's why I don't get too attached to the need to have my own instruments whenever I play

The Artist's Way - The Book That Saved My Artistic Career

My artistic career had come to a crossroads in the mid-1990s when I felt both a lack of direction and motivation. Then, in 1997, I came across a book called, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. In the midst of the 90's  self-help craze, this was a book all about artistic self-help . The book is a 12-week course on recovering, and jump starting, your artistic ability/career. Each chapter covers a different aspect, giving you affirmations, practical advice, and exercises to do during the week. It doesn't teach you how to be creative, but how to access and nurture your innate creativity. My well worn copy of The Artist's Way One exercise Cameron recommends is morning pages . Each morning when you get up, sit down and write out 3 pages—long hand is preferred to typing—of whatever comes to mind. It's a sort of stream-of-consciousness brain dump diary. I was faithful to this at first, filling up a whole filing cabinet of notebooks, but eventually felt that it was

Towards Greater Consistency

I'm often surprised at how a musician will sound one way one day, then sound very different the next. It's not just the actual sound , but the performance, and little details of the performance. Many artists aren't consistent in what they do. So much of this goes back to preparation. You need to be prepared for every gig/performance/recital. This would seem like a given, but it seems that it's not. This is not to say that we want every performance to be a clone of the previous one, but that there needs to be a consistency, a sense of connection for all performances, especially in a series or a tour. Playing night after night naturally has its ups and downs. Some nights are amazing, others, just average. But as a performer, we need to try our best to present a consistent performance across a range of dates. Here are some tips: 1) Work out everything you need  ahead of time! Often people keep putting things off, thinking they will get them done before the perform

Towards Greater Clarity Of Sound

While I think percussion can be some of the most beautiful sounds in the world, others may feel that a lot of it is noise. This difference in perception often has a lot to do with both the clarity of the sounds being made, and the message being transmitted by these sounds. As a percussionist, I have always striven to create a good sound . This is important to me. Even when I'm creating more of a noise type sound, I still want it to have a certain quality to it. I don't like leaving things up to chance, or just making an indiscriminate racket. To me, everything starts with a good sound.  I also strive to have a sense of purpose in what I play. P aradoxically,  in improvising, I never randomly strike things. There is always thought behind what I am doing. Even in the moment, at an instinctive level, I'm always asking myself questions about what I'm doing: What sound fits with the previous sounds I've made (or that others have made in a group situation)? What

Have Drummer's Lost Control Of Their Sound?

This is a companion piece to last week's,  What Ever Happened To Individuality? post. Music today has become so homogenized. So much of it sounds the same because the same small group of producers/songwriters are making all the hit tracks. There often seems to be very little individuality left. This is especially true for the musicians playing on all these songs, but specifically drummers. Rather than controlling their own sounds/feel, drummers are increasingly at the mercy of producers.  Since the advent of digital recording, and software like Pro Tools and Logic, it's possible to completely change a recorded drum track. Individual drum and cymbal notes can be moved in time and retuned. Recorded drums can be easily replaced by samples of other drums. It's to the point where you could do a session, and when the recording comes out, you've been completely replaced and reshaped by the producer. Your actual performance was really nothing more than raw data that was u

What Ever Happened To Individuality?

T here was a time when most drum set drummers you heard had their own, identifiable sound. And by sound I mean both the actual sound of their drums and cymbals, and the sound of their playing style. It was easy to hear a new recording and identify the drummer by their sound .  Jazz drummers certainly had their own sound. You could tell Tony Williams' ride cymbal from Buddy Rich's, or Gene Krupa's toms from Max Roach's. Rock drummers had their own identities too. Bill Buford's snare drum was always identifiable, as was Phil Collins' concert toms. Mick Fleetwood always had that very muffled drum sound, and no matter what brand of drums Neil Peart decided to play, he always sounded like Neil Peart. Trending Today Today, things are much more homogenous. And not just at the major pro level, but at the local level too. There just seems to be a general inclination towards sameness. This is due to multiple trends. One trend is that young drum students

The Thing About Endorsements…

Too many drummers think endorsements are some sort of ‘trophy’ signifying they 'made it.' Well, not quite. I have some endorsements for gear I play, but I don't for others. I 'made it' to a certain point before the endorsements, but the endorsements haven't made me any better as a player, or more famous. That’s all up to me. Drummers need to know that an endorsement is a ‘two way’ relationship: you need to give back to the company you endorse. I do this various ways: 1) I talk about the gear I use because I really love it and it works for me. 2) I try to feature endorsed gear in promotional photos and mention it in interviews. 3) I always try to play my own gear, unless it’s a situation where I must play rental gear of a different brand. 4) Did I mention that I talk about the gear I use because I really love it? #1 & 4 are really key. The endorsements that I have are for gear that I had already been playing for years! And I had been promoti