On Time And In Tune: Drums

“It’s better to have no drummer than a bad drummer.”


There’s a lot of truth about the importance of drummers in that video. Here are a few more tips that I think make the difference between good and great drummers:

Just lay down the groove. It’s not the fills that will get you noticed. It’s the groove. If people’s heads aren’t bobbing that’s a problem. This means being okay with playing simply. Simplify your kit. If the groove won’t happen with kick, snare, and hi-hat, it won’t happen with 4 rack toms, 3 floor toms and 5 crash cymbals either (unless of course you are Simon Phillips, but he could groove with a trash can and lid I’m sure). And groove will never happen with roto toms.

Know your metronome. I don’t just mean practice with one all the time or listen to it on the bus like Paul said above, but I mean know the difference between 85bpm and 90bpm. Songs live and die by the perfect tempo. One or two clicks in either direction will make a difference. I have a metronome app on my phone called Tempo Advance and since it’s always with me I practice guessing tempos of songs I hear and checking them on the app. We can be trained to match tempo just as we can match pitch.

Be creative but be appropriate. I just LOVE when a drummer offers an idea for a unique and different groove on a song. I also love it when he’s OK if we don’t use that groove. To me, what makes a live performance (whether a concert or a worship set) really connect with people is that it doesn’t sound like the recording. Drummers who have spent time in the woodshed working on different ideas have the ability to take a live arrangement to a whole new place. This also means making sure your stick bag is stocked: sticks, Blasticks, Hot Rods, brushes, even yarn mallets.

Help the rest of us remember that tempo and groove aren’t ALL about you. I’ve noticed something- when a song is feeling really good, we all like to take credit. When a song is rushing or dragging or just not in the pocket, we look at the drummer! Don’t be afraid to tell us that we aren’t keeping up our part of the groove. If the five other players in the band want to rush, no drummer is going to hold them back. Keep us honest. We won’t like it, but do it anyway.

Be the funniest person in the band. This is your job. Please be funny.

Drummers, what tips would you add to this list? Non-drummers, what are some thing that you have noticed about your favorite drummers? Let me know in the comments and if you haven’t subscribed, subscribe via RSS or email so you’ll know when the next set of tips is up!

10 Replies to “On Time And In Tune: Drums”

  1. Hey, Joe.  Great post, as always.  You give some great insight as a musician; here’s my insight as a listener:  I find that the songs and albums (read: music in general) that I most love are the ones that have an almost unnoticeable rhythm section.  This isn’t to say that the bass and percussion/drums aren’t important.  Much to the contrary.  I think that rhythm is THE most important part of music, period.  Like a good referree in soccer or hockey, the best ones are never noticed.  The worst ones are what we talk about after the game.

    The groove and vibe, when properly executed, give any and every song its signature.  I see both as the real DNA behind music (both good and bad.  If it’s a great song, it’ll have a great groove/vibe to it; if it’s a poor song, chances are the rhythm/groove/vibe will be poor). 

    Most Hendrix purists out there love him not for the tone and sounds he made with his guitar, but for the inherent rhythm he kept while playing at the same time.  He exuded rhythm and perfect time first, and great chops second.

    Sticking with a hockey or skiing analogy (you are in Colorado, after all), to me, drummers are like edges on hockey skates or a wax job on a set of skis:  Every pair has them; some are better than others.  You can still skate around the rink, but it is far more desireable to have a great edge on your skates than a dull one (or one that isn’t square or true).  The end result, I suppose, is the same.  The means by which you arrive at the end is far more fun and enjoyable with the proper edge/wax.  So the same goes with rhythm and drummers.

    Again, that’s my take from the output side of the music playing device.

    1.  Good points, Chad. I’ve always been the odd guitar player who loves rhythm more than solos. Digging into one simple part with a great drummer and bass player is infinitely more fun for me than playing a 10 minute solo. And there’s so much more to be dissected and figure out (the signature and DNA you speak about) in a good groove than there is in a solo.

  2. I’m a guitar player but I grew up with a brother for a drummer (I think you might know him, Joe). :) When I was a young musician my favorite drummers were always the more overtly “flashy guys”: Neil Peart, Vinnie Colaiuta, Chad Wackerman, Terry Bozzio, and Dennis Chambers. I still LOVE those guys (Colaiuta is still probably my favorite drummer) but I’ve come to REALLY love drummers that almost never solo but just take the groove by the throat and slam it up against the wall. I’m thinking of guys like Stewart Copeland, Liberty DeVitto, Bernard Purdie, and the late Jeff Porcaro.

    If I were leading a praise band and wanted to steer my drummer toward guys worthy of emulating in a praise band context, it would be those latter four guys (with a HEAVY emphasis on Porcaro). All of the latter four were incredible, but Porcaro just had this way of lifting the entire band of the bandstand by inhabiting the groove so completely that he didn’t even need to solo. He said everything that needed to be said in groove after groove of the songs. My prime, go to example with Porcaro is the song “Human Touch” by Springsteen. That groove is so simple and yet so thoroughly makes that song. 

    1.  Well we all have our guilty pleasures. And I do enjoy busier players as well, when appropriate. But I can only take guys like that for so long and then the wow factor wears off. I can listen to a good groove for hours and days and weeks and months…

      1. I should add Steve Gadd to my list of “groove drummers” that I would love drummers to listen to. “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Chuck E’s in Love,” “Aja”…all songs that drummers need to hear and understand, “How the heck did he do that?”

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