“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!