There are two things that usually happen when people sit behind a drum kit for the first time. They either try to play a full beat or go for a crazy fill.
For my money, the person that sits down to play a beat will go much further as a drummer than the person doing the fill, for the simple reason that they have naturally understood one of the basic and most important facets of drumming – groove.
As drummers, we always want instantaneous results, taking off the training wheels before we’ve done the formal practice routines.
Our minds and ideas often work faster than our bodies can, and when we think we are impressing the girl (or boy), ferociously rumbling around the drumkit like Keith Moon, we actually sound like a garbage man clumsily toppling over a bunch of trash cans and seriously aggravating the neighbours.
So, take a deep breath and learn to crawl before you attempt walking.
Groove is what comes to us most naturally as musicians and as human beings. You would be hard pressed to find a professional musician that has no sense of groove – they just wouldn’t get the work. If you listen to most of the popular music from the last 60 years, most of them have a basic and familiar groove.
But how do we define groove? Groove isn’t just simply playing something without mistakes a number of times, and it most definitely shouldn’t be written off as easy or boring. Groove is the dynamics, feeling, and economy of beats. But, most importantly, groove is discipline. In a group setting, always listen to the musicians around you!
There is nothing worse than a drummer that has only practiced chops at 25o bpm and has no idea where the 1 of a song is. Oh, it was fine when they just practised alone, but now performing in front of 500 people with a band and their time to solo, and has lost the count. Well the pianist, sax player and double bassist also can’t find the count either, and they need to come back in together to play the final (you guessed it!) groove!
For the best examples of groove, check out drummers like Clyde Stubblefield, James Gadson, Ziggy Modeliste, Steve Jordan and Questlove.
When you hear them play, there is barely a lightning speed solo to speak of, and they will stick to simple, tasteful and repetitive rhythms that you could listen to for hours and hours and hours…..! Don’t get me wrong. Speed is great too!
I am always in awe at seeing a drummer pull of some rip-roaring, dazzling speed licks (when done right). But often, what is gained in speed is lost in groove and feeling. So by all means practice your speed drills too, but please don’t abandon the groove!!
Another thing we instantly think of when we approach drums is playing LOUD!! This can be great too. It’s why we chose the drums. We love the attention and the cathartic release. So we grab the sticks, raise our arms as high as possible and start pounding away with all our might. Warning: you will lose your energy very quickly, not to mention speed. Again, if you are in a band setting and you’re playing loudly over the top of them, they will get annoyed with you immediately (especially the singer)!
Technique is probably the most difficult aspect of drumming to master, but is the primary element to establish.
Far more important than just hitting with power is having control. This will allow you to play loudly (or quietly) for long durations and render your playing more exciting and pleasant to listen to.
When we talk about technique, we really mean the mechanics of drumming – how to hold your sticks; how to utilize your arms, hands, legs, feet in an efficient way; setting up your kit for different styles and situations, or even how to position yourself behind the kit.
These details, when isolated, seem minor, but ignoring these details will limit your ability to perform anything close to a decent groove, or any fills with speed, power and finesse. Of course, everybody is different and there is no definitive way to approach drumming. But poor technique can and often do result results in severe physical problems including tendentious, and back and neck problems.
However, a couple of areas of focus will give you something of a head start towards broadening your drumming vocabulary and will help you develop a stronger sense of groove, speed, and power. The first is rudiments.
Practicing rudiments daily will help achieve balanced sticking and give you plenty of rhythmic combinations to use around the kit. Playing along with a metronome will guide you on your way to building a solid groove, as well as improving speed. The second is the whipping or ‘Moeller’ method (named after Sandford Moeller who invented it).
This looks at ways to play with power using a whipping motion in the wrists as opposed to using your arms to harness power. This technique encourages you to use less energy, whilst giving you access to a much larger dynamic range. You can find plenty of Moeller and rudiment videos on Youtube.
So there you have it! With groove and technique you will get very far and will still have access to speed and power when necessary. Be careful not to focus purely on speed and power – there is only so far that will take you. Master all four and you’ll be a drumming legend in no time!