Don't let the drums play you...
The year was 2003. Location: Discreet hotel in downtown Spokane, WA, site of the Spokane Falls Community College Jazz Festival after-hours jam session. I provided the house drums for the session but left my bass drum pedal at home like a goon. Fortunately, a friend of mine had one sitting in the back of their pickup truck that we could use. Unfortunately, it squeaked and rattled like it had been living in the back of a pickup truck through an Inland Northwest winter. Was it better than kicking the bass drum with my foot? Yes.
Legendary drummer Dave Weckl’s band was in attendance after having shredded copious amounts of instrumental fusion at the concert that evening. Dave was coaxed into playing some standards with the rest of the jazz trio and sounded great, but I could tell he wasn’t happy with the gear. After he played I chatted with him:
“Dave, thanks for playing!”
Thanks--are those your drums? That kick pedal is trash, you need to get it replaced! You can’t let the drums play you.”
He also complimented my playing before checking out the shrimp platter at the party. The statement that Dave made about the bass drum pedal being unfit for duty has stuck with me and I use it regularly to make a broader point to students: You need to be in control of your sound, and that comes from knowing how to:
set up your drums in a way that doesn’t make you reach and strain your body
maintain a stable upright posture (your throne should not wobble!)
have a system in place to double-check these first two points--practice in the mirror and video record yourself.
Every time you have to re-balance your body to accommodate for a stiff bass drum pedal, wobbly stool, or snare drum that’s so low you bruise your thighs, you build bad habits that could be replaced by blazing fusion chops. Weckl and other great drummers have a lot of headroom available in their playing (extra chops and ability that they don’t need to showcase), and they can access that extra gear because it’s rooted in a foundation that starts with good posture and consistent technique. They don’t drastically change their technique or posture to shift into high gear and that that allows them to move around the kit easily without wasted movement.
Paying attention to “how I play” as well as “what I play” has become very important to me in the last 5-10 years since I’ve been teaching a lot of beginners (and sometimes reforming intermediate players). As I talked about in the first blog post in this series, playing drums is the most fun and sustainable when you can play songs, keeping steady time, understand the form of songs, and maintain good technique and posture the whole time. As Dave Weckl said, you should control how you play the drums, don’t let the drums play you. In my online course, “Drum Set Fundamentals,” I demonstrate body movement, drum setup, and how to maintain a fluid and relaxed playing style. Get this information ingrained during the (free!) first module and then you will thank yourself (thanks, me!) And buy the full course (winky emoticon).