Developing Your Drumming Vocabulary

Drummer Daily - Podcast for Drummers

We don’t know what we don’t know. So how do you break out of your own mold and learn new drumming vocabulary?

Today I was thinking about something, first off I got some feedback. I went live on Facebook yesterday and someone gave me some feedback. I was talking about having a bad habit and he was like, “Hey, I actually don’t have that bad habit so instead of trying to use your exercise to break a bad habit I actually did the opposite of your exercise to break my own habit.” Which was the exact opposite of what I was talking about, which I thought was really cool. I thought, “Man you’re pretty genius if you can … ” I don’t think about that, when someone says, “Hey, you should do this thing,” I’m pretty like … I don’t know what the word is. If someone gives me advice, like, “Hey, you should do this thing,” I’m like, “Okay, yeah I’ll do it.” I don’t think about it enough to be, “I don’t have that problem but actually if I completely flip what you’re telling me on its head, that will actually help me. It’s valuable in its own way.” I thought that was pretty cool.

What I was thinking about today was … Let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you’re at a restaurant or something and there’s a guy, they bring in guys to play guitar and maybe sing or something, do background music at a nicer restaurant, sometimes live music. Dude’s the guitar and every song he’s playing he … I don’t know, I’m not sure if you’re much of a guitar player or not but let’s say on a guitar you’ve got 6 strings and you hold the strings down on the fret board and you strum the guitar, that’s how different notes come out of the guitar. But there are some chords and some things you play on the guitar that when you strum the guitar you don’t actually play every string on the guitar, you actually kind of rest your hand on those strings, or rest your fingers on those strings to keep those strings from making any noise at all, you muffle them.

Let’s say you’re at this restaurant and there’s this guitar player who doesn’t do that, he lets the wrong notes ring out along with all the right notes. He doesn’t muffle any of the strings, he plays all six strings all the time, and if some of them happen to be wrong or annoying it doesn’t matter, he just plays them all the time. That would be really annoying to you, right? I mean, it would be annoying to me. What’s funny is, I don’t hope that there’s any guitar players that do that. You’re probably thinking, “All right Daniel, what’s the point in this? Where are going with this?” Where I’m going with that is this, this is why I mentioned earlier this, I said, “I had this habit, maybe some of you guys do.” I got feedback that some of you guys don’t have the habit.

I’ve been playing drums for, it’s been over 25 years now, so it’s been a long time. What I’ve realized is that a lot of things that I do when I play drums I play out of habit, I just do them because I always do them. When you get to be where you’ve played an instrument or done anything as long as I have, you’re naturally going to have habits and things you do. I think a lot of us have the habit of playing ghost notes in between the accents with our snare hand, or playing a certain pattern of ghost notes pretty much all the time. What’s weird is that if you were playing any other instrument having a habit like that would be really annoying to people so why as drummers do we get away with it? Why do we let ourselves get away with it? I don’t have a good answer for that but what’s really tough about being a drummer is that it’s kind of like, once you get all four of your limbs moving you start getting muscle memory locked in like you’re a robot. All the gears are connected from hand to foot and everything, so you can only move in a certain way.

That can be great if you develop some good habits and you’re playing one style of music all the time, or you might be a touring musician and you play the same songs every night and you don’t have to think about, I guess that’s a bad thing too sometimes. What I’m saying is that there’s not really any reason why we should let ourselves get away with having any kind of habit on a musical instrument, we should be able to express what we want to say musically at any moment, that should be our goal, is to get to the point where we speak fluently, we have enough vocabulary to say whatever we want to say and we don’t just say the same things over and over again to fill space.

I want to encourage you to really take a hard look at your drumming and think about, what are the things that I’m always doing that I don’t have to do or I could change? This goes to practice as well or playing along with other music. One thing that’s really hard about practicing by yourself if you don’t have someone else telling you or guiding you in any way, is that your mind … I’m trying to think, when I’m speaking I can’t make myself think of words that I don’t know. I can’t think of real words that exist in language and then speak them out and have them have any meaning to you if I don’t already know them. Basically I don’t know what I don’t know and I can’t make myself know what I don’t know.

When it comes to playing drums it’s really hard to come up with something that you’re going to practice that you wouldn’t already think of to play anyway. I want to challenge you, if you’re not taking lessons, and this goes whether you’re a pro or you’re a beginner, if you’re not taking lessons or you’re not doing some exercises that come from an outside source, at least go online and listen to somebody else playing drums. Study the nuances of it, and if it’s something you’re like, “Man, that sounds like something that I would play,” go find something else. Find something that sounds like something that you wouldn’t normally play on the drums and try to emulate that because that’s where I think you start developing real language and a real ability to play things that are new and exciting for yourself and for everybody else.

At some point you can get to be where you have that vocabulary where you can pretty much say anything you want. My challenge for today is that, go out, find something that maybe is outside stylistically how you normally would play drums and try to emulate that. Don’t go find some shredder on YouTube blowing around the drum set and doing something that sounds really cool but isn’t useful. Go find something that’s basic but it’s different and try to emulate that. That’s my challenge for you today. I will talk to you guys tomorrow, thanks for listening. Bye.

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