The speech I am about to present is nothing new. It is something that is so blatantly obvious and that stares everyone square in the face every single day. We ask “What bridges good and great?”, “What’s the secret to being a professional?”, “What have they done that I haven’t?” I am here to explain to you today, through my own personal experience of expanding my knowledge and ability on the modern drum set how to bridge that gap. Just so we’re clear on this, I do not consider myself to be professional drummer. But through my nine years of learning, playing and sometimes teaching this amazing instrument, along with taking advice from some of the most profound drummers this planet has to offer, I have noticed consistencies. And all of these consistencies seem to boil down to two things: practice and motivation. Now, in order for these two things to work, there must be a certain level of interdependence. Without practice, your motivation is meaningless and vice versa, without motivation, your practice will also be meaningless.
If you wish to master your respected skill you will almost always have to practice. Progression at your skill and advancing in difficulty will always involve pushing yourself. You will sometimes observe another individual performing this task at a higher level than you, causing you to shy away out of awe and think “No, no way, I’ll never accomplish this in a million years…” I have done this so, so many times and have sometimes slept on advancing to another level for as long as a year. For example, when I first heard the song Lateralus by the progressive metal band Tool, I was about 13, the ridiculous time signatures, the length of the song and Danny Carey’s extremely creative and progressive drumming, the first thing I thought after “This is freaking awesome!” was “Well, this is way too far out of my league, I can try this song when I’m 21 or something….” and then I just walked away from playing that song. I mean, I still listened to it, occasionally. But in my mind, that song was not even worth trying. I never tried any part of that song on the kit for a year, not because it didn’t interest me, but because I highly doubted my capability of playing it. Until someday when I was 14 (I had actually stopped listening to the song for several months), I was scrolling through my iPod and landed on that song. I listened to it and realised “Wait, I’m starting to understand this!” As soon as I got to my drums that night I made my first attempt at playing any part of that song and I was shocked at what I was able to do on my first attempt. And I kind of figured that if I was able to do this well on my first attempt now, imagine what I could have done the year before if I had worked up the courage to attempt the song then, then practiced it and refined it. After my first attempt, I kept listening for more details as the months went by, becoming more and more aware of the small intricacies that made the grooves, the patterns and the time signatures sound so impressive and unique. By the end of that year I had near perfected that song that I had only a year ago written off as impossible for me to play.
My point is that with a little motivation and dedicated practice, there is almost nothing that cannot be accomplished. Another song I thought was impossible only about ten months ago was this 23 minute epic by Dream Theater that at the end of last year I began to try out, practice, refine and perfect to the point of submitting the song for NCEA only weeks ago. Again, this took balanced amounts of practice and motivation, working in tandem to enhance my abilities. There was a point this year where I was listening to this song twice on a daily basis, bearing in mind the thing is 23 freaking minutes long!
To properly observe the individual components of your skill to take home and practice and in the practice itself, I believe that you must at least gain some level of enjoyment out of it. How else do you sit through a 23 minute song almost every day on top of playing it at least three times a week for six months? To have that kind of willpower and patience to listen to a song religiously doesn’t just take nerves of steel. In order to truly play with feel and confidence, you must have a good time most of the time when playing and practicing.
One thing I have seen over and over again so many times throughout my nine-year drumming life is: kids and even adults who hit their drums as if they are playing with feathers. Now, this kind of playing may be appropriate in some quieter musical situations. But these drummers were in pop and rock situations, having to compete with screaming electric guitars turned way up. And to add insult to injury, most of them seemed to be playing in a very shy and timid fashion and some even looked as if they’d rather be someplace else. Now, hard hitting does not just come down to confidence. It can take years to develop the proper technique to blast the drums so they project through the largest of stadiums and concert halls. But a large part of it comes down to just balls-out courage and knowing that yes, hard hitting is not only appropriate, but also essential to this situation. Again, motivation is also key. When you get behind your drums, I remember one of my heroes Todd Sucherman saying “You have to feel like a kid at Christmas!”, and that has to be right off the bat, at the beginning of the show. Basically, just play your drums like you mean it.
Your drum heads and cymbals are not going to break after one hard hit; I beat the living shit out of my drums and I still only need to change my heads annually! I break on average two cymbals a year, which is a pretty standard figure when you’re playing the genres I chose to play. If your neighbors get pissed off, or if you live in an apartment, Remo make these inexpensive mesh heads that you just put on your drums in place of regular drum heads and boom, your drums are 80% quieter. And you can still practice hitting hard! Zildjian have made these practice cymbals that are full of tiny holes, also inexpensive, also much quieter. The bottom line is, the means to practicing and performing hard hitting drums are very accessible and there is no excuse!
Anyway, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, I’m sorry. My point is that it’s good to always make sure you are motivated to bring your skills to a level that is standard and necessary to whatever situation you are in. Don’t listen to outsiders, who frankly generally don’t know crap about where you stand in terms of your skill level ; listen to the greats, the professionals, the ones who have developed their formulas to success and look for consistencies. Listen to those who clearly have been in the game for many many years and know, what, they’re, doing. You have magazines, you have the Internet, you’ll likely have conventions and shows to go to; check it all out, take advice from the pros then go back home, utilize that advice in your practice then incorporate it into anywhere in your skill that would benefit from it. Continue to use this formula and in the years to come you will develop your own style of your skill that feels completely comfortable and familiar to you.
I have observed pro rock drummers for most of my life, looking for consistencies both on albums, live and instructional dvds as well as live and in person. I have been to a few conventions here and there and had the amazing opportunity to hear exclusive advice from some of the absolute finest drummers of my genre and even talk a few minutes with some of them, looking for the things that pop up the most and that appealed to me personally. Whenever I see a drummer doing or suggesting something that I’ve never thought of trying before, I usually take a step back and evaluate the components of my playing style relevant to what I just noticed. I then decide if this newly found idea will help elevate my playing in any way. If so, I will usually try to infuse it into my style. This can take serious time and dedication, which I’ll admit can sometimes throw me off. But if I can see a really worthwhile way in which this idea will help me, I’ll stick with it, forcing myself to incorporate it into anything where it will work. Once I have refined it, I’ll use it on select occasions and it’ll be just another tool in the box, there to enhance the overall performance.
How is all this topical to the grand super objective of A Life Less Ordinary you ask? Well, whenever I practice, I make sure I play for minimum of one and a half hours at least four times a week. My maximum practice time I’ve clocked at about four and a half hours and I do this happily when need be. The reality is, most average drummers I know aren’t willing to put in that kind of time and dedication to their instrument. If you think that kind of dedication is crazy, I’ll give you something that’ll melt your face off like the Ark of the Covenant. One of my greatest heroes, Mike Mangini used to practice for eight hours a day, and this was during his highschool days! Now, obviously that kind of dedication isn’t at all necessary in becoming one of the greats, but for Mike, it paid off, big time! (just Google him and you’ll see). My underlining, big, bold statement of this presentation is that to truly master any particular skill, you must indeed live a life less ordinary, motivated and prepared to fulfill the tasks required for you to advance to the highest level possible.
Thank you all.