When I first started to play the drums eleven years ago, I was obsessed with being a creative and “original” drummer. The idea of playing popular songs, borrowing licks from other drummers, and trying to mimic famous drum fills didn’t appeal to me. How would playing someone else’s creative patterns help me?
I didn’t want to be just another copycat drummer. So, I focused on creating original fills, learning new techniques, mastering the rudiments, and trying to come up with drum solos.
Looking back now, it’s clear to me that I made a critical mistake. It’s so obvious in hindsight that I feel silly for having made it. I undervalued the experience and insights of other drummers and overvalued my “beginner’s enthusiasm”.
In a rush to express my limited creativity, I forgot to focus on the fundamentals. In an effort to be original, I didn’t benefit from the hard-learned lessons of drummers that came before me. I was unable to build on their progress because I didn’t understand or appreciate what they had learned.
At the heart of all creativity is the exchanging of ideas. As drummers, we express our musical ideas within beats and fills. Progress is the result of adapting, changing, or otherwise improving these patterns in our own unique way.
Before we can do that, we need to build experience. We need to have some insights into what drummers are playing, why they are playing that way, and what other options are available.
Playing the drums is an art, not a science. While there are important fundamentals to learn along the way, there is no A-Z path to drumming nirvana. That’s because we all have a slightly different idea of what we want to achieve.
While there is no map that will take us there, we can follow the footprints and clues left behind by drummers that came before us. Specifically, the drummers that closely resemble the kind of musicians we want to eventually become.
The fastest way to get better at playing the drums is to start playing real music. More specifically, you should play along to your favorite songs using beats, fills, and other musical ideas from more experienced drummers.
The key to being a great drummer is being humble enough to admit that we have something to learn. We don’t mimic other drummers in an effort to copy them. Instead, we do it because they have something to teach us through their music. We do it because we want to understand and appreciate what they have achieved.
Expressed as a formula: Progress = Ideas x Experiences. As a beginner, I was trying to be creative with my own ideas and limited drumming experience. I was essentially multiplying two very small numbers to produce a modest result. No matter how much time and energy I invested, I didn’t make much progress.
In hindsight, I now realize that the best writers, athletes, musicians, and top professionals in the world take the opposite approach. They do everything they can to be exposed to the best ideas in their field, and look for opportunities to build experience by creatively applying those ideas.
The first step to improving as a drummer is choosing to take action to get the result that you want. While this may seem obvious, this is where most people drop off. They get excited about the dream of being a better drummer, but don’t want to put in the time. So, first decide that this is something you really want to do and that you’re willing to take action. And set a deadline – it’ll give you a goal to work toward.
Then, start playing along to some of your favorite songs. Focus on understanding what other drummers are playing, why they are playing like that, and what other things they could be playing (based on other songs you’ve learned). Soon you will see patterns emerge – all while you’re steadily improving your drumming abilities.
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