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How To Play A Rock Ballad Like A Pro

Todd Sucherman  /  UPDATED Aug 12, 2023

Playing the drums isn’t always about speed and showmanship. A lot of it relies on the essentials: locking down the groove and serving the music.

Todd Sucherman is one of the most prolific drummers in rock music today. He’s won Modern Drummer awards for ‘Best Rock Drummer’ and ‘Best Recorded Performance’, and he’s the mastermind behind our popular Rock Drumming Masterclass. So who better to use as a reference for nailing a rock ballad?

Here are three tips you should take away from this video:

1. Discipline

Play for the music, not to show off the new linear fill you just practiced. The best drummers know when to hold back. In this song, Todd doesn’t pull out his shred chops or add notes unnecessarily; he carefully places each hit, plans where each drum and cymbal sound should fall, and knows where to build and where to stay quiet.

2. Dynamics

Dynamics are key for bringing life to a song and they can also make or break your drum sound. If your cymbal volume is drowning out the kick and snare, your groove won’t be making the audience/listeners move. This varies for each style of music, but for rock you’ll always want to make sure you have a heavy back beat and groove to hold down the fort.

Todd uses dynamic limb independence to ensure the drum sound is ‘mixed’ before it even gets to the engineer. He doesn’t go overboard with cymbal volume. His snare and tom hits don’t overwhelm each other. By playing with the right dynamics for each section (such as bringing the overall volume down in the verses and building it up before each chorus), he’s making the producer’s job easier and controlling the feeling of the song from the very first take.

3. Timing

Todd lays back on his fills to keep the time feeling perfect. Many drummers speed up their fills while playing ballads. But in this performance, you can hear every hit is perfectly spaced. To practice this, you can play through slower fills with a metronome to get a sense of where each hit needs to be.

In this powerful performance, Todd knocks a ballad out of the park. The best part? It’s on top of a mountain. The cherry on top? The song, “Center Of Your Heart” is by his better half, Taylor Mills, from her album Lullagoodbye.

If you’re thinking “Wait…how did Todd get his drums on that mountain?” you need to watch the behind-the-scenes story on the most epic drum video we’ve ever made. Here’s a reminder in case you missed it:

What do you think of those neon yellow Pearls?

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Todd Sucherman has played thousands of rock shows, entertaining music fans around the world for decades. He’s a decorated clinician, winning multiple awards for his educational DVDs and enjoying a 20+ year tenure with the legendary rock band Styx.

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