If your goal is to become a working drummer, you know, someone who gets paid to play the drums, then I’m sure we can agree you won’t be needing every technique and drumbeat ever cooked up.

So what exactly do you need then?

Well of course, that all depends on your actual drumming goals. What I define a working drummer as, is someone who gets hired to play the drums on stage with his (or her) own band, or as part of another band. Either way, it’s playing on stage with other musicians.

Sometimes we can lose sight of this goal when immersed in the deep seas of practice. There are so many double kick beats, so many paradiddles, and rudiments to have fun with. But we really need to take a good look at our practice routines to make sure they are getting us closer to our goal of playing live.

So with this in mind, I’d like to share my thoughts on what I believe can be a waste of time to include in our practice routine. Now, of course, all of these come with somewhat of a caveat. But in general, they are the things I have never needed in over two decades of playing live in cover bands.

So let’s get started with the first waste of time.

Rudiments

Oh yes, I did! I just wrote rudiments! I can already hear the frantic typing of jazz teachers and keyboard warriors alike.

Now before my inbox gets inundated with hate mail and trolling, I just want to point out that rudiments aren’t actually worthless. Of course they’re not. But what I am saying is that we need to take care to practice only the rudiments we need to edge us closer to our drumming goals.

Now if your goals are to become the most technical drummer with the most polished rudiments, then you’re going to have to practice them. But, if you want to play the drums with a band on a stage, and not just play a practice pad to a metronome while sat on the couch watching the walking dead, then you need to focus on other things.

I’m nowhere near the most technical drummer, but despite never having actually practiced any rudiment exercises in my life (that’s right, never!), I’ve enjoyed a long career as a live performer. It’s not that I never worked on them, but I did it in the context of music. In other words, instead of doing exercises to a metronome, I would consciously work my technique while playing along to music, or jamming with other musicians.

Reading music

Oh yes! Another offensive one to many.

But the truth of the matter is this: written musical notation is nothing more than a form of communication.

It has it’s place and has it’s value. And that value is the ability to communicate exactly what you should be playing. However, just like with spoken language, writing isn’t the only form of communication. We don’t just go around writing things down and never talk. We use all available forms of communicating we have. Music is no different.

And as for memory, well if you have a story to tell your friends, you don’t forget it if you didn’t write it down, do you? So what I’m trying to say is you don’t need to read music if you are capable of communicating your musical ideas in any other way.

Again, this is another skill I have never possessed or needed. Maybe I have a natural talent or a gifted memory, but I know many musicians who never learned to read music who play and communicate just fine. And again, it’s a skill I have never needed. When it comes to learning songs, I listen, play along and memorize them.

Some players grow to rely on their musical notation. I have worked with musicians who couldn’t play without their dots. Even though they played the same songs night after night, their brain became completely dependent on that magical book.
So having the skill of reading music can be useful, but if we grow dependent on it, then it becomes a detriment.

Double kick

Ok. So this one definitely depends.

If you are playing in any kind of metal band, or a cover band that does songs with double kick rhythms, then obviously you need this one.

But, on the other hand, if like me you are in a cover band that never plays anything with a constant double kick beat, then there are plenty of other things you can direct your energy to instead.

I used to work on double kicks in my dad’s basement. I learned Matt Sorum’s drum solo from the Guns N Roses concert in Paris. It was great fun at the time. And I even used this solo a few times live. However, since joining my current band, double kick has no longer been necessary for me. So I have actually “forgotten” how to do it! If I ever needed it again, it wouldn’t take much more than a few days practice to get comfortable again, but for now, there are plenty of other things for me to work on that would benefit my drumming much more.

Drum solos

Speaking of drum solos, you don’t need to have the world’s greatest drum solo to play live in a band. Of course, you will most likely have to perform a solo at your gig. But again, it just needs to be good enough.

Wasting your time on the most amazing solo won’t get you any closer to becoming a good bandmate. You are on stage to play music with others. And this should be the focus of your practice.

The closest thing to a solo I do now is the ending to Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll. It’s short, to the point and gets me a cheer. Anything over 2 minutes get’s boring for the audience in my opinion (unless your playing at a drum festival!).

Youtube videos

We’ve all been there. Clicking video after video.

Whether it’s drum covers by the latest youtube star or some really old instructional someone’s ripped off of VHS. Youtube can be a deep, deep rabbit hole of drumming media. And of course, there are plenty of exercises to be learned from these videos. But the problem is the same as before. If what you are learning is not necessary to get you closer to your goal of playing live, then it’s somewhat of a waste of time.

Stuff you won’t use

This one is kind of obvious right? But it happens all the time. And it’s basically the theme of this whole blog post.

Don’t waste your time practicing stuff you won’t need on stage.

I remember a drummer friend explaining with pride how he had spent hours on a particular exercise. He was playing paradiddles to a metronome. First, he would place the first accent on the first stroke. After four bars, the accent went to the second stroke. then the third and so on. He told me how it involved many hours of slow practice, writing stuff down, recording himself, etc.

However, I have never seen him use the skills he gained on a stage.

I mean, it’s not like you are going to start a drum solo, switch on your metronome, then start playing paradiddles with varying accents. Nor does there seem to be a place for this skill within a song. In my opinion, he would be better off analyzing exactly what he needs to improve his on-stage performance and work on that.

In a nutshell, that’s all the stuff I either wasted my time on over the years or just avoided.
Now your case may be different. You may very well need to learn to read music, play double kick blast beats, master your paradiddles, etc.

What the true message of this post really is, is to get you thinking about what your needs are, then practice that. Don’t make the mistake of practicing a certain technique for hours and hours only to never need it on stage.

That can lead to some serious over-playing very easily. Drummers spend so much time working on exercises, they look for any chance to show it off when they get on stage.

I remember Slash once saying how he never practices anything he’s not going to need on stage. He practices licks, scales, chords, songs, but never straight up exercises.

The ultimate hallmark of a good live drummer is a solid and consistent groove with a good feel.

If your practice routine isn’t getting you closer to this goal, then it’s slowing you down.

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15 thoughts on “6 Things you are Wasting your Time on if you Want to Be a Working Drummer

    1. I see your point, Tom. But I would say it’s more akin to an actor not learning every single word in the dictionary. He knows more than enough to do his job. If and when he needs other words, he can just open up a dictionary and learn them. The point is, he won’t need to memorize the whole dictionary before he can act. And let’s not forget, Charlie Chaplin barely said a word 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I Agree with this post. I Only took lessons for the first 2 years and then I started focusing on what’s really important on stage.

    So far I’ve played in many music festivals and something you should really work on is your strenght!! Lot’s of exercise and workout to keep up the entire show!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gracias Adriano.
      I know what you mean about the endurance. I’ve played 3 hours a night (no break!), 6 nights a week for the last 8 years. I changed my sticks to 2b’s so I can hit softer but still get decent tone and volume. And I also worked on making my technique as effortless as possible.
      Por cierto, me gustó Mineral! Me recordó un poco a Jamiroquai 😉

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  2. Man this is actually verry right .. I’ve played LIVE since I am 16 years old , now 36 , and I ve hade a ton of bands from metal to pop not jazz , and of coarse you suck at first and then you straiten your style with a click and some rudiments you are good to go .

    I have recorded 3 professional albums , and i still don’t know how to read notation , but that doesn’t slow me a bit … it actually enhances my own way of doing things , (I took 1 month of clases at age 11) by having to hear imagine how to drum , I got my own sense of my drums , so I developed sort of my own style and instead of looking for a style in so many rithms and rudiments , it was actually very easy to find my self in music ,and shift my style forward …

    … this was a very acerted article
    Greetings from MX

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gracias Alejandro.
      I had a very similar path. I also started working as a live musician at 16. And not knowing to read or having perfect rudiments has never been an impediment.
      Of course, it all depends on your goals. If you want to be an orchestral drummer then reading and perfect rudiments are a must. But in general, I think drummers tend to lose sight of their actual goal and end up trying to be perfect at everything. But in reality, you don’t have to have every skill there is perfected in order to be a good live drummer.

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    2. Not even sure my exact skill set but I definitely can’t sight read and play notation. However, Understanding the 8 bar patterns, understanding loops and where 1 falls, dynamics,feel,groove,musical fills and thoughts, not stepping on the verse or guitar solo,etc…..I learn what’s required to complete my musical thought. If that requires me to learn a 6 stroke rough, than I guess I’ll have to learn it.

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      1. That’s a good point, Ryan. A basic understanding of bars and patterns is a must whatever your drumming goals are. That being said, if a drummer doesn’t know where the 1 count falls in a simple 4×4 pattern… they probably have no business being a drummer.

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  3. Hi, I agree with some of what you say. However, understanding notation will open the doors to studio work and pit work. If you want to only drum for a living you best have strong reading chops to pick up work when your top 40 band goes cold or breaks up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point Scott. If reading is essential to a particular job you want, and/or you wish to be the most well-rounded musician possible — then it’s definitely something worth pursuing.

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  4. Dominic, finally an enlightened opinion!!! I could not agree more, it’s as if I wrote this article. I’m a gigging drummer and have been since the 70s, still playing now. I had my start in a Marching band so I actually know all Rudiments, but I use them rarely on stage. Sometimes I’ll use a double paradiddle to get back to a right hand lead on an off time break, like in “Fool in the Rain” or “Whipping Post”. But my main practice technique, is to learn songs, to perfection. Whenever I go on line I never see or hear anyone talking about that until I read your article and I loved everything you had to say. Including not doing a solo more than two minutes, actually to me over a minute it too long, and I find a solo that actually keeps the beat of the song is the best crowd pleaser. I’m interested in hearing more from you I hope to see something soon from you.

    Sal in New York

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot, Sal.
      I know exactly what you mean. When you look around online, most of what you find is either over-the-top drum covers or lessons on how to be the most amazingly technical drummer alive. But not much is said about us gigging drummers. For us, it’s the song — the music that’s the most important part. And that’s the word I’m trying to spread with this blog 🙂

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  5. Dominic I feel the same way as you do. I usually just practice the songs the band is doing and focusing on staying in the pocket. I’ve been playing live since I was 10 and I’m 46 now. I haven’t changed anything about the way I learn songs. I still practice on my kit in front of my stereo by plugging my phone into the receiver. I learned how to read in high school marching band along with most rudiments but rarely use either.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks bro. I’m a young drummer from Tenerife. Spain. After play with people the last 5 years the people tell me they call me to work because I have nice ears…..jajjaja are really big. I think the key of drumming is don’t forget this: ” We are people playing with people for people” Keep rippin’ ……nice information. Thanks…..still learning. Play the song looking at your side watching the bass player smiling ahhhhhh that’s the groove…..
    bye

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