We’ve all heard jokes like “did you hear the one about the 3 musicians and 1 drummer walking down the street”.
There’s plenty of drummer jokes to go around that suggest drumming is a little less “musical” than other instruments. The argument is the fact that we generally lack notes or melody in our instrument.
But what does it really mean to be “musical”?
Well, a quick look in the Oxford Dictionary of English will return this description:
Music: Vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion
Aha! Nothing there about actual notes, but more of a description about sound combination.
In other words, if we combine the sounds we can make on the drums in such a way as to express emotion in a harmonious way, then we are making music and are by definition, musicians.
And if we go back to the dictionary and search for “harmony”, we get this:
Harmony: The quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole
So how do we go about forming a pleasing and consistent whole with our drumming?
First, we need to understand the fact that we are creating music and not just bashing away to enjoy ourselves. The way we play should reflect our desire to make a pleasant sounding experience.
It’s something a professional drummer is always thinking about.
Unlike the rookie who is looking for another space to cram in that “awesome” fill they just learned.
A musical drummer always works to serve the song.
Everything they choose to play, every beat, every fill and everything they leave out, is an attempt at making the song sound better.
A non-musical drummer (like the one in all the jokes) will just be looking to show off and feed their ego. They don’t care about the song, about the band or the music.
A pro will be looking out for the team and ready to lead the band members, as well as equally prepared to follow.
Again, a rookie will be inflating their ego with every double bass fill and cymbal crash they play. Looking constantly to “fill the space” with their amazing drumming.
A pro, on the other hand, will have no problem at all in holding back if the song needs it. They don’t mind going the entire gig without playing everything they know. And what they do play, is carefully selected to embellish the music, and not just make themselves look good.
A huge ego will lead to over-playing, lack of attention to the band and never learning anything new.
A musical drummer will be always listening to the music, playing enough instead of too much, and keeping a humble attitude towards learning and criticism.
And lastly, the goal of a musician is to create pleasant music, perform to and entertain an audience and do a professional job.
Whereas the goal of just a “drummer” is usually to play everything they know, look as good as possible and have as much fun as they can (while ignoring everyone else on stage).
So what’s your goal as a drummer?
It’s not that hard to be a musical drummer at all. It’s also not that hard to forget about the music and just play the drums.
At the end of the day, you decide whether you want to be a musician or just one of those “drummers”.
All it takes is the humility to put your ego in check and focus on the song.