The Must-Haves of a Working Drummer, Part 1

If you’ve played drums for any length of time, chances are that you’ll eventually hear that it is possible to make money playing drums. This is a good thing, right?
Well… yes, it is. You get to work with a variety of people and explore many different styles of music in many different venues for many different audiences.

However, if you’re a drummer that plays nothing except neo-euro funk-metal (not sure if it’s a legitimate style, but you never know!) for your adoring fan base, chances are, unless you are engaged in a year-long world tour and have sold millions of copies of your albums, you won’t be making a whole lot of money. Just a guess… You might be. But the odds aren’t in your favour.

The key to making money as a drummer is to farm yourself out and play the field as a freelance gun for hire. To do this well, though, you’ll need to develop a few key qualities that will stand you in good stead. They are, in no particular order:
– Versatility (ability to play authentically play in different styles);
– Sensitivity (ability to play with dynamics and to suit the music and context);
– Ability to learn material quickly on a short timeframe, with a minimum of rehearsal;
– A professional attitude;
– Knowledge of how to tune your drums appropriately.

These are just a few characteristics that I’ve set out. There are probably quite a few more, but I feel that these are the key areas that must be addressed if you’re aspiring to work as a drummer.

The first of these that I’ll address is versatility.
It’s pretty simple – the more styles you can play, the more work you get.
Better again, the more styles you can play authentically, the more return work you’ll get. This is important.
If you can fudge your way through a Samba, you might get one gig with a band, but you won’t get asked back.
If you can play a kick-ass Samba that has a great feel to it, the same band may ask you to came back and do more gigs.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing covers or originals, you must be able to play with an authentic feel.

So how do you learn to play authentically?
1. You learn the basics of the style.
2. You also listen to lots of music in that style.
3. You then try to copy what they’re doing on the tracks.

It sounds easy. It really is easy. It just takes some time and effort to fully immerse yourself in the particular style you’re studying. If you take the time and learn as much as you can about the style, whether it’s jazz, funk, rock, Latin, 2nd line or whatever, you’ll gradually gain an innate feeling for the music.

You need to be good at the style, but you don’t need to be perfect. You need to master the basics, but you don’t necessarily need to (for example) play Latin drumset like Horacio Hernandez. Anything more than that is a pleasant bonus.

For my own personal learning, I’m working through Zoro’s Commandments of R’n’B in order to build my funk foundations. I’m also gradually chipping away at Johnny Rabb’s Jungle/Drum’n’Bass book in order to gain a greater understanding of that particular style.

So what style are you developing? What will you work on next? Do you have any particular goals in mind? I’d like to hear in the comments.


~ by Tim on March 30, 2010.

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