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Principles of Playing for Drummers & Percussionists


[Stuart Wood - Percussionist]As a drummer or percussionist you are a member of a team. The aim of this page is to help you to think more about what you play and your contribution as a musician to the sound as a whole, and to better appreciate the value of EACH and EVERY member of the band (including the sound engineer).

Would you make up a football (soccer) team only of goalkeepers?

In the same way, you as a member of the 'musical team' will be called-on to play your part, which will include performing different roles at different times:

The following 'word picture' may help you:

Think of a song as a complete jigsaw. Each musical instrument is a piece of the jigsaw. If you are overplaying it's like you hold most of the pieces so the other musicians have very few pieces to complete the picture. Playing less (leaving more space) is like giving the other musicians more pieces of the jigsaw so that there is more balance in the picture (music).

Remember the axiom 'Less is more' and only play what is NEEDED, not the latest break you've learnt. Leave space for the other musicians and LISTEN to what THEY are playing. DON'T just expect them to listen to what you are playing.

Be aware of the other 'rhythm' components in the band (especially percussionists if you are a drummer). Think about the DYNAMICS of your playing and learn to be able to play quietly at ALL tempos. How loud or how quiet do you NEED to be at a particular part of the song/music? Inappropriately loud playing is as welcome as an upset stomach! Don't just play slamming beats all the time ... your ears will suffer and those listening will quickly become tired or lose interest ... human beings respond best to variety. AND REMEMBER that what you play is to serve the band and not what other drummers/percussionists would want to hear!

REMEMBER: The audience is usually coming to see the WHOLE band, and NOT just the drummer or percussionist!

IF YOU ARE A DRUMMER, learn to work with the bass player (and percussionist if present), laying down a tight, solid groove.

IF YOU ARE A PERCUSSIONIST, learn to work with the drummer and bassist. Sometimes, as a band, you will want to allow for more spontaneity. PRACTICE THIS AS WELL. It is very easy to 'lose it all' during breaks or improvisation. WORK at BEING good, tight and at MAKING the music FEEL good.

[Effects racks]When discussing ideas, give the other band members SPACE to input their ideas. An over-dominant personality is likely to quickly stifle creativity, make playing with the band a chore rather than a pleasure, and lead to rapid changes in band personnel i.e., INSTABILITY.

NEVER forget the contribution of the SOUND ENGINEER. Your band can be 'made' or 'broken' by them. They are the final link between all of your hard work and your audience. So ALWAYS choose the best you can find and make sure that you co-operate fully. Some of my best friends are sound engineers. Work WITH them, NOT against them and NEVER EVER make them look stupid in front of other people. They control the 'Off' button!! Treat them with respect, as you would like to be treated...they are your ally NOT your enemy. A good engineer is like gold dust so keep them.

DON'T FORGET that as a drummer or percussionist you are there primarily to keep time and help the music to sound and feel good. You are only PART of a TEAM, apart that can easily be replaced!

So, surprise your fellow musicians, dispel the myths, show them that drummers have brains too!


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