Ways to be a Bad Drummer
by Don Skoog
are unusual people. We stick out. My neighbors refer to my place as “the
magic house” because of the strange sounds that emit from it at odd
hours. They think my life is different from theirs, so it seems I get special
dispensation on issues like lawn care and other things that adults are
supposed to do. Because of my, uhm . . . eccentricities, they cut me more
slack than they do normal people.
Artists have a long tradition of tolerance among
ourselves too, because we are a diverse group and because we are, well, odd––call
it the people-in-glass-houses effect. We also know that closed mindedness limits
creativity. This tolerance creates an atmosphere of freedom that allows us all
to share our talents and create better music together than we ever could alone.
But tolerance ends when our behaviors intrude on
the freedoms of the other musicians we play with. Learning to cooperate is the
single most important thing any musician can do if he wants to work with others.
Every band has its own dynamic. It works if it’s fair to everyone, but
when one or more members try to impose their personality problems on the rest
it becomes a dysfunctional family, doomed to divorce.
Here are a few of my favorite poor-socialization
issues. If you recognize yourself in any of these profiles you should ask yourself
why you want to be a drummer because these guys are real drag on the band, and
on the music. You can outgrow these attitudes, and you should work hard to do
just that, because the alternative is professional suicide.
1) The Me!Me!Me! drummer listens to himself first and thinks
of the band as supporting caste for his rhythmic genius. If you are on stage
to prove how great you are, the music suffers because you’re too busy
showing off to lay down the foundation that makes the song flow. I’ve
seen drummers play so inappropriately that the hornplayers will turn around
and glare at them on stage. They usually don’t notice––they’re
too wrapped up in how amazing they are––until they get fired.
The music is not all about you, but you should be all about the music. That
way, you’re respecting it and the people who play it with you.
2) The DeConstructionist thinks too much. In his search
for originality, he snubs his nose at the traditional musical vocabulary
and clean pocket-drumming that lesser players use to make the tune sound
good. No quarter-note fills for him! He has transcended simple fills and
repetition to a achieve a level of complexity that obscures the rhythm and
blurs the time. By insisting on playing as complicatedly as possible, he
disconnects himself from both the musicians in the group and the tradition
of the music. No artist stands alone. We all work within an historical context
of style and vocabulary. To use that vocabulary creatively tells other musicians
that you really know the music. To insist on reinventing the musical wheel––all
the time––shows a real lack of understanding of what it means
to be part of our shared musical heritage.
3) The Slammer plays as loud and fast as possible, going
to war with the kit every time he sits down to play. While playing drums
does make you feel good, it’s not a replacement for psychotherapy.
If you’ve got anger issues, take them out on your shrink, not your
drum kit. If you always play loudly everyone else has to––all
the time. It’s hard on the ears and the equipment, but more importantly
it’s hard on the music because you are limiting what you and your band
can do. Dynamics make music musical. Without them it’s just noise.
4) The I’m-only-in-it-for-the-money drummer has played
one wedding gig too many. Yes, you have to make enough money to live on,
but when the pay becomes more important than the music you’ve lost
your soul. Wasn’t your love of music the reason you started in the
first place? If you lose that love, you’ve lost the inner intensity
that drove you to practice for hours, play jam sessions, and try new projects––even
if they weren’t big moneymakers. When your inspiration dies so do your
professional prospects. You’ll never be successful at something you
don’t really love. There are too many people around who really do love
it, and they’re going to kick your butt.
Playing commercial gigs fosters a commercial attitude.
Don’t get me wrong, you need to understand the music business and take
care of your financial affairs, but the business aspect is secondary to the art.
I bought my house playing commercial gigs, but I’ve worked hard to foster
my love for music itself, regardless of how much it pays, because new opportunities
are lost on people with closed minds. If your first question is “How much
does it pay?” when you are called for a gig, you’ve got a problem.
I’ve seen many musicians develop a mercenary attitude and eventually drop
from the scene because music no longer gives them what they’re really looking
for. If making money is your main interest then get a job as a stockbroker and
do it right.
5) The Doesn’t-play-well-with-others drummer knows
everything about music, as he continually reminds everyone, and insists on
having his own way every time. If you really think the band would play better
if they just did things your way then you don’t understand what it
means to be in a group. A control-freak musician almost always ruins the
band for everyone else and eventually they’ll vote with their feet.
Learn to share––if your mommy never taught you that then the
guys in your group will.
This applies to bandleaders too. Some leaders use
the fact that they hold the paychecks as an excuse to bully their sidemen. This
makes for an unhappy, uninspired band. If you are the leader, let your musicians
make a contribution to the music. Let them play the best way they know how. Don’t
micromanage your sidemen. If you don’t like the way a musician plays, don’t
hire him for the gig, but don’t nag him into insanity by demanding he play
every note the way you would.
Creating a tolerant playing environment enables
everyone to bring their ideas to the music. For instance, the musicians in my
group often make suggestions that improve my tunes, and I contribute to theirs.
The music becomes richer when we combine our ideas rather than limiting ourselves
to our own concepts.
These five personality traits limit a drummer’s professional
prospects by damaging the music he makes, and the musicians he plays with. I
doubt that any of these drummers would agree with these profiles––arrogant
people always think they are right––so I list them here as warnings
for the rest of us. When I detect one of these traits in any musician I work
with, I remove myself (or him) from the project.
Negativity kills creativity, and negative people
are a drag to be around, so do yourself a favor and work hard to keep these traits
out of your playing. And run like hell from musicians who exhibit them in theirs.
You are not responsible for other people’s problems and you can’t
fix them. By being the very first rat off the sinking ship you can protect your
love of the art and keep yourself open to the new possibilities that will come
your way every day. Isn’t that what it’s all about?