John Henry “Bonzo” Bonham, Viola Clara Smith, Danny Carey, Cindy Blackman and Dave Grohl, what do they all have in common? Is it their age? Is it their race? Or is it their gender? No. It’s something more primal and instinctive, a feeling that they were born with, something so deep and true to them that only people of the same distinction can understand:
The inescapable urge to play the drums.
Do you feel it too? I feel it every day of my life. It’s the one constant I can rely on to push me forward in my career, and ultimately what I was born to do.
Having drive is the first step, but you’ll need more than that to become a professional drummer in today’s industry.
Here’s a five tips that have helped me over the years with my career, I hope you take something positive away from them. Enjoy!
Turn off your phone!
Now I understand that is quite a statement, but hear me out…
We live in a society that is surrounded and completely engrossed by media and technology, and for the most part it’s great! It helps us to communicate with one another all around the world and learn an abundance of information. But unfortunately there is an underlying issue involved with using technology regularly, it causes us to deviate from spending time practising or improving our abilities, and instead we spend more time watching others online, doing what arguably would be more fulfilling to do ourselves! For me this just isn’t healthy or productive.
So, my advice is when you want to get down and practise (for any amount of time) try and leave your phone on silent and away from your area of practise so you can really engage with your time. This experience without any technological distractions is almost like meditation. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, and it’s definitely something to teach yourself with some commitment and time. But, I can’t express to you enough the feeling when you achieve that complete concentration and engagement with practising, it is truly amazing and very addictive! The moral here is to spend more time focusing on YOU and YOUR journey, not the journey of others!
Fundamentals can be understood in a plethora of ways; rudiments, grooves, techniques or drum sounds etc - and I like to consider them as the building blocks of your own development as a drummer.
Utilising them in a way that works for you and your abilities is key to the fundamental understanding of the drums, they will unlock doors to help you on your own journey with the instrument.
To this day, I still regularly practise basic rudiment exercises, for example: singles, doubles, paradiddles and six stroke rolls. They may seem boring at first, but over time with the correct application, they will open up your technique, stamina and most importantly your own voice on the drums! Never underestimate the importance of fundamentals.
Your attitude towards others in the music industry is of paramount importance. The industry is a small place and the way you are within it will ultimately determine how far you will go.
Especially when starting out, once you get the opportunity to tour for yourself and support bands, it’s very important to treat everyone with the respect and courtesy they deserve, no matter their job role. Whether they be front of house, monitoring or light technicians, tour or production managers, roadies or catering staff, they are just as important to your show as you are.
If you show up either as a headliner, or arguably more importantly as a support act, with a bad or demanding attitude….trust me you’re going to have a bad time and those people will forever remember you for that experience. Act professionally and learn to work with and adapt to the inevitable last minute changes and disasters that can and will happen on tour. A big one is to always get on and off stage as quickly and respectfully as you can.
As drummers, we have a hard enough time as it is with the amount of gear to carry and set up, so make sure the team is on your side from the start, it’ll make your life so much easier.
Introduce yourself and remember their names, it goes a long way when you’re touring to get to know everyone, including the band.
Be respectful. Be kind. Be understanding.
Practise time and techniques are very important to our development as professional musicians. The amount of time you practise and what you practise is very important. I find that warming up for at least 15-30 minutes before my practise routine at home, or playing a live show is really noticeable. Our bodies work much more efficiently when we’re warmed up and you’re less likely to injure yourself. You can do this either on a practise pad, electric kit, real drum kit, snare drum, pillow or arm of a chair, whatever you can find.
Make sure you’re setting yourself goals for your practise routine, whether that be working through one of the many incredible rudiment or drumming books available today (I will reference some at the bottom of this post), practising dynamics, learning how to swing, playing with ‘feel’ or perhaps trying to sit in the ‘pocket’ of a groove. Whatever it is you’re aiming for, try and give yourself achievable tasks that can be reflected on throughout your journey such as:
Using tempo charts for exercises, start slow and build up to a comfortable level that sounds and feels good, then over time you will soon notice the difference.
Explore the avenues between all of the limbs at your disposal, if you have mastered something with your right hand, what about your left? Or your feet? How do they hold up together or individually from one another. These are just some of the many thought processes and practises that can elevate your drumming to the next level!
My final bit of advice is to just play! Play with every fibre of your being, early on in your career join many bands until you find the right fit, and explore the many different musical genres at your disposal. Be THAT drummer that people remember, play up to your unique strengths, and put yourself forward for as many opportunities as you can. Learn as much about your chosen skillset, explore other genres and styles of music that you may not like personally, but professionally will have a greater impact on your abilities throughout your career. You will only get as much out of the instrument as you put in, and that certainly goes for the people you surround yourself with. Music is a people’s industry, make sure you’re part of that industry in every way.
You could film your practise routines or live shows to critique your technique, and perhaps even share your progress online. This is such an amazing commodity that the aforementioned legends of drumming never had in their time – but beware - use it to your advantage and try not to get distracted, save it for downtime after your practise.
Lastly, my most important bit of advice is to make sure you always stay true to who you are and what you want to achieve. Follow your own path, as it’s the only one you can truly rely on.
Songs For the Deaf – Queens Of The Stoneage (Dave Grohl)
Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin (John Henry “Bonzo” Bonham)
10,000 Days – TOOL (Danny Carey)
Crack The Skye – Mastodon (Brann Dailor)
Deloused in the Comatorium – The Mars Volta (Jon Theodore)
Inner Mountain Flame – Mahavishnu Orchestra (Billy Cobham)
Magma – Gojira (Mario Duplantier)
Thirteenth Step – A Perfect Circle (Josh Freese)
Sound Awake – Karnivool (Steve Judd)
The Joy of Motion – Animals as Leaders (Matt Garstka)
Diamond eyes – Deftones (Abe Cunningham)