Friday, September 22, 2006

Drumming For A Lifetime, pt.4

Too Many Notes

When I was starting to learn the drumset, I was proud of every cool new beat or crazy fill I learned (either from lessons or from drummer-friends). At the age of 16, I thought it was important everytime I sat behind the drums that everyone hear them ALL, without regard to what the other musicians happened to be playing. It seemed understood that they were there only as a vehicle for me to showcase my stuff.

Thankfully while playing with many musicians through the next few years of high school and college, I learned that this style wasn't necessarily what everyone was looking for.

"What? If you've got the chops, flaunt 'em", I thought.

Soon enough (and to the joy of all who played with me), I started learning what PLAYING FOR THE MUSIC was all about, and how it began to shape my style and approach. I grew to love the concept behind having the ability to go nuts, and the control over knowing WHEN, IF EVER, to do that.

PLAYING FOR THE MUSIC - v. The act of playing one's instrument in a manner suitable to the musical style of a song or arrangment, without drawing attention to one's self by adding supposedly impressive musical embellishments in an non-supportive way to the other players during the song or arrangement.

This does not include the sometimes called-upon act of playing an instrumental solo (a.k.a. "taking a ride") during a pre-arranged portion of the piece.

The point: What does the song need? What is it asking for? Meat and potatoes, or salsa and jalapenos. If the part you're playing is too boring for you, then spice it up with some good timing, or a zesty portion of feel. Just how fat can you make that backbeat? What is (or what should) your hi-hat be doing right now? Are you and the bass player locked in? Not all of your parts have to cook in the same way. Sometimes the most impressive thing you can do is stay out of the way of everyone else.

Don't think I'm not any fun, because when the song calls for big fills and heavy chops, then you better deliver or you'll be out of place all over again.

The trick to learning good drumming 'taste', is by listening to great drummers - a lot. What are they doing in the song? How are they treating it? Are they putting down a good foundation and playing fills that match the style of the song, or are they in their own world, filling every possible space with a flurry of meaningless fluff. It's not really that hard to tell if you pay attention. Sometimes, when I am out listening to a band, the only phrase that goes through my head is "Too Many Notes".

Important: Making me think this is not your goal.

As I get older, my chops aren't what they used to be in my 20's and 30's. (though, they ain't half bad either) But, I do feel like I'm a better player because of 'taste'. For me, it's something that I hope to nurture 'til I can't play any longer.

If you think you may be an offender of these rules (and we all have at some time), just remember there are legends that have also been accused of using "too many notes", so there's hope for you.

(however, Wolfie can do pretty much what he wants)


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of one of my fave quotes:

"It's not the notes he's playing that are so amazing... it's the notes he's NOT playing."

"I can listen to those at home..."

Karenkool said...

The quote that always stuck with me and have used many-a-day:

"Less is more people! Less is more."

Anonymous said...

Let me just say: WORD.


I liken the foundational drum/bass rhythm to a hearty meal. The groove of those two instruments together needs to be, as you say, meat and potatoes. Fills/runs are the salt. They add some flavor, but if that's all the audiences tastes, they aren't going to like the dish. Salt brings out the flavor of what's already there--fills/runs should ENHANCE the foundational groove, not replace it.

And... nerdy comment complete.

Rock on!