Paul Wertico: Gimme 10!

The multi-Grammy winner is never short on great suggestions for improving your playing. In fact, when we asked Wertico to offer ten tips for his story in this month’s issue, he gave us sixteen! Here’s what we couldn’t fit in the magazine (June 2010 issue of Modern Drummer magazine).


Drummer Paul Wertico by Sayre Berman

1. Think of a sticking pattern as a whole phrase, not just a bunch of individual notes. When you talk, you combine letters and syllables into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and so on. When you play drums, think of rhythms as words, and think of playing as your way of talking through your drumming. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to every phrase, and what you do with it, dynamically, sound-wise, and pitch-wise, is what determines your unique playing style. Thinking in terms of the entire shape of the phrase will give your playing much more forward motion and help the flow of the music.


2. If you know where the center of the beat is, then you can mess around with it, but if you don’t know where the center is, it will mess around with you! Before you can play around with the beat, you have to know where the beat really is! Advertisement


3. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Trying to be perfect—whatever perfect actually is!—is an unattainable goal and usually results in frustration and even self-loathing. But striving for excellence is a totally attainable goal if you’re committed to your art.


4. If you’re young, study the old, and if you’re old, study the young. People often like to stay in their comfort zone, and since it’s difficult to admit that there’s a lot to know out there and you don’t know everything, people tend to stay with what they know and leave it at that. Phrases likes “That’s so yesterday” or “That’s some old cornball stuff” or “That’s just a bunch of noise” or “Music was so much better back then” are things people say when they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that some music that’s foreign to them has any validity. This form of closed-mindedness is usually caused by a lack of knowledge and a type of prejudice against music you don’t know enough about and are maybe even a little intimidated by. Exploring and even relishing the unknown can really open you up to new and exciting things and help you grow as both a musician and a person.


5. Have fun when you play, and show it! The great jazz drummer Billy Higgins always had a huge smile on his face whenever he played, and the result was that he emitted a sense of pure joy in his drumming. When asked why he smiled whenever he drummed, he said it was because he was so happy to be playing music and he was having so much fun. How simple yet profound is that? Advertisement


6. Think outside the norm. Letting your creativity take you to new and unexplored places is a matter of seeing the unseen. Humans can get comfortable with what has been invented already, and we often don’t trust ourselves to be innovative or enlightened—after all, who are we to think we’re something special who can see what others don’t? But that kind of thinking only impedes our creativity and limits our personal and professional growth.


For more on Paul Wertico, go to


Photo by Sayre Berman