Umar Fahim of The Binary Code for Modern Drummer Drummer Blog
Photo by Aaron Pepelis

I am Umar Fahim of the Binary Code, based out of New Jersey, USA. I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the right way and the wrong way to play the drums. First off, thank you to MD for giving me, for many years, the voices of some amazing drummers, and now letting me share my own about the drums.

Yep, the drums, the original musical instrument. Stop a second to think about who the people were that gave it its first voice. What were their influences and what did their musical background consist of? Perhaps trees and the fear of carnivorous animals. Now fast-forward a bit to…pick an era—the 1960s, let’s say. I would imagine drummers would be going bananas over flam-taps and ride cymbals, influenced maybe by hard bop, Vietnam, and Marilyn Monroe.

Now, what if a drummer from the 1960s time-traveled to the origin of drumming and decided to redefine the first-ever voice and groove of the drum(s)…by playing straight flam-taps, and bringing along a ride cymbal for the B.C. tour. What would happen? Who would take his beat and morph it? What would we drummers be playing today?

Evolution and progression. Why today, for example, do we need to play metronome-tight? Because it objectively “feels better,” or because it was ingrained into our minds that it feels better? Would an alien in another galaxy be playing to a click track—a question Gavin Harrison may ask. I doubt the cavemen were keeping solid time, but still danced and partied to their own grooves. Whatever the reason be, standards begin to form, and every era has a “right” way to play. Take triplets and eighth notes and their subdivisions/multiples. Why is it not more common in Western drumset music to hear quintuplets and septuplets? Why do I have to play a fill leading with my right hand (if I’m right-handed), moving from snare to high tom to low tom, but can’t play it reversed without it sounding awkward? Endless questions…. Give me the answers through bronze and wood. Listen to a drummer that plays “wrong,” maybe, because he/she cares more for the composition of the song, or in creating an abstraction of a counterpoint or harmony, or the sound of the drums themselves, or the strange mad-scientist rhythms that are being created, rather than worrying about sounding good through Pro-Tools. I am not talking about music for commercial appeal and a generous income, I am talking about art.

Last summer I visited Pakistan and had the pleasure of having tabla lessons—fours hours, every other day, for ten days, thanks to my loving aunt Theseen and uncle Tanwir. It was a disciplined affair where I was to call my teacher “master,” practice, show what I learned, and tried to approach the concentration of a yogi.

When I showed my teacher sheet music, he replied, “Sorry, I don’t read Western, but I can write you out the bol (the language for the tabla).” When I showed my teacher drum fills, he replied, “Sorry, I don’t fill in, I play variations.” When I tried to show him gravity blasts, one drops, d-beats, Art Blakey breaks, and Flo Mounier solos, he replied, “Yeah, but that’s all just a 4 beat, or it’s all just a 5 beat.”

For me, because their backbeat was always on the upbeat, it was easy to get lost and lose the 1. Their way of playing and composing was so far out from what I was used to hearing, growing up in the States. The changes and intricacy always caught me off guard. It opened my eyes, and I vastly appreciated the differences and possibilities.

I know that I am a very small piece of the puzzle in a Modern Drumming world of re-defined grooves, modulations, beat displacements, programming, multi-pedal ostinatos, etc. There is an insurmountable number of awesome drummers breaking the barriers at every street corner. There is an insurmountable number of awesome drummers that have done their duty in the past. One of my teachers once told me to truly play no one else’s beat but your own—you are battling the entire history of drumming itself. Learn it. Break it. Do it. Or tomorrow will never arrive….

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