What I’ve learned from drumming and the music business is that hard work and practice always pay off. It is important to give back to your community and to always treat people how you would like to be treated: with kindness and respect. Life will present many different opportunities, both musical and not.
On the music side, I’ve always tried to say “yes” to a new gig unless my gut tells me otherwise. Your gut is your friend. You may want to take a gig but realize that sometimes it is a good idea to say “no.” A little rest and relaxation is not only good for you but is essential to maintaining a balanced life. Fortunately for me in my current situation, all the musicians I work with recharge me. I love the people I get to play with. They are a blessing. That doesn’t mean I haven’t dealt with some bad apples out there; it takes time to connect with the right people. Go hang out! Strike up conversations with musicians, producers, engineers, instrument builders, promoters, and whoever else is around. Play and learn something new everyday. This philosophy has helped me in life and in music. It has taken me all over the country while playing with some really amazing musicians.
Now let’s talk about practicing—oh boy! First off, your fundamental rudiments, like single stokes, double stokes, paradiddles, flams, and drags, are a drummer’s best friend. Touring has taught me that even if I only have twenty minutes to practice each day, I have to make it happen. Always try to practice with a metronome. It can be hard to do, but it gets easier as the hours pile up. One of my favorite exercises to do with the metronome is Joe Morello’s “table of time.” Set your metronome to 40 bpm. Start subdividing the beat from 1 to 8, so one is quarter notes on the beat, two is 8th notes, and so on, until you get up to eight notes per click, which is 32nd notes. This is a great way to test and work on your inner metronome, with or without sticks in your hand. Put the metronome on and count the table of time as you walk around the house doing whatever it is you do. Trust me, it works.
Always remember that when it comes to practicing, it’s what you play, not how fast you play, that gets you the gig. The groove is your friend. Make it musical, and think outside the box.
I want to touch on a question I get asked a lot, “Do you get along with all the musicians you tour with”? The answer is yes. I am lucky to be great friends with all the people I play with. You have to realize that when you go to an audition, the artist, band, and management are judging more than just your playing. The other twenty-two hours of the day that you spend offstage are just as important as the playing to having a successful tour. Being respectful to the gig, the band, and the crew is essential and makes life a lot easier for everyone. It’s not always easy, especially when you are having a bad day. But if you practice patience, it will become a big part of your musical career. You must learn to listen, talk things out, and take creative criticism.
I want drummers and musicians to know something a teacher of mine once told me, “You make your own life so you better love what you do!” This is something I want to pass along to all of you. Do some soul searching and figure out who you are as a drummer and embrace it. At one point, drumming to me was all about technical prowess, and chops, chops, chops. It helped, but then I found Steve Gadd. I immediately embraced what he was telling me, musically-speaking. Yes, he has chops, but his groove is where it’s at. (Thank you, Steve!) He completely changed my playing. Instead of drawing from “I want to put these notes here,” I asked myself what best fits the feel of music. It’s all in the groove.
It takes a lot of hard work to be successful at anything. You have to pay you dues and work, practice, and play your heart out. I feel very blessed to play the drums for a living. A musician’s life is full of twists and turns, so be prepared for a crazy ride. To all my drummers out there I say this: Get out there and define your life; you only live once!
Russ Garner plays drums with Grammy Award–winning guitarist Larry Mitchell and Nashville-based funk band Southern Fried Funk. He plays Sleishman drums, Outlaw drums, Soultone cymbals, Promark sticks, and Evans heads. For more info, visit russgarnermusic.com, www.southernfriedfunk.com, larrymitchell.com, and facebook.com/RG.drummer.