I met a young man at a clinic recently who told me that he had just purchased a $3,000 drumset, and he had only taken two lessons. I commented, “You sound like you are proud of the fact that you have only had two lessons. Why is that?” He replied, “Taking lessons makes you less creative.” I asked him, “How do you know that if you have only taken two lessons?” He re plied, “Taking other people’s ideas limits you.” I asked him if he practiced with records and he said yes. I asked him if he ever took beats and licks off records. He smiled and said, “Oh yes, all the time.” I said, “Those are other people’s ideas. What is the difference between taking them from a record and taking them from a qualified teacher?” He laughed and said, “Perhaps you have a point.”
In fact, I do have a point and it is simply that you should not cut yourself off from information. You can learn from listening to records, from watching and listening to someone play in person, and from taking lessons. Going to music school and playing in a band on a regular basis are other very good ways to learn. It can also be very in formative to read interviews with established drummers, books about the music business, and magazines that specialize in recording, management, or industry news.
Taping rehearsals, practice sessions, concerts, and club gigs can be an eye-opening experience. Learning to listen to yourself objectively is one of music’s more diffi cult tasks. However, it is also one of the best ways to improve. Listening to yourself playing on tape will help you gauge your progress. If you are attending a clinic, ask the artist or the person managing the event if it is alright to tape the clinic. In this way, you can listen to it later in case you missed something. You can also learn by listening several times to what the artist played during the clinic, which can be very worthwhile.
You should listen to styles and types of music other than what you personally enjoy. The influence of Indian, oriental, reggae and South American music is well documented in our culture. If you need stimulation musically or feel that you are in a rut, listen to something different. Sometimes you will be inspired to try some new ideas. Taking ideas and rhythms from one form of music and using them in another style is both creative and enriching.
Listening to and reading about the musicians from earlier eras can be a great expe rience. Learning what preceded your era often lends a new understanding to the present. In fact, you will most likely be amazed at how well musicians played in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. They were just as dedicated and hard working as the musicians of today.
On the other hand, if you have been playing for a number of years, I suggest you spend some time listening to the younger drummers of today. Their rhythmic flexibility can be astonishing. Even if you are not into their music, it is good to listen to these great up-and-coming young artists just to keep your view balanced. The past was great, but so is the present. We can all learn from each other.
If you are unsure about drum lessons or if you have had a bad experience, remember that teachers are as different as drummers. Talk to other students about their teachers. Take a few lessons from several teachers and decide which one is best for you. There are many fine teachers. Sometimes you have to seek them out.
Hanging out with other drummers can also be helpful. Getting together to practice helps you avoid boredom and can be a lot of fun. If you read music, play some duets. They are great exercises in learning to read your part while listening to someone else play theirs. Coordinating both parts of the duet helps you learn to play with others while reading. Study vibes, timpani or take ear-training lessons. Try to play a tambourine musically, not just on 2 and 4. Try to play congas, bongos or timbales. Attempt to play something interesting on a triangle. Each one of these experi ments will help you to develop more respect and understanding for these instruments and for music.
Admittedly there are only 24 hours in a day. Even the most dedicated student probably could not pursue every suggestion in this article. In fact, some suggestions might help your situation and some might not. However, they are intended to help you develop an attitude towards learning that will help you progress. Don’t reject an idea without careful consideration. If possible, try it out before making a decision. Keep your eyes and ears open. Read an entire interview before making up your mind about what the artist has to say. Listen to an entire clinic before deciding if it is worthwhile or not.
Above all, don’t brag about a lack of education or a lack of training. It’s not how you learn that counts as much as it is how much you learn. For example, you can’t be proud of never having learned to read. You can’t be proud of something you haven’t accomplished. You can only be proud of what you have actually done. If you haven’t accomplished all that much yet, be proud of all the effort you have made to play as well as you do now. Combine that effort with new information and keep growing. If we all can keep growing just a little each day, we will all play a little better and music will be a more rewarding business to be a part of.