Q:

My lead guitarist is finding fault with the drum parts I write. When we first attempt a new tune, he often rolls his eyes, makes a face, and stops the song. He’ll either start offering suggestions or ask to get behind the kit and play it the “right” way. (He knows a few basic beats and fills.) Everyone in the room gets tense, and I usually cave in and play the song the way he wants it performed. I don’t ever disagree with what he wants. I hate acting this way, but I tend to avoid confrontation at any cost.

A:

You’re avoiding confrontation and paying a high price. You’re compromising yourself as a drummer and as a member of this band. You’re engaging in what I’d call “consensual bullying.” And—worst of all—you’re allowing this guy to slash deep cuts into your self-esteem.

“No! Don’t put your fingers near the wall socket!” “No! You’ve already had enough sweets for today!” “No! You can’t ride your bike without a helmet!” As a child, you probably heard those types of messages from your parents or caregivers thousands of times. Although they were meant to safeguard or protect you in some way, the directive also attached a strong negative connotation to the word “no.”

Additionally, many of us were taught never to say “no” to an authority figure. Saying “no” would’ve been a sign of disrespect, or we might have been labeled oppositional or defiant if we refused to comply with a request or command. Life was much easier, and we were looked upon as being “good” if we were compliant.

Before we go any further, it’s important to state that there should be only one drummer in this band—you. Before you can initiate change in how you interact with your guitarist, you have to start with a firm conviction that when you walk into your rehearsal space and settle behind the kit, you are the drummer in the room.

There is tremendous power in the word “no.” When a well-known session drummer was starting to become the “first call” guy in his town, he felt tremendously overwhelmed. His initial way of coping was to go out every night and hide in a bar. Although he wasn’t home, voicemails offering work continued to stack up. He was at a crossroads. He’d worked hard to build a good reputation, but now he wasn’t able to fulfill all of the requests. He played on as many recordings as he could, but he was exhausted and would continue to disappear to a bar to hide from his success. It didn’t take long before producers and artists started to became angry with him. He’d garnered an unfounded reputation for being arrogant and aloof.

But that wasn’t the case. He just hadn’t set any boundaries on his time. When he finally realized that there are only twenty-four hours in a day, he took action. He began to turn down some of the work that was offered to him. Sure, some of the producers and artists got angry, but at least he was dealing with the situation honestly. It was simply impossible for him to fulfill every request. He was now setting boundaries, and he had learned to say “no.” His life became less chaotic, and he had more control of his professional life.

Your Action Plan

Before your next rehearsal, look into a mirror and tell yourself, “I’m the drummer. I know what I think works best for the songs. It’s okay for me to say, ‘no,’ and I will if I need to.” Remind yourself that by continuing to concede to every demand, you’re allowing your self-esteem and creativity to be drained. The next time the guitarist starts picking apart your playing in front of the band, remind him that you’re the drummer and you feel that you know what works best for the song. If he tries to commandeer the drum throne, hold your ground and tell him you’re no longer open to his suggestions.

Possible Outcomes

Don’t expect to feel comfortable during any part of this initial interaction. You’re standing up for yourself, setting a new boundary, and carving out your rightful place in the band.

I don’t know what will happen next. If he tries to enlist support from your bandmates for his suggestions, counter by asking the others, “Am I not the drummer here?” The power of the group can be used to help shut down the bullying behavior. If the others side with him, then you misjudged their respect of your skills. Move on, and find another band.


Bernie Schallehn holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and, while in private practice, held the credentials of a certified clinical mental health counselor and a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor.