The drummer, more than any other musician, is routinely subjected to dumb, uninformed put-downs. It seems to start very early in life. For example, very young drummers-to-be might hear their parents say, “Oh no, not the drums. They are so loud. Can’t you play the piano or the flute instead?” My favorite comment from these early days was made by a “friend” who suggested to my mother, “Perhaps your son should learn to play a real musical instrument first!” Another one was, “Why do you have to take lessons just to pound on the drums?” I also liked, “It’s easy to play the drums because you don’t have to read the notes.”
Occasionally, we still hear lines from other band members such as, “Don’t play any fills; just keep the beat. We’ll play the music.” The most prevalent comment might be, “Can you play more like so-and so?” I usually say in response, “Can you play the guitar like Joe Pass or Jeff Beck?” Usually the guitarist will just smile and say, “Are you kidding?” and proceed to ignore my comment. Another common line is, “Why can’t you play more like the last drummer we had?” I suppose the one that really hurts is when the band singer (who often cannot even spell the word rhythm) says, “You play well, but you don’t have a big enough or flashy enough drumset. We’ve decided to hire someone else.”
I feel that there are a number of reasons why this attitude seems to prevail in each generation. Parents who must listen to a young drummer practice will sometimes wonder if it is all worth it. Listening to someone practice can be much more trying than listening to a long concert. However, with reasonable practice hours, a practice pad, and some mutual consideration, a good understanding between parents and student can be worked out.
Another reason for taking drumming so lightly is that really good drummers make it look easy. After so many years of practicing and playing, drummers become so at home at the drumset that it appears that they may not be trying hard. Also, if the song is a simple pop tune with a fairly ordinary drum rhythm, it can seem to the un initiated that there is not much to it. However, once they sit down at the drums and actually attempt four-way coordination, they change their minds quickly. The first response is, “Wow! This is tougher than it looks. I had no idea.”
In schools, the band director rushes in at 8:00 A.M. and shouts to a roomful of eager musicians (who are all warming up at once), “Quiet! We have to tune up the band. Drummers, be quiet.” That may make you feel that you are not part of the band. The director doesn’t intend a comment like that to be a put-down (usually). It’s just that directors have many responsibilities and not too much time to satisfy them.
If you happen to be playing at a dance or party, there is often no stage or bandstand. The drums are set up on a rug on the floor. As the evening wears on (especially New Year’s or other holidays involving drinking), some clown might dance by and strike one of your cymbals. I personally don’t understand this type of behavior, but certain individuals seem to take great delight in it. When asked to stop this type of stupidity, the individual will usually say, “What’s the difference? They’re just drums!”
I guess that it is understandable that a non musician simply does not know enough about music to appreciate drums as true musical instruments—the first musical instruments, as irate drummers are fond of pointing out to others. First or not, drums have come a long way in the last 50 years or so.
Parents sometimes go into shock when they hear the price of a drumset or a 20″ cymbal. Equipment is expensive, but so much goes into making a fine drum or cymbal that the average person cannot see or appreciate what is involved. This is one reason to study drumming and music, so that it is possible for you to make intelligent choices when purchasing and using equipment. The more you know about something, the less time and money you waste.
Another reason that other musicians are hard on drummers is that drummers are so important. Every beat we play (or don’t play) has a profound effect on all of the other players. This is true of all instruments, but not to the degree that it is true for drummers. The drummer really establishes the “feel” in a band. Naturally, the rest of the rhythm section is vitally important, but when it comes to the groove and the tempo, everyone looks to the drummer. This is the drummer’s responsibility in a band, and it is a great one. The drummer, in a way, is like the quarterback on a football team. Everyone depends on this person.
Perhaps another reason that musicians give drummers a hard time is that it takes experience to become an accomplished drummer. You can’t get it all out of books or in the practice room. Experience is gained by playing and more playing. With experience you learn not only what to play, but what to leave out. This is equally important and it takes some time to gain this perspective. If the drummer is young and in a band of older players, life can be difficult. If you are talented and sincerely try to learn and improve, the other musicians will become more helpful and supportive as you improve.
Being a good drummer is no easy task. It takes dedication to be the best you can be. You have to “pay your dues.” You must go through many of the trials associated with being a drummer, including unkind comments by others. However, take heart! Things are getting better. Drumming is developing and expanding. (We even have our own magazine!)
If you hit one of the difficult situations I’ve described, I suggest that you quietly explain the following (or something like it) to the other person or persons: “The drums are true musical instruments. They are both difficult and expensive to make. They are both difficult and expensive to learn to play well. I respect music; therefore I respect your instrument and your job. I would appreciate the same kind of consideration and respect for my instrument and my job.”