There’s a folksy old saying that goes something like, “People sure do make things more difficult than they need to.” We’ve all made that observation at one time or another about others—and, let’s be honest, at times we even make it about ourselves. We should, at least.
Sometimes we’ll ignore replacing an outmoded, high-maintenance piece of gear, perhaps out of some misplaced sense of romance, or willful ignorance: Yeah, my bass drum pedal breaks a lot and squeaks something fierce, but I’ve been playing it forever and a new one is going to feel weird and…. Wait a minute—what am I thinking? I need a new pedal!
On the other end of the spectrum, we can get so wrapped up in our ever-increasing ability to “improve” our beats with computer software that we find ourselves staring bleary-eyed at a monitor at 4 a.m., microscopically nudging backbeats in search of some perfect-yet-still-human-feeling groove. And then it hits us like a ton of bricks that one of the reasons we love real live players like Steve Jordan and Bernard Purdie is because of their perfect-yet-still-human-feeling grooves. Wait a minute—what am I thinking? I need to practice with a metronome more!
A third way we can fall victim to overcomplication is in our musical choices. Perhaps this is the drummer’s curse. We’ve been gifted with a glorious collection of objects that go boom and crash, and when we throw ourselves at them in a coordinated way, the sensation for us is so physically gratifying, we have to essentially stop ourselves from hitting them more than the music calls for. At least that’s the way it seems sometimes. I mean, just sitting here at my desk typing this makes me want to run home right now and thrash around for a good hour. It’s like a true addiction—our bodies literally yearn for the source of the sensation in its absence.
But how does this drumming jones relate to contributing to a harmful tendency to overcomplicate? Well, one of the insidious parts of addiction is that the more you do, the more you want. Whoa, that Bonham lick I finally figured out is sounding pretty slick—I should do it in every verse of this song. No, no you shouldn’t—at least not just because you can. Two or three drinks, and you’re oh so charming. Four or five, maybe not so much any more.
Now, serious up-and-coming professional musicians, especially those who work a lot with songwriters, tend to learn early on that they can communicate musical maturity—and therefore increase their hireability—by exhibiting self-control while still offering creative musical solutions, and by showing that they’re listening at all times to what their fellow musicians are playing. On the contrary, not-so-mature musicians tend to be the ones who pollute party conversations with statements like, “That guy? He’s terrible! Fusion drummers X, Y, and Z can play rings around him.” And you’re standing there thinking, Somehow this dude isn’t noticing that I’m wearing a White Stripes T-shirt.
While I’m happy to debate the relative merits of Meg White’s famously unadorned beats some other time, my primary point here is that while busy or complex drumming can be the perfect choice in some musical settings, in others it’s the absolute worst choice. The mark of a true professional is having the ability to do a lot but the wisdom to know when to do a little.