No, not that kind of snowflake—you’ll have to find me at the bar if you want to talk politics. What I’m talking about here is the age-old concept of every snowflake being utterly unique. After forty-odd years of deep conversation and deeper listening, it’s more obvious to me than ever that no two drummers are at all alike.
No matter how much the public might try to pigeonhole us as a group (of course we’re not all like Animal from The Muppet Show), no two of us are the same. Not even if we want to be. No matter how much we mimic our heroes in the woodshed, or how many of the same records we listen to, method books we work out of, or snare drums we spend our hard-earned cash on, no two of us will ever be the same. Not exactly.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to learn what makes the great drummers tick, and which records represent our art at the highest and most influential levels. Likewise, it will only benefit you to at least have a working knowledge of concepts explored in classic texts like Master Studies and The New Breed. And it’s smart to have experience playing a brass snare drum, a thin jazz ride cymbal, or even a single-headed kit fitted with Pinstripe heads.
But it’s even smarter to realize that no matter how much you understand how those books and records and pieces of gear fi t into the history and evolution of our instrument, we are all unique individuals by both nature and nurture, and there’s only so much we can do to force ourselves to play a certain way, regardless of our reasons for wanting to.
In the drumming world, there’s perhaps no more famous example of this idea than the story of Rush drummer Neil Peart’s early desire to play like his hero, Keith Moon. The thought seems almost absurd now—could two drum stylists be further apart? But as a young player in the ’60s and ’70s, Neil was doing exactly what one would expect him to: working to get close to the secret of the most exciting player of his generation. Fortunately, Neil came to the realization that it wasn’t in his makeup to play like Moon, searching instead within himself to find his own true voice and—and here’s the important part—honing his idiosyncrasies in the practice room and within the music of his band.
Every month in Modern Drummer you can find examples of professional drummers who’ve become successful with this basic formula: figure out what’s worked for others, take the things you like, leave the things you don’t, and make your own way. This issue, however, seems to illustrate the concept particularly well. Cover artist Danny Carey has developed his own vocabulary built on the explorations of his fusion heroes, fueled by his own polymetric and sonic ideas, and tweaked by the possibilities of modern electronics. Jerry Marotta focused his timekeeping ideas on the toms and helped Peter Gabriel define his own legendary sound. Jerry Roe somehow finds the commonalities of classic prog rock and Americana, and uses it to freshen up Nashville tracks. And Linda Pitmon identified the core elements of alternative rock that literally saved her life, and learned how to bring that energy and efficiency to the work of multiple legendary rock figures.
So, the question is, how are you going to be you?