I have no idea why, but as I sat here staring at a blank Word document, contemplating which angle to take for this month’s overview, the title of progressive drumming great Bill Bruford’s out-of-print transcription book, When in Doubt, Roll!, popped into my head. I didn’t even own a hard copy of that book, nor have I practiced anything from it, and yet…how apropos, right? In these crazy times, is there any other healthy way to react than to simply roll with it?
As Bruford states in the intro to the book (which I’ve since tracked down), “This…is an attempt to describe how one drummer has managed to survive all the lunacy that goes with a professional musician’s life, and still retain the desire to sit at the drumset and play.” Bill wrote that in 1988, but as I and all of my gigging drummer friends have had our performing careers come to a screeching halt overnight, it seems even more important in these exceedingly trying times to check in with ourselves and remember how important drums and drumming are to our daily well-being. Can you imagine going through all this chaos without them by your side? I cannot.
I realize not everyone has been lucky enough to have been socially distancing in a place with a set of drums nearby that you can retreat to for at least a few minutes each day. But just having a pair of sticks, a practice pad, and a metronome at hand should provide some much-needed relief. Like everyone, my daily schedule has been completely out of whack. But I’ve made a point to maintain a consistent morning practice routine—one that I implemented several years ago, long before the current global crisis. After I finish my morning coffee, I grab a pair of heavy drum corps sticks and a small rubber practice pad, cue up the metronome, plug in my earbuds, and shed some 16th-note sticking patterns. After a few minutes, I shift into playing through a few old rudimental solos that I memorized many moons ago. Then, if time allows, I’ll venture down to my basement studio, create a weird loop with my WaveDrum and Line6 pedal, and improvise grooves, melodies, or abstract textures on the drumset. All of this transpires within the first hour of waking up, but the emotional and psychological benefits stay with me throughout the day, regardless of how stressful things might become. If you don’t currently have a morning routine that incorporates a little drumming, I urge you to give it a try.
Hopefully as you read this issue, which features three of my all-time favorite drummers—R&B/pop great Aaron Spears, alternative-rock legend John Stanier, and modern-jazz torchbearer Ali Jackson—the tides are beginning to turn back towards some sense of normalcy. But even if you’re still stuck social distancing, remember that we’re all in this together, your double-stroke roll could use some work, and there’s always forty-plus years of Modern Drummer archived online to help pull you through. Stay safe, and enjoy the issue.