Accompanying: that is he role of the drummer. To play along, provide rhythmic support to the band. Be the metronome, the pulse—the heart—of the rhythm section. Obviously, that is not the drummer’s only role. But it’s certainly the main one—at least for most styles of popular music.
Playing in a band means playing for that band. Playing to the style, the particularities and language of each singer, artist or instrumentalist who leads an ensemble. Yes, when we play behind a singer there are different front people to whom we owe “submission”, musically speaking. But at no time this should be regarded as an unrestricted form of subordination, or in a negative, childish way. Group playing entails surrendering to the music in question and committing oneself to what is required, incorporating the language of the style and playing whatever the music calls for at any given moment.
With that in mind, we contribute to, and help create, the “magic” of music, conveying an array of emotions that are unique to each listener—whether live in the audience or at home with headphones in their ears. Whenever we stop giving our best based on what the language of that particular style demands, we risk clashing with the rest of the band; or better yet, when we don’t play according to what the music demands, we create a weak link in the chain of musical expression.
Which shouldn’t be misinterpreted; it’s not that we shouldn’t be free to create and assert our own musical ideas within esthetic common sense. But being creative depends on the kind of music being made. We need to be mature enough musically to understand the musical contexts within which creativity and suggestion are appropriate. Sometimes we’re hired to play parts that were thought out in advance, fully within an arrangement. At other times, we get the call exactly because of our experience in dealing with new suggestions and ideas, and we’re hired with this expectation of our contribution in the execution—and sometimes even in the arrangement—already.
Sometimes, the immature musician comes in without any knowledge of the language of the music in question, and wants to impose their own ideas all the time; they may play too many notes, where just a few would sound best; and don’t know how to listen to the music or to the people making it.
The mature musician, on the other hand, relates and plays from within a broad perception of who that artist is, of the type of music played, the other musicians involved, and the adequate sound required of the instrument.
Pay attention to the correct instrument required for each individual music style. Choose the right size drums, the correct drumhead texture and thickness, and the appropriate drumstick weight. They will definitely affect the music and will help you delineate the correct sound for every situation. Learn to read music. It will help you develop technically, as well as memorize repertoire. And it will also make it possible for you to study the technique of the instrument in depth.
Your efforts will not always be felt and appreciated the same way, in musical or personal terms. That is common and, obviously, human. But you shouldn’t base your commitment to the music or to the gig on negative attitudes. Do your part. Be punctual, look neat, show up with an instrument in good working order, and, as much as possible, try to be pleasant.
Don’t mix friendship and work to the extent where one day you can’t demand the pay or rates you deserve.
Differently from other professionals in many other fields, we do what we love, and have the rare privilege of combining work and fun. And, at the end of the day, besides being our profession and livelihood, playing the drums is making art too.
Ramon is a Brazilian Musician and Odery Artist.