The Hard Part

Question:  “What was it like getting back into drumming after a hiatus?”

I kept in touch with my drums because I love them.  Seeing them cheered me up and tapping them as I walked by reminded me of their possibilities.  Approximately once per week I would sit down and try to play something beautiful, and would stay there, noodling around, until I did just that.

Fundamentals don't leave you as quickly as speedy chops.  I could always play a pop (non-notey) gig because my fundamentals are sound.  The bits of work that I got, such as recording the Chris Shinn record ( did not involve playing for long periods of time.  I was done once we had a take and that went quickly.  I ‘d bet that back then a one-hour show would’ve worn me out!   My savior was the Big Time stuff that I teach in that DVD.  Mechanisms.  The fact that my grip is super easy also helped.  Honestly, currently having less hand and feet chops than I once had is interesting.  I loved Paul Motian’s playing, his hands?   Elvin Jones, his hands?   Ed Blackwell is another beautiful non-chopsy drummer.  Ringo!!   They are all so much more highly skilled than might appear to a 12 year-old aspiring drummer.  Could they play a double stroke roll, open to closed until it is a gorgeous long note, and then back out to open?  It doesn’t appear so to me.  Their special kind of technique was the fast connection from their ears to their entire body.  They played musically and I believe the degree of difficulty was their inner gyroscope, which was highly evolved.  Plus their aesthetic was solid, unwavering.  Let’s face it; Elvin takes the cake with inner gyroscope chops.  Ringo owns the aesthetic arena. His choices are genius.  If Mozart played the drums he would’ve played like Ringo.  My favorites!  

I think that is one reason I will frequently reach for a tambourine or shaker mallet in my right hand instead of a drumstick at times.  Having a limitation can be freeing in terms of creativity.  This is also why I dropped the two-rack tom setup.  It is simply too easy to repeat things from one drum to the next when they are right next to each other.  That extra drum (cowbell) stares at me, “Play me, you fool!” When I played with Chris Whitley in the 90s, I wanted each note to count yet not have too many notes, so I had three toms in a triangle left of hi hat, middle and right.  This way I could never go all Billy Cobham on his music, yet now looking back, I did go Cobham on him at times and I regret that. 

But all this talking about me doesn’t necessarily help the person that asked about how to get back from a hiatus.  I’m going to guess the REAL question being asked is “How can I get back into the drums?”  I’m thinking some of you at times are not feeling it.  You sit down and practice and leave the session feeling empty – untalented – confused.

First of all, most drummers that are in this (unfortunate) spot have technical problems.  It is more often than not hands.  Grip.  Yet facing the grip problem is such a big mountain to climb, it is usually left ignored.  So, if your hands hurt, or you simply can’t play what you want to be able to play?  Take ONE lesson with someone who sounds like they have a great grip.  Then try what they said.  If it doesn’t work for you, go have another lesson with another professional.  If you want to have that one lesson with me, I’m here and available.  I believe strongly in my grip.

BUT, in spite of not fast and easy hands, anyone can move forward with what you’ve got and make practice fun.  Music can be made with an absolutely crappy grip!   I’m going to share a skill that is, like a good grip, not real easy but it enables you to make music when you play. When you sit down at the kit, do not try to be someone else.  Do not play any licks that you have worked on or want to work on.  Play three notes and go somewhere with those three crappy little notes.  Be responsible.  You know how to cook a dinner for yourself?  OK, this means you know how to make something happen with three notes.  The hard part is being connected to yourself, and not the fictitious drummer that you think you are. 

<This is so hard to type out – goes back to Thelonious Monk’s quote, which I always thought was “Talking about music is like singing about math” but according to Google, it is more likely to have been “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  Consider re-reading the proceeding paragraph.  Maybe something will click.  Either way, I’m going to keep trying to get the words that best explain what I’m trying to share. >

Follow what turns you on.  Do what is fun to do!  I’ve always loved tuning drums and finding out what they can and can’t do.  Hours can pass by when I’m testing new sounds.  One bizarre effort was seeing what happens when a bunch of BBs are placed inside a floor tom.  Or potato chips.  But that’s just me and yes, I’m an idiot.  Another thing I’ve done in my practice room is messing around with alternative tunings and comparing different DW wood types.  I’ve got lake birch (super rare kit), maple mahogany, jazz series, pure maple collectors, all spruce and mahogany with spruce.  I also enjoy playing my Leedy pieced together from different eras drum set; 50’s 12x24, 30s 8x12 and 40’s 12x15 converted snare.  All of these drums have a thing.  Rogers drums are so great.  Did you know that I played the soundtrack to Steven Seagal’s Under Siege with a 20, 12, 16 + 14 snare Rogers kit?  I suppose I’ve never met a drum I didn’t like to play… or tabletop or steering wheel.  Next week, I’ll talk about my gear and share a few things I’ve learned. 




william ward3 Comments