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Just Play IT!!


Drummers are, and have been, the butt of many, many, many utterly side splitting and hysterical jokes over the years, so funny are these witticisms that many bass players and MC’s still keep them alive years after they were first circulating. Such is their mastery of the art of comedy; we can rest assured that these joyful and side splitting ‘funny because they are true’ jokes will live long, fruitful lives.


It’s well documented that many people don’t hold the drummer in the highest of regard and, let’s face it, playing drums is easy isn’t it? Stick. Bash. Rock ‘n’ roll doooods!!! Anyone can do that! Besides, drummers aren’t proper musicians are they? They don’t play notes! Yes, I’ve had this ‘discussion’ many times throughout my life and it rarely gets any easier to convince the perpetrators of the myths surrounding drums.


Even when you explain there is such a crazy thing as: ‘drum music’, the closed minds still refuse to accept the kit drummer’s credentials and simply become even more bewildered and fearful of the witchcraft apparent in drumming. However, the appeal of drumming and actually becoming a drummer has been around for years and the unique position a drummer holds both physically and sonically in modern music means there is never going to be a shortage of willing applicants of all ages.


Often, the prospective drummer knows little of the mind boggling complications of the job, not to mention the expense and then of course, there’s the volatile subject of learning to play properly. Young people today have the good fortune to be at schools which seem to be able to avail themselves of a kit and a qualified teacher to set budding  players on the right track, for those who’s educational facilities don’t have this luxury, a local teacher must be sought.


Or must they?


I always encourage those that seek my sage advice to find a good teacher locally and see how they get on not only with the instrument, but also the instruction process,  which can often, discourage students. However, the remaining avenue of self teaching is rarely suggested and more likely, vociferously castigated and discouraged with barely concealed venom by many accomplished drummers.


I have commented before on the ocean of teaching aids, self teaching books, CDs, DVDs and the like available these days and I maintain that a determined individual with even the most basic of musical inclination, should not be diverted from the possibility of becoming a proficient player via self education. I know the well used argument; “You’ll never be the player you can be”, quite how anyone can justify such an absolute statement remains unanswered but still it’s used as a counter point to anyone with the audacity to suggest being self taught is anything more than the thinking of an idiot.


It has been suggested that a self taught drummer has the worst teacher in the world. This is just ridiculous, I have heard numerous anecdotes of young players being put right off drumming thanks to teachers who can’t, or won’t teach according to the individual’s needs or behavioural response. Furthermore, the stories of left handed players being refused a musical education are, albeit in the past, legion.

Even a rightie such as myself is not immune from ‘doing it wrong’, some years ago a young drummer was getting quite frothy round the mouth when he observed I was playing a certain type of triplet ‘wrong’. When I requested elucidation he became quite animated (not to mention insulting) simply because in his pious opinion, I was starting on the ‘wrong’ hand. It sounded exactly the same as his demonstration, but – I was still ‘wrong’.


Coming back to the subject of drum music, it’s true, in the pro muso world, you’ll be better equipped if you can make sense of the dots and lines but my sense of incredulity is pricked by the oft requested ‘charts’ or ‘tab’ for songs by many drummers. Seriously, I don’t get it, I know I’m not alone but surely to learn a song you don’t have the ‘dots’ for, the obvious option is to listen to it and copy it!!!??? Oh yes, I’m sure I’m wrong because that’s not doing the job ‘properly’ is it!? Well that depends, drum music is not often written by drummers and especially with popular  music of say, the last 30 years, the drum part has probably been made up on the spot or programmed into a machine. Sans dots.


And whatever happened to ‘making the song your own’? Do your own thing! So long as it’s in the spirit of the piece and you don’t go too mad so as to confuse the bass player, all should be fine, inspiring, groovy and exciting. Suggesting a drummer is anything less than another simply because he/she cannot read music or is self taught, is like suggesting someone with dyslexia or bereft of any written language skills isn’t a proper communicator. Can we really envisage a situation where infants are precluded from speaking until they can read?


There are numerous musicians I have met over the years who have recounted stories of other players who, when asked to ‘jam’ or compose on the hoof’, have done a ‘bunny in the headlamps’ and cannot cope without the crutch of a well written part. Is this ‘proper’ musicianship? Music existed initially, to communicate to musicians what the composer intended, playing by ear with feeling and anticipation is not something a series of dots can ever substitute – but still those who wish to pursue this route are sometimes treated dismissively and with smug disdain.


I know the Dots Brigade hate the idea that many famous, successful and revered drummers were self taught non readers and I do accept that a good teacher will open up your playing to a degree self teaching probably won’t. But to decry the merits of beating your own path and finding your own way, I believe is wholly inappropriate.


I realise this sort of talk will make me even more of an outcast and there will probably be one or two more burning crosses than usual outside tomorrow, but being a chain smoking, alcoholic, agnostic, puppy killer, I don’t envisage a huge lifestyle change.


September 2005

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