Common Drummer Mistakes: Part 5 – Attributing Special Powers To Great Drummers


5. Attributing mystical powers to great drummers.

‘Lazy people are going East, the hard workers are going West. You’re going further and further apart every day’Kenny Aronoff

‘I auditioned for the number one student orchestra in the USA… First year, completely flubbed my audition for Vic Firth. Second Year I come back, failed again. I went back again, third year… didn’t get it. I WENT BACK A FOURTH YEAR! And got in. Reason why is cos I wanted it bad, and I kept practising and preparing to do better. It didn’t just come to me. I had to work for it.’Kenny Aronoff (both quotes from his interview on Drummer’s Resource)

‘When I was practicing every day, I was doing nothing else but that. I’d get up in the morning and not even bother getting dressed. I’d just move to the drums in my pajamas. I would be playing on the pad while I watched TV, and I’d go over another drummer’s house and play with him.’Tony Williams (from his 1978 Modern Drummer Interview)

‘I practiced (rudiments) five, six, sometimes eight hours a day.’Elvin Jones

‘If I wanted to get back to that kind of practise (6 hours a day), I just need to turn the computer off, turn my phone off and lock the door. Just get on with it and stop finding excuses. Being determined and a good problem solver is far more valuable than being talented.’Gavin Harrison

Sport, TV, Comedy, Business, Drumming, Stamp Collecting… it doesn’t matter. Give me a big name and I can tell you that person is a hard worker.
Thinking great drummers are just born great. Drummers do this all the time, and it’s simply not the case. It’s fine to look up to and respect, even idolize top drummers. It’s pure fantasy to think they are just magically good.
It doesn’t work that way. It’s also a very destructive and self-limiting belief to think that super drummers have super powers. You’re making excuses for yourself and dismissing hard work by those that are better.

‘Who are the drummers that are just naturally incredible? That didn’t need to work hard to get to the top.’
It makes no sense. And anyway, how would we know? We only see the tip of the iceberg. We don’t see that Vinnie used to practice doubles endlessly during school classes without the teacher noticing. We just see his amazing ‘effortless’ doubles.
Anyone who is truly great in their field, in their area of expertise has put in the time.

Homework: Research what the great drummers went through to get to where they are. Don’t guess. Don’t assume anything.
You’ll find a lot of heartache, game changing moments, struggle and belief. You’ll also find good old-fashioned hard work in spades. The kind of hard work that most of us shy away from.
You’ll also find dedication, obsession, organisation and goal setting. It happens organically in their lives by building one block on top of another. Incremental improvements built on solid foundations. Practising Hard but also SMART.
One heroic 6 hour practise session per week (with 4 of those hours spent checking your phone) doesn’t cut it. Not even close.

‘But no matter how much I practise I can’t be faster than Dennis Chambers…’
How do you know? I’ll guarantee you haven’t put in the hours Dennis did. Do you know how much Dennis has practised/played? Honestly you’d probably die if you knew.

‘Jeff Porcaro used to go into the studio and get the perfect drum track in one take… that’s just talent…’
Reminder: Jeff’s Father was a legendary session drummer. Jeff was surrounded by music and high performing musicians from birth.
Session after session, day in day out, anything is possible.
How many sessions have you done today? ‘Er… none…’
And that’s why it’s hard for us. You get good at what you do all the time. Jeff was in studio all day every day for decades.

‘I can never be as musical or creative as Mark Guiliana…’
Have you played as much music as Mark? Have you studied as much as Mark? Have you worked your way up to play with the calibre of musicians that Mark is playing with?
I’ll answer that for you… NO.

‘Buddy Rich didn’t practise… how do you explain that then?!?’
Really? Buddy didn’t practise hey? I don’t know where the ‘Buddy didn’t practise’ schtick started but it’s simply not true. Again, pure fantasy.

I’m sorry to be blunt, but all these fantastic drummers I’ve picked on here. They all have 2 arms and 2 legs like us. They all have a brain and a body, complete with differing limitations and massive potential to grow. They are good at some things, not so good at others. Some things come easier to them, some things come harder to them.

Yes, some people have natural advantages. But you have advantages too. No one else is you.
Kobe Bryant is very tall. That helps when you want to play basketball at a high level. But Kobe also trains the house down. He’s not playing Xbox all week, turning up at the court for the game and cracking his knuckles to warm up.

‘The harder I practise, the luckier I get’ – Anon

The guy next to my teaching room is often blazing away when my students arrive. The students and parents often comment ‘Wow he is talented’, ‘I could never get that fast’ etc.
Wrong and right. Wrong to assume it’s ‘talent’ as he is the hardest working/practising drummer I know. Right to assume you’ll never get that fast, because you gave up with that comment.
‘Talent’. It must be the most overused and misused word to describe musicians and athletes. I don’t even know what it means anymore. I’ve been in the game long enough to see that it’s just not a factor. It gets trampled by work ethic EVERY. TIME.
Anything and everything can be learned. Honestly don’t even worry about ‘talent’. Who cares?
You have to start ignoring the head winds and start utilizing your tail winds.

I played representative cricket as a youngster and in my circles were guys that went on to represent New Zealand. Were they the best at those younger ages? No. Straight up, No.
There were kids who were better, but didn’t stick it out. Some that had kids in their late teens. Some that couldn’t be bothered anymore and some that went off the rails.
This will be the same in all Countries, and in all fields.
‘Talent’ means nothing without fire in the belly.

On a smaller scale again… people have commented to me, ‘you’ve just got good rhythm’, ‘you’ve just got good timing.’
I know the truth because… well it’s me. I had to work for everything I’ve got (whatever level it may be).
I still remember being shown a fast 5 stroke roll lick by my tutor 17 years ago. My immediate thought was ‘I can never do that’.
I practised 5 stroke rolls to death. Gave up on them. Came back to them. Gave up on them.
Once I learnt how to practise properly and persevere I finally got the hang of them and could rip them out in a solo or fill. I think all up, it probably took me about 12 years to get to my tutors level.
Talent? Yeah right.

I do think the great drummers have an innate ability to work harder and master small, repetitive movements. They all have mentors/coaches/teachers. They all sort out an effective practise and playing schedule.

We are exactly where we are supposed to be in life and drumming. Right now we are at the place designated to us by our experience and skill. Sure sometimes we catch a break, sometimes we miss one. The trick is you’ve got to be ready for that break or it will pass you by and you won’t even notice it.

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