What a Drummer Does

Musical Thoughts

The drummer provides the rhythmic environment for the entire band

Often the role of the drummer is thought to be the timekeeper of the band, but the drummer’s role is far broader. While the drummer’s playing is the closest actually stating time, everyone keeps time – otherwise the song would fall apart.

The drummer most often – and appropriately – plays grooves (drum set beats) and fills. Simultaneously, musical drummers make choices based on many pieces of information – meter*, the style and corresponding feel of the music, the melody, harmony and bass lines, the song form and phrasing, the arrangement form (how the song is to be performed), and any number of additional elements particular to the song being played. That sounds like a lot, but while making the journey from drummer to musician, these things must be learned in order to bring to the playing experience the knowledge necessary to render a musical performance. When the knowledge and playing abilities are all there, the result is sensitive, vibrant and artistic playing which fits into the song perfectly and makes everyone sound great. The best drummers consciously and intuitively understand this stuff. The rest of us should be on the road to acquiring it.

Philosophically, I like to think of the drummer-musician as the play caller or traffic director. In sports the equivalent might be the point guard in basketball or the catcher in baseball. The drummer accompanies and guides the group through one section into another, helping set the feel, implying (though not often actually playing) the beat. The drummer has to push, pull, energize, and hold back, in a sense providing a large part of the band’s rhythmic environment.

Drummers are musicians of the very most important level…if trained and taught to think that way. Too often the joke about the band consisting of four musicians and a drummer is true. Too often the drummer is trained to become drummer and not a musician. If musicianship is emphasized he becomes both. If only drumming is emphasized he becomes a musician largely as a result of aptitude and luck.

Excerpted from Whole Music Drumming Level One – Teacher and Self-directed student edition by Rob Zollman
Copyright 2002 Robert Zollman. All rights reserved.

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