Thursday, August 29, 2013

What do you call a person who hangs around with musicians?

It's a very old and rather tired joke, but it wasn't all that long ago that music contracts specified "4 musicians and a drummer". It's not really a case of drummers not getting the same amount of respect as other musicians. It's simply that many non-drummers don't realise that playing drums well requires every bit as much training and knowledge as any other instrument.

There's a lovely video on Youtube in which Travis Barker is warming up before a gig. In case you didn't know, Travis is highly trained, highly skilled and highly disciplined. The fellow there with him -- also a band member -- remarks in a disbelieving tone, "You mean you actually practice your instrument?" Oh my.

There are a lot of drummers who are not interested in studying or practicing ... or even in improving. But that's not peculiar to drummers. A lot of musicians don't seem to put in much effort after learning those first few chords and songs. There have even been music movements that eschewed any sort of education or training. It's a personal choice, but consider the long-term consequences of that choice.

The less you know about your instrument and about music, the less valuable you are as a player. That means the better gigs will always go to someone else. There's also a limitation on opportunities. Perhaps you enjoy teaching. Well you won't attract many students if you can't read and don't know the basics, or if you don't understand how to get from one level of playing to the next.

I certainly want more opportunities rather than fewer. But for me the real bottom line is how I feel about my playing and the quality of the work that I do. I don't like half efforts, and I tend to put a lot of energy and care into everything I do. Drums are no different. And if I want to do a high quality job -- for me if not for any other reason -- then I owe it to myself to continually hone my craft.

And the best part? It feels great to cover new ground and develop new competency. And the positive feedback is pretty good too.

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