Tips and Hints
A rambling assemblage of information on the practical side of being a musician, getting work, keeping it and playing with other people.
Playing the Drum Kit
Along with developing your ability to keep a beat at a constant tempo, you also need to work on the ambidexterity of your hands ( and feet ).
Some people are naturally gifted and some are naturally ambidextrous ( able to use both hands well ). But most of us start of with a lazy hand and an efficient hand. The efficient hand being the right hand for most people. That is the way the exercises lead on this website. If you are left handed you would need to swap the right for left etc.
The easiest way I have found to develop the weak or lazy hand is with the set of a and b triplet exercises on the Exercises page. When you have got them off leading with the right hand, you reverse the direction and lead with the left hand. This enables you to do so much more with your left hand that it really increases your confidence and moves you on.
Hand to hand exercises are designed to do this, ie. develop your ambidexterity. Using any set of para-diddles and moving the accent around will have the same effect.
Things to take with you to a gig.
The unlikliest of objects and materials can save the day when your entire gig is looking like collapsing for the sake of a short length of fusewire or a metal coat hanger to improvise for a car aerial.
Most drummers eventually feel the need to carry a few tools around with them as stands break and threads wear, necessitating 'running repairs'. I use a small travelling bag of the kind that goes on your belt. In this I keep the essential pair of pliers and a couple of small screwdrivers along with the spare lugs, nuts and bolts, pieces of cymbal felt and a couple of tuning keys. Here you can store your card of fusewire ( and optional fuses). We all know the joy other musicians take in mocking drummers intelligence. Enjoy watching their faces when you are the one that has it together when the lights go out. Speaking of which; a torch is an essential thing for a band to take to a gig but it can mostly reside unused in the vehicle. If anybody borrows the torch from the vehicle and doesn't return it, fine them heavily. Have another torch for on stage and keep it in your kit bag with some spare batteries.
A lead with a standard jack plug at one end and a mini jack at the other end can be a pretty useful thing to have handy, especially outdoors. For example, wedding celebrations or private parties where the hosts have booked your band but have not thought about providing any other music, or, they simply couldn't afford a Disco as well as your band. Somebody is bound to have a walkman, personal CD or MP3 player. Whichever it is, with your lead, you can put it through the PA when your band isn't playing and you help the whole occasion to be about a hundred times better.
Cymbal Felts - I have always lost the cymbal felts that go between the top of the cymbal and the metal washer and wing nut that hold the cymbal on. I have also always been too tight to pay the exorbitant sums asked in some music shops. I was most happy to discover that the plastic foam washers supplied in multi packs of CD blanks can be used as a cost effective substitute.
Bamboo Sticks - Bamboo is very cheap and can be used in a variety oif ways, both to make instruments and things to hit them with. Split a 16 inch piece of Bamboo by carefully running a sharp knife through from one end to the other. Do this a number of times till you have sufficient thin slivers to bind together to make 'sticks'. Sand off the rough edges and use gaffa tape to bind a length for gripping at one end and then two or three strips of gaffa equally spaced, to hold the loose ends together. The same thging costs about £13 in some music shops. (Courtesy of Jack Peach)
Getting along with people in the band
Getting along with people in the band can make a big difference to how much you enjoy yourself when you play. Plus, of course, there's not only the time you spend playing together. In tour situations you could be spending 18 hours a day with a group of people and only performing for an hour or so. You don't need a vivid imagination to see the potential for tension and irritations.
I have found that working with more experienced, and often older, musicians you often avoid some of the more petty situations arising from individual egos and insecurities. It's usually these two things that set off a chain of events.
Often at the root of breakdowns is either somebody gets a bit carried away with themselves and loses respect for the other members or somebody who isn't playing well tries to transfer or externalise their frustrations. Even when concealed these sort of things affect the communication and that affects the whole group, so, it is no wonder that these situations usually lead to a crisis or a split.
As opinionated elsewhere on this site, I believe that communication is central to getting a band really 'together' and happening. Furthermore, by nurturing the communication, you can resolve and avoid the kind of problems referred to above and get the band sounding it's best.
I remember when I was younger and first starting out I had all kind of trips and chips on my shoulders and, often through disappointing outcomes, they have been mostly knocked off. Or said another way, I learnt my lessons.
Simply, we are just playing music and, hopefully, people are enjoying it. We sound better when we are playing with the band, and that means with the band, all of them. We sound better again when we get some communication happening in the band when we are playing. You may believe it or not, but the communication transmits to the listeners and if it is absent listeners know, consciously or sub-consciously, depending on the individual. We conrinue to sound better when we introduce emotion into our playing and when the emotion is positine and it makes the other players feel good that, in turn, makes us feel good and we have feeling in the music. The next one is telepathy but that's another page.
These things should be enough to satisfy us and for most people a full house of the above is an experience worth having. But, if your mind is still wandering, PLAY THE SONG. I am reminded of hearing a veteran jazzer on the radio talking about his band leader who instructed him to "just play the song" when he was overplaying. It can be a handy precept to remember when in the thick of things, for instance, in a live situation.
It can be tiring to play regularly in a band with one or more musicians who seem to just take up too much space when they don't have the developed technique to play like Jimi Hendrix or Miles Davis. Certainly either of these supreme musicians would advise the aspiring musician to be the best that they can be. Because if things don't work out to the limousines, you might just have to be satisfied with that. If you have to suggest to someone that they are overplaying it is wise to be as diplomatic and gentle as possible as whatever personality you are dealing with, you will be touching a sensitive nerve.
I have been fortunate to work with some of the best Bass players in the UK and almost to a man they dislike overplayed drums. They require a steady beat at the right tempo, not speeding up or slowing down.Then they can get to work, with enjoyable results.
But even if you are keeping a simple pattern going, your technique and the fruits of your practice still come into play. They are apparent in the control you demonstrate and the ease in which you enter and leave drum fills and changes. In a good recording you can hear everything that is going on. The further the drum beats are from the correct tempo, the further back in the mix the drums will be. Logical, obviously. But if you start a drum fill and you even slightly rush into or out of it, the louder the drums are the more obvious it will sound.
If you get these kind of things under control it will enhance your position in your band and with the people around you. Thus rendering you less likely to become one of those who seek to cover up by distracting attention away from what they should have covered. If you are really working together, people are listening to each others ideas and giving respect where it is due.
If you are doing the right things and not denying the other band members their space there is no reason why you should get hassle from anybody, and you can hopefully expect your ideas to be considered.
But, Music is like any walk of life. There are all sorts of characters who get involved. It is good sense to beware of those that get their kicks through playing mind games. I've never seen a good time come out of that kind of thing yet.
How Do You Tune Drums ?
With regard to a drum kit, the correct way to tune a drum is by tightening the tension rods in opposite pairs around the drum. You tap the stick on the drum head just near to a tension rod and tighten it up until it is at the pitch you want. Then you tighten up the rod oppsite until it is the same pitch as the first. You test this by tapping your stick near to the first rod then the opposite rod, making adjustments 'til they sound the same. Then you move to the next pair of opposite rods and tighten those 'til they sound the same as the first pair, and so on around the drum. Then you will probably have to make some fine adjustments until the pitch of all of the rods sounds the same. The drum head is tuned and you do the same with the opposite head. There is different opinion about what sounds good as far as the comparative tensions of the upper and lower head on a kit drum is concerned. An upper head that is slightly tighter than the lower will produce a flat sound without any ring. Most drummers want a loud sound that will carry, and heads that are tensioned equally will move the most air, making the loudest sound. So that's what you aim for. Getting even more technical; if you calculate that when you strike the drum, the pressure from the stick actually adds to the tension of the drum by the time the sound escapes; the upper head should be left very slightly slacker than the lower head. So that when your stick connects with the drum head, adding to its tension, the pitch of the two heads will be the same. Most drummers tune their drums to ear but you can pick out some low notes on a keyboard or guitar to tune to. In a subtle sense this will improve your sound greatly. If you are not sure what notes to use try C F G D and E. Just play around with it till sounds right to you. Tuning a whole drum kit properly could take quite a long time. Doing it patiently and not taking short cuts will make a big difference to the sound of your drum kit.
Some drums such as Surdos and Congas are tuned not by opposite pairs of rods but by adjacent rods in a circle around the drum. Otherwise the process is the same.
Remember your parents going on at you to sit up straight ? They were right. If you are going to play the drums for any length of time your back is going to determine for how long you are actually able to play the drums. Buddy Rich went for most of his adult life with debillitating back pain. I know how he felt.
I am a poor sitter in as much as I always slide into a half lying position and I am aware that this has not helped me. If you are unlucky you may start to experience Arthritis in your Forties or earlier and it could prematurely end your playing career. So, you have to do what you can to maintain your best health if you want to carry on playing.
When you are playing the drumkit or a hand drum, sit with a straight back, balanced and not leaning to one side. This is generally recommended for sitting posture and if you think about it it makes good sense. Have a sensible method for lifting gear and stick to it. My lower back is spoiled from too many speaker cabs and amps, so, take care of yourself when you are loading gear.
I have an arthritic lump sticking out of my left shoulder which prevents me from doing a lot of things. This is the arm/hand that I use to play the snare drum and after thirty years of whacking unamplified rim shot beats, I now believe that the use of the matched grip has contributed to the aggravation in the shoulder. This is a personal opinion but I am convinced that the orthadox grip would put less strain on your shoulder, especially if you play Rock or any loud music. Try it out and see if you can sense the increased shock travelling up to you shoulder joint when using the matched grip.
If you are unfortunate enough to end up with Arthritis and are struggling, here are a couple of suggestions for Natural Health remedies which I have found to be of some use. 1/ Glucosamine Sulphate and 2/ Cod Liver Oil. Both are widely available at health shops and if you are desperate they will be worth the money to you.
Much too late in life I learned the importance of warming up. Not only before a gig or important recording scenario, but before every practice, gig, session, or jam. Especially if you are in your thirties and staring at middle age.
Nowadays I play a lot of congas as well as kit every day and the work I am demanding of my arm muscles is huge. Any professional sports trainer or teacher will explain to their charges how essential it is to warm up before beginning thier chosen activity. Drumming is no different in this sense. It can be a very physical activity, especially if you are going to play for two to four hours, or longer.
What youi need to do is warm up your muscles, especially the muscles that are going to be used most in the activity. With drumming you might concentrate on arms, wrists, fingers and shoulders, for example.
Muscles that have not been warmed up and are suddenly called upon to work hard for prolonged periods are, apparently, much more likely to strain or even tear.
This can be extremely painful and prevent you from playing for months or years, and I am speaking from personal experience.
So, if you are serious about drumming and if you really are you might be practicing for eight hours a day or more, give the warm up a thought.