Imagine you’re traveling to a foreign country, and you decide to learn the language. You would probably start with simple words or phrases – “Hello, my name is…” or “Where is the subway?”. With the basics, and maybe a reference guide at your side, you’d probably get along just fine.
But for those of you who have mastered a second language, think about how much easier it got once you delved a little deeper: grammar rules, formal vs. informal language, even the evolution of the culture and how the language developed over time. With a true understanding, you might go from being a simple tourist to being mistaken for a local.
Similarly, a beginner musician attempting jazz drumming beats may be able to learn quickly, but it’s when you learn the underlying history and application that the knowledge really sets in. So what should you study to really solidify your skills? Steve Houghton, renowned jazz drummer, shared his tips in this great article found at PearlDrums.com.
Here’s an excerpt from the article, explaining a few of the areas to focus on:
Rhythm Section Awareness
It is important for the jazz drummer to be aware of the entire rhythm section and their individual roles, as jazz music is not a “one man show.” For example, the more aware a drummer is of the bass player’s role, the more successful the performance. Outstanding music can be made when the drummer and bass player are on the same page musically.
The true indication of a serious jazz musician rests with tune knowledge; that is, a broad, in-depth understanding of all “standard” jazz tunes as well as the newer tunes of the day. The more a drummer knows about a tune’s form, melody, and even harmony, the more effective the performance.
This is an important part of the process because it provides an opportunity to put your ideas and concepts to the test. Unfortunately, many students learning to play jazz are limited to practice room study, accompanied only by play-alongs or CDs. Jazz is an improvisational art form, where skills are honed by interacting with other musicians; reacting to soloists, comping patterns, bass lines, time feels, song forms, developing long–lasting musical skills that can only be found in live performance.
Most of all, Houghton stresses, jazz drumming (and other styles) can’t be learned solely in the practice room. You’ll learn Spanish a lot quicker if you immerse yourself in a Spanish-speaking country, and you’ll learn a lot more about drumming styles if you go to performances, listen to accomplished musicians, and notice the patterns and techniques out in the “real world.” Learn as much as you can, as pretty soon you can call yourself a pro!
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Photo by Utnapishtim.