If you’re new to the drums, should you focus on drum music from one particular genre — or explore several different styles? Here, Decatur, GA teacher Paul S. shares his advice…
It’s a thrilling time to be a musician, let alone a drummer. 2015 will continue to reveal the trend of a brave new world, a world where one person can record a fantastic album alone in their bedroom and a viral musical sensation can blow up overnight. While capitalizing on Internet success may occasionally prove difficult (the music business is a BUSINESS, after all), the limitless creative possibility of our current musical atmosphere is something everyone can appreciate and be a part of.
Now, to answer the question, “Should drummers focus on one style or genre?” As with many things in music, the answer isn’t black and white. On one hand, knowing your stylistic strengths and weaknesses is extremely important. Agreeing to play congas in a smoking salsa band would not be wise if your only experience as a conguero was in your college jam band days: “Uh, dude? I think you turned your rumba clave into a son clave at some point when we were playing that E major chord for 20 minutes.” However, in fitting with today’s current musical trends, it seems foolish to limit oneself to playing only one genre. Let’s put this in a global context.
Percussion is one of the world’s oldest instruments, so logically, there is a lot of material to learn. In fact, there is so much history that one drummer could never scratch the surface of understanding every style of drumming that humans have produced. When I write “drumming” here, I mean much more than the drum kit. Here are a few examples of mind-boggling drum styles from around the world:
- Zakir Hussain’s masterful control of the Indian tabla
- Doudou N’Diaye Rose directs his Senegalese drum orchestra with his energetic sabar playing
- Mestre Ombrinho plays berimbau, sings, and leads a group of musicians accompanying the Brazilian martial art capoeira
Are you getting the picture? If you or someone you know is a drummer with a big head, these videos are sure to put that ego in check. Being humble to the breadth of percussion is important. As musicians, we must realize that there is an infinite amount of knowledge for us to possess. It’s up to us as individuals to understand as many styles as we can perform respectfully and successfully.
With all of that being said, it’s wise to specialize! Know the styles of drum music that you love to play and that you play well. What moves you, and why does it move you? Travel deeply inside each groove you practice and perform, and don’t ever stop listening to a wide variety of music. Do you love jazz? Listen to every Max Roach, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa recording that you can find. If you play along with these masters every day, metaphorical wheels will start turning and you’ll find yourself with control you didn’t think you had. You’ll make mental and physical connections every time you pick up a pair or sticks, whether you’re playing by yourself or with others.
To summarize, let us return to the question, “Should drummers focus on one style or genre?” In my 20 years as a percussionist, I say yes AND no. That’s music for ya, folks!
Paul S. teaches drum, piano, music theory, in Decatur, GA. Paul’s specialties include classical, jazz, and popular music styles. Find out more about Paul here!
Photo by Agton Veloncio