The Psychology of Music and Self-Perception

“Hey, great show! Love seeing your band, and I really enjoy your drumming.”

If you have ever played a show at a club, and then had someone say something like this to you after, then you know the feeling. You have to smile and say “thank you” to this person. Meanwhile, in your head you are re-playing all of the mistakes that you made during the show. Your opinion is that the show sucked.

This situation highlights the difficult psychological issues that come up for musicians. Others might view us as being great, while we have a different perspective of ourselves.

A FEW MORE EXAMPLES
When I told my band that I was taking guitar lessons, one of them had an interesting reply.

“Why would you do that? You’re already a great guitarist.”

My initial reaction to this was that maybe I should no longer trust his judgment, and that he’s lost all credibility with me. This is not because I have a judgment to pass on him, but because of judgments I pass on myself. I do not see myself in this light.

Later, I was on the other end of this transaction with my guitar mentor. I wrote him an email about where I want to go in my studies. I talked about artists whose work I wanted to investigate deeper. He was one of those artists. I said, “I really like your style and approach, which is why I’m here.”

When we had our latest lesson, he said that he’d read my email. He thanked me for the kind words, and then asked that we be “done with” the compliments. He did add that we may disagree about certain things in the future, as well.

I think that he approached it this way in order to intercept a potential issue that he may have had in the past with fans. Maybe he and the student had a disagreement, and some hard feelings resulted.

I have a respect for what he does, and do not approach anyone as if I’m a fan. Still, respect is an attribute that fans have, and expressing this can come off as if I’m a fan. I view fans as being blinded by celebrity, which is something I’ve done away with decades ago. Still, better safe than sorry.

In the end, my respect is understood, and now we’re going to move forward. I do not need to express this again.

UNDERSTANDING BOTH SIDES
If someone says they like what I do, then I take it at face value. They mean it. My perspective of myself or how my show went does not factor into their perspective of me or how their experience went.

I had to see both sides of this before I understood the dynamics of it.

A STRANGE THING THAT HAPPENS OVER TIME
When I was young, I learned, and then I did. Music came easily for me at the time. I felt that I had my genre of interest “mastered” to a degree that was sufficient for my artistic expression.

The older I got, the more  my perspective shifted. I would become unsatisfied with what I could do and what I knew. As a result, I would observe other players and try to teach myself elements of what they could do. I would also take lessons.

This resulted in a paradox, wherein the more I knew, the more I realized I did not know.

It’s like running on a football field, where you are certain that there is 300 yards of field in front of you. You start running toward to goal post on the other side, only to see it getting smaller. You keep running, and it gets bigger for a brief period, but then shrinks once again, rather quickly.

Suddenly, the other goal post appears to be many miles away. When you turn around to see your own progress, you realize that you’re only ten feet away from your original starting point.

WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW
That feeling is daunting, and can cause someone to give up. As horrible as this feeling may be, let’s make it way worse.

If there is something you do not know, and you don’t know that you do not know it, then how can you know?

When I started with my guitar lessons, I had certain goals. Some of these goals ended up being modified, while others ended up going away completely. The more I learned, the more I realized I did not know.

Learning tends to go down this path. The guitar is an infinite instrument that can never truly be mastered. However, I can get better at what I want to do and what I want to get out of the instrument by practicing accordingly.

MY VIEW ON MY OWN ABILITIES
When I was young, I was a bad ass who could play any rock song I heard, to varying degrees. But as I got older, my musical interests got more complicated. Also, I wanted to be able to play beyond where I had been before.

I have confidence that I am not a beginner. However, the goal posts have moved so far that I cannot see the end. I can gain some ground, or so I think, by learning new things and implementing them into my tool box.

But will I ever be awesome? Will I ever be the best? Will I ever be a guitar god?

No. In fact, I may not ever think that I’m all that great. Not only do I acknowledged all of the musicians in the world who are beyond my ability, but these days I end up listening to music that I know I can never play.

As a musician, I have never been so good, and have never felt so not good.

DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a form of cognitive bias, where a person who has relatively low ability holds the illusion of superiority.

Everyone has witnessed this at one time or another. A good, generic example is the person who parrots all of the talking points of their favorite talk show host. As they speak, you can tell that they believe that they are smarter than you. When you ask them to clarify their position, they tell you to “Google it.”

HOW TO TELL IF YOU SUFFER THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT
A person who believes themselves to be the best, the smartest, the fastest, etc., suffer this effect if their abilities do not match their claims.

What most of the great musicians I know have in common is that they do not assert themselves to be in some kind of category. They are constantly learning.

I may enjoy some of my own music, but I don’t see any of it as some kind of stellar accomplishment, or something that will change the world. Regardless of where one puts my current skill level, I am open to learning more, I am actively learning, and I am actively practicing what I am learning.

Will I reach a level of greatness one day? Probably not. I’m enjoying learning, and I am also enjoying the results of my hard work.

I will not be writing the next great symphony, but I will be having fun with what I do.

CLIMBING A SUMMIT AND WHAT IS AT THE TOP
Every musician has had thoughts like this at one point in their lives, most probably when they were young.

“If only I can learn how to do [insert instrument trick here], I will have finally made it.”

On the surface, this sounds silly. To a degree, it is silly. But it’s also positive.

I had this belief long ago, that if I can learn how to play something, or build up speed, then I will have “arrived.” But then something strange happens when I actually work and acquire the ability to play this desired “thing.” That is, it’s no longer special. It no longer has meaning. It becomes something that “anybody can do.”

I’ve just learned something, and I don’t feel any better about it. I don’t feel that I’ve arrived.

As I stand on the summit of that “thing,” I look around and see one million other summits that need to be climbed. I see other people standing on those summits, and I know that it took them 50 years to get there.

I’m now at the base of a new summit, ready to take the first step toward getting to the top, with the realization that I won’t feel any differently when I get there. Taking those steps suddenly gets more difficult.

IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
People who suffer Impostor Syndrome have horrible thoughts about how they’re really no good at all. They’re a fraud, and everyone is going to find out.

This is the polar opposite of Dunning-Kruger. To summarize:

  1. Dunning-Kruger: Believing you’re the best, when you’re the worst.
  2. Impostor Syndrome: Believing you’re the worst, when you have ability.

I’ve had these feelings on many occasions, especially when I’m in the presence of someone who has incredible talent. If you work with someone who is way better than you, then you’ve felt this before.

Writing down your accomplishments and then working to internalize them can help with this issue.

SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE WITH HONESTY
I have never walked off a stage and thought to myself that I’d had a perfect performance. It just does not happen. However, I have left the stage after a show and declared, “That felt great!”

Indeed, the show did feel that way. The audience was fantastic. Sure, everyone in the band screwed up here and there, but nobody seemed to notice or care. Everyone had fun, and that is the ultimate point of it all.

DO NOT TRUST YOUR SELF-PERCEPTION
Your self-perception is about as reliable and possible as your ability for your eyeball to see itself without a mirror.

If you think you can, then you are correct. If you think you cannot, then you are correct.

While you may know yourself better than anyone else, you’re also an expert on how to fool yourself.

THE DANGERS OF YOUR SELF-PERCEPTION
If you believe that you are really good, then you have no motivation to learn more or to practice. This path leads to a place where you are no longer trying. Dunning-Kruger has just been invited to your house.

But if you believe that you are really bad, then you run the risk of giving up.

Either way, your opinion of yourself is not reliable.

HABITS OF THE BEST
One’s perception of others has a better likelihood of being honest.

Pick the best players you can think of, on any instrument, in any genre. What they all have in common is that they do not rest on their laurels [accomplishments] while declaring themselves to be the best.

They’re still running toward that goal post, working to improve, trying new things, implementing new abilities, and so on.

HOW TO COPE WITH IT ALL
As you read through this, you might be thinking that all of this sounds horrible. Why try to be a musician in the first place, when you cannot be the best? Many other questions like this one will rise up.

I do have some ways to cope with these perils, which I will share.

Abolish your opinion of yourself: Don’t think of yourself as good or bad.

Take the opinions of others with a grain of salt: They might have bias. Grandma said you have a beautiful singing voice. This may not be true. They could also be jealous. You will never know the truth, so keep some perspective on it.

Know when to add weight to opinions: A drunk in the bar who says you suck is meaningless. A judge in a competition who says you need work in areas has something valuable to say. A teacher who has a critique should be taken more seriously, and their claim must be investigated.

Set SMALL goals and keep notes: Playing a riff or rudiment at 50bpm might be your baseline. Once you have that clean, then set your metronome closer to a goal. Maybe you’re trying to slow down, or speed up. Whatever your goal may be, document your work toward that goal.

Celebrate your wins: Once you hit a goal, acknowledge it. Document it. Be proud of it. Generate a feeling about it. Understand that this feeling will go away quickly and become meaningless.

Forget about reaching a destination: Remember the goal post I mentioned earlier? The one that keeps moving? The point of it all has nothing to do with a destination.

THEN WHAT IS THE POINT?
When you dance, the point is not to start on one side of the room, and end up in a specific place in the room by the end.

The point is the dance.

The point of learning music is to learn. The point of making music is to make it.

I practice every day. Then, I play music every day. Sometimes I write and record music. Other times I make music with others. Some days I make music for a future record with my band. Other days, I make music that I suspect nobody will ever hear, and nobody will like.

If you want to learn music, then learn it.

If you want to make music, then make it.

If you want to do something else, then go do it.

Should you be looking forward to your destination, then understand that you will be met with disappointment. Instead, look at the grass under your feet. Smell the fresh air. Look at the animals moving about. Take in the sunset. It’s all you’ve got.

brucelee.jpg“Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you’re tired, go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand” –Bruce Lee

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The “No True Scotsman” of Music

INTRODUCTION TO THE “NO TRUE SCOTSMAN FALLACY”
To understand my point, one must first understand what is known as The No True Scotsman Fallacy. An example of this “circular” type of argument from the link is below.

(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Therefore:
(3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.
Therefore:
(4) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

This fallacy can be employed and served as an attempt to refute someone’s point in an argument.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MUSIC?
I have met many, many musicians over the course of my lifetime. Some of them are good at what they do, and they have a good deal of confidence in what they do.

But then there are others who have been sold a bill of goods, typically by other people, regardless of whether or not they’re a musician. I consider it to be psychological abuse, because it can be paralyzing to a person who is maybe lacking in confidence.

In keeping with the format of the example above:

(1) Joe is a guitarist, but cannot sweep pick.
(2) No (true) guitarist is lacking in sweep pick abilities.
Therefore:
(3) Joe is not a (true) guitarist.
Therefore:
(4) Joe is not a counter-example to the claim that no guitarist is lacking in sweep pick abilities.

In other words: Steve Vai shreds on guitar, and you’re not a real guitarist until you can play like him.

This can be done with any instrument. Just take someone who is highly-talented, use them as the benchmark, and then proceed to insult and belittle.

If you’re feeling like your not a real musician, then please read on, because I do have some good news for you.

WHAT IS THE BENCHMARK?
Is Steve Vai the benchmark of guitar? What about Andres Segovia? Certainly, they are masters at what they do. But they are not the benchmark for what makes a musician, even though they are/were highly incredible players. Declaring them to be the benchmark is dishonest, discouraging, and ignorant.

It’s also not a healthy way to think about it.

What is fair to say about the likes of Vai or Segovia, is that they are inspirations. Also, they are aspirations. It is healthy and realistic to say that you’d like to play like them one day, or to be as good as them one day.

The fact that you might not yet be there does not mean that you are not a musician.

A POPULAR DRUMMER ARGUMENT
One I’ve encountered is that “Ringo is a horrible drummer, because of how simple he plays.” The idea here is that Ringo stinks as a drummer, or may not even be a “true drummer,” because he’s not shredding the kit like Buddy Rich.

The video is a clue into why this argument is fallacious.

Indeed, playing for the song and the genre is what makes Ringo a great musician. Now, if he wanted to play drums for a speed metal band, then he’d have a complete host of problems, as well as a ton of work ahead of him. He’d have to dedicate years, or maybe even a decade or more, to be able to do this.

Does Ringo suck because he cannot play speed metal? Of course not.

THAT’S NOT WHAT I PLAY
This is the best response to give to someone who has this type of criticism about your playing. It’s one thing for them to note that you need work on timing, or maybe you need to be more smooth. But it’s another to say that you “suck” or are not a “real musician” because you can’t do a certain trick on the instrument.

That’s not what I play.

WHO SAYS THESE THINGS
You can encounter them at a music store, or maybe at a club. It’s usually someone who cannot yet do the things they’re laying at your feet. In that case, they’re trying to compensate for their own bad feelings about themselves.

If they can play like that, and have this attitude, then they’re just being a jerk about it.

WHO DOES NOT SAY THESE THINGS
I used to go to this open jam, where you sign up on the list, and then get called up to play a few songs when it’s your turn. Sometimes I’d sign up for drums. On a few occasions, when lots of drummers showed up, I’d sign up to play fretless bass.

These people are world-class musicians who are confident in their abilities. Sometimes they make mistakes. But they are always having fun. That’s why they do it.

It’s a community activity, and not a competition. Nobody there ever talked about how they were better than this other guy. Ever.

WHEN DID I BECOME A MUSICIAN?
This is something that I’ve thought about while writing this. Did I become a musician when I moved to LA to play on historic stages in the mid-1980s? Did I become a musician when I recorded my first tracks in 1978? Did I become a musician when I joined the school band in 1971?

We can go deeper. Did I become a musician when I could sight-read? Did I become a musician when I was first introduced to Music Theory in 1983? Did I become a musician when I could finally play my first song?

Have I not yet become a real musician??

Dan Baby Drum Trash Can 2px - Spring 1966
Me, drumming on a trash can at 18 months old [Summer 1966]
One might suggest that I became a musician when I first showed interest in playing music.

 

THE ANSWER REVEALED
Since I first showed interest when I was 18 months old, I would say that at this stage I was emulating my uncle’s band drummer, while showing a high level of interest and aptitude.

I actually became a musician when I was four years old, because this was when I became a student.

My uncle, who played guitar in his band, sat me down and wrote out how to play an F Major scale on the guitar. He did this when the band was on break. After he wrote this, he left me with his guitar and the paper, while he went outside to hang with the band.

I looked at the paper, looked at the guitar, and started trying to play it. It was pain-stakingly horrible. My fingers were too little. I did not yet have technique of any kind.

However, I was trying, and I was learning. This is what music students do.

Once you are a student of music, you have become a musician.

WHO IS A STUDENT?
In the past, I’ve studied with many music teachers. Since that day with my uncle, and subsequent days with him, I studied with various grade school and high school band directors. I studied drums with John W. McMahan, author of “Readin’, Ritin’, and Rudiments: A Collection of Studies for the Beginning Snare Drummer.” I continued drum studies in junior high with Richard Paul, who would later be my professor at Ball State University.

Kindergarten Report Card 1.jpg
Kindergarten report card from 1970-71. The “S-” grade in Music was due to my difficult with the social aspects of music. Kindergarten was my introduction to doing things with other kids.

After that, I kept on taking lessons whenever I could. I took some private drum lessons with Chad Wackerman, and also paid attention and learned from every musician I have ever met.

Lately, I have been taking guitar lessons from a professional guitarist. While I keep his name private for security reasons, and out of respect for his privacy, he has made a name in the music industry, and has contributed to albums that will truly stand the test of time.

He has been playing guitar for over 50 years, and yet [according to him], he has not yet mastered the guitar. Adding to this, he says that he never will master the guitar, as there is not enough time in anyone’s life to actually do this. The guitar is an Infinite Instrument, because you have a complete small orchestra at your fingertips.

Imagine how things would be if he could not call himself a musician until he’s mastered his instrument. There would be no point to any of it.

He got good at his genre-of-focus [and others], at songwriting, and other abilities. Then, he started branching out to discover other aspects of guitar, such as classical playing. While there are still things that he does not know [because knowing it all would be impossible], or has not yet conquered, he is farther along than I can ever get, even if I practiced 5 hours per day every day for the rest of my life.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
My perspective of his playing is that he’s a genius and a major talent. To himself, it’s a different story. He’s never happy with anything that he’s ever done. He writes something and records it. Then, by the time it is mixed, mastered, and released, he’s already moved on. He’s already moved forward. That song he recorded in the past is now “old hat,” and not representative of what he can do now.

Dan Lapel Talent Show late 80s
High school talent show, playing Ozzy’s new hit, “Goodbye To Romance” [late 1981]
Some of that could be real. Some of it could be psychological. I think that GREAT musicians are never satisfied with where they are. This is how they become great.

When I told the guys in my band that I was taking guitar lessons, they were curious. “Why are you taking lessons? You’re already a great guitarist.”

From my perspective, I am not, which is why I am taking lessons and learning. I will be learning until the day I die, or the day that I move on. I haven’t moved on from music in 53 years, so I have doubts that it will happen.

When I was young, I was in awe of punk rockers who painfully pushed out three chords on the guitar, with each chord the result of a down-stroke in 8th notes.

Players like that sold more guitars than shredders, because what they played was more accessible. But I digress. The point is, I’m not going to say that this is NOT music, because it’s too simple or easy, or any other reason. Even if I did not like it at all, saying it stinks does not mean that it’s not music, or that they are not musicians.

They’re a different type of musician.

GET ON A PATH
What you have to do is choose a path.

In my guitar lessons, I’ve been diving into music theory and various concepts that apply specifically to the guitar. I could easily get drowned in music theory. It did happen once, and I actually panicked.

Now that I have these concepts in my lap, I have to work on them every day for years to get to a point where I can effective utilize them in my playing and songwriting.

Now, I have to decide where I want to go with it. I’m thinking of tasty blues-style lead playing. This is a good example of where I’d like to go.

I’m choosing this style, not because it’s easy. In fact, it’s far from easy. However, it is spacious and open. I do not feel the need to fill every single beat of the music with as many notes as humanly possible.

My first goal is to get to a place where I can improvise something interesting and musical. Should I happen to build speed, which could happen since I work with a click track or backing tracks, then that will be a bonus.

The reason why I have to choose a path is simply because life is too short. If I try to learn as much as possible about guitar, and I don’t make music, then there might be little point to it all, beyond accomplishing things for my own growth.

Supposing that I go with the path of a tasty blues-style lead player, I can focus on the aspects of that particular style. I don’t have to sit and spend time on Classical playing, or metal shredding, and similar things. There are an infinite amount of paths to take.

That’s not to say that I could not later wish to focus on those and add aspects of it to my own path and style.

The point is to get good at what you want to play.

HOW TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
Communicate with your teacher/mentor about your goals and challenges. Do your homework. Practice every single day. 20 minutes per day, every day, is by far better than a few hours during the weekend. Building synaptic connections in your brain, and having those work in conjunction with your muscles, is the goal with daily practice.

Ask questions. Talk about what’s not yet working for you, and why. Be open to critiques about your playing, as well as your technique.

Being interested, curious, and willing to learn, are good attributes for any student.

1977 Bedroom
Making do with what I had [1977]
Remember to have fun and enjoy it.

For me, outside of a brief period in my relatively recent past, where I had some anxiety related to learning music theory, I’ve truly enjoyed every minute that I’ve ever spent with an instrument.

That difficulty I had there is not the first time that I’ve encountered difficulty. It’s also not the first time that I’ve had some anxiety. Sometimes it can happen.

When it does happen, it’s important to stop, breathe, and put it all into perspective.

You’re learning how to do something that will ultimately be fun. Try to relax, and enjoy the learning process, as well as the horrible sounds that you’ll make at first. There is work to be done, but the results are worth it all.

NOW ACCEPTING STUDENTS
I am in a place where I am accepting entry-level music students. If you are interested, then please consider visiting my website for more info, and then contacting me if you have any questions. You can also leave comment questions on this blog.

So whenever someone says that you’re “not a musician” because you can’t do something, remember that they might be a jerk, or they could be insecure. “You’re right. I cannot play that. Yet.”

For almost 50 years, I have enjoyed being a student of music. I am looking forward to the continuation of this journey. I’m excited to find out what will happen next.

NMBar

The Mechanized Drummer

korg ddd-1In early 1988, I bought a Korg DDD-1 drum machine, with all of the expansion cards, RAM card, backup card, and sampler. It was new, and I picked it up at Keyboard Concepts for the low price of $2,000.

By this point in my pursuits, I had been playing in various bands over the course of two years. Rehearsal space was expensive. I did not own a car, and thus relied on band members to help me get to rehearsals and venues. No band meant no car, and that meant no drum playing.

Realizing that the bands were not going to go anywhere, I decided to instead focus on writing and recording. I had two projects at the time, one being a set of songs that I co-wrote with a keyboardist / friend and former Robin Baxter band mate, Otis Scott.

We had planned on performing our songs as an electronic trio. The drum machine would contain the beats/patterns for the songs. I had a Korg SQD-1 sequencer that contained parts that would work with the drum machine. From there we’d play our own parts live, in conjunction with these other parts.

The other project was a musical that I had co-written a year earlier, titled, “In The Chips.” This play was in the works for the better part of a year, with me writing music and making sequenced “recordings” of parts. For this project, I recorded the MIDI on an Atari Mega ST2 computer.

 

4-track
This was the actual 4-track reel-to-reel that I used to record in 1984-85 at Ball State University. Owned by “Ra Bob,” and rented for $25/hour.

BEFORE 1988
Before this time, I had recorded a demo with a few friends in 1978. I had recorded some of my own demos at the same 8-track studio. In 1984-85, I recorded with my college band in a basement, and also did my own solo recordings down there.

 

During all of this time, there was no click track. Sure, there was a band director, but there was nothing mechanical.

Rehearsing at home was the exception, when my mechanical metronome would click back and forth while I was practicing. But back then, playing with a click was what you did during practice. The purpose of this was to build up  your sense of time. You did not have to be perfect, but it was good to be close.

BACK TO THE FUTURE
For me, early 1988 meant the beginning of a new era for me. I could write and program drum beats and organize these patterns into songs. I could then play various parts on a keyboard and record the MIDI performance with the sequencer.

Even more cool, I could create an entire show and perform along with my own mechanical band.

I’d have the DDD-1 with the drum programs. I’d have the SQD-1 with the sequences. Then, I could incorporate the 4-track into the mix, by having individual 5-minute tapes. On track 1, I’d have the time code. The time code was very important, because that signal would go through its own OUT, into the sequencer, and it would inform the sequencer on when to start, as well as the tempo. The drum machine would be slaved to the sequencer.

The chain, from top to bottom: 4-track > SQD-1 > DDD-1

The other three tracks on the 4-track could contain backup vocals or other sounds or instruments that I wanted to include in the song.

Finally, I could be a one-man band.

THE WORLD WAS CHANGING
While I was busy getting my own act together, the world was changing. Perfection was the new name of the game. Click tracks had been used prior to 1988, but were being implemented at a higher rate. Grids were being laid down for drummers and bands.

The history of the click track is unclear. Some say that bands in the 1960s were using a click. Bands like Led Zeppelin did not use a click, and the tempos of some songs can vary by as much as 10BPM.

Maybe it was an option before the 1980s. But eventually, it became a requirement.

What this meant for drummers and bands was that they would have to perform for the tape while staying in time with a click.

What this meant for music is that some of the feel would be gone.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 1988?
My project with Otis never got off the ground. He had struggles with his employer, and was being forced into a mega-commute from Sherman Oaks to Bakersfield every day. This meant that he had no time available to dedicate to the work. We’d work on it occasionally. But the whole situation was a mess.

I did get the musical completed, and we had a screening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The musical has been in production various times since then, and is undergoing a new iteration in 2018.

With my solo stuff, I did get out and perform them. It was fun for a while, although setting up was a lot of work. I did have a few problems with it. One problem was that I was missing out on the human interaction that occurs on stage with musicians when they are performing together. In my mind, I was hoping to look over and see Otis, since we had planned to do something like this together.

Dan-Eddie-Otis-RobinBaxter-Club88-1987.jpg
[L-R] Me [on the KORG], Eddie Davis on guitar, Otis on backup vocals, for The Robin Baxter Band, at Club 88 in Santa Monica [circa 1987]
My other problem was by far more subtle. The music was too perfect, too sterile to be enjoyed. There was no human feel to it.

TODAY
Drummers are tied to click tracks. Some play electronic drums, sparking the idea that maybe a drummer is not needed, beyond programming parts or beats that can be called back later with something like an Ableton Push.

Madeon is a personal favorite of mine.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?
For one, I’d recommend to all drummers to become proficient in performing with a click. Sometimes, I like to play along with tracks like the one above, so that the machine is keeping the beat and I am performing with it.

There is no putting this beast back into the box. You will be expected to perform with a click, in almost all cases. The exception will be situations such as open jams.

TIME-KEEPING
It is said that drummers are the time-keepers. There was a time when this was true, and the drummer decided if everyone was going to speed up, slow down, or hang where they all were. So long as the variation was not dramatic.

With a click, the drummer is free from the need to keep time, so long as they are able to lock in with the click. Once you get good enough to play with a click, you are then free to do whatever you want without the worries of time.

PROGRAMMING
Learn to program beats in sequencers, or in an Ableton Push. Also learn how to program variations in tempo. If you know how to program an accelerando or a ritardando, then you will be a hero.

The more programming, the better.

PRACTICE WITH A CLICK
Every musician should practice with a click. With my guitar studies, I will play certain things along with a click, and then record my progress.

In practicing with a click, you can improve on speed, but also improve on playing slower. Achieve at all relevant tempos.

This practice prepares you for performing or recording with a click, but it also prepares you for those times when you are not bound to a machine. This is why practicing with a click is so valuable, and must be a part of your routine.

WHAT ABOUT RECORDING?
You will probably have to record with a click. Very rare cases occur where this is not the case, but it is the industry standard to perform with a click for recordings.

FIXING ISSUES IN THE DAW
Ideally, you want to give a robust, solid performance that does not need to be edited. My philosophy is that if one note is off, then the whole thing needs to be performed again. However, sometimes editing is required, due to budgetary and time concerns.

This raises another question, which is “How far should you go?”

I had a track where there was a bass drum beat that was slightly ahead of the click. This was not noticed by anyone, until the engineer/producer looked at the grid and saw it.

No problem, or so he said, as he went in and fixed it. However, this caused a problem in the big mix, because the bass was locked into the bass drum. He fixed the bass, only to hear that the keyboard and guitar had also locked in.

He fixed everything. The end result was that it sounded horrible, when compared to the previous one.

We ended up re-recording the entire passage again. Looking back, we could have very easily left that alone, because the listening audience would never see the DAW grid, so they probably never would have noticed.

As Joe Walsh once told Howard Stern, when they were talking about how music has been changed with things like Pro Tools, “If Pro Tools existed when we started recording Hotel California, then we’d STILL be recording Hotel California.”

You need to know when to say when. “When” occurs when you like what you hear, to over-simplify it.

PR08 BOSS DB-12 Dr Beat Metronome.jpg
The BOSS DB-12 is a discontinued metronome. I bought it new for $80. You can find used ones online for about $6-$10.

THE METRONOME IS LIFE
Even if sequencers and click tracks were to magically die tomorrow, you would still want to continue practicing with a metronome.

I have a TON of metronomes, on top of the BOSS DB-12, pictured. My Korg Minilogue has a metronome/time clock, as does my BOSS BR-800 and BR-600 portable digital recorders. My DAW, REAPER, has a click/time clock. I’d have to dig through my inventory to find them all.

If you are looking for a metronome that is HIGHLY flexible and useful, then I’d recommend TEMPO by Frozen Ape.

I have TEMPO on my Android phone, as well as my iPad. It’s very flexible, because you can select the time, select the tempo, and select a click pattern.

You can also build a set list. There was a time when I was drumming in three bands. TEMPO was new, and I had gotten it. I built a set list for all three bands. I could run a show, or I could rehearse a song by just selecting it from the set list. Yes, the individual songs allow you to enter NAMES.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote a rather glowing review of this product online a few years back. The owner of Frozen Ape saw it and sent me a code to download a free app, which was probably worth less than $5. Still, it was something I received after writing the review, and so I feel that detail is worth disclosing.

IN THE END
Whether you decide to get TEMPO by Frozen Ape, or another metronome, or you use one that is built into one of the tools that you own, I would recommend that you always use something in your rehearsal.

You never know when you’ll have to record or perform to a click. You also never know when you won’t have a click to lean on, and will have to drive it all yourself.

Indeed, drumming has been mechanized. However the need to be able to match and maintain a tempo one’s own is still an essential ability for all drummers and musicians.

How to Become a Better Drummer

vatos.jpgI was watching Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, of Oingo Boingo, on a drumming channel, when he said something about how drummers who are “only drummers” are annoying.

To take this a step further, I would suggest that a drummer who only plays drums might very well be lacking in the musical language required to develop creative drum parts that serve a song.

Whether you’re a person who plays drums, or someone who creates beats with drum samples, having an ear for the music is key. Today, I’m going to be focusing solely on the live and studio drummer; a person who actually swings sticks.

In today’s blog, I will give you some pointers on what you can do to become a more interesting and effective drummer, and what will increase your chances of getting hired over someone else. This won’t be about auditions, or how to behave [be personable!], or how to dress, but rather about talents and abilities that YOU can bring to the table in order to be a more valuable player.

 

Dan Noodle Muffin Banjo 150808
Laying down a banjo track for Noodle Muffin’s upcoming 2018 release, “Meatbowl and His Donut Throne.”

LEARN HOW TO PLAY ANOTHER INSTRUMENT
Yes, that’s me playing the banjo on a recording. I’m not a great banjo player. We were recording, and during playback I heard a part in my head. So I picked up a banjo, found some notes, and practiced playing them in a way that I felt would sound good. After five minutes of practice, I got on the microphone and performed the part.

 

With Noodle Muffin, I started out as being their gig drummer in 2002. Since then, I’ve laid down tracks in Noodle Muffin sessions for drums, fretless bass, guitar, keyboard, trombone, banjo, percussion, vocals, voice acting, foley art, and more.

When I went to Ball State University to study Percussion Arts, my musical world has to be expanded beyond drums, and included music theory, ear training, and composition. It also involved developing a level of proficiency and understanding of other instruments, such as piano, marimba, and string bass.

If you are a drummer, and do not play another instrument, then I would encourage you to pick up another instrument and start learning. You DO NOT have to become a great player, or even a virtuoso. What you DO need to do is play the instrument, get comfortable with it, and then gain an understanding of the sounds that this instrument makes, and how they fit with the landscape and mix of the song.

This understanding will be followed by an internal question: How do my drums fit within the landscape and mix of the song?

This is where you figure out how to make others sound good in the song, which in turn makes you look fantastic.

 

tabb
The Andrea Ballard Band [TABB]
LEARN HOW TO PLAY FOR THE SONG
During my years in The Andrea Ballard Band, I found myself stepping outside of my pop/rock comfort zone, into a world that had more jazz and funk elements.

 

In this world, I knew that it would not be acceptable to simply lay down a 2-4 pattern.

Unfortunately, this band never recorded an album, at least not in this configuration, because the music was very interesting. There was an open element about it, where you’d have to let certain vocals “breathe” a bit. This was achieved by laying back on the snare and toms, releasing flourishes on the hi-hats, and providing some groove with the bass drum.

Each song got its own special treatment, which is how it should be, regardless of the style you are playing. Some songs may require a driving drum beat, and that’s fine. Other songs may require something different. That “something different” can be found within the context of the song.

AverageJoes02LEARN HOW TO SING WHILE PLAYING
This may seem like an impossible feat. You might be wondering how you add singing on top of your playing, because you perceive the situation to be a case where you are employing “limb independence.”

The truth is that drumming is all about rhythmic interdependence, or note relationships. For example, you can be playing 8th notes on your hi-hat. When you strike a snare or kick the bass, this is not accomplished by independently moving your wrist or foot. Instead, your snare or bass notes have a relationship with your hi-hat notes.

The best way to get started is to start singing! Learn how to sing a song that you know how to play on drums. Then, start putting the two together. It might be rough at first, and it could be rough for a while.

In the end, you’ll have two things on your mind. One is the rhythm/time/drum parts, and the other is the pitch and tone of your voice.

INTEGRATE MIDI, SEQUENCERS, AND SAMPLERS
Sometimes, having two things on your mind just isn’t enough. When I was drumming live with Noodle Muffin, I couldn’t just play drums. I also had electronic triggers on the drums. These were set up in a way where each acoustic drum also produced a unique electronic sound, depending on what was needed for the song.

A live Noodle Muffin show in the early 2000s was something to behold. With the exception of the bass player, everyone else had at least one other instrument. The violinist had a keyboard and sampler, the second guitarist had a keyboard and sampler and sang backups. The front man played guitar and sang, and sometimes moved to keyboards. My responsibilities were no exception.

My pads were set up in an interesting way. One of the brains was a Roland SPD-20. One of the guys also provided a sampler, as well as a sequencer. The brand names escape me, since this was around 2002-2003. There was also a Roland TMC-6, which could serve as a station to re-direct signals delivered from certain triggers or pads.

With them, there were moments on stage where I was drumming, setting off the sampler, setting off the sequencer, playing melodic notes on the SPD-20, and singing backup vocals.

Obviously, drumming and singing were part of rehearsals. But so was striking trigger pads and changing programs for each song, which called for its own set of unique instruments, voices, samples, and loops.

Rehearsal also involved practicing set-up and tear-down of the gear, which took significantly longer.

The more you can bring to the table, the higher your value becomes.

EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
Do you have a tight focus on a specific genre? There is nothing wrong with this, except that it will limit your possibilities and opportunities.

When you have some solo time to play your instrument, as part of your practice routine, try integrating one song that is outside of your norm, and play that song for 15 minutes. Loop it 4-5 times, and play it. If it feels weird and uncomfortable, then keep it in your practice routine until it feels more natural.

When it feels more natural, replace it.

Do you play a shuffle beat? I rarely do. But when it comes up, I have to put additional focus on the act of simply playing a shuffle for a while and getting re-acquainted with it.

SET SOME GOALS
Take some of these suggestions and set goals for yourself, based on what you want to do. Don’t try to achieve all of it at once. It takes a long time to build your abilities to the point where you can do some of these things seamlessly.

Some things, like singing while drumming, is easy. You can sit at your desk and tap your hands while singing the song in your head. Doing this can help you find the rhythmic relationships of the notes that you’ll need to sing.

Other aspects, such as integrating samplers and sequencers, can take more time and technical experimentation.

Don’t be that drummer who only knows drums, and who can only keep a beat. Be something more. Be a musician!

If you need consultation on anything noted here, including gear tips, set-up tips, and more, then please consider contacting me via my website. I offer a variety of services, and fees can be set based on need, time, and budget considerations. First email is free.