Are we being dumbed down?


Senior Member
People tend to get "lazied" down. That is, not practice eclectic styles or practice effectively. The general attitude seems to be wanting instant results. Drumming gets dumbed down enough from the outside. Non drummers have no clue how much work it takes to be a great drummer, vs a simple time keeper flailing on bronze and mylar.
You read my mind trick, non-musicians/musically inclined people really have no idea what it takes not just to be a good drummer but how much effort, talent, and TIME it takes to make music of any kind...its just not within their realm of understanding. Just like how I can never comprehend how people can work IT jobs for 8 hours a day sitting down the whole time maintaining networks, i could never allow myself to be in that position. Its not that I dont respect their abilities, its just that my head would probably explode trying to comprehend all of that technical crap they need to do their job... the same thing that happens when someone with no musical background watches Jojo myer or Terry Bozzio or any of the elite drummers out there.

In no way is drumming dumbed down by all the information out there about it, if anything the bar is being raised even higher than ever before, and new technology (AXIS pedals, electronics, etc) has and will open up many new possibilities for everyone. The playing field is so much more level than it was 5 or 10 years ago...


Gold Member
Most of the great drummers had a lot of opportunities available to them that the average joe stickpack doesn't today. First of all, the scene was very different back then. A lot of underage kids could sneak into bars and see what was going on. The great drummers were all located in a few central locations (most notably NYC), and if you wanted to play jazz, you went to one of those places. Jam sessions went all night, and people were encouraged to get up and play. Also, according to Miles' autobiography, it was pretty common for an older musician to take a younger guy under his wings, and sit and chat with him about music, show him stuff, and get him up on stage.

Now you don't have that. But, instead of all of that, you have books, DVDs, clinics, and private instructors. You can't go to 42nd Street and wander the clubs and in one night see Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, and Philly Joe Jones, then go and sit in with Bud Powell for a few songs, all within walking distance of each other.

On one hand, it took a lot more work back then to get into that scene than it does to buy a DVD. On the other hand, a lot of those guys, once they got into the scene, were basically carried along, and didn't have to keep pushing themselves. They all pushed each other. But because of that, you also have to see that it takes a lot more self-motivation and dedication to sit and work through a book or DVD by yourself, with no one really pushing you.

I don't think it's easier, or harder. I just think it's different.


I'd say that the core of this discussion is that there is really no substitute for listening and playing. Alot. But, I believe there's always room to improve your drum vocabulary, regardless of how that knowledge comes to you; teacher, book, DVD or good ol' playalong. Your own voice will only develop with repitition and internalization of any and all styles. A lifetime of experience can't be learned from a book, but it don't hurt to hear what that lifetime has to offer you. Great thread for finding your own musical voice!

John Riley

John Riley here:

This is a very interesting, but somewhat perplexing, discussion.

If you even knew that the drum set existed before there were recordings, not to mention books, DVDs and the internet, the only way to learn how to play the drum set was: you had to see someone doing it in person. Unless you happened lived along the Mississippi, and could hear Baby Dodds on a riverboat, your odds were pretty long.

Of course, having access to information is helpful and we have more access than ever before; I am grateful for it. The result is that people everywhere are able to get good information, from reliable sources, so it's easier for more people to achieve a high level of competency then it was in the past.

Achieving a high level of competency is different from making a musical statement or finding your own voice. Living life, understanding music as a whole - not just being dexterous on the kit - and getting a lot of guidance from and experience playing with people more advanced than you are the critical components that lead to wise musical decisions once the basic skills are solid.

Recordings, books and DVDs offer us all kinds of information so that the process of acquiring skills and wisdom isn't so mysterious. Still one must have a clear direction in mind and prioritize so that they make the best use of their practice time. Getting good, on any instrument, is a long, lonely, solitary act. Becoming a musician is done with a group on the bandstand.

It is a flawed, romantic, notion to think that all the old timers were artists; we know who the few artists were - memory of all the clones and simply good players has faded. It's also a flawed notion to think that there are no artists today, I would guess that the proportions are about the same as they've always been. The difference today is that we get distracted because of our access to so many players that are truely exceptional, really mind blowing, in one dimension of playing but not complete musicians. I imagine memory will forget them just like it always has.

Are we being dumbed down by access to too much material? There are more virtuoso drummers today than ever. I wish the materials available today had been available when I was a kid - my understanding and growth would have been faster. Access to information can't be a bad thing. Perhaps it appears that we are being dumbed down simply because, for too many drummers, becoming a virtuoso has become the goal. The goal should be to become an exceptional musician who happens to express their musicality from behind a drum kit. One should focus on identifying the music they love. Then search out every source: listen to, read books by, watch DVDs and go see live the masters of that idiom - not just the drummers, but all the instrumentalists - to understand what the music calls for and to learn what to practice and how it should sound. Then get as much experience playing as possible. If you have the tools, the mindset and the inspiration, you will find your own voice - just like in the riverboat days.


Platinum Member
Thank you for coming in & putting it all in perspective, John.

Virtuosity so often becomes the be all end all with so many of us & it is here that we perhaps need more hand holding, course correction and a recallibration of musical goals.

Coming from you who 'wrote the book of knowledge' so to speak, and a drummer who commands universal respect & admiration as a player, this should be a must-read post for every drummer.

Thanks again.

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
John Riley here:

Achieving a high level of competency is different from making a musical statement or finding your own voice. Living life, understanding music as a whole - not just being dexterous on the kit - and getting a lot of guidance from and experience playing with people more advanced than you are the critical components that lead to wise musical decisions once the basic skills are solid.
I spent YEARS working on technical competency while practically ignoring the entire reason why I started playing a musical instrument. It took the birth of my daughter to snap me out of my technical obsession. I finally realized that, if a musician is supposed to express his feelings via his instrument it sure helps to have some feelings to express.

Thank you, Mr. Riley, for putting this in historical and practical perspective.


Platinum Member
Thanks John for your insight and putting it all in perspective.

Not only do we have all these wonderful books, of which John's are some of the best. We have the internet, and Drummerworld, where we can access this stuff, and interact with some of the finest players and teachers out there.

I think for a lot of drummers, drumming as a vocation was not a reality because we really didn't know where to go to get the goods. There were so few schools where you could study drum set. And they were very expensive. It's on one level frustrating to know that all this material was out there if you knew where to find it; while it's liberating to be able to access this information on such a mass level, and discuss it with other drummers. The future of drumming is so exciting. :)


Platinum Member
I am currently working with a highly schooled guitar player. Everything that he plays is perfectly correct. When I listen to the recordings, There is no feeling. The others in the band feel the same way. We are encouraging him to be a bit looser when he plays. There has to be a balance between technique and feeling.


Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
Quote, "...If you have the tools, the mindset and the inspiration, you will find your own voice - just like in the riverboat days."

This is exactly the problem I see with som amny posts about, "how does Joey get that sanre sound, or how does xxx get that bass drum sound" It seems to me that the younger guys just want to copy whats out there rather than work on their own sound.
In the context of the thread , that is dumb. Today it is so easy to type Google get an answer and move on rather than do the research and learn something. Again that is dumb.


Gold Member
Coming from an old (47 year old) drummer...

Waaayyyyy back in the '70's, the thing to do for a beginning student was to enroll in beginning band in school, get a teacher or find a mentor - usually an older kid, and buy some books on snare drumming, and practice, practice, practice. Rolls, rudiments, flams, paradiddles, etc. Three things were taught: reading music and note values, listening and playing by ear, and how to tune a drum properly. Then came the drum set lessons. Usually Jazz. The private instructors taught some basic rock, but it was usually jazz or jazz fusion. "The Drummer's Cookbook" was very popular, as was "Haskell Harr's Drum Method for Band and Orchestra" for snare drumming.

Keep in mind this was the early to late 1970's - no lessons via internet (as we know it now), DVDs, VCRs, etc.

I was told to find some LPs by Buddy Rich, Sandy Nelson, or any of the jazz greats and listen and play along. That would develop the listening skills.

Old school? Sure, but it worked!

wy yung

Ok, maybe the title of my post is a bit harsh, and it's not an accurate or fair way to describe my thoughts - but I couldn't think of anything else...

Is there too much information just handed to us drummers on a plate? When I read all the stories and interviews of all the greats (Tony, Elvin, Philly Joe), all I hear about is them putting on records of music they love, and assimilating their favourite drummers. Building technique with just Stick Control, Rudiments and Syncopation (Alan Dawson), and using a bloody good ear.

I get worried with so much great material about in book form, that people (including myself) are finding it all too easy to just pick up Art Of Bop Drumming and work through the comping in that, rather than do what all the greats did, just use their ears. I'm not having a dig at the authors of these books, I love them! The books are incredible. But every time I pick up a book (one of many!) I just think to myself deep down...This is too easy. This can't be right. Just reading through this book, repeating the patterns, manipulating them, trying to internalise what's already been given to me. John Riley's done all the hard work.
It just doesn't seem as...noble...if that's the right word? I can't help thinking that maybe there's a direct correlation with the amount of books and info that's handed to us today, and the fact that there will never be another golden era.

I'm not talking about a solution that would be "don't forget to do your daily hour of transcribing". I'm talking about what all the greats did - 8 hours a day of solid listening and internalising by ear, probably without slowing things down too.

I'm sorry if I've caused a stir, I'm not annoyed with all the books! I love them, especially John Riley's books, Stick Control, Master Studies, Syncopation, The Weaker Side, Mike Clark, Afro-Cuban Rhythms For Drumset, Groove Essentials, The New Breed, Wilcoxon. Books that break down your vocabulary and build it back up from the very core. I just often wonder what will help me develop my own tasteful voice more efficiently. A lifetime worth of study for 10.99? It seems fishy. And I know it's easy to say do both. But you get like 8 lifetimes worth of studying in 8 different books and it's not easy to turn your back on that.

I hope I haven't made a fool of myself.
Love you all! :D


Interesting but I think I must disagree. The most effective way to improve is to study and practice combined with live experience. No matter how much material exists, simply reading it will not help one become a better drummer. There's no shortcut.

Personally I like having as many books as I can get. I spend lots of money on buying books and keeping up to date. Usually I will expose students to various, say 3 to 5 pages of a particular book and if the method and information suits a student they can then buy and work from that book. This saves me having to write everything down. ;-) That way regular rock beats and funk grooves, jazz exercises are already there and I can then write more individualised parts.

I love all the books and wish there were more. Especially devoted to ethnic percussion. For ex' I really want to learn Italian tambourine. Haven't found a book yet.