Creative Freedom

TsarBomba

Junior Member
I'm sure this has been discussed, in some form or another, but here's my dead horse.

I'm a relative newbie, I've only been playing for about 6 yrs. I've taken about 4 yrs. of regular lessons with excellent drummers and I've worked very hard - averaging about 2 hrs. of practice every night, 6 nights a week. I've played in several local bands covering different styles, and have played dozens of live shows locally and elsewhere in-state. It's not that I expect riches, fame, and rock-stardom...I just love to play and get a great deal of satisfaction from musical creativity and live performance. It's a hobby...but I don't do anything half-arsed once I take an interest in it...it's just how I am.

That said; I'm looking for advice from you veteran musicians out there as to what I should expect in terms of creative freedom, when playing in a band and helping orchestrate the original music we work on. How much input can the drummer expect to offer on his/her own drum parts? Keep the context in mind. I'm not playing in professional bands that make (or expect to make) any money. There is no label or producer. I'm not going on tour...I never intend to quit my day job. For me, this is strictly a creative and social outlet.

The situation I find myself in now is somewhat familiar...it has happened with a couple of other groups I've gotten together with as a full-timer. I hooked up with a guitarist and his bassist friend and we've all clicked really well musically and personally, though we've only played a few times now. I'm receiving an unusual amount of "coaching" on what type of grooves to play, fills...pretty much everything. Almost all of it comes from the bassist, though they both do it. This tends to grate on my nerves. I can take suggestions and actually welcome them! If I try to insert a part and someone has a better idea, I'm all for suggestions. What I *don't* like is constant nit-picking, as if it's the first time I've sat down at the drums and I have no ideas of my own. It's my attitude that as a drummer, the drum parts should mostly come from me - it's my only creative input in the process. I should at *least* get a chance to throw my ideas in, refine them, and work them out. I always tell people - if something I do sucks, please feel free to suggest something better. If what I play is so very wrong that I'm allowed little-to-no input on it, I must be in the wrong band. Right?

In my last original band I would say that 85% of my parts were mine and the rest were bandmate ideas. I was never more happy or creatively fulfilled with a music project. I worked very hard on that band, and refined and improved everything I could find room for, as time went on. I was regularly complimented for playing tastefully and sounding good. No one, including my bandmates, ever told me that my parts didn't fit and I should replace it with such-and-such.

I always try to approach the songs with a basic groove idea and added parts that I think best compliment the songs, without getting in the way. I'm not just stroking my ego and trying to do my worst Neil Peart impression, on stage. I want the *songs* to be great...even if that means hitting the 2 & 4 for four minutes straight.

So, is my attitude all wrong? Should I be given the opportunity to build my own parts for a song, or am I expected to yield most or all of the creative control of the drums to the rest of the band? I spoke up the first time we got together because it was almost constant - "Play this beat...then play this fill there....then do this pattern through the solo...", and so on. I politely asked them to trust me and give me a chance to respond to what they're doing. The last practice was the bassist doing the same thing. I ignored him after a while and he gave up. He complimented me on my ideas later...lol! It's a little discouraging and I'm not sure if I'm wasting my time on this, even though I think the project and people involved have a lot of potential for great music and fun. I've come to you guys to get a feel of whether or not I'm justified in bringing it up again, the next time we get together.

Thoughts? Thanks, all!
 

Angus Macinnes

Senior Member
All I can say is good luck. I would remind the bass player I dont tell him how to play the bass so leave the drums to me. If they dont like that then maybe it is time to move on. Just my wee thought on the matter. Oh BTW welcome to the forums.
 

wsabol

Gold Member
Sometimes the songwriter already has an idea for a drum part or knows what king of feel they want. You should definitely try to respect that. But, your input should be respected as well, especially as an equal member of the band. There have only been a handful of times where a band leader has told me to what kind of groove to play, in 90+% of the cases, I've been able to play whatever I felt. I think that's normal.

You aren't a drum machine; you're a musician. They can't program parts for every song and expect you to be ok with that.
 

TsarBomba

Junior Member
Start your own band and have all of the freedom you want.
I did start this, technically. I put the ad on Craigslist and the guitarist responded. He already knew the bassist and reeled him in. The guitarist is writing most of the music and the bassist has thrown a couple of his own ideas for songs.

Sometimes the songwriter already has an idea for a drum part or knows what king of feel they want. You should definitely try to respect that. But, your input should be respected as well, especially as an equal member of the band. There have only been a handful of times where a band leader has told me to what kind of groove to play, in 90+% of the cases, I've been able to play whatever I felt. I think that's normal.

You aren't a drum machine; you're a musician. They can't program parts for every song and expect you to be ok with that.
Yeah, I don't mind that at all. "I like this type of beat on this song..." They do that and I do my best to accommodate. However, last time, the bassist was walking me through all of my parts for a song, right down to complaining how I used the ride instead of the hats during the first half of a guitar solo. The guitarist liked what I was doing...he said to leave it alone. I get that kind of stuff constantly from him. He's a drummer himself, of course, so I get the impression he feels he knows what fits better than I do. Ugh.

All I can say is good luck. I would remind the bass player I dont tell him how to play the bass so leave the drums to me. If they dont like that then maybe it is time to move on. Just my wee thought on the matter. Oh BTW welcome to the forums.
Thanks! I like that. It reminds me of a line I heard on that HBO show "Treme" that was on a few years ago. The drummer zings another band member, "How about I hit the 2 and the 4, and you just shut the f@#$ up?".

BTW: Not new to the forums, but thanks. :) I have another account that I might soon retire. Been around since 2006 or so.
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
.... I'm receiving an unusual amount of "coaching" on what type of grooves to play, fills...pretty much everything. Almost all of it comes from the bassist, though they both do it.
I don't get a lot of suggestions from people I've played with other than "skip the crashes on the chorus" kind of stuff (which I welcome).

If I am playing with people I consider to be more talented and/or experienced than me or if I am playing their song, I will do whatever they want. If it's a normal band situation it's usually a free for all.

From my end, I tell the guitarists/bass to turn up or down but that's usually about it.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
tl;dr

But I will, and my response will be long as not only have I wrested with this in the past, but I have a maddening situation atm that is cutting the other way.

I just wanted to say great topic. And great username!

... later the same day ...

First off, I'm in this racket for exactly the reasons you stated: creative outlet and a social hang with people I like. No intent of quitting my day job or hitting the big leagues.

I generally shy away from projects that have a leader as I'm more interested in collaborating than taking direction, though like you, I always hear out and try what's suggested. I played in a band once with one song where my entire drum part was written by the guitar player. It was an epic part and there was nothing to be gained by trying to deny it. That was also the only band I've been in that were willing to play my songs, so that was a fun situation.

The most successful band I ever played in (records, nation recognition, tours, etc) had a leader (band's namesake) who was also a drummer. Other than wanting different tempos here and there, he never got in my grille telling what to do or not do. He trusted my judgement enough to give me free reign, apparently. I was always very thankful for that experience and that's really what I've come to expect in a project.

I've definitely played in other situations where I felt micromanaged and I've resented it every time. I always end up quitting projects that roll that way.

I'm in a band now that functions pretty well where I have a lot of trust in the guy doing the writing and he almost never feels the need to tell me what to play. But recently we've been working on a song that was initially based on a Peter Erskine fragment I lifted with an 8th note pulse (it's 4/4) The third part of the song alternates between 6/8 and 5/8, maintaining the 8ths. But the guitar player/singer came up with a 2nd part that's a 9/8 subdivided into three groups of three accented on the 1s of those subdivisions, so the pulse feels like dotted 8ths. This drives me crazy because it feels like all the mojo's got up and left.

Up until this song, the MO has always been sort out the parts before putting vocals on there, but this time the vocals are already there and he's been unwilling to modify that part because of it. My first intuition was to to add an 8th note and make two groups of 5. Then when I couldn't get buy-in for that idea, I tried smoothing out those 3s to keep a constant 8th note pulse and maintain that continuity, but no go. Seems like he'll only be happy if I bend to his will and cave into something that I don't like. Mind you, I don't make a habit of objecting to parts of songs we're trying to work out, but on those occasions where I've thought of something that I thought was an improvement, I've been shot down and let it go. This time, though, I'm ready to just boycott this song altogether because not only do I not like what it's doing rhythmically in that part, I don't like the way it feels like this effort is no longer a collaboration. It's not like I'm altering the melody (the notes and the order in which they're played), it's just phrasing of the rhythm I'm trying to modify - just to make it better match the other parts.

In fact, I'm wondering how much of a future we have if I can't have a say in the way a song lays in time - surely I will be met with more stonewalling as we move to other songs in the future, right?

Anyway, this definitely gets into the issue of telling others what to play on their instruments. It's a matter of coordinating everyone's parts to make a cohesive whole. To that end, it's important for all players to give and take input and sharing ownership. When the input ledger gets too skewed in one direction, then it's less of a collaboration and someone's creative input is going to get pushed to the margins.

That sucks.
 
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Zero Mercury Drummer

Senior Member
I think it depends very much on your bandmates, and how much respect they show when telling you how to play. The drummer is usually the one to have "suggestions" thrown at him/her. It just comes with the territory.
I find you have to stand up for yourself while employing diplomacy. I always take something in a positive way. But I have had bandmates in various bands put me down- I won't tolerate that.

Every band is different. I believe you need people that support and value your input. If they continually boss you around, quit. It's not worth it.

Overall, you can't be too "precious" with your parts. When a bass player tells me to play quarters instead of eighths on the hats, I do it to keep him comfortable. If he tells me its too fast- I listen. Depending on the music, the drums are supportive role for the singers and soloists, so we should play appropriately. That doesn't mean be complacent and boring though. This is one of the challenges of playing music.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Tough spot.

But "writing drum parts" is really not a collaboration in a sense; rhythm already exists in the guitar riff, bass line, chord progression, or melody, so really you're just finding a suitable accompaniment.

If there's a bunch of discussion about the drum parts, then there's probably an issue with the music. The sexiest groove in the world can't save a poorly written or passe song idea. You can ride the hi-hats, the ride, or the floor tom, but if it's a weird or boring piece of music it will sound weird and boring.

There are lots of songwriters who would rather turn the attention to the drums than think of ways to make their material more interesting before they've brought it to the band. I've sat in basements and studios trying to make songs work for hours on end, but the best material seems to come quickly.

And we all know that bandmates can get carried away with complexity. It's perfectly reasonable to say "hey, I've gone along with 98% of the ideas you've brought, so you should trust a fresh perspective at this point, because, after all, we're here, we're friends, and we're the best you've got".

One last thought: the best medicine is knowing how to play guitar and/or keys.
 

dmacc

Platinum Member
A lot of what I'd say has already been said and I'll try not to repeat.

Some of this is based on the people's personalities; Some of this is based on trust which develops with time; Some of this depends on role.

I've done a TON of original projects. From my experience I had to strike a balance. I would and do always listen to the writers suggestions - especially if there are vocal parts. Some cases it would end up with a hybrid of my ideas along with theirs. Sometimes not.

As time moved along I was trusted to do what I want but was asked that "in this section of the song I'd like something like this". Which again, turns into a collaborative effort.

If you are part of the writing / arranging process then that could mean something different than someone bringing in an almost finished song as their own product.

There are people though who's personalities and ideas clash though and if the situation isn't right for you, time to move onto one that is.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
They kind of need to butt out and let you play. It's like having a conversation and them telling you what to say. Assuming that a) you're not getting paid, b) the band is a coequal thing, c) someone is not writing the material with a specific drum part in mind, d) you are not playing really badly-- comments from the other musicians about what you should play should be rare. Tell them you feel like you're being micro-managed, and that you'd like see how it goes developing your parts without any comments for awhile.
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
. If he tells me its too fast- I listen.

One of the first things I do is to document all tempos just to make sure we stay on the same page.

If the bass player is feeling sluggish that day, or the guitar player has had too much caffeine, I have a 100% defined reference point. Then I know where the problem lies and can fix it.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
If it were me, I'd start telling them what to play and when. Be really annoying about it. When they get fed up, you can ask how fun it is to have someone else dictate your parts.

I think originals come out best when everyone has a say in everything. I would never keep my mouth shut if I had an idea for a melody, or structure I'd want it tried. If it didn't work, I'd drop it. In the same way, when the guys ask me to play something, I either think it works, or tell them I don't think that really fits as well as it did in their head.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
One of the first things I do is to document all tempos just to make sure we stay on the same page.

If the bass player is feeling sluggish that day, or the guitar player has had too much caffeine, I have a 100% defined reference point. Then I know where the problem lies and can fix it.
LOL. This sounds like military stuff. Is there an SOP book for how the bass player should be standing?

Just ribbin ya. No offense. If I remember right, you're a leo or similar anyway and used to fixing problems in short ways.
 

eclipseownzu

Gold Member
I have been doing the original band thing for a long time. I have been in 3 different bands over the last 20+ years, and each one was vastly different. In one band I would play different grooves over the riffs until I hit on one the main songwriter liked. That then became the drum track for that song. Dynamics were often dictated as well as how a lead in or transition fill should feel. In this band we all got this treatment because the guy was a good songwriter and I think we all really liked his vision.

In the last two bands I have had complete creative control. I am always open to suggestions however, and when they do come I will listen and try to take in what they are saying. I am also the main lyric writer in my current band so that gives me an even higher level of creative control.

Each band will be different, but it is important to realize what you are getting into before you agree to jaoin any band.
 

TsarBomba

Junior Member
Each band will be different, but it is important to realize what you are getting into before you agree to jaoin any band.
That's a great point. I do tend to "jump in" if I really dig the music and the people seem friendly, and a connection has been made. I know when someone likes what I'm doing too, even if it's unspoken, because they'll ask to leave their gear at my place. I take that as silent approval. In this case, I got great, positive feedback from both of them as well as, "Can I park my stuff here?" Now if it doesn't work out, I have to put them (and me) through that awkward walk-of-shame to come and pick up their stuff.

If it were me, I'd start telling them what to play and when. Be really annoying about it. When they get fed up, you can ask how fun it is to have someone else dictate your parts.
I wouldn't go that far, they're not being d-bags about it...they're just laying it on too thick for comfort. The guitarist has thus far been open to suggestions when I have them...which has maybe been once or twice. I really don't care what the bassist is doing, as long as it's in time and not ridiculous attention-grabbing mush...I guess that's why it rubs me the wrong way when he pores over every part I try to play.

I think originals come out best when everyone has a say in everything. I would never keep my mouth shut if I had an idea for a melody, or structure I'd want it tried. If it didn't work, I'd drop it. In the same way, when the guys ask me to play something, I either think it works, or tell them I don't think that really fits as well as it did in their head.
Yeah, I agree. I've been interjecting myself into the arrangement process (though not lyrics...not really interested in that.) At first I think they found it a little weird...what's this guy up to? He's a drummer...he can't have arrangement ideas!? LOL. I'm curious how this will play out...because it *is* supposed to be a collaborative effort.

They kind of need to butt out and let you play. It's like having a conversation and them telling you what to say. Assuming that a) you're not getting paid, b) the band is a coequal thing, c) someone is not writing the material with a specific drum part in mind, d) you are not playing really badly-- comments from the other musicians about what you should play should be rare. Tell them you feel like you're being micro-managed, and that you'd like see how it goes developing your parts without any comments for awhile.
You nailed it...great response, thanks. It's a rock trio, so we really are having a conversation. I'm not just boom-bap timekeeping through every song, I'm actually partaking in the music. I'm definitely going to speak up when it happens again.

There are people though who's personalities and ideas clash though and if the situation isn't right for you, time to move onto one that is.
Thanks, dmacc...I certainly agree with that.

One last thought: the best medicine is knowing how to play guitar and/or keys.
Another great point: I do need to learn a little guitar so I can throw more melodic ideas at bandmates. I have those ideas, I just don't know how to play or convey them. It'd be fun and would make me more valuable.

I think it depends very much on your bandmates, and how much respect they show when telling you how to play. The drummer is usually the one to have "suggestions" thrown at him/her. It just comes with the territory.
I find you have to stand up for yourself while employing diplomacy. I always take something in a positive way. But I have had bandmates in various bands put me down- I won't tolerate that.
Completely agree with you here.

Overall, you can't be too "precious" with your parts. When a bass player tells me to play quarters instead of eighths on the hats, I do it to keep him comfortable. If he tells me its too fast- I listen. Depending on the music, the drums are supportive role for the singers and soloists, so we should play appropriately. That doesn't mean be complacent and boring though. This is one of the challenges of playing music.
I'm not...I don't think anything I'm doing is brilliant or mindblowing. The types of adjustments you're talking about are more than reasonable...and expected. I'm getting a great deal more input from them, than that. You're right - it is very challenging to play appropriately yet tastefully...it's the balance I'm always striking for and working hard to achieve. That's the part of music I love most, as a drummer!

tl;dr

But I will, and my response will be long as not only have I wrested with this in the past, but I have a maddening situation atm that is cutting the other way.

I just wanted to say great topic. And great username!
Thanks Mike...and great response.

... later the same day ...

First off, I'm in this racket for exactly the reasons you stated: creative outlet and a social hang with people I like. No intent of quitting my day job or hitting the big leagues.

I generally shy away from projects that have a leader as I'm more interested in collaborating than taking direction, though like you, I always hear out and try what's suggested.

The most successful band I ever played in (records, nation recognition, tours, etc) had a leader (band's namesake) who was also a drummer. Other than wanting different tempos here and there, he never got in my grille telling what to do or not do. He trusted my judgement enough to give me free reign, apparently. I was always very thankful for that experience and that's really what I've come to expect in a project.
It's sounds like we're similarly-minded drummers...scary! Haha. It's what I've come to expect, too. I'm not a super-busy player but I'm not a machine, either. I try to achieve the best of both worlds - tasty, unique playing...but also with a super deep pocket and very memorable groove. I try to be the best parts of my favorite drummers who have played in my favorite songs. I love great songs...drum solos, 4-measure tom roll fills, and other flashy stuff I care very little about. We're musicians too, so I'm really turned off by the attitude that we're something less, when I encounter it.

In fact, I'm wondering how much of a future we have if I can't have a say in the way a song lays in time - surely I will be met with more stonewalling as we move to other songs in the future, right?

Anyway, this definitely gets into the issue of telling others what to play on their instruments. It's a matter of coordinating everyone's parts to make a cohesive whole. To that end, it's important for all players to give and take input and sharing ownership. When the input ledger gets too skewed in one direction, then it's less of a collaboration and someone's creative input is going to get pushed to the margins.

That sucks.
Agreed...

Interesting anecdote - I've been in similar situations where I've had to just ignore a weird request because it's just flat-out lame, cliche, whatever. It's only happened a couple of times so far, but if I've ignored it, it got dropped and everyone seemed just as happy, regardless. I'd say you're in a jam, if someone is that uncompromising. Have you tried recording both versions and presenting it to the whole band for an objective critique? I've never experienced a complete impasse in creative collaboration.

Thanks for all the input, everyone! Very helpful. I feel justified in making my case when the time arrives.
 

groove1

Silver Member
An analogy I think of is watching someone showing someone how to dance. The extremes
might be just saying "dance" and allowing the person to do whatever they want versus
put your foot here and then do this and this etc. In music it's nice to have a balance between
those extremes. I play jazz and with the best musicians I play with there are no restrictions on anything.....although there is an anticipation that it will be tasteful and make some kind of musical sense. With others, some rules are applied. If there isn't enough room for personal
expression in the majority of the tunes I was playing, I wouldn't want to do it regardless of
the genre. From 1962 - 68 I also played and toured with rock bands. We played covers but performed them in our own way, never playing them the same way twice. This offered the audience familiarity with the tunes but gave us plenty of room to "weave a story". I've always
thought that was the best compromise. Play for the people and have fun.
 

drummer-russ

Gold Member
I had a similar experience this past winter. The singer could play the drums. He was getting more annoying about input to me and even sat down to show me one time. After he did that the writer of the song said "no I like what he (me) was doing better." That gave me some comfort but in the end the singer was just too much of a jerk. He really was not that good at singing. So, I am no longer with that band. Life is too short to let a**holes mess up your fun.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Tsar, you sound like a good dude. Could it be a passive aggressive power move? I mean YOU spearheaded this right? Are you rehearsing at your place? Is it possible that the other guys want to establish themselves as more "leader" than you? You could be honest about things. Just state facts. I like to come up with my own drum parts. I don't mind you suggesting HOW to play, (quiet, loud, push it, lay it back) but mostly, I need to play WHAT I hear it naturally. If you aren't liking how I approach your songs, perhaps we are not suited for each other. Because I can't be happy in a band that dictates my parts. Could you?

Just a suggestion.
 
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