Drums, a precision instrument

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
You know, for all the bashing, hitting and wailing that drumsets get, it takes some real precision to coax good sounds and rhythms from them. For instance, one of my latest realizations:
When playing a backbeat pattern on kick, snare and (closed) hats, if I open my hats slightly...just an 8th of an inch.... as I play the backbeat on 2 and 4...that totally changes the feel of the beat I was just playing. It really fattens it up. Very useful. It's just a tiny little movement, but it makes a big difference in the way the beat sounds. That's what I'm talking about here. How extremely small movements and precision stick placement on the drums and cymbals have a major effect on the sound.

Rimshots have to be accurate within probably an 8th of an inch to sound just right. That's not much room for error. You know how it is if your snare drum is not tilted just right, or your throne is too low...you just can't hit those rimshots consistently. You have to be really precise and very consistent to land your stick so it hits the rim and head at the same time, at the proper place, with the right amount of volume, at the exact right time for the song. And there's quite a few backbeats in just one song to get just right.
If you get excited and play a fill with too much volume, it can kill it. If you miss a rimshot by a hair and drop a backbeat, it's very noticeable.
The drums are very unforgiving as an instrument, unlike a bass guitar.

I just wanted to highlight the other side of drumming (opposite of what Animal from the Muppets projects) that involves precise placement and very controlled movements to make a great sounding/feeling beat.

Playing drums takes almost all my brainpower. I know because if someone asks me a question in the middle of a song, I just can't blurt out an answer, I have to wait until I can coordinate my speech so it doesn't throw my drumming off. Singers will never understand that. I really wish people wouldn't try conversing with me as I'm playing. My brain teeters on the verge of crashing lol.
 

THC

Senior Member
That expalins why I'm having such a hard time learning this glorious and beautiful instrument.

As a beginner, I couldn't agree with you more. About 90% of everything I play sounds like pure crap. Even when played in time. All that delicate micro-timing and stick placement is tough and makes all the difference in the world.
Even making a simple flam sound good at this stage is tough.
 

Travis22

Senior Member
I totally agree with you, Larry. A lot of people don't understand just how difficult it is to play a drumset, and do it well. I liked how you brought up talking while playing. In Middle School I was taking lessons for jazz drumming and my instructor would always test me every session with this. He'd have me play some sort of pattern with a click going and then start asking me questions. The trick was I hand to answer right away as if I wasn't playing and I couldn't budge the tempo or talk in rythmn...EXTREMELY difficult. I'd suggest everyone try it sometime. Try playin the easiest pattern you know and giving someone your address and phone number verbally while not messing up your groove or the tempo.
 

Average

Senior Member
I agree Larry. Once you get to a level where you have the chops to play what is in your head, there is this whole process of refinement that you have to go through and you've described it pretty well.

Getting that consistent sound from measure to measure and beat to beat with a good balance between the voices of the instrument is where the attention to minute details comes in. It is also where playing with an ergonomic setup and technique makes all the difference.

I was out at the studio the other day and I came to a realization about why younger or less experienced drummers play so loudly. There is a shortcut that younger drummers take to developing that touch - they play loud as hell. If you hit everything at maximum volume every time it is going to be a very consistent sound. There was a guy at the studio playing so loud it was unbelievable. We measured it at 112 decibels from where the singer was standing. WTF? They couldn't turn the monitors up loud enough so that she could hear herself singing. So they asked him to play quieter and it all fell apart. He no longer sounded like a good, consistent drummer and his problems were glaring. It makes me wonder about some of the famously loud drummers.
 

Fuo

Platinum Member
I totally agree with you, Larry. A lot of people don't understand just how difficult it is to play a drumset, and do it well. I liked how you brought up talking while playing. In Middle School I was taking lessons for jazz drumming and my instructor would always test me every session with this. He'd have me play some sort of pattern with a click going and then start asking me questions. The trick was I hand to answer right away as if I wasn't playing and I couldn't budge the tempo or talk in rythmn...EXTREMELY difficult. I'd suggest everyone try it sometime. Try playin the easiest pattern you know and giving someone your address and phone number verbally while not messing up your groove or the tempo.
I get challenged like this every time my wife comes home while I'm practicing :|

And yea... don't forget about the precision involved in tuning...

shell roundness
bearing head quality
hoop roundness
hoop flatness
head choice
head rim roundness/flatness
having the best tuning key for metal
tuning the head with itself
tuning the head with the other head
tuning the drum with the other drums
snare tension
muffling

ugh too many variables. i miss guitar sometimes.
 

eddiehimself

Platinum Member
The drums are very unforgiving as an instrument, unlike a bass guitar.
I agree with everything else, but i'm not sure about this. I think really what you're saying applies to a lot of instruments, if you want to play them really well including the guitar. I used to think i was really good on the guitar but now i realise just how much work and concentration I have to do to get it to sound perfect, in much the way you have described with the drums.
 

dairyairman

Platinum Member
i know what you mean about consistency of rim shots. i struggle with that a lot. changing the angle of the stick just slightly or varying where on the stick you hit the rim makes a huge difference in the sound. you can't look down at the snare either. you just have to feel it. it's pretty hard!
 

TTNW

Pioneer Member
Besides learning new material and constantly making efforts to improve my feel and listening ability, touch on the drumset is something I work on all the time.

You hats example Larry is a good one.

I also work a lot on my bass drum volume. Do you ever notice how if the bass guitar line has a lot of notes that even if you are right on the beat with your bass drum strokes, it chops up the rhythm a bit if it's too loud, whereas playing quieter bass drum strokes helps the groove flow better.

When the mix gets loud, any wimpy floor tom strokes will get lost and sound muddy.

It takes some finesse to build your high hat volume up ever so slightly before going to a chorus (when appropriate).

Balancing kick and snare with toms and cymbals is another challenge. In some rooms, my toms will sound louder than in others and a drummer has to adjust.

I agree that any instrument offers these challenges, but I do feel that most guitar players and singers do not acknowledge the skill required. Keyboardists on the other hand, do. Probably because of the limb independence required. One of the guitar players I play with weekly (he is good, just insensitive) says when I ask him for feedback on the blend of the mix or rhythmic issues that I should just, "keep doing that boom ticky boom ticky thing"

Precision means a lot when separating the men from the boys in a drumset context.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I agree with everything else, but i'm not sure about this. I think really what you're saying applies to a lot of instruments, if you want to play them really well including the guitar. I used to think i was really good on the guitar but now i realise just how much work and concentration I have to do to get it to sound perfect, in much the way you have described with the drums.
I knew I'd catch flak for this. Every instrument has it's level of unforgivingness. I chose the bass because even though it isn't easy playing bass, it gets my vote for being one of the more forgiving instruments. I suppose I did trivialize bass playing, I should apologize for that. I'm sorry.
But drumming takes more precision than most musicians realize. That aspect isn't talked about too much. It gets overshadowed by guys saying (proudly)"Oh man I hit really hard! I break cymbals like they're nothing!" It doesn't take much precision to smack the snot out of something. Try starting a buzz roll, increase the volume, and then bring the volume back down within one measure, and then transition seamlessly into a beat without a crash in between...
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Total agreement with ya' Larry. Makes me appreciate even more the people I know who play more than one instrument well enough to get jobs with!
 

Davo-London

Gold Member
Hey Larry, I've played bass for 35 years and I agree with you.

The one thing I noticed when I started playing drums was the increased level of responsibility on the drummer to keep everything together and because the drums are so loud then any errors seem to stand out far more than the occasion bum note or miss-timed bass note.

Justin Timberlake uses the hat/snare technique on some of his songs. That's where I first heard it.

Finally, the issues raised always lead me to one fella: Steve Gadd. What a drummer! There's a lot of chops and thrashing out there, but only one Gadd.

Davo
 

inneedofgrace

Platinum Member
Playing drums takes almost all my brainpower. I know because if someone asks me a question in the middle of a song, I just can't blurt out an answer, I have to wait until I can coordinate my speech so it doesn't throw my drumming off. Singers will never understand that. I really wish people wouldn't try conversing with me as I'm playing. My brain teeters on the verge of crashing lol.
And this is really taken to the next level when you're trying to sing lead while playing drums!

I also have a guitar player that seems to want to change things up on the fly, so he'll be making motioning movements or facial expressions or whispering words of instruction in the middle of a song, and I have to try and not let that affect my playing. Half the time I'm asking myself "what is he trying to get me to do??".

Regarding how many different sounds you can get out of drums, I actually played four different sets of drums in the past week. It amazes me how different they all sound. Same goes for a trip to Guitar Center when you sit down and play several of their kits on display. Almost everything is different, from the rebound of the snare, the ring of the toms, the pitch, the size of the bass drum, and the angle of the drums relative to how they are struck. And then there are the cymbals, which have their own personalities.

It really is incredible how many different sounds you can get out of even a basic drum kit. And that's why I prefer acoustic over e-drums every time. And yes, the downside to that is that it makes it difficult to be consistent with your sounds. I struggle mightily with my crosstick in that regard. I have such a hard time getting that sound to be of consistent tone and volume. For something that seems so simple, I sometimes fail at it.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
And this is really taken to the next level when you're trying to sing lead while playing drums!
I have an easier time singing lead, because it is phrased w/ the music. Conversing out of rhythm is the real stumbling point for me. I can't talk normally while playing without major coordination, but if I sing it to the song it would be easier. Strange.
 

inneedofgrace

Platinum Member
I have an easier time singing lead, because it is phrased w/ the music. Conversing out of rhythm is the real stumbling point for me. I can't talk normally while playing without major coordination, but if I sing it to the song it would be easier. Strange.
Your point is certainly valid, although the rhythm of the words don't always jive with the rhythm of the drums. And starting to sing a verse or chorus while you are in transition on the drums (such as during a roll or lick, or switching from ride to hat to floor tom) can be a real challenge too!

And I have a difficult time memorizing all the lyrics, so I'm using a cheat sheet to boot.
 

keep it simple

Platinum Member
If you miss a rimshot by a hair and drop a backbeat, it's very noticeable.
The drums are very unforgiving as an instrument.
Gwumff, tell me about it Larry! I almost never miss a rimshot, let alone a whole backbeat, but it's so easy to do. We knocked off this little ditty at practice last night, mainly because the keys player got his sax out. Anyhow, this is Andy missing a backbeat on the most simple of beats (yes, I know you can't hear the kick drum on the recording). A little slip resulting in a "stick fight". You can just catch a glimpse of me breaking a "you silly boy" smile & a quick shake of the head in disbelief at 0:46 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Debuwkopj2Q

This will be removed after a couple of days.

Edit: Now removed.
 
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Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
I knew I'd catch flak for this. Every instrument has it's level of unforgivingness. I chose the bass because even though it isn't easy playing bass, it gets my vote for being one of the more forgiving instruments. I suppose I did trivialize bass playing, I should apologize for that. I'm sorry.
But drumming takes more precision than most musicians realize. That aspect isn't talked about too much. It gets overshadowed by guys saying (proudly)"Oh man I hit really hard! I break cymbals like they're nothing!" It doesn't take much precision to smack the snot out of something. Try starting a buzz roll, increase the volume, and then bring the volume back down within one measure, and then transition seamlessly into a beat without a crash in between...
I agree with you. Our drums descended from rough, handmade instruments of wood, metal and clay which are still played today. We've added a lot of precision to them, though.

Also, if you want to ponder precision, consider the violin or flute. A movement of one-thousandth of an inch on your fingertip or lip will change the sound.
 

kissarmyfreak

Senior Member
I'm very much with y'all on this topic.
In 1992 I was 19. Looking back I was a very heavy basher. I guess it was just easier to bash the hell out of the drums instead of taking the true time to learn & listen to exactly what I was playing. Now some 18 years later I have picked up the sticks again & learning a lot of techniques to become better & finesse to glide around my set instead just beating it up!. So like it was stated earlier a lot I think goes to inexperience & maybe even maturity.
Just throwing that out there for ya.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
And I was taught in Orchestra that when playing a double stroke roll to try and keep both sticks within a circle the size of a quarter so that the sound of both sticks would be the same.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I agree with you. Our drums descended from rough, handmade instruments of wood, metal and clay which are still played today. We've added a lot of precision to them, though.

Also, if you want to ponder precision, consider the violin or flute. A movement of one-thousandth of an inch on your fingertip or lip will change the sound.
Agreed, compared to the other instruments, the drums don't take nearly as much precision. But considering the large movements of the arms, drummers have to have the right combination of large movements coupled w/ precise placements. Like all the other instruments, it requires a very unique skillset.

Has anyone ever been made to feel as if being a good drummer was a lesser goal than being a good player of any other instrument? I have.
I once had a girlfriend ask me in a condescending tone..."What made you pick the drums anyway?" I think, that she thought, that it would have been much cooler for her to be dating a lead guitarist or singer rather than a drummer. Yea that relationship was a bad fit. Different priorities.

I told her I didn't pick them, (the drums) they picked me.
But I could detect in her tone that she considered the drums to be "less than" the other instruments.
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
Agreed, compared to the other instruments, the drums don't take nearly as much precision. But considering the large movements of the arms, drummers have to have the right combination of large movements coupled w/ precise placements. Like all the other instruments, it requires a very unique skillset.

Has anyone ever been made to feel as if being a good drummer was a lesser goal than being a good player of any other instrument? I have.
I once had a girlfriend ask me in a condescending tone..."What made you pick the drums anyway?" I think, that she thought, that it would have been much cooler for her to be dating a lead guitarist or singer rather than a drummer. Yea that relationship was a bad fit. Different priorities.

I told her I didn't pick them, (the drums) they picked me.
But I could detect in her tone that she considered the drums to be "less than" the other instruments.
It would be much cooler for her to base her self-esteem on her own talents and abilities, not on who she dates! No one can take hard-earned talent from you.

Tell her, "I'd only date someone who developed a creative talent of some kind, as someone without creative talent is just too boring, conventional and uncentered."

Also, about the drums, yes, that is a good point, we make many large, whole-body movements and must have a (relatively) high degree of precision. We also never directly touch our instruments, instead using sticks or brushes. People who play bowed instruments can relate to that.
 
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