How do you act when playing? Stage presence

Drumwiz

Member
What do you do when drumming during a show? Do you smile? shake your head? Stick tricks?

I feel like I need to be more animated when drumming, but it's difficult to know what to do. I usually just smile or chew gum, but I think this is boring for people to watch. I honestly don't feel the need to go crazy when playing drums (one of the few who don't have ADD haha jk). But I will just for the sake of being the drummer in my band and playing the role accordingly. Drummers aren't usually in the spotlight but they still are well noticed and provide a lot of energy in how they're playing.

So how can I up my stage presence behind the kit?
 

moontheloon

Silver Member
just play brother

as soon as you start faking some stage presence just for the sake of doing it you lose all credibility to anyone with half a brain watching the band

let yourself come through and just play well
 

Kg_lee

Senior Member
I just relax, play confident and try to interact with my band mates.

I like interacting with my bassist even if it's only for a few seconds it really helps lock our groove.
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
just play brother

as soon as you start faking some stage presence just for the sake of doing it you lose all credibility to anyone with half a brain watching the band

let yourself come through and just play well
This^^^^

Anything contrived or forced always looks dink.

If you're naturally a showboat, great. Use it......worked for Moonie. But if you're naturally more reserved, there ain't nothin' wrong with that.....just look at Charlie Watts.

I just relax, play confident and try to interact with my band mates.
And this^^
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
I feel like I need to be more animated when drumming, but it's difficult to know what to do. I usually just smile or chew gum, but I think this is boring for people to watch. I honestly don't feel the need to go crazy when playing drums (one of the few who don't have ADD haha jk). But I will just for the sake of being the drummer in my band and playing the role accordingly. Drummers aren't usually in the spotlight but they still are well noticed and provide a lot of energy in how they're playing.

So how can I up my stage presence behind the kit?
What do you like to see when you're watching a band / drummer? What moves you?

I've not given stage presence too much thought, but I've pondered a couple things. First, I don't do stick tricks. Works for some drummers but it ain't me. But along those lines, I would never use black drumsticks because I don't like that you can't see them. If I had any beef with Steve Gadd it's that you can't see what he's doing because he's basically using camouflaged sticks! I like to see what a drummer is doing and the arc of the sticks.

I've always like watching drummers who were intently focused on what they were doing and where it was obvious that drumming was something they were fully into. Hamming it up for the crowd usually is a turn off for me, especially if there isn't anything interesting about the drumming itself - like drummer as entertainer vs. drummer as musician. Although, even that gets confusing because the whole music thing should be entertaining. Somehow it just needs to be honest.

What kind of band are you in? Got any videos?
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
The way I see it, there's 2 ways of looking at this. Do you want to up your stage presence through a higher state of playing or do you want to up your stage presence with things that are separate from playing? (faces, stick tricks, acting looney)

If you want to do it through music, you that you need to let the music come through you uncolored by your ego. Your ego is one of the worst things for your music. The one thing that a good drummer can do like no other instrument...we can really make the band sound like a band, instead of 3 or 4 or 5 different people. Your job is to give the vocalists and soloists what they need to shine, so if you want to get better quick, play what your mates need you to play to make their job easier. Forget about you, it's all about them and what they need from you.

I think the audience likes to see peoples eyes. I don't like it when musicians look at their instruments all night and don't even acknowledge the crowd. Good stage presence means being mentally present. They are looking at you, you should look back at them kind of thing. Make them a part of things, not "Oh wow look at the greatness of me" The audience loves it when you catch their eye and bob your head or something. They feel connected. Involve them with your eyes, you can't lose with that. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we are supposed to make them feel good through our music. It's all about them, not the band. If you put them first, things will go your way.
 
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MikeM

Platinum Member
The way I see it, there's 2 ways of looking at this. Do you want to up your stage presence through a higher state of playing or do you want to up your stage presence with things that are separate from playing? (faces, stick tricks, acting looney)

If you want to do it through music, you that you need to let the music come through you uncolored by your ego. Your ego is one of the worst things for your music. The one thing that a good drummer can do like no other instrument...we can really make the band sound like a band, instead of 3 or 4 or 5 different people. Your job is to give the vocalists and soloists what they need to shine, so if you want to get better quick, play what your mates need you to play to make their job easier. Forget about you, it's all about them and what they need from you.

I think the audience likes to see peoples eyes. I don't like it when musicians look at their instruments all night and don't even acknowledge the crowd. Good stage presence means being mentally present. They are looking at you, you should look back at them kind of thing. Make them a part of things, not "Oh wow look at the greatness of me" The audience loves it when you catch their eye and bob your head or something. They feel connected. Involve them with your eyes, you can't lose with that.
You know Larry, I agree with your first paragraph, and most of everything else, but the theme I'm often picking up from you is that the drummer should be this colorless, oderless, non-contributor to the music. If you remove the "ego" you're removing the person playing the drums to my way of thinking. I can't get my head around why that would be a good thing.

Ditto for the "forget about you [the drummer]" bit. What if it was a friendship or romantic relationship? Are you saying you need nothing in a relationship other than to make the other person happy? That feels like only half the picture to me. I like a little more give and take than that.

Maybe that's how blues works (when I was a young teen first starting out, I got an earful of similar dogma from my blues bass player brother - probably not surprisingly, I don't do blues anymore). Anyway, that's not how most musical forms work. Most encourage some originality while also discouraging immature overplaying.

I think you're throwing the baby out with the bath water.
 
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Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I've always recommended that no one chew gum while playing. Your time is usually regulated by what your mouth is doing, and chewing on food is hardly conducive to being done in time.

But good advice already given here. Just be in the moment playing for the other members of the band to make the music happen, is really where it's at. I've been on both sides, when I'm with a band, I tend to play for them. When I play my solo act (pre-recorded tunes with me singing and playing), you have to communicate to the audience more, beit with your eyes or your gestures. You are in essence an entertainer, you just have to know how much of an entertainer you can be. It's easier when with a band because you're only 1/4th of the show, so to speak. I would tend to work on my communication skills more than insane stick tricks or theatrical stuff. Those things usually detract from the music and tell me that you're not serious about making the music happen because you're more interested in drawing attention to yourself. There's a reason you don't see Neil Peart doing anything incredibly flashy until he gets his solo spot. He's concentrating on making his music happen and being the 1/3rd of the band that he is the other 97% of the time.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
You know Larry, I agree with your first paragraph, and most of everything else, but the theme I'm often picking up from you is that the drummer should be this colorless, oderless, non-contributor to the music. If you remove the "ego" you're removing the person playing the drums to my way of thinking. I can't get my head around why that would be a good thing.

Ditto for the "forget about you [the drummer]" bit. What if it was a friendship or romantic relationship? Are you saying you need nothing in a relationship other than to make the other person happy? That feels like only half the picture to me. I like a little more give and take than that.

Maybe that's how blues works (when I was a young teen first starting out, I got an earful of similar dogma from my blues bass player brother - probably not surprisingly, I don't do blues anymore). Anyway, that's not how most musical forms work. Most encourage some originality while also discouraging immature overplaying.

I think you're throwing the baby out with the bath water.
OK fair enough Mike. Guilty as charged, with a few exceptions. The non contributor thing... it's impossible to play and not contribute something so I don't think that applies. Of course I advocate contributing. Contributing to providing the base that a good solo or vocal can be built. Removing the ego...yes definitely, from Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery", a transparency in how you feel music....an honesty...Also I am referring to getting closer to a trance state and not playing with the conscious mind per se (OK here comes that tricky fill)

The forget about the drummer bit, what I mean is don't focus on the drums, focus on whoever is taking the lead. In my mind if you "look past" the drum part, and play for everyone else, you end up getting everything you were ever after in the first place. Playing for everyone else...you get to play great stuff...tension, build ups, release, dynamic drop offs, custom tailored quick little fills and accents and stuff that just pops out of nowhere...just the same as if you were playing for just the drum part. But it comes off better because you are playing off/for someone instead of separately. It's just better to play off the others. It's better to be connected. We do a lot of improv stuff in my main band, and I get led on a merry chase sometimes, so that's where that comes from, I have to listen and play off them. If you are in a band that has all prearranged parts, then maybe this doesn't apply.

I just see so many selfish drummers that pass up great musical opportunities because they can only hear their little part. They miss the big picture and the role they play in it. I hardly see any drummers that really listen to the big picture and try and predict where the solo is going and are truly all the way supportive of their mates. Usually it's the ego that gets in the way. They have to "get theirs" and ruin the mood by doing some stupid fill I guess. I "get mine" by seeing the others "get theirs". I advocate being completely unselfish behind the drums. I'm there to provide the environment for great things to happen.

The music/relationship parallel is interesting...I don't know that it's directly comparable. An intimate relationship should be more balanced. We chose drums. We are not the focal point. We are at the mercy of the song, the vocalist and the soloist much of the time. The drums are not a lead instrument. They support. That's the function. I can get very creative supporting, original even, but at all times, supporting the others is my main objective. I think that you think I am dumbing my parts down. Not one bit. To the contrary, I am listening to their solo, and making sonic choices as to best handle the mood they are going for. A custom fit drum part, for that solo, that night. A listening drummer is a beautiful thing. My drum parts are rich with nuance. Nuance that hopefully perfectly compliments the surrounding mood that the others are creating.

All this is JMO.... what I found to work very well for me playing mostly blues.
 
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bigd

Silver Member
OK fair enough Mike. Guilty as charged, with a few exceptions. The non contributor thing... it's impossible to play and not contribute something so I don't think that applies. Of course I advocate contributing. Contributing to providing the base that a good solo or vocal can be built. Removing the ego...yes definitely, from Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery", a transparency in how you feel music....an honesty...Also I am referring to getting closer to a trance state and not playing with the conscious mind per se (OK here comes that tricky fill)

The forget about the drummer bit, what I mean is don't focus on the drums, focus on whoever is taking the lead. In my mind if you "look past" the drum part, and play for everyone else, you end up getting everything you were ever after in the first place. Playing for everyone else...you get to play great stuff...tension, build ups, release, dynamic drop offs, custom tailored quick little fills and accents and stuff that just pops out of nowhere...just the same as if you were playing for just the drum part. But it comes off better because you are playing off/for someone instead of separately. It's just better to play off the others. It's better to be connected. We do a lot of improv stuff in my main band, and I get led on a merry chase sometimes, so that's where that comes from, I have to listen and play off them. If you are in a band that has all prearranged parts, then maybe this doesn't apply.

I just see so many selfish drummers that pass up great musical opportunities because they can only hear their little part. They miss the big picture and the role they play in it. I hardly see any drummers that really listen to the big picture and try and predict where the solo is going and are truly all the way supportive of their mates. Usually it's the ego that gets in the way. They have to "get theirs" and ruin the mood by doing some stupid fill I guess. I "get mine" by seeing the others "get theirs". I advocate being completely unselfish behind the drums. I'm there to provide the environment for great things to happen.

The music/relationship parallel is interesting...I don't know that it's directly comparable. An intimate relationship should be more balanced. We chose drums. We are not the focal point. We are at the mercy of the song, the vocalist and the soloist much of the time. The drums are not a lead instrument. They support. That's the function. I can get very creative supporting, original even, but at all times, supporting the others is my main objective. I think that you think I am dumbing my parts down. Not one bit. To the contrary, I am listening to their solo, and making sonic choices as to best handle the mood they are going for. A custom fit drum part, for that solo, that night. A listening drummer is a beautiful thing. My drum parts are rich with nuance. Nuance that hopefully perfectly compliments the surrounding mood that the others are creating.

All this is JMO.... what I found to work very well for me playing mostly blues.
Hahahahahahaha!!!!! I love this forum!!!!! It makes my day!!!!!
 

Naigewron

Platinum Member
Big moves, head movements, some stick tricks, in general looking like I enjoy myself. Not to mention hundreds of weird drummer faces I'm completely unaware of until I see photos of the gig later on :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=RaGfYtkH5_M (a live vid from about 18 months ago. I've got a mic in front of me for the first two minutes, which tends to hamper my movements quite a bit)

I don't fake anything (if I don't feel it, I don't feel it), but I definitely do try to consciously work on conveying the joy of playing live through my entire performance, not just the sound of my sticks hitting the drums.



I really dislike going to a show and seeing a band only focus on playing their instruments; not showing any enthusiasm or trying to give any of their energy to the crowd. To me, that really makes for a boring show, and I'd rather sit at home and listen to the album. At least the album will provide great sound, and I don't have to endure drunk idiots around me.

It really comes down to individual style though. Not every drummer or every band will be suited for stick tricks or headbanging, but I do believe that every musician who performs on a stage should try to communicate that live energy to the audience in any way he can.

Some drummers just enjoy going completely nuts:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtRAx4hEpnA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Jc7cjqtwIU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItZyaOlrb7E

While others let their emotions and focus show in more subtle ways:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keOylXMoZ2k
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK3XFeiUNNA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxqWiRCg4mM

However, the guys who just sit and stare blankly into space or at their hihat will often look bored and uninterested, and can easily lessen the experience of the show.

All in all: I think that to be a great live performer, you do want to be able to communicate some sort of energy to your audience. We might be stuck in the back, but we're just as much part of the show as any other band member.

Your primary focus should always be your playing, but never forget that you're on stage to entertain an audience (who may have paid a fair amount of money to see you play). Let them see that you enjoy being up on stage!
 
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bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I'm typically focused on playing - particularly when working with tracks - and I probably just look bored. Occasionally I'll make a face or exhibit some body movement when I do a fill or hit a crash or on an ending, but it's quite unintentional. I suppose I'm more "into it" at those moments. A friend described it best when they said "you're all business up there." But that's not to say I don't enjoy drumming or the music I'm playing, I just have a funny way of not showing it most of the time.

Bermuda
 

Mark_S

Silver Member
If I'm playing something difficult, I tend to look bored because I'm concentrating. Otherwise I get into it and pull daft faces in places.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I think have stage presence is a very important part of live performance. Almost all the big names in drumming have awesome stage presence, from Buddy Rich to Ringo Star to Neil Peart, etc.

But the key is having the right presence for the gig.

It's it's a formal thing like a wedding or corporate gig, the proper presence might just be wear a suit, sit back, and not doing anything that draws any attention to yourself.

If it's a big rock show, big arm movements and head bobbing is more appropriate.

As Larry said, I think the audience likes to see peoples eyes. Most don't like it when musicians look at their instruments all night and don't even acknowledge the crowd.
If it's a show, people go to see a show to see a show. If it's a diner gig, the opposite is probably true.

Years ago I had the opportunity to film my self playing (which back then was a big deal, now anyone can do it), and from that I could evaluate and work on what I liked and didn't like. Later on, I use to practice in front of a mirror. Not that I was working on spinning or flipping sticks, but just making sure I did look at the audience, and making sure I looked like I wanted to be there and avoiding looking bored, and keep "the show" aspect in mind. But when I had an R&B gig at a small bar, I know to sit back, keep it low key, and not do any of the things I would do with a rock band.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Nice post DED, agree completely. I like seeing musicians onstage that are really great at their instrument, but are also mentally connected with the others, and the audience. Not in their own world. I really can't stand seeing people in their own world and not acknowledging anyone. Like grow up. Look what's going on around you. You are not the center of the universe. A bunch of guys staring at their guitar necks all night...C'mon guys you need to engage the others! Look around and make eye contact. Nothing impresses me more than a guy who can really play their instrument on a high level, and have enough brainpower left over to mentally/socially interact with the others while playing. Anything fake is obvious. You do have your true "showmen", who take the whole stage presence thing to a higher level, but for most of us, being accomplished on your instrument and having a good time interacting with the others is a home run in my book. I like honesty, not someone who is trying to look cool. That usually has the opposite effect of what was intended on me. Whereas the ones who convey honesty and vulnerability in their playing, they score much higher on my card. I'm sure different people look for different things.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Nice post DED, agree completely. I like seeing musicians onstage that are really great at their instrument, but are also mentally connected with the others, and the audience. Not in their own world. I really can't stand seeing people in their own world and not acknowledging anyone. Like grow up. Look what's going on around you.
Thanks Larry!

It is really is context. look at Ray Luzier for example. Now that he is with Korn, and playing the biggest stages in the world with huge light shows he suddenly has a more more show-y drum kit, he's flipping sticks up in air which hadn't been part of his normal live show before, and generally bringing much more of "a show" than he had with previous gigs.

Glen Sobel has always been a great drummer but never a guy who was super show-y. When he did the Beautiful Creatures tour, he added a little bit of show, because it fit the band. But now that he has the gig with Alice Copper, he suddenly incorporating stick spins and much bigger arm moments then when he does gigs outside of Alice.

Or think back to the Beatles on TV There is Ringo, with his big goofy grin, sitting up high above his drums, and always looking at the camera. He brought a certain charisma to the TV appearances that a lot of other guys at the time didn't bring, and it's part of their early popularity.

Lousie Bellson, has anyone ever seen a clip of Bellson where he didn't look like he was having the time of his life?

Buddy was just intense. He wasn't above a little showman ship either, but you can't think of Buddy playing without that look of "I'm bringing everything I got" look on his face. He oozed stage presence.
 

tamadrm

Platinum Member
Showmanship is what got drummers noticed in the late 30's early 40's.Gene Krupa was anything but a Charlie Watts kind of drummer.Buddy Rich was known to do a stick trick or two....but he more than a lot of guys...let his playing do his talking.

In the 50's Guys like Papa Jo,and Morello,started to play stuff that was visual as well as musical,like using their hands.It was like people had never seen it before.

In the 60's Guys like Roy Hanes,were tossing their sticks in the air and doing catches to the amazement of all.And the whole time...Roy was smileing like he knew something you didn't.Baker also did the stick catching thing,but he bounced them off his toms first.

Then there were guys like Dino Danelli,Carmine Appice and Johnny Barbata,who gave you a show with their stick twirling,intence playing,groove and crazy fills.

I think as long as you don't become known a just a face making ,stick twirling mad man,its all good.If what you're doing serves the music,works well with your band mates,and entertains the audience all at the same time.....you're a winner.Its about balance,and using your ears.

Steve B
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
...Also I am referring to getting closer to a trance state and not playing with the conscious mind per se (OK here comes that tricky fill) I know exactly what this means, and I agree.

The forget about the drummer bit, what I mean is don't focus on the drums, focus on whoever is taking the lead. In my mind if you "look past" the drum part, and play for everyone else, you end up getting everything you were ever after in the first place. Playing for everyone else...you get to play great stuff...tension, build ups, release, dynamic drop offs, custom tailored quick little fills and accents and stuff that just pops out of nowhere...

It’s this play for everybody else bit that I get hung up on. If everyone played for everyone else, then nobody would be playing for anybody and things would grind to a halt! Whoever is playing a solo is playing for themselves (and presumably the music) and expecting the supporting players to go along. Now, I’m not a big advocate of taking drum solos, but there are other ways in which the drummer can take a turn in steering the ship by upping the intensity and pushing things over bar lines without causing calamities as long as the other musicians are receptive to drums taking more of a lead role on occasion.

… it comes off better because you are playing off/for someone instead of separately. It's just better to play off the others. It's better to be connected. We do a lot of improv stuff in my main band, and I get led on a merry chase sometimes, so that's where that comes from, I have to listen and play off them.

I do get this and these are great points. Yes, you have to listen, but so does everyone else. I guess that’s kind of my point in all this – that as we’re hyper aware of our role as listeners and supporters, it feels too easy to let the other players off the hook when it comes to listening to the drummers because it’s not traditionally the drummer’s role to take the lead on some of those merry chases.

If you are in a band that has all prearranged parts, then maybe this doesn't apply.

Yes and no. Once all the prearranging is done, things get more or less set. It’s during the composition process that I want a voice; I want to enjoy some creative latitude; I want the ability to perhaps embed some crazy idea into the fabric of the song in some permanent way that sounds cool, that fits like a glove, and that is agreeable to all. Doesn’t even have to be crazy, but as someone described on this forum recently, it’s like that fill or a drum part you’ve heard 1,000 times in that song that you feel compelled to air drum every time you hear it. Creating those kinds of moments doesn’t come from being a habitually transparent support player. It takes a mindset from all involved that drums can, and often should, be more than just a supporting foundation for everything else to just sit on.

I’m not special or unique in this thinking, so it's not I'm going all rouge or anything - all my early drumming heroes took this approach to some degree (Stewart Copeland, Keith Moon, Peter Erskine, Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Terry Bozzio, etc…). It was because these drummers approached their roles in their ways that I liked them so much. I’m sure it’s why they were my favorites and why I wanted to be like them in that way. But none of those drummers would probably fly in a band that relied on more traditional forms (except maybe Erskine), but more than anything, I think it just goes to show that there’s more than one way to approach this, or any instrument, and that the musical context will largely dictate what will be acceptable.


I just see so many selfish drummers that pass up great musical opportunities because they can only hear their little part. They miss the big picture and the role they play in it. I hardly see any drummers that really listen to the big picture and try and predict where the solo is going and are truly all the way supportive of their mates. Usually it's the ego that gets in the way. They have to "get theirs" and ruin the mood by doing some stupid fill I guess. I "get mine" by seeing the others "get theirs". I advocate being completely unselfish behind the drums. I'm there to provide the environment for great things to happen.

Are these selfish drummers more along the lines of some of my favorites while trying to play blues? Perhaps they’re not appreciating the context part - like fish out of water. Maybe they should pick bands that are more appropriate to their style of playing.

The music/relationship parallel is interesting...I don't know that it's directly comparable. An intimate relationship should be more balanced. We chose drums. We are not the focal point. We are at the mercy of the song, the vocalist and the soloist much of the time. The drums are not a lead instrument. They support. That's the function. I can get very creative supporting, original even, but at all times, supporting the others is my main objective. I think that you think I am dumbing my parts down. Not one bit. To the contrary, I am listening to their solo, and making sonic choices as to best handle the mood they are going for. A custom fit drum part, for that solo, that night. A listening drummer is a beautiful thing. My drum parts are rich with nuance. Nuance that hopefully perfectly compliments the surrounding mood that the others are creating.

You’re right: I have been left with the impression that you’ve been “dumbing your parts down.” That’s not how I would’ve characterized it, but I get what you mean. It's true that I’ve interpreted your semi-regular comments about "selfish" drummers to mean that one who play more fills than Steve Gadd (like me) are immature heathens. But you’ve described well how you do your supporting in these paragraphs so I won’t continue to make that assumption. I’ve heard some of your playing on here and it is rock solid, so that box is definitely checked off, but I haven’t heard much in the way of you adding much beyond that, and figured it was because you were making a conscious effort not to. Maybe I just haven’t heard enough of your playing.

Anyway, I'm recalling the old tale of a Stewart Copeland clinic where he just lays down the money beat for 10 minutes and tells the audience he’d be happy to do that all day long. I don’t really believe him, but his point is well taken, as is yours.
2020202020202020202020202020
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
I like seeing musicians onstage that are really great at their instrument, but are also mentally connected with the others, and the audience. Not in their own world. I really can't stand seeing people in their own world and not acknowledging anyone. Like grow up. Look what's going on around you. You are not the center of the universe. A bunch of guys staring at their guitar necks all night...C'mon guys you need to engage the others! Look around and make eye contact. Nothing impresses me more than a guy who can really play their instrument on a high level, and have enough brainpower left over to mentally/socially interact with the others while playing.
Oh well, that counts me out (apart from my primitive playing). I can't look people in the eye ... when I do, it consumes my entire world and I can't concentrate on anything else. Not good for being an entertaining muppet on stage, eh? :)

When I was young I used to be pretty animated ("go crazy" as per the OP) to keep up with the volume of the bands I played in. People would say I was fun to watch.
 
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