Precision and Musical Magic


Platinum Member
A few threads have gotten me thinking about this, along with starting Kenny Wheeler's book. Namely, The Colonel's studio experience and FunkyJazzer asking if jazz was holding him back.

There's been a lot here about using click tracks and metronomes. In the studio sometimes we have to split everyone up to record their parts alone and have the engineer stitch it up.

Seemingly, but not unrelated, I read that in the studio Miles preferred to keep takes that had the least "clams" in his playing rather than takes that were more inspired overall.

I'm thinking about the magic of music, those moments when the band have their "big ears" on and there's a vibe about the performance, be it jamming or whatever. It seems that the drive to perfection (or something close to accurate) - that state of musical blamelessness - can work at odds with the "magic".

I'm guessing that each musican needs to work out his or her thresholds where we can aim for at least some magic without necessarily shooting for the sky - where going for that extra edge of feel or textures or whatever reaches the point of diminishing returns. Recordings tend to dilute any musical magic that's there - and you have to live with what you played forever - so maybe it makes sense in most genres to play it safer.

When I was young I'd always just go for it but with age I'm more inclined to improve my tidiness. I've been making click tracks for some of the band's songs where we have tempo hassles. I've only used clicks while practising at home and I'm not sure how much magic is possible with "plonk plonk plonk" going on the background. There's a part of me that misses that free and easy approach.

I know this could lead us back to the infamous mega-thread but I hope this one is not "This vs That" - more just thoughts on the mix of musical idealism and pragmatism and our drumming "attitood" (hey, Aussies can speak American if we try hard enough :)


"Uncle Larry"
Think of any great recorded drum performance. I'll betcha that whoever played the drums on it wasn't completely happy with every single part of it. What can you do? You do your best, and keep trying to improve. Magic is fleeting. You never know when it will surface. Trying to consciously create magic....good luck. It just happens. Like lightning, you can't can't predict where it will strike next. I'm not sure what this thread is about but I think I'm on track sort of.


Platinum Member
Sorry Larry, the OP was a tad convoluted.

I guess I'm asking people: what are you usually going for? Is you main focus to be as precise as possible? Or to be white hot? To squeeze those subtle nuances out of the songs? To just fit in as best you can?

At times we do all these things, but I'm wondering about our general attitude when we get behind the kit. Coolly precise? Aggressive? Hyped up? Emotional?

Dunno if this is any clearer :)


Staff member
Hi Pollyana,

I know you got my point when I advised the colonel to keep the click in the back of his head, do his own thing then return to the click every few bars or so. I said this because he said he was going to use a click in the studio. My point to clear up is I hate using clicks for recording or performance. They foster a sterility that I find unattractive.

The first thing I strive for when I sit behind the kit is enjoyment. I like to feel the kit become a part of me, rather like driving a car you've owned for 20 years. I don't much care how I get the enjoyment as long as the whole thing puts a smile on my face. I tune my playing each time to the overall performance. I get my kick from being a part in the creation of something wonderful. Something that moves me and those around me. Sometimes I go for loose, sometimes tight, always dynamic. I look for the opportunity to create space. I leave out stuff that others would include. That can be as dramatic as the most impressive fill or groove. My mood is generally of calm excitement at the start of a gig. I never worry about getting it right. That's when the mistakes come in. If I'm having a bad playing day (yes, we all have them) I just simplify my performace to the point whereby it would be impossible to make a mistake. I always laugh when I make a mistake. If it's a big one, I make sure the audience hears me laugh as well!


Platinum Member
Thanks for your thoughts, KIS. That's pretty well aimed at what I'm thinking about at the moment. When I was playing in rock bands I felt I could use energy and power to get away with more looseness. I had a bit of a gun ho attitude. Now I'm playing light music - blues, soul, RnB and jazz - generally slower tempos than I used to play.

One thing that's spun me out is that if I start a song too fast, or creep the tempo up, or let the keyboardist and bassist (who also tend to rush) pull me into tempo creep then our singer loses impact because he has less space in which to emote and curl himself around the lyric. So I decided to make these click tracks and put them on my iPod. It's a bit of an experiment to see if, by reducing the emotional component of my playing I'll increase the total emotional impact of the band.

For sure, hearing "plonk plonk plonk" over the music isn't exactly the stuff of magic but in some styles maybe the improved tightness will make up for it? If I was producing The Who up I'd skip the click track tho :)


"Uncle Larry"
My main focus is to be all aware of everything and everybody, supporting when it's called for, laying back when it's called for, taking control when it's called for, hearing the music as it really is, not colored by my own mind etc. I'm 5% there ha ha.


Platinum Member
Since I'm not quite sure what exactly you are talking about ( I like the words, music magic and precision, they formulate a context of their own ), I'll throw my zen at you.

What I strive for is to be good enough for the drumset to be a part of my anatomy, physically, mentally and emotionally, and for me let go of my ego and my self importance and take a step backwards and be an observer to the music I'm making collectively with other people.

Not very precise, I know but what the hey.
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Platinum Member
Ah, a new theme for the thread! Helping me work out what the hell I'm grasping at!

Aydee, you seemed to do a good job there - the idea of surrender in playing music is part of what I'm thinking about. Larry talked about it too - "hearing the music as it really is, not colored by my own mind".

It seems so simple but it rarely happens to me. It happened while we were playing a party in a restaurant the other week during "I put a spell on you" and it felt beautiful. Next rehearsal I tried to recapture that feeling and, of course, it sucked. Naive, I know. It's always got to be a fresh performance with a clean slate, as though last time never happened. The temptation to (futilely) recapture those Zen moments is pretty strong, though.


Silver Member
I think one way to get there is to let the other instruments inform your playing. Look hard at the bass part, the guitar, the keys, pick up on when one of the players is acting like yeah man this is her tune, and speak to it from the drum set. Staying in it mentally thru a few sets is pretty challenging. Gotta remember to check back in here and there.

I don't mind clicks, mets or sequences. I have found that the act of creativity thrives within confines, like artists in prisons. Being told hey bring your ideas is one thing. Being told the form, the tempo, and the beat, that's a whole different creative animal, and my brain really turns on for that.


"Uncle Larry"
It's always got to be a fresh performance with a clean slate, as though last time never happened. The temptation to (futilely) recapture those Zen moments is pretty strong, though.
Kinda like relationships ha ha.
Attempting to emulate past performances, (which I'm guilty of as well) while understandable, robs from whats happening right now. Living in the past so to speak...


Yeah, Polly, that's a tough one; quantify or qualify "magic".
Often, the least amount of "clams" comes when you least expect it. Perhaps a few musicians are good enough to control the intangibles of a performance or take, but the rest of us, while trying, aren't really in control of the magic. It just happens.
Sometimes the moments are inspired by the chemistry of the players. Regardless of your attitude or how focused (or not) you are on your own playing, a moment arises in a piece where the sum of the instruments and vocals becomes its very own transcendent thing. When you, as a drummer, realize that moment, precision just kind of becomes a non-issue. If you're fortunate enough to get into that zone with your band, you intuitively play the right thing (scripted part or not); you HAVE to contribute to the groove.
Personally, my mojo to help create magic at a show is this: the morning of a show, upon rising, I smile while thinking about the evening's show. Alot. I visualize smiling and nodding from the throne at my bandmates, trying to get them to feel "it". Real or imagined, this strategy helps create some chemistry onstage. From there, you can only pray some magic will happen

Drifter in the Dark

Silver Member
Music is a very subjective thing and can sound different depending on your perspective. An example from my own experience: when I was in college, I played my first session in a real recording studio. Listening to playback, it was apparent to me that the drum parts that I'd worked out in rehearsal weren't translating well to tape, and what sounded like intricate lick in the practice room sounded like mud on the recording. So I simplified, and at the end of the day I noticed a curious thing: The best takes were the ones that felt stupidly simple when I was actually tracking them; that is to say, when I felt like I wasn't playing enough notes, I was actually playing just the right amount for the song.


"Uncle Larry"
So I simplified, and at the end of the day I noticed a curious thing: The best takes were the ones that felt stupidly simple when I was actually tracking them; that is to say, when I felt like I wasn't playing enough notes, I was actually playing just the right amount for the song.
That's it in a nutshell. Again, less is more strikes again. It's arguably the single best piece of advice one can do, whether it be live, or especially in the studio. Distill it down to only what's absolutely necessary, and don't play it too emotionally. Exercise a little restraint, and it will sound more inspired than if you played it inspired. It's reverse thinking in a way, but it's getting the results I want, and results are King.