The Instrument Is An Illusion

haredrums

Silver Member
Let me just preface this thread by saying that I know that this can be a sensitive topic for some people, and so I am approaching this topic with the utmost respect and humility.

Recently the mighty Pollyanna pointed me towards some great video of Hal Galper masterclasses. In one of the videos, Hal makes the point that the artist, and the artists mind is the real instrument. This really resonated with me, and I think leads to some really useful and important ideas for drummers. I wrote a post about it with the original video here:

http://haredrums.blogspot.com/2012/02/instrument-is-illusion.html

So here are my questions for you all.

1. Do you agree that the artist is the real instrument?

2. Do you think that people over prioritize the drum set as opposed to the music?

With this question, I totally respect the pursuit of a better instrument in and of itself. My question has to do with whether this pursuit ends up taking priority over the music, and whether that is appropriate. I also respect the pursuit of a better instrument as an independent hobby. I am talking exclusively about active musicians who are focused intently on getting better drums.​

Just to reiterate, these questions are motivated by genuine curiosity on my part. My opinion should be pretty clear from my blog post, but I would love to hear and discuss yours.
 

LukeSnyder

Gold Member
1 - Yes, I believe the artist is the instrument. My music is personal whether or not I'm drumming, playing keyboard, or sequencing.

2 - I prioritize the drum set because it is the instrument that I have played the most, and I particularly enjoy the physical nature of it.
 

Anduin

Pioneer Member
I've also heard respected drummers say that the sticks are the instrument.

The reality is that the drums/cymbals/etc. are the instrument.

I think that the point of saying the artist’s mind is the instrument is to stress the importance of thinking about your playing and internalizing it (for so-called muscle memory). I mean, drums, or any instrument, don’t do much by themselves. They just sit there. And a clueless newbie (who lacks the mental know-how) on any instrument is not going to produce what most people would think of as music.

I’m definitely in favour of focussing on the mental aspects of drumming, as opposed to the physical kit. I like to think that I can make the crappiest drum kit sound good, and it’s obviously my mental processes (that, of course, drive the physical playing) that let me do that (or, perhaps, delude myself into thinking I can do that).

Interesting topic, with potential tangents into neuroscience, psychoacoustics, etc.
 
A

Anthony Amodeo

Guest
I have been a long time believer in the fact that is does not matter what kind of drum kit, piano, guitar, or sax you are playing, you will always sound like you.

you can put one drum kit in a room and have 10 guys , one at a time go in and play it

you will hear 10 different drum kits

this theory I have always believed in was reinforced just a bit when I was recently in a Sam Ash and as I was trying to talk to a friend who works there some kids and some amateur players all played a Pearl kit that was sitting there and all I could think about while talking to my friend was ...that kit needs to be tuned or something it sounds horrible....then a middle aged guy sat down and played some swing and it stopped me in my tracks....the kit sounded amazing....about 20 minutes later a young gospel player sat down and it sounded like a completely different kit but equally as amazing

I am and always will be a firm believer in this theory
 
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mo2vation

Senior Member
Let me just preface this thread by saying that I know that this can be a sensitive topic for some people, and so I am approaching this topic with the utmost respect and humility.

Recently the mighty Pollyanna pointed me towards some great video of Hal Galper masterclasses. In one of the videos, Hal makes the point that the artist, and the artists mind is the real instrument. This really resonated with me, and I think leads to some really useful and important ideas for drummers. I wrote a post about it with the original video here:

http://haredrums.blogspot.com/2012/02/instrument-is-illusion.html

So here are my questions for you all.

1. Do you agree that the artist is the real instrument?

2. Do you think that people over prioritize the drum set as opposed to the music?

With this question, I totally respect the pursuit of a better instrument in and of itself. My question has to do with whether this pursuit ends up taking priority over the music, and whether that is appropriate. I also respect the pursuit of a better instrument as an independent hobby. I am talking exclusively about active musicians who are focused intently on getting better drums.​

Just to reiterate, these questions are motivated by genuine curiosity on my part. My opinion should be pretty clear from my blog post, but I would love to hear and discuss yours.

Without overqualifying the life out of a reply - I'll simply say this: I am only an expert on me.

This question gets into issues of what is art, and what is an artist.

I'm a photographer as well. When I post my shots on my blogs and forums, or when they're published in magazines, annual reports, calendars or whatever - the two questions that inevitably come in (split almost perfectly down gender lines):

- Women: Where was that shot? Its Beautiful!

- Men: What camera did you use?

I can say without reservation, the camera doesn't matter. My knowledge of the camera matters, as it facilitates speed, and agility and comfort. But the reality is this: the camera's job is to simply get out of the way, and serve as a vehicle for me to capture and express what I see.

To me, drums are the same thing. Their job is to get out of the way, and let me express what I hear.

In my situation, I will often play on kits that are not my own - simply bringing my Pedals, sticks and cymbals - and if room / time allows, my primary snare and HH stand.

I grant you, a better sounding kit (rather: a kit that sounds more pleasing to ME) will evoke different playing from me... if the toms sound like oatmeal boxes, I'll stay off of them, as opposed to toms that sing... where I can't get enough of them - but the artistic expression doesn't come FROM the kit - no more than brushes or a pallet knife 'makes' the painter. It may influence outcome - but an artist will make art by whatever means are at his or her disposal - be it a bucket on a street corner or a professional grade kit in an arena.

What I've found in my photography, is the professional shooters gravitate towards subject selection, execution and color and have long ago left the arms race to the tweakers and the hacks.

In music, I've found the professionals gravitate towards writing good lines, execution and tone and have long ago left the arms race to the tweakers and the hacks.

Of course the instrument's role in art is over emphasized - that's how you sell more instruments to the bottom of the pyramid. There are a lot more aspiring professionals than professionals - and its (generally) the aspiring that are still in the arms race.

The artist is always the real instrument. The stuff is just stuff.

This came home to me early on in music. My first real guitar player was struggling. Working a crap job, had crap gear. He got a better job, and bought a very nice Mesa amp. In 5 minutes of strum and tweak - he sounded like him. I couldn't believe it. That also works in reverse - putting a pro on a crap guitar or drums. Pound, strum, tweak, turn .... voila. They sound like them.

I was in a store during the holidays. A couple wanted to buy a cajon for their son. So I sat on a crap LP cajon. Grabbed a tambourine, put it under my right foot, grabbed a couple of egg shakers and started grooving. That box was an awful thing - terrible tone, no bevel on the top edge, it was constructed poorly. But I made that thing rock - cracking necks as people walked by. In a few moments I identified the tonal possibilities of that POS and exploited them to make music. The couple bought one.

Its important to aspire to good gear. I get that. But the best gear gets out of the way, and lets the artist express.

-K
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
1. Do you agree that the artist is the real instrument?

2. Do you think that people over prioritize the drum set as opposed to the music?
Yes and yes.

In regards to the first 'yes', I've seen it with other artists before, but have noticed it with myself as well. I have recordings of myself made over the years and during my entire time I've upgraded, downgraded, tried different drums, and they all sound alike. Nothing made me sound any better in terms of the instruments I've collected.

In regards to the second 'yes', it's a valid pursuit if people can differentiate. If you acknowledge that you are an 'instrument collector', then it's ok. However, there is a certain quality level you must maintain to have instruments that will do the work the artist requires. Fortunately for those of us that can play, it's not expensive as we think. Unfortunately for those of us that can't play, no amount of money will help you.
 

haredrums

Silver Member
Without overqualifying the life out of a reply - I'll simply say this: I am only an expert on me.

This question gets into issues of what is art, and what is an artist.

I'm a photographer as well. When I post my shots on my blogs and forums, or when they're published in magazines, annual reports, calendars or whatever - the two questions that inevitably come in (split almost perfectly down gender lines):

- Women: Where was that shot? Its Beautiful!

- Men: What camera did you use?

I can say without reservation, the camera doesn't matter. My knowledge of the camera matters, as it facilitates speed, and agility and comfort. But the reality is this: the camera's job is to simply get out of the way, and serve as a vehicle for me to capture and express what I see.

To me, drums are the same thing. Their job is to get out of the way, and let me express what I hear.

In my situation, I will often play on kits that are not my own - simply bringing my Pedals, sticks and cymbals - and if room / time allows, my primary snare and HH stand.

I grant you, a better sounding kit (rather: a kit that sounds more pleasing to ME) will evoke different playing from me... if the toms sound like oatmeal boxes, I'll stay off of them, as opposed to toms that sing... where I can't get enough of them - but the artistic expression doesn't come FROM the kit - no more than brushes or a pallet knife 'makes' the painter. It may influence outcome - but an artist will make art by whatever means are at his or her disposal - be it a bucket on a street corner or a professional grade kit in an arena.

What I've found in my photography, is the professional shooters gravitate towards subject selection, execution and color and have long ago left the arms race to the tweakers and the hacks.

In music, I've found the professionals gravitate towards writing good lines, execution and tone and have long ago left the arms race to the tweakers and the hacks.

Of course the instrument's role in art is over emphasized - that's how you sell more instruments to the bottom of the pyramid. There are a lot more aspiring professionals than professionals - and its (generally) the aspiring that are still in the arms race.

The artist is always the real instrument. The stuff is just stuff.

This came home to me early on in music. My first real guitar player was struggling. Working a crap job, had crap gear. He got a better job, and bought a very nice Mesa amp. In 5 minutes of strum and tweak - he sounded like him. I couldn't believe it. That also works in reverse - putting a pro on a crap guitar or drums. Pound, strum, tweak, turn .... voila. They sound like them.

I was in a store during the holidays. A couple wanted to buy a cajon for their son. So I sat on a crap LP cajon. Grabbed a tambourine, put it under my right foot, grabbed a couple of egg shakers and started grooving. That box was an awful thing - terrible tone, no bevel on the top edge, it was constructed poorly. But I made that thing rock - cracking necks as people walked by. In a few moments I identified the tonal possibilities of that POS and exploited them to make music. The couple bought one.

Its important to aspire to good gear. I get that. But the best gear gets out of the way, and lets the artist express.

-K
+1

Beautifully expressed, thanks for participating in the conversation!
 

Too Many Songs

Senior Member
Your posts are a reason for staying on here Andrew.

A few weeks ago the question was asked whether anyone could be a drummer. I replied:

"I would say of course not. Speaking from personal experience, work will take you so far but I could never play like Roy Haynes or Jack DeJonette - to take just two drummers who are exceptional not for their technical mastery but because of their artistry - their musicality. And it is those qualities which make them great. I could no more play like that than I could paint like Picasso or write like Steinbeck.

Writing is a pretty good analogy actually. We can all write (spelling and grammar on this forum excepted) but very few can WRITE. Drumming's the same except fewer people have mastered the basic mechanics of it. We think because we can play a paradiddle that somehow we are drummers. Most of us are no more drummers than we are writers."​

So I would say it is not only a focus on the drums but the whole mechanics that is misplaced. Of course for most of us it is only the gear and the technique that we can master which is why we think it is so important. You only have to look at the number of people reading the various forums here to work out what most 'drummers' think matters.

Perhaps I'll leave as well - seems to be the fashionable thing to do. Have fun guys.
 

AndyMC

Senior Member
No I think the instrument is the instrument and the artist is the art. But any decent drummer can find a bass sound a snare sound and start rockin out on anything (My favorite thing to drum on is myself, you get the sensory feedback loop)

I also think people freak out over gear too much, I played a Tama swingstar for 10 years then got some saturns, I now have everything I need unless I want to learn double pedal, so I rarely buy new gear these days. Unless a piece of gear is specifically hindering me I keep using it and am always finding new sounds and techniques to use them. I must have at least 50 sounds from my snare and I keep finding more, who needs new gear?

Having this actually laid out is nice I feel I had similar ideas but that man is truly a master.
Once again nice post Andrew
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Ah yes. The drummer makes the art, not the drum set.

I've often told the story of one day I walked into a club I frequented at the time, and there was a guy playing a kit that looked like it had been rescued from a trash bin. Everything was mis-matched, beyond trashed, with heads that looked really old. Yet, the guy playing them played them so beautifully that they could have been the best drums on the planet.

So many albums from prior decades were made on drums that would be considered mid-line at best by today's standards, yet those recordings stand the test of time.

A few weeks ago, Nick (masonni) brought over a 55 gallon plastic jug to my place. We stuck a bass drum mic in it, and it sounded amazing. I'm looking over my expensive top of the line DW bass drum, and thinking about all the expensive tricks drummers go through to get a good bass drum tone, and this plastic jug blows them all away.

Still, I love talking gear because it's fun. But at the end of it all, it's a drum: you hit it, it makes a noise.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
The "mighty Pollyanna" lol ... the legend in her own lunchtime!

Q1. When you look at what's most important in making music different things are of different priority. By far the most important thing is the player.

Top drummers can make anything sound good. When this point is raised I think of two clips: Steve Gadd playing brushes on a cardboard box and Dave Grohl using a child's kit.

Other factors that come to mind are:

- the musicians you're playing with
- the acoustics of the room
- audience size and responsiveness
- health and mood (can be strongly influenced by partner supportiveness)
- your sticks / input devices
- the instruments in the kit.

For me, cymbal quality matters way more than that of drums. Playing jazz with heavy cymbals designed for loud music would be tricky. At least you can tune and dampen drums.


2. This is about priorities. I'd personally say "yes", but I'm not a collector. Some people are 90% collector and 10% musician, others vice versa.

People do what makes them happy. I prefer collaborating in music but I can see the appeal of basement drumming - it sure beats TV (unless Futurama is on, of course).
 

haredrums

Silver Member
The "mighty Pollyanna" lol ... the legend in her own lunchtime!

Q1. When you look at what's most important in making music different things are of different priority. By far the most important thing is the player.

Top drummers can make anything sound good. When this point is raised I think of two clips: Steve Gadd playing brushes on a cardboard box and Dave Grohl using a child's kit.

Other factors that come to mind are:

- the musicians you're playing with
- the acoustics of the room
- audience size and responsiveness
- health and mood (can be strongly influenced by partner supportiveness)
- your sticks / input devices
- the instruments in the kit.

For me, cymbal quality matters way more than that of drums. Playing jazz with heavy cymbals designed for loud music would be tricky. At least you can tune and dampen drums.


2. This is about priorities. I'd personally say "yes", but I'm not a collector. Some people are 90% collector and 10% musician, others vice versa.

People do what makes them happy. I prefer collaborating in music but I can see the appeal of basement drumming - it sure beats TV (unless Futurama is on, of course).
+1

Good points Pollyanna, and thanks again for pointing me in the direction of those videos!
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Without overqualifying the life out of a reply - I'll simply say this: I am only an expert on me.

This question gets into issues of what is art, and what is an artist.

I'm a photographer as well. When I post my shots on my blogs and forums, or when they're published in magazines, annual reports, calendars or whatever - the two questions that inevitably come in (split almost perfectly down gender lines):

- Women: Where was that shot? Its Beautiful!

- Men: What camera did you use?

I can say without reservation, the camera doesn't matter. My knowledge of the camera matters, as it facilitates speed, and agility and comfort. But the reality is this: the camera's job is to simply get out of the way, and serve as a vehicle for me to capture and express what I see.

To me, drums are the same thing. Their job is to get out of the way, and let me express what I hear.

In my situation, I will often play on kits that are not my own - simply bringing my Pedals, sticks and cymbals - and if room / time allows, my primary snare and HH stand.

I grant you, a better sounding kit (rather: a kit that sounds more pleasing to ME) will evoke different playing from me... if the toms sound like oatmeal boxes, I'll stay off of them, as opposed to toms that sing... where I can't get enough of them - but the artistic expression doesn't come FROM the kit - no more than brushes or a pallet knife 'makes' the painter. It may influence outcome - but an artist will make art by whatever means are at his or her disposal - be it a bucket on a street corner or a professional grade kit in an arena.

What I've found in my photography, is the professional shooters gravitate towards subject selection, execution and color and have long ago left the arms race to the tweakers and the hacks.

In music, I've found the professionals gravitate towards writing good lines, execution and tone and have long ago left the arms race to the tweakers and the hacks.

Of course the instrument's role in art is over emphasized - that's how you sell more instruments to the bottom of the pyramid. There are a lot more aspiring professionals than professionals - and its (generally) the aspiring that are still in the arms race.

The artist is always the real instrument. The stuff is just stuff.

This came home to me early on in music. My first real guitar player was struggling. Working a crap job, had crap gear. He got a better job, and bought a very nice Mesa amp. In 5 minutes of strum and tweak - he sounded like him. I couldn't believe it. That also works in reverse - putting a pro on a crap guitar or drums. Pound, strum, tweak, turn .... voila. They sound like them.

I was in a store during the holidays. A couple wanted to buy a cajon for their son. So I sat on a crap LP cajon. Grabbed a tambourine, put it under my right foot, grabbed a couple of egg shakers and started grooving. That box was an awful thing - terrible tone, no bevel on the top edge, it was constructed poorly. But I made that thing rock - cracking necks as people walked by. In a few moments I identified the tonal possibilities of that POS and exploited them to make music. The couple bought one.

Its important to aspire to good gear. I get that. But the best gear gets out of the way, and lets the artist express.

-K
Wow who the heck is this guy? Nice stuff indeed. We recently lost some great members, would you like to be our friend?
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
1. Do you agree that the artist is the real instrument?

2. Do you think that people over prioritize the drum set as opposed to the music?
1. Yes, it doesn't matter who's seating behind a kit, they will sound like themselves, this will happen whatever the drummer is prioritizing the drumkit or not, everyone is unique, it's the musician that will make the music, the instrument is only a mean of transfering the music, I said in another thread that you can take a drummer's chair behind his kit, but you can't take his place, every artists and musicians have a voice of their own, I can only be in agreement with your question, as instruments are not capable of making music by themselves, we are the instrument(s) :)

Before I answer your second question you said in your blog "I don't really think that much about my drums, they are very secondary to the music in my perspective." and although that I agree with this concept, the drums is your choosen instrument to express yourself within the music, therefore, you have to prioritize the drum in terms of what you want to have within your drumset, and of course the necessary amount of technique to be able to express yourself in a musical context, like mo2vation said "My knowledge of the camera matters, as it facilitates speed, and agility and comfort.", without this knowledge it would be difficult to operate the camera isn't it, at least if you want your pictures to be considered as art.

2. So with this in mind, and obviously depending on which level of drumming your "skills" are, it's a balance situation, a 50/50 compromise between the two, you're prioritizing the drums to be a better "instrument" and you're prioritizing the music when you are the "instrument", one does not go without the other one. :)

... but I can see the appeal of basement drumming - it sure beats TV (unless Futurama is on, of course).
Yep Polly, basement drumming's been my only chance to have a go at music lately, since I have no band at the moment, and I'm not much of a TV person anyway, so it's all good :)


... the mighty Pollyanna
 

Attachments

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
How do you explain that one person wrote the music, Artist?
And a second person is playing or reading what was written.
Who is the instrument in this case. Your mind didn't conceive the
the song. But you are playing? Just food for thought.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
I watched that Galper clip and at first I wasn't sure what he was getting at, but I stuck with it and I agree with the point he's trying to make.

It reminds me of an experience I had last weekend. I was hanging out at my local drum shop, like I do every weekend, and one of the teachers and I struck up a conversation about a video that was playing on the store's TV. It was a Zildjian or MD event from about 10 years ago and Billy Ward was talking to the audience.

My buddy commented that the Ward segment was one of the most instructive things he's ever seen and that he shared it with all his students. I'm paraphrasing, but what Ward said was basically, "Let your head lead your hands. Don't let your hands lead your head." The point being that it's so easy to learn licks and let muscle memory dictate what you play, but the hallmark of a great player is that the technique is merely a vehicle for the ideas in your head.

That sounds almost obvious, but how often do we really elevate to that level where our ideas are flowing and our hands and feet are serving that voice in our head that needs to come out? As opposed to playing the licks and familiar things we already know?

I know, speaking for myself, that the answer is, "Not often enough."

I think there are parallels between what Galper says in this clip and what Billy Ward was saying.

Anyway, back to the two questions:

1. Do you agree that the artist is the real instrument? Yes.

2. Do you think that people over prioritize the drum set as opposed to the music? Yes.
 
A

Anthony Amodeo

Guest
How do you explain that one person wrote the music, Artist?
And a second person is playing or reading what was written.
Who is the instrument in this case. Your mind didn't conceive the
the song. But you are playing? Just food for thought.

in that case its all up to your interpretation of the piece

5 people can play the same piece all executing it fine but certain players will just sound better playing it than others

sort of like the way no one has any idea how a Beethoven or Mozart piece is truly supposed to be executed because no one has ever heard a recording of them played the way they were intended when inked

all we know are modern interpretations of their music

just the way you could listen to 5 of the best trumpet players in the world play the Star Spangled Banner , each one will interpret it differently and sound uniquely like them

in all of these cases the instrument is the vehicle and the human IS the instrument
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
How do you explain that one person wrote the music, Artist?
And a second person is playing or reading what was written.
Who is the instrument in this case. Your mind didn't conceive the
the song. But you are playing? Just food for thought.
I think this is why I decided to give up joining another band for a while and trying to write my own music.
 
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