Your opinion on the validity of drumming competitions

NerfLad

Silver Member
I've always thought the Annual Guitar Center Drum Off is a great marketing tool for the instrument and the community as a whole (not to mention Guitar Center themselves). It's really exciting and well presented (and it's exposed some great, deserving cats to the world), and of course anytime someone I know is involved I fully support them, but I've never been comfortable with the idea of it being a competition.

Of course I'm okay with competitions, but for something so personal as drumming, I would prefer for there to be a level of abstraction. A good example of this is the World's Fastest Drummer competitions, where the contestants are judged on the level of their technique, by way of how comfortable they are executing alternating fundamental stroke motions at high speed.

We could add this level of abstraction to the Drum Off and still have it be cool and drumset-centric. The problem right now lies with the fact that the only rules in the Drum-Off are that you have no accompaniment when you play; you play a drum solo (there might also be some setup restrictions, but I digress). I think 95% of the people on this forum would agree that the drum solo is an art form.

Of course, art's quality isn't truly quantifiable, and it just doesn't feel right to me for one person to be rewarded over another by the arbitrary decision of a group of judges, no matter their star power (or, at the local level, delusions thereof). (Yes, there is such a thing as bad art, but that's not what I'm here to discuss. Please assume for argument's sake that all of the contestants in the Drum-Off are self-aware enough to be of reasonable artistic conviction... or at least would contend that they are.)

I think a better basis for a competition would be to have everyone playing the same material (I dunno.... let's just say The Black Page, for instance, even though that's a very extreme example) and judging their execution rather than just saying "play a drum solo for [between 90 and 300] seconds and we'll see who we like best". Even having that as a category and then also having free-form solos to judge their creativity wouldn't be so bad.

It would be like if American Idol made the contestants write all of the songs they performed and then judged them on their songwriting as well as their singing; a scientific experiment with no control variable.

Giving the structure of the contest more rigidity would sacrifice some of the promotion of freedom and individuality that I think is philosophically inherent to the drums as a whole, and should certainly not be squelched, but it would give the competition some stronger ground on which to stand.

[/rant]
Agree, disagree? Too long; didn't read?
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
Didn't really read the whole post, but I know where you're coming from with this, and it's been observed before.

Having judged GC drum-offs (for over 20 years), Sam Ash drum-off, and spoken at WFD competitions (I've known Boo for a number of years...) I have what I think is the correct perspective on such contests: they're contests! I mean, is anyone actually surprised about this??

They're not meant as auditions, or to (necessarily) possess any musical virtues. They are competitions, and are intended to be chop-fests. When I judge the drum-off, I don't look for any musical sensibilities. Some of the entrants are really quite amazing, and it's safe to say that most of them can drum circles around me. But I also know that few if any of them could do my gigs. And that's fine, if I was looking for a sub or a replacement, these competitions would be the last place I would go.

Again, these are contests, not auditons for drumming in the real-world. The only problem is with those who cannot accept them in that context, and try to view them as some sort of musical event. Not gonna happen, that's not what they're about.

Bermuda
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
It's just a contest, somewhat of a recital. I was in one a few years ago and advanced a few levels. People have always like events like this to see (hopefully) virtuosic performances, or at least to come together and celebrate their instrument and music.
 

Grover Drums

Junior Member
The Guitar center drum off is probably the worst i have ever seen. i am a veteran drummer with over 30 years drumming experience, countless gigs and a music school dropout. if age is a factor they should post that. guys that had very little in the way of chops were getting placed above us older cats. at least say in the rules that if you are 40 it will count against you.
 

Mikecore

Silver Member
The Guitar center drum off is probably the worst i have ever seen. i am a veteran drummer with over 30 years drumming experience, countless gigs and a music school dropout. if age is a factor they should post that. guys that had very little in the way of chops were getting placed above us older cats. at least say in the rules that if you are 40 it will count against you.
I think the appeal in these things is for the younger drummer. There exists a chance to get some great exposure very early in your life; the GC contest winners usually show up in Modern Drummer, and I think the last time I saw Drum Channel they were doing a feature on one of the GC winners. That alone would have been a dream for me between 16 and 22 years old, to say nothing of the hard goodies you get as well!

The closer I get to 40, the more I'm concerned with just getting my music out there by way of my band's album and my own solo work, and I think Guitar Center is OK about that too.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
The Guitar center drum off is probably the worst i have ever seen. i am a veteran drummer with over 30 years drumming experience, countless gigs and a music school dropout. if age is a factor they should post that. guys that had very little in the way of chops were getting placed above us older cats. at least say in the rules that if you are 40 it will count against you.
That's the fault of many judges, who are somehow overly-impressed with youth than with talent. I always judged based on what I heard and not the person's age, color, gender, or attitude (except as it applied to their showmanship, which is a factor that is judged.) I believe that GC has placed an age limit so that no 8-year-old "amazing for their age" drummers could upset the balance and misguide some of the judges.

By the same token, I didn't cut older contestants any slack either. It was all about the drumming with me, and that's why I am routinely asked back to be a judge.

Bermuda
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
Agree, disagree?...
Well... a bit of both actually :)

I'm OK with competitions too, but not in music, generally speaking, music isn't a sport nor a race, how do you rate musical expression, technique, virtuosity, rhythmical challenges? Who's the best when it comes down to drumming in a contest? It's all far too subjective to tastes and perceptions of the drummers performances.

I agree that a drum solo is an art form, but out of a context and a purpose, sounds a bit "shallow" in terms of feel and emotions, and becomes no more no less than a chops and licks fest, and I don't have a problem with it, I enjoy watching a decent drummer soloing as much as anyone else and I can appreciate the dedication and workmanship involved by the contestants, but to declare a winner? On what basis? ...creativity? technique? dynamics? ...???

If you want a real competition, it has to be on the same ground, the contestants should have to do the exact same things to play, like the "50 ways to leave your lovers" pattern, or other iconic patterns in the world of drumming, this way you could "judge" a contestant's performance more easily, but even there, subjectivity plays a major role.

In a running race, the fastest contestant wins, period, in music it's not such a clear cut IMO.

A rather prefer events such as Modern Drummer's festival, Meinl's festival and other similar events worldwide were you actually see the cream of contemporary drummers doing solos, performances and discussing the art of drumming, it's more informative, the drumming is incredible and there's no competition involved, the best of all worlds in the validity of a drumming related event.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I got to judge a local GC drum off years ago, and maybe it's different now, but the whole vibe of this little Tuesday night thing was to make sure everyone was having a good time, the general effect was 'high' from all participants, and if they sold more stuff, cool. I kinda' made it a point that if everyone was playing something different, then it would be kinda' hard to pick a true winner and that we were all sharing our playing with each other first and foremost. I guess since then it's become this really big deal where the line blurs between great soloists and actual working musicians?

I had thought the same thing when I first saw the Buddy Rich Memorial Concerts - I thought all the drummers should have played one of Buddy's old kits, then at least one parameter would be constant so you could see how Vinnie, Steve, or Dave would've reacted to the Man's drums.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
They have perfect validity as contests. That's what they are and that's all they claim to be, at least the ones I'm familiar with.

I'm a fan of drum corps, and DCI is all about competition. Granted, the judging is more sophisticated; but it's competition, nonetheless. They're both valid taken in the context of what they are. If they claimed to be something else, then we'd have a point of contention.
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
I used to be a judge at these comps ...only kidding. I doubt they'd even let me in as a spectator :)

My view of comps has changed. My old bands entered a few band comps - we did ok in a couple of them too - but I was idealistic and never really approved. It didn't help when bands with a rent-a-crowd won some of the comps by virtue of audience reaction - musical branch stacking FDS

When I first came to the forum I fought the good (and naive) fight against drum competitions until Matt Smith got to me :) No, really, he turned my head around on this.

Any industry, including music, is full of competition - bands compete for markets, musicians compete at auditions and open nights. In the old days drummers enjoyed cutting sessions. It's part of the game, especially a game mostly played by men. The fact that so many WFD competitors are tremendous drummers with mature musicality turned my head too.

Whether we like it or not, there is a perfectly valid sporting component in drumming and music. Some musicians enjoy competing and find it brings the best out in them. Others prefer to run their own race at their own pace. Horses for courses.
 

Talismanis

Senior Member
I like the drum solos, I like the chops and I like learning the chops, but it annoys me how a drum-off winner is suddenly automatically a better drummer than his/her peers. There are so many ways to do a drum solo, and everyone is different.
It makes one drummer superior to another, despite the very essence of that being entirely subjective.

Having said that, I like JP Bouvet's standpoint of treating them as a show and tell rather than a competition - but my grievances lie with probably the vast majority of spectators who treat it as a competitive thing (which to be fair they're not wrong to do, it IS a competition by name). Guitar Center Drum-show-and-tell doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
 
Last edited:

tamadrm

Platinum Member
This is one thing I have against drumming competitions.I had some old reel to reel tapes of Dave Tough practicing,and playing in I believe Glen Millers band.Other guys have said this about dave,but in his practicing session,he sounds like a beginner with no direction at all.But that same guy could drive a band like only a very few could.

Drums are not a lead instrument to me.I like a great drum solo too,as long as it's musical,tasteful,and relativly short,as in 5 minutes tops.Some great players don't play great solo's,and vise versa.

Steve B
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
This is one thing I have against drumming competitions.I had some old reel to reel tapes of Dave Tough practicing,and playing in I believe Glen Millers band.Other guys have said this about dave,but in his practicing session,he sounds like a beginner with no direction at all.But that same guy could drive a band like only a very few could.
Love to see that clip.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I like the drum solos, I like the chops and I like learning the chops, but it annoys me how a drum-off winner is suddenly automatically a better drummer than his/her peers. There are so many ways to do a drum solo, and everyone is different.
It makes one drummer superior to another, despite the very essence of that being entirely subjective.
And that is the nature of such competitions. There's a winner, and there are... people who didn't win.

The fact that everyone is different makes the GC drumoff (for example) both interesting, and often difficult to judge. The best a judge can do is apply their standards about chops and creativity, evenly to each contestant. Even then, it's not easy. Sometimes an extra point here or there for showmanship makes the difference between two equally excellent players.

But again, I'm seeing attempts to somehow humanize or otherwise apply musical sensibilities to the competitions, and it's just not about that. Competitions are in their own little bubble, and aren't intended to reflect what career musicians do, or should expect in the real world. They're chopfests, nothing more.

Bermuda
 
Top