Stories: The State of Things to Drum

One of the greatest joys is jamming; by yourself and especially with other musicians.

Recently, within the past year, a MARS music store opened up less than a mile from where I live (great!!!)(Sam Ash is 3 miles away, and there is a little 3 store chain in this area that just opened up a store with a mile). In case you haven’t been to a huge musicians’ store, let me fill you in on the two that I know. Maybe their other stores differ from what happens in these two, but…

When you go to buy a car, you have the option, nay, responsibility to test drive the vehicle. I believe the same holds true for musical instruments. Sam Ash Music opened up a store in my area about 4 or 5 years ago. I figured, great! And, it was, in comparison to all the little stores-selection-playability, prices, etc. But, I wanted to play a drum kit; test drive it, in the store. For as big as this music store chain is, and as big as the store is, you’d think they’d have more than one drum kit set up to play. Nope, they had one. One kit. So, I sat down and started playing and immediately stopped because the salesman was yelling that he was on the phone. At that point, the store became more like a museum, because I was afraid to touch anything. How am I supposed to make a decent decision about a drum or cymbal or equipment without playing it, hearing it and feeling it?!

Thank God for small favors. HE opened up a Mars Music store. There, they have separate rooms for the drums and sales counters. There, you can, literally, play for hours, on any one of no less than 15 kits, 3 of which may be electronic, and a very nice Latin/African percussion set up, of various levels of craftsmanship. There, at Mars Music in Cherry Hill, N.J., you can experience playing with other musicians. On Wednesday nights, they have an open jam for bands, solo musicians/artists, anyone looking to jam.

But, one of my greatest joys was sitting down at a drum kit, in the drum room, having another total stranger sit down at another kit, and wham! All of a sudden you two, or three, (or?) are trading, playing off of each other, looking over at each one of us and getting into it, digging it, laughing and enjoying ourselves like we were old friends, like we were five years old, when I first saw and heard a drum kit close up, and I knew.

For a few bucks more….

I hate shopping, and love it. I love it because I get to test smash the drum or cymbal or stomp hard on the bass pedal or hi hat. I get to see if what I might buy can handle what I will give it.

I hate shopping because, for a few bucks more….They force me to rethink what I was going to buy! I came in to buy a hi hat stand ($120). But, for a few dollars more, I can get more features. Hmm, okay…I’ll do it! But wait, what do I see? Another hi hat stand, next to this one, even sturdier and beefier looking, even more features! This is the part I hate. I was hoping to buy some other things, too.

Of course, we all want the best of everything. And for a few bucks more, you can have it. Point is, do you need – do I need the best? We certainly deserve it.

For a few bucks more you can get collar locks and this adjustment and that adjustment and a tilter and a better footboard and, and…

In the end I guess it means we have to keep scraping and saving to get the top end equipment. I bought the best hi hat stand in the store. I’m going back in a week or two to buy a double bass pedal for around $180. Do you think they’ll have a better bass pedal, with more features, waiting for me? Albeit, for a few bucks more?

Sometimes we win

We musician’s have it tough. When you’re an up and coming band and you have just put a bunch of songs on tape (or cd, mp3, wav, aif, etc) to take to all the local clubs to see if you can get a gig, and the manager, after supposedly listening to some of it, dismisses it as, essentially trash.

I would walk out of the place thinking a few things; One; He doesn’t know good music from a hole in the ground! How can’t he hear what I hear?! Doesn’t he know this is gold?! (I’m in shock) Two; Maybe this isn’t the right club for our material. After all, it is really more of a blues club than a rock venue. But, then I dismiss that because this is the greatest music ever recorded, (by this band, anyway) and I feel it will go over well where ever we play. Yes, I believe in the music I help create. And, the third thing I’m thinking is a bunch of expletives, but because I’m more of a positive person, I move onto better things quickly! (We’ll show him!!)

But, sometimes we win. Sometimes we get compliments on our individual abilities and accomplishments and those as a band as well. Sometimes we get the gigs we really want. Sometimes better things happen, such as real band management (without losing your focus or identity), club tours, good recording sessions and great harmony. Sometimes we even get signed, albeit in this day and age, we’re more likely to get signed to a smaller label than a larger one.

But, the important thing to remember is to keep your focus. Remember why you are doing this. Remember why you are a musician. Remember the joy you get from playing, creating, jamming, learning your craft(s). It should never have been, and should never be, about the money, or the fame (the chicks, definitely!)(Ha!).

As a younger musician, I remember it being difficult to keep the focus while watching all those rock stars on television ‘live the life’. I wanted to rock and roll all night and party every day. Now, I just want to rock all night, for a few hours, and sleep late the next day. But, I have the focus! Some good fortunes have helped the band I’m in and we are still hell bent on nothing but good music and playing, practicing, jamming and creating.

It seems to me it really just does take perseverance to achieve anything you want. I’ve been playing drums a long time, trying to figure out what I want. I knew I wanted to learn, first and foremost. I knew I wanted to play, and be a part of a team (not that I’m not arrogant enough to believe I could do it all myself!)(I am!). I knew I’d like to be financially rich and a famous rock star (as long as I was good at my craft). It takes an awful lot of gigs to get anywhere, if anywhere musically. Most times you never get anywhere, just playing out and having fun. Take it for what it is worth (everything).

Circles

What a wonderful shape, the circle. Aren’t there lessons in life about the circle somewhere? “What comes around, goes around” Really, it’s all over the place more than we think: ‘lifecycle’, ‘bicycle’, ‘circle of friends’. There are lessons that also apply to drums, in a way.

Consider the term, ‘life cycle’, as meaning, “Where we start we also end up”. When I began playing drums I played simple beats because that is all I knew how to do. Now that I know how to play drums, I can play simple beats because that is where and how I feel them, and, in every musical sense, I know they belong there, I know why they belong there. I have come full circle in my own learning of the drums and percussion. It is one thing to know what to do and how to do it, and another thing when you know why. I will never stop seeking to learn about my chosen craft, or anything else. In another year, or a day, I will possibly come full circle from where I am now in my progression. I hope.

To come full circle is to grow, to learn to understand.

Could you imagine any other shape for a drum? Well, maybe I’m asking the wrong group….

What we have to offer…

All we really can offer, as musicians, as drummers and percussionists, is our talent, our rhythm and our expertise. Don’t take that to mean all you can do is play drums. Remember, you are one member of a team, and your input is as valuable as the next musicians’.

Too often I have talked to drummers who feel left out of the loop, like they are just drum machines (playing too fast, too slow, too wild, too soft). Then, I tell them about my situation. I tell them how I have three great friends as band mates, how they listen to me and vice versa and how we value each other’s opinions, wholeheartedly.

I, too, have felt like just a drum machine (it is natural), until I became a musician, in every sense of the word. I’d like to consider myself multi-talented; I not only play drums, I have written and composed songs, passages and lyrics. Repeat this to your self, “I will not be part of a team if I am not a contributing member.” This does not mean you have to write and compose songs, lyrics, etc. All you have to do is be yourself. But, if you feel left out, say something. If you feel you have something more to say musically, then say it. It is your musical heart that is at stake. Take a look at Phil Collins; what can’t he do?! What about Neil Peart – is he ‘just a drummer?’ Hardly!

I’ll give you yet another ‘for instance’: In the band I’m in, our guitarist does most of the composing, while we others help with the lyrics and overall production. Occasionally, the guitarist will ask me to play at a certain beat or level or whatever. I try it his way, and if it doesn’t feel natural, I tell him (and the others), and, if it does, great. I am a team player and will not abandon my band mates’ conviction of how he or she hears a song; if they feel that strongly about it, I will strive to play what they hear in their head. And, vice versa.

I am not above letting, and even insisting that they get behind the kit and try to show me what they want and hear. It will not hurt my pride or ego, it is for the greater good of the song; serve the music, first and foremost.

I love big drum kits. However, most of the songs I play do not require 12 drums and 20 cymbals (shucks!). I play what the song requires and make the most of my musical ability and expertise to put my ‘stamp’ on it. This lets me know I am more than just a drum machine and I am offering all I have to offer as a musician/drummer/percussionist/man and human being.

What do you have to offer?

What do you do? What do you do?

1) What do you do – when your band mates complain that you play your drums too loud?

2) What do you do – when you play loud because the rest of the band is?

3) What do you do – when your kit is the house kit and every drummer in the world decides to completely reposition it?

4) What do you do – when the house drummer complains that you keep repositioning his kit?

5) What do you do – when you hear a guitarist complain that his new axe/amp/pedal package cost $1000, and you’ve just spent that for cymbals? (+$400 for percussion and at least $1600 for drums!!) ($200 for heads) ($20-$100 for sticks) (toss in an extra $800 for misc. hardware) (HEY! I like big kits!!)

6) What do you do – when it comes time to pay for all that gear?

7) What do you do – when it comes time to move all that gear?

8) What do you do – when your band complains your kit is too big?

Answers:

1) Be polite and say, “Thank you”.

2) Rock on!!

3) It’s all in the name of music, be kind to animals!

4) Get as comfortable as you can with few adjustments.

5) Try not to laugh (or cry!) too hard.

6) Be thankful for loans, credit cards and, if that fails, hard work.

7) Take what you need, not what you want.

8) Tell them you think a five string guitar is unnecessary.

The State of Things to Drum

We’ve come a long way. We’re into the year 2000 and technology is making great advances for drummers.

I remember it was a few years ago when I first heard of the new Roland V-Custom Electronic drum kit. I was ecstatic. Really! I love anything drum. And, since I had recently purchased a Roland TD7e Turbo kit (and was very happy with it), I could hardly wait to see what was next.

My only concern was that no one I knew was going to be able to afford these new, state of the art electronic drums. And, to this day, it still seems that way. Although, I see Roland striving to bring the ‘not so rich’ drummers into the market as best they can.

But, there are other options. There are several drum companies who are making the new mesh heads at a lower price than the Rolands. They are already prepackaging mesh heads and brains into a not so expensive ensemble, thankfully. And, we’ve had drum triggers, and they just keep getting better as well.

So, there we stand on the state of electronics as it concerns drums. But, what about acoustic drums? Y’know? The REAL things?! Oh yeah, those!

Well, I’ll tell ya…It used to be that there were only three levels of drums out there; beginner/mid-level/pro. Back when a pro kit was a pro kit and the mid level kit just had better hardware than the beginner kit or worse hardware than the pro kit. Make sense?

The way it stands now, the entry level kits have three to five levels, the semi pro kits usually have two levels, and the pro kits have two or three levels, all the way up to completely custom made (and price!)

It’s all good, it’s all music. The cymbals, too, have various levels and prices. All the companies are vying for our hard earned dollar, or ruble or whatever monetary device you are using in this internet world.

It can’t be all bad when I can spend $2500 total, including drums, stands and cymbals, and get a better kit than what one of our masters, Buddy Rich, used to play on.

I do like how there is a definite difference in the levels of drums and cymbals. When I moved up from beginner to semi pro, I wanted to know it, hear it and feel it when I sat down and hit my first note. Eventually, when I move up to pro level kits, I will feel and play like the professionals these kits are designed for.

Get your kit, whether new or used and do what comes naturally. Drum on!