RULE 16: Use Your Imagination




Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.
— Albert Einstein



Being a successful working drummer requires not only the ability to play parts accurately/consistently, but also the ability to use our imaginations, many times on the spot. This might be in the form of drum solos, coming up with new arrangements, in improvisational music, or simply in adapting to technical problems that might happen before/during a show.

Many drummers tend to find open drum solos to be especially challenging (where using your imagination is paramount). The reason is that often times, we find it overwhelming to figure out exactly WHAT to play in a moment that is essentially a blank canvas.

One way that I personally worked on my open drum solo “concept” is that I began watching countless videos of drum solos by my favorite drummers in an effort to figure out what made the great solos great.

The commonality I noticed in the most musical drum solos can be expressed in the following formula:


In other words, my LEAST favorite drum solos are the ones where the drummer is spewing every chop he/she knows as fast as humanly possible. My FAVORITE solos (and likely your favorites) are the ones where the drummer takes just one or two simple ideas (RESTRICTION), and explores how many possibilities exist within that framework (IMAGINATION).

But you might say, imagination is an intangible thing; you either have it or you don’t. Not so. Imagination can be developed like any other skill.

Let’s focus for a moment on the RESTRICTION part of the above formula in order to help your imagination to come alive. If someone sat you down in front of a massive drum set, you might feel intimidated. You might feel like you have too many options to choose from.

But what if I sat you in front of JUST a snare drum? You might think… “Steve, now I don’t have very many ideas to choose from at all... using my imagination will be even HARDER!"

However, respectfully... you’d be wrong.

Restriction doesn’t LIMIT creativity, it SPAWNS creativity.

All you need to add is a little imagination (replace the word IMAGINATION for THOUGHT).

Let’s try an exercise. Before you read below, I want you to answer the following question:

How many different ways can you create sound from a snare drum?

Seriously, stop reading now and make a list… I’ll wait!


Okay... hopefully you’ve taken a minute to think about it and to come up with a list.

The beauty is that everyone’s list will be different. For example, here’s my list:

15 Ways To Play A Snare Drum

  1. Stick in one hand, use other bare hand
  2. Play the snare drum like a hand drum (snares off)
  3. Stack things on top of the snare drum (such as a splash cymbal)
  4. Use drastic tunings (super high or super low)
  5. Play with brushes
  6. Play with mallets
  7. Play the rim of the drum
  8. Play the actual side of the drum
  9. Turn the snare drum upside down and play on the bottom head
  10. Scrape the snare wires like a DJ would
  11. Incorporate turning the snares on and off as different sound-sources.
  12. Explore the various playing zones on the drum head (the center, halfway, the edge, etc.)
  13. Use muffling to change up the sound
  14. Incorporate pitch-bending (pressing firmly on the head to raise the pitch)
  15. Using cross-stick technique, see how many different sounds you can get depending on what part of the stick you strike with.

Look at all these ideas! Again, if was sitting in front of the kit and someone told me to just USE MY IMAGINATION, I may not have been able to come up with very many of these ideas on the spot. But because I used the technique of RESTRICTION (in this case, just thinking about a snare drum), look at how many musical options I now have to choose from!

If you’re interested in taking this concept further, create mini-games for yourself. For example, looking at the list above, choose 2 ideas from the list at random and play a 5-minute drum solo, with a clear start/middle/ending, incorporating only those 2 “rules”. You might choose playing with brushes combined with muffling variations as your theme throughout. In essence, although you’re restricting yourself even further, it opens up a world of possibility for you to use your imagination. Why? Because you aren’t overwhelmed with EVERY option. You’re working from within a focused parameter. Notice that we haven’t even discussed basic musical options like time signature, tempo, and style.

An analogy: If you’re super hungry and want to eat right NOW, would you rather choose between 2 restaurants or 200 restaurants?

If you have trouble using your imagination on the spot, try out the CREATIVITY = RESTRICTION + IMAGINATION formula and let me know how it goes!


How can we apply the formula CREATIVITY = RESTRICTION + IMAGINATION beyond the drums and into our everyday lives? The next time you’re having difficulty finding a solution to a problem in your life, restrict your thinking to just one small part of the problem and then use your imagination to brainstorm all possible solutions to that problem. You might be surprised to find that best solution is often the simplest one.

SAMPLE PROBLEM: "I don’t have enough time to go to the gym."

 RESTRICTION - "I’ll work out NO MORE THAN 5 minutes per day."

 IMAGINATION - "I’ll choose five, 1-minute total body exercises and do them as hard as possible."


Thanks to Brian Blume for inspiring me to write this week's article!

Brian's three words of advice for drummers: USE YOUR IMAGINATION. 

Brian is currently serving as Instructor of Percussion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, where he teaches applied percussion & drum set, percussion techniques, music theory, and the school’s first ever drumline, the Fireline. Prior to his appointment at SEU, Brian taught percussion at Center Grove High School (Greenwood, IN), who boasts one of the nation’s premiere high school percussion programs. Brian has also taught several drum corps and the Indiana University Drumline. He is a sought after adjudicator and clinician and has presented at several universities, high schools, and state PAS Day of Percussion events. As a composer, Brian has received numerous commissions and has works published by Tapspace Publications, PercMaster Publications, and drop6 media. His work for TV broadcast has been aired nationwide on ESPN, CBS, Big Ten Network, and MTV.
Brian earned both Master and Bachelor of Music degrees in percussion performance from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. He endorses Pearl/Adams instruments, Innovative Percussion sticks and mallets, and Remo drumheads, and he is a member of the Percussive Arts Society (member, Composition Committee), ASCAP, and NAfME. Brian lives in Lakeland with his wife and daughter.

Steve SuchComment