DRUMLINE: IRRELEVANT IN THE YEAR 2016?
Like many drummers, I spent much of my high school / college career playing in the school drumline.
However, many drumset players/teachers make the claim that playing in a drumline is not really transferrable to making a living as an actual working drummer. For example, in the real world, how likely are you to get hired to march around on a football field playing a snare drum? Not very likely.
So, the question is: Is it all wasted time here?
I’d argue very strongly that there are countless benefits of belonging to a drumline in your early years as a drummer. The hours spent on the following fundamentals are priceless: metronome work, technique, chop development, teamwork, accountability, memorization skills, consistency, performing under pressure... the list goes on and on.
However; above all, if I had to choose the single greatest reason that drumline improved my playing was that it helped me to understand the critical importance of one thing:
ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
In other words, all of my drumline instructors throughout the years helped me to realize that it’s not HOW FAST we play, it’s HOW WELL we play.
How did we accomplish that? By spending days, weeks, and months breaking our playing down to the finest detail possible. It was tedious and often frustrating at times, but slowly we began to raise our own standards and create a sort of “quality control” for our drumming. This skill has served me well over the years.
An analogy here would be to think of what goes into giving a great speech. Of course the words you choose are important. But what about the pacing, the body movements, the facial expressions, the eye contact, the storytelling, or your vocal tonality? All of these DETAILS are what go into a great speech, far beyond the actual words themselves. Focus the details of your presentation technique and you’re on your way to becoming a solid speaker.
Applied to drumming: focus on the details of your drumming technique and you’re on your way to becoming a great musician.
WAIT… ARE WE BECOMING ROBOTS HERE?
But, you might ask, "If we break down our playing to the finest detail and always try to be “perfect", won’t we start to become robotic and mechanical?"
Absolutely not. The point is that the rules are meant to be mastered first, THEN broken later.
In other words, once you’ve identified the details that allow you to play each rudiment “perfectly”, you can then CHOOSE how you want to play them in the future. Once you have total command of each variable that goes into your playing, you’ll then be able to control the variables (rather than allowing the variables to control you).
Enough of the abstract here. Let me give you a concrete exercise that you can use in the practice room.
THE DETAILS MATTER
Your ability to focus on the details, like anything, is a specific skill that can be developed over time.
If you currently have trouble focusing on the details of your playing, it’s because you haven’t identified specific areas to focus on. I’ve created a simple PDF that will help you to refine almost ANY aspect of your playing (rudiment, groove, chop, etc.)
1) Select a rudiment you’d like to improve on.
2) List the top 8 “focal points” for playing that rudiment most effectively.
3) Play the exercise for 10 minutes straight while only shifting where your specific “focal point” lies.
The first page of the PDF below shows an example of how you might apply this exercise to Double Paradiddles. The second page is a blank template for you to practice whatever you’d like.
Again, remember: The point of this exercise is not to focus on WHAT you play, but to instead focus on HOW you play it.
Good luck and happy drumming!
PDF DOWNLOAD: "THE 10 MINUTE FOCUS EXERCISE"
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ABOUT JOEL BRAINARD
Thank you to Joel Brainard for offering his three words of advice to drummers (THE DETAILS MATTER) and for inspiring me to write this week's article!
Joel Brainard has been the director and arranger of the IU Marching Hundred Drumline since 2003. In such time his drumline has performed for enormous game-day crowds at Indiana University and for thousands more at national events such as The Superbowl, The Insight Bowl, The Pinstripe Bowl, BOA Grand Championships, and PASIC.
Graduating with a music education undergrad and jazz studies masters degree from IU, Joel was also a proud member of the IU Drumline when he was a student. As a multi-tenors player, Joel spent three seasons in DCI performing with the 1998 World Champion Spartans, The Bluestars, and the Blue Knights. He was also a competitive tenor soloist at PASIC & DCI “I&E” events. In 2003 he "teched" tenors at Capital Regiment and was then hired as percussion caption head for Magic of Orlando in 2004.
Joel is also known for his time teaching at Bloomington HS North and the former WGI world class ensemble, Indianapolis Independent (I-2). Currently Joel teaches Band & Chorus at Batchelor Middle School (Bloomington), works as a drumset artist, and also works as a marching percussion clinician. Using Remo heads, Zildjian cymbals, and Yamaha drums, Joel is also a part of the Vic Firth Education Team.