There are two tasks in playing the drums (or any instrument for that matter):

1) overcoming the physical difficulty of performing a given groove/fill etc, and…

2) making that performance sound good.

Of course, there are many additional areas of focus for a musician, but these two specific tasks are the subject of today’s post. It is important to understand the difference between these two tasks, and then to make sure that you are putting effort into both.

The first one is obvious to anyone who has ever sat behind a drumset. Playing even the most basic groove requires a good amount of timing and dexterity, and it’s quite a challenge if you’ve never done it before. Because of this, most beginners tend to throw their entire focus into the 1st task: overcoming the physical difficulties of learning new drum grooves. Once a given groove is “learned,” then the beginner feels ready to tackle a different groove. The problem is that, to most beginners, “learned” simply means “do-able.” The beginner will only practice a groove enough to make it merely “do-able,” and then move on to something else. The extra practice that is required to take that groove from the “do-able” status to the more important “sounds good” status is ignored. As a result, most beginners are able to play many different grooves, but can’t really play any of them in a way that sounds good.

I can understand why the 2nd task often gets the short end of the stick. The practice that goes into the 2nd task is difficult. It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s subtle and nuanced… and most of the time it doesn’t give the immediate satisfaction of “learning” a new groove. However, in my 8 years of playing drums for a living, I have realized that the 2nd task is really the more important issue. Most professional musicians are able to play whatever the gig would require them to play… but not all musicians sound good doing it. The gig never goes to the guy who knows the most – it’s the guy who sounds the best that gets the calls.

Working on this 2nd task has been my main focus for the last 3 years or so, and it has reshaped the way I practice, the way I listen to other drummers, and the way I teach my students. I think it has been a good thing.

SUMMARY: Work on learning new grooves/fills/rudiments/whatever, but don’t just “learn” how to play them – make them sound good too.