Drummers Are More Than Clocks With Sticks

In many ways, we are the ultimate team players!

What exactly does a drummer/percussionist do?

The quick answer would be ... we drum. We keep a beat for the band to play to!

In fact, that's the answer I get most often, except from the more accomplished performers with whom I've played, recorded or encountered.

How would someone with more insight answer my original question?


Real-life example #1

At one time, I'd been co-leader of a group that had an upcoming performance, with very limited rehearsal time. I was responsible for the music's quality, instrumentation and, on some of the pieces, the song's arrangement (its length, style, verse and chorus order, chord/key changes, and the creation of the medley of songs).

When musicians play the mallet instruments, timpani, hand percussion, drum set and most other toys in the percussion family, they are considered percussionists. As such, I have a background that also includes music theory. So, I'm able to have conversations with any other instrumentalist regarding notation, chordal structure, interpretation, feel, and other topics outside the realm of someone without this experience. Folks that only pursue drum set typically will not have this background.

In this particular group, I happened to be its drum set player. I've heard that it's rare for a drummer to be able to lead a group from behind the set, while on the band stand performing, or at rehearsals. I was told that was the exact reason why I was put in the co-leader position of this group.

Percussionists don't just drum; we can also be band leaders and music directors.

Don't believe me? Check out the Buddy Rich Big Band. While Buddy was still with us, he pushed his band unrelentingly -- live or during rehearsal.


Real-life example #2

I was having a conversation recently that involved blues music. I mentioned that I enjoy playing it, but I'd been playing it too much as of late.

This same individual had heard snippets of music from an original recording project I'm currently involved with. He mentioned that the parts he listened to, to him, sounded like a cross between Allan Holdsworth and Rush.

High praise, because both of those artists have incredible musicianship and amazing drummers.

I didn't quite know what to say. The comparison caught me a bit off guard (in a good way)!

Further into the convo, he mentioned that blues drumming is typically much simpler than the progressive rock genre I was currently laying down tracks for, and he thought that I'd get bored playing in a blues band with "all of the talent that I have."

Our chat happened to be interrupted at that very spot.

Had our exchange continued, I would have replied that I don't think I would be bored. I'd simply been playing too much blues lately.

Playing the blues requires fine musicianship, and an ability to improvise. A drummer must play complementary rhythms with any soloist. Blues notoriously can and will take off in many unrehearsed directions during live performances, and sometimes while recording!

Because many blues compositions contain solos, a drummer must possess a strong sense of time, and must support the soloist tastefully. Certainly, plenty of "canvass" upon which a drummer can create interesting ideas.

Again, except for the most versed musicians I've been associated with, an underlying current states that a drummer's job is simple: Play a beat. Drummers are "time keepers."

How does that old joke go? "Drummers aren't musicians; we're just folks who play with musicians."

Funny how often that joke is actually reality for many circumstances I've witnessed as a bystander, and have been a part of myself.

Percussionists don't just drum; we're as sensitive to music as any other instrumentalist -- just in ways our musician "brethren" are usually unaware of.

Yes, we drummers have the power to make those soloists sound ... goooooood!


Real-life example #3

I joined an existing band a few months back. This ensemble is not a "super-group." Most outfits aren't. However, it is comprised of good musicians who desire to improve along the way. This is how most bands operate.

Unless you're a super-group named Asia, that is.

At the time of my joining Rock Berlin, they'd just started to pursue original music. Several songs were either started, partially finished, finished (kind of), and maybe a guitar riff or two.

While both my music theory and arranging skills came in handy once again, I also threw on my "composer's hat" and wrote drum parts for the songs, and offered some melody and chord suggestions. I'm currently in the midi-recording phase of this new music.

Recently, our guitarist moved out of state to pursue a job in the medical field. During our going-away dinner, he revealed some interesting thoughts he'd kept about each of us. He is a neuro-psychologist and an incredibly astute dude, so I was a tad worried about what he might say when he got to me!

He said, "With your discipline and pedigree as a musician, the band is much more focused than in the past. That's what you brought to the band, Jim."

This was nice to hear, because I had no way of knowing how these guys operated before my arrival. The others offered they also enjoy the band's direction and practice environment much better now.

I know this, because I specifically asked if this was the case. I had unknowingly changed this group's approach. According to them, this was a huge positive. I'm glad it worked out this way.

Percussionists don't just drum; we can be composers. We approach our craft in as focused a manner as any other instrumentalist would. We simply have different responsibilities to the music. 

In many ways, we are the ultimate team players!

What are YOUR thoughts of what drummers/percussionists do? I look forward to reading the comments you post below!


Interested in percussion lessons? Or, just curious about my studio? Please contact me via my studio's Facebook page. You'll find much to explore - including all of my past blog posts. Hit the "like" button to let me know you've visited. Thanks - I appreciate you!

 My studio can also be followed on Twitter: @JimKubeDrums.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Kube November 12, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Dave - More cool thoughts. Thanks!
Jim Kube November 12, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Dave - A fine conclusion. Thanks for sharing your heart regarding music/drumming!
Jim Kube November 12, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Lainie - You are always so kind and gracious in your comments! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post yet again. I'm glad my explanations hit home :)
Jim Kube November 12, 2012 at 11:18 PM
patchreader 123 - Thanks for checkin' my story out. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Influences: Tito Puente: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZQh4IL7unM Evelyn Glennie: http://www.ted.com/talks/evelyn_glennie_shows_how_to_listen.html Markus Rhoten: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07kcQFFlJJ0&feature=related Gary Burton: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxtr86zmYbk Vic Firth, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Tony Williams, Philly Jo Jones, Horacio Hernandez, Steve Gadd, Neil Peart, Peter Criss, Jo Jo Meyer, Chric McHugh: http://menomoneefalls.patch.com/blog_posts/nuances-of-the-keith-urban-concert Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, David Garibaldi, Clayton Cameron ... Thousands more! :) I don't really have a favorite, per se - I'm an amalgam of my entire body of listening! The above left impressions on me for various reasons: Stage presence, studio approach, musical phrasing abilities, freakish talent, general technique, approach to world music, creativity, band leader abilities, double bass creativity, professional approach, brush technique - on and on. Anybody I can learn something from. I'm positive I've left important folks out!! I'm glad that you currently have drummers/musicians that catch you ear! Jason McGerr IS an awesome drummer :) Thanks for sharing your musical thoughts and heart, and the links!
Bob McBride November 13, 2012 at 12:11 AM
One of my favorite drummers with one of my favorite guitarists and a not-too-shabby bass player.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMryWoRRqUc
Jim Kube November 13, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Bob - Jeff, Vinnie and Tal. Well played sir, well played ...
patchreader 123 November 13, 2012 at 12:45 AM
I just realized that I mispelled the name of "The Professor," Neil. Typed too fast. I'm so ashamed................
Jim Kube November 13, 2012 at 12:52 AM
patchreader 123 - No shame given! Not under my posts! It's a typo. Welcome to humanity!! Again - thanks for your great comments :)
Rob November 13, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Ha ha, my first thought was the answer to the riddle "They hang out with the band"! Seriously, great article, all good points. As a guy who is focusing heavily on composing and recording original music right now, I know a drummer's input into the composition of music and writing of songs really brings so much to the song. Hey we should get together and take off in many unrehearsed directions recording some blues sometime,,, after you've taken a break from playing so much blues. I am always up for playing some blues.
Jim Kube November 13, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Rob - I'm almost always up for the blues. Break's OVER!! Thanks for your comments, and for your wonderfully heartfelt compositions! I appreciate you, bro :)
Jim Kube November 13, 2012 at 01:00 AM
BTW - what are your thoughts regarding the drummer you work with on your original tunes?
Paul Tenpenny November 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM
You wear your hats well my friend !
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Paul - Thank you, and thanks for the encouragement! App'd!
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 04:44 AM
David writes via Facebook - I like to think drummers give soul to the music being played. Maybe it's just me but generally, to most music I hear without percussion, I always end up thinking "something's missing". But maybe I'm just biased
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 04:54 AM
David - Interesting comment about drummers giving soul to the music. I agree! :) The part about songs missing something when it doesn't include percussion - depends on the song. Too much percussion/adding percussion can also ruin a song. Have to use a "musician's ear" when composing those parts. The overall song MUST be considered, especially if there are vocal tracks in the composition Thanks for commenting on Facebook, appreciated!
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 04:59 AM
Bill writes via Facebook - Very good stuff Jim!
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Margaret writes via Facebook - Nice blog again, Jim!
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Margaret - Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading my post. :)
Pete Voorlas November 14, 2012 at 12:34 PM
My brother in law is Eddie Bayers. He is the third most recorded drummer in history. A studio drummer. When the road bands need stability they bring out a top drummer to lead the way. The last ten years he's done George Strait and Allen Jacksons album drumming. He is married to my sister Lane Brody from Racine. Enjoyed the article.
Bob McBride November 14, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I'm familiar with your sister. I know she did some work with Thom Bresh, Merle Travis' son - amongst others. Until you mentioned it, I wasn't aware she was from Racine. Thanks for posting.
Pete Voorlas November 14, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Besides playing drums at such a level, in the 1960's Eddie played keyboards for Gracy Slick, Paul Cantor and Stevie Winwood. He broke his hand and became a drummer while holding both sticks up. I'm not a drummer but I think I'm explaning it OK. He's a musical genius. Watching him listen to music, you know he is hearing things most of us are not. His ears even seem to move. I'm not bragging, he's the drummer, just thought I'ld share this.
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Bill - From one drummer/band leader to another - boy, do I appreciate that sentiment coming from one of my peers. And, you do a wonderful job with your band - sounds great! Thanks very much for commenting!
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Pete - I'm familiar with Eddie's work. He's an amazing example of what my post is about! Thank you so much for bringing him up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFyocCarknE Notice how he's reading charts while up on stage :)
Jim Kube November 14, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Pete - Thanks for sharing these other aspects to Eddie. I was not familiar with his other talents! Again - awesome example of was my post is about. Thanks for your enlightening (not bragging at all) contribution to the thread :) Appreciated!
Pete Voorlas November 15, 2012 at 12:01 PM
One last comment, I am a former Marine, the Marine Corp had a close relationship with John Phillip Suza. What I have noticed is the all armys have bands, but drummers go to war! Lane and Eddie did a beautiful song for my infantry company reunion called "Thanks for What You Did". Kind of cool having your deepest feelings put to song by a prolific song writer. Thanks for being kind, I never post.
Jim Kube November 15, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Pete - Thank you so much for your service to the country. Thank you for helping secure my freedom! Very nice sentiments regarding Sousa. He WAS an amazing songwriter! You're correct - he was gifted in bringing out the emotions of the time. Pete - please feel free to post here ANY time. You will ONLY encounter kindness from this side of the screen. Thanks again for you service, courage and ALL of your wonderful comments :)
Mike Dison November 15, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Drums and the bass player are key brother!!! No matter what type of music you are playing!
Jim Kube November 17, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Sharadha writes via Facebook - Nice post, jim: I think one of the best concerts the four of us have ever been to had only percussionists, various drums from different parts of the world. Drums make me happy in a way no other instrument can.
Jim Kube November 17, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Sharadha - Thanks for reading my post. Interesting how that concert made you feel. You're correct - drums/percussion can affect us in a way no other instrument can - especially if the sounds produced are unexpected, unique, or the drums used are not indigenous to one's country. Thanks for your comment!
Jim Kube November 19, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Mike - Well said brutha, well said! Spoken like a true band director ;) Thanks for commenting, buddy!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »