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Drumming: What's Your Favorite Flavor?

Are you a disciplined person? Do you enjoy reading music? Are you a creative type that enjoys free style playing?

Whether you choose to play drums for a hobby or to make a living, there are many alternatives to sitting behind a drum set. Some are more creative than others. It all depends on what you're looking for.

Here's how to find the best drumming job for you.

The Drumset
Whether referred to as a set, kit, rig, traps, skins, tubs, or whatever, the basic drumset consists of the following: Snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat, ride cymbal, crash cymbal, small tom-tom, and large tom-tom. That's usually the bare minimum of equipment. Depending on the style of music you play, your drum kit could grow to massive proportions through the addition of multiple bass drums, snare drums, cymbals, tom-toms, and other assorted percussion gear.

Once you have decided that you want to become a drumset player, the next step will be to decide what musical style or styles you want to play. You can either specialize in a specific musical style or expand your horizons and work with more than one style.

People who tell you to specialize will usually cite the old saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none" as their motto. They'll explain how it is "impossible" to become an expert in more than more discipline. Don't believe them! You are capable of becoming an expert in as many disciplines as you take the time to study. So whether you decide to specialize in one musical style or many, it's purely up to you.

I highly recommend that you expose yourself to as many styles of music as you can. That's the only way you're going to find out what you really like and what you have an affinity for. (For more information on musical styles, see my article, There's Gold in Them Thar' Rhythms! in the sidebar on this page.)

If you plan on working with one band for your entire career, than reading is not that important for you as a drumset player. However, if you would like to become a freelancer (that is, work with various musicians) or recording studio drummer, you'll definitely need to tweak up your reading chops. (Check out my Tiger Reading series of articles in the sidebar for more on that.)

Also, depending on the musical style you choose, creativity could be a plus or a minus.

If you tend to be extremely creative and you don't like to play repetitive grooves, look into jazz and jazz-fusion styles. They will allow you the most freedom to play what you feel. Most of the other styles are more or less limited to following a written drum part and usually allow creativity only on certain drum fills and breaks.

Marching Percussion
This is the stuff of drum corps or drum and bugle corps. If you love to be creative or hate playing rudiments, this is definitely NOT for you. Snare drummers in a drum corps have to be really sharp with their rudiments and are also required to play in tight precision with the rest of the group - often while marching.

Snare drums are not all you will run across in a drum corps, there are cymbals, bass drums, various sized tenor-toms, and a whole range of marching tympani, bells, marimbas, etc.

Good reading ability is very important to the marching percussionist. Consistency and uniformity is the key to a good drum corps player. There is no room for personal creativity.

Orchestral Percussion
As a concert drummer or percussionist, you may be called on to play any of the percussion instruments, from wood blocks and cowbells to tympani and keyboard percussion instruments, such as xylophone, vibraphone, or marimba.

Reading is of the utmost importance to the orchestral percussionist, as is discipline. If you tend to be the creative type, you won't be happy working in an orchestra.

Percussion Ensemble
Edgard Varese wrote "Ionisation" in 1929, which was one of the first pieces for percussion ensembles (See Varese in the sidebar Related Links on the Web). Today, percussion ensembles are common. Although most ensembles require performers to be well versed in reading music, others consist simply of free style (anything goes) creative playing.

Experimental Music
If you were lucky enough to be a percussion major in college (or unlucky, as the case may be), you are probably familiar with composer John Cage and his ensemble music, which utilizes everything from empty beer bottles to car brake drums as instruments of percussion. Reading is required, as the parts are often extremely rhythmically complex. My only question is why? No matter how you play it, it all sounds like a random mess anyway! Of course, that's just my opinion. Feel free to explore this type of music yourself. Note: If you've already had experience with this type of "music," drop me a note and let me know what you think of it. (For more info, see John Cage in the sidebar Related Links on the Web.)

Warning: Although this music is considered creative and some ensembles may give you the opportunity to solo and play your own thing, many adhere strictly to the written chart.

World Percussion and Ethnic Drumming
This group consists of conga drums, bongos, timbales, maracas, cowbells, steel drums, keyboard percussion (such as marimbas, vibes, xylophones), and you name it. Some percussionists specialize on one or two instruments, while others play them all. There was a time when percussionists were predominantly employed in Latin bands. Nowadays, many different kinds of bands are adding one or more percussionists to the payroll.

Depending on the band you're in, the ability to read music may or may not be a requirement.

Something For Everyone
Whether you're strictly disciplined, wildly creative, or both, you're bound to find some form of drumming that fits you like a glove. And while reading may not always be required, one thing's for sure: Feel always IS.

Until next time: Stay loose.

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There's Gold in Them Thar' Rhythms!
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Tiger Reading 101
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Tiger Reading 102
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Tiger Reading 103

Related Links on Web

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John Cage
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Edgard Varese