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Eight Essentials of the Artist Drummer

Drummers can be categorized into one of four skill levels. On the bottom we have the Bangers. These are the guys with no style, no technique, and only one dynamic level: Loud! They give the rest of us a bad name and, unfortunately, perpetuate the dumb drummer jokes like: "Our band has five musicians and a drummer."

The next step up, are the Average types. They're not bad, but they're not great. They are simply average.

On the third level we have the Competent players. These are guys who play very well with an ensemble, but they seem to be missing something. They're missing the magic, the feeling you get when you see (and hear) a really great drummer in action. Very few drummers have ever given me that feeling. Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Joe Morello, and Steve Gadd are some of the drummers in that fourth category. These guys are the true Artist drummers. They've got it all. They're on top of their game.

I have identified eight techniques necessary to become an Artist drummer. Learn what it takes and maybe someday, I'll include you on the list of those who are in the elusive upper echelon.

Here are the eight essentials that make up the Artist drummer:

Solid Time
First and foremost is the ability to keep solid time. You can develop this by using a metronome every time you practice on the pad. Without a solid time foundation, you'll never be able to build solid chops.

Musicality
Learn to play musicially is something that comes naturally to some and takes lots of practice for others. The key is to listen to as much music as you can and, when playing with other musicians, listen to each of them and enhance the overall sound of the band. Never overpower it.

Authenticity
Learn to play many styles of music and play them all an authentic feel, and this goes for the drum solos and breaks as well. Listening to the best bands in each musical genre will help you develop this ability.

Never Overplay
Notes may be good, but rests are even better. Develop the ability to fill in the right places, but learn when to lay back and let the other band members have some too.

Good Dynamics
Drummers have a tendency to cook at loud levels but die when volumes get low. Work hard to "cook" at all dynamic levels, from ultra-soft to mega-loud.

Strong Chops
Develop the fastest chops and the best coordination you possibly can. Why? Because you need to be able to play anything that comes to mind. If you get a great idea in the middle of a song but fail to execute it properly, you'll completely blow the groove. The best players have the ability to play anything that comes to mind, effortlessly. That's want you want to strive for.

Early Bird
Although not related to your performance on stage, this is directly related to the number of opportunities you'll get to appear on the stage! No leader likes holding up the gig so the drummer can finish setting up. Try to get to the gig early enough so you can set your gear up and have at least 20 minutes to relax before show time.

Positive Attitude
The is the eighth and final essential element of an artist drummer. Positive people radiate an energy that is infectious and makes everybody around them feel great and play better. Louis Bellson has this ability.

Negative people, on the other hand, drain you and leave you totally exhausted. Life's too short for that. Don't hang around the negative types and if you have tendencies yourself, change. It may not be easy but you can do anything, if you want it bad enough.


That's my take on what you need to join the ranks of the elite artist drummers. Try working on one of the essentials each week and, before you know it, you may find yourself among the artist drummers of the world. Good luck.

Until next time: Stay Loose.

Tiger Bill Meligari

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