Finding a Great Drummer?
I was talking to some players just last night at a blues jam about this very subject. I won’t name names but we all agreed that when we go to a jam the worst thing that can happen is to get stuck playing with a lousy drummer.
And it’s not usually about their chops. Many drummers can play their drums just fine. They just don’t know how to play the song.
And this doesn’t just apply to drummers… it really applies to everyone in the band. And yes, at blues jams this issue is persistent for just about everyone. Most jammers don’t understand how to play the song. And as beginners why should they. That’s why they are at a jam in the first place.
So please forgive me. If you are a new player and just learning then this is not about you… and this may be a chance to learn something important.
But if you’ve been playing for a long time and still don’t get this, then this is aimed at you. It’s time for you to start listening and learning how to play the song correctly. This will help your playing and get you more gigs.
Sorry am I being too hard on drummers?
Not really. But the same sort of generalization can be made about most musicians.
Last Saturday I saw a band that did "world fusion" (which in their case meant Indian classical music fused with jazz). The drummer was really good - and as I watched him, I spotted why right away: when he wasn't playing, he was listening. And I mean listening INTENTLY. His total focus was on what the other musicians were doing at the moment. So when it was time for him to come in, his playing meshed perfectly with the others. Not just in time, but in dynamics, groove, and taste.
If there's a single skill that separates a brilliant performance from a so-so one, it starts with a musician's ears. But it can't stop there - the ears inform the playing, which informs the other musicians... and their ears take over from there and repeat the process. In retrospect these guys (and the one gal) all did it, and I found the performance amazing.
The weekend before I saw a rock band that I won't name (but everyone - and I mean EVERYONE would know them). The show was OK. They played only their big hits (and didn't even get to all of them in their couple of hours on stage). But I left feeling disappointed. The next morning I put my finger on what was wrong: they were technically perfect. Every note was in the right spot. But they weren't using their ears to adjust to the quirks of the venue - they were basically just phoning in the songs they'd done many hundreds of times. I realized that what I'd seen was essentially a tribute band - in the sense that they did everything "right", just like on the records... but without the magic of being in the moment.
What I've found really interesting since then is that I've noticed this in my own playing with students. Yeah, I might have done a tune hundreds of times - but that shouldn't make me complacent about it. So maybe it's something we're all guilty of, and need to guard against.
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Wait, I'm confused. Either we're talking about playing songs correctly, or we're talking about the blues. Can't have both. 8)
Noteboat is wise. I don't like going to a concert where every lick is exactly like the album. In the audience, I'd like to think that the performers are playing for us, and having fun while doing it. The on-stage chemistry should be tangible.