You make a huge racket and as a result there are people in the church who have little sympathy for what you do. If you are stuck behind a screen and your volume levels are low a lot of people will be happy with that and will leave you alone. If that isn’t the situation, however, every Sunday can become a pride-swallowing siege punctuated by the phrase: ‘Can you play a little quieter?’
Playing with Hot Rods becomes a way of life and the obsession with your volume levels has reached an unhealthy state. Soon your drumkit looks like it’s been constructed of gaffa tap and cushions, not wood.
Somehow you have to fight through all of this. Your job is to keep time and, on many occasions, it is to lead the band. Non-musicians are not aware of how key your job is so it is important you keep your wits about you and try not to take all that criticism to heart.
Here are few tips to help you stay sane.
1 Do… tune your drums regularly
If you really think about what it is happening when you play the drums you’ll realise how important tone is. When you strike a drum the noise is the impact of the collision between the drum and your stick and if you consider your key tone – the snare drum – you’ll appreciate that that impact sound should sound as clean and as crisp as possible.
It is tempting to tune the snare drum really high and to keep the snare as tight as possible in order to get that very satisfying ‘crack’. That also gives you plenty of response particularly when you are playing rolls or single strokes in very quick succession. The problem is that this high-pitched tune is very hard to control on the sound desk and it cuts through everything. It’ll drive the congregation crazy and it’ll make you unpopular. Try to keep that snare drum tuned in the mid-range and loosen the snare to lengthen the decay. It sounds a little jazzy, but it’s softer and easy to cope with at the sound desk. The same is true of all the other drums: tune regularly but try to steer clear of those really high tones.
2 Don’t… keep using Hot Rods
If you have endured a lot of criticism over noise levels it is tempting just to give up and stick to Hot Rods. If you are not familiar, these sticks are made up of small matchstick-width bits of wood taped together and their primary function is to keep volume levels down. They are useful and achieve the required result, but sometimes songs do require the crispness of a standard drumstick. Choose a fairly small-sized stick, say a 7A, and keep your fills to a minimum because you will naturally start to increase the volume as you use other parts of the kit. This is a good discipline: it teaches you how to play quietly and with real groove.
3 Do… warm up before the rehearsal/service
Sometimes your timing will be ever so fractionally out you’ll wonder why. There’s a good reason: you haven’t warmed up and you haven’t prepared your ‘inner clock’. Before you start playing with the whole band take five minutes away from the kit with a small practice pad and metronome and get warmed up. A good routine is to set a tempo and start playing single strokes to time. Play two bars of quarter notes, then eighth notes, then triplets, then 16ths and then reverse the process without stopping inbetween. This sets up your internal clock and you’ll be much more accurate about the placement of your notes when you are playing with the other musicians. It’s also helpful to practice the basic rudiments – singles, doubles, paradiddles – as well as playing 3s, 6s, 9s and 12s on each stick. Try to do all of this to a metronome. After five minutes of this your timing will be tight… as a drum.
4 Don’t… drink too many stimulants prior to the service
This sounds a little weird and new-agey but you have to realise that your body is made up of chemicals and there are some chemicals that’ll adversely affect your playing.
Experience tells us that if you drink too much coffee, or even Red Bull, before the service you will feel rather ‘wired’. As a result everything will be fast. This won’t go down well during the tender songs where a slow, steady tempo is required. Also, try not to consume any alcohol before the service either. You might have had a glass of wine – no harm in that – but the truth is it will affect your concentration and your drumming won’t be quite so accurate. You don’t need to get really hung up on this but it’s just a way of making sure you are alert and well prepared to play.
5 Do… keep your tempos steady
We’ve all done this in heat of the moment particularly when the music is getting intense. If the worship moves up a gear there is a tendency to speed up and before you know it there’s an uncomfortable feeling about what is happening. Speeding up is natural in these moments but it can upset the groove of the song. Although the congregation won’t know what has happened they’ll lose the flow because they are merely concentrating on keeping up with the musicians. Then there’s that awkward lazy feel that is generated by drummers who keep slowing down. This isn’t conducive to worship either. A lot of drummers tend to speed up when are playing fills and that just motors things along too. Practice tried-and-tested fills at home with a metronome and you’ll find that your drumming will acquire that lock-solid tightness that worship leaders, and congregations, are constantly looking for.
6 Don’t… get too flashy
Most worship songs are ridiculously basic, which means drummers have to keep things very simple. The dreaded request, ‘Can you put four on the floor?’ is cropping up with alarming regularity nowadays and it is quite heartbreaking for drummers who have spent hours learning their craft and honing their chops. In these instances, you can do one thing and one thing only, and that is to take a sharp intake of breath and do as you’re told. Yes it’s boring, and yes, it lacks creativity, but there will be moments when you can spread your creative wings. When they do come around stick in a few of your most well-rehearsed licks and, if you like, give yourself a pat on the back afterwards. It’s ok to feel pleased with yourself – you’ve earned it.
7 Don’t… practice new fills in the service
We’ve done this and it’s gone horribly wrong. You may have learned a fill or a lick that you have got 70% down but it’s not quite as refined as you’d like. So, resist the temptation to give it a try in the service because practising at home is one thing and practising something extremely technical in front of a congregation is quite another. In short, it’s a very bad idea. You are under much more pressure and you are more likely to get it wrong in front of an ‘audience’. We once tried a newly rehearsed whole bar triplet fill and it sounded like somebody falling down the stairs. It still hurts now.
8 Do… learn the basics
If you don’t know what a bar is or what the basic note values are then you are an accident waiting to happen. And, if you don’t know the standard rudiments the same applies. Take some trouble to learn the basics because it’s just so helpful if the drummer understands what time signature a tune is played in, and whether a song should be played with, say, a 16th note feel. Basic musical theory is not rocket science and three lessons with a decent teacher should sort all that out. The beauty of fully understanding the length of a bar cannot be underestimated.
9 Don’t… practice inbetween songs
This pretty much applies to all musicians but a drummer who practices the odd paradiddle inbetween songs during the rehearsal needs to be red-carded. It is a heinous crime that the worship leader absolutely cannot abide. The thrashing around on the snare drum or the repetitive triplet using the bass drum will send other musicians straight to the lunatic asylum. If you do this on a regular basis you won’t get invited around for the post-service Sunday roast at the Pastor’s house and you can rule out getting a birthday card from the worship leader too.
10 Don’t… keep playing
Not all songs require drums and over time you might suspect that the worship leader is starting to use you as a security blanket. He or she will want to hear you providing that backbeat because they think that if there isn’t a rhythm underpinning everything, it’ll all fall apart. If you think the song doesn’t need the drums, step up to the plate and say so because there’s nothing worse than a really tender song being ruined by a needless drum pattern. If you suggest that there is no reason for you to play it also shows that you are a sensitive player more concerned about worship than your own ego. It’s a big thing to do and it requires a level of maturity that is, sadly, sometimes absent in worship bands.
If you or your worship band drummer need a bit of help with some practical Do’s and Don’ts then check out Musicademy’s Drum DVDs.