One of my students recently attended a clinic/concert by one of the best young professional drummers playing today. The student, who is only sixteen, said, “After hearing the clinic/concert, I became depressed.” “Why is that?” I asked. “Nothing I play sounds good to me,” he replied. “I don’t like my ideas.” I responded, “Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on yourself?” He said, “Well, maybe but everything he played sounded so good that I don’t sound good to myself anymore.” “Give yourself a little time,” I suggested. “You’re only sixteen. Allow time for you and your ideas to develop. Everyone needs time and experience in order to grow musically.”
One of the reasons for my student’s response is that when you are young and hear someone who is great, it’s a powerful experience that makes a deep and lasting impression. For example, when I was sixteen, I heard Louie Bellson and Buddy Rich for the first time. I was completely blown away. These guys were so good that I felt like giving up. However, after 24 hours, I couldn’t wait to get to the drums and try to do some of the things that I had seen and heard. Depression had turned into inspiration. That concert, in my memory, inspires me to this day.
One of the reasons that other players sound so good to us is not just because they are more accomplished. It’s because you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what the drummer in question is going to play next. You’re on the edge of your seat, anticipating, enjoying and being totally caught up in the music. Everything is a surprise- especially when you are just sixteen.
The other impressive factor for my student was the group that accompanied the drummer in question. They were top-notch players with a lot of performing experience. They added even more power to the impression being generated by the drummer. The whole musical effect was powerful, and situations like this make for an intense and lasting impression.
Most of us have to practice and perfect our ideas until we develop enough control to play them naturally and with feeling. After doing this for years, you can use your ideas spontaneously to create new ones. This takes time and experience. You need to learn what is appropriate for a particular fill or song and what to leave out. When you play just what is needed, your playing will demonstrate maturity and feeling.
Early in my career, I learned some great lessons while recording. Ideas that I thought would sound great on tape really did not sound good at all. Other ideas that I had sort of taken for granted sounded much, much better than I thought they would. From these experiences, I learned that while you are playing, it is difficult to be objective about how you really sound. This is why recording can be such hard work. You have to concentrate and listen. That’s why you often hear the comment in the studio, “Can we hear that back?” After listening to the track, you very often will want to make adjustments in your playing.
This is one reason that I recommend taping practice sessions, rehearsals, club gigs and concerts. Listening objectively to what you (and the other members of the group) have played is a great way to learn. You can hear it as someone else would hear it. This, as you can imagine, is almost impossible to do while you are performing. Learning to listen to yourself objectively is a key to improving.
When you are young and want to do well, you have high hopes. As you improve, you begin to think, “I am pretty good.” Your view of yourself and your playing may not be quite accurate. Consequently, when you encounter a great, experienced drummer, it does deflate your ego a little. However, this can also be positive, because it helps give you the perspective to determine where you really stand. All- or at least most- of us need an attitude adjustment every now and then to help keep our perspective of ourselves realistic.