Do Self-Taught Drummers? by Roy Burns

Some well-known drummers, who have never taken lessons, play very well. Other well-known drummers, who have studied for years, also play very well.

Drummers who have not studied sometimes tend to be critical of those who have. The following defensive statements were taken from interviews of well-known drummers who have not studied.

“I never took a lesson in my life.”

"I don't think drummers should practice too much. It hurts their feel."

"I was just a natural player."

"If you study too much you won't be able to swing."

"Drum clinics are garbage."

"Just play man. Everything will be cool."

Without taking sides in the controversy, let's examine what is really taking place.

1. There are two sides to every argument. However, are these arguments real or imagined? In my experience, everyone is self-taught or no one is self-taught. If this sounds confusing, it is-until you examine it.

All good players teach themselves how to play, whether or not they have studied. They learn how to play by playing, listening, and watching. In other words, they are learning from others all the time. So, in a way, self-taught players are really not self-taught at all. It is just that they have never taken drum lessons.

The drummer who has taken lessons also learns to play by playing, listening, and watching. The process is the same for everyone. So where is the difference?

The difference is the studied player has more information about music and his instrument. This is no guarantee that he will play better than the unstudied player. However, he has the chance to learn more and to continue to grow musically because he has a strong foundation. He also, hopefully, has learned how to study. This skill will serve him well in the years ahead as he develops.

For example, drummers like Steve Gadd, Louie Bellson, Dave Garibaldi, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Danny Gottlieb, Ed Soph, and Ed Shaughnessy just to name a few) have all studied both drums and music. Each one plays his own style, which he learned pretty much on his own. However, the key is that they each developed and are still developing their individual style. They all read well and all have spent plenty of time in the practice room at one time or another.

Studying develops the mind, and it is the development of a musical mind that is an integral part of every great drummer's growth. Studying also helps to develop self-discipline and a sense of organization relative to ideas.

It is also possible to continue to grow and develop musically with very little knowledge of drumming and music. However, it is much tougher. It is sort of like trying to cook food without a recipe. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. The trial and error method of learning can have benefits, but it takes longer.

Studying with a good teacher gets most of the technical hang-ups out of the way early. Concentrating on the music is then approached with more confidence.

2. The type of music being played must be considered. For example, if you want to be a studio drummer, a symphonic drummer, an all-around percussion player, a rudimental drummer, a contemporary big band drummer, or an accomplished rock drummer, your chances will be greatly enhanced if you have studied.

If your only desire is to bang out a little rhythm in the garage with your friends, not much training will be needed. You may find, however, that this will not satisfy your musical desires as you grow older. It is often a shock when the band outgrows the drummer and decides to get a new one. If you develop slower than the others in the group, you will be out of it at some point. Also, if you develop faster then your friends, you may have the chance to join a better group sooner, or even start your own group.

3. The longer you wait to begin to study, the more difficult the decision becomes. Many young players are embarrassed to take lessons because they feel self-conscious. It's much like a high school student being asked to go back to the third grade. It seems humiliating.

However, if you can already play somewhat, why not add to your information and knowledge? Put your fear and ego aside and begin to develop your mind today. Don't wait.

4. Good drummers who have studied don't spend time criticizing those who haven't. They usually understand that each person teaches himself how to play. No one else can do it for you; you do it for yourself.

As the song says, "With a little help from my friends," life is a little easier and a lot more fun. Don't be ashamed to learn from someone else.

Don't waste time arguing, just learn all you can, any way you can, all the time. If that means studying, and that goes against your grain, just ask yourself the following question: "How much do I really want to play?" If the answer is, "Playing is very important to me," then I urge you to re-evaluate some of your ideas. Remember, you, and no one else, are responsible for your own development as a drummer and as a person. How good do you want to be?