Technically speaking

Paul ElliottDrums, MusicLeave a Comment

 “Drum Technique? Technically Speaking, I Just Hit ‘Em…”

By way of definition, technique isa means or method of achieving a task”– also commonly referred to as “a means to an end” –  but what does technique mean to you?

All physical activities, including everyday tasks, require a technique, though it is quite possible that we may not consider or be consciously aware of how and why we perform certain activities the way we do – more often than not, we just do it.

So how does technique affect musicians?

Musicians & Techniquepaul-elliott-drummer-blog-pic2

Technique is a very important factor in the practice and performance of music.

Every musical instrument has physical demands and the musician must meet these demands in order to make a noise and hopefully make music.

For drummers – faced with the task of producing sound with all four limbs – it’s common to refer to the demands of the instrument in relation to the development of control, touch, speed, power, endurance, independence, dynamics, vocabulary and expression, for the purpose of performing in different musical styles.

In fact, it’s difficult to say what techniqueisn’t – given that everything we do on the drumset requires a physical movement and therefore is a technique of sorts.

Technical Perceptions & Prejudices

The drumset is a relatively new instrument (compared to the violin, for example) and the study and practice of drumming technique has evolved considerably – and is still evolving.

However, perceptions on drumming techniques can vary enormously and discussions on technique always seem to evoke different emotions, opinions and responses among drummers.

For example, many drummers embrace technique and approach it with the vigor and enthusiasm of an Olympic athlete, while other drummers do just enough regular technical practice to perhaps feel more physically assured and some drummers devote little or no time at all to it.

So, it would seem that one man’s meat (or chops) is another man’s poison and it’s difficult to say why this may be the case.

There are many variables to consider.

Positive Spin

There is a lot to be said for acquiring a strong physical technique.

Many of the problems and frustrations that drummers encounter can more often than not be traced back to a technical problem – typically arising from excess physical tension, where the muscles and limbs become more difficult to move and the sound becomes less controlled, more erratic, less dynamic.

Does it not seem logical, therefore, to work towards securing enough physical technique to comfortably meet the physical and sonic demands of the music?

A strong physical technique will help us to gain more control over ourlimbs – giving a physical freedom, which contributes to the control of what we choose to play and how it sounds – and it’s essential to have control of our sound.

It makes good sense, therefore, to appreciate the benefits of a controlled, relaxed and fluid physical drumming technique – So why wouldn’t anyone want to possess such a technique?

I Just Hit ‘Em!

Many drummers simply have a lack of understanding, knowledge, awareness or desire in relation to physical techniques, depending on how they have approached and experienced the learning and practice of the instrument.

Furthermore, practicing and acquiring technique is hard work and very time consuming – thousands of hours of repetition and honing musical motor skills. As such, many drummers simply choose not to practice technique.

Even at a professional level of performance, it’s true that there will always be drummers who might not have text book technique, might look awkward, uncomfortable, even tense, but still sound great, have great time, great feel and great creativity.

All things considered, there may well be an element of truth in the “I just hit ‘em”philosophy.

However, surely it makes sense to consider how we hit ‘em, what itfeels like when we hit ‘em, and what it sounds like when we hit ‘em……?

Express Yourself

Does technique help or hinder musical expression?

A major argument in favour of acquiring good physical technique and technical control, is that it enhances creativity – that it is a vehicle that can allow us to express ourselves musically and sonically, with physical ease.

Does it not make sense to have a degree of technical control and freedom – to complement and enhance our natural ability, emotion and expression on the drumset?

Indeed, it can be suggested that technical limitations will almost certainly guarantee artistic limitations and we should perhaps consider whether we can we ever express ourselves fully and reach our full musical potential, if we are technically restricted?

A Different Perspective

On the other hand, some drummers are of the opinion that too much emphasis on technique can actually interfere with – perhaps even restrict – natural ability, feel, creativity and expression.

Indeed – some would go so far as saying that too much emphasis on technique can actually cause the drummer to lose sight of the music – that the technical drummer is in danger of approaching performance from a technical rather than a musical standpoint.

There may be a lot of merit in this because technical ability should always serve the purpose of supporting and complementing the music – rather than be seen and heard as a demonstration of technical prowess.

Groovers, Popsters, Jazzers & Chopsters

The question of technique and musical genre very often raises its ugly head among drummers and we very often pigeon-hole drummers in relation to their technical abilities, musical preferences and choices.

Perhaps there will always be a degree of musical snobbery surrounding this issue – but how much of it is actually justified?

Different musical styles simply place different technical and musical demands on the drummer in terms of rhythmic structure, dynamics, sound, vocabulary and co-ordination.

As such, some styles of music simply do not require the full range of technical possibilities – though this is not to say that the music and drumming is any less valid.

Essentially, technique should not be regarded as being genre specific – Technique transcends musical genre and a controlled, relaxed and efficient technique can be applied to any musical style and in any musical situation.

Risk Factors

Let us not forget that there are real physical dangers inherent in playing any musical instrument – it’s an occupational hazard – and drumming is no exception.

Excess physical tension caused by poor technical and postural habits can result in some debilitating and career threatening conditions.

Of course, it’s true that even the most gifted technician can suffer from various overuse injuries or postural problems but without paying attention to our physical technique we are essentially increasing the odds of picking up an injury.

Is it really worth the risk….?

Personal Choice

Ultimately, the perception of technique and attitude towards the study and practice of technique is a personal one.

As drummers, we make choices. We follow our musical and emotional instincts. We choose to practice certain concepts. We are motivated by the things that appeal to us.

We move in directions personal to us.

Certainly, technique alone does not guarantee great musicianship and we should not confuse technique with musicianship – or indeed approach the drumset solely from a technical viewpoint – as there is little point in having strong technical ability, only to lose sight of the music and the reasons for playing music.

The question is – have you really thought about what it means to you and to the music?

Physically Healthy and Musically Creative Technique

It’s difficult to find any reasons for not wanting a great physical technique…..

How frustrating is it to have a creative idea and/or a specific sound in your head but not be able to play it because of a technical problem?

From a purley physical point of view, as a way of reducing the risk of injury, does it not make good sense to devote a regular amount of time to the study and practice of technique?

A final question – if you were offered great physical technique, without having to do any work, giving you control of your sound and enabling you enhance your creative expression, without technical restrictions, would you take it….?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *