What do drummers do?

Paul ElliottBlog, Drums, MusicLeave a Comment



Have you ever wondered exactly what drummers do?paul-elliott-drummer-blog-pic1

To the general observer, drummers sit down on the job, hit things, stamp on things, pull funny faces, grunt a little bit, maybe dribble a little bit and generally make a lot of noise…Ring any bells? Do visions of the truly excellent Animal from the Muppet Show come to mind? (Thank you the late, great, Ronnie Verrell – the man behind the mask, so to speak).

Of course, the drummer has always been an easy target (Spinal Tap, anyone?) and is often the butt of many a musician-based joke – always taken in good spirit, of course – but why pick on the drummer…?

Instant Gratification

Well, probably because it’s easy to play the drums, isn’t it…….?

For sure, the drumset is an accessible instrument – a complete beginner can sit behind the drums, make a noise, even bash out a basic rhythm, and receive an almost instant gratification, regardless of how it sounds.

It’s a primal instinct and it’s a lot of fun!

But if only it were that simple.

Drum Roles

The reality of playing drums properly is that – while still being a tremendous amount of fun – it is a very physically and mentally demanding instrument.

Serious players, teachers and students alike will testify to the dedication and discipline required to master this wonderful instrument.

The drummer has to wear many hats, play many roles (no pun intended) and with each performance demonstrate a complex combination of essential physical, cerebral and musical skills.

So, what do drummers need to consider? Brace yourself.… 

Technique & Ergonomics

  • Physical Technique, conditioning & related mechanics. How, and why, we move the limbs in the most physically efficient and unrestricted way, in order to produce sound.
  • Posture and Drumset orientation – How we sit at the drumkit. Our physical relationship with the drumkit.
  • How an understanding of some basic physiology will make easier our physical movement and subsequent control of sound.
  • How an understanding of some basic laws of physics will make easier our physical movement and subsequent control of sound.
  • How physical technique acts as a vehicle for Musical Expression.
  • How a mechanically efficient technique can help prevent injury.

Time Keeping

  • Without good and consistent time control, drummers are redundant.
  • How we develop an Internal Clock.
  • How we play along to click tracks, sequencers.
  • How we play without click tracks and sequencers.
  • How we Play ahead, on, or behind the beat. 

Co-ordination & Independence

  • Co-ordination is the organization of the limbs in order to play selected grooves, phrases and general creative vocabulary ideas.
  • Independence is the sound produced by each limb.
  • Co-ordination and Independence can involve 2, 3, or 4 limbs.


  • How we speak on the drums. Developing our personal voice, personal sound, personal creativity.
  • Practice systems for the development of Vocabulary include methods such as Layering, Unison, and Linear.
  • These methods will incorporate general rudiments and sticking patterns, hand and foot patterns, sound combinations, knowledge of meter, pulse and subdivisions.
  • Vocabulary systems can include other rhythmic theories such as Groupings, Metric Modulation, Displacement and Polyrhythms.

 Styles & Grooves

  • Acquiring knowledge of, and an ability to play in, different styles and grooves.
  • Authenticity of feel and sound is the key to playing different styles and grooves.
  • Common musical genres include Pop, Rock, Funk, R&B, Hip-Hop, Blues, Jazz, Big Band, Metal, Latin & Country.
  • Good Technique, Time-keeping, Co-ordination, Independence and Vocabulary, will help to develop your ability to play authentically and convincingly in different musical genres.

Theory & Reading

  • An understanding of metric structure – Time-Signatures, meter, pulse, notes, rests, and subdivisions.
  • Understanding rhythmic concepts.
  • Recognizing and reading single line notation and rhythmic phrases & motifs.
  • Reading and interpreting drum charts for the purpose of playing music in various musical genres and contexts. 

A Final Thought

So, no pressure there then…

Despite some preconceptions of the nature of the instrument and the personality of the drummer, it comes as no surprise that the drummer is often cited as being the most important person in the band – the backbone, the heartbeat, the pulse, the driving force…. So, let’s hear it for the drummer!

Indeed, in the BBC documentary I’m in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band!,Geordie superstar Sting pays a fitting tribute, stating that “A band is only as good as it’s drummer…”

High praise indeed and, all things considered, would anyone care to disagree?

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