Drummers are a multi-talented bunch. We create the beats that keep the listener's feet tapping and the dancers happy, we musically embellish our parts with drum fills and cymbal crashes, we are entertaining and visually fun to watch - all while being the coolest member of the band at the same time. In fact, you are probably here right now because you saw a cool drummer, or heard an interesting drum part and thought "I'd like to have a go at that". It's true that drummers have many responsibilities, but our number one priority is keeping time.
When we talk about keeping time, we are essentially talking about keeping a steady, solid, consistent tempo (or speed), without rushing (speeding up) or dragging (slowing down). In my drum studio in San Diego, I always advise my students to visualize time as a straight horizontal line. If you go above the line, you are speeding up, and if you dip below the line, you are slowing down. Our goal should be to stay on the line. With that said, we are not machines, and we certainly don't want to sound like them either. It is more than natural, and in fact musical at times, to have subtle variations in our tempo, but we definitely want to avoid the more prominent deviations.
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I distinctly remember the first time I sat-in with a band. I was 13 years old, and visiting family in India with my dad. One night at a restaurant/bar, the leader of the resident covers band apologized to the audience that there would be a delay in the start of their set, due to their drummer being late. This is another form of time keeping that you really should be on top of if you plan to keep hold of your gig! (Hence the invention of a unique time zone for musicians: MST - Musician Standard Time).
"I remember that, on more than one occasion, the bass player turned to me gesturing his hand in a downward motion, clearly letting me know that I was committing the cardinal sin of drumming. I was speeding up and taking the band with me".
Simon DasGupta - Founder, Drum Ambition.
My dad immediately approached the band leader, and told him that he had a thirteen year old son who played the drums, and would love to help out. As I sat there in horror sliding deep into my seat and doing my best to avoid all eye contact, I considered that the likelihood of these young and cool Indian musicians wanting to play with a shy English teenage drummer would be very slim. I was wrong, and moments later I found myself on the stage playing "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits - my first public performance! While I had a lot of fun and the band seemed happy, my attention was often drawn to the bass player. I remember that, on more than one occasion, the bass player turned to me gesturing his hand in a downward motion, clearly letting me know that I was committing the cardinal sin of drumming. I was speeding up, and taking the band with me.
My shortcomings in this area of musicianship were directly attributable to two things. Firstly, I was inexperienced in playing with other musicians, so I could certainly cut myself some slack there. However, being an unschooled and completely self taught drummer up to that point, I was simply unaware of the importance of time keeping, and what a critical role this plays in holding a band together.
Whether your goal is to play in a band or play with your favorite band over the headphones after school or work, developing time keeping is an essential part of your musical development, and we stress this in just about every single Drum Ambition video. In May 2016, I published this blog, focusing on "5 Tips to Developing Good Time Keeping". This article stresses the importance of playing slowly, counting out loud, using a metronome, understanding the importance of reading music, and playing along with your favorite tracks. I highly recommend that you read this, and reach out if you have any questions.
Don't be the subject of the classic drummer joke: How do you know when the drummer is at your front door?
The knocking speeds up.