We had eight drummers show up one night for a jam session at Pinelake. It was fascinating to see how differently the bands responded based on the drummer behind the kit. With some drummers it felt easy – everyone played with confidence and the groove was contagious. With others, the band was timid, stiff and uninspired.
Drummers are the backbone of our bands. They hold everything together, allowing us to stand strong and move effortlessly in different directions.
Today, two primary characteristics stick out to me for drummers I want to work with: leadership and pocket.
Leadership starts with ownership. Great drummers prepare as if the success of the set is completely up to them. And when on stage, they set aside their insecurities and play aggressively.
Here are a few practical applications for becoming a leader behind the drum set.
Know the form of the song and lead the band through it in your playing.
- For example, if the chorus is nine bars instead of the usual eight, don't play a fill in bar eight...and then another in bar nine. This sort of thing breeds insecurity in a band (and the audience).
Simply put: play like you expect people to follow you.
Keep the foundational grooves and fills consistent every time you play the song.
Initiate a conversation with your bass player – he is an extension of you. While playing, make eye contact with the entire band. Smile. It encourages everyone on stage and will help them lock together.
Find your greatest joy not in what you play, but how what you play leads others.
Ah, the elusive "pocket". It is hard to define, but you know it when you feel it. Essentially, pocket is playing with great time and groove, locked to the click, and locked to the other musicians around you.
For drummers in our worship-leading context, to find the pocket, start here:
- Lock to the click first.
- When in doubt, sacrifice the artistic for something simpler that stays locked in.
- For each section of each song, know what the groove is (especially the kick pattern) and play those grooves consistently each time.
- Going back to leadership, talk to the musicians around you about how you can lock in together best.