Drums As The Foundation

A good rock band can be ruined, destroyed, and become a proverbial train-wreck because of one simple and very crucial element in rock music...

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I present something to you that perhaps you've encountered thousands of times and never really noticed it. It happens to 98% of local bands and other sub-par bands alike, and sadly, I don't think anyone has ever tried to address it head on. A good rock band can be ruined, destroyed, and become a proverbial train-wreck because of one simple and very crucial element in rock music.

The Drums

The song writing can be inspiring, the guitars huge and loud, and the vocals captivating. But suddenly, like war planes bombarding enemy territory, the drummer pulls out an aerial assault of a drum fill, taking any kind of musicality the other musicians have worked hard to create and blowing it to smithereens, leaving the poor refugee listener's ear drums battered and bruised. We can pin the blame on many things, such as the drummers pride, his off-kilter musical sense, or even plain old fashioned ignorance. Perhaps, as a song writer, as a guitarist, or even as a drummer, you have recently asked yourself Something just doesn't seem right with the way this sounds

Perhaps the answer might be found in the article below. Please note that this is an article built upon opinions that I find true and solid. But, please, feel free to leave me comments about how the solo guitar is the foundation of a rock band and Ibanez guitars thru line 6 amps are the only way to go. Your opinions are just as valuable as mine. I mean that

Here are 3 problems that I see with most drummers and how you can try to fix them.

Lets start with what I think is how the drums should play with others. The drums, first and foremost, are the foundation of any rock band. The drums give us rhythm, the drums provide a back bone, and the drums give the song a driving force and can set the song apart. Let's use the pyramid analogy once more. We have all seem pyramids in our history books. They start large at the bottom and end up small at the top. Common sense tells us that if it were built upside down, it would topple over and fall. Without that larger and sturdy foundation at the bottom, the whole thing comes toppling over. (Just an aside, this analogy can be used in everything from education to theology.) The drums need to be the larger, sturdier base of any rock band. Never too loud, never too flashy, and always there to support what the other instruments are there to do.

  • Problem number 1: the drums are too busy and overactive like an ADHD 6 year old boy and have no sense of direction.

    Solution: Keep it simple. Bring the rhythm to the down beat, and compliment the song. Think of it this way. You see a beautiful woman walking down the street, and you think to yourself Wow, I would like to get her number, take her out, and maybe get a little lip action Then as she walks closer, you notice that her face is horribly flashy. She has bright red lipstick on, overdone blush, eye shadow that goes all over her face, and a terrible color of eyeliner. Your first thought, if you are anything like me is wow, what a whore. Just as makeup compliments a woman, the drums should compliment a song. The same could be said for lead patterns and solo guitars, but that's neither here nor there.

    Drummers that excel in this: JJ Johnson (John Mayer) Jon Bucklew (Copeland). If you are anything like me, you do the following at all rock shows. I walk up to the front of the stage, and depending on whether the band is setting up or already has their gear on stage, I check out the gear. I see what kind of guitars they play, what amps the use to drive them, and what kind of pedals or effects the may use. It is here that I make all sorts of inappropriate, hypocritical and very mean statements in my head, or a close friend, if they are standing next to me. These statements may include Why would you waste so much money on that solid-state piece of crap? or For that money, you could have x guitar and still have enough money to buy some decent effects.

    Then, being a drummer with nearly 15 years of experience under my belt, I notice the drum kit. As I said earlier, 98% of the time, local bands and sub-par bands have this kit. A 7 piece pearl export series with z custom cymbals and a double kick pedal. All on a large, shiny drum rack. I almost want to turn away from the show at that point. Why? Because while there may be 20,000 kits out there assembled that way, there are only 5,000 drummers who, in my opinion, who can give that kit justice. It is my burning and driving opinion that if you reduce the kit, you will make the drummer more solid.

  • Problem number 2: the kit is too big.

    Solution: If all drummers could have a tattoo, I would want it to be KISSnot because of the ground breaking rock band, but because it stands for keep it simple, stupid. Lets be honest, you aren't going to really use toms 3-8, and if you did, it probably wouldn't fit in the song at all. You really only need a crash, a ride, and some hats. A splash is acceptable, but anything more than that is fluff. A pet peeve of mine is the china crash. It's excellent for a quick cut through in metal, but most drummers I know use it as a ride. I want to rip my ears out at this point.

    Drummers who excel in this: Matthew Puttman (lovedrug, Living sacrifice) Weston (eisley) Most jazz drummers. Let's face it, half of the rock drummers out there only dream that they could play jazz. Jazz music=smaller kit. Rock music=huge kit. Surely you can make the connection there

    I have met many drummers in this great land of ours, and if there was one thing in common that they all have (yes, myself included) is that we are all puffed up with pride. Something about getting behind some wood, metal, and plastic and beating it all to death makes us feel so big, so masculine, and so God-like. I've been there too, but what we have to realize is that we are not there to have the spotlights on us. If you have this mindset, please do your guitarist a favor and find another band to play in. I'm sure that most drummers who read this are actually pretty good. There are a lot of great players out there. However, the problem comes when the drummer thinks I should show off some of my skills in this part of the song. That's different! I worked at an office for a brief period of time, and one day I noticed that every day I went in to work, the office was always very clean. The trash had been taken out, the windows had been cleaned, and somehow, there was always the lingering scent of lemon. Every evening, when the employees had left, the janitor came in, when no one was there to see, and would clean up behind the mess we had just made.

    Drummers, consider yourselves the janitors of the rock world, going behind the over inflated solo guitarists, the artsy and quiet rhythm guitarists, the eccentric bassists and bleeding heart vocalists and cleaning up whatever mess they bring to the stage. It is your job to clean it, polish it, and make it presentable. Its not a glorious job, so be prepared before you get into it.

  • Problem number 3: Your head is too big.

    Solution: Change your mindset. You aren't the focus of the band. Who in their right mind (besides other drummers who, arguably, aren't in their right mind) would want to sit and listen to nothing but drums drums drums? Take the time to realize that you are the solid foundation to any rock band, and though without you, everything falls apart, you still need to have the humility about you to make sure that you do indeed make some good music together.

    Drummers that excel in this: Pat Wilson (weezer) Fergal Lawler (The cranberries) and Local Drummers Eric Meeks and Josh Ayres. Some of the best drummers a guitarist could ask to play with.

  • Random Rants about drummers: Use fills tastefully, please don't put them at the end of every phrase, or the end of every 4 phrases. Use them when the song calls for it. Your cymbals are made of precious melodic metals. They are not your girlfriend, so don't bang them whenever you feel like it. Make sure the moment is right. Double kick pedals should really only be used in metal or hardcore. I'm tired of hearing lousy drummers buy double kicks and then put a quick flam at the beginning of every phrase. That sounds really terrible. Please stop. Put your sleeves back on. Sleeveless drummers bother me a little. It goes back to the ego thing. Your muscles don't look bigger, so go ahead and stop the faade. Please tune your drums carefully. This is all up to your taste, but put some serious thought into it. This makes or breaks your drumming.

    I do appreciate your time in reading this article. I hope that you and your band can use it. I have one goal in this whole article writing businessto make music better. I think I have some pretty good ideas that though aren't original to me, they could be said by me. Remember that drums can make or break the band. Don't be scared to tell your drummer to take a chill pill, and drummers, don't get upset if someone tells you to be quiet. Remember what I told you about people in their right mind not wanting to listen to drums all day long? It's a burden we bare; it's just that others bear it better than some. Drummers, you are the foundation, you are the solid rock, and you are the janitors. It's not a flashy job, but without you and your excellence, rock music would not be where it is today. Keep up the good work.

    -Mikey Harper

  • 114 comments sorted by best / new / date

      ibanez_vines
      Good article - lots of knowledge from your part. I agree with the part with the use of too many toms (Dire Straits drumset is huge but there isnt a need for all those toms!) but i dissagree on the other hand since Arch Enemy have a pretty tom-packed drumset but this drummer makes excellent use all of it.
      Ibanez3
      Very good article. It was very well written. I got a lot of things out of it.
      gawbeaw
      stringmagician: i think half the people that read this article didnt get it, the author means if your gunna play drums, you gotta play with the song. if its not right in the song, dont play it. if it fits great with the song, play it. it doesnt matter how big a rig you have if you make it work for you and the band. Pat Wilson's almost always got a 5-7 peice set, and he plays it amazingly with every Weezer song. Bono had a huge rig, including a freakin gong, but if you wanna say he didnt play it beautifully on every Zeppelin song i think you might recieve some angry comments from UGers
      That's barely what he put across. Dude, he said Pat Wilson is a good drummer. Are you kidding me? Chirs Adler or Mike Smith are the pinnacle of playing for the song. And if you heard just the drum grooves, you'd think it was flashy shit, but they manage it into the song. Playing that basic 4/4 beat every means YOU'RE A SHITTY WRITER. PAT WILSON IS SHIT. He has zero musical sense of he thinks that groove will cut it for every goddamn song.
      Peterjs
      I'm super lucky and have a drummer that can keep a beat in her sleep. Yeah, she's a girl, but she rocks.
      LeoKhenir
      Oh no, no, no... People just doesn't get it. I play drums, I've been doing it for almost 10 years now. I have from the start understood that complex fills completely ruin a song. It just doesn't in. Admittedly, sometimes it can be cool. Some of my mates have a band, and they have swapped out a large chunk of the guitar solo in "another brick in the wall, pt 2" with a massive drum solo - But their drummer rocks. Try listening to the Woodstock bootleg of "soul sacrifice" by Santana - There's a pretty long drum solo in there. To make it short - Most drummers understand what they are supposed to do - Keep beat and that's that. But they should "spice up" their beat by throwing in fills at appropiate places. And puh-LEEZE don't make this a discussion about which drummer rocks the most, cause THAT surely was not the article author's intention. Kit size: For all you who claim kits need to be big to make diversity: Bollocks. I have a 5-piece kit with a hi-hat and a crash. I actually remove the smallest tom, cause I have no need for it, and I play metal. (And a touch of jazz) Every drummer can make diversity on an 11-piece kit - the EXPERT drummer makes the same diversity on the 4-piece. China cymbals: Who uses a china for ride? That's a completely wrong use of the cymbal. It is meant as an alternative crash cymbal. Hit them in the head with a chair. (And china use must be sparsely - it can easily be overdone and then made crappy)
      Pandy
      very true about when drummers play too loud. I was jamming with my pal (who also plays guitar so has no excuse) I'm trying to play and I can't even hear myself because he is thumping away like a madman.
      electrode_head
      in my opinion, it all comes back to the music. here are a few (according to me) valid points 1: more toys make some people go way past their boundaries, but a good musician will know where to stop, even if they have a 5 gazillion piece kit or 23 string guitar 2:people need to stop listening quite so much to themselves, and start listening to the other members of the band. 3:technical ability should be there to enhance a piece of music 4: people always seem to end uyp in arguments over 'who is the best such and such'..... what's the go? everyone has there own thing to bring to music. .....except slash,, who sucks arse... couldn't resist!!!
      Guitars N'Blues
      IMHO Kieth Moon was one drummer who could use all of his kit and made massive use of cymbal rides and crashes. This style would not have worked for any one else but worked for Keith Moon coz of his natural timing and sense of rhythm that made him a Drumming God. Listen to the way he uses the entire drum kit next time you hear a song by The Who :
      Cutie
      I agree with most of this article, but the statement about egotistic drummers, as aforementioned by others, is a generalisation. Any person within a band can slow down its progress.
      Str4ng3r
      Damage, Inc. wrote: clockworkorange wrote: My drummer has a 5 piece kit and could easily destroy Portnoy anyday. He is the most arrogant overrated drummer on the planet. Don't flatter yourself mate. Your drummer is shit. Portnoy is his god.
      Totally agree. If your drummer can kill Portnoy, why does he play with you and not Dream Theater??
      Guitar_Poet
      poor, poor, poor article. if drummers suck, its hard to keep a band, sure... but yknow, if guitar sucks, or if bass sucks, the band sucks too... dont drop it all on drums, its not always their fault, eh?
      makeitcrynsing
      I get what you're saying, most drummers should keep it simple cause they sound horrible and detract from the band if they get showy. But if someone has the ability and control to do fills and/or be complex, I say by all means go for it. Neil Peart owns.
      westmantooth
      i like drums that are unique and you wouldnt think that would fit in the song but they do
      BigDrummer21
      All in all i find this article useless garbage, the only thing i can agree with is not using the china cymbal as a ride, thats about it. I also find it very contradictory that someone would describe a "cookie cutter kit" would write a guide on how to be a good drummer, it seems to me like you are trying to make a cookie cutter drummer. This article is so negative towards musicianship as if drummers should stick with one beat and not be even remotely flashy at all, which to me is a crappy idea. I'm currenty in a band right now and we all find a comfortable mix, and all this dont hit a cymbal on every phase and no fancy fills, screw that, man if it feels good to you and your band and it sounds good play it loud. However im not saying that a drummer should be the center of attention to be honest no part of the band should, if every member effectively puts their part in, voilah you have great music. As for big kits goes, thats a bunch of bull, umm lets see have you ever heard of neil peart or mike portnoy, they have massive kits and play them tastefully which just goes to show that just because you have a jazz kit with one tom doesnt mean you will sound better or be better. Yes, i know what youre thinking, and no im knocking jazz drummers, in fact they are some of the best, with jazz its more about flow than anything else, and quite frankly every jazz drummer ive seen has always been flashy in one way or another. So without anymore ranting or raving i think this article deserves a .05 out of 10 for usefullnes and deserves some major rethought from whoever wrote it. Please remember think before you type,lol. Well thats all i have to say, keep on picking and keep on sticking. later
      stringmagician
      i think half the people that read this article didnt get it, the author means if your gunna play drums, you gotta play with the song. if its not right in the song, dont play it. if it fits great with the song, play it. it doesnt matter how big a rig you have if you make it work for you and the band. Pat Wilson's almost always got a 5-7 peice set, and he plays it amazingly with every Weezer song. Bono had a huge rig, including a freakin gong, but if you wanna say he didnt play it beautifully on every Zeppelin song i think you might recieve some angry comments from UGers
      Backlit_Romance
      Yeah, I'm a drummer and a guitar player... well kind. But anyway, I like to play fairly simple and quiet beats and that is what I like, and people just need to respect what other like, weather it is jazz or speed metal, you have to respect these guys for what they are playing. And you know what Rock music is missing..... the tambourine!!! Come on people bring back the Rock tambourine. Cheers and keep on rockin'.
      nightrune
      i agree with everyone, just do what the song needs, dont put a drum solo in when you dont need it, dont put a guitar solo in when you dont need it dont put a bass solo in when you dont need it, the kit size will depend on the drummer and what kind of music he plays, you may play emo.... you only need a few pieces, you may play hardcore play with 20 pieces, but everything goes back to what the song and style requires just keep that in mind
      vanceboy
      drums should just stay in the background and let the guitar do the playin...unless youre a gay punk rock band.
      BassBeats098
      True, very true. My former drummer has had the biggest head ever, thinking he was the greatest thing ever since we had our first gig which was last year. He also thinks he needs the biggest drumset possible. Nobody likes him, and he is not funny, when he thinks he's being hilarious.
      Damage, Inc.
      clockworkorange wrote: My drummer has a 5 piece kit and could easily destroy Portnoy anyday. He is the most arrogant overrated drummer on the planet.
      Don't flatter yourself mate. Your drummer is shit. Portnoy is his god.
      bigtimmy
      im in the process of finding a drummer for my potential metal band. so reading this article helps because ill be able to forget one thats not a team player, although i already know what a tool seems like
      IPLAYBASS
      Good article. The drummer I play with when I jam is always trying to over complicate things and it bugs the crap out of me. Personally I love that solid 4/4 kick snare ac/dc kind of beat over crazy tom tom cymbal acrobatics crap.
      texican
      Nick Mason from Pink Floyd is a simple drummer... he does use a lot of fills, but I like the way they work with the bass.
      gawbeaw
      Look, it's all from a different point of view. This article is just regurgatory shit you would hear from every pompous ***** guitarist. Real bands have a good combination of everything and don't completely neglect a chunk of their band. Every person in the band has a purpose for playing and when one piece is too flashy, it sucks. Do you want a car with the most powerful engine available but a frame that's too rusted to hold it? No. This is the same way. Do I want to hear trite guitar solo after trite guitat solo? No. Of course you people will treat this article like gospel; this is a website for guitarists, you ****s are going to love this shit regardless of the fact that it's wrong.
      apocalypse13
      bigtimmy: im in the process of finding a drummer for my potential metal band. so reading this article helps because ill be able to forget one thats not a team player, although i already know what a tool seems like
      I wouldn't suggest listneing to this article for a metal band. Most great metal drummers do exactly the opposite of this article. Some drummers who use a metal drumming style and don't always follow this article: -Scott Travis (Judas Priest) -Dave Lombardo (Slayer) -Vinnie Paul (Pantera) -Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) -Jason Bitram (Shadows Fall) -Lars Urlich (Metallica) -Nick Menza (Megadeth) -Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden) -Joey Jordison (Slipknot) -Gar Samuelson (Megadeth) -Matt McDonough (Mudvayne) -Hellhammer (Mayhem) Those are just some suggestions that I highly recommend checking out if you want to make a metal band. I know you've probably already heard a lot of them, but just listen closely to the drums. All of them use fills a lot, yet they still follow music well and make good beats. A truly good drummer can hold a beat, yet still wreak havoc at the same time. If you can hit insanely fast double bass, hold one tempo on one piece, and another tempo on another piece, throw in a fill every few bars, and make it all balance out to match the song and sound good, you are a kick-ass metal drummer. Simple Nick Mason or Phil Rudd drumming just doesn't usually work in metal. I cannot stress enough, DISREGARD THIS ARTICLE IF YOU PLAY METAL! Other styles, meh, it's ok. Metal = No. Just kick ass and play aggressive for metal. Peace.
      tacomundo
      A bunch of the guy sup there are saying how many great drummers use absolutely huge kits and whatnot, but by for the best drummer int he world has probably the smallest kit I've ever seen a drummer use; Keith Moon. He can do anything with nothing. Keep it simple stupid.
      KIMB
      Pretty good article. Why does everyone feel the need to comment only on the choices used for examples. I dont care if there are better drummers out there and blah blah blah, it was just ONE example. so calm down.
      meamg00
      Amen mikey...you should sit on a mountain in tibet and have people climb to you for your infinate drum wisdom... but line 6's are gay tho....modeling amps are like the equate version of something good...like that whole kit is to big thing goes for the guitar too ... the more stuff you have just the more clutter and fluff to your sound... STRaight Ibanez through a marshall 1 channel as hot as it gets and let your guitar do the rest... just roll back the volume for the nicest clean sound ever....
      Zildjian69
      Even though i dont have quite as much experience as you i do agree with what your saying. ive been a drummer for about 4/5 years and in that short period of time ive learnt to love them. Everytime i see a band onstage and their drummer has the biggest treble bass drumkit with 15 cymbals i think to myself "why?" Its pointless and theres just no need i get by just perfectly fine with my little 5 piece pearl target with a meinl ride, crash and a set of hi-hats. If i learn a song i cant exactly do what the real drummer does because i just have the equipment. Although if i was to upgrade my kit all that i would get is another floor tom and a crash and i would be happy, theres no more i would need. I started off reading the article and thinking this guys a complete a***ole (excuse my french) but i read on and do see what your saying and dont think your an a***ole. I think u have a big set of balls to write an article like that which kind of rips in to yourself but into others and being one of those others i have to say i salute you.
      rockergurl09
      also, I don't think the "***** with too much makeup" metaphor truly applies to drum playing. it's fine if you limit it to one feature (for example, a pounding yet simple beat, or a complicated yet subtle rhythm going all over the place on the drum set)
      rockergurl09
      who says drummers have to be humble and know their place in the band? I think it's really cool when the drummer does an insane solo(in that case, the acronym KISS should stand for something like "keep it snappy, star!). especially when they play live. I may not play drums, but I think the drummer should be put in the spotlight just like the lead guitar or singer. Lately it's been bugging me how the drummer is always positioned in the back where you can hardly see them. why not get them closer to the other players so they get some attention too. Here is a good analogy - When you mention the band Green Day to the average girl, they say "Billie Joe is so hot!" They on occaision mention Mike Dirnt, and almost never mention Tre Cool the drummer. Coincidence? I think not.
      Fezz
      good article i like it best example of a small kit is in some muse concert wen bellamy went up to the drummer and 'carefully removed' ie kicked over all of his kit apart from like one tom a cymbal and the bass drum and they played some heauge solo together with bellamy sittin on the bass haha i thought it was classic
      Momentary_Scar
      You have no idea how true you are!! I agree with you on alot of your points. Many times have I been playing a gig when a high strung speed driven drummer descides to be flashy. I love drums, but sometimes the player can get a little crazy. I don't agree with you on one thing though, kit size. Think of some of the best rock drummers out there: Danny Carrey of TOOL. His set has what, some 36 pieces to it? And he can make it sound beautiful!! David from Korn, he is another "ginormous" kit owner, and he can take the stage. Go to a Korn concert, you'll see.
      JimiFloydStones
      You're right about the keeping the rhythm, very important in that fact. But only hlf right about driving the music along the actual foundation is part of tat too, you'll see in my next point. Bass guitars and such are the foundation, nt saying drums aren't important, they're just as important as the electric guitars. The actual foundation drives and pushes the music just as the drums do. You'll find that the bass along with the drums are able to slow down or speed up the music. And spongy, white stripes are good for not having a foundation, a guitarist and a vocalist cannot carry a band. The White Stripes are a band that appeals to a musically challenged or ignorant ear.
      Pedricko
      Frank Zappa's drummer had a HUGE kit and still played intricate jazz-fusion
      spongy
      yeah i agree with every1 blah blah blah. 1 point: white stripes rule & meg white plays the drums like a 7 year old. so u can still sound good despite your drummer
      RENEGADE8
      Good article. Here are my two 'disagree' points: 1. Having a big kit is not a problem, as long as all the pieces are used and used effectively, not just because it's close to your crash or ride. 2. You can't say that drummers should not be complicated. While they are a foundation for the music, they are also musicians that can add to the music in their own way. And this does not mean that only metal players fit into this category. For example, listen to 'Silent Alarm' by Bloc Party. The entire album is carried by the dynamics of the drums that always fit the music and give the band a unique sound. Bloc Party would never have reached the success they have without that drummer. Note that they are NOT metal. (Surprise!) Basically, if you are a drummer, fit the music, don't have a massive kit if you aren't going to use it all properly, and give your own spin WHERE IT'S NEEDED. Plain and simple.
      meamg00
      no. 1 apocolypse 13 is a dumbass...as an elite metal guitarist i say mikey is right...100% weather you want to be gay or not no.2 ibanez through line 6 is not macho or cool and just sounds ok>..and thats b/c of the ibanez...modeling amps are overated bigtime Ibanez through marshal is the way to go...1 channel hot as it gets use the volume knob for clean sounds and you can get the sweetest, most beautiful and most brutal tone ever known to man... metal has to have balls guys...go tube
      edibledevilboy
      well i'm a drummer and a guitarist, playing both for different bands, and having read your article, drummer's don't have to keep simple all the time it depends on the music style and feel of the section in the song and the general feeling of space. Great drummer's aren't just the simple players, they're the ones that know when to hold back, so i do agree to the majority of your article but i think that needed to be said.
      gawbeaw
      5:15_Whofan: I think its true and anyone who says it isn't is a self-serving drummer whose in denial. Jazz drummers are undoubtedly second only to classical percussionists, big kits are annoying, and in my experience, the drummer tends to always be the most annoying member of the band, especially when he/she forgets his/her adderall. not that have anything against drummers, and the great one did use a big kit, but i think all of his points were valid.
      You're probably a guitarist who got kicked out of a band by the drummer. Keep your biased shit to yourself.
      gawbeaw
      undefined wrote: undefined
      You're probably a guitarist who got kicked out of a band by the drummer. Keep your biased shit to yourself.
      5:15_Whofan
      I think its true and anyone who says it isn't is a self-serving drummer whose in denial. Jazz drummers are undoubtedly second only to classical percussionists, big kits are annoying, and in my experience, the drummer tends to always be the most annoying member of the band, especially when he/she forgets his/her adderall. not that have anything against drummers, and the great one did use a big kit, but i think all of his points were valid.
      )Eric(Draven
      I don't know. I think this is kind of a false stereotype with drums, they're the best at keeping the rhythm down but if you do it right you can definitely pull of a wild, exciting drum beat throughout a whole song. I see where you're coming from but I think you're being a little close minded.