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The Characteristics of a Great Drummer

For as long as there has been music, there have been drummers. You might wonder why it is that some drummers are passable at best, while others are greatly skilled and quickly rise to fame. What sets these select few apart? Is it natural born talent? Maybe it was money and using better equipment? Perhaps they took lessons from other experts? Maybe there is some magical training technique that once mastered, makes you great?

The obvious answer to all of these is no. The greats are great because of their hard work and tireless practice. But what drove them to practice and work so hard? Well, that comes down to a few key character traits, and there are some that all great drummers have in common. The experts have weighed in, and these are the characteristics that all great drummers have.

Soft Skills

These are personality traits that you don’t actively practice but strive to improve over time. Some people have them in spades, and others have a lot of one or the other. No one is perfect, so everyone has some room to improve in all of these categories, even the best of drummers.

1. Persistence  

Persistence is the key to all things. If drumming is something you truly care about and want to be good at, only persistence will get you to where you want to be. It will drive you to work hard, to push yourself, to practice, and to jump at opportunities. It will be what keeps you going when things get tough – and they inevitably will. The greats aren’t great because they’ve never faced challenge or adversity. They are great because they overcame it.

2. Patience

With persistence must also come patience. Your skill will not suddenly appear overnight. It’s going to take thousands of hours of practice, and this practice will not always be the most exciting. You won’t always be learning new songs or techniques. In fact, you should spend a lot of time on the rudiments. No matter how experienced you are, there is always something to learn from revisiting the rudiments. Be patient in your practice and put good effort into everything you do.

3. Passion

Since you’re going to spend a significant portion of your time practicing and growing your skills, it would serve you well to be passionate about what you’re doing. Passion will drive you to keep going. It will drive you to put yourself out there and to take risks. Greats didn’t become famous by always playing it safe. Sometimes, their passion pushed them to take risks.

Remember, passion doesn’t have to be something that you start out with. In fact, your passion for drumming should develop and deepen over the years. It will grow with your knowledge and appreciation of the art form.

4.  Know How to Capitalize on Constructive Criticism

This is another soft skill that will benefit you in multiple aspects of life. All great drummers must not only know how to take constructive criticism, but they also must know how to make the most of it. This starts with seeing the criticism for what it really it. Put aside feelings of defensiveness and offense and recognize well-intended advice. Consider its merits, and maybe even give it a try. You can always go back to what you were doing or try something else if it doesn’t work out.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are those that you can quantify, actively practice, and improve upon.

5. Feel

Feel is sort of hard to define, but it is both a characteristic and a skill that you have to practice. It’s all about your sense of timing, and how you manipulate the beat and time of a piece. Some have a greater knack for this than others, but you can practice by getting intimately familiar with 8th and 16th notes. Don’t be afraid to experiment as you go – developing your sense of feel is a lifelong process.

6. Adaptability

Adaptability is a good trait to have in all things. But because we humans are creatures of habit, it is also one of the hardest to master. If you can learn to be flexible and adaptable in your drumming, you’ll be better suited to tackle any challenge that comes your way.

Adapting can take many forms. Maybe you need to play on a kit that has parts you don’t normally use, and you have to adapt to different kits. Or maybe your bandmates want to speed up or slow down a tempo. You’ll have to adapt not only to different tempos but to playing with other musicians.

You become more adaptable by pushing yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone. This is a skill that also translates outside of drumming and will benefit you in almost any aspect of life.

7. Time Keeping

One of the drummer’s main responsibilities in a band is to keep time. It can be a difficult skill to master at first, but don’t shy away from using available tools like a metronome. A great drummer keeps track of and measures time. If the timing is off, you must also speak up. If you don’t notice it, chances are that no one else will either.

8. Active Listening

One of the most important things any musician can do is learn how to listen. It seems obvious, but a great drummer always makes sure to listen to and get an overall understanding of the song before they jump in. It is critical to understand the song as a whole if you are to build effective transitions and sections. Don’t just do random crashes and fills. Consider each bar, verse, and section and focus on what best complements the song.

If you read this and feel as though you may be lacking in one or more areas, don’t despair. Remember that people and their character traits are not static – they are ever changing and growing. If you think you need improvement in some categories, try to set some goals and make a mindful effort to help yourself get better.