Music appreciation is the secret ingredient to elevating your playing
Learning drums is like learning recipes, you need to combine a lot of ingredients in order to make the final result work. There's coordination, stick control, limb independence, rhythm, steadiness, and dynamic awareness just to name some of the big ones. But beyond the more obvious physical skills needed, is one ingredient I personally would put near the top of the list. That is music appreciation.
This might seem obvious to most. We all have those songs and bands we love and can listen to over and over again. The ones that send a shockwave down your spine. Maybe they are the ones that inspired you to start playing drums in the first place, or currently inspiring you to start lessons. These are super vital and usually serve as that initial spark, but what about beyond that?
The challenge is to always keep the music appreciation door open. Try to deliberately expand your music taste to more genres and styles outside your usual comfort zone. It can be so easy to get stuck in a loop of playing the same songs, same beats, and same fills because you know you already like them, but that can potentially stagnate your playing over time. What if you only had three or four ingredients to cook with every day, it would get boring, right? The same can be true with drumming. So to get started, let me share some styles and specific drummers that exemplify the styles, with hope that it inspires you to reimagine your approach to playing and potentially open new doors.
This is always a controversial one amongst my students, seems like you either love or hate it. I happen to love it because it was one of the first styles I learned and studied when I was taking private lessons as a kid. I must admit it made zero sense at first and was a slow grind, but my eagerness to become a better drummer was the motivation to sit down and actively listen, which later became a full appreciation for the style.
Check out Max Roach. He played with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington to name a small few. Famous for being one of the creators of Bebop. His speed and finesse are incredible.
Another style I absolutely love. I came up listening to a lot of punk rock as a teenager, really digging into the early British stuff. The Clash were, and still are, such a powerful force of nature for me. When I learned reggae music was a big influence on them my mind was blown. That sparked my curiosity and I've never looked back.
Check out Carlton Barrett. He was the drummer for Bob Marley. Although not the creator of the famous One Drop reggae beat, he masterfully performed it. I also encourage you to check out other sub-genres like ska, dub, dancehall, and rocksteady.
I think blues generally gets a bad rap in terms of drumming. It can sound like the same beat over and over again. There's certainly some truth to that, but what it does is fine tune your ears to hear the subtle differences. Just like jazz, blues is built around improvisation. Listen for how the drummer interacts with the soloist, reacting to their intensity during the solos.
Check out Tony Coleman. He played with a lot of blues musicians but probably most famous for being B.B. King's touring drummer. Listen to how he follows B.B. as he's soloing, adjusting and responding based on the mood.
I got into this genre at my first job right after college. I worked as a private chef and my boss would play Afrobeat all the time in the kitchen. The music is so driving and it keeps you moving, which is exactly what we needed at the time. Most of that can be credited to the fantastic drumming.
Check out Tony Allen. Along with Fela Kuti they created Afrobeat. Originating from Nigeria, Tony Allen drew inspiration from the early American jazz drummers. His intricate beats are a cool mixture of African rhythms using jazz rudiments on the kit. Pay attention to his ghost note patterns and where he puts the accents.