Why learning guitar made me a better drummer
Besides playing drums I'm also a guitarist, singer, and professional dabbler in a handful of other instruments from around the world. I wanted to share a little about how I got into playing guitar and why learning it really helped my drumming in so many ways.
Drums were my first love hands down, but even in those early days as an adolescent I was constantly noodling around with my dad's Martin acoustic guitar trying to mimic melodies I heard on the radio or his cassette collection, mostly just using single strings. This went on for years...however, the real sea change happened when my older brother bought an electric guitar (Strat copy) and little practice amp. As soon as I got my hands on that it was game over, basically anything obnoxiously loud got my instant approval. This snowballed into high school when I had discovered the almighty power chord and quickly started teaching myself all my favorite Green Day songs.
When I entered college, I still only considered myself a drummer even though I was probably playing more guitar in my free time. This was a crazy growth period in my life because I was always playing drums in a band, then also studying guitar on my own (and *cough* going to class). I was frankly obsessed with both instruments at this time, much more than any school work I needed to do. I'll never forget the fateful day I was randomly introduced to the minor pentatonic scale during my freshman year in the dorms from my neighbor's friend's older brother who happen to be in town from touring in Germany. Just meeting a professional musician was already super cool, but 19 year old me understood the gravity of the information that had just been bestowed onto me, it was like the secrets of the universe all got condensed into 5 notes...mind blown. These college years were consumed with the self-imposed task of learning every song under the sun.
After college, not only was I chiefly playing guitar, but also writing songs and starting bands. Drums were majorly put on the back-burner. I still liked playing, but just didn't enjoy being the drummer in a band anymore, I was burnt out.
Now zoom to 2011. After moving to NYC, one of the first things I did was secure a practice space. I didn't even have much gear since I was starting pretty fresh, but I knew right away I wanted to get a kit and have a place to play it at any time. I got the kit, which I still use today, and started practicing again in my free time. Nothing really changed over the next few years as I continued to put bands together as the front man.
That is until about 2 years ago when I suddenly got the itch again! Both of my current bands weren't that busy, so I did two things. 1. Joined a local established band as the drummer. 2. Started teaching private drum kit lessons. All of a sudden I went from sporadically playing the kit, to creating lesson plans, rehearsing/gigging, recording, and practicing constantly to get my chops back up to speed. My drumming full circle was complete.
So how did learning guitar improve my drumming? 3 main takeaways.
All those years playing guitar with a handful of different drummers gave me a fresh perspective on my own approach behind the kit. With the experience of playing both guitar and drums in bands, I developed the unique ability to step out of my drummer head space and step into guitarist mind space in real time while playing, or conversely.
With this newly formed guitarist perspective, I realized that what I value most in drummers over everything else is consistency. If I know the drum parts are locked down, I can coast on that engine and dig into my own playing with total focus. On the contrary, if any song has some shaky drumming, it is very hard to get my guitar parts to work. I now use that knowledge almost daily in my own playing and remind my students when teaching like a broken record, consistency is job number one. All those super fills are fun, but without solid time, pretty useless.
Another very practical skill I've gotten out of learning guitar is better developing my ears. I've mentioned this in previous posts, and will probably many more times, but I can't stress how much more enjoyable it is to play with drummers who listen to the other people in the band. That extra level of detail to hear nuances within a bass line, rhythm guitar, vocal pattern, or anything else leads to much more finessed drum grooves. Drummers can certainly learn this just on drums, but having the experience knowing and understanding guitar parts add a deeper level and stronger ears I'd argue.
It may seem silly, but speaking guitar talk (as the drummer) with another guitarist really makes communicating much easier. Btw, the same is true vice versa, a guitarist who knows a bit of drum lingo def helps. I have an endless bank of moments playing in bands, trying to figure out a drum beat the bassist or guitarist is desperately trying to explain. Beatboxing on it's highest level, for sure. It eventually works out, but having some common references is really the easiest way.
Communicating can be tough when no one speaks a common language. The nice thing with music is no matter what instrument you play, they all exist under the umbrella of music. However, just as I improved my ears with learning guitar, I also improved my musical terminology which in tern greatly improved communication.
- Closing thought -
Learning guitar or really any additional instrument greatly increases your overall musicianship. The 3 themes I laid out above have been the most beneficial to me, but I imagine it's different with everyone so the possibilities could be endless.