The thing that fascinates me about drumming is how such a simple instrument can say so much on so many levels. I’m not really talking about different styles here but more the breadth of ways to get any idea across. Drummers do this through the same technical means as other musicians and by using dynamics, timing, melodic and rhythmic variation, reaction to acoustics etc we can choose how we play any given passage in a huge variety of ways. Take John Bonham recording drums at the bottom of a stairwell for example, belting out one of his legendary beats. Put Art Blakey in the same situation sitting in for John and you have a totally different result (even if he was to play the exact same beat). The point is any musician will respond differently in any given situation.
My theory is that in order to develop your own style to the extent that you can command any situation, it is not enough to simply have learned all the possible styles rudiments and fill concepts that you might ever need. You have to find a way to respond in a tactile way to your own playing and to sensitively establish the groove that fits within a situation as and when it changes. You also need to figure out how you can express the desired emotive charge within the musical sound scape. Think of this concept as controlling the envelope of time with your performance, in rhythm, as it passes by.
If you can simultaneously hold in your mind the past, present and future of what you are playing and couple that with creative imagination, great reactions and good technique then you are doing pretty well and will start to control your timing in a way that allows you the freedom to express precisely what you mean to.
John Bonham – When the Levvee Breaks
Art Blakey – buhaina’s Delight