Improving your 

ability to play drums


Have you ever heard the saying “you either have it or you don’t” or “you are born with it or you are not”? What is it?

For some, it is a feeling that cannot be expressed in words, only felt. I have thought about this for many years and I often wondered what it was.

I remember falling asleep during my early childhood years listening to the washing machine in the kitchen from my bedroom. Little did my mother know how much her doing laundry at my bedtime would later affect my life.

During this same time period I would also lie in bed and listen to my heartbeat and try to follow my heart rate as it varied in time. I would perceive the rate of the beats and put my hand on my chest to feel my heart rate. Sometimes I would cover my ears and hear my heart rate. For some reason, I found this interesting and would try to speed up and slow down my heart rate mentally.

One night I started hearing what I can now describe as some of the best drum solos I ever heard coming from that washing machine motor. I am not sure exactly how that happened but I remember starting to hear patterns in the motor as the wash, and especially the spin, cycle started going. As the spin cycle accelerated the show got even better.

I have come to realize what happened. Somewhere during that period I had increased my innate mental ability to perceive an even pulse and then was able to use that mental ability to put that pulse against the washing machine motor. Once I did that, patterns started to emerge because they were put against a pulse. I was imposing pulse (time) against those sounds and patterns emerged. What it was, was RHYTHM.

When I say rhythm or rhythmic, I mean the ability to mentally create a pattern and place it evenly in time. It manifests itself in motion and sound as well as other ways. First you must be able to feel a pulse.

This is an innate ability everyone is born with that pervades one’s existence in every area of life through the senses. Everyone has it. If you didn’t have rhythm, you wouldn’t be able to walk because you have to time your body motions mentally to place body parts in the right place at the right time.

During my childhood, my father would bring home stacks of used 45’s from the jukeboxes he rented out to nightclubs. My dad gave my sister and me a small record player and we spent hours listening. I was always able to feel the pulse and hear the patterns of the instruments. I could also feel the downbeat (the one) but I didn’t know why at the time.

The day I realized I could play the drums was when I watched Count Basie’s band on TV and could follow the patterns Rufus Jones was playing. I “understood” what he was doing even though I never played the drums before.

When I started playing to records with a pair of drumsticks on my pillow, I was able to quickly teach myself counting and started learning songs but I didn’t know where this ability came from. I was able to get a drum set and after 9 months of practice, I did my first professional job. Boy was I happy but clueless as to how this happened and I never questioned it.

This basic ability of mentally creating an even pulse and putting patterns and variations against it (while keeping it steady of course) is what every drummer must improve in order to succeed in the music business.

If you have never practiced with a metronome, you had better purchase one and experience what I am talking about. You will find weaknesses when trying to play repetitive patterns (grooves) at different tempos, especially slow ones.

I heard an old saying once, “when you play a ballad, you separate the men from the boys”. When you play slow, the weaknesses with your innate pulse (time) stands out.

Be brave, get a metronome and find out what it has to offer.

Have fun!

© 2007 by Tom Mendola – All Rights Reserved.

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