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What is a musical personality?

Once you have covered the basics of drumming and you’re playing in a band, you quickly realize it’s not easy to put your own signature to a song . First, you might say, it depends on the material. Then you might follow that argument by stating that a simple rock song calls for a simple rock beat and some simple fills. And, I would almost agree with you.

I say “almost” because Ring Starr, who has been decried as a simple drummer by many people, has risen to the challenge and defeated the dragon. To a simple song like “Ticket to ride”, he made a wonderful beat that drives the whole thing in an original fashion. His fills, his famous fills, are actually very difficult to play note for note. Ringo starts on the floor toms, he makes the pattern bounce on the different drums in a surprising way and plays the whole thing so relaxed that no one even notices how he does it. But, you see, Ringo was a lefty. He played righty most of the time, but during his fills, he couldn’t help and start his patterns with his left hand. That’s the spice of his fills. And many apprentice drummer wrecked many of Beatles LP’s trying to figure out what he was doing.

Let’s take another drummer that’s also labeled as “not very complicated”: John Densmore, from “The Doors”. When casually listening to one of their record, the drum part flows easily in a “nothing to see here” kind of way. The star is Jim Morrison and John does not interfere with that. But it doesn’t mean that he can’t have fun. John Densmore was fascinated with a concept: unison. He would double what he would do with his right hand to his left hand or his right foot. He explored all sorts of combinations with that concept. Mr Densmore added a lot of personality to his drumming with that.

Then, finally, let’s take Stewart Copeland, from “The Police”. If you follow these blogs, you might have noticed that I talk a lot about his playing. Stewart Copeland’s seminal drumming exploded on the scene in the 80’s because it was very original. When “Walking on the moon” came on the radio, my world was shaken. I could’t understand how you could play a whole song without putting the bass drum on “1” ever! Mr. Copeland’s work on the hi hat was also a revelation, he was using it like I never heard it before. As a matter of fact, his hi hat playing was so good that Peter Gabriel asked him to play the intro of “Red rain” on the hi hat on the album “So”.  Stewart Copeland’s playing was so original that even in a simple song like “Every breath you take”, he manages to play an original fill. Where does such an original mind comes from? From listening to Jimi Hendricks and The Beatles, he says, but also growing up in Lebanon. Middle eastern countries do not have the same landmark in a measure of music and their percussive arsenal sounds strange to a european ear. Mr. Copeland brought that to the drum set.

I think you see where this is going. In order to develop a musical personality, you have to embrace who you are and what matters to you, and to you only. Now, it doesn’t mean that you never compromise, far from it, but it means that you have strong roots in your playing, a bag of tricks that you can go back to at any time and belongs only to you. That is a complicated process to develop because musicians spends so much time learning the vocabulary of the instrument. Who has time to create his own tools? But it is a worthy process because then, it is like shaping a diamond, carving a special place in every musical moment  and signing your name at the bottom of the painting. Now, as you slave nurturing your own talent and making your personality blossom on the drums, there is a painful question that can be nagging: And what if nobody likes my personality? Yes, there is that: a valid question for sure. That, will be the subject of another blog.

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