Humble like a pro

How do they do it? You hear them on recordings, you see them on TV, you search them on YouTube. Those guys play the drums in all sorts of bands, all sorts of styles, all sorts of situation. They manage to execute incredible feats of speed or technique.

And they never make a mistake. never.

How do they do it?

Here’s the thing: unless it is something that they truly have never tried before, have never practice for, most of the time, whatever they do on the drums is easy.

That’s the secret of their effortless virtuosity: They usually play at 30% of their capabilities. What it means is that, for them, they are not taking any chances. The concert has to go smoothly, first and foremost. More than that, they need to stay with the other players which implies they need to have some of their brain tuned to the rest of the band. At all time, no matter what they do, their energy is never completely turned inward. They glue that incredible fill to the fabric of the music or sculpt that complicated groove within the flow of the song.

That’s the reason their delivery has to be smooth and confident: they must serve the music. They need to be in harmony with the rest of the band.

It took me a long time to understand that concept.

But it has subverted my playing. I went from trying to be a player extraordinaire to trying to blend in. I didn’t play all I could, I just played what I knew, making my environment the most important part of my worries. The concept had completely turned my personality inside out.

I remember going on auditions, miserable auditions. I would proudly display the chops I had acquired at Berklee College of Music. I would jump on any musical phrase like a hungry dog on a meaty bone. I would calculate how many notes I could fit in the beat (The more notes, the better, always!), I would anticipate the moments I could throw that devastating fill, I would watch for the slightest swell in dynamics to bombard the music with powerful toms and screaming cymbals. I was fast and obnoxious, I was loud and invasive.

Then I would be surprised I didn’t get the call back.

It took me six months to realize what I was doing wrong. I am a slow learner. But once it sank in that I needed to play only what I could deliver comfortably and what fitted the music, the band leaders started to call me back.

Six months!

Six months to become a side man. Six months to tame my ego. Six month to learn to fit in the musician society. It might not be glamorous, true, but it has given me a professional life and kept my family fed. I love it!