What I Look for in a Drummer – A Guitarist’s Perspective
I was recently asked during a drum clinic what I look for when playing with drummers. This is an awesome question because as a guitarist and bass player, I find myself working with drummers more than any other kind of musician. There is a vast array of music available to us, with quite an assortment of different instrumentation. But the one commonality is that nearly all of the music has some sort of percussion. Every song has a beat, whether it was done vocally, electronically, with a djembe or the world’s biggest drumset. That leaves the rest of us non-percussionists a huge horizon of information to learn and work with. So, with all that being said, what things do I look for in a drummer?
The first thing I look for in drummers is their respect and awareness of others. As a person, being down to earth and pleasant to work with is the absolute highest trait on my list. I’ve worked with musicians who were technically incredible but socially appalling. The experiences were almost always significantly hindered by a lack of respect for others. What I find is that those who are hotheaded generally over-shadow their counterparts on stage and often compromise the aural picture as a whole. I’m lucky that I’ve had the great fortune of playing with drummers who are supportive, both to me as an individual and to the songs we play in performance.
The second thing I look for in drummers is their understanding of how much space their instrument occupies. As a guitar player, I often know that I could play a chord spanning all six strings. However, with a keyboard, bassist, second guitar and heavy-handed drummer, I almost never do. Likewise, I expect the drummers I play with to know that they can’t always slam their hi-hats wide open or constantly punch the edge of the ride. Keeping a balance of everybody will make for a happy audience and a group of guys that love playing together. That said, don’t be afraid to grab the spotlight when it’s your turn and rock a killer fill!
The third thing I look for in drummers is their consistency. One of the reasons I continue to play with the drummers I do is because I always know exactly what to anticipate when I play with them (The last place a musician wants to be surprised is on the stage in front of an audience!). A drummer doesn’t need to be the most technically accomplished person in the world to play with me, but if he or she can keep a beat consistently rock steady, I’ll consistently call that drummer again and again to play more gigs!
In summary, and in my opinion, if drummers are aware of the feelings and presence of their fellow band mates (meaning if they can hangout and have a good time with their fellow musicians), if they’re aware of their sound choices and aware of their time keeping, they will find themselves making friends on with the musicians that they play with and the audiences that have come to hear them.
By Sean Wolford
About Sean Wolford
A guitarist and bassist of just under fifteen years and recently a vocalist and percussionist as well, Sean Wolford lives to make sounds and express life through whatever means he can. It all started with Doug Rainoff and Austin Mendenhall, his first two instructors. Doug left him with a direction and drive and Austin inspired him to express himself through his instruments. He began instructing other students during high school and found a lifelong love for it. In 2011 he attended the Berklee College of Music to study Music Production and Engineering and improve his Bass and Guitar skills. He came back to Northern Virginia area and continues to teach and express his love of creating music with everyone he can. He currently is studying Computer/Electrical Engineering at George Mason University to follow his love of creating musical recording hardware and find new ways to reinvent the guitar. In his free time he enjoys flying airplanes and is working on a pilots license (another lifelong love).
He currently teaches Guitar, Bass and Voice at Contemporary Music Center and on his own. He is available at 703-795-0677 or at PilotSSW@aol.com.