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What I Look for in a Drummer—A Guitarist’s Perspective

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

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.

Con Brio

Con brio. It sounds like a phrase spoken in a foreign tongue. It sounds like a musical expression. It sounds like it’s important. So, what does con brio mean and what can it do for you? Let’s find out.

Con Brio, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary is an adverb, derived from the Italian words, “con” which means with and “brio” which means vigor or spirit. Simply stated, con brio is a musical term that tells musicians to play “with spirit.” Playing with spirit? Do I have to be a ghost to play con brio? Actually, it’s quite the opposite! Playing con brio means to play music with great feeling.

If you’re a drummer, you have many opportunities to play con brio. One way to do so is to enter the physical realm and play music using dynamics. We can express ourselves using the same manner in which we talk. We can perform the tender moments of a song quietly (pianissimo) or we can perform the exuberant parts by playing loudly (fortissimo). We can also carry out this dynamic approach throughout the entire song by matching our volume with our emotions.

Another way to play con brio would be to use our hearts to foster con brio. The drummer, who performs with eagerness to convey great music to others, is going to play with spirit. This attitude will come through in the drummer’s performance, no matter if one is playing a solo recital, small club or stadium!

The incredible benefit for drummers who play con brio is that they become exceptional communicators. They communicate emotional messages on their drums to an audience that senses the energy and feeling. The music that’s being played on stage is finding its home in the souls of those who are listening to it. That’s why people dance to the music!

Would you like a tip on how you can play con brio? It’s simple. Practice it.

• Practice con brio mentally. Don’t settle for being bored with your own playing. Get excited about learning new things!
• Practice con brio physically by using dynamics in your playing. Think about the emotions in the songs that you’re playing and try to match your choices of volume to those emotions.
• Practice con brio soulfully. Cultivate a love for making a difference to your audience through your musicianship.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, in music, it’s the sound that’s worth a million words! Here’s my own personal list of drummers who have exemplified the art of playing con brio: Papa Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Max Roach, Joe Morello, Roy Haynes, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Phil Collins, Carl Palmer, Danny Seraphine, Jeff Porcaro, Neil Peart, Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Max Weinberg, Steve Smith, Tommy Igoe and Keith Carlock. Trust me. No matter if these musicians are playing jazz, rock or some form of music in between, you’ll hear them playing with feeling!

I truly hope that my forty-two years of drum set playing and my experience in performing with spirit have come through in my words. May you all develop a calling to play con brio. It will be time well spent for you and those around you.

See you next time!

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Gary “Porkchop” Schopmeyer

About Gary Schopmeyer
Gary Schopmeyer has been playing drums since the age of seven. After studying Percussion Performance at Indiana State University, Gary went on to play with many Christian acts as well as popular Tennessee musicians Billy London (Stephen Bishop), Cactus Moser (Wynonna Judd), and noted Nashville guitarist San Rafael.

After suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2010, drumming, along with other therapies, helped him recover and move forward with his life. Gary has proven that he is a “Survivor-Thriver.”

In 2013 Gary released his debut country CD Little Ditty Doodles and his autobiographical film Timber, Tones, Tricks and Other Things: A Percussionist’s Perspective. In addition, Gary “pays it forward” by conducting his “THOR” (The Heart Of Rhythm) Workshops to help children and adults with mental and physical challenges through drums and rhythm.

For information on Gary’s recordings, film, and workshops, visit his site at
www.gschopdrummer.com.

Drumming and Inclusiveness

As a drum music facilitator, my goal is to create a positive, welcoming environment and engage everyone. There should be no physical barriers to playing a drum and participating. In order to ensure that everyone is able to play, I bring a variety of tools to my music circles. Some of them I buy, and others I make. Here they are:

Mallets and Brushes

These can be used on a variety of drums. They are great for people with less dexterity in their hands. Someone with arthritis, for example, might feel more confident and at ease by hitting the drum at a distance, rather than using their hands or fingers.

Frame Drum Mount Riser

This is a great option for securing a drum onto a wheelchair. It can easily be made from a children’s pool noodle. You start by cutting sections approximately 3-8 inches in length. Cut a slit through the center and then fasten the sections onto a Remo Sound Shape. This mount can be placed on top of a wheelchair table with a piece of non-slip matting to prevent the drum from sliding about.

Velcro Super Drum Glove

In the spring of 2013 I was privileged to deliver a drum circle music workshop at a cerebral palsy retreat. During the drum celebration there was a gentleman who demonstrated a great passion for playing the drums. He had cerebral palsy, which can cause some jerking motions, but that did not stop him from participating.

While using a mallet to play a large surdo-type drum, he periodically lost control of the mallet and it came out of his hands. Thankfully one of the organizers retrieved it for him. She later gave me a great idea: to velcro a mallet to a glove.

It’s a very simple project. You start with taking some double-sided tape and wrapping it around the bottom part of the mallet. Then you wrap a strip of Velcro around the double-sided tape. The last step is to secure the Velcro with some duct tape at the higher end of the stick. I suggest using a lightweight mallet and a glove that is light and flexible.

Foot Tambourine

There are some individuals that might not feel comfortable playing a drum. It can be the size or unfamiliarity of the instrument that makes them uneasy. This is when it’s great to be able to offer them a set of maracas, a tambourine, or a small shaker.

I remember a couple years ago when I was working with my local Dementia/Alzheimer’s society. There was one gentleman who was unresponsive when we tried to give him an instrument. I’ve learned from past experiences that the best thing to do is leave an instrument nearby, give them their space, and not pressure them to join in. By doing so, you are providing them with an opportunity to just observe and listen to the music that is being created. It usually isn’t long before they come to feel more comfortable and begin participating.

After a few minutes, I noticed that this gentleman was tapping his foot along to the music that we were all creating. So I took a foot tambourine and placed it onto his tapping foot. To see his smile and how he became more aware of his surroundings was an experience that I will never forget.

Jeff Stewart

Jeff Stewart

About Jeff Stewart

Jeff is currently facilitating “Spirit of World Drumming Circles” for music educators and drumming enthusiasts of all ages. He promotes the spiritual and health benefits of drumming and continues to show that there are no barriers to participating in the making of music. Jeff is a dedicated educator who facilitates drum circles in his community, music festivals, senior homes, local Dementia/Alzheimer’s day programs, continuing care centers, various education environments, as well as team-building and corporate training sessions.

Jeff is also the author of Spirit of World Drumming: Drum Circle Fun for all Ages (Mel Bay), Rhythmic Kinesthetics (Alfred Music Publications), three Kindle eBooks: Art of Playing the Doumbek, Garrahand Drumming, and a children’s book, Jeffrey Discovers Drumming. He is a musician, composer, and artist.

Jeff has just finished producing the documentary Health Benefits of Drumming. It is available to order at www.SpiritofWorldDrumming.com .

Every Drummer Should ‘Tighten’ Up Before Showtime 

Whether it’s a practice session, band rehearsal, or live performance, drummers should be prepared for every playing opportunity. Not only is it important to know your music inside out, it is essential to have your equipment working in tip-top shape.

As a veteran drummer, I have always kept my equipment – drums, cymbals, hardware, etc. – in excellent condition. I always do a pre-gig check to make certain that everything is tight and that all of my pedals are functioning properly. Finally, and most importantly, I always carry a small repair kit, including a crescent wrench, duct tape, pliers, and a screwdriver.

Before a recent gig I made the mistake of thinking my new kick drum pedal was functioning properly. Little did I realize that the pedal was starting to unravel. While I readied myself for a solo, I watched in horror as the nut holding the tension spring on my kick drum pedal rolled onto the carpet. With my heart pounding, I asked my bandmates to stretch out their parts while I took care of the emergency. I grabbed my pliers, dropped to my knees, and tightened the pedal so that this would not happen again. In my haste to make repairs, I knocked over my snare. Damage would have occurred if the snare had not been tightened snugly on the stand.

After making the repair, I sat down on my drum throne and a few bars later I was soloing as if nothing had ever happened. That’s what you’ve got to do: Get any unpleasantness out of your mind so you can concentrate on your drumming.

Later that evening I joked with our lead vocalist, saying that if this situation ever repeated itself, he should tell the audience, “Don’t worry folks, it’s just part of the show.”

Yes, I had my own floor show going on but it wasn’t by choice. Never assume that your equipment is infallible.

I’ve passed this episode on to all of my drum students to help them avoid similar circumstances when they’re under the spotlight. They realize that even their seen-it-all drum teacher can still learn a thing or two.

Steve Parezo of Ellicott City, MD, is a member of the Professional Drum Teachers Guild (PDTF). He teaches at several Baltimore-Washington Area music schools and has his own private practice (www.spdrumschool.com).

Steve Parezo

Steve Parezo

About Steve Parezo

Steve Parezo is a Master Drum Instructor and a member of the Professional Drum Teachers Guild. With over 25 years of professional drumming, recording, touring and teaching experience, he brings a wealth of knowledge to his students. Steve specializes in helping students maximize their drumming skills by improving hand-eye coordination, developing sound counting and sight-reading skills, and honing techniques that are associated with the rock, country, funk, pop and R&B

genres. Steve shows students how to prepare for band auditions, competitions and various types of live performances. He also teaches drum set maintenance, tuning, set up and cleaning to maintain optimum performance. Known for his “big beat” on a vintage Ludwig kit, Steve’s technique was greatly influenced by legendary rocker John Bonham and studio star Hal Blaine. You can catch Steve drumming with Baltimore area classic rockers Cruise.

For more information on Steve’s lessons, performance and clinic schedule, visit his site at http://www.spdrumschool.com.