Unpopular Drumming Opinions (Part 2)
Posted on October 17, 2021
So, a few weeks ago, just as I was talking about how hard it can be to write about drums, Reddit blessed me with a thread that’s chock full of material to discuss.
It’s basically another round of unpopular drumming opinions, coming from r/drums and titled “Whats a drumming hill you're willing to die on?”. I found the thread early in the morning when it had about 12 comments. I didn’t feel like contributing because I was going to be in the mountains for most of that day, and I didn’t have the energy to keep up with replies and such. I also would have basically been repeating myself from earlier this year. Moreover, there’s no one topic I am especially opinionated on, and most of the things I enjoy ranting about probably don’t interest the average player.
Well, this past week I checked on the thread, and it has a whopping 800 comments. Things got a little off–topic, and many of the responses were more typical unpopular opinions. Nonetheless, let’s see consider some drumming thoughts courtesy of my fellow Redditors, edited for clarity and conciseness.
Metronomes are for practice. Clicks are for the studio. Live performance is for making music in your own time.
I more or less agree with this. I regard being able to play to a click as a skill, comparable to reading music. Does every situation require you to read music? Obviously not — in fact, most situations probably don’t. But knowing how to do it will make you a better drummer. Playing to a click is the same way. The abstract benefits are probably even better; I think drumming on your own to a gap click at random tempos is more productive than just drilling rudiments over and over again on a practice pad.
I did notice some commenters expressing an aversion to using click tracks in the studio, e.g. “music recorded to a click is lifeless!”. Maybe so… I certainly wouldn’t recommend something like classical music to be performed with a click. But a noticeable push and pull to the music is essential for that discipline. For your average rock song, things are more or less supposed to be at one steady tempo.
The biggest advantage of a click track is for editing, especially comping (where multiple takes are spliced together to form one perfect take). If each take is at a slightly different tempo, things can get extremely tedious: when you switch from one take to another, the second take might be several beats ahead or behind where the first one was when you start the edit.
Ostensibly, the answer is to just play one perfect take with no metronome. But think about the average no–budget rock band. The only reason amateurs tend to bother with professional studios these days is to track drums. It’s more economical to get ~5 pretty good drum takes for a tune and edit them together than it is to spend all day (and as such, a lot of money) trying to get one perfect performance.
Technology is all about the give and take. Believe it or not, mono vinyl records actually have better fidelity than stereo vinyl records. And yet, stereo took off; for the average listener, it’s easier to appreciate the panning of a stereo record than it is to notice changes in fidelity that might only be appreciated by the few people who have a niche, high–end setup.
If a drummer flubs a backbeat, that could be easily fixed with comping, or perhaps by just copying a part of the performance that was played correctly and pasting it in place of the mistake. Such a flub is probably going to be much more noticeable than subtle changes in timing that many drummers struggle to pick up on, let alone non–musicians. Moreover, it’s actually easier for me to play “behind the beat” when I know where the beat objectively is.
it literally doesn’t matter what kind of music you play, drums are drums. There are no rock drums or metal drums or jazz drums. They’re just drums.
I don’t really disagree. Small drums are often associated with jazz, but jazz drummers have said in interviews that picking smaller drums was more about making it easier to travel than it was about a specific, jazzy sound. Just wanted to bring that up.
Most drummers shouldn’t bother with a double bass pedal.
This is a tough one. I flirted with double bass in high school, but I eventually switched back to a single pedal. I realized that I would have to spend a lot of time learning a skill that I just wouldn’t make use of for the styles of music that I actually play. And despite all of the faults of A Funky Primer, this quote from the author has always been stuck in my mind: “[Some] drummers simply wonder why one should try two basses when they have not yet mastered the art of playing one bass drum.”
There are clearly some things that you can only do with a double kick. I think a lot of drummers get chuffed when they see someone with a double pedal setup who only plays fast doubles on the kick. I guess the thinking is that these drummers should just get some better single–pedal chops; they’re not taking the double pedal to all of its strengths, but rather using it as a crutch.
I tend to agree with the “work smarter, not harder” ethic. It’s probably easier for these drummers to learn the basics of the double pedal than it is to spend a lot of time getting good single–pedal speed. The fact is, the only people who are going to care are other drummers.
If you can’t groove a 4-piece w/ ride and hi-hats, having more pieces isn’t gonna make you better.
It seems like some drummers really don’t the idea of a big kit. Much like double bass, some licks can only really be done justice with 4 or more toms (listen for examples from guys like Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Neil Peart, or Jeff Porcaro). I don’t know to what extent drummers hide behind large setups. I’m sure it happens, but I wouldn’t be so dismissive of a bigger kit.
It’s ok to be lefty and play lefty.
Philosophically? Sure, but everyone knows the problem here: the vast majority of drummers are right–handed, so if you’re used to playing on a lefty kit you won’t be able to play on 99.9% of the drum sets out there. Not your friend’s kit, not a backline set, not the drums at your school, etc. It’s an unfortunate situation, but that’s the way it is.
I don’t know if there’s any particular reason the dominant hand is expected to play steady time on the cymbal, while the off–hand is expected to hit backbeats on the snare. Maybe because the cymbal rhythms are more complicated, but the time comes sooner or later when the snare parts become just as busy and intricate as the cymbal — in my case, often more so. Think about the piano: there exist “left–handed” pianos, but the most famous pianos pieces have equally complicated hand parts.
If the sound guy gets upset tell him to go pound sand.
Don’t piss off the sound guy.
Blast beats are one of the least musical things you can play as a beat.
Sure, blast beats are not especially interesting, but they can definitely sound fun. Think of “Laser Cannon Deth Sentence” — it’s hard to describe what a visceral experience listening to that blast beat is. I compare blast beats to fast singles across the drums. Yes, it’s dull on paper, but it still sounds cool. Most of the time. Things like the quadruple bass drum pedal push the boundaries of taste.
Pro mark > VF
Ringo is better than 90% of the drummers people worship. Because he knows what not to do. And he always compliments songs in a minimal way which everyone needs to learn. Because while people are getting very technical, it’s only interesting to other drummers. Meanwhile Meg White, basic af 100x more listenable.
I’ve talked about the plight of overplaying, and yes, you can learn a lot about a musician by what they don’t do. However, don’t be simple for just the sake of it.
As far as Meg White goes… well, she’s sold millions of records and that’s always an admirable achievement. But… oh, how do I put this? There’s a reason why people chant the riff from “Seven Nation Army” at soccer games. I don’t think Meg White is that reason.
Almost every conversation I’ve had about playing ahead of the beat or behind the beat has been esoteric nonsense.
I really empathize with this. I don’t know if shared this quote before, but I came across it when reading Charlie Watts obituaries: “What made him so incredible was what people like me tend to call “feel”—it’s a feeble way of applying language to something that can’t really be explicated. Watching Watts play is still one of the best ways I know to check in with the riddle and thrill of art—to witness something miraculous but not to understand it.”
When people go on about what a “deep pocket” a drummer has, I think there’s this implicit hope that nobody will ask what the even means. People might be scared to ask, since they may look ignorant: “What? You don’t get it?”. Ultimately, it’s just a matter of the drums being played well.
I hate when toms are 1 up 2 down. Like, just get a sidetable, because that’s all your second floor tom is.
Some folks replied by mentioning John Bonham, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard Bonham use his second floor tom in the studio, and he rarely used it live. One of the reasons why I use two toms is that I just wouldn’t play the third tom. Most of the 1 up 2 down setups have 12", 14", and 16" toms. But the 12" and 14" will get the most action, and that’s kind of a weird size balance for me. But that’s just because of the way I play.
It’s worth pointing out that people discussed the “Keith Moon” setup, where a floor tom is placed to your left, by the snare. If you actually take advantage of this, you can get some pretty interesting orchestrations that can’t practically be done with a typical getup.
Traditional grip isn’t really necessary, or even that much better than matched. Only exception being marching snare, and even then I feel like it’s mainly just because “that’s how we’ve always done it”
For some reason, I’ve always had an easier time comping on the snare when using traditional grip. I don’t think there’s any sort of scientific explanation here. More importantly, I think the ergonomics of traditional grip are better when playing brushes, especially when sweeping across the drumhead.
Traditional grip for marching snare is most certainly all about the visual component. Personally, I don’t anything can beat the visuals of a tenor sweep lick, but traditional grip at least allows the snare line to stand out with unique stuff like backsticking, pancake flips, and the Hi Mom.
Buddy Rich is overrated. I consider him the COOP3RDRUMM3R of the 50s/60s.
I’ve written about my struggles with Buddy in the past. I wouldn’t call him overrated — that implies he’s not as good as people think, and I don’t think he’s a bad drummer. The specific language I use is that I’ve never been inspired by his playing.
Some people responded by recommending some of Buddy’s studio work. It’s a fair point, but consider his legacy: Buddy is most remembered for playing with his big band. Buddy has said in Modern Drummer interviews that he doesn’t enjoy recording at all, calling it “a bore”. Is Buddy’s enduring impact something he wasn’t particularly passionate about? I would never accuse him of phoning in his session work, but it wasn’t his bag either.
Ultimately though, it’s not fair to compare him to COOP3RDRUMM3R. Buddy has cut and sold many records and toured all over the world.
All these stick tricks and stuff are sucking time away from literally dozens of other things you should be working on.
Leave stick tricks to the drum corps is what I say. I’m well aware of some adored drummers who have been caught doing stick tricks… but stick tricks won’t get you the gig. Those drummers have already gotten the gig.
Nylon tips sound terrible.
Yup. I just want to share this gem in the comments: “Not a single sound guy in the world has ever said ‘can your cymbals be louder and brighter?’”.
If you’re the type of guy to shit on another drummer’s chops and go “yeah but what about the groove” just be honest to the world and say you have bad hands/limb independence.
I suppose some drummers use an (apparent) abstract knowledge of “groove” to make up for the fact that they are lacking in technique. All this considered, playing solid time is the most essential thing for a drummer to do. But think of your favorite “drummy” song — would it sound any better if all the fancy stuff was taken out in favor of simpler playing that just grooved harder?
The fact is different songs call for different approaches, and a drummer needs to be ready for that. Some tunes, like Steely Dan’s “Aja”, call for the drums to really be played out. Other tracks, like Steely Dan’s “Black Cow”, don’t.
You can get any sound you want if you know how to tune properly. You don’t need to moon gel or e rings. Or that stupid Weckl/Remo snare gate thing. Learn to tune.
A lot of people are really grossed out by muffling. And yet, it’s an essential tool for the drummer. I know you can fix nearly everything in post–production, but again: work smarter, not harder. You can try out a bunch of different heads and spend all day tuning to get a punchy tom sound… or just get the drum in tune once with some basic heads and then put a towel on it.
Edit November 2021: The Sounds Like a Drum guys (perhaps taking inspiration from this thread) made a video about this very topic, and their conclusion was that certain tones can only be reasonably achieved with muffling. So there you have it!
Metronomes are just as important for live gigs as they are for practice… when drums cut out or instruments start songs without drums they are almost always too slow or too fast especially when the excitement and nerves are high in a live gig setting. Even just a few clicks faster can make a hook or a chorus go from enjoyable and singable to just gibberish nonsense.
I saw an interesting response to this: “Imagine a choir where everyone looked to one person to sing in tune”.
You could solve the timing problem by making everyone listen to a metronome. Personally, I think the better idea is to have the drummer use a click in rehearsal. It’s not so much about improving the timekeeping of the other players, but to make everyone know what the song is supposed to sound like; that is, what the song sounds like at the speed it was written for. You also get a good sense of what the song wants to do (i.e. if things tend to speed up during the bridge or whatever).
There’s nothing wrong with a tempo change, as long as it’s deliberate. Everyone in the ensemble needs to be familiar with their own music, and how to play it correctly. When you write a riff, you should know when it’s being played too fast or too slow.
Drum solos are boring and no one wants to hear them.
This depends on the type of solo. Something like “Moby Dick”? Yeah, the average listener is probably running to the bathroom. But for the aforementioned “Aja”? Even the writers at Pitchfork think the ending drum solo is incredible, and they can never decide on what they like.
Learning a song by ear rather than reading the notes from a music book is way better.
What’s the end goal? If I’m playing something like “The First Circle”, I would so much rather use a drum chart to learn the ropes of the tune. The point of a drum chart is really to help memorize the song more quicker. But if you’re trying to learn “Back in Black” note–for–note, then do it by ear (well, the better thing would be to not learn another drummer’s drum part note–for–note).
The upper right rack tom is completely stupid. It both looks dumb and it’s a terrible spot for something to be played frequently with both hands.
The issue here is that the second rack tom gets in the way of where the ride cymbal is supposed to go. Most drummers (myself included) tend to agree that the ride is one of the centerpieces of the kit and that the rest of the drums should be placed around it. Two rack toms can make this a challenge (especially if they are mounted to the kick drum).
There’s another problem that’s related to the 1 up 2 down setup: most drum sets with two rack toms and one floor tom have the sizes 10", 12", and 16". The 10" and 16" are likely to get the most attention, and again that can create a weird balance between the two. Anything can be overcome with tuning though.
Rudiments are extremely overrated. You don't need them to learn how to play drums.
My rig sounds 10x better with the bottom heads removed from all my toms.
Currently, I have my toms done up with some pretty heavy muffling. The secret for me is a Drum Dot on the bottom head; otherwise, the high frequencies ring out just a bit too much. Sometimes I want to take the bottom head off. But if you do that, you really need to remove all the bottom lugs, since the threads will rattle around when there are no tension rods to keep them in place.
At the end of the day, it’s easier to just muffle the heads — if I ever need my drums to ring out, I would otherwise have to screw the bottom lugs back on and get the reso head back up to tune. Who has time for that?
Splash cymbals are annoying and anti-musical.
There was an unexpected amount of splash cymbal hate in this thread. They have a cool and unique sound, but admittedly they only sound good in specific musical moments. They’re not very versatile and if you hit one after a big fill it will probably sound like a mistake.
Keith moon sucks.
My response: this was towards the bottom of the thread with zero upvotes.
PLAYING BOTH HITS OF A FLAM AT THE SAME TIME IS THE WRONG WAY TO PLAY A FLAM.
I saw variations of this throughout. Apparently, some drummers prefer “flat” flams or double stops over true flams. The double stop has its uses, but the very definition of a flam is one note played just before another. Just say you prefer double stops, not that the right way to play a flam is by playing it wrong.
All Time Signatures Are Subjective!
This one is interesting. Time signatures are really just meant to help performers understand the song — they don’t really exist objectively the same way notes/pitches do (i.e. frequencies traveling through the air). A song like ”Back in Black” could be counted in any time signature you can think of, but using something other than 4/4 will just make your life needlessly difficult. Meanwhile, a tune that’s in 4/4 could perhaps be felt in 8/8, or maybe 16/16. What’s the right answer? I usually go for the one that’s the easiest to understand. If you use 8/8 in a piece of sheet music, you better have a damn good reason.
Some things can be open to interpretation, but it’s usually inconsequential. You might count a song in 12/8, but someone else might count the same song in 6/8. You might hear five beats and think of a measure of 5/4, while someone else might think of a measure of 3/4 combined with another measure of 2/4. Which ones are correct? Again, I usually go for the simplest answer.
Well, I reckon that’s all for now. I sure did have a lot of motivation for this one, more so than anything else recently. BTW, I’ll be taking next week off. Until next time.