Everybody Should Play Drums

I often think of two things I’ve done for myself as a musician that have paid massive dividends, and technically neither of them involve my primary instruments (guitar and keys). I’m talking about drum lessons and voice lessons. I have a lot to say about both, but today is all about DRUMS. 

Everybody should play drums. Seriously. It gives you a completely different perspective on music and, I believe, informs your playing only in positive ways. I feel this acutely as a guitarist. 

Often times, and apologies fellow guitar players, we’re just so busy. We run roughshod all over the song – filling every open space with chords, riffs and other shenanigans. This is not always a bad thing, but that’s no excuse for making it the default mode of playing. 

Drums will teach you restraint. I believe this is rooted in the pure physicality of drumming. When you have to literally move with every single beat, you learn patience. When you’re the one primarily responsible for not completely derailing the band (a wrong chord doesn’t stop everyone in their tracks does it??) you learn to play what you’re truly confident in playing. That’s actually the first point I’d like to focus on. 

Play at 80%

Everybody wants to do their best. We even throw around strange concepts like “giving 110%.” I’m here to tell you that the most mature, solid musical choice you might be able to make right now is stop trying to play at your highest level. Shoot for 80%. What that translates to is: “be reliable.” You’re not helping anyone by constantly sounding like you’re reaching for something. Drums will lead you to this place whether you really want to go or not. Guitars invite the opposite behavior. I say that with nothing but love for my fellow guitarists (I’m going to stop picking on you now). 

Drum lessons deepen your knowledge and respect for form and movement

Often times, the movement from one section of a song to another involves a change in the beat. Feeling this motion really gets the song form ingrained in your musical mind. You begin to think of songs as a series of movements, more than chord progressions or riffs. You begin to relate the emotional impact of songs to these larger movements, and think harder about how to manage that emotional flow. In other words, drumming makes you think big picture. How are we moving our listeners through the experience of listening to this song? How are we directing them? Are we directing them effectively? This brings me to my main point about drumming, and why I make the argument that “everyone should play drums”. 

Drummers are better songwriters

Yes, I said that. Am I generalizing too much? Definitely. I stand by it nonetheless. 

Drummers are certainly not stereotyped as songwriters. Most people probably imagine someone hunched over a guitar or piano, notebook at the ready. But I’m telling you, drummers have the structure and emotional impact of songs in their bones. There’s a utilitarian approach here that’s resistant to getting bogged down in the details. Drummers write songs that work, because they know how that feels

After deciding to seriously level up my own drumming by taking drum lessons myself a few years ago (shout out to drum master Nik Schuhbeck!), I felt the change in my songwriting immediately. I sometimes write whole songs from behind the kit – playing through changes before I even have any thoughts on chords or melody or lyrics… then fill in the blanks later. You should try it sometime. It’s a completely unique way to approach a new song. 

Give yourself some drum lessons

Even if you don’t have a kit (most of us don’t), you can start experimenting with drums and thinking harder about rhythm and song form right now. Any recording software out there from Garageband on up will allow you to block out drums. 

Try thinking of your next song from a form perspective first. Map out the movements – see what feels good to you before you even play a single chord. Get that “container” built first, then start filling in your chords, and lyrics. You might discover some songwriting strengths you never knew you had. 

Have fun, and good luck on your journey of drummer discovery – wherever you may be along the path.

Need a hand?

Consider taking some drum lessons yourself!

EVERYBODY should play drums - baby drum lessons.
Off to a good start.

Leave a Reply