A Drummer’s One Unique Idea

The Wayne Shorter Quartet, featuring Damilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade, perform at the 2013 Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, LA on May 5, 2013. © HIGH ISO Music, LLC / Retna, Ltd. https://www.offbeat.com

SKF NOTE: One of the first instructions to new drum students from teachers is: “Here’s how to hold the sticks.” Once upon a time “how to hold the sticks” meant traditional grip. I suspect matched grip has caught up with or surpassed traditional grip as “how to hold the sticks.”

Holding drumsticks “properly” is followed usually by learning the 13 essential drum rudiments. Rudiments are often called drumming basics. I’ve heard it said many times: Melodic instrument players – piano, guitar, trumpet – learn scales; drummers learn rudiments.

For more advanced students, drum set education has endless exercises on playing rudiments around the drum set, and how to play rudiments among hands and feet.

New drummers have to start somewhere. Drum rudiments help with stick control, with moving comfortably around a drum set, and they are the foundation of many hip beats and solos. No question.

At a Moline, IL drum clinic years ago, Roy Burns said everything drummers play is made up of some combination of single- and double-stroke rolls.

But there’s a drum mystery.

When I watch fabulous drummers like Elvin Jones, Johnny Vidacovich, Brian Blade play, there’s a disconnect from that first “how to hold the sticks” lesson, and from drum rudiments. That intrigues me.

“Not everything I play has a name,” Roy Haynes told me in 1978. That was a revelation; wisdom hidden in plain sight. I was asking Roy questions on how his style applied triplets, paradiddles, and other rudiments. The answer is, Roy’s style isn’t simply a stew of personalized drum rudiments. Rather, said Roy, “I like sounds.”

The disconnect is less clear when I’m only listening. When I’m watching, say, Brian Blade with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, I can hear the ghosts of drum teachers crying, “Cease! Desist! You’re doing it all WRONG.”

Of course, Brian Blade is not doing it all wrong. He’s doing Brian Blade.

Maybe that solves the mystery. All drummers begin at the beginning. Which is not to say all drummers begin with equal talent, aptitude, or gifts. We don’t. But we start out never having held drum sticks in our hands, never having played a drum set.

As we go forward, doing what we’re going to do with stick grips and rudiments, we ideally discover what Max Roach called our “one unique idea.” Which is then heard in everything we play.

If discovering and playing our one unique idea involves an unorthodox approach to playing a drum set – so be it.

About Scott K Fish

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