I’m a drummer. Not a super cool drummer in a rock band who shreds and smashes his drum set after every concert. I play drums in a worship band with my church, and occasionally with side gigs at small festivals and stuff. I started drumming after my mom made me take piano lessons and I couldn’t take it any more. I had a friend who played the drums and that looked so much more fun than learning notes and practicing theory.
So after much arguing I convinced my mom to let me switch to drums. And even then I didn’t practice. I enjoyed it though and after years of quitting and playing and giving up and taking long breaks, I slowly got better. I have been playing with Hickory Valley Christian Church in Chattanooga, TN for about 2 years now, and I have learned a few things about being a session drummer, which I am going to share with you now.
- You don’t have to be a great drummer. It would be great to be a Taylor Hawkins level drummer, or my favorite drummer,
Gavin Harrison. I listen to Porcupine Tree and get swept away listening to his complicated “rhythmic illusions” that he comes up with. But for our songs that are meant to be sung by a crowd or choir, and have to be palatable for both youth who are in to peppier songs, and grey-hairs who don’t want to hear a drum set at all, you just need to find the pocket. The music minister is in charge, so figure out what he likes and just do it. Take all of that pressure and that desire to really knock this thing out of the park, and stuff it down. Strip the song down to its basics, and then after running it through like that a couple times, see if there is one or two places to embellish slightly. It is more important that people are singing than trying to figure out where to clap when you are playing nested triplets and 5 over 3 polyrythems.
- Be professional. It is simple. Show up to practice on time, every time. At least listen to all of the songs that will be played two times before the first practice. Worship songs aren’t hard, but I like to take notes about the structure of the song and anything unusual that I need to be ready for. Be quiet. Don’t interrupt if other people are discussing their parts. Don’t doodle on the set in between rehearsals. If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask. There are no dumb questions, only dumb people who don’t ask and then don’t know what they are doing when the time comes.
- Learn the dynamics of the band. When just starting out, keep quiet and watch. Watch how people interact, what they do with their music, how the songs sound. Be able to throw away that beat that you had been working hard on because when everyone starts playing together it just doesn’t sound great.
- Let it go. More than likely you will only have one or two practices before performing these songs and getting a whole new list of songs for the next week, so if something doesn’t work out, let it go and get started on the next week. There is no time or point to focus on what you did wrong, and most likely the people in the audience didn’t notice anyway unless the whole song came grinding to a halt (which has happened). Keep a thick skin and take criticism well. Prepare to hear criticism from people who have no experience with the drums, and who may not even know what they want to hear. Just try your best and keep a good attitude.
- Finally, this should be fun, but don’t expect it to be. Practice is work. Performance, while exciting, is work. If you make a mistake during a performance, just keep going. Enjoy that you were chosen to help enhance the service by lending your talents. Appreciate that all the fifth graders out there wish they were playing the drums. Today I was playing and I looked out and in the front pews were these 5-6 grade kids hitting their hands on the pews in front of them and watching my every move. I didn’t get self conscience, but occasionally I would throw in a fill or two that livened things up. It was fun to watch their reactions.
- Oh, one more thing. Get to know your band mates and everything they have to offer. At HVCC we got a great group of guys that work hard and give it everything they got. We got wonderful singers that bring the songs to life. I have had the pleasure of working with the Church Choir and the Handbell Choir and made some killer music for the glory of God.
I encourage everyone who has a drum set or an old guitar in their closet to start practicing and look for a group you can get with on a regular basis. It truly added so much to my own life, and I only hope that I have inspired others as well.