5 Essentials to Become a Pro Drummer

When I started out playing drums at the later age of 15, I really had no idea what it would take to be a professional drummer but I knew that I wanted to be one.

Circa 1988. The days of hair.

I had a lot more hair in those days and since then, I have figured out 5 things that directed my path toward becoming a successful professional drummer and I want to share these with you.

1. A deep passion for drumming and all things rhythmic

I think from a young age in the Midwestern US, I really did want to play the drums. I tried violin and saxophone but actually grew to hate both instruments and used the instruments in their cases as sleds during the winter time. I always wanted to be a drummer plain and simple. I thought they were the coolest sounding instrument and just loved rhythm. Starting off as a breakdancer, I think also strengthened my timing and sense of rhythm.

In the beginning, I had a thought that if I wanted to learn drums, I would learn the fastest if I could find someone who would show me how to play.

2. Find a good teacher

I sometimes hear drummers or other musicians say “I was self-taught” or “I learned on my own”  and I really want to say to them, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”  I know it’s a badge of courage in the Music Scouts to learn on your own and it certainly shows a real dedication to your instrument. It is though, a whole lot more difficult than just asking someone who’s already done it, to share with you a tested method to help you play the music you want to play. After all, that’s the point, yes? To play music and have FUN!

I recommend finding a pro drummer who loves to teach.  He or she needs to also have a comprehensive drum method encompassing all of the fundamentals you need to know to play any style of music.  This is so you will have choices to play new music as your tastes interests change over time. The idea is to learn the coordination, patterns, reading and listening abilities that will enable you to ultimately focus on the music and not on what your right hand or left foot are doing.

Todd Strait was my high school and college private teacher and taught me the foundation and fundamentals for how I play and teach to this day. He is incredible! www.toddstraitdrums.com

I mentioned “reading” above also because so many drummers have figured out these elaborate systems for not using musical notation and the problem with these is that they will only take you so far until someday you will come into contact with the “real world” and you’ll have to look at a music chart or lead sheet.

Street Life Page 2
Page 2 of Street Life by the Crusaders

Not reading music is like getting to the top of a mountain and only being able to enjoy 1/2 of the view. Just like reading text or words to communicate in your daily life, reading music allows you to interact fully with the music and other musicians.

3. Develop a sincere love for practicing

When I ask my students or even other music teachers, “What does practice make?” you know what they say? Of course you do! We have all been trained to fill in the blank with the most unattainable, unrealistic and misused word in the world of instrument practice and performance, “PERFECT!” The REAL aim of practicing or getting good at drumming is to be able to do more on the drums because the more you can do, the more opportunities you will have to enjoy playing music and have more F-U-N!  So what does practice make? FUN!

If you have this mindset going into your practice sessions, you will be more likely to relax, retain more, enjoy your time and know that every little bit that you do contributes toward your ability to increase the “Fun Factor” in your life.  You’ll be so excited to practice again that you will truly look forward to your sacred time connecting with your drums. Students ask me all time, how much they should practice. My response is, “How much fun do you want to have?” One of my 13 year old students, Ian Wacksman practices 3 hours a day and is now playing with all adult Jazz combos and big bands as well as his own rock band. Think he’s having fun? Heck yeah!!!!

4. Get “mileage” in your playing

In a lesson once in the early 90’s, Jeff Hamilton told me that I was playing good but I needed more “mileage.”  He meant, I wasn’t playing enough with others. I wasn’t gigging enough and didn’t really have a consistency in my playing that you hear in drummers who gig a lot.

Circa 1992 at Berklee College of Music.

I encourage all of my students to play with friends, family, at their respective houses of worship, in school music and theater programs and anywhere else they can to gain experience performing.  Practicing in isolation is important to work out the nuts and bolts of of things like coordination or reading but you need to play outside of the practice room with other human beings to really develop your voice on the drums and iron out the little wrinkles in your playing.

The two most important qualities in solid drumming are good time (staying in tempo) and good feel (making the groove and music feel good).  Both of these will develop as you play gigs. Be on the lookout for opportunities to play the music you enjoy and also any other music that comes your way. This again comes back to having a solid drumming foundation with the help of your teacher so you can embrace new musical opportunities.

5. Have a good attitude

People like to work with people they like.  Treat others as you would like to be treated and have a positive can-do attitude when rehearsing or performing. Show up on time to your rehearsals, gigs, recording sessions, have an open mind and a willingness to work with others. Remember, as a drummer our job 95% of the time, is to make everyone else feel and sound great.  We occasionally get that 5% to strut our stuff but most of what we do is geared toward making the music sound great. That will in turn make us sound great and lead to more opportunities for musical fun!

At a gig with the Randy Allen Power Trio. Randy Allen guitar and Michael Grande keyboards.

I hope this blog gives you some ideas about what you will need to find your path in drumming and music. Even if you are not pro drummer bound and your goal is just to enjoy playing music with friends, the 5 Essentials apply.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at vonbaron@vonbaronmusic.com and if you are looking for a FUN, tested and successful method for learning the drums please check out my YouTube drum lesson video channel www.drumming4life.com. I hope you have a super day! –Von