In this article I want to share with you something that helps me get lots of drummer work. It’s a rule for drumming and if you follow it, the gig opportunities will come.
I call it the 25% rule. When performing with other musicians, try to play only 25% of the drumming ideas that come into your mind.
The young musician’s mind for drummer work
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When I was young, I would literally play 100% of my ideas when performing with others. That was some pretty crazy drumming for sure. If I was working on a specific drum lick or fill, I would try to play squeeze it into a song as many times as I could.
I would also respond to every rhythmic idea that the other musicians were playing. When I was comping (short for accompanying), my left hand and right foot were insanely busy. I’d try to fill in every bit of space I could in the music.
I played a gig with an 18-year-old Jazz pianist a while back. He was on fire with lots of energy and ideas. At the end of the night, he asked for feedback about his playing.
I told him he had lots of great musical ideas but that he needed to play 50% less than he was playing. I explained that leaving some space would allow the music breathe.
As he listened, I also shared that I think it’s better to play a targeted musical idea rather than playing everything comes into your mind. Playing lots of notes all night isn’t so impressive for me. I appreciate musical phrases with space. I was happy he was open to my criticism.
I think that’s probably natural for all young musicians including myself to play loads of notes. We have to go through a phase where we try everything to see what works and what doesn’t.
Learn tips that the most popular working drummers use to get more drummer work.
Older players get the drummer work
I remember watching older players when I was in my teens. Honestly, I thought they were kind of boring. They didn’t play lots of notes and most of what they played was time, nothing too fancy. Even so, they had lots of gigs.
Fast forward 35 years and now I play like those older guys. Funny ya? I actually used to say to myself, I didn’t want to end playing like an older drummer. It was terrifying to think about, really. I thought that would most certainly be the death of my creativity and passion.
Actually, the opposite has happened. I get more work now with fewer notes. The musicians are better and so is the pay.
25% = More drummer work
In my younger years, I didn’t understand that solid time and good feel are king when it comes to getting gigs. All of the fancy drum fills and advanced coordination are secondary.
It seems there is a direct correlation to the number of notes I play and the number of gigs I get. The more notes I play the fewer gigs I get. The fewer notes I play, the more gigs I get.
Since moving to Japan 6 years ago, I really pared down my playing. I estimate that I cut 75% of my extra drumming stuff out.
Instead, I now focus on supporting the other members in the band through playing solid time and good feel. This has resulted in tons of live performance opportunities and studio work.
Below is a video me first playing 100% of what I think and then only 25% of what I think. I’m sure you’ll hear the difference.
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Make the music and other musicians sound great
When I play less, other musicians can trust that I’ve got their back. When I perform, I give them the 25%. It get’s the job done, and supports the music and musicians in several ways:
- Allows space in the music so other band members can share their musical ideas or just let the music breathe.
- Doesn’t clutter things rhythmically. If I play too many notes, many of those notes will end up clashing rhythmically with what the other musicians are playing.
- Allows me to dedicate most of my mental energy toward creating a great groove with the bassist for everyone to lock into.
- Allows me to listen to what other musicians are playing and interact more in a musical conversation.
Change your thinking for more drummer work
It all comes down to how we think when playing drums. We need to control the flow of thoughts in our mind and choose the best ideas to play on the drums.
How do you know they are the best ideas? They’ll fit the the music beautifully.
When you are not thinking about your own drumming, you can focus on the other musicians’ playing. Your best drumming ideas will come from that approach.
I wrote a blog post about this to help you refocus your thinking when you are playing with other musicians. This is another important thing to help you get more drumming work. The blog post link is below.
Time and feel bring satisfaction and work
When I was young, I also played many notes to cover up the fact that my time and feel weren’t strong. As I got older, I corrected this.
Now when I play, the first thing I do is create a groove that feels good and stays in tempo. As long as that’s happening, everything else I play fits nicely with the music.
When I play a gig that feels great, I am energized and often have a hard time falling asleep that night. There is something really satisfying about creating a deep groove with the band. Playing only 25% of my ideas allows me the space to achieve this almost 100% of the time.
Following the 25% rule will definitely get you more drummer work. No doubt about it. When you make the rest of the band sound and feel good, they’ll call you again for the next gig.
Focus on the 25% in your drum grooves, fills and solos and leave the 75% for everyone else to participate in the musical conversation. This is true for any style of drumming and especially Jazz drumming.
Playing this way requires a change in your thinking when playing the drums. Even though it may be difficult in the beginning to think this new way, it will pay off if you stick with it.
One great way to practice this new skill is with some backing tracks for drums. I created some Jazz tracks that will prepare you for using the 25% rule on the bandstand.
Try the 25% rule in your playing and see how it gets you more drummer work.
Keep swinging and KEEP ON DRUMMIN’!
Do you think the 25% rule could help your drumming?
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