Okay so here’s the deal. Do you really want to get the good gigs? I mean the higher paying gigs with the better musicians? Then your drum practice and performance time will have to be focused on DRUMMING TIME AND FEEL.

Time and Feel are essential for a successful career in drumming.

I know Instagram and YouTube are loaded with videos about drum licks and fills. The more notes you play on the drums, the more likes and subscribers you get.

That’s all well and cool for cyberspace but in the REAL space, that ain’t gonna cut it. In fact it’ll just get you cut.

The chops obsession vs. drumming time and feel

What I see alot with drummers these days, is a chops obsession. When these same drummers try to play slow grooves (like 70 BPM or slower) or cut out all of the drumnastics, their groove often times isn’t so groovy. Their time may not be so good too.

Me chopping it up!

In my previous blog post I shared about the 25% rule I use in all of my performing. If you didn’t yet read about it, go check it out. In a nutshell, the rule is, play 25% of what you are thinking. Don’t play everything you think of when you are performing.

The Soul Power Hour transformed my drumming time and feel

About 10 years ago, I had a regular practice ritual that I called the Soul Power Hour. I played along with my favorite Soul artists from back in the day for a solid hour. James Brown, Brothers Johnson, Earth Wind and Fire, Rick James, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and many others.

Hawaii Bassist Mark Tanouye helped Von Baron drummer transform his feel.
Here bassist Mark Tanouye performs with one of my drum students Christopher Lindsay.

My good friend and great Hawaii bass player Mark Tanouye, suggested I do this to help improve my 8th-note and 16th-note grooves. I took his advice to heart but it was heartbreaking. Those practice sessions were some of the most challenging and beneficial of my entire career.

I thought I had good drumming time and feel

Also per Mark’s advice, I started off by practicing with Stomp! by the Brothers Johnson. Try as I did, I couldn’t get my playing to lock in with the bass and drums on the recording. It was unbearably frustrating. I had studied music in college and had been playing drums professionally for about 20 years at that point. Still, I couldn’t groove my way out of a paper bag.

The Brothers Johnson are all about great time and feel.

My Jazz playing was okay. I could groove nicely in a Jazz context. It was this Soul, Funk, Pop, R & B groove thing I wanted to learn. I was ready to expand my drumming capabilities beyond Jazz and Mark’s suggestion was just the medicine I needed.

I can feel it!!!

I remember the day I could finally feel the quarter notes on my kick locking in the the bass and drums on the Stomp! recording. It felt amazing! It was the same feeling I had when I swung my first Jazz quarter note on the ride cymbal.

That feeling is another side of music altogether. I often call it the dark side of the moon. Something we don’t see but is always there. We just need to tap into it. It has nothing at all to do with chops or showing off to the cute chick in the front row. It’s playing REAL music man!!!

The truth about soulful drumming

The more I practiced, the better I got. As I really listened to these great Soul recordings, one thing became abundantly clear. The bass was often busier than the drums. The drummers would almost always hold down quarter notes on the kick or a “boom-whack” 2 and 4 beat while the bass player bounced around.

The second I figured that out, I relaxed and stopped trying to overplay my grooves. I tuned into the music more and my playing really smoothed out.

Before leaving Hawaii to move to Japan, I also had a drum lesson with the great Bonny B. He shared that it’s not important to have a busy hi-hat pattern. Playing simply is much more effective. The busy hi-hat playing is mostly for color. Just playing off beats or quarter notes works great and glues the band together.

Bonny B., my wife Satomi and me after the drum lesson.

The puzzle came together

After moving to Japan, I continued to marinate on all that I had learned about Soul drumming. Shortly after moving, I had the chance to sit in with many Funk bands and hosted a couple of Funk jam sessions. What I realized was that many young players here also didn’t understand how to lay down a simple, soulful and effective groove.

They suffered from the same overplaying disease I had when I was younger. All of this solidified my determination to make my drum grooves open, airy and always feel good.

My advice for you

If you are looking to make your non-Jazz drumming feel really good. I recommend you start by getting Brothers Johnson’s Stomp!. Try and lock in with every note the drummer John JR Robinson is playing. If you find it difficult, keep at it! Relax into it. Simlify, simplify, simplify.

After that, explore every Soul artist you like and play along to their recordings. Finally, get my Soulful Grooves Drumless Tracks. I’ve got Soul, Smooth Jazz, Funk and Pop backing tracks for you to zero in on your time and feel. I designed each track to optimize your practice time.

In my Soulful Groove Collection, I include a full band and bass only version drumless track for each song. Locking in the bass player is the most important thing in playing any kind of contemporary music. So having a bass only track is invaluable for your practice.

Let the groove in and never let it go

Once you can really feel that feel, never let it go. Practice it as much as you can. When you have the opportunity to play out with other musicians be disciplined. Follow my 25% rule and keep your focus on the groove. Play a little fill at the end of some musical phrases but that’s it.

I guarantee, if you play this way you are going to feel more fulfilled and connected to the music and other musicians than if you start playing lots of chops. You will also get more playing opportunities. TRUST ME.

Hey, be careful out there. Stay safe and KEEP ON DRUMMIN’!

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