In this article about how to be a pro drummer, I’m going to share about the importance of having a positive attitude. It’s the last of the 5 things I think every drummer needs to be a busy professional drummer.
So let’s just do a real quick review of the first four things. You can click on the links below to view the previous posts.
- Have a deep passion for drumming and all things rhythmic.
- Find a good teacher.
- Develop a sincere love for practicing.
- Get mileage in your playing.
If you didn’t read about the first four in the other two blogs, please go and check them out. It’ll help you to connect the dots to what I’m going to share here.
All right, so number five. Are you ready for this? Here we go!
For the professional drummer, attitude is everything
HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Attitude is everything. Hey, that’s what they say anyway, right?
Well, it is, especially in music. People like to work with people they like, period. It doesn’t matter if you’re in music, are selling your own products or work in a government job. People want to work with people they like.
It’s good to always treat others the way we want to be treated. Ahh, where have we heard that one before?
Personally, I try to have a positive can-do professional drummer attitude. I used to write “I have a positive can do attitude.” in all of my work resumes.
When rehearsing or performing the can-do attitude is critical. More opportunities will come if your drummer attitude is, “I want to do this. I want to make this music sound great, whatever it takes.”
The pro drummer dinner test
Maybe think of attitude like this. If you’re going to have a pro drummer over for dinner, what kind of person are you going to invite? Someone who’s kind, courteous, respectful, grateful and a good conversationalist? Maybe even someone who’s funny?
Okay, so these are all positive character traits. This is the kind of pro drummer you want to be when you’re playing a gig and anytime you’re playing music with other people. So it’s good to think about who you would invite to dinner. Now replace “dinner” with “gig.” Obviously, you want YOU going to that gig!
Gigs for drummers with a positive attitude
People in the music community say this one thing a lot about me and it’s unsolicited. Audience members, club owners, recording session engineers, fellow musicians and many others say they think of me as, as “the positive one.” I’m the upbeat person. I lift up the room when I walk into it. That’s good because that’s who I really am and it’s who I want to be.
This attitude also gives me more opportunities to play. Believe me, if you have two drummers, for example, who are equally skilled at playing drums, attitude will make a difference.
If DRUMMER A has great attitude and DRUMMER B is difficult to work with, complains and talks behind people’s backs, the phone is going to stop ringing for DRUMMER B. It’s DRUMMER A that’s going to get the gigs. Try to be the drummer with the great attitude, always.
Another important point relating to attitude is showing up on time to rehearsals, live gigs, and recording sessions. This makes such a huge difference in reducing the stress of other people you work with. They will develop more trust for you and know that you can be counted on.
Session drumming jobs
Recording sessions are usually more demanding than live performance gigs. They require hours of intense focus and flexibility. Sometimes you may have to try many different grooves, drum fills or make numerous changes to the song arrangement.
If you can’t get it done in one take, you can usually have two takes but not often will you get to record three or more takes. Time is money in the studio. You have to come in prepared and nail your parts as quickly as possible.
Often drummers get asked to play with a “click” or metronome which can also be intimidating at times depending on the difficulty of the music. Sometimes, the producer, singer, musical director or others can also be difficult to deal with.
If you lose your cool, then you might also lose the next recording session. Having an over-the-top accommodating and positive attitude will make every recording session go well and keep them calling you back for more.
An open mind is part of being a pro drummer
In music, you’ve got to have an open mind and a willingness to work with other people. Did you know that a pro drummer’s job, 95% of the time, is to make everyone else feel and sound great? It’s only about 5% of the time we get to let loose on the drums.
95% of the time we’re geared toward making the music and other people in the band sound great. That in turn, is going to make us sound great. We’re going to feel good and it’s going to lead to a lot more work.
Now let’s talk about having an open mind. As a pro drummer, you’ve gotta be able to accept criticism with an open mind. Accepting correction and guidance without flinching is par for the course.
Don’t take it personally. Just remember that everyone makes suggestions to help the music sound its best. Changing your part a little here or there may be just the thing the music needs.
Being a drummer, you are a support instrument. Musical directors or band leaders usually have a specific sound or concept that they think of when they think of the drums.
So, you’ve got to be open to that vision. You might also learn something to help you improve your playing. I have often learned new things about music and even drumming when I accepted suggestions or criticism about my playing.
Example of accepting criticism
I’ve learned that it’s never good to think of myself as being above learning because the minute I do that, I’m going to stop growing as a musician. I have a good personal example of accepting criticism.
I work regularly with a great pianist here in Japan. His name is Phillip Strange and he is a world-class Jazz pianist.
The first few times Phil and I were playing together I asked him, if there was anything I could improve? He was appreciative of my question and the opportunity to share.
He said that there were two things that I could improve. One was, make my tempo (my time) more stable. The second thing was work on my dynamics (volumed) and adjust my dynamics more depending on the overall sound of the group.
I really took his criticism to heart. I worked very hard on both points. One of the reasons I worked so hard on them was because he shared with me his perspective as a piano player.
For example, related to tempo, he said that whenever he’s playing a solo, if I start speeding up, then his solo concept has to change. He already has an idea of how he’s going to approach his playing based on the starting tempo.
If I start to speed things up, it forces him to abandon his concept. It stifles his creativity and his ability to play what he wants.
I’ve become hyper aware of time all the time. It’s my job after all, to make sure that I’m supporting him the best I can. As a result, I can now keep more solid time.
The same is true for his comment about dynamics in my drumming. I worked hard on being able to play at lower volume levels without loosing the intensity of my playing.
To go deeper into using dynamics in your playing, check out my article about drumming dynamics.
Criticism pays off in the end
When Phil shared his criticism with me, it helped me to be more aware of my drumming and make some adjustments. I had an open pro drummer attitude about accepting criticism and it has since payed off handsomely.
Me being open to criticism really helped me improve my drumming skill. It also helped Phil and I to have more fun performing together.
So keep your mind open for learning. Criticism helps you become a better pro drummer and a better musician.
Give feedback with tact and humility
Another thing I want to share is how to deliver feedback to others. I’m not talking about the annoying sound loop you experience on stage. The feedback I’m talking about is when you need to be critical of someone else’s work, playing ability or attitude.
Feedback is a two-way street so expect to get and not just give. Sometimes I have to deliver feedback to other musicians, club owners, sound techs, tour personnel, event organizers and customers. Without exception, I’ve got to always deliver feedback in a positive, humble and respectful manner.
Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s a stressful moment like when the sound on stage is terrible. I still have to try to really hard to deliver my feedback in a respectful manner.
I need to remember that the sound tech is also trying to do his or her best. It’s good to remember that we’re all in this together.
How to give feedback
I have a good example of delivering feedback in a pro drummer positive way. Many times, in a band, the person I communicate with the most is the bass player. That’s because the bass player and the drummer have to work closely to support the rest of the band. We are the foundation.
On one gig, I was playing in a rather large hall. It was with a large group of musicians and singers. Most of them were feeling the time on top of the beat. They were rushing their timing.
I talked to the bass player and said, “Hey, can you work with me, and let’s really try to anchor these folks (the other musicians and singers). Let’s pull back on our time and let them stay where they are. You and I will always be locked together and we’re going to hold everything down.”
He said, “Sure, let’s do it.” We exactly this in the rehearsal and the gig went great. It was a positive way to deliver my feedback and it worked.
If I didn’t take that opportunity to share some feedback, every song would have started at one tempo and ended much faster. This would have been very difficult for the singers.
Before delivering your feedback get into your pro drummer positive attitude mindset. Think first about what you want to accomplish with your feedback to make the music sound better. That way, all of your feedback will come from a positive perspective.
So I want to touch on gossip. I mentioned earlier about DRUMMER B talking behind people’s backs. Here’s just a word about gossip. Don’t do it! Don’t backstab and don’t talk behind people’s backs.
Remember what grandma said? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” If you complain to your fellow musicians about another musician, for example, word’s going to get back to that musician.
The music community is just too small. Everybody plays with everybody, so that person is going to find out what you’re saying. That’s definitely not going to be helpful for your career.
Remember too. If another musician is complaining to you about someone else, it’s only a matter of time before that same person is going to complain about you too. Don’t gossip. Keep the good vibes going around!
Pride comes before a fall
Another really good saying is, “Pride comes before a fall.” This means, when I think too highly of myself, I will soon be humbled. Personally, I don’t like to think for a second that I’m better than my fellow drummers, vocalists or instrumentalists in my music community. Thinking that I am better than others is not a pro drummer mind set.
The second I start thinking that I’m superior, I’ve already lost my direction. My moral musical compass is gone. “Google Maps help me, PLEASE!” The whole point of playing music is to create something awesome together that I can’t create by myself. It’s not about me. It’s about we.
I’ve had to eat humble pie a lot. There have been times in my life where I’ve thought to myself, “Ooh I’m just so great. I’ve just got all my stuff together. I’m such a great drummer….yada yada yada.”
Guess what happened? The next gig was challenging and handed my butt to me on a silver platter.
Don’t ever think of yourself as the best or that you have to be the best. Music is not a competition. One of the points of this blog is to help you find your voice on the drums.
It’s more important for you to find your voice than it is for you to be the best drummer. A pursuit to be the “best” is pointless because there is no best pro drummer in the World.
It’s about finding your voice, expressing that voice and connecting that voice to the music and the other musicians you’re playing with. That’s how you get the gigs.
The best way to sum up this article post is, “Gratitude is the only attitude.” Personally, I’m grateful that I even have the opportunity to play. I’m glad someone trusted me enough to call me for a gig. Every day I get to pick up my brushes or sticks and play, is a great day!
If your attitude is right and you’re following the other four steps, your pro drumming path is going to take you to great places and great opportunities. Even if you’re your goal is just enjoy playing music with your friends, the five things are still going to help you.
If you want to learn Jazz drumming, I’ve got 3 solid options for you.
- Private Zoom drum lessons
- Complete courses on Jazz drumming at JAZZDRUMSCHOOL.COM
- My YouTube drum instruction channel Von Baron Drum Lessons
Here’s wishing you many great gigs. KEEP ON DRUMMIN’!
How do you keep a positive attitude on the gig when things don’t go well?
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