6 Most Important Tips For Drumming Gigs

In this article, I’m going to share 6 tips for drumming jobs that will always help you perform your best. Following these 6 tips will greatly improve the quality of your gigs and get you new opportunities to play.

These 6 tips for drumming gigs will expand your drumming career.
Preparing for gigs will help your playing be its best.

Tip #1: Practicing drums

For all of my drum gigs, I check to see if there are specific charts or arrangements of the tunes we’ll play. If there are, I ask the band leader to send me PDF’s of the charts and any sample audio files. This usually gives me all of the information I need to practice drums effectively for the gig.

Practicing is the first of my tips for drumming gigs.
This is the longest drum chart I have ever played!

If the gig is really challenging, I will practice at least one week before on 2-3 different days for about 2 hours each day. It’s a lot like studying for a test. I can’t cram my way to success on the stage.

If it’s challenging music, I have to practice a few different days before the gig to really get the music and drumming into my mind and muscle memory.

I also use a tempo tracker app for my iPhone to check song tempos and write the tempos at the top of each page. The drummer is often the one responsible for counting off tunes so I like to be prepared to count things off at the correct tempos.

The app below I use is called LiveBPM. It works great to figure out tempos.

Getting an app for your phone that can track tempos is also one of my tips for drumming gigs.

Here’s the link for iPhones.

Here’s the link for Android phones.

I then use a metronome app on my iPhone to check and then count off tunes. Having me count things off takes the pressure off of other musicians.

They don’t have to know the precise tempos and this simple act scores me many respect points. Most musicians including some musical directors feel relieved that they can rely on me to get the songs going.

Here’s the metronome app I use too. It’s called Click Metronome.

Here’s the link for iPhones.

There’s currently no Android version for this app.

Tip #2: Preparing drum gear

The night before my drum gigs, I get all of my drum gear together and place it by the front door. I also put my printed drum charts in my cymbal bag. I double check that I have a pencil and an eraser to make notes on charts at the gig.

This is included in my tips for drumming because If I don’t put everything out the night before, there’s a chance that I’m going forget something. It’s a terrible feeling when I get to the gig and realize I’ve forgotten something important.

Preparing your drum gear the night before the gig is the second of my tips for drumming gigs.
My gear the night before a gig.

I also try to get a good night’s sleep or sneak in a power nap (10-15 minutes) before leaving for the gig. This little bit of extra sleep really increases my concentration and energy level on the gig.

I also try and eat dinner before going to the gig. It’s good to have my basic needs taken care of so I can focus 100% of my attention on the music.

Tip #3: Arriving on time

As a general rule, I try to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled load-in and set-up time for my live drumming gigs. If the band leader wants me to load in at 5:30pm, I will typically arrive at 5:15pm. I do this because drums usually take longer to set up and tune than other instruments.

If only drum sets were this small. So much easier to set up!

If it’s a recording session gig, I will typically arrive 1-2 hours before everyone else. Set-up, tuning and micing the drums take longer than in a club situation. This makes everyone more at ease and helps the session get off to a good start with less stress.

If the start time for a club gig is 7:30pm, I will get there about 2 hours before hand, to run through tunes with the band. The rehearsal is usually about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before customers arrive.

Being on time shows that I respect the other musicians, the music and the gig. It shows that I am grateful for the opportunity to play and is definitely a reason I get called for other gigs.

Tip #4: Communicating positively

During the rehearsal for my drum gigs, there may be comments or suggestions about my drumming from the band leader or other musicians. I take them in and try to give everyone what they want to hear. It’s at this time, I also may make suggestions to other band members, about their playing.

Communicating positively is one of the most important tips for drumming gigs.
A great Funk and Hip-Hop group I play with from time to time in Kyoto, Japan. (Left to Right: Phillip Woo: keys, Rita Nishikawa: vocals, Glynis Martin: vocals, Harumi Imai: sax, Naoki Isobe: bass, Me)

The way you deliver feedback is very important. Check out my article about attitude to learn how to deliver feedback like a pro. It’s important to note that everyone wants the music to sound its best.

If each band member focuses on that concept, we can usually give and receive feedback in a positive way. This is one of those tips for drumming that can actually make or break a gig.

Tip #5: Drumming groove focused

Staying “in the pocket” means focusing on groove and not over-playing on your drum fills. Creating a groove that feels great with the other musicians is always more important than flashy fills.

Check out my article on groove and why it’s the most important part of drumming. I teach you exactly how to play in the pocket.

Playing a great groove and “pocket” playing is powerful stuff. It also doesn’t have to be hard-hitting. In fact, playing in the pocket is very subtle. It’s actually so subtle, that many drummers miss it.

Focusing your playing on groove also helps you to focus on the most important notes to play. This opens up space in the music for the other band members to play their instruments more freely. This approach is great for working with singers too.

Check out this video of one of my gigs. You can see how I am completely focused on groove and all of my drum fills support that groove.

Another article you might enjoy is about my 25% rule for drumming. This article will help you learn how to filter the many drumming ideas that pop into your head when you play music. You’ll learn how to be choosy and play only the most musical ideas.

Grooving well with others is another of my important tips for drumming gigs.
A great Smooth Jazz group I perform with regularly in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan. (Left to Right: Satoshi Sugiyama: Keys, Mariko Endo: Sax, Akira Hasegawa: Bass, Me)

The gig almost always goes smoothly if I focus on creating a great groove with the other players and listen carefully to what the other musicians are playing.

When I start a gig, there are also some very important things I focus on to get the gig off on the right foot. Check out my article about how I listen on the gig.

Tip #6: Saying “Thank You.”

“Thank you” is one IMMENSELY powerful statement. I say thank you for feedback on my drumming, both positive and negative.

When I am done with rehearsal or gig, I say thank you for the opportunity to play music together. When I am paid at the end of the night, I say thank you for the money.

Show gratitude is the final of my tips for drumming gigs.
A great Jazz group I perform with regularly in Osaka and Wakayama, Japan. (Left to Right: Me, Noriko Iranami: vocals, Phillip Strange: Piano, Tetsuro Aratama: Bass)

I throw those two words in whenever I can. Using them, demonstrates my gratitude for the musical opportunities I am given. Other musicians, band leaders, recording engineers, producers, club owners, customers and many others love to hear those words.

“Thank you” will open many doors for you. Being successful in music is not just about drumming skill. It’s as much about having a great attitude.


So here’s the recap on the 6 most important tips for drumming:

  1. Practicing drums
  2. Preparing drum gear
  3. Arriving on time
  4. Communicating positively
  5. Drumming groove focused
  6. Saying “Thank you”

Try using my 6 tips for drumming gigs for all of your work. You’ll be better prepared for the gig and always leave a positive impression with the other musicians. For sure, you’ll also get called for more gigs in the future.

As drummers, we provide a valuable service to the musicians, club owners, recording engineers, record companies, private clients and audience we work for.

If we always strive to provide the best quality service through our drumming, others will notice. Use my 6 important tips for drumming gigs to give your best in every drumming job.

Keep on gigging and KEEP ON DRUMMING’!

What are your tips for drumming gigs?

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