By Reuel Kong (Drum Coach for Kingdom Music)
Being a drummer can be a tough task at times. At Kingdom Music, we’ve seen and heard many drummers, and understand the common struggles that many church drummers face. Our goal is to help drummers overcome these difficulties and equip them to serve the Lord and His people. Here are the Top 5 common issues that leave church drummers scratching their heads.
1) FUNDAMENTAL TIMEKEEPING
No, we’re not talking about arriving punctually for practice (although that’s important too). We’re talking about the one skill that forms the most fundamental purpose of a drummer in any band - keeping time. Many drummers often focus too much on “what” to play, perhaps even really fancy stuff, but neglect their core timekeeping function in the band. The result? Messy music, baffled band members, confused congregation.
2) NOT SERVING THE RIGHT PURPOSE IN THE BAND
Playing the drums isn't just about playing the drums. We have seen many drummers out there who have been playing for YEARS but are still unclear about their purpose in the band. In fact, there are simply many musicians out there who know little about the larger purpose that they serve within the band, beyond just playing their instrument. The drummer is called “The Heartbeat of the Band” and plays an influential part in the “life” of the music, the band, and the congregation. This translates into 2 key roles that a drummer should play in a band: a Timekeeper and a Leader. “Leader” doesn’t mean that the drummer should take over the role of the band leader or worship leader. But what it does mean is that the drummer doesn’t simply sit on the backline and play a passive role - a common misconception.
3) NOT PLAYING WITH THE RIGHT DYNAMICS
This issue often presents itself in one of two main forms: Overplaying and Underplaying. Although both seem to be at opposite extremes, the fundamental problem behind them is the same. It’s crucial for any musician to grasp the concept of “Playing to the Song”, which is applied a lot - sometimes even more so - in the world of secular music. What it means is: delivering what is required in order to do the music justice. Not so much more that Mr/Ms Drummer is now the only star of the show, but not so much less such that the song lacks the necessary movement in order to be effective.
4) TRYING TO FOLLOW THE ORIGINAL ARTIST EXACTLY
“Ok fine, I neither want to overplay nor underplay. So if I play exactly like the original track, I should be safe, right?” While learning how to cover the original can be helpful in order to pick up new ideas and techniques, it's incorrect to think of it as THE way to play a song. There are 2 big 'C's why.
The first is the question of CONTEXT. What is the application of the song in the order of YOUR church service? Is your church band delivering the song with the same instrument setup and musical arrangement as the original band? You’re planning to play exactly like the original drummer, but what about the rest of the band? The same song played exactly the same way may not necessarily deliver the same effect in a different context.
The other reason is that of CREATIVITY. Even original artists have multiple versions or interpretations of the same song. Imagine going to different churches around the world and hearing the same song played EXACTLY the same way! Remember, the original is just ONE way to play a song. There is no “model” answer. Get creative!
5) USING THE WRONG GROOVE
Well, while is no “model” answer, there can sometimes be a “wrong” answer. As the drummer, discerning the right groove for a song is a skill of utmost importance. Firstly, every drummer needs to consciously build a “groove vocabulary”. There are many drummers who “play by feel” lack a complete understanding of what they’re actually doing. It's important to know the difference between a funk groove, a rock groove and a slow ballad groove (just to name a few) and when to use them. Are you playing a rock groove when the rest of the band is doing a disco groove? When choosing a kick pattern, are you working together with the bassist? As with any instrument, being a drummer is not a one-man show. You have to understand what the band is doing collectively, and work with it.