“If you listen to the really powerful drummers, you’ll notice that they’re actually very relaxed when they play. Let’s take John Bonham, who’s probably the mountain of power – he’s got a very relaxed, easy style. His contact with his sticks, and the way they hit the drums, is very relaxed. This gives you a lot more power, far more than other drummers who clutch their sticks tightly, tense their muscles and attack the drums with ferocity. You actually achieve more impact with relaxation.
“It’s sort of like the young bull and the old bull looking down from the hilltop at all the hot cows. The young bull says, ‘Hey, let’s run down and fuck one of those cows!’ And the old bull says, ‘Let’s walk down and fuck all of those cows.’
“This concept took me a while to realize, probably about 30 years – no, make it 50 years. The epiphany came from playing with an orchestra. You might think that having 60 guys blasting away is quite loud, but it actually isn’t. It’s powerful, but the true volume level is very low compared to one Marshall amp. My career of playing with big, bad amplifiers, with a dynamic range of five to 11, didn’t prepared me of playing with orchestras where the dynamic range was from four to zero. And even then, the oboe that’s playing the beautiful little melody that I wrote, that’s acoustic. There’s 60 guys on stage, but they’re not always playing; sometimes it’s just that oboe.
“You won’t achieve that fast single-stroke roll by pressing yourself and saying, ‘Faster, faster, faster!’ You’ll get it by evening out your wrists and playing slowly and correctly. When you do it slowly and your muscles learn to do things correctly, then when speed is called for in moments of high drama on stage, you can pull it out and play it better and faster than you would in the practice room.
“In practice, you’re looking for perfection. To achieve that, you look for the right speed where you can get your rudiments perfectly and you never go above that. Because in practice if you go above that and you play imperfectly, then you’re teaching yourself ‘wrongness.’
“There’s the drum room and there’s on stage – very different rules apply. In the drum room, you’re thinking about yourself; you’re obsessing over every detail of your technique, how to improve it, how to streamline it, how to even it out and tidy it up. You achieve that by doing it well within the bounds of what you can execute.
“This means that you’re listening to the band and everything around you, not yourself. It’s the opposite of being in the drum room where you’re listening to yourself and working to improve what you’re doing.
“In the band room, you’re focused on the band and you’re not thinking about yourself at all. You’re not thinking about your rudiments or the ‘correctitude’ of what you’re doing. You’ve past the exam, you’ve got your diploma, so you’re not obsessing on that stuff. Now you’re listening to what the other people are doing. You are the bassline. You are the vocals even. That’s what your mind is on.
“And what happens is, you’re not inside your instrument; you’re outside your instrument. Your whole consciousness is about where you are in the song and what the rest of he band is doing.
“Rock ‘n’ roll musicians generally find out on the day what’s to be expected of them. Whether you’re a session drummer or you’re showing up for rehearsal with the band, you’re basically expected to think on your feet. You hear the groove and you come up with something.
“If there’s any opportunity for you to be prepared, particularly if they’re paying you by the hour, take it. If you can get an inkling of what the material is going to be, if you can get a read on the vibe of the artist – anything you can find out can be beneficial.
“It’s not uncool to show up prepared for the gig. Do your homework. You can do the pose of ‘Hey, what are we doing today?’ – that’s fine. But make sure you’ve checked it out before you’ve left home. Google the artist and learn anything you possibly can. If you’re prepared, you can think on your feet, and you can come up with cool shit and be creative.”
“It’s a simple fact that the second or third song in the set are better than the first song. They just feel better – everything’s better. If you can get yourself to that state in the first song by warming up, which is stretches and rudiments, then that’s a good thing.
“Warming up means you’re pumped – you’re not waking up and walking on stage. You’ve got your heart rate going. You’re relaxed but alert. Your wrists are loose and ready. If the guitarist is running through scales backstage, that’s great. Drummers can use a towel and run through stuff.
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