Why drummers really are the backbone of the band
31st Jul 2000 | 12:00
Guest drummers get chatty in a series of exclusive new blogs
Drum Expo 2013: "Being a drummer is to be a driver, not a passenger. We are the wind in the sails. We make the ship GO. It is well accepted amongst musicians that a mediocre band with a great drummer can sound truly great. The opposite is true as well. A great band with a poor drummer will not sound very good at all.
Obviously, these statements could be applied to all instruments, but it is arguably more of a truism when applied to drummers. Why? It is my belief that the drummer is the backbone of the band. By providing secure time, dynamic intensity and the right feel a drummer can make a song come to life. Why else would producers continue to use live drummers when everything else is programmed?
Drummers do more than merely keep time. Time keeping is certainly our prime directive and a drummer with bags of technique and no sense of time is about as useful to a band as a bicycle is to a fish. A drummer who keeps solid time makes the rest of the band feel secure and improves everybody's performance.
There is however, so much more to drumming. Drummers punctuate, embellish and set-up changes and rhythmic figures to make them come alive. Whether it be swing, reggae, funk or metal, part of a drummer's job is to highlight and accentuate the rhythms of the horn section or pick up on guitar riffs and vocal lines. Vaudeville drummers were famous for their lightning fast reflexes when it came to picking up on a dancer's kicks or a pie in the face of a clown. This all happens while maintaining a steady groove.
Drummers also have immense power within the rhythm section when it comes to dynamics. By bringing the volume and intensity up or down the drummer has the power to affect the way that everybody else plays, to shape the contours of a song or build the intensity of a guitar or sax solo.
Providing the right feel for a song is where drummers bring personality to the musical table. Drummers like Elvin Jones, Stewart Copeland, Zigaboo Modaliste, Chris "Daddy" Dave, Benny Greb, Poogie Bell and Carlton Barrett are musicians with strong, unique voices on their instruments and bring something extra to the music that they play. The ability to identify what a song needs and deliver it with the right sound and feel is an art that drummers need to develop in order to do their job well. Drummers need to drive the band.
A band without a secure, reliable, dynamic and expressive drummer is a band without strong foundations. In other words, a band without a backbone. And where would any of us be we be without a backbone? Think about it."
Erik Stams hails from NYC and has been a professional musician for over 25 years. He performs and records regularly and teaches in both London and South Wales. Erik is the Head of Drums at Tech Music School, London and writes a monthly column/video lessons for Rhythm magazine.