2019 marks 100 years since the advent of the contemporary drum kit, so we ask how drummers have evolved and what their role means today.
Posted: 13 February 2019
Music is continually evolving, but one constant over the past hundred years has been that of the drummer. Have you ever tried to reimagine your favourite songs without the beats and breaks that power it along? It simply doesn’t work. However, that’s not to say that being a drummer is predictable, so with this in mind we look at what’s required of a drummer in 2019, and how you can stand out above the rest.
Simple right? The drummer lays the foundations, provides the pulse and brings the groove for the track, letting the rest of the band express themselves creatively. The beat of the track ties everyone together and the drummer proving themselves as a reliable timekeeper breeds trust amongst other players, ultimately leading to better music.
Drum kits are forever developing. The early kits from the 20s and 30s featured foot high cymbals that were referred to as a ‘low boy’, before becoming the hi-hat we know today. Moving into the 50s and players moved on from using animal skins to the first ever polyester drumheads. Fast forward to today and modern players have to combine electric and acoustic playing with the ability to perform a variety of styles.
An often repeated bugbear with modern drummers is the need to overcomplicate things. It’s the music that matters so a drummer may need to tone down their playing to best compliment the song. Drummers need to be able to use their ear and judgement as much as use their skills. Having said that being the backbone of the band doesn’t mean the drummer doesn’t get time in the spotlight, but the real value comes in knowing when to be the centre of attention and when to sit back.
Drummers and bassists together usually form the rhythm section of a band. Think of a band like a car, with the rhythm section taking the place of the engine to power everything along. Meanwhile the vocals and lead guitar are the bodywork and paint job. They add the creativity and key selling points but won’t get very far without the engine. It’s key that a drummer and bassist connect and work well together, whilst also taking input and direction from the other members.
As a guitarist/ vocalist/ other musician you can often get away with the odd mistake or bum note but this is not the case for drummers. Miss a beat or drop the tempo and it’s immediately noticeable to the band and the audience. This doesn’t just apply to the actual notes but also the dynamics and the feel of a song, with a drummer often responsible for leading the feel of the whole band.
Forget about the tired jokes of drummers not being able to write songs, today’s players need to contribute towards the creativity of a band. Plenty of drummers beat the skins as well as sing and write, for example Isaac Holman (Slaves), Michael Shuman (Mini Mansions and Queens of the Stone Age) and Lewis Williams (Press to MECO) have all carved out a niche as respected songwriters.
The drummer is an integral part of any band, but the role of today’s drummer has really expanded, especially creatively. We blame that pesky Dave Grohl for rewriting what’s expected of a drummer and making it much more difficult for the rest of us to get any credit.