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This is a guest post by Dr. Branon McMichael. He is an independent drummer based out of Kansas City, Mo. He is a physician by day but his true passion is sitting behind the kit at church. Dr. Branon has been playing drums for 25 years and has extensive experience in worship, studio and live environments. Follow him on Twitter.  If you want to guest post on this blog,  check out the guidelines here.
[This is Part 1 of a 3-part series of posts]

Simple is what Simple Does…

In a band setting, how much you play makes a huge difference to those listening to you. Most amateur drummers make one big common mistake…

Minimal Drum Kit

Playing Too Busy

When I was growing up as a young lad and learning how to play drums, I wasn’t exactly teachable. I was the type A personality where I wanted to teach myself and, simply put, play how I wanted to play. I played busy and out of time… My playing was tasteless. I would often say to myself, “these drummers on the radio aren’t that great! I can do what they are doing! If they are so professional then why don’t they show it?” Boy was I wrong!

See, playing simple isn’t hard to do. In fact, it is quite easy to accomplish. I’m fully confident that any drummer can do this. It doesn’t require crazy chops or fast speed. And it honestly doesn’t even require much technicality.  So then why is it so hard for us drummers to play simple?

A Different Approach

Next time you play drums, try this approach:  Ask yourself, “What can I leave out?”, “What is the bare minimum I can play while still allowing the song to get the same point across?”. If the song is a straight beat ‘worship tune’ with the snare on 2&4 and the kick on 1&3, what else needs to be played? Does it call for a 16th note pattern on the hihats? Does a fill need to be played every 4 bars? Do you need to do that extra snare hit on the “a” of 2? How about the toms… They are there to be played right? Forget about them. Really try and strip the song down to the bare minimum. Then at that moment, you are most likely playing like a pro. Feels wrong doesn’t it? You feel that you aren’t adding enough flare or sparkle to the tune. Trust me, you are. In time you will get used to this feeling. You see, playing simple is one of the most basic fundamental things a drummer can do. Once mastered, you can build on it… But you just might find yourself increasingly eager to play less, just like the pro’s on the radio.

Have a listen to Chris Tomlin’s Your Grace is Enough from the Arriving album:

[tentblogger-youtube vpYtYYaTFGQ]

The drums on this album are a perfect example of playing simple. There are 14 fills in the entire song. All with 16th note variations on the snare. NO TOMS! This tune could have been tracked with only a Kick, Snare, Hi-Hats and a Ride Cymbal. Think about that! This song is currently listed at number 11 on CCLI’s top 100 list.

Hit me up in the comments and let me know how you are keeping things simple, because simply put, less is more.

Stay in the pocket,

Dr. B

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Tom McArdle says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. I have tried playing simpler , in other words, serving the song, for a while. I was always taught this, but didn’t always follow it. I like this quote the best from the article. “You see, playing simple is one of the most basic fundamental things a drummer can do. Once mastered, you can build on it” . The idea of mastering the basics, of musicianship, not just drumming itself, is very important. I think the “build on it” part is very important also. “less” is not always “more”. There are a lot of subtle and not so subtle things drummers can add to the music that are not basic, but not necessarily obvious to more casual listeners. And those things do not necessarily get in the way of the song, or of worship. Such things can and should enhance both.

    I wouldn’t want to stifle creativity in new or old drummers. This song above would not have been destroyed by toms, it would have been destroyed by tasteless toms. Also, if you tracked that song without a crash, I think it would have been less, not more. The fact that that song is currently #11 on CCLI probably has very little to with the details of the drumming, other than the fact that pop style songs are popular, and pop style drumming goes well with that.

    I think overall you make very important points, but I think you can go too far with this concept. Some music is very well served with intricate, complicated drumming, and worshipping the Lord with all our might should be more important than sounding like a certain type of drummer, or reaching #11 on a chart. Also, we all are unique, and experimenting, trying different things, and stepping outside musical boxes can be very healthy. That’s where new, cool, and God honoring stuff often comes from!

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