…for beginners, educators, anxious mothers and those who still don’t think drums are musical instruments.
1. It’s intensely physical:
- The practice of all musical instruments requires a good deal of physical control and perhaps even some stamina, but drums no more so than other instruments. If you want ‘physical’, try acoustic bass, or blowing a saxophone, or standing all day with a violin under your chin. I eternally try to encourage beginners to play quietly on their drum set. Fast and light is much harder than slow and heavy. Musical instruments have a maximum volume quite easily reached, beyond which you simply break it and beyond which you’re either wasting your time or showing off. Besides, the drummer sits down for a couple of hours at the gig, unlike the guitarist in front of her with triple-necked instrument round her neck weighing about 60 pounds.
2. It’s all about hitting things:
- Well, it’s all about striking things, but then so is a piano, another percussion instrument. Striking something with intent to extract the most appropriate sound is not the same as hitting something as hard as possible.
3. Drummers sweat a lot:
- They used to, because they were surrounded by infernal floor lights or a row of incandescent lamps suspended above them in a low-ceilinged club. Being on a riser brought the drummer within an inch of a suntan. Now that everything is low-heat LED drummers sweat no more than anyone else on stage. Keep up with technical developments, and stay awake at the back.
4. Can’t be practised at home without deafening others:
- Not true, phone books, practice pads and electronic drums make excellent practice surfaces. Electronic drums found a huge market in Japan precisely because they could be played in small Japanese apartments with paper-thin walls without disturbing the neighbours. I spent years on hotel pillows and phone books opened to different degrees of thickness (to give a sense of pitch), laid out on the floor. Plus, the attractive pattering of sticks on a practice pad or electronic set is immediately drowned out by the scraping of your sister on violin or brother on trumpet – both of which instruments must be played naturally to produce a decent tone.
5. You can’t play drums on your own:
- The virtual world has seen an end to that. Some ‘stay-home’ YouTube drummers have a burgeoning career catering for other drummers through online drum instruction. Others offer dazzling feats of technical dexterity. Drum shops sell dozens of kits to hobbyist drummers who like nothing better than to relax by putting on the headphones and playing along to their favourite tracks at home. At the other end of expertise, today’s top drummers give clinics and demonstrations in solo performance, and frequently combine with others in drum-duo or drum-trio performance.
6. Drums aren’t musical instruments:
- The usual evidence brought forward to underpin this statement is that drums ‘have no pitch’. On the contrary, drums are indefinitely or semi-definitely pitched. The ear discerns one drum to be higher pitch than another. Those indefinite pitches affect the music. Listen to anything by Max Roach, or Terry Bozzio’s pitched drumming.
7. Studying drums during school or college will just mean more hours away from the books:
- Possibly so, but those hours, if not wasted, will likely boost academic achievement. There is a growing literature on the multiple benefits of studying any musical instrument, among which are listed improvements in co-ordination, discipline, confidence, attention to fine detail, application to the task in hand, and patience. All these qualities and skills transfer easily to academic study: no hour spent honestly in deliberate practice on a drum kit is ever wasted.
8. Drummers are not musicians:
- It is a common myth is that drummers don’t need to know how music works. Not true: many drummers play a second instrument to at least rudimental standard, if only to compose songs on it. Jack DeJohnette, Gary Husband, Asaf Sirkis, Phil Collins, Chad Wackerman, Cindy Blackman-Santana, and the guy from Radiohead all play second instruments to a standard often better than other instrumentalists play drum kit. (Perhaps this is over compensation for the pitched-instrument prejudice). If you want to get past first base, you’ll at least need to know how and why the song is constructed the way it is and why you should be careful not to trip up at measure nine.
9. It’ll damage your hearing.
- Unlikely if you’re smart about it. I did 41 years and my hearing is average for a man of my age. I never used earplugs, because they weren’t around much in my day, but also because there is a danger they will make you play louder to compensate, which makes everybody else play louder. These days modern in-ear monitoring offers a level of control such that you can have whatever you want in your ears at whatever level you want it. In the Old Days, after the arrival of heavy amplification and before in-ears, the terminally stupid would avoid ear-plugs and monitor their drums from two huge wedge monitors on the floor, right by their ears. Sure, the drums sound great if you turn the monitors up to oblivion, but with that flattery comes potential ear-damage. You need to think about it.
10. Drummers are stupid:
- Careful now – I have a PhD. As do British drumming-academics Dr. Mark Doffman, Dr. Gareth Dylan Smith, Dr. Matthew Brennan, and Australian Dr. Grant Collins, to name a few. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that, in parallel with other musical instruments, drumming may be beneficial to the brain and mind. Christiane Northrup, M.D. suggests that the physical transmission of rhythmic energy to the brain actually synchronises the left and right hemispheres, enhancing your ‘inner guidance system’, or intuition. Northrup goes on to suggest that “the sound of drumming generates new neuronal connections in all parts of the brain. The more connections that can be made within the brain, the more integrated our experiences become. This leads to a deeper sense of self-awareness”.
And here’s a free bonus for getting this far:
11. Drumming will make you rich:
- In monetary terms? Highly unlikely. In friends, experiences, and improved cognitive skills? Almost inevitable.
So there we are. Now go and get those tubs and quit worrying!
 The origins of this myth are explored in greater depth in my recent book ‘Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer’ (2018) University of Michigan Press.
 Christiane Northrup MD: https://www.drnorthrup.com/health-benefits-drumming/