Kick, Snare, Kick, Snare: Thoughts of a Self-Taught Drummer
It was my thirteenth birthday, Nov. 6, when I got my first drum set. I was in the eighth grade and my parents had asked me if I wanted one as a gift. Of course, I said yes. I didn’t grow up in a supremely wealthy home, so such an offer was hard to come by. One of my good friends at the time was a drummer and I had probably mentioned offhand that I thought it would be cool to learn. To date, I still have that same drum set and I’ve played at least 30 shows with. Granted, it’s been through its fair share of alterations, but the same shells are still there.
I started playing music when I was the fourth grade. I played the trumpet even though I had wanted so badly for Ms. Kennedy, my elementary school band teacher, to pick me to play drums as my first instrument. Alas, it was not to be. I went on to play the French horn in middle school before quitting band in favor of cross country and track in high school.
That being said, I consider myself self-taught when it comes to drumming; the only lessons I ever had were from my mom’s old coworker, Joey, an obsessed KISS fan. He knows how to play every KISS song (and probably most glam rock songs) ever created and even has Gene Simmons’ signature tattooed on his bicep to boot. He refused to let my mom pay him directly for the lessons (all three or four of them) and instead requested that he be paid in six packs of Red Bull.
I’m not entirely sure if there’s a certain way that most self-taught musicians end up progressing throughout their years by teaching themselves to play by ear. I taught myself how to play almost entirely by listening to other drummers in my favorite bands (at the time, anyway) and copying what they did. Thing was, I could never do exactly what they played in their songs so I ended up making up my own parts in order to fill in the gaps.
The first song I ever taught myself to play along with to was “Faint” by Linkin Park (you know the intro to that song was the coolest thing your middle school ears had ever heard). I would play with my crappy earphones on, cranked full-blast. I could still only halfway make out the song over the sound of my drums. The second song I ever taught myself was “Car Underwater” by Armor for Sleep. Anyone remember them?
Unfortunately, my family had to move into an apartment complex for a few years in high school, and I couldn’t play drums at all. At that point, I had been playing for three years but only matched up to someone who had been playing for maybe one year. In short, I was pretty terrible.
It was my senior year of high school (making me 16 at the time) when I finally decided that I wanted to get involved with some other musicians and get a band together. Anyone that grew up the Antelope Valley (Lancaster/Palmdale area) knows that the heart of the music scene out there is hardcore music, and my little group of friends and I were no different.
Problem was, I had never played in a band before. Hell, I had never even used a double bass pedal before. So, I bought one on sale on Guitar Center one day and tried it out.
When I first started playing with a double pedal, I couldn’t hold a sequence of hits on that thing for any longer than three in a row (for those of you who have no idea what that means, just know that it’s pretty awful).
Luckily, with a great deal of practice and dedication, I finally got to where I am now. Granted, that’s not very far at all in the grand scheme of things; 30 shows and a self-distributed five-song EP with my old band We Are Paramount is a meager number compared to most serious artists, but I can say that I’ve played shows with artists like Sleeping with Sirens, Jonny Craig, Eyes Set to Kill and Arsonists Get All the Girls, among others. I’ve played shows in Hollywood and Pasadena, and now at UC Irvine I’ve begun another chapter in my life with music.
Granted, I haven’t been able to find many people with the same musical interests as myself, but I’ve been having the greatest time playing with people of all different musical backgrounds and learning more about myself as a musician and pushing myself more than I ever have.
For now, I conclude with one of the most important lessons I’ve learned since I’ve been writing and playing music. It’s not about how hard your song is to play, or how many random time changes and sweeps you can stuff into four minutes. It’s about the passion that you can put into playing your songs and singing your lyrics (if you’re a singer, anyway). Granted, ornate songs do have their place in music and I do enjoy them, but the real gold lies in the raw emotions.
Until then, fill your listeners and your audiences with that passion you pour into your songs. Write music; don’t just cover songs you like on the radio (although that can be fun too). Play what you feel, and feel what you play.
This column is going to be dedicated to that journey as a musician, my thoughts on music and insight of what it means to write music and put yourself and your work out into the world of scrutiny. I hope you enjoy.