To discover what role to play in the music, work with the musical director, composer or arranger and use your musical intuition. Ask yourself what the music needs. Is it grooving, or more coloristic? Is it mysterious, or driving? (Or mysteriously driving..) What is the story the arrangement is telling? What are the dynamics in each section, and when does it peak? Listen to the sum total of all the instruments (and vocals) and find your spot.
Generate the time feel, whether you are playing, filling, hitting a figure, or resting. The way to work on this is to slow things down and magnify them.
When people first try to improvise, they sometimes make the mistake of playing too much, or too busy. They don’t leave any space. Can you imagine trying to have a conversation with a person who talks like that? Spaces give more meaning to what you say. Take a breath……Doesn’t that feel better?
Sources and inspiration for improvisation are everywhere. Have you ever played the sound of the wind blowing the leaves around? How about underwater life? Or maybe the feeling of being in the back seat of a NYC cab (when the driver is in a hurry)?
The “f*ck-it factor” is for those times when you have to play music when may not be feeling right. Perhaps you’re nervous, self-conscious, tired, sick, angry or stressed. Simply say “F*ck it!” and play anyway.
When you’re playing music, always be ready to change your part in a moment’s notice, if necessary. This requires you to have several alternatives ready to go at any moment.
Interpreting musical compositions with the drum set is not only about playing grooves, fills and solos. You must know the music – the melody, harmony, rhythm and the overall tone color – in order to decide what to play.
Whether you’re practicing a snare drum etude, a drum set coordination exercise, a rudiment, or a big band chart, always ask yourself: “Is this grooving as hard as it could?”
Look up from the drums. Look at the singer, the soloist, or whomever you’re playing with. You need to communicate with the rest of the band, and connect with the audience. Don’t be afraid to get out of your bubble.
One of the most valuable things you can work on is your tempo. To do this, you must first analyze and identify the spots where the tempo is inconsistent. If you rush or drag, find out where you tend to rush and drag. Knowing yourself is the first step.