The Importance of Steady Playing
All music exists in time and space. Time refers to the pulse of the music, while space refers to the rhythmical components — notes and rests — that exist within a time span. Ninety-eight percent of the music that you will play on the drum set exists inside a strict box of time. This is because the drum set is used most commonly in popular music or music that has its roots in pop music.
When we talk about pop music in this book, we are not referring to the current Top 40. For our purposes, popular music includes any style of music that has earned a consistently large following and is used for entertainment (often celebratory) purposes in a public setting. In this sense, early jazz, rock 'n' roll, Latin, various ethnic musical styles, and country and western all have pop value.
Shall We Dance?
All of these genres of music have one common thread; they are all rooted in dance. Early jazz brought about the Charleston, the lindy hop, the jitterbug, and others. In the '50s, rock 'n' roll and rockabilly dancing became popular due in large part to Elvis Presley. The '60s saw the invention of the twist, but by the '70s, disco was all the rage. In the late '80s and beyond, people began free-dancing to prerecorded, electronic drum grooves. This raised the bar for real drummers who now had to compete with machines that played effortlessly and with perfect time.
Country and western music has long since been rooted in square and round dancing. Latin music is closely tied to such dances as the mambo, cha-cha, rumba, and others. Other ethnic styles of music are dance oriented as well. For example, the Irish enjoy playing and dancing to gigues and reels.
Your Role on the Bandstand
Nowadays, the drum set is called upon to propel all these styles of music. This is not to say that the sole purpose of the drum set is to get people out on the dance floor, but the drum set's evolution is due in large part to the development of popular dance and the demands of a public that likes to “cut a rug” to the music they see, hear, and buy.
The job of a drummer is to glue a band together, so no matter what style of music you play, you will need to focus a great deal on timekeeping. Other musicians depend on drummers for their “adhesive” qualities whether or not they like to admit it. If you ask your average bandleader what she or he is looking for in a drummer, most will probably say first and foremost, good time. To them this means more than just solid time, but the ability to smoothly guide a band through a tune by providing a comfortable springboard for a soloist and/or a singer. It is not surprising, then, when musicians complain that “the drummer rushes” or “the drummer drags,” this leads to the drummer getting sacked.
If you join a band, you will be looked upon with scrutiny, and if anything goes wrong with the time or feel of the tune, the finger will most likely be pointed at you. So the question is: How do you make sure that you have solid time? Once again, the answer always comes down to practice, self-awareness, and perseverance.