Thursday, July 26, 2012

Food For Thought: Listening Outside Of Your Instrument

Listening outside of your instrument
In my experience, any musician can fall into the trap of only listening to their particular instrument for inspiration.  There are a number of advantages to listening outside of your instrument, particularly for drummers. 



1.  Rhythmic genius isn't drum specific
As I mentioned in another post, the jazz musicians who have made the biggest impact on the music all had really deep rhythmic vocabulary, regardless of their instrument.  My favorite example of this is the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.  If you haven't already, check out his classic solo on "St. Thomas" (starts around :55):





Did you hear how he took that little two-note idea through all those hip rhythmic variations?  I have a whole exercise from my forthcoming book devoted to this solo, and you can easily see how Sonny's style of playing could translate on to the drums.

 2.  Unexpected inspirations
Adapting vocabulary from other instruments can help you discover some things that you would never have thought of either on your own or from listening to other drummers.  An example from my own experience is my adaptation of the infamous "sippitydum" (basically a dramatic triplet arpeggio) bass line lick.  Here is a video of me playing this lick re-imagined for the drum set:


Of course it is possible that you could come to this same idea by listening to drummers, or from some sort of rudimental exercise/approach.  My point is that that isn't how I came to this idea, and that you can't really anticipate what you will be inspired to try when you listen outside of your instrument. 

3.  Shared vocabulary
Another really practical advantage to listening outside of the instrument is to get a better sense of other instruments vocabulary.  The more you know about how non-drummers play, the more you will be able to relate to your band-mates on the gig.  Remember, you generally aren't going to be playing with other drummers, so familiarizing yourself with non-drum vocabulary will go a long way towards helping you communicate more effectively. 

Rhythm/Skull Island
4.  Escape from rhythm island
The big picture here is that rhythm is only part of music, melody and harmony are important parts as well.  Because of the constraints of our instrument, drummers can easily get a kind of rhythmic tunnel-vision that restricts our ability to listen to, understand, and play music.  And listening outside of the instrument is one of the best ways I know of to combat this jaundiced musical concept!