What do you call someone who makes a lot of noise and hangs around musicians? While drummers tend to be at the butt of musical jokes like this one, as the backbone of the band they deserve much more credit than they are given. National Drummer Day takes place every year on Nov. 15, making it the perfect time to talk about why there is more to the art of drumming than meets the untrained ear.
The history of drumming goes back to 5500 B.C. when the first drums ever recorded were found in China. Drums have been considered a sacred instrument in civilizations around the globe for thousands of years. In addition to being used in religious ceremonies and rituals, the instrument has also been found to be used as means of communication over long distances, such as the Talking Drum in Africa being used to send tribal news quickly at distances of up to 20 miles away.
Cymbals were invented around 3000 B.C., with origins tracing back to China and Turkey. Modern cymbals were brought to the United States by the Zildijan family, whose Armenian name translates to “cymbal makers’ son.”
Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler, a New Orleans snare drummer from the late 1800s, is credited with discovering how to reduce the number of musicians making up drum rhythm sections. Dee Dee devised a way to play the bass drum by stepping on a pedal while playing the snare simultaneously. The modern five-piece drum kit that consists of a bass drum and foot pedal, snare, toms, hi-hat and cymbals came together at the same time as the early 20th century jazz scene in New Orleans.
But what is a drum kit without the musician holding the drumsticks? Isla Vista drummer Joe Vliestra, fourth-year economics & accounting major at UCSB, provided some insight on his drumming journey that has led him to play in two I.V. bands: Juice Force and Dawn Patrol.
Vliestra has been drumming since the age of four when his dad introduced him to the instrument. Vliestra was originally not a fan of playing because it “didn’t click for a while.” However, with time, the drums grew on him. He now finds satisfaction in the “very technical and mathematical aspect” of drumming.
The drums act as a “playground for expressing your ideas” says Vliestra. To make his playing stand out, Vliestra likes to “use every tool you have on the drums instead of doing a standard fill everyone would do, like using different parts of the kit in unique ways to make it sound different than what has been done before.”
A source of inspiration for Vliestra is Morgan Simpson, the drummer for the London-based band Black Midi. He’s drawn to their music because it sounds like “organized chaos.” Vliestra says Simpson contributes to their distinct sound in that “his parts are very complex but work together with the guitar and vocals to build such a broad loud sound that he’s still able to bring down during the softer sections.”
Vliestra acknowledges that while the drums serve as an energy-booster, they can act as a “a double edged sword. Because if you’re trying to do too much and you’re not in time or showing off a little too much, you can turn into the lead drummer when it doesn’t need to be like that.” He mentions that with time, a drummer can master the art of “knowing when to step out and have your moment, [and then] fall back in.”
With more time spent playing with the same musicians, drummers can better anticipate the flow of the performance. He explains how when you “play with [people] a lot” you build a “subconscious musical connection with them,” which Vliestra feels helps him and his band members better improvise together and keep their music interesting.
“It can be really discouraging because you’re always comparing yourself to other people,” said Vliestra when asked about what advice he would give to aspiring drummers. “Explore by yourself what [it is that] excited you about [drums] personally.” If you are a beginner drummer, Vliestra recommends paying attention to what the drummer is doing in a song, which can help you make your own creative choices when playing. Figure out “not just what, but why.”
Vliestra’s band, Dawn Patrol, has been recording and releasing new music, which is available to listen to on Spotify. Follow @dawnpatrolband & @juiceforceband on Instagram to keep up with upcoming shows.
Whether you want to use drums as a new creative outlet or as a way to connect with fellow musicians, drumming has something to offer to every player. So, in honor of National Drummer Day, ease up on the jokes and tell a drummer just how much you appreciate them.
This appeared in the November 16 Daily Nexus printed edition