“I don’t play any other instruments, I’m just into drums.” It’s a common sentiment, and whilst it’s not the wrong approach, there are significant benefits for the drummer that is able to play another instrument.
I’ve been playing drums since before the age of five years. It was actually in my fifth year that my beloved parents took the chance and got me that noisy first kit. I learned by ear, watching and copying a guy playing at my local church. My drum kit journey had begun and I was hooked.
My family is a musical one, but I’m the only drummer. Everybody else – my Dad, uncles, and cousins - would all play the guitar. Curiously, at the age of eight years, one of my uncles showed me a D and an A chord on the guitar, and sang the simple song ‘How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?’. He challenged me to be able to play the two chords, and subsequently the song, before the next time we had a family birthday party and saw each other again. I accepted the challenge and won. My mother secretly signed me up for guitar lessons and so I had formal training with a well-respected guitar teacher, Tony Calabro, for the next 10 years until I finished high school.
The drums were always there though, and whilst I had lessons from time to time, my formal musical training before university was on the guitar. I learned to read music, understand chord progressions, riffs, finger picking, playing by ear, improvising, jazz voicings and even sing. I only chose to focus on the drums at a VCE level because of my group/band experience, and the opening for a position in the class. If I had have done Solo Performance, I would have played guitar, because my reading was better. This decision was ultimately the reason I then pursued drums in tertiary studies and it subsequently became the instrument of my career.
Interestingly, however, I owe so much of the way I play drums nowadays to the guitar. When I play in a band I can understand the different chord progressions, I can play them and I can hear when the guys hit certain chords or play the turn around. It’s my understanding of these things that allow me to be a better member of the rhythm section, because I’m conscious of the parts. It works the other way too; my feel on the guitar when playing riffs or accompanying a singer is better and more settled because of my drumming.
Above all though, I think the best thing about learning the guitar was the exposure I had to different styles of music. I had to play jazz, rock, ballads, country, classical, Latin and so on. I learned, from an early age, to appreciate a beautiful chord progression or melody, and why composers use certain chords where. So many great musicians I know play multiple instruments and it makes them even more proficient on their primary one.
If you’re reading this, and you’re a drummer with no knowledge of any other instrument, you’re not doing anything wrong, but you could be missing out on a wonderful thing. Knowledge of chord progressions is a great thing for a drummer. Regardless of the instrument, I’d encourage you to check out the rest of the family, it’ll help your playing.