Evaluating Your Drumming Skills by Considering Your Band Mates

Old Drummer

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There's a saying that nobody is a good judge of themselves, and I suspect that's true. Although I have opinions about how good or bad a drummer I am, I'm never sure that my opinions are accurate. Sometimes I'm even surprised when the opinions of others deviate sharply from my own. Accordingly, I find myself subconsciously looking for external standards to use to assess my own skills. My guess is that other drummers do this too, again often subconsciously.

There are many such standards, including things like how much money you've made drumming, how many gigs you've played, and how prestigious the venues. At levels above mine, the standards might include record sales, critical reviews, and maybe even whether or not you've been on the cover of the Rolling Stone. More mundanely, I think we tend to use the quality of the gear we own or maybe only want as a measure of our competence.

On the surface, measuring drumming competence by the quality of the drummer's gear is easily inaccurate. Bad drummers sometimes buy quality gear and good drummers sometimes play lower quality gear. But more subtly, gear quality may be a decent measure. For instance, I own a set of Gretsch Catalina Maples that I'm perfectly happy with. But when I read discussions of these drums on this forum and elsewhere, I keep seeing opinions like "good for the price," "good enough," and "acceptable until you can afford better." Since I can't even distinguish between my Cats and better drums, I'm left to conclude that I'm not at the level of the drummers who can. As a drummer, I'm therefore probably "good for the price" or "good enough," but not really good.

But today I realized that for those of us getting up in years, a good measure of our competence is probably the competence of the other musicians who have been willing to play in bands with us. That is, people who are much better than we are probably won't want to work with us regularly, while we don't want to work regularly with players who are a lot worse than us. Probably over time most members of the same bands are at about the same level of musicianship.

I therefore thought back, counted 21 people I've considered band mates over the years, and tried to assess their level of musicianship. Of course, I've played with way more than 21 people, but I excluded those I only worked with occasionally. I only included those who I believe thought of themselves as being in the same band with me over a period of a year or longer that included multiple gigs.

I then made four categories of competence:

1. Full-time professional musicians--the people who earn their livings as performing musicians.

2. Semi-professionals in the business--the performing musicians who earn part of their livings by teaching, working in music stores, or otherwise engaged in the business.

3. Semi-professionals with other careers--the weekend warriors who know they'll never be full-time in the business and devote the bulk of their energy to another career.

4. Amateurs--those who are over their heads in bands and usually aren't, but who are sometimes members because they happened to be available (a lot of bass players).

Using these four categories, I could only count one band mate in the first category of full-time professional musician--and I don't know how that went for him. He might have ended up owning a bar or auto repair shop in Florida (a common ending for professional musicians), but last I heard he was a full-time player and touring.

In fairness, several of my other band mates were capable of being full-time professional musicians, at least in my opinion, and two or three of them were full-time for a year or two. But I think the practical difficulties of earning a steady living as performers coupled with other passions dissuaded them. These other passions, I think, are underappreciated. Not everybody aspires to be a full-time musician, and not everybody who passes on the career does so because of the difficulties. Some good musicians are good at other things too, and simply choose to focus on something else.

In any event, the rest of my band mates are fairly evenly split among the other three categories. There's about an equal number I'd place in each of the categories 2 through 4.

I'd guess by this measure, I fall somewhere between category 2 and 4, or therefore in category 3. Actually, this is probably correct. I certainly never aspired to go full-time or even to be in the business, but had a totally different career. On the flip side, I like to think that I'm better than an amateur, and I've been in too many bands to conclude that I am. I'm probably a category 3 drummer, which I guess is about the level of Gretsch Catalina Maples too.

Anyway, I just found it interesting to assess myself indirectly by considering those who have been willing to be in bands with me.
 

A.TomicMorganic

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Regardless of skill level, in my career as a guy who earned his living as a drummer, playing with other musicians who have day jobs will sooner or later cause conflict with bookings that will cause them to miss gigs. It's not how well you play that qualifies pros. It's commitment. Band comes first. I know a lot of great players who just play part time.
 

drummer5359

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I'm not a pro, never have been, But, over the years I have been fortunate to play with people who supported themselves as musicians their whole lives. (Pros.)
 

bassanddrum84

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I’ve been consistently gigging since I was 15, 36 now. I not only support myself but my wife and 4 kids. Ive had maybe 4 jobs outside of music. Longest being 8 years in which I still made more money gigging. That was 6-7 years ago. I’ve been very fortunate enough to play with very good musicians, and have had experiences 90% of people I went to school with will never have. I’ve never been fired from any band and my longest running band was 10 years. I’m very grateful for being a musician. I’ve busted my ass my whole life practicing while other kids were riding bikes or playing sports. I have music to thank for everything.

gear should never determine how good a player is. I see drummers like Eric Moore using a run of the mill pdp kit same with Thomas Lang. Granted both endorsers of dw. But to determine someone’s talent buy there gear isn’t really a way by any means. I have expensive kits and I have non expensive piecetogether kits. I will gladly take either out and not think twice about it.

I will gladly take out a first act Walmart kit with my dw hardware and play it no different then my sjc custom kit. And no one in the crowd will Know a difference. So gear quality isn’t even a decent measure.

I judge a drummer or any musicians on how well he works with others. Do they click? What’s the longest they’ve been in a band. I’ve been with amazing bass players that didn’t even need to practice could just run and lock right in. He had the laziest work ethic just naturally blessed. And I’ve played with root note playing bass players that are content. Guess who’s been in a band longer and stays working? The root note player. I find if a musician has been in a ton of bands it’s usually because they don’t get along well with others atleast that’s the case around my area.
 
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pwc1141

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Where I live, a few things will outweigh the level of musicianship in band member selection. There are some great players whose egotistic attitude disbars them, there are the heavy drinkers, there are the lazy ones, there are the shabby dressers, there are those who don't have the right gear ....etc. etc. I have found that being a guy who can get along with and respect others, and in all ways act professionally, will get me gigs and those things are looked for in other players when I join any group. I have played with all levels and the most fun was when everyone was just an all round great guy to be on stage with.
 
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CC Cirillo

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Very thoughtful post, Old Drummer.

Using your categorical ratings, I feel blessed to have played with wonderful semi-professionals. Every band save one has made some form of money and that includes two playing originals.

We’ve all had career and family/relationship obligations, but have a common drive to make the band work fueled by precious ingredients—being earnest and sincere.

I’ve played with a few professionals, but those situations we’re always temporary, as they floated in and out of so many projects because of the nature of the business.

I’ve worked with bandmates who have made me a better player and also helped bandmates grow. It’s a flexible continuum tied together by the spark of creativity and the joy of intimacy.
 

Whitten

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Weird, I can't really connect the premise 'how good or bad a drummer I am' with the checklist - pro, semi-pro etc, etc...

There are good and bad in all categories, and 'good', 'bad' are so subjective.
It seems like your checklist more applies to 'success'. Again, it's subjective. If your goal is to play music all day every day and not do any other job, then you are a 'success' if you have been a pro drummer all your adult life. If your goal is to play great music with other great musicians in a weekend warrior type band, and you have, then you are also a success.

Back to the question....
I measure myself regarding good or bad based on feedback I get from others I respect, and based on my own critical ear ( that sometimes takes years to develop).
Record yourself. When I record myself I can hear if I'm achieving what I want to hear. I am perfectly willing to say to myself - that is bad, must improve.
I always try to be the worst one in any band. Nothing more boring or stagnating than being the best player. I ask a lot of questions of band members. It's hard to understand your weaknesses in the heat of the moment. Sometimes I've enjoyed a gig and thought I was great. then someone posts some clips on Youtube and I'm horrified.
When I first started making records I bent the ear of every recording engineer and producer, asking what I could do better, what I needed to work on.
You never stop learning. Experienced pros still take lessons, also still record themselves in the practice room.
 

GiveMeYourSmallestSticks!

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Weird, I can't really connect the premise 'how good or bad a drummer I am' with the checklist - pro, semi-pro etc, etc...

There are good and bad in all categories, and 'good', 'bad' are so subjective.
It seems like your checklist more applies to 'success'. Again, it's subjective. If your goal is to play music all day every day and not do any other job, then you are a 'success' if you have been a pro drummer all your adult life. If your goal is to play great music with other great musicians in a weekend warrior type band, and you have, then you are also a success.

Back to the question....
I measure myself regarding good or bad based on feedback I get from others I respect, and based on my own critical ear ( that sometimes takes years to develop).
Record yourself. When I record myself I can hear if I'm achieving what I want to hear. I am perfectly willing to say to myself - that is bad, must improve.
I always try to be the worst one in any band. Nothing more boring or stagnating than being the best player. I ask a lot of questions of band members. It's hard to understand your weaknesses in the heat of the moment. Sometimes I've enjoyed a gig and thought I was great. then someone posts some clips on Youtube and I'm horrified.
When I first started making records I bent the ear of every recording engineer and producer, asking what I could do better, what I needed to work on.
You never stop learning. Experienced pros still take lessons, also still record themselves in the practice room.
I love the idea of being the worst one in the band. Not that you always want to feel weaker than the others or be so much weaker that you can't keep up, but that you are made stronger by playing with skilled musicians. I happen to be a member of category 3, the weekend warrior with another full time gig. In this scenario, I've found it easy to find other musicians to play with, but somewhat more challenging to find those who will challenge me to play better.

To exemplify this point, I was in two bands simultaneously; one where I was the strongest musician by a mile, and held it down while the others tried to get through some 'stock' classic rock covers. They constantly fawned over how good I was, and how much fun it was to play with a great drummer who could actually play with dynamics. At the same time, I was getting started in a Grateful Dead cover band with some musicians who regularly blew me away with their ears and skills. This was the more challenging gig in terms of the material and the other musicians, and resulted in far more challenges and difficulty just working things out. There was less ego stroking praise and certainly less comfort, but playing with them was making me a better musician and I could hear my our progress as a band and individuals from rehearsal to rehearsal. Soon enough I ditched the first group in favour of devoting more time to the second, and my skills have grown exponentially in the 3 years I've been with them. They also praise my drumming and my ears, but are quick to offer (and receive) constructive criticism if it means making the whole thing work better.

The point being that A) These categories make sense, but there's perhaps more variation within one category than between any two, and B ) Self-improvement is seldom comfortable or easy, but the rewards are far more appealing than feeling so comfortable that you go nowhere. I would also agree that these categories don't necessarily relate to levels of success, as many of us are not looking to be full time musicians. If I am constantly being challenged and improving, and enjoying the chance to play at a high level with great musicians, I could personally care less whether I'm making money doing it. The value such a creative challenge has in my life is far greater than any monetary value I could put on it.
 

drums1225

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Interesting topic. Generally, over time, water seeks its level, but other factors come into play, especially when money is involved. Plenty of good players play with messy bands that pay well. I definitely have.

I just wanted to chime in on the OP's "categories of competence", as a full timer (well, you know...before the C-word) since 1997, and a "most-timer" since 1988. Remember one thing: plenty of sub-par musicians play and teach music full time, and plenty of good/great players choose not to pursue a full time music career, or choose not to gig at all.
 

Matched Gripper

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Weird, I can't really connect the premise 'how good or bad a drummer I am' with the checklist - pro, semi-pro etc, etc...

There are good and bad in all categories, and 'good', 'bad' are so subjective.
It seems like your checklist more applies to 'success'. Again, it's subjective. If your goal is to play music all day every day and not do any other job, then you are a 'success' if you have been a pro drummer all your adult life. If your goal is to play great music with other great musicians in a weekend warrior type band, and you have, then you are also a success.

Back to the question....
I measure myself regarding good or bad based on feedback I get from others I respect, and based on my own critical ear ( that sometimes takes years to develop).
Record yourself. When I record myself I can hear if I'm achieving what I want to hear. I am perfectly willing to say to myself - that is bad, must improve.
I always try to be the worst one in any band. Nothing more boring or stagnating than being the best player. I ask a lot of questions of band members. It's hard to understand your weaknesses in the heat of the moment. Sometimes I've enjoyed a gig and thought I was great. then someone posts some clips on Youtube and I'm horrified.
When I first started making records I bent the ear of every recording engineer and producer, asking what I could do better, what I needed to work on.
You never stop learning. Experienced pros still take lessons, also still record themselves in the practice room.
Excellent post! For me, music, like other demanding endeavors, is a perpetual process, an ongoing journey in search of improvement. I try not to judge myself to much about how good I am, or how good others think I am. Although I appreciate validation from fellow musicians as much as anyone, my primary motivation is improvement. I hope to be better tomorrow than I am today.
 

RIDDIM

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You could assess yourself by the level of folk who hire you - or by the quality of the music you make and the validity of your contribution to it.

Not all of us are in LA, Nashville, or NYC.

All of us can commit to making the best of the situations we're in, and elevating everyone else's performance as a result. That's a big part of what great musicians do.
 

equipmentdork

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I personally just look for feedback from my bandmates and never get complacent. I get calls from people to play, and I'm good with that. Would that translate into something higher? Maybe, maybe not. I once soundchecked with a national artist, as the regular drummer was late, and was offered the gig, probably half-jokingly(I couldn't take it, anyway).I have neither the pedigree nor the resume of many here. I know where my strengths and weaknesses lie, mostly, but I'm always happy with either kind words or constructive criticisms from my peers.



Dan
 

Rick

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Excellent post! For me, music, like other demanding endeavors, is a perpetual process, an ongoing journey in search of improvement. I try not to judge myself to much about how good I am, or how good others think I am. Although I appreciate validation from fellow musicians as much as anyone, my primary motivation is improvement. I hope to be better tomorrow than I am today.
I'm with you on this. I've been fortunate (until COVID) to be playing with some really good pros the past few years. They are definitely better than me, but that's not my focus at all. For me, it's just all about the music and how we play together. Without a doubt, I am a much better drummer today for having played with these guys. And I appreciate the compliments I get from them and from "fans." But the thing I value most is the opportunity to improve as a musician/drummer and the many helpful tips I've picked up from these guys over the past few years. If there's something I need to do different, they've never hesitated to tell me. They're nice about it, and they know I appreciate it... so it's a great situation!
 

Deafmoon

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Gary Chester always said to me, the best way to measure how good a drummer is that’s playing, is if people are on the dance floor dancing.
 

Tolee66

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I love the idea of being the worst one in the band. Not that you always want to feel weaker than the others or be so much weaker that you can't keep up, but that you are made stronger by playing with skilled musicians. I happen to be a member of category 3, the weekend warrior with another full time gig. In this scenario, I've found it easy to find other musicians to play with, but somewhat more challenging to find those who will challenge me to play better.

To exemplify this point, I was in two bands simultaneously; one where I was the strongest musician by a mile, and held it down while the others tried to get through some 'stock' classic rock covers. They constantly fawned over how good I was, and how much fun it was to play with a great drummer who could actually play with dynamics. At the same time, I was getting started in a Grateful Dead cover band with some musicians who regularly blew me away with their ears and skills. This was the more challenging gig in terms of the material and the other musicians, and resulted in far more challenges and difficulty just working things out. There was less ego stroking praise and certainly less comfort, but playing with them was making me a better musician and I could hear my our progress as a band and individuals from rehearsal to rehearsal. Soon enough I ditched the first group in favour of devoting more time to the second, and my skills have grown exponentially in the 3 years I've been with them. They also praise my drumming and my ears, but are quick to offer (and receive) constructive criticism if it means making the whole thing work better.

The point being that A) These categories make sense, but there's perhaps more variation within one category than between any two, and B ) Self-improvement is seldom comfortable or easy, but the rewards are far more appealing than feeling so comfortable that you go nowhere. I would also agree that these categories don't necessarily relate to levels of success, as many of us are not looking to be full time musicians. If I am constantly being challenged and improving, and enjoying the chance to play at a high level with great musicians, I could personally care less whether I'm making money doing it. The value such a creative challenge has in my life is far greater than any monetary value I could put on it.
Reading this thread made me think of something my father, who was a drummer, played with some big names in the late 60’s and early 70’s told me. Always surround yourself with the best players you can find, the unit is only as good as its weakest member. He also told me to always have a career to fall back on, that it can be a bumpy road. I have been playing professionally since I was 16. One of my dads contacts called him to see if he would fill in for a show, he told them no, but my som we’ll do it. Helped me load up the car and sent me on my way. I am now 54, and I’m still at it. I also have a other career though. I’m a manufacturing engineer. I got into a career that was in demand. Like I saw someone post, band comes first and I have always treated it that way. I have walked away from high paying engineering positions in my career because the band was going on tour. It all about perception. We are on this earth for a good time not a long time so I feel you should enjoy
 

Rock Salad

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I do also kind of rate myself by the caliber of musicians I play with. So for songwriting, my relative drumming skills are rockin, but relative to bass playing I'm still working it out.
It kind of works since I have put some work in both of those endeavors. It's probably about accurate too. It took me years- more than I have put in drumming-to really get a handle on grooving bass, but songwriting is just more about honesty and attitude
 


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