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The 80/20 Rule for Playing Drums in a Band

Have you heard of the the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle? In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He developed the principle after observing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

In everyday life, the 80/20 rule is when you can get 80% of the results you want by focusing on the most important 20% of tasks. And in order to get the last 20% of the results, you need to concentrate on the remaining 80% of less important tasks. The key to applying the 80/20 rule is understanding which tasks are the most important.

What does an Italian economist have to do with drumming? The 80/20 rule can also be applied by a drummer learning to play in a band.

You see, while other drumming experts think that you need to spend all your time practicing technique…

…I’ve always said that you should spend most of your time learning songs and a minimum amount of time learning technique…especially when you’re first learning to play.

The secret to being a drummer who gets gigs playing in bands has little to do with awesome technique.

It, instead, has to do with how good you are at playing songs and how you compliment the other players in the band.

Why I Spend 80% Of My Time Learning to Play Songs

If you spend time practicing rudiments on the snare drum to impress yourself, your friends and other drummers, chances are that you will not have time to learn the beats and techniques on the drum set to play songs that will get you into a band. It may be okay for a while but eventually you may get bored, or worse yet, give up on the drums.

Here’s the truth:

It’s better to learn just enough technique playing all the parts of the drum set than to spend a lot of time learning to play one drum. In other words, it’s best to learn the basics of hitting the drums and cymbals, and playing the bass drum and hi-hat so you can quickly start playing your hands and feet together in a unified drum beat.

Or, in other words, practice technique 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time learning how to play songs.

Technique is Essential (and anything less than your best work isn’t good enough)

If you’re like me, you truly CARE about drum technique.

I bet some drummers and drum teachers are thinking, “Doug doesn’t care about technique.” But that’s not true.

In my younger days when I was playing on the road with bar bands I would spend up to 5 hours a day practicing drum set technique.  Even today, I’m always practicing exercises to improve my skills.

I’m striving to have the best drumming technique possible because I know it will help me create and play the best drum parts for the songs I learn.

(Note: Just because I spent that much time practicing technique at one time in my career, doesn’t mean you need to spend that much time on technique to become a great drummer.  At the time I mistakenly felt that the only way to become a better drummer was by having better technique, and I ignored the fact that it was just as important to apply that technique musically.)

So, having “good enough” drumming technique is ESSENTIAL so you can play songs musically.

That’s why it’s up to you to learn a beat or fill and then apply it to playing a song.  Technique is no good unless it’s used to play music.

The “Technique Only” Myth Debunked

You might be thinking, “Well, why does everyone else say you need to have great chops to be a successful drummer?”  By the way, “chops” is musician slang for technique.

The truth?

Many of the people who preach “chops, chops, and more chops,” are teachers who learned from great symphonic and rudimental drummers who focused on the snare drum only.  Or they learned from great jazz drummers who were more concerned about personal expression than about playing songs with a band.

In those musical settings, drummers with great technique are admired.

(Don’t get me wrong, I really admire these great drummers too.)

But what I’ll call “popular” music is different.  And by “popular” I mean Pop, Country, Folk, Americana, Alternative, Blues, Metal…any music with a rock & roll beat.

Here’s What Happened With Popular Music…

Up until The Beatles became popular in the 1960’s, all popular music was recorded by studio musicians.  The studio drummers were either classically trained symphonic drummers or technically proficient jazz drummers.

But bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones changed that.  It was more important for the sound of “the group” to be recorded than it is to have a group of hired studio musicians backing up a singer.

Point #1:  In the 60’s and 70’s, there were still some bands (like The Monkees) who did not play on their hit recordings but by the mid-70’s most (if not all) “bands” were playing their own instruments.

Point #2: Today, having a good do-it-yourself recording is the best way for a band to get noticed.  But new bands just starting out do not have the money to hire studio musicians to make their recordings sound super professional.  That’s where you come in.

To get into a band, you can no longer rely on only great drumming technique.

Now you’ve got to play MUSICALLY with the rest of the band, and “play for the song.”

Yes, this is harder to learn because there’s not much information about it, but the good news is this:

You don’t need to have that much technique to get started.

I look at my career, and I’ve always been able to find a drumming gig…ALWAYS!

All because I focused on learning songs… and then focused on playing the best I could to make whatever band I was playing with sound great.

The Question Is: How Do You Learn to Play Drums in a Band?

That’s the BIG question:

“Okay, I get it. Learn just enough technique, then learn to play with a band. But how?”

That’s where I come in.

I reveal many of my favorite musical principles, and powerful drumming strategies inside my training course The Musical Drummer.

I’m a firm believer in giving away lots of free content to help build the drumming community and then, occasionally – to pay the bills, charging a small amount for some premium secrets.

So, what I’m going to do is this:

Even though you can buy The Musical Drummer right now, I’m willing to send you part of the course for free to get you started IMMEDIATELY.  This 4 week email drum lesson mini-course will show you the basics of drumming and get you playing songs on the drums…all for free.

I’ll include lessons about how to play a basic drum beat, where to play drum fills in a song, and what are the parts of a drum set.  I’ll also include example play-along songs, tips on how to read music and how to have the proper mindset to be a successful drummer in a band. Better yet, this song-learning strategy has worked in the past and will continue to work in the future.

In the mean time, what I’d like you to do is leave a comment letting me know about the problems you’ve had learning to play the drums.

What’s been holding you back from playing drum beats and fills? What’s stopping you from jamming with friends and joining a band?

Also, to ensure you don’t miss out on the free 4 week course, make sure you sign up for the Learn Drums Now mailing list below.

(If you’re already on it, and know someone who can benefit from this training, tell them to sign up for the list).

Also, if you haven’t even started playing the drums, read this article about Learning to Play Drums in 4 Weeks.

5 Responses to “The 80/20 Rule for Playing Drums in a Band”

  1. Augustin Cournot says:

    Great post.

    Here are my two cents.

    Technique will pave the way for better musical expression. Too often I argue with uneducated drummers who simply state technique makes one “unmusical” because they themselves lack the discipline to burn calories with their brain. Those who do not practice technique will hit a roadblock, as their brains will not be able to think outside of the boundaries the limit themselves to. Or, they might be able to think about concepts but execution is becomes a problem.

    In John Riley’s words (paraphrased) we practice absurd techniques to make the simple things even simpler. If you can lift a thousand pounds, 5 pounds will be no sweat!

    Now get out there and practice some technique!

    • Doug says:

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful response, Augustin. I agree that technique is the foundation for being able to express yourself musically and that, without a technical foundation, a drummer will only progress to a certain point.

      I believe in a healthy balance between learning musicianship and technique. For the beginning drummer, I think it’s more important to learn songs and understand how to play with others than to focus entirely on technique. This starts a positive, upward spiral: Learn songs, have fun playing with other musicians, get more engaged with drumming, practice technique, learn more songs, play with better musicians, and so on. As a drummer becomes more accomplished, they naturally start using a bigger part of their practice time for technique.

      I also agree with and follow the concept of being “over-chopped” by practicing above the level at which you play. I had the wonderful opportunity to study with the great drum teacher Billy Moore in Los Angeles. During one of our first lessons, he drew a circle on a piece of paper. He pointed to the top of the circle and said, “This is where you are today, struggling to play a simple beat with feeling.” As his finger followed the circle around clockwise, he said, “You will take lessons, spending hours studying and practicing. You will play in bands, and strive to play complex beats and incredible fills.” When his finger reached the top of the circle again he said, “But in the end, you’re going to end up right back in the same place: Wanting to play a simple beat with feeling.” This is the place I find myself today. I’ve studied and practiced many hours over the years, playing many different kinds of music with many great musicians. And what gets the most compliments and appreciation from other musicians? Playing a simple beat with feeling. Of course, I’m always looking for opportunities to throw in some incredibly technical fills :)

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Aaron knight says:

    Do you have a recording of the 6 powerful drum beats
    I mean YouTube or a cd accompanying the course

  3. Ernest says:

    I am right handed, but play like a left handed, is that okay?