A few years back, I was doing some brainstorming to come up with new topics for some clinics I had coming up. There were several words that have come up over and over in my teaching experiences, and while I was driving one day, several of these words just fell into place in a surprisingly appropriate acronym. CHOICES. 

First of all, CHOICES is obviously a great acronym because at any given time, we all have the choice to convey our music, art, work, or whatever it is while employing each one of these concepts/actions/ideas. I’ll break down each word and explain a bit about how it is applied to my musicality.
Clarity. This one is huge. As a drummer, it is important that everything you play is clear. From the placement of the beat, to the set up of a hit, the fill leading to another section, etc. Even your ideas while rehearsing, suggestions for an arrangement, notation on charts you’ve written, grooves or textures highlighting different aspects of a tune, all need to be clear. Whether you are drumming, speaking, or writing, whatever you are trying to “say” needs to be clear.
Honesty. Honesty is always a good policy in life, right? Well, I believe it is an important aspect of music making as well. Being honest with yourself about what your goals, strengths, weaknesses are will help to take your playing, practicing, and career to the next level. Being honest with fellow musicians (in a positive way) about what’s working and what’s not working is always helpful. Is someone rushing or dragging? Is there an arrangement or song that’s not working? Did you play something in the studio that you didn’t mean to or that won’t work? Speak up. Make it right. Be honest about the music. Someone who is always honest is going to be reliable, helpful, and trustworthy. All traits you want in people who you associate with, right?
Openmindedness. The amount of music, knowledge, innovation, and ideas out there is staggering. Keeping an open mind is the best way to allow unexpected influence into your life, and sometimes that can be an incredibly beautiful thing. Often times, the “big break”, or lesson you needed to learn, or music you needed to hear, can come from the recording, experience, or person you least expected.
Intention. This is a word I use constantly while teaching. Nothing sounds worse than a musician who isn’t trying or is mindlessly noodling. There needs to be intention in every note you play for it to mean something. Think of every great drummer or musician who has inspired you. They mean everything they play, and that is why they are great. If you play with intention in every beat, tempo, feel, sound, texture, groove, note, dynamic, etc…you will always sound good.
Creativity. This is something that I’ve found can be lacking in established players. Children never have a problem being creative on an instrument, because the sky is the limit for them. Once we learn technique, theory, and stylistic tendencies, sometimes the creativity goes out the window. For instance, I hear accomplished players all the time who are in settings where they are playing the same thing every night (cover bands, show bands, etc) and playing becomes a job full of boring repetition. Embrace and nurture creativity. I’m not saying constantly solo all over the cover tunes at a wedding, obviously serve the gig and the music. But, if you are in a stale playing experience, learn more tunes, write more tunes, make up new exercises when you practice. The sky is still the limit.
Expression. I think the best musicians are the most expressive with their instrument. Now, there are many different ways of being expressive. From phrasing and note length, to almost weeping while singing, or raw power and smashing instruments. Drummers especially have a tendency to learn a beat and play it over and over without thinking about being expressive. Just look at the most basic kick, snare, kick, snare drum beat. Now find examples of Steve Gadd, Steve Jordan, Dennis Chambers, Matt Chamberlain, Hal Blaine, and Jim Keltner all playing that groove. They all sound different, because these master drummers have learned to express themselves through the instrument and even through the confines of that simple beat. Texture, shading, dynamics, tone, feel, subdivision, and many other concepts factor in to playing expressively on the drums. Don’t overlook these important concepts.
Sensitivity. This is important on many levels. First of all, you need to be sensitive technically, so that you can play softly or loudly or whatever the moment calls for. You also need to be sensitive to the other musicians by listening, so that you can hear everyone in the band and know how to interact. This is also true of the balance within your limbs on the kit as well as the balance of the drums within the band. You also need to be sensitive to the environment. A quiet restaurant will require much softer playing than a club. Every room sounds different, every instrument is different, every musician plays and responds differently on any given night, so it’s important to be sensitive to all of those factors.
So there you have it, a short breakdown of each one of these concepts and how they apply in my experience as a drummer/musician. Of course, each one of these could be a lifelong study in itself, but really I think it’s important to remember that you have CHOICES and you can choose to work on each one of these concepts and try to employ them all simultaneously. As if you didn’t have enough to work on, right?

1 comment

  • Randy Charles
    Randy Charles Hartford, WI
    Great post Wayne! No matter how old one is, those traits are very valuable. You have made me think about how I go about my own playing. Can't wait to get at the kit tomorrow!

    Great post Wayne! No matter how old one is, those traits are very valuable. You have made me think about how I go about my own playing. Can't wait to get at the kit tomorrow!

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