15 Steps To Becoming A More Creative Drummer

10. Experiment With Kit Setups, Tuning, Muffling, Drum Stick Implements, And Electronics

Kit Setups: Do you feel more comfortable playing on a huge drum kit or a smaller one? Small kits promote getting the most sounds out of fewer choices, while a larger kit affords you the greatest freedom of choice. Depending on the individual, either of these could increase creativity.

Big drums? Small drums? Cymbals? Metal vs. wood hoops? Drumhead selection? The choices are endless; but if you can find what best fits your personality, body type, and technique, it will allow your imagination to flow.

Try these: Play a jazz gig with just a hi-hat, snare drum, and ride cymbal. Play a rock gig without a hi-hat (à la Keith Moon) or without any cymbals at all. Switch your toms around. Try different kinds of cymbals. Set your drum throne higher or lower than normal. Experiment with the settings on that incredibly complicated bass drum pedal. Discover found percussion. (Check out Glenn Kotche from the band Wilco.)

Hybrid Kits: Walfredo Reyes Sr., Richie Gajate-Garcia, and Stanton Moore (among others) have revolutionized the fusion of ethnic percussion with traditional drum set. Follow their lead, and find some new sounds that are yours alone.

Tuning, Muffling, And Drum Stick Implements: The way drums are tuned and muffled and the sticks that you use not only help define your style, but also effect the overall band sound.

Try these: The Hat Shake, Hat Trick, Stickball, and Jingle Kick to name a few.

Electronics: Although not every drummer’s cup of tea, electronics provide limitless options to fuel your creativity. It’s also popular these days to mix electronics within acoustic kits.

11. Stay Up To Date On The Latest Technology

Imitate Programmed Music: If you haven’t seen Jojo Mayer play, you need to do so immediately. Among other accomplishments, Mayer has assimilated the sound of programmed (electronica) music into an acoustic setup.

Try this: Learn to program drums yourself, then go back and see if you can play on an acoustic drum set what you designed through technology.

12. Access Creative Independence

Gaining jaw-dropping independence or coordination will not necessarily make you the most creative drummer in town, but the lack of it can certainly be a major stumbling block. Learning how to play jazz and Latin might be the best way to attain the coordination that you need, while making you more hirable. Here is another excerpt from Drum Aerobics. The hands play a blues shuffle pattern between the ride cymbal and snare, while the feet play in various eighth-note triplet spots.

15 steps to creative drumming

13. Excite With Metric Modulation/Time Shifting/Polyrhythms

These three rhythmic “illusions” can confuse the listener (and your fellow musician), while other times cause an unbelievable amount of excitement. Chris Dave and Ari Hoenig have taken metric modulation to a new level. David Stanoch, in his book Master The Tables Of Time, covers time shifting, a concept that was used creatively in the past by Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and many others. Polyrhythms are another endless pursuit, which will also expand your toolkit. Pete Magadini’s Polyrhythms – The Musician’s Guide remains the seminal work on this topic.

14. Turn Off The Metronome

Practicing without a metronome or using it in unique ways can help to stimulate the creative part of your brain. Playing behind, on, or ahead of the click can make the surrounding instruments and music feel quite different. Find a drum teacher with studio experience to show you the ropes of playing with a click.

15. Be Open To Experiences Outside The World Of Music And Interact With Creative People

Don’t hang out in your drum closet all day long. By over-practicing and isolating yourself from the rest of humanity, you will lock yourself out of non-musical experiences that could add to your imagination. Make sure to listen and be open to suggestions from persons with different perspectives. Many non-drumming musicians have helped me uncover creative ideas I would have never discovered on my own.

Pay attention to the times of the day and environments when and where you are the most creative. A lot of my ideas have come while hiking in the desert with my wife, and I’ve now written seven books while propped up in bed with my dogs as my work companions.


Some people are born with more creativity than others. Hopefully, the plan that I just presented will give you some ideas on how to catch up with those artsy folks. Like most things in life, it will take hard work to makes significant gains.

It is my hope that, as drummers, if we can best tap into our imaginations, we have a better chance to help lift up the quality of music for everyone – ourselves, bandmates, and, most of all, listeners.

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