Easy Beat: New Orleans Drummers Roundtable

(Left) Herlin Riley

DRUM!: Stanton, you carry a practice drum set on the bus.

Moore: Yeah, I carry a little kit that I made. The bus drives overnight, and you wake up in the morning and you’ve got all day. I always keep drums set up at the house, too, so I’m always shedding. What I really like to do is get friends of mine over, have two kits, and then just shed, trading [tips]. I always try to find new things that I can take and incorporate into what I’m doing, to keep it fresh. Especially when I’m on the road, I’ve got a lot of time during the day, so I try to come up with new things.

Riley: I have a drum set at the house that stays set up all the time. Every now and then I’ll get the urge where I just want to go in and touch my drums, so I’ll go in and play a little now and then. But the thing is, as musicians, when you get to a certain level, when you hear stuff, it’s a form of practicing.

Vidacovich: The silent practices really never stop. I don’t ever stop silently practicing.

Riley: You hear things; an idea may come to you from the radio. You may be driving down the street and hear a train, then you start playing rhythms inside of that. Or driving in your car, you hear the windshield wipers.

Vidacovich: All the time. I have to turn them off, or get out. [laughter] I get in trouble with that.

Riley: You hear rhythms around you all the time, and if you act upon those things, it can open you up to so many different ideas. There’s all kinds of stuff going on all the time; if you stay open and stay in tune, things will come to you.

On the other side of that, the pieces that we do now [with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra], I have to read a lot. Sometimes they’ll send me the music and a rehearsal tape. Or there may not be a tape, so I’m looking at the music. I may not sit down at the drums and practice it, but I’ll look at, and figure out what the rhythms are. That’s another form of practicing.

As a musician, as an artist, you never finish practicing. You don’t ever finish. It’s a living, breathing art form, and it’s ongoing, it’s constant. You never finish it.

(Left) Russell Batiste

DRUM!: There is no final answer. It’s an open-ended question.

Vidacovich: My own program is that, when I sit down, if I’m not practicing something specific that I have to learn, I try to touch the drums every day. I always have at least one or two sets set up, because I have students coming over occasionally. That means that when they come over, I play. On my own, if there are no students around, I try to at least touch the drums for five minutes or 20 minutes. Just touch them, have contact with them. If I don’t feel inspired, at least sometimes I’ll be passing through the room and sit down at the drums and look out the window and just play a straight beat with no fills. Just try to lock in the zone, get myself warm and the blood flowing, just stick with a beat for as many minutes as I can – seven, 10, whatever. Just get in with the tick-tock-ness of it all. Like Herlin says, from the bottom. Make sure that down/up thing is happening, that I can feel a dance downstairs, at least.

So I try to touch the drums every day. I can never get away from practicing. The biggest fear I have is that the day I die, I’ll be subdividing until Kingdom Come: one-and-a-two-and-a-three-and-a-four … [laughter] That’s hell for me: Subdividing ’til eternity.

Riley: I do want to add a footnote to practicing. When you’re practicing, you must always address things that you can’t do. That’s the key. When you do that, that’s when you have growth. If you sit at the drums or the piano or whatever instrument it is and you play the same thing that you’ve known how to do for a hundred years, there’s no growth in that. You’re just spinning your wheels.

Moore: One thing that I work on as far as practicing is to take something that you do know, but try to make it sound better. Work on your touch; try to play it softer than you’ve ever played it before. Some cats have such a beautiful touch on the instrument. You can always work on touch, you can always work on your time.

Riley: You can always polish.

Moore: That’s something that you can work on for the rest of your life.

Riley: That’s what practicing is. You’re doing something with a consciousness. You’re engaging with your instrument. If you’re not thinking about anything, if you don’t have a consciousness, you’re not really growing. In order to really grow, you have to be conscious of trying to achieve something.

Moore: Like what Herlin said earlier, there are things that you hear. You don’t necessarily have to sit down at the drums. I’m always pushing myself to find music that I haven’t heard before, like listening to Brazilian music, listening to Indian music.

Vidacovich: That never ends. There is no end. And there is no end to the possibilities of what you can do with this.

Moore: And even if you did know it all, then you could practice your tabla.

Vidacovich: To eternity.

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