If Drums Were Lost

As a drum teacher I was asked recently by a student, what would it be like if there were no drums? It took me a minute or two to come up with an answer that could possibly explain the loss of what I do for an income/hobby, and more importantly what it would mean to music. It is hard to imagine life with out the rhythm we hear in our popular music. No rock and roll, blues, funk, disco, reggae, jazz as we know it as they all are rhythm based. It is almost unthinkable what the world itself would be like if the drums were gone…

First lets go back to an era where there was actually was an absence of drums in music. James Blades author of Percussive Instruments and Their History, wrote:

With the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire, percussive music was banned as mischievous and licentious; the drums and cymbals were particularly singled out as evidence of the devil’s pomposity“.

As B.C. becomes A.D., drums were kicked out of the music scene and written history itself for the next eighteen hundred years. Much later, drums found a place on the battlefield as an instrument of intimidation to the enemy and to excite the spirit of the attacking army itself. Fast-forward to New Orleans post-slavery era and the marching drums of war are converted to the “trap set”, played by one person and introduced to Jazz music. And the drum set is born. What a chance encounter that was. If these particular moments in time never happened what would our modern music be like? If the drums never made it to the battlefield or the streets of New Orleans and stopped when they did would we even be the same society that we are?

The entire world would be quite different I think. No drum corps at the football games, no marching bands at the parade and certainly no drumming on your school desk with pencils! I am not certain, but I think rock and roll would not be the same or if it would even exist at all without the drums to inspire the guitar, bass, piano and vocals. Would the Beatles still have taken the world by storm without Ringo grooving? I doubt it very much. Would “Wipe Out” have been so spectacular with only guitars – nope. Or would In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida have been such a hit without drums? Yikes. The Muppets with out Animal – absolutely unthinkable! And before Rock and Roll there was Jazz, Blues, Dixieland, Bebop, Swing, Country Western, to name but a few. They all had drums and were the beginnings of Rock as we know it.

If you are like me and you pay attention to movie sound tracks they are most often sprinkled with drums and percussion to set the mood. Might be a whole different experience watching movies with out the rhythm.

For me personally, it would be a complete change of my life. My first memory of interest in the drums was in Elementary school. I was probably in grade 3 or 4 and during an assembly the school band’s drummer (her name was Rhonda) did a typical “around the kit” fill and I was hooked. In grade 6 when band class was offered I wanted to play drums but they were full up of drummers so I chose the baritone horn instead. It wasn’t until after graduation that I had the opportunity to try a friend’s drum set and eventually buy it from him. Within 2 years I was lucky enough to start playing in performing bands and have never looked back. I have played country, reggae, rock, and many original projects with the drum kit both onstage and in the recording studio. About 10 years into my career I purchased a set of congas after seeing a Toto concert with Lenny Castro on percussion. It blew me away hearing and seeing the power of a drummer/percussionist combo – let alone the huge talent of the rest of the band. I had to get into this part of rhythm and find out more. I read Mickey Hart’s books “Drumming At The Edge Of Magic ” and “Planet Drum”, sending me on my own journey seeking the other side of drumming. I was befriended by a Senegalese drum master who taught me the playing, building and teaching of the djembe drum, which lead me to many other styles and types of percussion instruments from many cultures.

For a time I was a very busy studio drummer in the Okanagan as well as playing with some of the top bands in the area at the time. I went through the trials of the road touring BC and Alberta and definitely learned the “paying your dues” part of the business; there is an entire book to be written on that alone! When my wife and I relocated to a smaller city there was not many openings for drummers. What few bands there were had some one already playing the drum kit. So I switched gears and played mostly auxiliary percussion (congas, bongos, timbales, etc) in bands. Also I was lured into a few local theatre productions, which incidentally, was a great way to hone my reading skills.

Now I have a perfect balance of playing in a weekend rock band, teaching both drum set privately and hand drums in groups. I also build and repair just about anything to do with drums and percussion and I have plans to pursue the marketing of some percussion accessories I have developed over the 40 years of my career.

But – life without the drums? I really can’t answer that, as drums are so much a part of my personal life. Music has such a powerful affect on me when playing it with other musicians and enjoyed by a crowd of dancing people. It is my meditation, my therapy. I very well may been locked up in a sanitarium at an early age for tapping and thumping on anything near me and making strange percussive noises out of what ever I happened to be holding. At least I wouldn’t be alone there. There would be a million other tappers and thumpers like the Ringo’s, Keith’s and Animals to keep in time with.

Drum on…