The All Around Musician

Today, it can be very difficult to find an all-around musician who can read efficiently, and play an instrument with a tremendous amount of feel and originality. A good musician can often do one or the other very well, but can lack at having both these skills. There are four major areas a musician must master in his/her instrument. In fact, these are distinctive competencies one must possess in order to have the competitive edge in the music industry.

Beat Cultivation –

Have you ever sat behind your instrument and were not sure what to do? Do you sometimes feel that if you do not listen to your favorite drummer, you will not know what to do? There is a solution for this. Come up with your own drum parts. This prevents boredom on your instrument and will help build higher interest, enthusiasm, and inspire more ideas. There are a few ways you can do this. First, you can start with a favorite pattern of yours and create different ideas after every few measures. For instance, anytime I create complex coordinated patterns on the drums, I usually begin with a pattern I am already familiar with. After repeating this beat for several measures, I will add a different rhythm with another limb. After playing this repeatedly, I will build it up with another rhythm. Before I know it, I have created a brand new pattern with different rhythms that are centralized around the original pattern. Another great way to cultivate your own beat is to emulate a particular pattern you like from a favorite musician of yours. You can incorporate that pattern with one of your own patterns, or you can build off of that pattern with new ideas. For example, I own many instructional drum DVDs. I have spent a lot of time emulating my favorite patterns from these great drummers. My goal was not to sound like one of the drummers, but to learn different patterns from them to help develop my own style. You can do the same thing, too. By listening to your favorite musician on a CD, DVD, or on the Internet, you will develop your own sound. Lastly, make it a priority to listen to many styles of music. The more you train yourself to listen to many styles, the more accustomed you will become to the different tempos and feels. Thus, this will help you come up with more ideas to cultivate your own beats. One strategy may work more effectively than the other for you. However, I recommend that you try all three of these suggestions. They will prevent boredom, and help take you out of your comfort zone.

Learn To Read –

There are countless professional drummers who do not know how to read music. Yet, they have achieved stardom status because of their ability, charisma, and talent. So why should we invest time in books and lessons if reading is not mandatory to become successful? After all, is learning to read really going to make us that much better? While reading does not directly improve your skill, it is beneficial for multiple reasons. First, learning to read gives you a competitive edge over someone who does not know how to read. Let us say, for instance, you got hired to do session work for a jingle (T.V. Commercial) and there is a reading chart waiting for you on the music stand. The drummer who can read music will be able to understand the notes and play the music piece, as opposed to the other drummer who would not know what to do. Additionally, reading music establishes credibility. There is something about a musician who can sit behind his/her instrument and start reading music. This shows they have a certain confidence and command of their instrument. Third, a musician who is able to read has a significantly better chance of obtaining a position in an audition verses someone who is unable. Imagine this. You are up next to rehearse with the band you have wanted to play with for years. You are confident, alert, energetic, and focused. However, there is one problem. There is a reading chart on the music stand you must accurately read, and you do not know a thing about reading music. What do you do? You will likely lose out on this opportunity due to your lack of reading ability. Reading music is not the most important piece to the puzzle, but without it, you cannot complete the puzzle. As musicians, if we do not learn how to read music, we will never reach our fullest potential, both personally or professionally.

Learn To Write Music –

Writing music can be one of the most overlooked skills to have, but yet is one of the most important. Many of the world's top musicians have composed the greatest music. While writing your own music can be a challenge, it is beneficial to know how to do it. It will prevent you from forgetting what you created. For example, you can come up with a very original and complicated beat. However, if you do not write it out, you will forget how to play it. It is difficult to rely solely on your memory. I have made this mistake many times in my practicing. I would come up with something different, assuming I would remember it, but would forget it. Writing your own music also produces creativity. If we just have something in our minds, our brain waves tend to move in cycles, repeating the same ideas. When we can get a beat on paper though, we can visualize it, change it, add to it, or enhance it. Thus, we will be able to come up with more ideas that we otherwise would have never been able to do had we just had it in our minds. Writing music can also produce motivation. A non-written goal is no goal at all. A written goal, however, gives us clarification, direction, and fuels our motivation to complete it, because it reminds us of where we are and what we want to do. Writing music will also increase our level of motivation, because we will always be reminded of all the work we have done. Lastly, writing music is a great way to evaluate our progression. In your early days of writing music, you may be limited in your knowledge. However, the more you write, the better you will get. You will be able to see where you were at, where you are, and what you need to do to get to where you want to be. It would be almost impossible to evaluate yourself by just playing your instrument.

Improvise –

Coming up with your own patterns, reading music, and writing music all have one thing in common: They all help you become highly technical and intellectual. You're learning how to read note values, time signatures, charts, composing, and developing patterns. When it comes to being a musical, original, sounding drummer, the best way to build this skill is learning how to improvise on your instrument. Improvisation is defined as making up a beat or pattern as you go along. Minimal thinking is done. Sheet music is seldom used. You do not memorize anything. Rather, you are spontaneous. You play from your heart, not from your head. Many of my most used and difficult patterns I play all came from improvising. Learning and developing this skills was a great challenge, but it helped me come up with my best material on the drums. Students often feel intimidated when they hear about improvising. They will express objections like, "I'm not a creative person." Or, "I need to have a piece of music in front of me to play." Or, "I'll run out of things to play." Or feeling discouraged, "I'll never get to that level." Although this quality is the hardest to develop, it is possible to become very good at it. The key to developing this skill is first developing your ability to cultivate patterns, read music, and write music. If you do not have a solid foundation of these qualities, improvising will be difficult, limited, and discouraging. It is like a person saying he wants to learn how to run when he does not yet know how to walk. When you continually build your skills in developing your beats, reading music, and writing music, you will be more confident, prepared, and knowledgeable to freely improvise on your instrument.

Here are a few suggestions to help get you started at this:

  1. Turn off the lights or close your eyes as you play. This will help block out distractions and visuals around you. It will allow you to focus entirely on what you're playing and help feel the music.
  2. Find a time during the day when your energy level is most high. Improvisation requires endurance, creativity, and personal expression. When you are tired, you are more inclined to repeat ideas and sound very routine. When you are rested and alert, you will have energy. Thus, you'll be more creative and out of the norm.
  3. Break away from your routine occasionally. Although it is vital to warm-up with rudimentary patterns, it is also good to sometimes break away from this and begin your practice sessions with improvising. This will help enable you to come up with fresh and new ideas.
  4. Watch an inspirational and instructional video before you play. Any time I attended a professional drum clinic, I immediately wanted to play the drums. I was inspired and fired up to take my skills to another level. While drum clinics are sometimes hard to find and attend, watch an instructional video from one of your favorite musicians before or during your practice session. This will stimulate your mind with new ideas and inspire you to play. Incorporating technology in your playing is paramount to education. Have a technological device accessible by your instrument.
  5. Have a starting point in mind. Everything has causality. When we look at planet earth and the vast universe, we know in our heart of hearts there is a Creator of intelligent design. When you sit behind your instrument, have a starting point in mind. It can be a jazz pattern, rock beat, or funk groove. From this starting point, you will be able to improvise more smoothly and musically. You are not thinking about what you are playing, but you already have it in mind and will improvise from that point.

The music field is a very cut throat and competitive industry. Thousands of bands strive for success every day while only a handful may achieve stardom status. Our intention of learning these skills on our instrument should not be exclusively to "make it" according to industry standards. Rather, we should strive to develop these skills to help us musically and professionally. When we do this – coupled with having good character, integrity, discipline, and a strong work ethic, you will be successful, regardless if you achieve stardom success or not.




It is my pleasure to highly recommend Breaking Grounds in Music. My son has taken private conga lessons with Chris, the business owner, over the past several years. Private lessons with Chris have not only enhanced my son's comprehension of music theory and improved his skills and technique, but also given my son tremendous confidence and joy. My son enjoys working with Chris and always looks forward to his weekly lessons.

Chris is an excellent teacher, dedicated to serving the varying musical needs of all students. He has a genuine interest in the lives and passions of each student, providing a tailored curriculum for each. Chris believes in the importance of music and the appreciative use of music to enhance life.

Finally, Chris is a man of great personal integrity. I appreciate his honesty and professionalism when it comes to lesson scheduling and reasonableness of fees. He is an exceptional communicator and facilitates honest exchanges between and among student, instructor and parent.

- Georgiana T. (Review from Yelp)