A Different Drummer

As some of you may know, I took up the drums after I turned 50. You can read about it here. It was certainly not a typical hobby for a middle-aged female empty nester to take up. And it was vastly different from anything I had ever tried before.

By nature an introvert, it now seems very odd to me that I chose an instrument that was so very loud! But of course when I first started, I did not expect to be playing in public. Ever. It was just something fun to do on my own, playing along with music in the house.

I started learning from a drum teacher, and after conquering the basic rock drum beats, I’d just put my vast iTunes library on shuffle and play along with whatever popped up. My taste in music is pretty varied, so some days I’d find myself playing along with songs by Janet or Michael Jackson, then the Clash, then some Culture Club, followed by a little Motown or the Monkees. It felt good — drumming is definitely a physical workout, and it gets your endorphins flowing, for sure. It’s also an incredible release for built-up tension and anger! Each day of practicing would be a fun surprise, as I’d try to figure out how to make beats that would work with U2, or Melissa Etheridge, or Bruce Springsteen, even when I still had a very limited drumming vocabulary.

When I did finally venture out to play with other people, I found comfort in being at the back of the band, behind the kit.

When fellow drummer Jacques (now my husband of one month!) first saw me at Rock Camp for Dads, he said that it looked like I was “hiding behind the kit.” Looking back, it does feel that way.

What I didn’t realize then was what an important role the drummer plays, and how that would force me out of my shell. While I have never really wanted to call attention to myself, playing solos and the like, drums are not quiet. If you make a mistake, everybody hears it. And drummers are responsible for setting tempos and starting everyone together (most of the time), as well as frequently helping to signal changes and getting everyone finishing together.

My first public gig at Rock Camp for Dads (which welcomes non-dads also!) was pretty terrifying. I suddenly realized that my ability (or lack thereof) to start everyone at a good tempo, holding my ground and remaining steady, plus keeping my energy up without racing away with it, were vital to the whole group. As good as you might think you are when you’re playing along to a recording in your basement, the real test is whether you can not only be part of, but to some degree lead, the group.

Photo by Laurie Etchen

It’s a very different experience when you’re just practicing. When you listen to a recording, they’ve set the tempo for you, and you’re mostly following it (or trying to stay right on it). If you were to follow a band when playing with real live musicians (rather than lead), you’d always be behind them, letting someone (the strongest or loudest player, perhaps) lead, or risking everyone slowing down as they listen for your beat while you are trying to follow. You have to have that beat in your head, in your body, and keep it as rock solid as you can no matter what everyone else is doing.

Sometimes you can feel members of the band pushing or pulling against that beat, but you have to stay the course, even while you listen to what everyone is doing. It’s not easy — you can be pulled in one direction without even realizing it’s happening. Or your own excitement or nerves can cause you to inadvertently speed up or even start a song too fast.

One of the other challenges is learning how to play different styles of music. Even just within the general “rock” category (in the broadest sense), there are many sub-categories and genres of music to choose from, plus different decades and different drummers with widely varying styles.

During the past few years participating in great month-long camps at Rock Camp for Dads I’ve tried playing a wide variety of styles of music, including the Kinks, Bob Seger, the Bee Gees, Joe Cocker, Billy Joel, Steve Miller Band, Devo, Abba, Blondie, the Cars and many more! Here’s a video of the Joe Cocker tribute band I played with in February, and the Billy Joel tribute band I played with in March.

Photo by Mark Walentiny

This month will prove to be one of the busiest in terms of drumming that I’ve had yet. I’m playing in a Steely Dan tribute camp at Rock Camp for Dads, which will be very challenging drumming, while also doing some backup singing. We’ll have a gig on June 30th.

I’m also practicing with two other bands. Lovercraft is a band that plays a fun, eclectic mix of music with an emphasis on danceable tunes — funk, R&B/Soul and some rock/pop music, ranging from the late ’60s through the last decade. It’s a band with members who can play a few different instruments (including saxophone and trombone!), and they switch off on lead singing. Our set includes Sam & Dave, Har Mar Superstar, Kendra Morris, Mandrill and Bill Withers. We’ll be playing for a house party on July 1st.

I’m also playing with Atomic Beat. We play mostly ’80s rock and pop songs, including Blondie, The Cars, Simple Minds, The Sweet and Tears for Fears. I also do some backup singing with this band. We have a gig coming up on July 6th.

Photo by Todd Hoffman

This month I’m going to talk about my process for learning new material, rehearsal challenges and the different types of music I’ll be working on. I’m also going to look back at other musical adventures I’ve had (mostly in the classical realm) and the differences and similarities between them.

I’d love to hear about your musical challenges and adventures!

Miriam

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3 thoughts on “A Different Drummer

  1. Erick says:

    Hi Miriam,
    I’ve been enjoying reading about your adventures in drumming and creativity. I’m impressed with the risks you’ve taken with putting yourself out there. I think you’ve reaped the rewards in numerous ways for your effort.
    When I was just over 51, I took up the banjo. I think you and I have had a similar moment at that time of saying, what the heck.
    I had a banjo laying around my house for years. I purchased it when I was about 17 or 18 years old. At the time I admired Steve Martin for his comedy and banjo playing. (In fact, I’ve never stopped admiring Steve for his comedy, acting, writing, banjo playing!) I tried to learn on my own, and I didn’t get very far.
    But I never got rid of the banjo. I schlepped it from apartment to apartment and then to my house, sometimes storing it in hot and cold attics. Eventually, when I had kids, I put it in the living room for them to make some musical noise.
    My wife too has gone on a musical journey later in life with the bagpipes and the Irish fiddle. I accompanied her on a shopping trip to Homestead Pickin’ Parlor looking for a fiddle, and I was awed by the banjos on the wall. I told Bruce at Homestead about my banjo. He said to bring it in, and he’d determine if it’s playable.
    I decided that it was time to shit or get off the pot. I was going to either sell the banjo or figure out how to play.
    Bruce found it only needed some adjustment and new strings and bridge. It was very much a beginners version that Schmidt music stores sold in the late 70’s. But it sounded great when Bruce played it, so I was inspired to see if I could make a go of it.
    I’ve been taking lessons ever since from a patient man named Russ, who plays everything from jazz to bluegrass. At my first lesson I told him I was a total musical neophyte that didn’t know how to read music or anything. He said, “Then you picked the right instrument.”
    I sort of feel that the banjo chose me. I’ve been playing for years, and I still have a long way to go. I struggle playing at jams, beginner jams. I find the jam experience extremely intimidating. Playing in front of and with others is more difficult than it looks.
    I don’t know where this banjo experience will lead me. I only play a little each day so far. I’ve taken the approach that I wasn’t going to force myself to practice for extended periods. I’m sure if I practiced more I’d be better. But I haven’t quit, so steady progress is possible.
    I think it’s been good for me to be an absolute beginner in something after turning 50. I see the challenges and rewards. I think it has made me a better writer. I have access to the beginner’s mindset so I can approach that while writing a new scene. I think it has shown me that working through resistance leads to breakthroughs I didn’t know were possible.
    So, I’ll keep playing and working through difficulty and frustration and see where it goes.
    Thanks for starting the conversation, Miriam!

    Like

    • Miriam Queensen says:

      That’s a great story, Erick! I remember you mentioning banjo before. And yes, the trouble with even “beginner” jams is that not everyone is an absolute beginner, and it’s easy to feel intimidated. “Jamming” is also difficult! It’s a different experience to try to just jump in and improvise rather than playing a set song that you’ve learned and studied well. I think playing a little each day is the best way to learn (as opposed to a marathon session once a month). The progress may seem small to you, but it’s happening if you put in the time. Beginner’s mindset is so crucial any creative endeavor, since every project is a new project! It’s also the best way to keep the mind active — firing those synapses! I hope you can find some like-minded musicians to play with who are encouraging and supportive, so you can continue to grow as a musician. There’s nothing like playing music with other people.

      Liked by 1 person

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