Musicians often talk about 'having their own sound', so that whenever they're playing, people automatically recognise it's them. Any time Sting comes on the radio, you can instantly tell it's his voice… any time you hear a certain kind of riff, you know it’s an AC/DC riff… and any time you hear the bombastic drum sound of John Bonham, you can instantly tell you're listening to Led Zeppelin. These artists developed a sound in their music and a feel on their instrument that has become iconic.
Whether we like it or not, we only have one lifetime - and that alone will dictate many aspects of who we are as an artist or musician. In this blog, I'll be delving into ways that I found my sound and feel as a drummer and musician.
Listening to music tends to be the most common way of finding your sound and feel as a musician. As a child, I was constantly listening to music and absorbing whatever I could, and I believe it’s important to keep this childlike aspect of discovery going as an adult. I grew up mostly listening to what my parents and siblings were listening to, and revisiting those songs helps keep my sense of musical fun and enjoyment alive.
I'll often test the boundaries of my musical taste by pushing myself to find something new to listen to. Doing this deliberately can help you find something unexpected that ends up in your toolbox of sounds to draw from as a musician later on. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll instantly like what you hear, but it’s important to take time and give different styles and genres an intentional listen.
When you listen to music, don't just look for the instrument you play. Listen to each individual instrument and see how it fits within the context of the music you are absorbing. How is the bass guitar working in conjunction with the drums? How does that affect what the drummer is playing? Maybe there is a piano part - how does that change the drum feel in the song?
Make sure you keep listening to music old and new, and keep adding to your sonic palette.
If you don’t get out and watch other musicians live, there’s no better time to start than now. If you’re living in a city large enough to have regular live music, start making trips to see it as often as possible. It’s a very quick way to immerse yourself in enticing new sounds - not to mention a great way of meeting like-minded musicians to further explore sounds with. Watching bands play styles of music outside your normal taste may even show you a new approach to your own musical feel and sound.
If it’s hard for you to get to gigs - or if you want some extra inspiration - try watching videos on YouTube, or DVDs of different bands, to see how they play and interact on-stage. I often find myself going down a rabbit hole of live videos, and it’s helped expand my musical taste with sounds I didn't know I’d love.
So - go out, find some live music, use tools on the internet to increase your musical knowledge, and add even more to your arsenal.
Say you've never played jazz, but you've been listening to some Miles Davis and you want to give it a try… well, let's just jump in and play!
Playing along to music is often the best way to get acquainted with your sound and feel on your instrument itself. It's ok if you don't get things right straight away - the important thing is to listen to what is happening and play. Focus on what each instrument is doing in relation to your chosen instrument, and hone in on these different aspects.
Often you’ll find yourself trying to directly mimic the musicians you are listening to. This is a common way of finding your sound and voice on your instrument. Once their style is in your musical vocabulary and coming out from under your fingers, it’s time to find out how it relates to you as an individual. Take the things you like from different music you’ve listened to and make it your own by experimenting in that style. Getting together with a teacher or friend to help consolidate your ideas can also be really helpful, since playing collaboratively speeds up the process of developing your sound even more. Get out there and go for it!
Sometimes, our own attitude and perceptions can stop us from finding our sound or expanding our sonic capabilities. If you perceive that a musical style is not your thing, you have instantly closed the door to potentially a great way of finding your sound and feel as a musician. However, if you choose to go into a musical experience with an open mind - and the childlike wonder we covered earlier - you may find yourself already growing as a musician and discovering your true sound and feel, even when playing multiple different genres.
In my case, I started playing rock and heavy metal covers as a teenager, then went on to study jazz music as a young adult. Meanwhile, some of my first gigs as a professional musician were in country music bands. Through all of these experiences, I took the chance to shape my feel and sound as a musician - and had I said no to any of them, I may not have uncovered aspects of my musicianship I didn’t know were there.
Remember to keep open-minded, and don't be afraid to join that psychedelic German oompah band that asked you to play - because you never know what you may get out of it.
We are constantly evolving as people. Finding our sound and feel is a big part of making us who we are as musicians and shaping the music we create. Make sure you keep listening, watching, playing, and maintaining a good attitude towards your new musical explorations, because you never know what you may end up adding to your next song or record.
Whether you’re a drummer with an African-style Makosa beat that could fit a metal song, or a vocalist who’s found a way to work throat singing into a pop song, you never know where your next influence is - or how it could affect your band or project.
Happy discoveries, folks!