Falling in love with playing the drums (again).
By: Cornel Hrisca-Munn
My name is Cornel Hrisca-Munn, I am a drummer, bass player, and a proud Collision Drumsticks artist. I have a day job in a Borough Council as Departmental Lead for Disability, and have an academic background – gaining an MA from Oxford University, and contributing to academic musical writing for Cambridge University Press. I have played drums across the world, with highlights including a huge run of shows in prestigious venues in Spain, delivering drum clinics across Europe and the USA, and even working as the House Band drummer for Channel 4’s ‘The Last Leg’.
Aside from all of these wonderful things, there is a fairly colossal elephant sat in the corner of this proverbial room that needs to be addressed – I have no arms below the elbow, and an above knee amputation on my right leg, on which I wear a prosthesis. I begrudgingly address this issue, as this post is not about ‘overcoming obstacles’, ‘motivation against all odds’, or even ‘being an inspiration’. I did not have to overcome many obstacles to learn how to play music – believe me, I find tying my shoelaces a far more challenging endeavour than playing a Perdie shuffle or a slap bass riff. I am also not providing motivation ‘against all odds’ – Honestly, what I would give to have even a fractional percentage of the motivation that the vast majority of social media commenters appear to think I have.
My disability has not provided me with any extra magical ‘motivation’, believe me, I struggle with laziness in many things (including rehearsal and practice) as much as the next person. Neither is this blog post about being an ‘inspiration’ to others. Because of my disability, I have been described as inspirational for a wide variety of things, from playing a storming solo in a live performance in front of thousands of people (now that’s an evening I will never forget, but more about that later) to being able to successfully hold and eat an apple. Whereas the former reason might be understandable for some, the latter reason completely undermines what being an inspiration is – and is ultimately a patronising ‘pat-on-the-head’ for disabled people. When disabled people are seen as inspirational for mundane tasks, this creates an extremely limiting attitudinal barrier of what disabled people are capable of, as has been demonstrated not only by my own apple-eating, epic-drumming-performance endeavours, but through the incredible achievements of other disabled people which far exceed my own.
One could therefore argue that I play music to prove a point, to be truly ‘inspirational’, to prove a point that disabled people can be as (or even at times, more) capable musicians than non-disabled people, or even to make a successful career out of music. Whilst there have been elements of these in my playing (particularly very strongly the latter), this is not why I play. I play because I truly, madly, deeply love it. This is therefore the crux of my post – to discover, or indeed, rediscover, the love of drums in the time of Coronavirus.
Frustration – bad reasons to play drums?
From personal experience, and from talking to professional musicians from around the globe, frustration in playing is experienced by all at some point in musical life. This therefore poses a question – can there possibly be bad reasons to play drums? I personally believe that yes, there can be. I must clarify at this point that I am not (and would never) tell someone to give up playing drums – far from it. What I will be highlighting is poor motivations can lead to musical misery, frustration, and stagnation. The cure for this is not to give up, but is to battle through, for the love of drums. Part of this processes for many might well be to identify the bad reasons to play drums.
- Bad reason #1 – for financial gain. There is a dose of honesty required here – music (particularly drumming) can be an incredibly expensive hobby. Everyone knows the popular old adage – carrying £5000 worth of drum gear in a £1000 car to a gig paying £50. Before any money is made, there is more often than not a financial outlay that is required. I am a firm believer that a good drummer does not need top quality gear to excel, however, even to simply own the instrument will require some financial outlay. Following ownership, if you gig independently, there will be other costs such as transportation, venue fees, sometimes licensing requirements, replacement of breakables and even stolen goods. If you record independently, there are recording equipment, mixing, and premises costs to consider – even a DW Collector’s drum set can sound like trash through a subpar microphone (my own DW and iPhone microphone will sadly testify to that).
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge gear-head – I adore top end drum equipment, from sound to aesthetics, but a certain amount of focus is required. Decide what you want to spend the most money on. Invest in good cymbals, good drum heads, and learn to tune (vitally important), eq, and mix drums properly – this will turn an average sounding drum set into an excellent sounding drum set. The other side of the coin here is the quite frankly impossibly small chance of truly making ‘big money’ from drumming. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we cannot all be millionaire rock stars. The industry sadly doesn’t work like that, and whilst it’s becoming a more saturated market, if everyone’s a rock star then no one is.
I have been privileged to play in some large and prestigious venues, but even this isn’t a monetary gain. I have a day job because quite simply, right now, money drumming isn’t enough to live on. The most recent large gig I played made me barely the same as my day’s pay in my day job, and including rehearsals I worked twice as many hours for that money. These opportunities also don’t come up every day, and whilst there are new, innovative digital ways to make money off playing music (I implore you, keep up-to-date and capitalise on these opportunities if you can, if nothing else, you’ll have fun doing it and exercise creativity in your content creation), even these ways can be slow, frustrating, and certainly only profitable in the minority of cases.
- Bad reason #2 – To play in front of thousands of people day in, day out. Many of the points listed in bad reason 1 are also applicable to bad reason #2. The amount of people who make it big and go on world tours regularly in front of thousands of people is infinitesimally small compared to those who play drums across the globe. Please do not give up because of this. There are so many good reasons to play drums, and very small chance does not mean no chance, and maybe I will see you headlining Glastonbury someday. I also have it on very good authority that touring constantly, as exciting and glamorous as it seems, is exceptionally wearisome, with long days, restless nights sleeping in buses and vans, and long time away from families and friends. I want to clarify at this juncture that playing live in front of people, to me, is the best feeling in the world. If the opportunity arises for you to do it, then do it! The issues arise is when it becomes your sole focus and reasons for playing. Even if you do end up playing on some gigantic stages, if you don’t love playing drums in your own rehearsal space, there will come a time where you certainly won’t love playing on tour either.
- Bad reason #3 – To become famous and successful. This reason is one that is close to my heart, and one I struggled with for a while, due to a missed opportunity. I was playing drums in a band, whom I enjoyed playing with, but didn’t see going anywhere. Whilst playing with this band, I received a prestigious offer from Oxford University which I felt like I couldn’t turn down. This involved leaving the band and moving away from home. The band stayed together, found a new drummer, and ended up with a record deal. They subsequently toured the world, released 3 studio albums, and have headlined some large festivals. Cut back to me, hating my university course passionately, wishing I’d stayed with the band who had achieved fame and success. In truth, it wasn’t the fame I was craving, but it was the success, playing in front of thousands of people, having people recognise and sing original song back to me at a gig. In my mind, I had missed out. That was THE big opportunity. Playing drums after that all seemed futile. And therein lies the nature of why playing drums for fame and success is a bad reason to play drums – when an opportunity is missed, or fame and success doesn’t materialise straight away (or even at all) which is highly likely, then what reasons does one have left to play drums? It’s all stripped away in the blink of an eye.
- Bad reason #4 – Comparison: Being a ‘better’ drummer than other people. Here is another bad reason for playing drums that I have personally been guilty of in the past. Whether I felt like I had a point to prove that even though I was a disabled musician that I was better than others, or whether in my younger days I felt threatened by other drummers. There are numerous reasons why this is not a helpful focus to play drums. The one overarching fact is that being ‘better’, particularly in music, is so subjective and impossible to measure, so therefore it must be impossible to be the ‘best drummer in the world’. The second fact, quite simply is, there will always be someone out there better than you. There is no escaping that. A change of mindset could be changing that comparison of ‘I’m better / going to be better than that drummer’ to ‘I’m going to learn from that ‘better’ drummer’.
Another issue here is that of being supportive. I have seen drummers in competition with each other, but much more satisfying has been when I’ve witnessed drummers supporting each other. Drummers’ communities, forums, and wonderful platforms like Collision Drumsticks have been excellent sources of drummers coming together to share their creativity, tips, and generally lifting each other up. This again is not me saying that I disagree with drumming competitions. These competitions give global platforms for incredible amateur or unknown players to make their mark on the world stage. Many (many, many) years ago, I was a grand finalist in the UK Young Drummer of the Year Competition. I can only testify to the organisers, judges, and other finalists being so supportive of each other in this competition, with emphasis being far more on the performances, creativity, and collective talent on show than the overall winner themselves (whom in the year I won it was a creative and dynamic drumming mastermind). In the same way, the Guitar Centre Drum-off in the USA is a showcase of masterful drummers, many of whom are household names in drum education, and most importantly, have supported others in the drumming community.
- Bad reason #5 – being a gear magpie. This is a slightly tenuous reason, but I know some drummers who are magpies – they play because they like shiny things. Their main focus is to have the best gear, above all else, neglecting practice, tuning ability, focus, and ambition. As I have mentioned, I love gear – I am always on the look out for the next big thing. The problem is, if I can’t play a beat on a beginner kit (which resonates poorly), that lack of ability is only going to be amplified on a high-end, loud, attacking, resonant professional drum set. New gear is lovely, but cannot be the sole reason for playing drums – eventually, everyone tires of ‘things’, the novelty will wear off, and then, you will be searching for the next gear ‘fix’. Not only is this good advice for focusing your playing, it will also save you a small fortune financially.
Why play drums? One good reason – because you love it.
I don’t need to tell you 5 good reasons to play drums – because with this good reason, many other good things can come out of playing drums, and without this reason, many of the bad reasons may well become more apparent. If you love playing drums, that reason will be enough to keep playing, even if the fame doesn’t come, you don’t make money from it, you never play live in front of thousands of people, and you don’t have the fanciest custom built hyper-mega-drum-set. if you play drums simple because you love to do it, ultimately that is what can carry you the frustrations, the stagnations, and the challenging times not only in your musical career, but can also be a wonderful, therapeutic escape from other daily challenges. To love playing drums means that you will keep going, and you can’t be successful, famous, rich, playing huge festivals, or have the shiniest gear if you don’t keep going, if you give up, and if you stop completely.
How to maintain that love of playing?
- Method #1 – Go and play drums! What are you still doing here reading this? Go away right now and play drums! What I mean by this is that some people fall out of love with playing, don’t practice, don’t jam, don’t even just hit their drums. There are drum sets all over the world simply gathering dust. Never underestimate the power of sitting down behind your drums after a long time and just letting loose. All too often, we can be caught up in everything that surrounds drums – scrolling through new gear, watching YouTube drumming videos, working on social media profiles, digital marketing, talking about drums – but remember it’s playing the drums themselves which is the focus, and where the love should be.
- Method #2 – Practice new things. A lot of people fall out of love with playing drums because they are playing the same things over and over again. Try something new, and something hard, rather than the same songs and the same techniques. Online can be a great resource for this – consider doing a simple YouTube search for ‘drum lessons’, or try out some of the awesome resources out there, such as Drumeo, or search for your favourite drummers’ name and see if they have released any drum lessons. There are plenty of resources out there, sometimes it just takes pushing yourself to fall back in love with playing drums.
- Method #3 – Return to playing the things you love on drums. On the other hand, sometimes practicing hard things – and not always succeeding in learning them – can become frustrating, stagnating, and downright difficult. Don’t be too hard on yourself, give yourself a break, and play your favourite song, or groove, or rudiment, before returning back to the hard thing you were learning. Bonus tip – if your favourite thing to play is a certain song or band, try and find a live album version of that track, which will freshen up your favourite, but also, it helps to have thousands of people cheering you on in your backing track.
- Method #4 – Retune, remix, and rearrange your setup. Sometimes, falling in love with your instrument again might require freshening up the gear you’re playing with. This can be achieved without buying anything new – you’d be surprised at how much a drumming reshuffle can help you fall back in love with playing again. Retuning heads, looking at new dampening for drums, changing the EQ / mixes on recordings or playing with readily available samples, or even changing your drum set up (for example, from 2-up-1-down to a 1-up-2-down) just to freshen up the feel or even just the look of your set can reignite the love for playing drums.
- Method #5 – Connect with other drummers and likeminded musicians (virtually, whilst there is a pandemic of course). No drummer is an island – sometimes, re-engaging with other musicians can be the real kick-starter to reignite that love and passion for playing drums. Virtual jam sessions are a great idea for this, either live, or by swapping recorded tracks of single instruments with other musicians to add their own instrument parts on top (for example, record a drum track and send it to a bassist, who sends it to a guitarist and so on). Failing that, find drummer forums and ask others their tips on staying fresh. On the flip-side, offer to deliver online drum lessons to others. There is such a great satisfaction in helping another musicians achieve something which they could not play before.
- Method #6 – Re-evaluate your goals, set your focus, and get to work. Sometimes, people fall out of love with playing drums by not knowing where they want to go with their instrument. Try giving yourself aims which have loose time scales (but are not strictly time-bound, so as not to be too hard on yourself), have clearly defined aims, but also only depend on yourself and not on other people. For example, a bad example for a goal would be “I will have a job as a session musician in 6 months’ time”, as this is dependent on other people. A good example would be “I will have my session musician portfolio completed and will have contacted 10 music agencies in 6 months’ time” – this goal is wholly dependent on yourself, and not at all dependent on others.
- Method #7 – Be bold. Maybe all this time, it has been a lack of courage holding you back. What better time than in lockdown to just throw caution to the wind and make that recording, post that portfolio to that agency, post that difficult drum video? The worst that can happen is people won’t like it, most of whom are strangers who you will never ever meet. The best that will happen is that people will love it, and you will have developed more confidence and a more rounded skillset.
- Method #8 – Make the most of this time to fall back in love with playing drums again. There is a global pandemic going on, and we are all being told to stay inside for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, and those for whom going outside is an essential part of their jobs. Most of us cannot physically go to work, and now have the time to concentrate on the love of drumming. Maybe in this time, you might rekindle love for an instrument once forgotten. Maybe you might make a huge step towards a personal drumming goal. Maybe, just maybe, this might be the time that your love of drums finally has the time to blossom, and this could be the start of something truly huge for your musical career.
Cornel is an Endorsed Approach Artist with Collision Drumsticks.
Based out of North Shropshire, West Midlands- North West England, U.K. Cornel is a very talented session drummer that we know and trust. He is well respected in the industry and has played on various prestigious venues and stages across the world.
To learn more from Cornel himself, here’s how you can get in touch: