Playing What’s Needed vs. Playing What You Want in a Band

Finding the Groove: Playing What’s Needed vs. Playing What You Want in a Band

When you’re a musician, especially in a band, the question of whether to play what you want or what is needed to serve the song is an age-old dilemma. It’s a topic that sparks debates among musicians and drummers alike. Some say it’s all about self-expression and playing every lick you’ve ever wanted to play, while others argue that the true essence of music lies in serving the song. In this blog post, we’ll dive into this intriguing musical debate and explore the considerations that can help you become a better drummer and musician.

  1. Serving the Song

One of the fundamental principles of being a musician is serving the song. This means that your primary goal as a drummer is to enhance the overall musical experience and support your bandmates. Here are some ways to do that:

a. Focusing on the Essentials: Begin by identifying the core elements of the song, such as its rhythm, melody, and lyrics. Your drumming should complement and elevate these aspects, rather than overshadow them.

b. Dynamic Playing: During vocal passages or quieter sections of the song, consider playing with restraint. Lowering your volume and simplifying your drumming can create space for the vocals and other instruments to shine.

c. Collaborate with the Bass Player: Building a strong rhythm section is essential for a tight and groovy sound. Communicate and lock in with the bass player to establish a solid foundation for the rest of the band.

  1. Expressing Yourself

While serving the song is crucial, it doesn’t mean you should stifle your creativity or abandon the desire to play what you want. Here’s how you can strike a balance:

a. Planned Fills: Instead of spontaneously throwing in fills whenever you feel like it, plan your fills strategically. Think about how they can enhance the song’s dynamics and transition from one section to another seamlessly.

b. Choose Your Moments: Consider the song’s overall vibe and energy level. There will be times when playing a flashy drum solo is appropriate, and other times when subtlety and restraint are more fitting.

c. Collaborative Experimentation: Talk to your bandmates about your ideas and desires as a drummer. Sometimes, they may encourage you to explore your musical ideas, even if they deviate from the norm.

  1. Finding Your Balance

Ultimately, the key to being a great drummer and musician is finding the balance between self-expression and serving the song. Here’s how you can navigate this balance:

a. Regular Self-Reflection: take the time to reflect on your playing style. Ask yourself whether you’re striking the right balance between playing what you want and what the song needs.

b. Communication is Key: Keep an open line of communication with your bandmates. Discuss your musical choices and listen to their feedback. Collaboration and compromise can lead to a stronger musical unit.

c. Adaptability: Be adaptable as a drummer. Different songs and musical genres may require different approaches. Being versatile will make you a valuable asset to any band.


In the end, the question of whether to play what you want or what’s needed to serve the song is not a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s a nuanced and ongoing conversation that every musician must engage in. By finding the right balance, you can grow as a drummer and contribute to the overall success and cohesiveness of your band. Remember, it’s not about sacrificing your creativity but channeling it in a way that enhances the musical journey for both you and your audience.

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